DH and I stayed two nights in NOLA at the Hotel Provencial on Chartres St. in the Quarter; great place, which I’ll review on Trip Advisor. We had a wonderful time in NOLA doing the usual touristy things (my first time there) plus we met up with a group from our thread/Meet and Mingle at The Carousel Bar (in the Hotel Monteleone) the night before the cruise. This is a nice way to start the cruise off already knowing a few friendly faces (and to meet folks we’ve been chatting with for well over a year!)
A week or so before we left town, we received emails advising us not to arrive at the port any sooner than noon because the ship was returning from a TA and it would take longer to get folks off, crew through customs, etc. Well, we arrived just around noon and it was apparent many people had been there hours before. Such is life.
It was a tad confusing to find our way to the port; likely because we’d never done it before and the streets in NOLA change names, etc. When we did get there, easy enough to drop off our luggage (and a slat of bottled water) with a porter. It got a bit dicey when we backed out of the drop off area; the guy in the car next to us decided to open his car door as we were moving out. DOH! Anyway, on to the Whale Lot to park. We’d heard about parking at Fulton Garage (1/2 price but a bit further away) but decided just to stick with our original plan of the Whale Lot. Took a bit to get into the lot and park as everyone has to pre pay and some folks didn’t appear to be prepared for this. As we were waiting, the same guy who’d opened his car door was behind us. I guess he had to really, really use the facilities because DH muttered in disgust that the man got out of his car, opened the driver and passenger door, and did his business right then and there. Oh my.
After parking, we made the short walk over to the terminal. There was a line for suites so that is where we went, however, it was a line to nowhere; we ended up having to merge into the line where they were screening disabled folks through security.
After security, we got into the line for C&A/priority, which was long but definitely not as long as the other line! We waited about 15 minutes or so before getting to an agent. I have to say, I didn’t find these folks near as friendly as on other cruises; our guy barely made eye contact with us. Also, we were not required to fill out the health questionnaire this time; several of us wondered why.
It took at least another 15 minutes to go through the maze to get onto the gangway. All told, we were on the ship by 1:00.
We went directly up to our stateroom on Deck 10. We were a bit early; the SRA was still doing things in there, so, we dropped off our hand luggage and went in search of something to eat.
Stateroom 1600 Grand Suite Deck 10 Aft
Because we were celebrating a milestone birthday, we splurged and booked a grand suit. We typically love being on the aft (fishtail) and so when GS 1600 opened up unexpectedly, we grabbed it. I have to admit going into this cruise, I’d read a lot of negative comments on CC about this particular suite. I also read some pretty positive comments, with the upshot being, “You have to try it to see if YOU like it”. Well…it certainly is an interesting layout. Because of its location (tucked into the starboard aft), things are sorta “wrapped”. There is some wasted space in a longish hallway from the door to where you turn into the actual suite (although this did offer privacy in that folks standing in the outside hallway couldn’t see into the room). Because we’ve never stayed in a grand suite, I didn’t have anything else to compare it to, but, others told me that 1600 does not have the nice floor to ceiling windows (just the usual slider going out to the balcony); plus, ours did not have a bar (it did have a credenza sorta thing pushed up against the wall) nor did it have a walk in closet (which was definitely a big negative in our view). The bathroom was very nice and we did enjoy the balcony even if it was considerably smaller than that of other in the GS category and even of the smaller rooms on the aft. The biggest negative was the noise from the Windjammer above it. Starting at about 5:00 am, there was considerable thumping and bumping; sounded like someone rolling a bowling ball over the floor. This went on for an hour or so when it quieted down somewhat until folks started heading to the buffet for breakfast; then, a lot of chair scrapping noise. We’ve stayed on the fishtail in this class of ship before and have never heard this amount of racket. It was very disappointing to have paid so much money to be so disturbed every morning. But, I was forewarned (as I am forewarning all of you now!) For those who get up at the crack of dawn, it wouldn’t be an issue at all. We never heard any other significant noise throughout the day or even at night. Although the balcony was on the small side, the somewhat panoramic angle of it offered some very nice views of the wake and the ocean. We didn’t feel any more movement than normal, and, in fact, did not feel a big lurch to the starboard side the ship took on our last night.
