Firstly let me say this is our first time on a Vision class ship, and most recently we sailed on Allure of the Seas, so this was going to be a big change (or small if you look at the size of Splendour in relation to Allure)!
Overall, great cruise with some minor niggles. Will we go back? You'll have to read my review to find out at the end in my summary. Sorry.
OK, so I'll give an overview of the cruise, great ports but that depends on what you want to do. We did 3 ships excursions in Dubrovnik, Santorini and Athens. Why? Well we've never been to Dubrovnik nor Athens so didn't fancy taking our chances with transfers / shuttles at RCI costs and then making our own way, and I knew with Santorini taking a ships tour ensures priority tendering, which it did.
In Corfu we just visited the old town as we've spent a land vacation in Corfu but not visited the town centre. A major tip for you folks about getting to/from Corfu town. RCI will offer you an all day shuttle service for $10 per person. So you get off the ship, catch a free port bus (or walk it's not far at all) to the parking area where you'll find the shuttle buses. Alternatively instead of paying $10 per person, in the same area as the shuttle buses you'll see a local bus that will take you to the same spot as the shuttle buses for €1.50 each! That's €3 per person for a return trip and these buses run every 15 minutes. Mmm, I wonder why the RCI shuttle buses and drivers were just hanging around the port?
So overall impressions, well the ship is in great shape for her age (although some rust is evident, especially on the balconies) and has some 'bells & whistles' after her revitalization in November 2011 (we did see her in Cadiz in dry dock as we sailed on a Liberty TA).
She now has an outdoor movie screen, Park Cafe, Boardwalk Dog House, Chops Grille, Izumi, Chefs Table, Nursery, R Bar, Diamond and Concierge Lounges and a Britto Gallery.
We flew into Venice Marco Polo airport and after a short transfer using Venice-limousine.com for €50 (far better than Rome to Civitavecchia in my opinion as such a shorter journey) we were at terminal 107 of the cruise port at around 11 am. Several other ships were docked, Norwegian Jade, Carnival Sunshine and MSC Davina.
Quite a strange process for dropping off your bags at a building and then walking quite a way across a road to the check in terminal, not arduous but just a little strange.
Check in was swift and within minutes immediately after checking in, we boarded, no waiting around at all. We were met on deck 4 near the centrum with a welcome aboard drink and the obligatory sales desks for soda and wine and dine packages.
Now one thing to bear in mind on this sailing was that as from July 2013, Croatia became a member of the EU, and so this meant that this itinerary no longer visited a non-EU port. As a result all purchases on board attracted Italian tax (VAT) at a rate of 22% (it has obviously increased recently from the 21% detailed in the letter in your stateroom)! There's no 'duty free' bottles of alcohol nor cigarettes for sale in the 'general store', the contents of the shelves had been replaced by Michael Kors bags!
This meant that everything was more expensive than on our previous European sailings out of Barcelona which only charges 10% tax. All purchases from the shops and photo gallery on board have 22% added and so do drinks from the bars, but it is not not shown as a separate tax, I suspect it has been included in the prices as they are definitely higher than what we paid earlier in the year. For example, we normally say 2 alcoholic drinks (house brandy, simple cocktails, house wine) would cost us around $15 -16 including the standard 15% gratuity. On this ship, most of our receipts were between $19 - $21. If this tax hasn't been incorporated into the beverage prices, and isn't charged, then boy have prices been increased.
Your 8 x 10 photo will cost you $24.34 ($19.95 + $4.39 tax), a 6 x 8 $15.80 ($12.95 + $2.85 tax). Soon mounts up! Thank goodness for the free photo coupon in the discount booklet (oh yeah, Splendour was still using the booklet, apparently they go electronic on the Oct 26th sailing).
No unlimited internet package available, even though wifi is available throughout. The standard cost is now 75c per minute and painfully slow, so much so we didn't buy a package, just used our free minutes (well most of mine was gobbled up by the inability of the system to log me off which resulted in a visit to Guest Relations where I was compensated with $6 worth of time, despite losing $22 worth) and used free wifi in most of the ports. So that would be my tip on this itinerary, find the many cafés and bars offering free wifi and relax with a drink as we did and use the far superior wifi service available.
We had a category D2 balcony cabin on deck 7 near the centrum (7570) which was very good, with new carpeting, new balcony furniture and bathroom (although a dreaded shower curtain which attacks you!). Newly renovated with new carpeting, balcony furniture, bathroom. LCD TV, but not interactive so you cannot order to room service nor check your SeaPass account via the TV.
