In this publication: May 1 - May 16, 2012, Trans-Atlantic on Mariner of the Seas, 15-nights to Southern Europe, written & issued by Weatherguy.
The two of us who took this cruise on Mariner of the Seas, did so immediately after Mariner of the Seas encountered a 7-8 day dry dock in Nassau, Bahamas, for ship re-furbishments both above & below the water line. We've been on Royal Caribbean ships several times before and 15 cruises in total during the past decade, with various cruise lines combined. I'm a white Caucasian, age 39, usually a non-drinker, non-smoker, and non-gambler, (but I make up for it with the wild & crazy game shows I participate in!) We had NO children travelling with us either, on this go-around. After this cruise we'll graduate to Emerald Members on the RCCL food chain in the Crown & Anchor Society, so maybe the pins will be bigger next time, and maybe we'll get some sunflower seeds in the stateroom, too!
II. Hotel Information.
We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale via Southwest Airlines late one night before embarkation day, and pitched camp at your Ramada motel Ft. Lauderdale Airport Cruise Port. We secured a room rate of only $62, which included a FREE breakfast, FREE pick-up transfer from the Ft. Lauderdale airport to the motel, FREE wireless internet, and a $16.65 transfer from the motel to the Port of Miami, the cheapest transfer I found anywhere. For all we got for free, and low room rate along with cheap transfer, I have no complaints at all. In fact, the motel room was in better repair than I thought it'd be for this kind of rate, so I was pleasantly surprised! It had a gorgeous lush, tropical-themed Tiki Bar in the inside center of the property. They arranged all transportation to the Port of Miami, as they have a contract with KSA tours.
III. Travel to Port of Embarkation.
Our ship was slated for an 8 PM late evening departure, so arrival time to the Port was to be no earlier than 3 PM. Seeing how I was not able to comply, as the transfer company schedules only 1 pick-up from the motel per day, I arrived around 1230 PM to 1 PM as a number of other folks had to, since they changed departure time by some 3 hours later, after the dry dock, when plans had already been made. The cruise line DID arrange for a FREE shuttle transfer back n' forth to the Miami Bayside Marketplace. So, we hitched a free ride with the transfer shuttle to Miami Bayside Marketplace for the afternoon, and boarded the ship between 445 PM to 5 PM. Checked luggage was accepted prior to 3 PM by the porters, though, taking a goodly amount of baggage off my hands, with only my carry-on in hand as we toured your Bayside Marketplace.
Getting on the ship from the Port of Miami was truly a BREEZE, and was lightning-fast, simply incredible not having to wait in terribly long embarkation lines as I've done in Galveston, Texas, San Francisco & Puerto Rico, or when coming back to the Port of New Orleans.
Furthermore, I shall say, that embarking & disembarking from Mariner of the Seas on each of the port of call days was expertly handled, and the VERY BEST embarkation/disembarkation I've ever seen for a ship this size. Even the tendering in Villefranche was expertly managed with very little wait time. Truly incredible!
However, RECEIVING the luggage once on-board was disastrous & nightmarish, and kept me up late. This was the LATEST I've ever received luggage in all my 15 cruises. It wasn't until 11:30 PM, LATE NIGHT that I received my last piece of luggage holding me hostage from receiving needed items, unpacking, & then heading in to sleep. Their recovery was even better. "Well, some cargo was placed between the lifts & the luggage". They even gave up delivering, by dumping luggage in to the lobby, where guest services was at, an unsightly blemish that contaminated the beautiful lobby scene, expecting folks to claim their luggage there.
IV. Ship Information.
Your Mariner of the Seas cruise ship by Royal Caribbean is the 4th largest passenger cruise ship in the world, in tonnage, as of the date of this writing May 19, 2012, behind only the Freedom-class & Oasis-class ships of R.C.C.L., (Royal Caribbean Cruise Line), and behind Norwegian Cruise Line's Epic.
The ship is nearing 9 years old, with its maiden voyage in November 2003.
It received its last refurbishment by April 30, 2012, a day prior to our cruise.
Giovanni's Table specialty restaurant, (an upcharge fee)
A new Seaside Theatre, outdoor movie screen on the pool deck
Boardwalk Dog House, a hot dog stand with various types of hot dogs & sausages, (no fee).
Digital Signage, (an interactive display monitor that tells you what's going on around the ship on the current day and how to map it, showing you where to go).
Flat screen TV's in all staterooms that rest on a swivel arm.
