At about 1100 in the morning we took a shuttle to the ship. Check-in was slow, but we were advised that was due boarding had not yet commenced. At check-in we had a very uncomfortable experience in that we could not board without handing in our passports, something we are not keen to do. We were given various unacceptable explanations, due fact that 2 months ago we did virtually the same cruise, from Italy, with another company, and we were not requested to deposit our passports. We asked for a manager, or someone in charge and a Customer Service Agent, from Royal Caribbean came and told us it was not necessary to hand in our passports since we did not need visas to any of the countries. His explanation that the authorities check all the passports seemed to be a slight exaggeration of the facts. He went on to say if we did not mind being woken every morning by customs, we could hold our passports. He then did a 360 about face and told us he was not prepared to give us this option, and we could not board without handing over our passports. A pretty poor show, we thought. Don't give the customer an option if it does not exist. We then spoke to a senior security officer who gave us his personal word that nothing could or would go wrong, and that the passports would be returned the day before we disembarked. I purposely have not named them, but have recorded their names.
We then boarded, and waited till 1300 to get our room, quite an acceptable procedure, with all the public facilities as well as food halls open for our convenience.
Our stateroom, 8th floor with balcony was larger than what we have had in the past, with a larger than usual size bathroom, with a user friendly shower cubicle and not shower curtains. sink and plenty of mirrors and storage space. No shampoo and conditioner, something which was stated as being in our rooms, our cabin attendant said the shampoo and conditioner now comes mixed together -- not good for those of us who like to use only conditioner. 2 small bars of cheap smelling soap are supplied on the first day, one more five days later-- no more. The room itself boasts more than ample cupboard, storage space and endless mirrors, What can I say, large double bed, sofa bed, mini-fridge, vanity table, lights, mirrors; only thing lacking is a small kettle with cups for early coffee in bed, but as I never leave home without my kettle and coffee --no problem.Another point, mini bar with drinks but no glasses are supplied.
The ship. Certainly the most impressive, grandiose and most spacious ship we have ever sailed on. From the Promenade with its bars and shops, the decor, the colors, the winding staircases, to the various bars,lounges and quiet intimate corners with such beautiful decorations, statuettes chandeliers, you name it; here it was bigger and better! Wide corridors with display cases with different objects, the chandeliers, and the copper and glass friezes, quite out of this world! It literally takes a few days to take in all the features of this magnificent vessel, from the ceilings with different decorations, to the floors -- see the entrance to the Casino! The atriums are something to see and marvel - just to wander the different floors with the display cases with different objects, the staircases with artwork, superb!
General Less public announcements are made, making for a quieter time, all in at least English and Italian. Some of the shows outstanding, such as Grazie Quaranta. Good pianist singer in the Schooner Bar, other artist's singers of a high standard, and the ice show -- simply superb. One suggestion, the time changing of clocks could be made more prominent, like a separate reminder on ones bed the same night, as on other lines.!, We also missed the finer small points such as name of room steward with contact details, chocolates on pillow at night, daily replenishment of soap. Its 6 star accommodation with 3 star services!
Gratuities -- This cruise company has quite a different approach to gratuities, either agree to pay the "Customary Gratuity Amounts "and the amount is charged to ones credit card, or envelopes are placed in ones stateroom and the passenger can decide on the amount of the gratuities. My opinion, with regard to all lines we have sailed on, is that too much emphasis is placed on gratuities, which should be left to the individual to decide. If gratuities are part of the salaries, than the cost of the cruise should be increased by the amount of the gratuities and then passengers can decide themselves whether and how much to leave to those that gave extra service.
Smoking -- my major grouse. When will one of the cruise lines decide to make the ships completely smoke free? Not likely that smokers will stop cruising because more people fly today than in the past and is there smoking on aircraft? The fact that one side of the ship is smoke free means nothing when people disregard the notices. Casino -- smoking without even a non-smoking night, as on some other lines. Maybe if smoking was stopped the smokers would be more on edge and gamble more?! Bars in the Promenade -- smoking, Decks and balconies-- smoking. Most unpleasant for the non-smokers, with little or no control where people smoke.
Food -- We found it easier to eat in the Windjammer, the buffet restaurant, than in the main dining room as we could eat when we wanted to, enough to satisfy anyone, in my opinion. Food hot, looked good, what more could one ask for? Well laid out and stocked Islands"with a good range of foods on offer, however, we were surprised at the amount of pork on offer. The range of fresh salads was also more limited than other lines, this noticeable as my wife is vegetarian and mainly eats salads. There was an asian"section, good range of antipasti. However there were slight differences. The bagels and breads are pre-toasted which means we ate cold, hard toast in the mornings. The salmon however, was of a lower standard than we have enjoyed on other lines. At breakfast there is a dedicated counter for freshly fried eggs or omelet's. At dinner the same system applies to pasta or stir fried vegetables.
Drink stations, always well stocked, offering water, lemonade, iced tea as well as hot drinks are self service, although the wait staff do come around to offer to bring to the table.
Generally the service in the Windjammer was good, although some mealtimes were very crowded with problems to find a vacant table, and announcements were made to vacate tables for other guests, for us a first!.
Last note, when we departed the ship I specifically looked for a final account, although I knew none was due me, as we had not spent/bought anything. I did not find an account on our door, as I saw on other staterooms and correctly assumed the amount was nil. Mistake, I received a debit on my credit card, and have no idea what it is for. According to company rules, all queries must be made before leaving the ship as nothing can be requested thereafter. Catch 22 for me!