The ship is easy to navigate due to its size and the Adults only Solarium has a retractable roof (which despite the great weather was never retracted, making it quite warm and stuffy and uncomfortable in my view), great loungers and even when children are allowed in (normally a couple of hours each day) it never seemed busy except on our one sea day when, as you would expect, beds were at a premium.
Plenty of beds around the main pool deck too, and it never seemed too crowded.
The Viking Crown now houses Izumi and Chops Grille and these venues take up the prime views in my opinion and reduces the normally panoramic views available from the Viking Crown. It also offers an al a carte menu for snacks, tapas and desserts (think Red Velvet Cake offered at Chops). Later in the evening the venue becomes the 'disco' with the normal DJ ('I'll play what I want, even though the dancefloor is empty, as it's my choice, not the customers!). Sorry, but I find this self indulgent attitude on all RCI ships, not just Splendour.
So to the dining venues. There are, as mentioned, the speciality fee paying Chops Grille, Izumi and Chefs table (in a partioned area of the main dining room on deck 5). We ate at Chops twice and although only late reservations (9:30pm) were available online (which I did book) on one day, I had no problem changing once onboard on day 1.
Complimentary venues include Park Cafe, Boardwalk Dog House and Windjammer Cafe (all on deck 9). Cafe Latte-tudes is on deck 6 and serves complimentary cakes and pastries, but specialty Stabucks coffee and Ben & Jerrys ice cream is not free! Although if you buy 6 coffees the 7th is free.
There are coffee and soft drink stations on the main pool deck and in the Solarium, but it's a bit hit or miss when they have drinks or cups available. A few times the coffee pots were empty or the coffee cold, and instead of dispensing lemonade or ice tea, just water was available. However, when available the orange juice both in the Windjammer and on the pool deck out of these dispensers was far superior to the 'regular' juice in the MDR. All beverages like tea, coffee, juice is self serve in the Windjammer using these machines.
The main dining room (King & I) is 2 storeys on decks 4 & 5. My time dining is located on deck 5.
Now this is my only negative on this trip, and that is the available seating in the MDR. We choose MTD and pre book online stipulating a table for 2 as we don't like to share unless we meet some people once onboard and elect to eat with them. That's the beauty of MTD for us, we no longer have to dread the first night of wondering who are table mates will be, and will we all get along. I know that's not everyone's 'cup of tea' as many of you enjoy meeting new people at dinner, but that's our choice. So off we go to the MTD 'check in' to be told no tables for 2 available as we are being shown to a table of 8. 'No thank you' I say and insist on a table for 2 which means we are paraded around the dining room looking like lap dogs following the Head Waiter. Not a good start.
After dinner I ask why, when we have prebooked a table to ourselves (as it says on the RCI website) is none available? I am informed that the only time available for tables for 2 is at 9pm which is the last time diners are allowed into the dining room. OK, so we change all our prebooked times to 9 pm. Can't say I'm too impressed.
So next morning, breakfast beckons. So off we trot to deck 4 and the MDR. Obviously as you might guess we are shown to a table of 10 and are expected to share first thing in the morning when I'm even less sociable than in the evening! This time we go with it, but as expected, as a same sex couple, no one speaks to us and the meal takes forever as it takes a long time to take and deliver 10 orders, coffee, tea etc, especially when the waiter is determined to encourage people to have freshly squeezed orange juice at $4 a glass and for those of us who decline, we wait forever for regular juice. Oh I forgot the requests for camomile tea, apple juice which further delayed the service.
For subsequent breakfasts we request a table for 2, invariably to be told quite curtly that none are available, we will have to wait 'over there' (in the Centrum) and 'we are very busy, so it may be a while'! Well you know what, we did wait, no longer than 5 - 10 minutes and we're still in and out in less time then when dining with 8 others! So my comment card clearly stated more tables for 2 required as we were not the only ones requesting them.
Now for dinner, yes we got our requested table for 2 at 9 pm (woe betide you for turning up 10 minutes earlier as again you will be told none available). However, sometimes as this was the latest time for MTD, we felt rushed as the wait staff wanted to clear tables, other times it was ok, just depended if you were in the 'naughty corner' where most of the tables for 2 are located in a corner at the back of the dining room or a more 'open' area (table 179 was our favourite).
