Having sailed the Caribbean several times, the ENCHANTMENT OF THE SEAS unique 8-DAY ATLANTIC ITINERARY is what sold us on this cruise. Even historically, I have never seen another ship that combined Bermuda with two excellent ports in New England -- Boston and Newport. These ports were nicely couched between three beautiful sea days. Flying in from Charlotte to Baltimore we were among the rare travelers on the Enchantment of the Seas that did not park at the cruise port or participate in a Park Sleep Cruise program at a local hotel. Please refer to my port review for Baltimore for detailed information that you might find helpful on your pre-cruise stay.
BALTIMORE CRUISE TERMINAL -- EMBARKATION
Here is a tip for those that are taking a hotel shuttle to the port. If you travel lightly as we do, with carry-ons only, make sure to tell the hotel shuttle driver that you want to carry your own bags onto the ship. They will put them on the shuttle last so that you can get to them at the port. For most people the fact that larger luggage is processed directly onto the ship is a real advantage.
It was hard not to notice that several lines were almost empty or empty. These were dedicated to the Diamond or Diamond plus members, while us regular folks stood in fairly long cues. Being a mostly drive-in port, it seemed like the whole ship showed up at 11:00 am. Unlike in Fort Lauderdale with HAL, you are seated again after check in and then called one row at a time. Boarding seemed to be very controlled in that way. I was soon to find out why.
Rather than a genuine greeting and escort to your stateroom, you are herded around the Centrum for an introduction to at least six ways RCI can make more money off of each passenger. I have never been hit in the face with this tactic as I stepped off the gangway. Spa services, wine and soda packages, art auctions, specialty dining, tuxedo rentals and flower sales, and even the make your own stuffed animal thing, are given the hard sell with coupons or enticements to every oncoming passenger. This creates an unnecessary bottleneck during one of the most stressful times of any cruise. A wee bit of taste and decorum could go a long way here. Thankfully this approach tempered somewhat as the cruise went on, but talk about bad first impressions! I see nothing wrong with any of these extra services. We had pre-booked the tuxedo rentals and dinner at Chops. Hurray for the stockholders! Someone likely got a bonus for this brilliantly stupid idea.
After what felt like running the gauntlet around the Centrum we schlepped our bags up to the Windjammer for our first lunch. As with most of RCI and Celebrity, rooms would not be ready until 1:30 pm. I am not sure how HAL does this in Ft. Lauderdale, but if you show up at 11:45 am you are likely to wait only very briefly, then proceed directly to the ship where you are escorted directly to your room. That is my idea of a perfect embarkation. The Baltimore port staff members were very nice and welcoming. It wasn't the worst embarkation, but certainly not best I have ever seen.
THE ENCHANTMENT OF THE SEAS -- THE SHIP
In spite of a few negative reviews about being outdated and needing the upcoming dry dock badly, I felt that the ship was very well maintained overall. It is a more traditional design than those newer ships with the inner promenade. The ship has a great art collection, especially along the stairwells. I cannot confirm any of the rumors of worn carpets, dated fabrics, holes in the walls. I just did not see any of this during my cruise. This is a famously stretched version of a Vision Class ship was kept in great order as far as I could tell. The addition of Chops Grill, The Schooner Bar, and the beautiful Boleros Lounge are true advantages to the ship having been stretched. These are some of the best venues on the ship. The addition of the big architectural arches mid ship on the pool deck also add an interesting two-hill twist to the mile long Vita Track. The big disadvantage is that the ship can seem downright noisy and crowded at times with all those additional cabins and passengers. This was especially true during the big one-of-a-kind events like the deck party on the first night in Bermuda. Overall I think the activities staff did a good job of spreading events around the ship. In fact, almost every inch of this ship is well used. Perhaps I have a bit of a bias since I recently sailed on HAL's Westerdam, which is 3000 tons larger and has 400 fewer passengers.
THE CENTRUM is quite stunning - bordering on fierce at first impression. It reminds me of a cross between a Marriot Hotel and the Escher drawing with stairs soaring in different directions, multiple marble landings, and a giant prism glass mobile. I did warm up to this giant space after seeing it turned into a six-level arena on at least three occasions. They even stopped the glass elevators so that they could be used as suspended stands for dancing girls during a 70s dance party. Similarly, the staff show with a parade of flags was a colorful reminder of just how international RCI really is. The Champagne Bar on Deck four in Centrum is a posh and comfortable space. Also by the Centrum, the library on Deck 7 had scant offerings but a decent collection of board games. Many seem to carry a tablet or Kindle these days.
THE LOUNGES were all in great shape. There was not a single public space that I did not like. The Orpheum Theatre looked much better in person than in the pictures. Though it may be slightly small for the number of passengers, I did not see huge crowds standing at the rear that some have reported, and we sailed with a packed ship. The Schooner Bar is the only piano bar that I have ever seen that sets the piano against a wall of windows with a beautiful view of the ocean. Unfortunately it also served as the hallway to enter the larger Spotlight Lounge at the aft of the ship, as Boleros does for the Casino -- a minor complication of the addition that I really didn't think was a big deal. Surprisingly, the least utilized space seemed to be the Viking Crown Lounge. We enjoyed this space every evening before our late dinner seating. The views were absolutely stunning. This was also our favorite place for sail away. We saw three whales on the evening we sailed out of Boston. Part of the lounge allows smoking, though amazingly it never seemed smoky. Sometimes we would get impromptu entertainment from fellow passengers on the baby grand, though it always seemed to be in addition to a disco or 70s soundtrack that was at times overbearing.