The rumors about having a Park Side Cafe', cupcake cupboard, or 3-D movie experience are all FALSE. It does not have these upgrades. So the sales pitch that Mariner of the Seas exhibits the "Oasis-class" upgrades must fail with the assertion that these are Oasis-class upgrades, because there's a number of them missing on this ship.
Other fast facts about the ship information:
Length of ship: 1,020 ft
Draft: 29 ft.
Beam: 158 ft
Passenger Occupancy: 3,114, based upon double occupancy only; (3,807 total passenger capacity limit)
Dining: Traditional Seating, (early & late), *OR* My Time Dining, which requires pre-paid gratuities
All the rest of the ship facts & features can be found at this URL weblink, by the cruise line itself at: http://www.royalcaribbean.com/findacruise/ships/class/ship/home.do?shipClassCode=VY&shipCode=MA&br=R
The stateroom booked for this cruise was an Inside cabin on the 6th deck, which was in Inside Category "N" for us. My stateroom was in good repair, with all furnishings working and NO maintenance needed during this sailing, which is quite remarkable, considering several other of my cruises have needed issues addressed either with the water or plumbing or climate control. The telephone was problematic though, with a foreign language talk menu found upon arrival in to my stateroom. So, the telephone needed resetting. Then when the phone rung, the green & red flashing lights did not cease, so I just unplugged the telephone afterwards, and problem solved, since the guest relations didn't know how to solve the problem, and neither did the cabin steward.
The shower had the sliding, arched doors instead of the shower curtain on this vessel. There was a couch between the bed and the bathroom and a divider curtain which weatherGIRL appreciates so very much during those late-nights I was away to shield out the lighting when I came back at night. Only trouble is that the divider curtain when closed all the way means you freeze in the bedding area, while the rest of the stateroom gets no air conditioning, since the air conditioner is located above the bed and behind the divider curtain. I just propped open a small gap for air to flow at the top, when I arrived back at night. Closet space seemed cramped to me for hanging clothes and didn't seem like enough hanging space, compared to other ships I've been on. Plenty of drawers, and shelves though were found in the cabin, and an in-room safe as well.
The flat-panel TV which had been recently installed, is on a swivel arm, and remote control not always responsive. They say you can order your tours using the inside stateroom TV monitor, and check your balance, too, from there.
The stateroom steward is the nicest young man (and tallest), I'd ever met in my cruises. I could tell he was brand-new as an employee, as he was missing supplies & items here & there, though. The ship has had a lot of brand-new employees that came with this cruise, most notably in guest services, and it was easily noticeable when they couldn't answer basic questions correctly.
Weatherguy's TIP: I recommend you bring some post-it-notes to communicate with your stateroom steward at the beginning for any special requests in your room accommodations and supplies. It'd be a nice, welcome addition if RCCL & other cruise lines would install a small, dry erase board on the wall to communicate with stateroom stewards, and others in cabin.
This was a problem area for me & not up to par. This is the 2nd time I've cruised on a mega-liner from Royal Caribbean, but 4th overall with RCCL. The first mega-liner was Freedom of the Seas, and now here on Mariner of the Seas.
This time, on Mariner of the Seas, if I could sum it up in a nutshell FOOD quality on the whole, I'd rate between average to frequently BELOW AVERAGE, especially in the Windjammer morning breakfast buffet. Hash brown nuggets were just down-right disgusting, plagued with a burned greasy, oily taste. Waffle pieces were either hard & stale, or cold; same goes for french toast pieces. It actually became a haunting thought going to the Windjammer during the port mornings, as so much of it is just undesirable quality.
I've been on a lot of cruise lines over the years, and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, in my opinion, has always suffered a major WEAKNESS in the FOOD QUALITY category. They continuously struggle in this category. Also, I found that food selection in the elegant dining rooms was not abundant & quite repetitive, more so than usual.
In the elegant dining rooms, I found I was better off if I retained a beef or steak selection over any thing exotic like any Asian selections, or even the fish selection. The galley seems to struggle in producing anything of good quality, that exhibits a non-traditional meat n' potato fare. We auditioned several Asian selections and just NOT good. On the 2nd night I ordered fish, which tasted like Tofu. WeatherGIRL also was not happy with the quality of the fish. Salmon was either overcooked or returned by our dinner table mates, as I recall one night. Food quality is definitely NOT a priority on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, herein referred to as RCCL. So don't be coming in to this cruise with HIGH expectations on food quality, or you will be sorely disappointed. Do expect high volumes of food, though.
Since this cruise ship has on the average nearly 150% of normal cruise line capacity for numbers of guests on-board, it means MORE MASS produced quantity of food. When you increase the mass production of food, then quality MUST take a hit, and it has done so each of the past times I've cruised on a Voyager-class or Freedom-class ship with RCCL. The smaller ships, seem to have better food quality as in my Rhapsody of the Seas cruise from last January.
