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We love finding a good deal through Groupon – we love it so much, we even wrote a post about it. But with this Groupon Vivid Sydney boat cruise deal in 2018, we got it wrong. Very wrong. It’s not put us off completely but has certainly made us think again about booking a similar deal. And a big lesson learnt in not reading the reviews beforehand.
At the beginning of a Groupon or Scoopon running, it can be difficult to find reviews as customers have not yet had a chance to jump online after the experience. However, it does pay to check out the company first which will give a good indication.
To avoid disappointment, we have put together a guide to booking your Sydney Vivid Cruise – what to look out for, what to expect and how to get the best cruise for you. We’ve also shared our honest review below so you too, don’t have to go through this horrible experience.
Here’s the review…
There are a number of different Vivid boat cruises available on Groupon for Sydney’s favourite festival, but we chose to go with a 90 minute Afloat Cruises International because it fitted in with our timing and departure location for our weekend away. Groupon does have reviews available but for some reason, we just didn’t read them this time.
***Note that Afloat Cruises International are now trading under the name Sydney Event Cruises. They have a current Scoopon deal for 2019 – book with caution after reading this post!***
We chose a cruise that included a buffet as we knew we’d be hungry after coming straight from an afternoon of Whale Watching. And, of course, drinks included is always appreciated.
The booking system was simple. As long as you pick the right date and time amongst the many to choose from, and although not instant, a confirmation was sent the following day once the Groupon voucher codes had been checked. We booked about 3 weeks in advance and decided to make a final decision as we could see tickets for this cruise and others were selling fast.
Getting onboard our Sydney Vivid Cruise
We received a text message about 3 hours before boarding to confirm the Wharf number, as these are subject to change and different throughout the week. Unfortunately, that is the last positive thing about the whole experience.
Vivid attracts over 2 million people during the festival, and it felt like they were all at King Street Wharf at the time of boarding. We were advised to be there 15 minutes before so like good girls, we arrived and it was absolute bedlam.
King Street Wharf is highlighted by wharf numbers, but there is little between to distinguish them clearly. There were 3 cruises all boarding around the same time and all the lines had merged into each other. To make it even worse, there were also people queuing for boats using the same wharf number but at a later departure time. With no concierge or signage to confirm which cruise, it was only that I recognised the boat from the picture, did we know that we were heading to the right boat when it arrived.
To make things worse, the boat was just under 10 minutes late and when you’ve been standing in bedlam for 25 minutes, in the rain, we were already starting to get a little grumpy.
Let the chaos continue…
After walking onboard, if we’d had any sense, we should have got back onto the wharf with the hundreds of other people. The boat was set out to have absolutely maximum capacity on board with chairs lined up back to back through the middle, rows along the windows and not a single table in sight.
The music was playing loudly to compensate for the number of people on board and it felt like an 18-year-olds party boat; you know the ones with the sticky carpet and lack of consideration for anything because everyone’s there to just get drunk. Although, there were more families here than anyone else.
We left the wharf pretty quickly after the walkway had been bought in, and an announcement made about food being served and to enjoy your Vivid cruise. Umm… don’t boats usually have safety briefs? Perhaps just something like where the life jackets are in case of an emergency or where the exits are? Nope. Nothing. Nada. We would have been in trouble if we went down, especially with maxed out capacity.
The food and drink onboard
Oh wow, the food. If you can call it that. We were handed one ticket when boarding to limit it to a single visit to the buffet, and trust me, once was enough. The description online sounded like a pretty basic menu anyway, BBQ roast chicken, Garlic roasted potatoes, Tomato and Basil Penne, Green Vegetables and French baguette and to be fair, this was what was served. But if I had a dog, I wouldn’t have even fed it to them.
The food was served on thin plastic plates and was just slapped on by the crew member. There was no option, you got it whether you wanted it or not. It was pointless trying to ask, not only was the music too loud but when they did hear, they did not understand. Then there was the issue with food handling and bar staff going past and touching food unnecessarily, notably the bread. Why would you do that for no good reason?
We tried to have a word with the Cruise Director about their food handling procedures, and let’s just say, he was not at all interested. This Afloat Cruise Ambassador stood with his iPad at the end of the bar from the beginning until the very end of the cruise.
Armed with a thin plastic plate in hand, the food was hot so was very quickly becoming warped and unstable in its shape. With no tables around and a boat full of people, you can imagine how many hit the floor… lots. Nice! And that’s not to mention the poor parents who were trying to feed their children from these plates.
And as for dessert. Well, all we can only say that it looked like something that the dog would do after they ate the doggy food buffet.
The bar stocked a reasonable basic range of drinks and upon boarding, we got two tickets for two drinks. But with one bar and two bartenders, you can imagine the queue. Two drinks were all you had time for!
The Vivid cruise experience
We’re not ones to ever want to get off a boat, we love the water, love being on it, but we could not get off this one fast enough. If it wasn’t so cold, we probably would have jumped off and swum back.
There was no commentary given about where we were in the harbour and because all the lights were on the inside, and the boat had tinted windows, you could not see a thing outside.
Add a row of people lined up sitting in front of the window and you end up staring at either the carpet or ceiling. There was a small amount of space on the outside deck, but it was raining and only those who could not stand the atmosphere inside escaped. They were probably thinking about jumping too!
At one point, we did manage to work out that we were stationery outside of the Sydney Opera House, which was admittingly a good vantage point. However, I thought we would have at least made it round to the side of the Botanic Gardens to see some of the impressive displays along the river bank. How wrong was I? We turned around and made our way back to King Street Wharf.
We, unfortunately, didn’t manage to get any outside photos, which should have been amazing opportunities. The one time we ventured outside, there were too many people out on the deck to get out the door.
And they saved the best bit until last. Despite being 10 minutes late to depart, we were 10 minutes early to disembark, making this 90-minute cruise actually a 70-minute cruise. It was for the best though.
Wrap up of our Sydney Vivid Cruise
There have not been many experiences in our lives that we had said that they are truly unethical. This cruise was purely a profit-driven event, with no regard to safety, comfort or experience. It’s a worry that Afloat Cruises have now changed their name to Sydney Event Cruises because we have no doubt they have made no attempt to improve their experience. Instead, they have just dodged the existing poor reviews about their previous company name.
Whilst we didn’t expect a gourmet meal and fantastic experience for $39 each (full value $89), we did expect basic safety and food procedures to be followed. And a view of Vivid from the water seemed to be too much of a high expectation. This experience was a true example of you get what you pay for.
The experience could have got a 1 out of 5 for not sinking the boat, but because there was no safety briefing at all, gives it a big fat zero. It’s an experience on a budget and ideal for those who are looking to get out on the water in the cheapest possible way but don’t expect much.
There are plenty of other Vivid Sydney cruises out there, lots with good deals. Many are on Groupon and Scoopon so have a look around as it is worth paying that little bit more to avoid experiences like this one.
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Water loving British girl who moved to Australia and seriously caught the travel bug! Loves to explore and share destinations that inspire others to spend more time on the water and in the great outdoors. Typically, you’ll find her on a boat or next to the ocean, often in a daydream!