OVERBEARING OVERHEAD MUSIC was a recurring theme on this cruise, and I am a true music lover. Michael Jackson's "Beat It" somehow just does not go with sunset whale watching in the Viking Crown. Similarly, being an early riser, I nor any of my other fellow coffee drinkers are used to hearing HOT! HOT! HOT! at 6:00 am on the pool deck. The same applies in the Centrum -- almost constant music, even in the middle of the night. Cruise staff, please give us a few breaks in the music, we will enjoy it so much more in context and at the right time of day. It is just not a good idea to let the playlist run 24 hours a day. If you feel the need to keep it going at least turn the volume way down in the off hours or choose a more relaxing play list. This does not create enchantment; it is just irritating and disturbing.
If you need a quiet respite, head to the deck five PROMENADE DECK and grab a chair. This is the best place on the ship to read and a feature that is very important to me when I choose a ship. The views are even better from here if you want a quiet walk to watch for sea life. The very wide deck gets unusually narrow at the bow, but it is a great place for the walkers to avoid the runners on Deck 11. Thankfully, we found it open all the way around on sea days. It was blocked at the bow at almost every other time. You can still make your laps. You just have cut across the forward stairwell lobby. I don't quite understand why they chose not to do the whole thing in teak. The front half of the ship is covered in a red rubber surface. It seems like a terribly obvious place to skimp if you are going to redo a ship from the inside out - as they did in 2005. Clearly this non-revenue generating space was not treated as a priority during the 2005 refurbishment. It was however kept impeccably clean and freshly painted.
We chose a Category L LARGE INSIDE STATEROOM 4577 on level four. In spite of being close to the Centrum and below Boleros, the room was amazingly quiet. It was not amazingly large. If you are debating whether to make this upgrade yourself, my vote would be no, if I had it to do over again. Six additional square feet does not make a very small room a large one. One desk chair and one small-scale overstuffed chair is all that the little room would accommodate other than two single beds. Being in the new section, the modular bathroom was clean and very functional. The shower had great water pressure. Amenities include wall-dispensed generic shampoo, which is very drying, and unscented bar soap that is on par with Super-8. Robes, lotion, conditioner, refrigerator, ice buckets or fruit baskets were not provided in any of the rooms below the balcony categories. There was a cabinet that looked like it was built for a refrigerator. Use this to store the overpriced food and hot drink items that clutter the tiny dresser/desktop. They will bring you an ice bucket if you ask. Storage was perfectly adequate for two people. The mattress was a bit soft for my taste, but serviceable. For those that expect a flat-screened TV, you will be disappointed until after the upcoming dry dock. Our cheerful room steward Jose did an impeccable job of keeping our room clean. In spite of being small, the room was in good shape.
THE ENCHANTMENT OF THE SEAS -- THE SERVICE
This ship has a fantastic staff and crew. The level of service is, without a doubt, this ship's biggest asset. Our room steward Jose, our waiter Frederick and his assistant Arturo, Dr. Love on the Pool Deck, Rudolph in the Casino, and the lovely and genuinely kind Marsha in the Viking Crown all remembered our names, anticipated our needs, and delivered a stellar level of service that could be a role model for some premium cruise lines. You will never lack for drink service on this ship. Our late afternoon coffee order from room service was always offered with a smile and they always asked if we wanted cookies as well. It was every bit as good as the service I received nine cruises ago as youngster on the much smaller Song of Norway in 1987, and even better overall than that of a recent experience on a more premium cruise line.
THE ENCHANTMENT OF THE SEAS - ACTIVITIES
The Cruise Compass outlines a busy schedule from 6am to 2am. The belly flop, hard rock, disco, and newlywed thing are merely spectator sports for me. These sorts of things are good for laughs, but sometimes the shows and activities bordered on cheesy and loud, and you wished that a few people had had one less cup of the free Seattle's Best coffee or one less Bahama Mama. We really enjoyed the trivia games.
The cruise director did a great version of the Neal Diamond hit list. The pool band was an absolutely top-notch reggae ensemble. Bernie Martini was a top-notch piano player and crooner. The Trio Royale did a perfectly classy performance of Edith Piaf and several other easy listening standards. They had an amazingly full and rich sound for only three members. I also appreciated the string music performances. Some of the nightly shows were better than others. The shows felt like church at times: introduce yourself to your neighbor, massage your neighbors back, etc. I understand the ice-breaker concept, but did feel terribly familiar to those that have a thing about personal space. We can laugh and smile without putting our hands on our neighbor.
