Firstly, for those who have read my previous reviews I hope I've demonstrated that my comments are as objective as possible and where possible as positive as I can be. This review is based on my expectation for the price we paid. Had I paid less I may have thought our experience was acceptable. This is quite long, but bear with me!
As a result of lots of positive comments from friends and the fact that I love anything to do with water we decided to give Cruising a go. I chose Royal Caribbean because it sounded like an American company and therefore I expected a really high standard of customer service. Furthermore, as it was a first time experience I decided to go for a high-end option. To make the booking I initially rang straight through to RCI, but they couldn't organise the itinerary I wanted (odd), but they sold the cruise well so I contacted my own agent and they were able to book the complete deal without any fuss (dial a flight -- Michelle). Paying the amount we did we expected priority for various procedures such as boarding, lounges, bathing, dining, the usual and from the tone of the call to RCI I wasn't expecting anything less -- you get what you pay for. We set off, really looking forward to the trip!
We arrived at the port in Dubai to embark on the 'Serenade of the Seas' (1) We were surprised to note that there was no one at the entrance to identify what type of customer we were and to guide us from there. In fact this set the tone for the trip and much of what we discovered over the next 7 days was as a result of default rather than good customer care. We made our way to the check in and were advised that we could access our stateroom at 1pm. (2) we were told to wait in the general waiting area. First impression was not very good. (3) Deck 11 is a bit tired looking and reminiscent of a 2-3 star holiday camp. By the way, I was 15 years old the last time I was at a holiday camp and I think I'm well past that type of experience!
We made our way to what was an Owners Suite. It's a 2 bed-roomed suite with a living area, a bathroom, en-suite and balcony. Couldn't swing a cat on the balcony as 2 sun-beds, a table and 2 chairs took up all the room. (4) As the week progressed the balcony became a real source of irritation. We were in very high temperatures and as the barrier was fully with no ventilation it became like an oven so unusable! By day 2 when I realised that getting a location on the general sun deck that didn't involve getting intimately close up and personal with all the other guests was nigh on impossible, the fact I couldn't our balcony was really frustrating.
Later that afternoon we went in search of lunch. 'The Windjammer' was the only option. This is a buffet style canteen. First impression -- Staff really very miserable and unfriendly -- oh dear, and worst of all, plastic plates - Yuk! Unfortunately, having 24 years in the customer services sector means I'm more aware of what good service is and if you've read my previous reviews I'm really good at complimenting those organisation who deliver well. However, rather than throw myself overboard I decided that the best course of action is to eat (the plastic food) and have a glass of wine. (5) We had bought the premium drinks package $55 per day per person, which included all types of drinks. Total cost to us, as 4 adults in the family, was Â£995 for the week. We aren't heavy drinkers, but we didn't want the hassle of having pay for each item so consolidating it seemed a good idea. I asked the rather fed up waitress if I could have a glass of wine. Waitress - "Do you want red or white?" Me- "White wine pleases. What have you got?" Waitress- "Chardonnay" Me- "Don't you have Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio" After all these are probably 2 of the most popular grapes!! Waitress- "No, just Chardonnay!" Brilliant, I thought, this is going from bad to worse, which way to throw myself over board? So far rubbish greeting, shabby boat, horrendous canteen, miserable staff and now I can't get something reasonable to drink! Needless to say we dispensed with the premier drinks package -- at the end of the week we spent less than the cost of the package anyway, so would not have been worth it!
(6) When we got to the cabin we were advised that our luggage would be delivered to our cabin by 8pm. Joy -- this meant we wouldn't have had the option to lie in the sun as we didn't have any swim wear! We booked 'my time dining' for 6.30pm so couldn't get changed for dinner either! (7) Our cabin attendant arrived to show us round the cabin. He was a nice chap but not very informative. He showed us the manual and left.
