EMBARKATION: This year instead of being the first one to the port we waited and arrived at the modest time of 1pm. Living close by is a plus. Luggage was taken immediately – no gridlock at Port Everglades – and we sailed through security. Upon reaching the upstairs area to receive our SeaPass cards we were misdirected to a counter that someone was already checking in at. After telling the line guide – we were ignored as he continued to send people behind us to the next counter. Finally, we secured a kiosk, after repeatedly telling him that he was letting everyone in front us – not a good start. The agent at the kiosk however was pleasant and within a few minutes we made our way to the welcome aboard photo area – and then onboard VOTS. We took the elevator without too much of a wait and went directly to our cabin aft deck 7. Usually we shlep the carry-ons to lunch – what a pain… This was much easier as we just dropped everything off.
CABIN: The cabin was clean with plenty of storage. Large closet, a ceiling to floor shelving unit adjacent to the closet, two drawers in each bedside nightstand, 3 drawers on each side of the desk, small shelves on either side of the desk mirror, a cabinet over the safe, and open shelves next to the refrigerator. The sitting area table also had a shelf underneath for more storage. The balcony was great – large with two loungers, two chairs and a small table. The bathroom shower was impossible and I am 5 ft./105 lbs. The curtain just blew in and stuck to you the whole time - gross. Storage in the bathroom, however, was aplenty (shelves going vertically alongside the basin sink) and the floor never got wet even dealing with the impossible shower. Our cabin steward Clinton (no, not Bill) was great – we asked him to remove the mini bar stuff (which was a little bit of a lengthy process) and later found everything hidden under the sofa – but it was out of our way. Everything else we only had to ask for once and he provided consistent and quick service the remainder of the cruise.
DINING: Windjammer never had much of a line – breakfast seemed the most crowded vs. lunchtime or dinner (but maybe that was just when we went). The food was repetitive – good for mass buffet food but not great. You definitely won’t starve. The tomato sauce for the pasta I found to be the highlight! It was delicious – not salty at all! One side of the buffet was always closed (port vs. starboard) but there were other additional stations in the Windjammer for other food options including the center “circle” with fruits, breads, desserts, etc. depending on the meal. I found 95% of the desserts sub-par but I am not a huge dessert person so I didn’t really care (nor need the extra calories). The view in WJ is good as you can look right over the bow. There were always window seats available. Also, there are no trays – I guess a good thing to limit the gluttony, but kind of hard to carry things like your plate and drink, etc. for us clumsy folks!
Park Café was another alternative and had different choices of panini’s/sandwiches which they would grill for you, salads, and other choices like shrimp salad, egg salad, yogurt parfaits, fruit and soups. It is very small and the line can become long for this food location but it was actually better than what you would think.
Dining room service was spotty – we had MyTime dining and they don’t like when you show up at 8:58pm even though it says it is open until 9pm for seating (with or without reserving a time in advance). Actually this is early as other ships offer a 9:30pm cut-off time. Additionally, the Main Second Seating time began at 8:30pm so I didn’t think there was much of a window in the difference of time. We had to change tables a few nights due to poor service but Heidi at the deck 5 entrance to Aquarius, always did her best to accommodate us. Andon, seemed to be one of the best waiters we experienced. Food was better than expected in the dining room overall but still not as tasty as a few other competitor cruise lines who shall remain nameless – IMHO. On the plus side, I didn’t feel as thirsty or overstuffed so maybe they used less sodium – or I just ate less. Drink service was awful in the Dining Room – two nights we didn’t receive the soda we ordered. We did not have a soda card or drink package. For the 5 night cruise to Key West & Cozumel dining menus were as follows:
#1 – Mojo
#2 – Basil
#3 – Safron (Formal evening)
#4 – Jasmine (note that this was the “free” lobster” night)
#5 – Pomodoro
We ate in the MDR on nights #1, #2 and #4.
Breakfast in the dining room was better than the buffet – the eggs benedict were excellent and there was also a buffet area to get fruit, pastries, oatmeal, etc. in the dining room. Service there though was also poor however we only went once. We had to ask 5 times for grape jelly. Apparently apple must look like grape because they kept giving us apple jelly and saying “yes – here.”
Room Service we never ordered and later found out the full menu was in the center skinny drawer in the desk. Never even noticed the drawer! The room service breakfast menu was hanging behind the door and needed to just be outside of your door by 3am to order for the morning. It looked fine as far as options being the basics.
I am not a coffee drinker nor felt the need to pay for ice cream at Café Latitudes/Ben & Jerry’s, however I did inquire about the pastries and was told they are free if you purchase a drink. I have a feeling that was not really true – but at least I saved on the calories. P.S. – There were also soft service ice cream cone stations near the pool but we never tried these either. Also of note there are no freestyle soda machines on this ship.
PUBLIC ROOMS: Public rooms and the ship overall were clean and in good condition. I used the public restroom once and it was clean. I don’t get the interactive screens and the sliding doors that you have to touch to operate though. It doesn’t seem like a cleanly thing with all of the norovirus, etc. – at least put Purell near these stations! And, if you are expecting the Solarium roof to open – forget about it. After days of inquisition about this I was told that it won’t open- regardless of the weather. A real disappointment for those who like to enjoy the pool/hot tubs, sans children, in the fresh air and sunshine. It really should be marketed as an indoor pool – yuck! On the positive side, it is an attractive area and the chairs have cushions. Park Cafe is also located in the Solarium.
