At the time of booking Hapag-Lloyd didn’t seem to offer direct online bookings, forcing us to find travel agent. In our experience, adding another layer of administration and bureaucracy never improved any aspect of life and most travel agents are no exception.
After some online searching, we started the booking process with Six Star Cruises. To be clear, there were no special deals, no discounts and no advice from the agents - we called up naming the cruise we wanted to book and paid the full brochure price.
Right away, the agents went to work, telling us why we could not have what we wanted. It started with flights, which were included in the cost, so we requested seats on Ryanair services to and from our local airport at civilised times. That was vetoed. Six Star Cruises don’t use low cost carriers as they are “unreliable”. So, instead of securing us seats on Europe’s most punctual airline, Six Star proposed flights with Monarch (who, as you may be aware, were on the brink of insolvency and would soon collapse) leaving at some ungodly hour of the morning from Gatwick - hardly the ideal start to a luxurious trip. In the end, we compromised on flights from Heathrow. Compromised, while spending over £7000.
There was then some administrative to and fro and an insistence on knowing the precise details of our plans before and after our cruise so that transfers could be arranged, ten months ahead of sailing.
We then, over the following months, had a series of weird automated e-mails, incorrectly telling us that final payment was due, before we called ourselves in plenty of time to make it. That was followed by silence.
As the sailing date approached, we called to ask why we hadn’t had any details of excursions or other cruise extras; we were dismissed with some nonsense about them never coming out until ten days or so before the voyage.
A week or so before our departure date, we still had nothing. Another call to Six Star Cruises, expressing concern that some of the shore excursions would be fully booked, was dismissed with the ludicrous claim that nobody pre-books excursions and space was always available on the ship. After some further calls, it was agreed that Six Star would go to the trouble of trying to source a PDF of the excursion brochure from Hapag-Lloyd. Lo and behold, when this arrived in our inbox, several of the better excursions had booking deadlines that had passed weeks ago. Further calls to Six Star saw them push Hapag-Lloyd to reopen bookings.
Worse was to come. Much worse.
After admitting that there had been “some miscommunication” I was told that Hapag-Lloyd would courier the travel documents to us, and they duly arrived six days before we were set to fly. Leafing through the paperwork I thought that the cabin number printed on our cruise cards seemed odd. A check back through previous correspondence with Six Star confirmed that we were no longer in the cabin we chose ten months earlier. Instead of being in a cabin in a quiet location with a balcony which would be south-facing for most of the voyage, we were now in the shade and above one of the music venues - a cabin Hapag-Lloyd themselves mark as “noisy” on deck plans.
I won’t go into the detail of the many angry calls and e-mails, between ourselves and Six Star, but the key highlights go along the following lines:
Except, it hasn’t.
Late the following day, Six Star call back with the news that they cannot agree terms with Hapag-Lloyd to move us to the higher cabin grade, so that is no longer happening. We are offered a full refund or another, suddenly empty, cabin above “the spa”. Twenty seconds looking at a deck plan online clearly shows that this new cabin is on the opposite side of the ship to the spa and is, in fact, above the gym. Again, Six Star decide to argue the toss about the difference between a spa and a gym.
In the end, we agree to the new cabin, as we’ve already arranged many other commitments around this cruise.
We don’t ask for and are not offered any sort of compensation or discount - this is still a sailing proceed at full brochure price.
Our opinion is that, as they both claim to be working at the super-luxury end of the travel market, Six Star and Hapag-Lloyd should have been falling over each other to fix this problem. Instead, each just pointed fingers at the other.
There has been no follow-up or after care from Six Star since the cruise ended.
Aside from the booking issues, as we’ll spell out in other parts of this review, Six Star should not be selling Hapag-Lloyd; they just don’t know enough about the product, particularly in regard to embarkation and disembarkation.