Having just completed an Alaskan cruise in July on the Sapphire Princess, I didn't think we would be able to be on the ocean again until next year at the earliest.
As luck would have it, we received an e-mail advisory from the internet travel agency we have used in the past, advertising some amazing rates for the week of 9/11/06. We didn't jump quickly, but before the opportunity evaporated, we were able to book a guarantee inside room on the Sovereign of the Seas for only $189 with a coupon book. We used a free airline ticket from a Wendy's promotion and took advantage of a low Air tran rate ( $64 on 9/11) and went for it!
We have cruised 6 times before, 3 each year for the last three years,on both RCCL and Princess. When we have cruised in hurricane season to take advantage of the low rates we have always lucked out with weather so were were game for the challenge. We had been on Majesty of the Seas in 9/2004, so were familiar with that family of ships (although we were well aware of the wear on the Majesty from our own experience). Since the cruise reviews (thanks all you reviewers!) spoke about the refurbishment of the Sovereign last year and its new linens in August, we were hopeful about a cruise on the Sovereign at such a great price.
The biggest challenge we faced was finding transportation from Orlando airport to Port Canaveral. We aren't keen about the big buses and delays when using the cruise line shuttles. After getting quotes and checking sites from a number of shuttle/limo services, at an average of $170 for 2 (not like we would do that when the 4 days were $190 pp), I almost tried to arrange to do the RCCL bus. Then, a cruise friend suggested Enterprise rental car and that the drive was easy. This turned out to be a wonderful option.( more on this later)
We left from our local Dayton airport, and you usually breeze through security ( even with my titanium knee). Thank goodness we went early knowing it was 9/11. We just made it to the gate through a long security line and they started seating everyone.
We changes planes in Baltimore/Washington. While we were waiting, it turned 8:46 a.m. There was an announcement made on the speaker system commemorating 9/11 and they asked for a moment of silence remembering all who had died that day. I have never witnessed such deafening silence in an airport. EVERYONE stopped what they were doing, there was not a word spoken. The loading and unloading of all planes stopped. It seemed to go on for more than a minute and people just sat or stood quietly with their heads down or thoughtful. Rarely in a public place have I witnessed such respect. No matter where you stand politically, if you care about world issues or not, there is no denying 9/11 is so entrenched in the American consciousness. Later the stewardess made a hand motion to come forward and everyone got on the plane just as quietly. I won't soon forget this.
We got in early, retrieved our bags and called for the Enterprise shuttle. We barely waited five minutes. We got to the agency, they whisked us through loading all our luggage- it was so streamlined. We had a quick hour drive in the sunshine and was just as courteously and quickly got us to the port. I would highly recommend this option to anyone leaving from Orlando/Port Canaveral (roundtrip was only $55 total for both of us!!) There was the usual line (we have only one more cruise on RC to get express check in. But it is pleasant to people watch or talk to people.
We were in our room on the Emerald deck before you knew it (about 2pm). I had forgotten how small the rooms were on that family of ship(the oceanview rooms were only 3 sq. ft. bigger so we didn't upgrade). We went up to the Windjammer for a quick lunch. It's a little confusing at first to figure the set up, even though it is in one place and redesigned. The past reviews are all correct about the shortcomings of the Windjammer are right: food temperatures are a little improved- the hot foods are hot, but the cold foods are often warm. It is just too frenetic with people vying to get food items. We only ate there for one lunch when we returned to the ship too late for the lunch in the dining room.
It is always fun to explore the ship, do the spa tour and get oriented before the muster. The floor plan all came back to me (but not my husband).
Princess does have the right idea for muster. Being used to the way RCCL does it on the deck helped. But having you in your life vest for the whole time--I felt sorry for the parents with little kids who didn't understand and just wanted that hot thing off of them.
We had time for R and R before the late dinner. We really lucked out with our tablemates in Illusion. We were at a table for 12, but there were never more than the original six of us. Great couples, retired, with great cruise stories and other experiences to share. Our steward, always had table magic tricks. The head waiter stopped each night, more attentive than on other cruises.
Our room steward, Dios, with TEN years experience was tops. He was a high point and our favorite of any other cruise. I gave an excellent evaluation and if anyone from RCCL reads these- he should be on a more upscale ship for seven day cruises- his service was perfect. Very funny. Had his own humorous twist on the towel animals ( we had heard of this, but never had a steward that did it)- putting a pair of glasses or sunglasses on them. Very personable guy.
Day 2- Coco Cay. The island was actually nicer than we remembered it: now having more than enough chairs and enough hammocks. We walked down to the quiet section of the beach, found a little cove with two hammocks and two chairs and set up camp for the day. Rented one floating mat so we could take turns moving the other around in the surf. We got to see a whole group of iguanas as we walked to lunch. Just stared at the sea and sky and listened to the waves. It was my 55th birthday and I have never had such a serene and enjoyable birthday! Totally enjoyed the time alone with my husband.
