WHO WE ARE:
- Sandra (me): 33yo, works as consultant, from Brussels (Belgium)
- Adrienne (my mother): 63yo, retired, from Brussels (Belgium)
- Not our first cruise on RCCL (we are both Platinum) but our first trip to the Middle East.
SHIP - RCCL Mariner of the Seas
Itinerary: Barcelona (Spain) - At sea - Alexandria (Egypt) - Suez canal - Safaga (Egypt) - Aqaba (Jordan) - At sea - Dubai (UAE). Second leg of a 3-leg repositioning (Galveston, TX to Singapore)
Condition of the ship: Imho, the ship looked great. When we boarded, one shop was closed and being remodelled, the casino was open but some remodelling was still being done and during the cruise, more stores were closed en reopened after remodelling.
Crew: Mainly Asian. Our stateroom attendant, the (assistant) waiter and the girls in the spa were very very nice. Some of the crew working in the stores and in guest relations were rather cool, some even bordering on rude. It was a different experience from being on a cruise ship where there is also a lot of crew from Central and South America.
Passage through Gulf of Aden: The Gulf of Aden is known for pirates. While cruise ships are usually not their target, RCCL wanted to rather be safe than sorry. On the first sea day after Aqaba (Jordan), we had a pirate drill, so everyone (especially the crew) knew what to do in case of pirates. Also, each day during the Gulf of Aden transit, around 6pm the outside decks were closed, lights turned off, curtains in rooms and dining room etc had to be closed, ... There were extra security people brought on board + the ship received from the British navy a "security kit" (i.e. weapons and ammunition). According to "Captain Flemming from the bridge" we always had uneventful nights and no pirates were encountered.
• Room - 6238
Balcony room, on 6 floor, front of the ship. Room was nice, stateroom attendant (Hassan) did his job well, we received some towel animals and room was always clean. The only little negative was that no matter how low we turned the AC, it stayed rather warm in the room, and in the bathroom we had the choice between warm and hot water. We heard from other people that this was not only the case for us.
We had pre-ordered an Evian water package, and the water bottles were waiting in our room when we boarded the ship. The cardboard boxes from the water were re-used on our balcony to put our feet on, lol.
• Dining - My Time Dining, Windjammer & Cafe Promenade
Food: In general, the food was good. I think there was only one thing I didn't finish eating, namely the most pathetic meringue pie I have ever tasted. But other than that, no issues. The old menus had more items on them that I liked, but that is subjective and up to everyone's taste. (But I do admit that I missed some old favourites.) One thing I missed in the Windjammer were the sandwiches. Everything was available to make a sandwich yourself, but I liked having the premade ones, as they were easy to grab and take to the Solarium, to eat them there without too much of a mess. I also have the feeling that the pizza and desserts offered at the Cafe Promenade used to be better than they were now, but they were still good.
Service: We were seated the first night with waiter Michael and assistant waiter Elisabeth in the MTD section of the MDR, and liked their service so much that we always asked to be seated in their section. Service declined just a little bit halfway through the cruise but I think it was because they kept on expanding Michael and Elisabeth's section. Service in Windjammer was fine too; this was the first time I noticed them bringing around drinks during breakfast and lunch. One girl working at Cafe Promenade was grumpy for the whole 15 days. Oh well...
We both had a pedicure done at the spa, and I also took advantage of a special "Happy Hour" offer. Both treatments were heavenly. Pedicure was well done, and the nail polish was beautifully done (not always the case, in my experience). The girl was very nice and we had a great time at the spa.
The happy hour offer consisted of a back/neck/shoulder massage, foot massage, scalp massage and a facial. I wished it would never end because it was so so wonderful. I almost fell asleep and I so wanted to stay awake to enjoy it; lol!
Both experiences are worth repeating!
Shopping was quite pathetic on the ship. As the ship was in full remodelling-modus, there was always a shop closed. When we boarded the ship, the Logo shop was closed and was opened later on as a fancy watch store (it carried also MontBlanc pens). When I say fancy, I mean expensive. Like $12.500 for a watch expensive. Omega, Chopard, Mont Blanc, Baume & Mercier, Hublot, Tag Heuer, ... It was obviously targeted to the future Chinese passengers but not really to the current passengers. I highly doubt that they sold anything on the cruise. I had the feeling many people were even kind of "afraid" to go inside and look.
