We joined this Canary Island cruise because of the interesting ports. We booked through a local travel agency and also booked a pre-cruise hotel night in Malaga.
PRE CRUISE HOTEL
RCCL got us a room at the Hotel AC Malaga Palacio. We took a taxi from the Malaga airport to the hotel for 20 euros. We were greeted at the reception by a helpful young man who spoke good English and we were informed that we have been upgraded to a junior suite. That was a pleasant surprise. The Junior suite was indeed spacious with separate living area. The bathroom was well appointed. The hotel package included buffet breakfast and transfer to the ship. It was a modern hotel with wi-fi in the public areas and in the 15th floor restaurant.
Embarkation was efficient because we did the online check-in earlier. We were surprised that there was no one to greet us once we got through security and were on the boat. Luckily I studied the deck plan beforehand and knew where to go to get some food. All the cabins were not available until 1:30 p.m., so new passengers had to take all their carry-on luggage with them and wandered around. As the ship was very large (142,000 tons), there was a lot of room to roam. The rooms were ready slightly ahead of schedule.
Our cabin was what was expected of an outside deluxe balcony cabin except there was a CRT television (not flat panel). The bed was quite firm. I had read some previous reviews noting the lack of usual toiletries. The fact was RCCL provided only bar soap for the shower and shampoo/bath gel in a dispenser in the shower stall. There was no conditioner or body lotion. I visited a friend's junior suite cabin and found that they had flat panel television and bottles of shampoo etc. Our cabin steward was very good and kept the room very tidy.
We went to the Windjammer Cafe at the rear of the ship for lunch and noticed that six out of twenty or so back double-glazed windows showed signs of condensation inside. There was very little service in the Windjammer Cafe throughout the cruise. There were a lot of assistant waiters around but they did not actively greet the guests or served lemonade or coffee. There was one at sea day when we noticed that there was no one around to clean the tables at 4:30 p.m. (afternoon tea time) for the whole rear section. There were also numerous occasions during breakfast that I noticed wet floors that was not cleaned up right the way, posing a hazard to the guests.
The Royal Promenade was a four storey high inside social area. There were shops and restaurants and was particularly busy at night. The inside rooms facing the Royal Promenade would probably have a lot of noise at night. There was a 70's music party one night starting at 11 p.m. and the atmosphere was very lively. The shops featured the usual souvenirs.
The production shows were done in the Lyric Theatre and they were so-so. The highlight performance was a group of four Spanish men called "Forever" and they sang like Il Divo. That show was very entertaining. We also attended an Ice Show in Studio 3 which was eye-opening. The cruise director, a Swiss fellow, spoke fluent English and Spanish alternatively and he was entertaining himself.
The food was mediocre but got better as the cruise went on. We went to the specialty restaurant, Portofino, on the second night of the cruise for $20 each person. It was supposed to serve Italian food but we found it tasted like a North American restaurant food. The service was excellent. The wine selection was not that "Italian" either, just the general wine list on the ship. There was an Italian night in the main dining room (we chose the early sitting fixed time) but again the food tasted North American. Our waiter and assistant waiter were very good at serving our table of eight. We noticed that there was no baked Alaska any time during the cruise but requested it anyway. To our surprise, they brought us individual dishes of baked Alaska the next night. Wine selection was good but soft drinks were expensive ($45 plus tips for one week).
The photography service was mediocre as well. There were photographers trying to take pictures throughout the ship but they were not enthusiastic enough. The photo gallery was poorly organized and it was difficult to find one's own photos.
Our biggest displeasure was the amount of smoking on board. Smoking was allowed in the British Pub in the Royal Promenade as well as the swimming pool area. We found that we ran into the smell of cigarettes in more places than other competitor cruise lines.
WEAR AND TEAR
The ship was built in 2001 and I understood that it is due for an upgrade in 2014. But there were signs of wear and tear throughout. Besides the condensation problem on the rear Windjammer Cafe windows, there were also signs of lack of repair. For example, three out of the four elevator call buttons in the starboard side front elevators on the eight floor were cracked on the second day of the cruise but were never replaced. There was cracked paint at the base of our bathroom shower door and around the waste container. We did not find our balcony inviting as the floor was worn and our friends made the same observation in their superior balcony cabin.
Disembarkation was very efficient. Crown and Anchor Society gold members had special disembarkation lounge in the Mozart Restaurant. Suite and other higher level guests also had their separate lounges. We utilized the RCCL's port to airport transfer. After picking up our luggage, we stepped out of the terminal building but were nearly lost. There was no RCCL representatives to point us in the direction of the appropriate buses. The transfer was handled by some Inter-cruise port staff who spoke little English. Luckily we had adequate time and eventually found our bus. Once at the Malaga airport, there were RCCL representatives to help guests find their check-in counters.
All in all it was an enjoyable cruise with great ports. The ship needed some maintenance and upgrade. The overall service level was definitely not as good as similarly priced competitors. The problem probably lies with the management as the individual staff members worked very hard to make it enjoyable.