There were a few times when desserts were tasty, though, so it's not all bad news here. I can recall on at least 3 or 4 occasions when they excelled with their cheesecakes and a Vanilla mousse. They had a lunch time blueberry cheesecake that was exceptional. Also, ribs were pretty decent quality one afternoon in the Windjammer buffet, during the 3-5 PM hour. Like I said, stick with simple meat items, and generally you'll fare better than any exotic items which are never authentic, and "ad-libbed" much of the time, by Philipinno or Indonesian influence, as I often found in the Jade cafe.
I can also recommend the top sirloin steaks that I had several times in the elegant dining room. Here, they place a garlic butter to go with the steak, and when fused together, creates a tasty dining experience. Baked potatoes & sour cream are served with the steak. The 3 times I had steak, the quality was decent, except one time, when it was undercooked and too red, but otherwise decent in flavor and quality. Others at my dining table really had great things to say about the lamb as well.
In other areas....
For late-night buffs, you had ONE choice, called the Cafe' Promenade. Of all the 24-hour eateries on the various cruise lines, the menu selection is quite one-dimensional here and not to my satisfaction. Icky, cold finger sandwiches are your one-dimensional choice. You get one alternative if you don't believe in these cold finger sandwiches, and that is the one or two pans of pizza they have out. That's your only warm food, again serious lack of variety here. I learned to tolerate the ham & cheese finger sandwiches, as I refused to stoop down to cold tuna salad, cold chicken salad sandwiches, and some other cold finger sandwich Italian muckety-muck mush that they tried pedaling out of that Cafe' Promenade. The Cafe' Promenade also serves-out some various desserts as well, but the cookies are hard as stone rocks; not something I'd want to deal with.
I won't take another Voyager or Freedom class ship again, solely on account of the extremely lacking food choices in the 24-hr. Cafe Promenade alone. Very disappointing here. (Is it any better elsewhere, weatherguy?) Sure is. RCCL can take some notes here on what Norwegian Cruise Line is doing in their 24-hr eatery. On NCL's Blue Lagoon, they serve comfort food, almost 'round the clock, with hot wings (dry or with sauce), fish sandwiches, burgers, chicken fingers, and a more extensive array of choices than icky, cold finger sandwiches that RCCL pedals out of their 24-hr eatery.
Johnny Rockets is your 50's classic diner burger joint, on RCCL's Mariner of the Seas, and requires an upcharge fee of $4.95 for the food there. Milkshakes are an additional $5 on top of that. I had a quick look-see at the menu and decided that the menu wasn't worthy of the upcharge, for burgers I can get for free elsewhere on other cruise lines. I didn't go to any of the other upcharge restaurants, neither Chops Grille, nor Giovanni's Table. They're both there at the entrance of the Windjammer buffet, but opted on not auditioning that fare.
The Windjammer is your alternative buffet to those who don't believe in taking the time to wait on service in the elegant formal dining room, and who desire a more casual eat-alone environment. The atmosphere is reminscent of being at a Golden Corral buffet, only the food isn't as good, much of the time. I did sample the FREE Jade eatery on the right side as you enter Windjammer. Those were some WEIRD tastes, that seem to be influenced by Indonesia & the Philippines. They tried to label some soups as Vietnamese, but being my partner is Vietnamese and we've eaten authentic Vietnamese back in the states, this is NOTHING Vietnamese-like what they claim it to be. But if you're up for trying some kind of variation of Asian-inspired foods, and desire a break from the meat, fish, pizza, & sandwiches, you've been getting elsewhere on the ship, then have a try of the Jade; but I make no guarantees of your food satisfaction here. It's hit or miss, and there is Sushi offered there as well, though I'm not a sushi buff myself, so I didn't try it.
On the other hand, if you desire to eat in the company of others at the same table, then traditional assigned seating in the elegant dining room is the way to go, which is what I chose to do. I requested a large table of 10, and by the 4th night, we reached full capacity to 10 folks. All were sociable and desireable company. We had a pretty good crop of guests at the table I was seated at, and I felt we had some bonding moments. All were from the states this time. My only wish was that the tables be round instead of oblong, so's to provide access to speaking with all guests.
Following in the footsteps of Norwegian Cruise Line's popularly famous "Freestyle Dining" concept, RCCL introduces "My Time Dining", which you can opt to sit alone in the elegant dining room, and show-up at different times each night, whenever you're ready to eat dinner. There is a hitch with this. It requires that you PRE-PAY your gratuities. I don't believe gratuities should ever be pre-paid; I believe they should be EARNED, and not automatic.