The Activity Manager, Katrina, was a standout. This lady had the ability to light up an entire room when she walked in with her magnetic personality and almost star appeal. When she led the sail-away dance party on deck, it set a smiley upbeat tone for the whole cruise. They proved right up front that every member of entertainment staff really did know how to dance. It was a perfect high-energy sail away that set an upbeat tone for the rest of the cruise. The Baltimore crowd is a fun-loving crowd.
I do wish that there were more of an enrichment approach to some of the activities, or least a few that were free of the added upcharge. Sometimes you just need to bring it down a notch and learn something new or hear a good story to feel good about your day. During the one cooking demonstration that was held in the Centrum, you really couldn't see what was going on. I found it a bit irritating that several of the daily events came with substantial upcharges: pathway to yoga, bingo, with a $26 minimum entry, Martini Master Class, and Wine Tasting, etc. Look out for the $ sign beside several activities listed in the Cruise Compass. Speaking of the Cruise Compass, the back two pages of The Cruise Compass are not in bold type, yet these hard to read chronological parts of the Cruise Compass were really the only useful parts. The first two to three pages are just another opportunity to upsell in beautiful bold Technicolor. For those RCI loyal fans who like to think that RCI is far superior to Carnival, I think this cruise line may be the worst offender in the business for the hard- sell approach. While the approach certainly lacks subtly, it is always done with a smile.
THE ENCHANTMENT OF THE SEAS -- THE FOOD
THE MAIN DINING ROOM operated with surprising precision and grace. Some nights were better than others, but I never had a bad meal here. The food was very good to excellent overall, and the waiters were eager to please if you were dissatisfied in any way. The courses were served at the same time every night. The waiter knew every person's name. Everything was served hot. The lobster tails came on the second formal night. True to form, you can pay extra for the Chops Grill version of steaks and lobster on any night in the main dining room. We didn't find it necessary. The main menu offered plenty of tasty options.
CHOPS GRILL is very much worth the $30 upcharge for at least one night of your cruise. This meal was not good - it was excellent in every way. This may sound odd, but if you like cream of mushroom soup, you must have it as a starter. Five different kinds of wild mushrooms in a creamy vegetable based broth that is without a doubt the best I have ever had anywhere. My ten-ounce filet was on par with the very best steakhouses. This is another room on the ship that the pictures just don't do justice. When lit for night dinner service, the room just glows with red velvet and candlelight. It is a deluxe experience that is worth every dime.
THE WINDJAMMER CAFE is a bit of a mixed bag, but mostly good. While I love the front of the ship location with spectacular views forward, the layout and design definitely lack efficiency. Everything is laid out in a big circle. Everyone circles once to see what is available. They circle again to get what they are sure that they want. They circle again to get what they forgot or saw on someone else's plate. Then they cross the circle to get drinks if they are not lucky enough to get drink service as they sit down. There are no serving trays, so you simply can't do it all in one trip. It was crowded, but we always found a table.
The staff seemed very good at drink refills, but just can't be all over the big room at one time as people seat themselves. Even in this room, the staff was actually very good. Food ranged from quite good to bad. The starchy and imitation crabmeat - she crab soup - was downright bad. Southerners who grew up near the coast know just how good this dish can be. The burgers were small and bland everywhere on the ship. RCI should invest in a proper grill. Asian specialties were hit or miss. The salad bar looked very good and fresh. Breakfast was consistently good except for the powdered eggs. You can always get real eggs if you willing to wait in another line, although it was short. There is a good variety; you can always find something good here. Just don't expect the lido buffets like Holland America or Celebrity.
THE ENCHANTMENT OF THE SEAS -- PORTS OF CALL
Please refer to the port reviews for very detailed information on how to use public transportation and perhaps enjoy a better and certainly less expensive way to see far more for less money in each port of call.
In Baltimore I share the following:
1. Pre-cruise lodging option that won't cost a fortune
2. One of Baltimore's best crab cakes
3. Three absolutely worthwhile free attractions
4. Directions to one of Baltimore's best pub-crawls in Fells Point
5. How to use hotel shuttles to downtown and the cruise port
In Bermuda I share the following:
1. The best one-mile beach walk that the little country has to offer
2. How to visit a sea glass beach from the Royal Naval Dockyard
3. Using the buses and ferries in Bermuda
In Boston I share the following:
1. A little known bus route that will take you to the Old North Church
2. An easy time saving way to walk the best of the Freedom Trail
3. Negotiating the subway and bus back to the port from Boston Common
In Newport I share the following:
1. Why it is important to get early tender tickets.
2. A good place to get a fabulous lobster roll
3. Taking the public bus out to the mansions
4. A jaw dropping walk along the Cliff Walk
5. Two absolutely stunning mansions that should not be missed
BALTIMORE CRUISE TERMINAL - DEBARKATION
This was the easiest and best debarkation I have ever experienced. We finished breakfast. We picked up our carry-ons. We walked down the gangplank. Handed the man our customs form. The man nodded. We got in a taxi. Gone! That is no exaggeration. There is something to be said for traveling light and renting formals. It also is much less of a hassle than the Port of Miami.
IN SUMMARY I have few regrets about this cruise. It was far better than an average cruise. In fact I would sail this ship again if it fit my plans.