The ship is small but perfectly sized for those who don’t need to be entertained every minute of the day and enjoy feeling like you are on a ship (not in a shopping mall). It’s easy to get from the front to the back without training for a 5K. The only crowd I ever experienced was in the Centrum shops the last night – it was a mob scene (I guess the 75% sale really was appealing) – so I diverted my route starboard side.
Also, the photo gallery needed more employees. There was a huge line with one poor girl working the register. There also were no individual photo prices posted anywhere – just the package prices.
The art auction took place in the Some Enchanted Evening Lounge on two afternoons. Viking Crown Lounge was attractive, Schooner Bar always had something going on – piano singer (I saw a scrapbooking class going on one day as well as the photo scavenger hunt).
We didn’t opt to try any of the specialty restaurants (Izumi – Asian; Chops – Steak; Giovanni’s – Italian). We also are not Concierge or Diamond so I can’t comment on those areas. The fitness center and spa looked fine and the rock climbing wall had designated hours (check your Cruise Compass). The jogging track was longer than most with almost a quarter mile per one lap. I also can’t comment on the kids public rooms and programs.
ENTERTAINMENT: We only attended one show, the comedian, Rondell Sheridan, who was very good (and the ‘Love & Marriage Game’ if you consider that a show). Also the aerial show in the Centrum was fun to watch from the top on Deck 8. The band in the Centrum also seemed pretty good and laid back. The cruise director, Steve Davis, I thought did a great job. He was not annoying, but entertaining and truly looked like he enjoyed his career. He is also a great dancer and it was fun to watch him teach dance moves to the passengers – like for the disco night and the Michael Jackson Thriller show. Way to go Steve!
SHORE EXCURSIONS: We were greeted by a rude Shore Excursion employee the first day so needless to say we didn’t book anything through the ship. I didn’t think the question “are any excursions sold out” was that bizarre of an inquiry considering we only went to Key West and Grand Cayman. And there wasn't even a line!
In Key West we rented bikes on our own and did about 20 miles around the island and further. It was half the price of the ship bike tour excursion and you can go wherever you want. The rental place, located on Greene St. was great – and the bikes were in good condition and included a helmet, basket and lock.
In Grand Cayman we did the Jet Ski Safari from one of the kiosks right at the pier within the “compound.” This was by far the most adventurous tour I have done – let alone one not through the ship. Just tell them you need to be back at least an hour earlier than you really do – and then pray (and keep praying). We were taken by bus to the Holiday Inn on the other side of the island, where we met our guide, Carl. We did a double jet ski and Carl led us on his jet ski. We were the only ones on the tour. Let me tell you that I couldn’t move for almost a week – literally! You have no idea the muscles you have when you are trying not to fly off the back at 40 miles per hour. We went to Stingray City and I even mustered the courage to touch Spotty, an older stingray – while Carl taught us about stingrays and had us interact with her. The water was beautiful and never once did any of the stingrays even brush by me. I was actually more afraid of the jet ski ride! Next, we stopped at Rum Point for a quick bite and beverage (cost not included), and then a short ways away to Starfish Point where we held and learned about the starfish. Concerned for time we then took the jet ski back to the Holiday Inn and the van took us back to the ship with plenty of time to spare (hence the time cushion). Phshew!
SMOKING: I was exasperated that smoking was allowed in part of the Casino – it stunk everywhere and it was the only way to get to the front of the ship on that deck unless you went out outside on the deck. You could even smell the smoke near the Guest Services desk. There are also outdoor designated smoking areas starboard side on some of the decks for smokers.
GUEST SERVICES: My interaction with Guest Services was frequent – beginning with the Solarium issue, which lingered for days (most of the cruise), however they were polite and kept the communications lines open mostly thanks to Katherine Infante. Also thanks to the Guest Services Manager for taking the time to further discuss our issues regarding the Solarium in person.
Lawrence, the head of housekeeping deserves kudos for his immediate personal attention to an issue we had when the smokestack – aka – Mt. St. Helen’s -- exploded onto the back balconies. After our room steward tried to clean the balcony with his little bucket (which he shouldn’t have had to do because of the immense soot that was everywhere) we were told that they would be power-washing the decks the following day. The following day??? Huh? It was beautiful weather and we were only on the ship for 5 days total. Lawrence immediately greeted us and personally walked to our balcony to see what happened. He said it would be clean in an hour – it was. And he phoned personally afterward to make sure everything was satisfactory. The ship needs more Lawrences!! Unfortunately the other cabins had to wait until the following day for their balconies to be cleaned. Which, then, made a new mess on our balcony, as everything dripped from the deck above us onto ours. However, a quick stop at Guest Services and the balcony was spic and span again in no time.
DISEMBARKATION: We carried our bags ourselves and were off by 8:30am. No issues.
THE LOWDOWN: Overall we had a great time, the weather was amazing, the ship was very good, food was fine, passengers were A+ - no rudeness or pushiness, and very few children compared to other cruises. Too bad VOTS won’t be in SoFla too much longer. She will be in Tampa next and then off to Europe. Ciao VOTS – we hope to meet again one day!