The Boardwalk Dog House is a hot dog stand outside on the pool deck in the shade. I did audition one of the flavored, seasoned hot dogs of the many they offer. It was just "okay". They also offer sausages, sauteed onions which I desire, and a few other miscellaneous items there. I think the various seasoned hot dogs & sausages will appeal to the many German guests in Europe, as they also had sauerkraut, too as I recall. Don't forget that this ship frequently has INTERNATIONAL passenger guests and is thus obliged to appeal to them as well.
Ben n' Jerry's is fused together with Cafe' Promenade & is not a stand-alone merchant as it is on Freedom of the Seas. It's on the side edge of Cafe' Promenade, and there *IS* a cost for the ice cream, so no freebies there.
In your Windjammer buffet, the selections of beverages are flavored water, including mango, strawberry/kiwi, lemonade, and iced tea. During the morning hours simulated orange juice is offered, as well as watered-down, simulated apple juice. Again, don't be expecting any great shakes with the beverages on-board, as they're weak in flavor and watered down.
So, in summary, my overall dining experiences,--all places considered--, that include elegant dining room, Boardwalk Dog House, Jade, Windjammer, and Cafe Promenade I'd rate as **BELOW-AVERAGE** food quality for much of the time, in comparison with my other 15 cruises on various cruise lines. On about 4 of the 12 days, there were some occasional exceptions when food was briefly tasty and above average, and a few good desserts as the cheesecakes were, but much of this is processed food, so just don't be expecting memorable, hand-crafted meals, because it just is not goona happen, gang. I'm sorry the truth stings, but you do need someone to give you that reality check! Cruise lines are BIG in to the QUANTITY of food, and not in to quality; just bear that in mind.
There is no chocolate buffet offered, either, so for those of you long-time cruisers, that's out. So, too, are the chocolate mints on the pillows at night; they're out too. No biggie to me either way, as I don't require that chocolate fix anyways.
For a 15-Night Trans-Atlantic as this sailing was, I can say I was pretty much PLEASED overall with the activities offered. The cruise director & the staff had so many activities jammed & chock-full in to the daily cruise compass listing that there was always something to keep folks busy & occupied during the sea days. I never suffered any boredom, and many times we were doing so much, I felt exhausted and overworked with the dance classes that weatherGIRL had me participate in, during the many sea days. They do need a bigger dance floor than the Dragon's Lair, as it was overcrowded with too many people, & too dark down there like a dungeon. Guests, I think, would have benefited MORE from being taught by "Anita", a really great, articulate dancer of the RCCL production show cast. They only let her teach ONE dance class, though. I wished she would have taught all of our classes, and I was sure to tell her this, too. She counted every step out and went thru slowly and repetitively, the best way to teach & learn. Instead they had a contracted Russian man who seemingly went too quick n' hasty thru the classes, and gave no practice time after the dance classes, except in the last class. It seemed he had his own agenda rather than catering to his class.
In other activities, they had offered several pool games like your Miss biceps contest, belly flop contest, floating boats contest, a pool-side scavenger hunt, (which I missed b/c cancelled due to wet decks), and I missed the re-scheduling of it. They had sexiest man contest and likely a few more pool activities I didn't touch on. There was also an interesting digital camera scavenger hunt early-on during the cruise, which I wished I'd have taken a closer look at, as I asked someone participating in it about it.
For trivia weenies, they had boat-loads of trivia daily, and what's called progressive trivia, which is a continuing cumulative score trivia hosted in chapters on each successive day. I participated in trivia once or twice early & late in the cruise, but the dance classes with weatherGIRL had top priority over the trivia. You want trivia?? They give you all you want, so you can rest easy about that!!
They also had progressive dance classes of Irish dance classes, your Michael Jackson Thriller class, and a mob dance class, & ballroom dance classes. In addition there were numerous Latin dance classes, and scary-oke, (known to you as karaoke), & rockaroke when the digital music tele-prompter machine broke down, then you had to read the scripts on a music stand. I was told the golf or range simulator up top broke down too, during the cruise. Seems like technology can't pass the test of time!
I did participate in the 1st class of Steve's Thriller dance class, but after about 30 minutes, the choreography just became too overwhelming to keep up with, and I didn't return. WeatherGIRL particularly enjoyed the Celtic music of the Irish dance class and we did give it a try for the first 2 classes, but was too fast to keep up with as well, and the instructor Katie, from the cruise director's staff, left many behind in the dust, including myself
Nearing the last sea days of the cruise, weatherGIRL and I participated in a big ballroom dance they had in Studio B, where we danced my flagship dance, the Waltz, and a few Meringue's and Rhumbas, as well as a Samba or two. We did re-learn the Salsa up on the pool deck and down below in Dragon's Lair, as well.