Another minor disappointment was our SRA. He’d just come on to the ship in NOLA (along with many other crew, see below for comments on that). Again, not having stayed in a GS before, I’m not sure what we missed out on, but, I somewhat get the feeling he didn’t give us the attention we were supposed to get. He wasn’t awful by any stretch and he did keep the room in order, he just wasn’t all that personable or attentive. Case in point, there were birthday cards all over the credenza in the stateroom and I’m sure the birthday was noted on the manifest; he never said Happy Birthday. Oh well. Although we could have, we never took advantage of the ability to order off the main dining room menu for lunch or dinner for room service. We did order breakfast several times and it did come very quickly. Also, staying in a GS does give you obvious priority when it comes to having luggage delivered; ours was there hours before the other folks who were down there on the aft with us.
One of the best benefits of being in a GS or above is access to the Concierge and the Concierge Lounge (Gold Seapass Card). Tucked up on Deck 13, this particular lounge is not especially large but it’s definitely cozy! Both the Concierge (Mario) and the bar tenders in there were excellent; very attentive and helpful. Drinks flow freely (and freely!) from 5:00 – 8:30 pm nightly. There are also canapés/snackie foods available during this time. I understand the lounge is open all day; we, however, never went in other than in the evenings. However, we did contact Mario several times via phone to make dinner RSVP or inquire about our missing C&A pins. Aside from the folks who worked in there, we looked forward to chatting with the many of the other passengers every night. And, for those who don’t pay much attention to the daily Cruise Compasses, Mario would leave voice messages on our stateroom phone several times per day informing us of important things to know. Finally, it was a decided plus to have access to the “nicer” part of the beach; Barefoot Beach, on Labidee.
We love this class of ship! All of the glass affords such lovely views. Having been refit/redone (whatever!) last December, the Serenade was still looking pretty good; clean, modern, updated. We over heard many saying the really missed the Promenade from the larger ships; we really didn’t. We liked hanging out in some of the cozier venues like Vintages on Deck Six or the R-Bar down in the Centrum. Our particular favorite place to hang is in the Solarium, which, this time, didn’t get overly crowded despite the fact there was always a lot of people in there enjoying food from the Park Café located in there. It appeared the ship was pretty much “sold out”; the only time we really noticed crowds was during the shows that were put on in the Centrum. One small disappointment; the ship wasn’t really decorated a lot for the holidays. Yes, there was a big tree in the dining room and there were wreaths and bows here and there; but nothing like what her sister ship The Jewel looked like December 2011. Cost cutting measures, maybe?
Food and Drink
We didn’t get any of the new beverage packages as we were using this cruise as a baseline to see if it would be worth it. This is really a personal choice so I won’t say anything else about that. We did purchase the five bottle wine package and the selections were decent. We ordered off the regular wine menu one night in Giovanni’s Table and it was really, really nice (but pricey, of course). Alcoholic drinks in general ran from about $6 for a draft beer (only available in a few places) to $8-ish for “foo foo” drinks. As always, they add 15% gratuity to any drink purchase; we’d tip extra on occasion. By far the best bar service (other than the Concierge Lounge) we had was at Vintages. The two bar tender gals there were great. The R-Bar was good as well. We didn’t hang out much in The Schooner Bar this time (it seemed unusually “dead” in there). I noticed a lot of new concoctions on the bar menu this trip.
The food overall was pretty decent. We especially liked Giovanni’s Table and Chop’s. We tried Izumi one night and thought it was ok. Many folks were raving about cooking their food on a hot rock so I ordered this. Really? Slapping your meat on a rock and watching it sizzle? Wasn’t that titillating to me. Several of the appetizers were good as was the shrimp won-ton soup and the vegetable tempura. I’m not a sushi eater but it was presented very well. Giovanni’s Table, on the other hand, had fantastic Italian food served family-style (at least the appetizers did). We ate there twice; once by ourselves and another time with a group, and it was superb both times. Chop’s was also excellent. All three places require a surcharge; $30 pp for Chop’s, $20 pp for Giovanni’s Table and $5 pp for Izumi (and everything you eat at Izumi has an a la carte charge). We did pre purchase a package before we got on the ship; $55 pp for all three, which, if you do the math, doesn’t seem like a deal but they do throw in $15 pp “free” food at Izumi. However, I noticed once we were on board they would offer even better discounts for these specialty restaurants so I’m not sure I’d pre purchase a package again, especially since I didn’t care that much for Izumi.
We only ate in the Main Dining Room using My Time Dining three times this cruise. I was not impressed with their MTD set up. The first night was total chaos and they tried to put us in the absolute worst table in the dining room, which we refused. The next time we were in there, they tried once again to put us at this table, we again refused it. The last time they finally figured out we didn’t want that table and put us somewhere else. This was an entirely different experience from our cruise on Freedom last October where the MTD ran smoothly and all of the tables were nice ones. Perhaps because Freedom is larger? Hard to say.
