Completed a 45 million dollar revitalization on 11/25/11.
Ports of Call: Venice Italy, Dubrovnik Croatia, Corfu, Santorini, Athens and Katakolon Greece, Venice Italy
We left Atlanta on the late afternoon of Wednesday June 12th flying on Delta direct to Venice Italy. We booked our flights through Kayak.com back in September of last year. This was the first time using Kayak and I highly recommend them. We were able to fly Business class for just a little more than the price posted on Delta's website for coach. The Kayak website actually links you directly to the airlines website to book your flight. Very easy. Our flight time direct to Venice from Atlanta was listed as nine hours and forty-five minutes but we made it in nine hours flat non stop. A long flight but overall we found the Delta service great. We were on a Boeing 767ER both ways.
With the nine hour More
flight time and the six hours difference in time between Atlanta and Venice, we arrived at the Marco Polo airport at 8:30 AM on Thursday morning June 13th. I had ordered a car service from Venice Group Services.
We were staying two full days in Venice prior to our cruise so we needed a way to get ourselves and luggage to our hotel. Prior to leaving I had looked at all options for transportation from the airport to the Piazzale Roma (bus and taxi area) in Venice. The Piazzale Roma is the closest that one can get car or bus wise to Venice. Options other than hiring a car service:
Taxi - Cost about 40 euros from the information that I read
Water Taxi - Cost is around 100 euros and up.
Bus - 6-7 euros
We wanted something easy and it was. The driver met us just outside of luggage claim and we were on our way. The cost was $50.00 and well worth it not to hassle with carrying luggage on the bus which is by far the least expensive option to get to the Piazzale Roma. There are a few more options out there but the above seem to be the most popular.
As mentioned earlier, the Piazzale Roma is the closest one can get to Venice with car, bus or train. The Piazzle Roma bumps into the Grand Canal. When choosing a hotel for our two night stay, I kept this in mind. I wanted a hotel that would be easy to carry luggage and get to the people mover on cruise morning. For those that prefer a hotel in other areas of Venice such as near the San Marco or Rialto area, a private water taxi or Vaporetto would be the answer in place of carrying your luggage over a large number of small but many bridges and their many steps.
Our hotel for the two nights was the Hotel Papadopoli. I checked it out and the reviews were very consistent on this being a nice hotel and it met the criteria of being very close to the Piazzale Roma. We only had one bridge to carry luggage over. Looks much easier than it is when carrying multiple pieces of luggage and trying to dodge others walking over the bridge.
Our room overlooked the Tolentini Canal. Cost of room averaged about $350.00 a night U.S. We were traveling during high season for Venice and we had a standard room. The room while a little smaller than we are used to here in the U.S was very nice and clean. The bathroom was much larger than I expected. The room rate included wireless and breakfast for two mornings. The breakfast by the way was very good. Plenty of options as they tried to have something that would appeal to the many different nationalities staying at the hotel.
The hotel had a really nice bar in the lobby. The bar was actually a nice place to have drinks prior to dinner. We did this both nights. They also have a person playing the piano. Very relaxing after a hard day sight seeing and a nice way to start the evening. Our room could be noisy at times. Especially early in the morning but overall it wasn't bad and we would stay at this hotel again with no hesitation. The staff was very accommodating.
We really did not sleep at all on the flight over even though it was an overnight flight. Once arriving in Venice, we were able to get an early check-in at the hotel. Our room was ready at 11:00. We decided to grab a quick shower and find lunch. I was told that the worst thing to do after a long flight was to lay down and take a nap. We decided to press through the day and stay awake. That was very good advice.
As stated above we spent two days in Venice pre-cruise. After lunch on the first day we decided to buy a 36 hour Vaporetto pass. This was much less expensive than purchasing single tickets and you can ride as much as you want getting off and on at different areas around Venice. The Vaporetto is the same as a city bus here in the U.S but's on the water.