At 6.30 we made our way to 'my time dining' located in the Reflections restaurant. It was very cramped, but looked really pleasant and professional. Nice tableware, neatly laid out and thankfully smiley waiting staff. Thank God for Yasar and Harry. Yasar is from the Philippines and was genuinely keen to ensure that we had a good dining experience. Our family just loved him. He was so sweet and polite, and so we generally took his menu recommendation. To be fair, he was normally absolutely right. 'Miss Alice' and 'Sir Alan' was how he addressed my daughter and husband, I think I was 'Madam Janet' and he really made up for the poor impression we'd had up to that point. What was even more endearing was that even though we'd eaten at the speciality restaurants for the following 3 nights and given that there were 2000 guests on board, he remembered our names when we ate there again. So impressed were we with this team we ate there for the rest of the week. Harry was also really sweet and as the week progressed he opened up a little more. They made a very good team. Top tip -- Take the 'wine package' for dinnertime, as you get better choices and overall probably works out as being more cost effective.
- (8) Entertainers on this ship were awful. Singing is not there best feature! Whoever auditioned them needs to have their ears tested. The karaoke singers in the pub were better.
- Casino -- Staff don't smile. We didn't actually use the casino, as we wouldn't know what to do except lose money, but it was interesting to observe.
- Theatre Shows - My husband and daughter attended the Beatle's night (big hype for this show!), and had it not been for the fact they were at the front, they would have left very early on. I was given the impression that the shows were fabulous on a cruise -- not evident on this one!
- Pool area and sun deck -- one word Horrible. Beds were plastic and uncomfortable and far too close (some very intimate moments could be had if you were that way inclined) and the pool looked decidedly dodgy. (9) I love the sun and it was one of the key features of why we chose this cruise. However, I managed 6 very unbearable hours in cramped and thoroughly unpleasant bathing conditions. My family did not even entertain the idea of going out onto the deck and as our balcony was like an oven we couldn't lie out in our own space. As a result we came home the same colour as we left!
- Restaurants - Chops Grill -- Really, really great steaks and pudding. A definite must. Giovanni's -- Good Italian food. Azumi -- very bland and lacked character
- Concierge Club -- Opening hours not brilliant as these were 8-10.30am and 5-8.30pm. Wasn't opened on day 1 from 1pm, which would have been really useful as could have given us a lot of information. We were booked on an early sitting so didn't get round to going there until day 3. Provided complimentary drinks and food, which were okay, but no Gordon's or Bombay Gin! Dawson and Lee were lovely and ensured that we were never without a drink. Francois was really helpful.
- Trips -- Seriously overpriced and so we didn't use the service
- Stop over's --Throughout the trip we docked at industrial ports so nothing attractive to look at. Nothing to be done about that, but again as we were first timers it was disappointing.
Suggestions -- as per numbers
1. There should be someone to meet priority clients and to guide them through the process of checking in and then advise what to do
2. The concierge lounge should be open for the whole day on day 1, as it would allow guests to meet each other, break the ice so to speak. It would also provide an opportunity to learn more about what to expect or what is provided during the trip rather than guests having to figure it out as they go along
3. I understand that the ship has had recent refurbishments and this is evident in most parts of the ship, but the areas on deck 11 look really worn, so first impression not good. Other areas did look good.
4. The balcony should have slatted barrier to allow air to get through. Useless in extremely high temperatures
5. Premier drinks package should have a variety of wines. Lets face it a reasonable bottle of Sauvignon Blanc can be bought at cost for a few pounds, in bulk even less, so don't be mean. It appears a bit money grabbing!!
6. For priority client's luggage should be taken to rooms at earliest time, otherwise what's the point in paying extra?
7. Cabin attendants for Gold card clients should be given time to actually instruct their guests on options and what to do rather than directing them to a manual to read
8. Get better singers.
9. Section off an area for Gold card clients to sunbath
What we loved
1. 70's night was hilarious
2. The guests who sang on the Karaoke night
3. Yasar, Harry, Dawson, Lee and Francois
4. Chops Grill
5. Coming home!
Would we cruise again -- Yes, but on a smaller and more customer focused ship. We would never travel to this part of the world again and will try Europe or somewhere that has a more attractive and interesting landscape. Also one where you pay for the whole package rather than feeling as though everywhere you turn someone is after more money.