We thought the food however, was excellent, although I know this is very subjective. The portions seemed larger sometimes. The staff are excellent and very friendly although looking more rushed than ever, to the point of having to apologise on several occasions that we had to wait. I've now realised that I've prattled on for over a page about the MDR, so I suppose it mattered more to me than I realised. It didn't ruin the cruise, but left a bad taste about MTD on smaller ships.
As for service, in general it is service 'with a smile' to a certain degree. However, I found that those 'in charge' we're less friendly and in some cases downright rude. For example, I went to Guest Services (open 24 hours according to the Cruise Compass) to cash a travellers cheque. There is always a member of staff checking the line to see what you need. I was told very rudely that they could not cash the cheque at this time as guest services is closed! Err there are 2 staff behind the counter, but closed? Why I ask? (Thinking they no longer cash cheques) to be told there is a staff meeting. What he should have said was, 'the cashier in the casino will happily cash your cheque sir' (which I knew anyway) not just turn his back on me. And before you say 'why didn't I go to the casino first' I was passing guest services, not the casino at that time.
Entertainment is available as on all RCI ships, but we didn't see a show in the 42nd Street theatre (only 1 level on deck 4), the Centrum has bands playing, acrobats swinging from the ceiling and this is where the 70's party is hosted with the obligatory 'Village People' in the evening. Another tip, if you like to retire early, then don't get a cabin near the centrum as the sounds travel up from the singers or bands playing.
Quest is held in the Top Hat lounge on deck 5 and looked fun, but I can't say the CD was on fire, and to be honest a little lacklustre.
Due to the size of the ship there is nowhere you could sit and listen to some relaxing music with your drink of choice, as each venue had some sort of loud music in the evening, be it the singalong in the Schooner Bar (great fun) or band playing in the Centrum to the DJ in the Viking Crown.
There is the usual Spa and a very small fitness centre, both located aft on deck 9 and accessed from the Solarium but I can't tell you anything about either of these as we didn't use them!
Disembarkation was painless. As we had airport transfers included as part of the air/sea package with RCI, we were given baggage tags for a 7:30 a.m. departure (our flight was 11:25) and Venice airport doesn't advise arriving more than 3 hours before departure (RCI also mention this in the cruise compass) as seating is limited in the airport.
Odd numbered tags were advised to wait in Top Hat lounge on deck 5, even numbered tags in the 42nd Street theatre on deck 4. Platinum and above Crown & Anchor members could wait in the Schooner Bar on deck 4. Those requiring wheelchair assistance were requested to wait in the Centrum on deck 4.
Express Departure guests had to advise Guest Services in advance and would be expected to carry off all their bags from 7:00 a.m. and before 7:30 a.m. (Actually they were allowed to disembark starting at 7:15 followed by tag number 1 at 7:45 and 2 shortly thereafter. We were aboard the bus at 8:00 having collected our bags and passing out of the terminal (no passport or customs check) and on our way to Marco Polo airport at 8:05 for the 25 minute transfer. As I said, painless.
In summary, the ship is in good condition, on the whole the staff are friendly and helpful, the service is good, and the ports are excellent (Dubrovnik must not be missed, Santorini is spectacular and Athens for historical sites can't be beaten. Corfu has plenty to offer and Katakolon has one street of shops and a harbour full of pretty cafés and tavernas but little else as it the port stop for Olympia).
One noticeable and pleasant difference to the bigger ships are the lack of announcements for bingo, $10 sales, belly flop competition, worlds sexiest man etc, etc. Those of you who have sailed on the Voyager, Freedom and Oasis class will know what I mean. Basically during the day, it is peaceful with very few 'bing bongs'. Bliss.
So the $64,000 question, would I sail out of Venice again? Definitely yes, it's such an easy transfer to/from the airport and is a beautiful city to experience and only a 2 hour flight for us.
Would I want to visit more of the Greek Islands? Of course, there are so many to visit and they are so charming.
Would I sail Splendour again, given a choice, no, she's too small for me and doesn't give the variety of venues I've become accustomed to and that are available on the larger ships.
Don't get me wrong, she is a great ship, on which we received our first Crystal block and never appeared crowded (boy those things weigh a lot, around 1.5 kilos or just over 3lbs to be exact!). Although I did have to chase that down as it had been delivered to the wrong cabin!