We decided to take the Vaporetto around to San Marco Square which is basically the entire route around the Grand Canal. It was very relaxing which is what was needed after being up all night and trying to push through the day. We saw many sights around Venice which IMHO is one of the most unique and beautiful cities in the world. One suggestion that I forgot to make at the beginning of this review. Along with researching your cruise here at Cruise Critic, pick up the Rick Steeves books and videos on the locations that you plan to travel. A good source of information IMHO.
We also visited St. Mark's Basilica - Cost was free to enter but there are additional costs once inside if you want to see places other than the main part of the church. They do not allow photos once inside. There was a very long line to enter St. Mark's but it moves very quickly but it is out in the direct sun. Also they don't allow bare shoulders or knees showing. I had on shorts but they did not say anything as they just about covered my knees. Women seemed to have more issues here than the men. If you do not have the correct clothing, they will sell you a cover up for one euro. I saw people exiting the church handing their cover ups to those that they felt would have an issue getting in with their dress.
Prior to leaving I read on the Cruise Critic Italy boards that there was a transportation strike planned for Friday June 14th. It did happen. The Vaporettos only ran during rush hour in the morning and afternoon of that day. In the end this was a good thing. We set out from our hotel on foot. We were about a thirty to forty-five minute walk to the Rialto Bridge and San Marco square. This enabled us to see the real Venice and something that I highly suggest. Do not sit on a Vaporetto all day as you only get a small piece of Venice. Walk the streets. You will not get lost. There are signs everywhere stating one of three things. Per Rialto, Per San Marco or Per P Roma. Depending on where you're headed, those arrows will get you there.
Dining in Venice: We really did not plan our places for dining prior to leaving. We wanted the flexibility to choose where and the time. The hotel was very good at giving suggestions to some of their favorite places. They were spot on each time. I suggest asking the locals as they know the best places to eat.
For lunch each day we chose pizza and it did not disappoint. For dinner we were wanting pasta as either of us are not huge seafood fans. Again we had a great dinner both times and the service matched that. Overall on this cruise we found the locals in every place visited to be very nice and helpful. Language was not an issue. Just about everywhere we went, everyone spoke English.
Venice can be expensive. Remember that everything has to be basically hand delivered as there are no trucks or cars. Supply boats are brought in through the canals and off loaded. Items then have to be hand trucked to each business.
My final thoughts on Venice in a moment.
Next up was cruise morning. We awoke and decided to head over the the cruise terminal at around 10:30. We checked out of our hotel and then headed back over the one bridge. The bridge led us back to the Piazzale Roma and then to the people move. The people mover is a small train that takes you closer to the cruise terminals. The cost is one euro and tickets can be purchased at the people mover terminal.
Now this is the area that some might not agree with me but I will never take the people mover to the cruise ships again. I was told that it was not a long walk once you exited the people mover terminal and that's true depending on where your ship is docked. There was supposed to be a shuttle running to take passengers and their luggage to the cruise terminals. There was not one running when we were there.
Our ship was docked at one of the terminals that was farthest away from the people mover. In the hot humid Venice sun carrying luggage (yes it was on wheels) was not my idea of fun. It was a good twenty minute walk and by the time we reached the cruise terminal we were in a full sweat. Next time I will spend the money to take a private water taxi to the cruise area. After we boarded the ship, we later stood at the top overlooking the same area that we had walked earlier and many did not look happy as they were making their way to the terminal. The Norwegian Jade passengers had an even further walk as their ship was docked behind us.
Once arriving at the terminal, they had one line for those with tags and a line for those without. We had tags and you work your way up to the guys taking your luggage and loading it on a belt to go through the scanner. At this point you take the escalator up and follow the signs to check in. They do have Priority check-in for those in suites, Diamond, D+ and Pinnacle. Check in was easy. We were issued board pass #1 and they started boarding shortly after.
Once at the terminal, it was a piece of cake. Getting there was not as fun.
My final thoughts on Venice. She is a beautiful city that has to be experienced to be appreciated IMHO. She has a lot to offer and is a unique place. Cruising out of Venice down the Grand Canal provided by far the most beautiful sail away that I have experienced.