They had an EXCELLENT Latin Band on-board the cruise ship which played in Boleros lounge, much too small a dance floor, for the crowd that turned out, but I still muscled my way on to the tiny dance floor twice that could accommodate 3 couples comfortably for the many Meringue's they played.
There were 2 parades I know of that were hosted in the Royal Promenade. I made it to the first one, the pirate-themed parade; the 2nd one I was packing. Your better view will likely be on one of the neighboring upper floor balconies on the forward end of the ship overlooking the promenade deck on deck 6, and stay close to the bridge area near the front and the descending ball.
Still yet in other areas....
I'm all about participating in game shows on-board the cruise ship. I feel if I don't participate in the shows, I get bored too easily. There were several game shows that I participated in. Quest game show, Family Feud game show, code-named Friendly Feud, Battle of the Sexes, and Majority Rules Game Show. I didn't make it to the Name that Lyric game show as that was the night for weatherGIRL to shine with her Ballroom Dance event in Studio B, for which my presence was required there.
I participated in 4 game shows, and a couple of pool deck beginner Salsa dance classes up top during the sea days.
I believe I was at my finest hour when I participated in the 7 PM, early playing of the Hypnotist show, for which I later discovered was not recorded and not played on the stateroom TV's either. It was a LIVE-only show in the large auditorium Savoy theatre. So don't be expecting every theatre show to be re-broadcast on your stateroom TV, as they're not all re-broadcast. Later that night, I also participated in the Quest Game show, a signature favorite of mine along with the earlier Hypnotist show, and this Quest Game show was recorded & sold as a part of the DVD.
So, you can see there was a goodly amount of activities to keep me busy. I only wished there were more theatrical shows to participate in, like on NCL, than that 1 and only hypnotist show on Day 6. I did get up for a pre-game show and a stunt where I placed hands behind back, dipped nose in to vaseline and competed in a race to pick up cotton balls with nose and place in to cup, which won me a gold blue ribbon medal and embroidered RCCL hat, and then a highlighter was given for participating in the Friendly Feud game show. Obviously, you certainly don't participate in the games for the prizes, but instead only for the FUN of it!
I did make it to both your indoor swimming pool at your Solarium and outdoor pool. There was a wide variance in temperatures, with bath water in the Solarium pool of around 90Â° water temperature, I'd estimate, and some 76Â° or 77Â° water temperature in your outdoor swimming pool. The outdoor swimming pool was good size, by the way cruise ship pools go; usually they're square and tightly-cramped, but this one was rectangular. There's a steam room & sauna available at your disposal for no extra charge for useage inside the gym room lockers, and weatherGIRL participated in the free work-out classes, & stretch classes daily. I let myself in to the sauna room a couple times, and once after a cold, windy night up top watching a seaside movie, entitled, "The Vow" on the pool deck.
There was a goodly amount of gym equipment inside the exercise facility, and the largest indoor jacuzzi I'd seen on a cruise ship, just as you enter the gym, with 2 more inside your Solarium.
So in this arena of activities, the ship scores what I give ABOVE-AVERAGE ratings, as there were jam-packed scheduled activities to do with a great variety of things to do at all hours of the day and night. It seems this particular cruise director, Carly, was really heavy in to the dancing disco & lots of other dancing venues in the nighttime activities, so the ladies should be eating this up, but good!
Incidentally, I was the one who twirled the cruise director up in the air on 2 different shows on the same night, once on the early Hypnotist show, and again in the Quest Game show.
VIII. Children's Clubs.
Weatherguy is ineligible to rate this part of the cruise ship services, as we don't own children and didn't have any nieces nor nephews traveling with us on this go-around.
But for this Trans-Atlantic I did mingle & speak with a few teenagers & young adults. One of the 16-year-old boys told me there were a total of ONLY 14 teenagers between 12 & 17 on the ship, so you can see that Trans-Atlantics during spring time don't turn-out much kids. They did have 55 college students (mostly girls) from Florida International University taking this cruise to receive college credit for it. (How does that happen??) I wished my university would provide this much fun for college credits!
The name of the Children's club is ascribed the title "Adventure Ocean", and from what I understand it works many the same ways like the Camp Carnival club works. You have designated hours in which to drop-off & pick-up your kids, and they generally have you pick them up during eating hours like lunch & dinner, and it's a free service.
