We flew into Tampa two days early and spent some time at the Aquarium, on the American Victory and general sightseeing. We recommend a visit to Clearwater Beach; it is well kept and beautiful. When in Tampa, we would also like to recommend Sam Seltzers Steakhouse on Dale Mabry Blvd. The food was only outclassed by the service and the price was surprisingly low for the quality, about $50 for two of us.
After dropping off our rental car at the airport, we caught a cab to the port; the cost was a flat $20. We arrived at Cruise Terminal Three about 11:30 just as they were starting to board. Porters were at the curb, relieved us of our luggage and made sure our tags were properly attached. They were friendly, quick and efficient. We were pointed upstairs and there were people all along the way making sure we were headed the right way. We had filled out all of our boarding documents on line, so all we had to do was arrange for payment of bill, were assigned our Seapass cards, had security photos taken (more on these later) and were on board in less than 10 minutes. Only the gentlemen taking the security photos were less than 100% smiles, but not rude either.
Once onboard we went straight to the Schooner Bar and purchased soft drink cards, then proceeded to try to get to our cabin. They had these locked out and a sign posted saying that they would not be available until 1 p.m. Therefore, we proceeded to explore a bit and then went to the Windjammer for lunch. They had sanitation stations at the entrance that I was disappointed to see disappear after the first day. Lunch was good and wait staff was everywhere, either selling drinks (you could keep the glass), getting you whatever you needed and making sure you were taken care of, something that I soon realized was the norm on the Splendour.
After a leisurely lunch, we strolled around the decks and then went to our room. Our caretaker was there when we went into our cabin and she promptly introduced herself and told us how to get hold of her if we needed anything. Edna's Jamaican charm and attitude were infectious to say the least. She did an excellent job taking care of us, too. We were in an oceanview cabin on Deck 2 and were pleasantly surprised at the efficiency of the space and the amount of storage. There were three shelves and a safe over the TV, shelves behind the mirrors on either side of the desk, three drawers under the TV, the center desk drawer and two more to the right and two small drawers in the nightstands. The closets had one small rod for full-length gowns, and then two stacked rods for shirts and pants. We dropped off our luggage and went back for more sightseeing. Our bags arrived piecemeal, which was actually nice. You could concentrate on just one bag; get it stowed away when the next would arrive. We had to stop our unpacking to attend the lifeboat drill. It was corny, but in a fun way. Being in an industry that is safety sensitive, I do understand the gravity of the situation. The Captain said that we would be about an hour late departing due to traffic in the channel, so we went back to our cabin and finished squaring stuff away. As we were wrapping up I noticed that the scenery was changing outside our cabin. WE HAD MISSED THE SAILAWAY! We hustled upstairs and watched Tampa slide away into the distance as the sun set.
Dining ~ Dinner was an excellent time each evening. We were seated at a table with four other couples at the 8:30 seating. We seemed to have a lot in common from it being our first cruise to ages to interests. It was nice to come each evening to familiar faces, share and compare our experiences of the day's events. The staff was superb (I have never had anybody get my lobster out of its shell for me), was quick to realize what our likes and dislikes were and met them each meal. One gentleman liked larger portions of food and asked if he could get extra helpings and his plate was the fullest each evening. One lady couldn't make up her mind which entree to have so they brought her BOTH! They were quick, friendly and efficient. Dinner was definitely a pleasure! We had breakfast in both the Windjammer and the King and I. We preferred the King and I for breakfast as the food seemed fresher and tasted better than the buffet offerings. We did have to eat in the Windjammer most mornings however as our excursions all seemed to be the first off the boat and the Windjammer was definitely quicker. I can't say that the food in the Jammer was bad as it was quite tasty, but buffet food can only go so far in quality. We only ate lunch on the ship on sea days and then it was in the Solarium Cafe. This was because the French fries there were killer! We even went back late in the evenings. Having a late dinner, not being party animal night owls and having to get up early, we only made one midnight buffet. In addition, just after set up it started raining. The crew was hustling to get the food under cover! We did see photos of the midnight buffets and heard stories, so I feel we may have missed out here. The Ben and Jerry's cart beside the pool was almost never open, but there was free frozen yogurt to tide me over until I could make it to the Ben and Jerry's cart in the Solarium! The coffee was good and always seemed fresh. Everybody got into the "formal nights" on the ship. There were very few who where not dressed up and I will hazard a guess that more than 2/3 of the guests went the full tuxedo and gown route. We looked mah-vel-ous, dah-link!
Lounges ~ We did not use the lounges or casino much as the ventilation was poor in these areas and the smoke got too heavy for my wife. This is the only downside of the cruise. The starboard side was smoking on deck 4 and 9 and all the bars were all smoking except for the Top Hat, which did have a non-smoking section. The wind seemed to carry smoke all over the ship. Moreover, the Cigar Aficionados (bless their hearts) made the Crown Lounge unusable to us as cigar smoke makes my wife ill. Therefore, we spent a lot of time just wandering, playing golf, in the game room and in the Top Hat's smoke free section.