We will be back again.
Now I will spend a little time talking about the Splendour. Our last cruise was on the Celebrity Reflection. We had an outstanding time on that cruise. We did find ourself comparing things on this cruise verses the Reflection. Not the ships themselves but the other areas. It's hard not to do.
The Splendour along with her sister Legend are the two smallest ships in the RCI fleet coming in at around 70,000 tons. We chose this cruise for three reasons. Size of ship, itinerary and length of itinerary. This was only a seven night cruise which we needed this time around.
The Splendour underwent a major 45 million dollar revitalization in fall of 2011 and she looked great. I saw no real wear and tear on this ship at all. RCI added a Chops Grille and Izumi restaurant in the Viking Crown lounge. Don't worry, they reconfigured the lounge and there is still a very nice Viking Crown lounge with outstanding views.
RCI also added the nursery, big screen system by the pool, Park Cafe, Way Finder System, Wireless Internet and the new R-Bar in the Centrum.
The crew on board was great with the exception of the Guest Services desk. They did not seem like a happy bunch at all and I never saw the desk busy. Saw very few officers around the ship which was the opposite of Celebrity where they were everywhere every day.
The ship also added the new Centrum entertainment Aerial Show. This happened on three nights. A different short show each of the three nights. Here is the show from the first night.
Something different and nice to see that RCI is trying to be different from their competitors. Also, there was live music all over the ship. Out by the pool, in the Centrum, different bars, etc. The Viking Crown turns in the dance club in the late evening.
RCI also added a Diamond and Concierge lounge by taking in part of the Top Hat lounge on deck five forward. This was somewhat of a disappointment as they were not able to put up complete walls to separate from the Top Hat lounge and if there was any type event going on in the large lounge, it was very noisy in the Concierge lounge.
The one area of the ship that we enjoyed was the Park Cafe. This was also added during the revitalization. On boarding day very few knew of this area and most head to the Windjammer. It was very quiet back on the first afternoon. The only real difference that we noticed in the menu was the roast beef sandwich was pork tenderloin or at least it was on the days that we ate there on this ship but it was still very good. It is located inside of the solarium.
Pool area. One night on the big screen they showed The Wizard of Oz. One thing that I did pay attention to as I don't really care for the big screens on a ship. I never noticed the volume to be loud. They showed movies in the evenings and during the day they showed music videos but the volume was never loud when I was out there and turned completely down when the band was playing. The Splendour does have a nice big outdoor promenade deck. Something that is going away on most of the new builds. This was very nice in the evening to walk out at sunset along with being down near the water. The R Bar was an addition when the ship was revitalized. It is located on deck four in the Centrum. There was a band here every evening prior to dinner. I noticed two different bands here during the week. We enjoyed coming here for a drink but one major complaint for me was the number of announcements. Why have a Compass if you have to tell us every hour what is going on? On Celebrity there is one announcement a day and that is at noon from the Captain. This was annoying and when we were sitting at the R-Bar the speakers were directly above us and it was loud. The announcements were done in several different languages so it was never a short announcement.
For this cruise we chose cabin #8010 which is a Grand Suite on deck #9. Without a doubt this was by far the noisiest cabin that we have ever had on a ship. It was located directly under the pool deck and directly above our cabin was the outdoor Windjammer seating area. It usually started about four in the morning with the crew cleaning the deck and moving chairs around. Then when the WJ opened it was a constant sound of walking and chairs being moved back and forth.
We have had cabins located directly below the pool deck before and have never had this issue. We also missed Celebrity's non smoking policy. Our neighbors on this cruise smoked out on their balcony all the time. While they had every right to do this and we knew this going in, it still was annoying to have the smell linger and linger. We also missed the no smoking policy in the casino.
The ship advertised as having ship wide wireless. Our cabin was about 50 yards away from the RCI On-Line area on the same deck and it would not work in our cabin. If I walked down to the RCI On-Line it worked fine and was surprisingly quick. Kind of annoying. Don't count on it to work in your cabin.