Despite this, the food in the MDR was fine. We thought the selections were decent and the portion size just right. We’re not overly picky when it comes to food and we’ve also learned to order whatever we want. Two appetizers and one main course? Fine! Five appetizers and dessert? Works for us! Because we had a different waiter every night we were in there, we didn’t extra special service but they were all relatively friendly and attentive.
We splurged and ate at Chef’s Table on my birthday. Wow! What a cool experience! Roughly a dozen of us (RSVPs in advance required) in a small, private dining room near the Safari Club on Deck Six. Five course meal with a wine pairing for each. Very, very nicely done; the Chef explained each course including preparation tips and the Sommelier described the wine. The food was excellent HOWEVER…next time I will check to see if I can find out what will be served as three of the five dishes contained food items I’m not crazy about. This was my bad, I should have checked. I’d still do this again, though! I believe it was $70 pp.
Shows and Activities
I’m not the best to provide information on ship-sponsored shows and activities as we don’t tend to participate in Trivia or Bingo or Art Auctions or venture into many of the shows. There did seem to be plenty of offerings. The live music we heard while wandering around the ship was good and we enjoyed listening to the various dance/music acts in the Centrum on occasion; in particular, the 50s/60s evening. We missed out on one of our favorites this time, The Quest but heard it was a lot of fun as usual. We did not see any of the headliner shows.
Overall, I’d have to say we were a tad disappointed in the service this cruise. There was nothing awful, but, in generally, it was just so-so. We heard that quite a lot of the crew came on in NOLA so perhaps it was simply growing pains. Again, although nothing in particular happened to upset us regarding the service, we just were not WOWED by it with the notable exception of those attending us in the Concierge Lounge and the two gals at Vintages, Suzi Q and Carena. I’m not going to bother saying more because I think this tepid service was an anomaly for Royal Caribbean.
I’d been on the threads with many of our fellow PAX up to a year and a half before we sailed. We had one of the largest sign-ups for a Meet and Mingle ever! Unfortunately, the shipped changed our M&M time and venue from what had been posted on the web site and many of the folks did not receive the update so a considerable amount of them missed out (another thing we were not happy about). Our group had organized our own cabin crawl and slot pull. Many of us ended up hanging out here and there throughout the cruise; always enjoyable when this happens. As for everyone else, most folks seemed happy to be on vacation. I didn’t notice a whole lot of children on this cruise but those I did see were well behaved. Only a few isolated incidents of rudeness on this cruise; it happens when you have over 2,500 folks in one location.
Ports of Call
We booked the hop on hop off trolley in Key West which was worth the hour and a half; very informative. We shared a cabana on Barefoot Beach with some new friends and this was a real treat! We wandered around the little Royal Caribbean “village” in Jamaica for an hour or so and didn’t get off the ship at all in Grand Cayman. We’ll be back on this route next October with my parents and will try excursions then.
We had luggage tags 3 so were scheduled to get off the ship at 8:00 am. We had breakfast that morning in the private dining area for Concierge (and probably Diamond Plus) guests. As we were heading toward the theatre where our waiting area was, we ran into the HUGE LONG line of PAX who had signed up for the express departure (where you are required to carry all of your luggage off the ship yourself). This was a bit of a fiasco, not helped by the fact one of the PAX fainted right in front of the doorway leading out to the deck/exit. Needless to say, there were many impatient/very unhappy people. We did manage to get off the ship by 8:15 or so. The luggage was very well organized (this is not always the case); we found all of ours together right where it was supposed to be. However, no porters to be found anywhere! Why? Because they were all assisting the mass of people who’d just gotten off the ship lugging all of their bags. So, we had to haul all of ours through customs (easy breezy) and out to the parking lot. Phew. This was a bit rough, considering we’d been spoiled and pampered the past nine days!
We were in our car and on our way out of NOLA by 9:00 or so.
We had a wonderful time because that is how we roll. Yes, some things were not up to par but nothing major. The ship was lovely and the weather was nice as well. I’m not sure if we’ll ever fork over the moolah for a Grand Suite again, but if we do, it definitely won’t be 1600 on Radiance Class, at least not unless we turn into early birds. That Gold Seapass Card certainly is nice to have, though! We loved making new friends and relaxing. After this cruise we are now Emerald, so we’ll obviously continue on with Royal Caribbean and the march towards Diamond/Diamond Plus.