(Warning if you have kids: I was shocked to see RCCL charged for water slides and the water play area for kids. I would have expected this should have been provided as a service on the island. Also, the bathrooms say they are cleaned and restocked, but they walk in sign their name and leave, cleanliness wasn't up to Princess private island standards.)
It was formal night and we had time to take in the Captain's welcome and the Rosario Strings. They have received a lot of compliments in past reviews and they are well-deserved. They always drew a large crowd and people were willing to stand a long time at the railings in the atrium to hear them.
Show Theatre- This theatre is so comfortable and well-designed with separate chairs and couches, a place for your drink and a good lighting and sound system. We thought the Dancing with the Movies show the last night was one of the best we've seen on a ship, good cast especially the two lead voices.
Day 3, Nassau. Not our favorite port, but is always the choice on a short cruise. We had never been to Atlantis s we took the $5 water taxi. Explored the public areas for free, as it is off season. Looked at the public sections of the aquariums and were spell-bound. I was very tempted to pay for the whole tour, but we didn't. It was so hot outside, we abandoned our plans to walk to the public beach and returned to the ship after sharing a piece of pizza at one of the Atlantis restaurants (this was affordable and excellent). Atlantis is a pristine place. We enjoyed seeing all the Chihuly glass sculptures, the over-the-top unique decor, that varies so much from room to room, every detail perfect. The ride back to the water taxi was a bit precarious- I don't know how the boat we were on stays afloat, but you are close enough for even a bad swimmer to get to shore.
Since we saved by not going on the aquarium tour, I took advantage of the spa port day special. The spa is not as well-appointed as other ships, and they play basketball above you, but I still enjoyed it. My sun loving husband went to the pool area until he was so hot with no breeze and the noisy games started. The bar staff at the pool were always accessible without driving you crazy with interruptions.
Food: We always did the breakfast in the dining room. The menu is the same every day but the Eggs Benedict, Morgan's favorite were always perfect. The food in the Windjammer is always the same (how do people stand to eat there everyday even for dinner?). The "tea" items are kind of a joke, no good cheeses for appetizers to take to the room for before dinner. Not enough fresh fruit. They still don't have the Windjammer option figured out- it is on par below a Ryan's. We went to one midnight buffet, but I didn't eat anything as it was too soon after dinner. Still some people at late dinner were there with full plates. A lot of it was similar to what they had all the time, but the ice sculptures were nice. We missed the anytime dining option with a choice of restaurants each night. I would think if you had been on Princess or Norwegian, you would miss this.
Ship redo: They have updated a bit. The baths are not brand new though. they still have some wear but not inacceptable. The most successful was the Bolero Lounge. It actually has good decorator touches and lighting. The one success story of the redo. The carpeting is obviously new, but still has that "stuck in an earlier time" design, the same is true of the lighting in the public spaces- doesn't look like 2006 or just good retro cutting edge design. But then, this ship doesn't charge the high ticket fares. Still, I am a Realtor and always say- the right color and fabric design doesn't often cost any more than a bad choice. You should always go for good design.
Fitness: if treadmills are what you want- fine. No free weights, machines. I try to use the extra time to go to the fitness area, but it had nothing so it was easier to just relax at the pool.
Pools. The adult and children pools are so close as to not have separation. There is no quiet, adult only pool on this ship. But, if you have kids, they can't get out of your sight if you want to keep an eye on them, so that can be good for families.
Complete relaxation with time at the pool, sunning. Wonderful last lunch in the Mirage: food, service, everything. We planned to go up to the Viking Crown to have a martini and watch the sunset but passed one couple from our table at the Schooner bar. It was cloudy and we decided to join them and had a wonderful conversation before the show. The Friendship parade was really a lot of fun. And a great final meal. We ended by seeing the Dueling piano guys. Others had recommended them. They ARE a hoot! Go see them even if country or rock isn't necessarily your thing. They are real showmen and get the crowd going.
Disembarkation: Nice, early breakfast in the dining room with two couples we had met on an earlier day. We self-loaded off (forgot the right term for this). After being stuck in a stairwell for 20 minutes, it was smooth going through customs, off ship, to Enterprise to get the car and the airport. We looked at each other on the flight home and said it was was a great cruise, for being an unexpected find, such a good price. It gave my husband the sun and beach experience he really misses if we don't get to go once a year or so.
My husband is not spoiled, but he couldn't help it during the cruise. He kept comparing our two times on Princess (once with an inside and once a balcony) with Royal Caribbean. On attention to detail, the ship design and care, the restaurants, the food, the private island, RCCL just came in second place. But, for the VALUE of what we paid, I would still rate this cruise well. Just shop carefully to get the best value- this ship is not worth paying top dollar. What is really the best part of the cruise-- being on the water with the lulling and balancing movement of the ship. Watching the water change from midnight sapphire to turquoise to dawn gray with yellow highlights. I crave just being on the water. I could be on any ship and find it a good experience just to be on the water.