The Cruise Director and Activities Director were annoying on this cruise. The CD reminded me of a used car salesman. His morning show was a complete joke. The Activities Director was loud. Annoyingly loud. Again, this is where we kept comparing RCI to Celebrity. None of this kept us from enjoying the cruise but it was easy to notice.
The food on this ship was some of the best that we have experienced on RCI. We had MTD but never made it once to the MDR. We always book MTD just in case we decide at the last minute to dine in the MDR. We dined three times in Chops and it was without a doubt the best food and service that we have experienced in Chops on any ship. We also enjoyed the VCL menu two nights. Service here one night was not up to par but the food very good. We used room service a good bit including one night for dinner on the balcony. It was quick and hot food was hot but they usually screwed something up on about every order. Finally the Windjammer. We ate here once for breakfast and dinner and twice for lunch. By far the best experience in the WJ in a LONG time. Especially after cruising the two Oasis class ships. Plenty of variety and the food was good. As good as buffet food can be.
Entertainment - We only went to one show but left after about twenty minutes. To be honest, after experiencing the entertainment on Oasis and Allure it's hard to sit through the shows on the smaller ships. Add to that we were usually tired from the day in port. I do know that they had entertainment all around the ship. Plenty to do if you wanted it.
Our first port of call was Dubrovnik in Croatia. Prior to the cruise I had no idea if we would enjoy this port but it was one of our favorites. A very beautiful area. The locals were very nice. We had four other ships in port that day. Three were docked at the port and one (Costa) was anchored closer to the old town. The port handled the three ships well. Old town itself was a little more crowded near the Pile gate of the old town. Actually a little crazy in this area. A LOT of tours from all the ships in one area but it soon cleared out and things were a little calmer once we started the climb.
On this cruise we decided to book all of our excursions though RCI. We found that easier. For Dubrovnik we chose "Walking the City Walls" tour. It's basically a walk on the wall around the old town of Dubrovnik. It does require a LOT of steps so one needs to be prepared. Wear comfortable shoes. I actually saw one lady walking these in heels. She was struggling to say the least. I would estimate that we climbed well over 500 steps throughout the walk. The first set of steps was 78 up to the first level. It was a good workout but well worth the views. For this tour were bused from the port and after about a 15 minute drive started the tour by taking the time to climb up above the old town to get some nice shots of where we would be walking. Overall we enjoyed Dubrovnik. We will be back next year on our next cruise to Europe and will plan to try something different than the Old Town excursion.
We chose to do a panoramic tour of Corfu for this port of call. It was about a four-five hour excursion by bus to various places around the island and probably one of the most boring. The tour guide on our bus tried to be interesting but we listened to information about olives for over an hour while riding around through Corfu. Ask me anything about olives and I can tell you. Of course we did hear about the history of the island and other interesting information also but the boring stuff outweighed the interesting. I looked around the bus towards the end of the cruise and there were more heads bobbing back and forth than were awake. If I were to return, I would simply take the cruise line shuttle to town for the day and have lunch. This area looked nice as we drove through it.
The island itself was beautiful. RCI only offered four excursions here. It was a short call. We were only here until 3:00 and had to be back on board by 2:30. There is really not much more to tell about this port of call.
Next port of call was Santorini, Greece. This turned out to be another favorite port. We would have loved to have had more time here. We arrived at noon and left at eight o'clock. This was our only tender port. All cruise lines must use the ports tenders due to local unions. We had a total of four ships in port this day. We chose to do a tour of the town of Oia with a stop along the way at a local winery. This turned out to be a very nice tour. Those who were on tours were given priority tendering before they allowed the other passengers to disembark. Oia is a beautiful little town with amazing views. I wish that we had a little more time here. We will be back in Santoriini next year and plan to take the local bus over to Oia from Fira to spend more time here.
Fira Santorini, Greece
There are three ways up from the tender area for those not taking tours and wanting to visit Fira which is the town above where the cruise ships drop anchor.