Because of the many newbies in the cruise ship's staff, the service I'd have to say ranks below par, and below the industry average, especially with respect to the guest reception desk. Many newcomers just not knowing the ropes were misinforming guests left & right about the ice show either needing or not needing tickets, and couldn't answer the simplest of questions about where to place tour excursion completed forms, nor how to settle on-board expense discrepancies. A couple of them in particular wanted to pass the buck on to someone else instead of addressing it themselves as they didn't know how, fidgeting most often about it.
Elegant dining room service was a bit better versed and my food orders were always accurate each & every time. Ricardo & his wing-man from Columbia were attentive, but as is usually the case in the elegant dining rooms, typically slow to deliver food.
Windjammer service was probably better, keeping things pretty well stocked for the most part, and clearing the tables pretty efficiently. For a change, I don't think I've ever had a time when we couldn't find a table. Tables were always available, surprisingly BETTER than previous cruises I've been on, when we've had to compete in finding tables and sitting to reserve them. Not a problem on this cruise, so that is a nice welcome relief, considering a sell-out crowd.
Telephone service was not good, having to wait excessive times the few times I did call, for which I understand connects with the back of the guest services area. They really need improvement with their guest services staff, and expediting the line, which seemingly took 'til the end of time to get waited on, even if there were only 5 people ahead of me. ...And they need to get educated on proper protocol to informing guests accurately. This was a problem spot for them. Cafe Promenade had staff who could not understand me, (with the deer in the headlights look), and I could not understand them, either, in their responses.
Entertainment with regards to the lounge bands & Savoy Theatre entertainment I'd say was right on par with the industry average in comparison with my previous cruises. The 1st production show was well-below average in comparison with other cruises, and the 2nd production show was improved with respect to the scenic backdrops created, but still you saw no sky dancers or Cirque du Soleil themed variations as I get to see on the Norwegian cruise line ships. There should have been more than just 2 production shows for this 15-Night cruise, considering I received 3 production shows during my 7-day Carnival cruise last September 2011.
By the middle of the cruise, the nighttime entertainers in the Savoy Theatre were becoming predictable. Generally a one-man-band musician or vocalist of some kind with RCCL back-up band accompaniment to enhance the musical experience. The trumpet players, and a few others, in the RCCL band were performing at high-school level, and it was very obvious to me, since I played trumpet for a decade. In the Savoy theatrical nighttime shows, we had a guitarist, xylophonist, a few vocalists, violinist, pianist, ventriloquist, hypnotist show, a couple comedians, and the last show was a couple of Russian jugglers which was my favorite show of all of them. I was sure to tell Carly B. (your cruise director), how much I enjoyed the Russian jugglers, which was the final farewell show! As said, a couple of mediocre production shows were thrown in the mix of things. The production shows didn't have the costume regalia anywhere nearly as extravagant as Carnival cruise lines, nor any Cirque themed shows as I see on Norwegian.
Alas, all is not lost, because for these short-comings in the Savoy Theatre, they attempt to address in the ice skating shows, where you WILL see sky dancers and you will get to see more elaborate costumes, so it is in this arena in Studio B with the ice skating shows where RCCL makes their reply to Carnival & Norwegian cruise lines.
There were 4 scheduled showings of the SAME identical ice show, so's to give everyone on-board adequate opportunity to see the ice skating show. I went to the 2nd of 4 shows, an early 6 PM show. The ice skaters had difficulty completing their double or triple axels, with as many as 6 very HARD falls, eyewitnessed, and a terrible bruise that could be seen afterwards, on one girl's leg. (I sat up close).
In spite of the hard falls, the creativity of the show I thought was first-rate with the dynamic clown scenes and tiger scenes. They had multiple themes within the show, including Russian themes as well, which was also articulated in the 2nd production show in the Savoy Theatre as well.
RCCL gets pretty big in to the visuals of the ice show with a goodly amount of skaters lofting themselves in to the air with the sky dancing scenes. They had one Asian boy who was very confident in his skating and it showed in his facial expressions up-close. He was the only one I believe who was seemingly flawless & impeccable in his skating performance. The clown scenes of the ice skating show were my favorite, and just couldn't help but break a smile with the kids' train scene incorporated within.