Next, the "cheap jewelry and sunglasses etc" store closed. On the final night, this opened again as a fancy cosmetics & perfume store.
Cosmetics & Perfume store closed to be opened a day later (without remodelling) as a purse store (Burberry, Guess and Bottega Veneta).
If I remember correctly, the last night, the liquor shop also closed.
The regular stuff that is usually sold on the cruises I have been on, was now sold on the promenade, usually at a discount. However, it made the shopping experience rather boring.
Also, regarding the Cosmetics store: it made me somehow feel like a second class passenger. I mean, for "regular" cruises, the small shop with the crappy displays is good enough. But, they go to China, and all of a sudden, a big store with nice and shiny displays, and staff that actually knows something about what they sell, is needed.
While we had good intentions, we didn't go to many shows. We saw one production show (OK), the ice show (great, but it was the last show of the cast on the ship, they were leaving in Dubai), Quest (hilarious) and the guest talent show (hilarious).
In the Planner, which we received on the first day, other things were mentioned, like crew talent show (usually our favourite show during a cruise) and 3D movies in the theatre. These never happened.
We listened a few times to Fleur de Lys trio (violin, viola, piano) and really liked the music they played (even bought the CD).
We tried trivia twice, but it wasn't a very pleasant experience. Cliques had been formed on the first leg of the repo, and we were basically chased away. It was so unpleasant that after these two times, we didn't bother with it anymore.
I participated in the Sudoku and math terror competitions, which was fun. We watched a cake decorating demonstration which was OK.
In the end, we wanted to just rest relax, and spent a lot of time in the room just doing that.
Imho, when one is on a ship, surrounded by only water, one shouldn't be complaining or whining about crappy internet-connection. On the other hand, on previous Celebrity cruises, it worked just fine.
Many of RCCL's computers in the computer area never worked. If the computer worked, it was hit or miss to get online (chances you missed were WAY higher than the chances you hit). It was quite a challenge to get online, and to stay online. It usually involved the musical chairs dance.
It was impossible for us to get on the WiFi. I managed to create an account on the RCCL-computers, managed to find the network on the netbook, but then, when I had to log in, it never worked.
On Celebrity, there is a crew member at the computer room who helped with all these issues. It would have been nice if that had been the case here too, because there were many issues (and no, I wasn't the only one with issues).
What was really nice, was the possibility to print (I forgot to print a hotel reservation; many people were printing boarding passes). That is, after you knew the trick to get the printer working (turn it off, count to 30, turn it back on).
• Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle/ Crown & Anchor events
The Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle was held on the first day at sea in the Lotus Lounge. A huge amount of people had signed up (and showed up). Cuddy, the activities manager, had some fun game to get the meeting & mingling going on. However, after this short game... the meeting was basically over and we were basically thrown out of the lounge, which was a bit of an issue as we had a gift exchange planned and people were also having small meetings regarding private excursions. It would have been nice to have the Meet & Mingle at a venue that is also free after the official time frame, so people can hang around and chat and get to know each other without being hurried.
We received 2 invitations for Crown & Anchor events (a welcome back drink and something for platinum people) but forgot both times to go. Both events were also held at the Lotus Lounge.
Upon boarding in Barcelona, we had to hand in our passports. Egyptian immigration officers apparently were sailing with us in order to do whatever was necessary (i.e. put a stamp in the passport) for our arrival in Alexandria. The passport was handed back to us during a well-organised process on a sea day.
After getting back on the ship in Alexandria, we had once again to hand over our passport in order to get the correct stamp for Safaga. The passport was handed back to us during a well-organised process on the day we went through the Suez canal.
After getting back on board in Safaga, we handed over once again our passports in order to get the Jordan stamp in it BUT did not get it back before we went on land in Jordan. Set Sail Pass was enough. However, this stressed me a bit since I like to have my passport with me when I am on land. You never know what happens and you end up in the hospital, you miss the ship, etc. So it's good to have a back-up ID for cases like this.
Upon arrival in Dubai, we got our passports back just before leaving the ship and it had the necessary stamps for Dubai. However, when we were at the passport check in the airport a few days later, there seemed to be an issue with it. I didn't understand what they were saying among each other, but it was clear there was something with the stamp. However, they let us go through.
We did not go on any ship excursions but went on private excursions with people from the roll call here on Cruise Critic.