1. Tram that holds 36 people at a time. Tickets can be purchased at the tram center.
2. Walk up or down the trail which I was told takes about 30 minutes
3. Ride a donkey up the trail. I understand that they do not take you down.
We chose to ride the tram down. We received a ticket from our tour operator as part of our tour price. No way would I ride the donkey. We smelled them before we saw them. I also would not want to walk as you are on the same path as the donkey's and I understand that they leave little presents up and down the walking path. We were a good ways away from the walking path and could smell them. Not sure I would want to be that close up and personal with them. We had four ships in port so we watched our time as I have read here on CC that the wait times could be up to an hour and a half wait to ride the tram down. We only waited about ten minutes top to get on the tram. Overall this was one of our most favorite ports of call. We had lunch at a restaurant in Fira overlooking the caldera and cruise ships. Absolutely beautiful.
For the stop in Athens, Greece we decided to book the Acropolis tour. This was the main focus of our stop in Athens. We booked a city highlight tour with a stop at the Acropolis. I booked the earliest tour available and after seeing the crowds at the Acropolis as we were leaving around 1:00, I'm glad that I did. It was busy when we arrived but crazy busy when we left. There were five cruise ships in port and the main focus of this port of call is always a visit to the Acropolis. Just riding through Athens, we did not care for the city. It looked very dirty. Graffiti was everywhere. The Acropolis was nice to see once but for us it is one of those been there and done that things.
Our last port of call was Katakolon Greece. The main importance of this port is a visit to the home of the first Olympic games in the town of Olympia. We decided for this port that we would not book an excursion and make it more of a ship day. We used this more as a lazy day to rest and take it easy. Visiting Olympia did not interest at all. We did leave the ship to have lunch at a little Greek cafe on the waterfront and then walked around for about an hour before heading back to the ship. This was the only port where it was really HOT. 95 degrees that day with a hot sun shining down.
We arrived back to Venice and the ship was ready to debark the guests who chose to carry their own luggage off of the ship by 7:00 AM. We were part of that crowd. We were off the ship in a matter of minutes. Guests doing the self debarkation debark the ship on deck one. There is no customs or immigration in this port. Once we left the ship, our driver picked us up at the terminal to take us back to Marco Polo airport. We had a 10:55 direct flight back to Atlanta on Delta. Marco Polo is a small airport but it was busy. We were lucky to have booked Business class so we were able to skip the long check in lines. Security was basically the same as we have here in the states. The only place that we had to show our passport was once we were ready to head to the gate to board the flight. Quick and easy.
The flight home was about ten and a half hours. Uneventful. We also had a very short wait to clear customs and immigration at the Atlanta airport.
All in all it was an outstanding trip. The main reason that we enjoyed this trip so much was the ports involved. Venice, Dubrovnik and Santorini were outstanding. The other ports were nice but did not stand out like the other three. We have decided that we will stick to Celebrity for our next few cruises. We just saw more changes or cutbacks if you will on RCI since our last cruise which was on the Jewel in April of 2012. I know that all cruise lines make cuts but Celebrity is still new to us. Also, the things that we found better on Celebrity for us is the smoking policy, very few announcements, overall better food and fewer kids. We will be coming back to Europe next June on the Equinox for 13 nights and will visit some of the above ports again.
Some of the areas that stood out on the Splendour. The ship itself. It was well cared for which I have come to expect from RCI and the new enhancements were very nice. The crew was outstanding with the exception of the Guest Services staff. Always said hello and had a smile. The shore excursions were very organized and always left on time. No major complaints and nothing that would keep us from having a great time. I would cruise this ship again. She was perfect for this itinerary.
I also have a review on the Royal Caribbean main board with many photos.http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1871707
Also photos of the trip can be found here: http://cruisingator.smugmug.com Less
Stateroom was a good size but very noisy due to the location of being directly under the pool deck. For the most part the stateroom was in good condition. Some small wear and tear on some of the furniture but overall it did not look bad.