XI. Port & Shore Excursions.
We visited 6 ports of call on this cruise:
Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain
Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Villefranche, France (Nice, Monte Carlo, Monaco)
Livorno, Italy (Florence / Pisa)
Civitavecchia, Italy (Rome)
A.) Tenerife, Canary Islands
I chose going up the mountain side of Mt. Teide, on this dormant volcanic island, Canadas del Teide. The island drive wasn't as pretty as Ponta Delgada, Azores, in my opinion. The scenes near the end by the rock formation were more reminiscent of many scenes I've seen in Arizona in the canyon-like caldera. We did get a goodly number of pictures here. A few stops were made for photos and coffee, and some time to pick-up a souvenir. We sampled some local fare near the port after coming back from our tour at the Port of Tenerife. Unemployment on this island is 30%.
B.) Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Here I REALLY thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Drach caves!! The tour chosen here was entitled Calderers and Drach Caves, an 8-hour tour that visited your Porto Cristo marina village, a demonstration of pearl making, and pearl factory, with opportunity for shopping, a lunch with wine was served, and finally the grand stop for me was the Drach caves, where they performed a violin concerto on 3 lighted wood boats in the lakes of the caves, in darkness. The intricate, delicate cave structure was awesome to see and I got some good pictures of the stalactites & stalagmites, with the natural lighting provided in the caves. Really great caves are hard to find, but these caverns delivered and were very expansive and elaborate. The tour was conducted all in Spanish and our tour guide wasn't allowed to translate nor allowed inside the cave either.
If you're into the geosciences, I can highly recommend visiting the Drach caves in Palma de Mallorca! It's truly a memorable moment for those who can appreciate the beauty of caverns and the lakes inside.
After our tour, we enjoyed sampling some of the local "Tapas" fare in a typical Spanish tapas tasting outfit called, "Tast". I tried the potatoes brava, spanish sausage, chorizzo, and a tiny fillet of pork with garlic mayonnaise. We also had time to browse shops after the tour.
C.) Barcelona, Spain
Here, weatherGIRL's biking in Barcelona tour was cancelled due to lack of participation, so I re-booked another tour entitled Barcelona half-day and FC football stadium (soccer) in Barcelona.
The highlight for me in this tour was the La Sagrada Familia catedral -- the cathedral that ain't never been finished for hundreds of years, and still won't be finished at the earliest in the year 2026. Still in spite of its on-going construction, it offered beautiful photo opportunities for which I seized on the outside. We were then whisked along to the Barcelona soccer stadium, which they call football. We were escorted inside to see the press area, the inside of stadium, locker areas, the many trophies won, up close, and a photo opportunity with the trophies & a selected player, super-imposed in the image. After our tour, we then took ourselves to the pretty shopping district of Las Ramblas, whose walking strip has a canopy of trees along it, that lines it, and many outside cafes & eateries along the wide walking area. We also ate here within the strip as well.
D.) Villefranche, France (Nice, Monaco, Eze, Monte Carlo).
Since this was our ONLY port of call in France, I was sure to go "all-out" and splurged on a high-budget tour that visited the 4 towns of: Nice, Monaco, Eze, and Monte Carlo, including the casino there in Monte Carlo, France. This tour also provided the very BEST lunch I've had on a ship's tour, with a visit to the Le Pinocchio restaurant in the cobblestone streets of Eze, France. White wine & red wine were provided with the tasty meal, and every course of the meal was memorable. They provided premium olive oil & vinegar for dipping the French bread in. Weatherguy got a bit liquored-up on the wine that came with the meal, (no extra surcharges), even getting on to the wrong bus, when it was time to leave! All the young, shiny girls shook their head when they seen me get on their bus, & I realized I had too much to drink, and I said "yup, this is too good to be true, and laughed my way off!!" I really enjoyed the many sites and scenery of this trip. WeatherGIRL warned me not to have too much wine as nobody would be there to pick me up off the floor!! I'd say Eze and Monaco were my 2 favorite towns to visit, with Monte Carlo a close 3rd, and seeing the casino lobby was quite spectacular inside. No cameras allowed & no taking photos either, and they have plenty of watchdog security personnel inside to see to it that you comply with their policies.
We also got to see scenes of the Monaco Grand Prix streets and the sitting areas along the way of the course track. This was just a FANTASTIC tour and worth every last cent seeing these many areas of the French Riviera, as well as the fine gourmet lunch provided. Eze, Monaco, Monte Carlo along with the Drach caves in Spain were my highlights I enjoyed the most on this trip.
E.) Livorno, Italy (Pisa & Florence)
Here, we had some on-board credit to use, so by the time I got on the ship, my Panoramic Pisa tour had been sold already, so I went to a back-up tour called Pisa on Your Own. They didn't furnish enough time given on my own for this transfer, but I still got a goodly number of pictures of your Leaning Tower of Pisa from all different angles of us both in the pictures and OUT of the pictures. I also recorded pictures of your baptistery building and neighboring cathedral, outside pictures. The shopping for trinkets nearby was very reasonable in costs, I thought. The tower entrance is still available for a fee, and a much smaller fee will be assessed for entrance in to the cathedral & baptistery buildings nearby.