Entertainment ~ This was superb as well. The singing and the dancing on stage by the crew was excellent. The acts were even better: Al Romas, The Coasters, a juggler, a magician couple. The CD was a comedian in his own right. The Coasters were the highlight of the shows. The bands and roaming musicians were all excellent and fun. You almost couldn't go anywhere at any time without music. There was a "lounge singer" with a pianist in the Centrum who sang several hours each evening and seemed to be a big hit with us quieter folk. She had a loyal band of listeners each evening and her interaction with them was personal and warm. Make sure you get to the theater early and have your drinks taken care of, this place fills up fast and it is hard for the staff to get to you.
We did not utilize the spa at all.
The exercise room was usually busy early in the mornings and again in the afternoons and Deck 10 (the running track) was a veritable traffic jam in the mornings with strollers, walkers, joggers and runners. Should have had a traffic cop up there!
There was never any shortage of stuff to do, and we carried the Compass around with us and planned our next move according to our whim. Bingo, Quest, whatever our lil hearts desired. I will try to have these posted on my website soon. dkinner.tripod.com
The ship ~ For an older, smaller ship, the Splendour is in pretty good shape. The crew is always cleaning, polishing and repairing. They did shut down one entrance to the Windjammer and remove several tables on the non-smoking side of Deck 9 so they could strip and refinish the floors there. Deck 9 is the pool deck and is lined with tables on both sides and has sliding windows beside the tables. If it is a tad too breezy on deck, just close the window! The ship was tossed about some as we spent the first and last day in 15-foot seas and had 30-knot winds (I lost my hat off the back of the ship just off Cuba) and the motion could really be felt in the theater and the dining room. We took a page from Cruise Critic and had some ginger pills along with us and seasickness was not an issue at all. I did notice that most passengers were wearing a small patch behind their ear. By that last night, it was funny to watch people all stagger in unison as we moved around the ship.
Shopping ~ We are not big shoppers, but I have to say that I was disappointed in the ship's shopping guide. It seemed like one big infomercial for Diamonds International. Grand Cayman seemed really expensive, and Belize and Costa Maya were just touristy trap T-shirt and trinket shops. I did enjoy Cozumel as we got into the smaller shops and dickered with the locals for T-shirts and other gifts. Plus they had a much larger assortment of stores (handmade boots, etc.) I already had my liquor allotment filled up with some yummy rum that I bought on the ship (cheap buzz? they 'taste test' several different adult beverages each evening and by the time you get 6-7 of those little shot glasses full, you be a real happy camper) or I would have bought some Scorpion Mescal. That stuff is GOOD. The Oriental rug store in Cozumel is amazing to visit, those rugs are beautiful, and they will tell you how each are made. A fascinating place. Make it a point to be in the Plaza at sunset if you can. The bells are ringing, the birds are singing and it is just beautiful. Tranquil is perhaps a more fitting word.
Excursions ~ We did an excursion in each port. On Grand Cayman, we took the semi submersible boat and island tour. The boat ride was fascinating, as we have to see two wrecks; a plethora of marine life and the guide was really into her stuff and made it fun. The bus ride around the island was disappointing. Real quick and dirty. The rum cake factory was the highlight and we bought several small ones to bring home to friends. We should have gone to the beach on Grand Cayman. In Belize we went to the Mayan Caverns. The caverns were a bit of a disappointment, but the ride in and out was amazing and worth the trip. You get up close and personal with the jungle and the guides were excellent. There are no adjectives that can properly describe the rainforest in Belize. Just go. In Costa Maya we went to the Kohomulich Mayan ruins. This was easily our best excursion. The guide knew his history, cared about his heritage and made it a point to convey the importance of what we were seeing. Our excursion here was 45 minutes late getting back to the ship, but the good Captain did wait for us. Cozumel was our last port and we spent the morning on the beach, Passion Island. The morning is the time to do this trip, as there were only 40 or so of us on over a mile of beach. The drinks were of a disappointing quality, but then at 9 in the morning who wants a margarita. Besides me? Quiet, relaxing and fun. As we were leaving around lunchtime, the place was starting to fill up. We went back to the ship, changed and spent the afternoon in town shopping. We took our booty back, got ready for dinner and as we had an hour and a half to kill before the show started, we went back to the pier to call the kids at home. While we were there, the heavens did open up and verily I say unto you it was real wrath of God type stuff. No warning either. So, we got soaked on the way back to the ship after trying to wait the storm out. When we got on the ship, I reached into my pocket and only found one Seapass card. My wife’s was missing. The security folk made sure she matched her photo they took when we boarded the ship and made me vouch for her (are you sure sir? You could leave her here if you are not sure!) We went to the purser's desk and they promptly issued her a new card. Although they would not give her a new soda sticker. However, most of the bartenders knew us by then and we did have our soda cups so it was never an issue.
Disembarkment was slow for some reason. Even the seasoned cruisers mentioned that it was taking longer than usual. We were supposed to be off the ship by 8:45 and didn't get off until 10:00 and another half hour getting our bags (they are not kept together, you have to hunt for them) and through customs.
We were sad to see our first cruise end. I will be cruising again. Definitely with RCI and most likely on the Splendour. It was an excellent vacation and a memorable way to spend our 20th wedding anniversary.