As we arrived back in Livorno, we took a transfer to the town of Livorno and found some interesting shopping streets there. Too bad it seems that Livorno and places in Spain close their doors during the afternoon between the hours of 2 PM & 4 PM either for siesta or a long lunch break, as a number of stores were closed, but there were still a handful open, too.
Gelatos were FANTASTIC anywhere we went in Italy, France, or Spain, and weatherGIRL capitalized in getting gelatos it seemed in every port.
Weatherguy's TIP: I recommend visiting Florence over Pisa, if you've not been to Florence yet. I've visited Florence, Italy in 2007, so I chose Pisa, on this go-around. Now having seen both, I recommend you to pony-up and pay the extra $$$ to visit Florence as there's more there to see, the birthplace of the Renaissance.
F.) Civitavecchia, Italy (Rome)
Here is where the cruise ship ended its 15-Night Trans-Atlantic, the gateway to Rome. Since I visited Rome, Italy in 2007, and hit all the big ticket sites to see in Rome in 2007, we merely took a transfer to Fiumicino and stayed overnight at a local residential area motel. We took in the sites of the local area, and ate in a nice country-style tavern for both lunch & dinner, for which I took pictures of. It was quite reasonably priced, too, which made it even all the better. We had access to a local road-side fruit stand & local supermarket for which we both visited and got some fruit & supplies at. Then we visited a gelateria, for some gelatos, and espresso, and prepped ourselves for the flight back on British Airways from Fiumicino, Italy to London with continuing onward service from London to Miami. We enjoyed our time in Fiumicino, Italy in the residential area walking around, and the cozy tavern eatery, too!
Off-loading from the ship was simple. There were NO customs & immigration hassles to deal with. The Italians don't keep track of who's coming in to their country, which makes it easy on me. Whew! I didn't get off as early as some others did. Instead, I left my stateroom with luggage in hand at 810 AM and was out in the parking lot area at 825 AM, 15 minutes' time. I scheduled an appointment for a private transfer from the seaport, to my motel in Fiumicino and the driver came timely, with a Mercedes and excellent helpful & professional driver who whisked us away to Fiumicino, taking 1 hour and 10 minutes to arrive at the motel. I paid less than the ship's transfer price, for just the 2 of us alone.
So the HIGH points of the cruise were the Activities which were plenty abundant throughout the ship, the pools, the Latin band, the Hypnotist show, and the game shows for me, and the dancing for her & I. Also, the Russian jugglers show was a high point, at the end of the cruise, watching stunts I've not seen before. And, of course, the WEATHER was a high point of this cruise...you know I wouldn't have it any other way!
The LOW points of the cruise were the food quality in the various dining rooms, and lack of selection with undesireable cold, finger sandwiches dished out at Cafe Promenade. Guest services reception in the lobby, was also a problematic area, too, with exceedingly long waits, and incorrect information given. More staff training is needed to the newbies who just joined RCCL. The whole telephone system infrastructure could use a revamping overhaul, to get telephones to reset easily.
I did feel crowded on this ship, particularly in the Savoy Theatre, the elevators, the Cafe Promenade, and in the lounges of most public areas, and in the dance instruction of Dragon's Lair. The 845 PM theatre shows were most crowded and even getting there 45 minutes ahead of time would still not assure a front row seat. So if you require a premium seat where you can cherry pick, then I advise going to the earlier 7 PM show or the rare 1030 PM show, when it's offered, to have a pick of the litter for seating selection. I was satisfied with the fellow guest passengers whom I cruised with, being a more civilized & intelligent crop of guests in comparison with Carnival's clientele I experienced in September 2011. We had a good mixture of young & older folks alike. Also, I enjoyed all of our dinner table mates at the early seating dinner.
In the event I cruise with RCCL again, I will look my hardest to go on a SMALLER RCCL ship where I believe food will be better, less crowded, and less competitive to get front-row seating. I'll also get to avoid being stuck with the tooth-shattering hard cookies & one-dimensional cold finger sandwiches, that I had to tolerate in the Cafe' Promenade during the late nights.
I'll be welcoming the Norwegian Cruise Line's Blue Lagoon eatery, when I go on a NCL cruise in the future, far better than the undesireable Cafe' Promenade's cold sandwich selections. Just lower the rates, NCL!