Western Caribbean - April 8, 2007 Balcony Cabin and Interior Cabin - Deck 7
EMBARKATION The cruise line transfer to the pier delivered us dockside at about 12:30 PM and after collecting our luggage we queued behind several hundred other passengers. At about 1:00 PM we noticed a sign that read "embarkation commences as disclosed in your cruise materials at 2:00 PM". By 2:00 PM several thousand passengers were lined along the roadway waiting to board. As I waited in line I kept wondering why Royal Caribbean International (RCI) arranged a hotel to pier transfer that would bring us dockside 90 minutes before we could board - I'm still mystified. Of all my past cruises this was the most difficult boarding I've experienced. The lines were long and being outside under the mid-day sun was uncomfortable. Restrooms were located several blocks away and drinking water was not accessible.
CUSTOMER SERVICE Most of us who contribute to Cruise Critic agree that no single event should tarnish an entire cruise. As a frequent cruiser myself, with my next cruise just 8 weeks away, I could not agree more. Nevertheless, I had 2 astonishingly poor customer service experiences on the FOS last Friday (yes...it was Friday the 13th) that tainted this particular cruise. Never before have I felt the need to share a dissatisfaction with a cruise ship line - so this was a first for me. As I engaged each RCI crew person I never raised my voice or asked for any type of compensation, free medical care or customer service gesture. I asked for nothing. I just shared the facts as I knew them and allowed the RCI crew person to respond. For our last stop in Labadee I had tried to reserve the parasailing excursion via the web several times, but the excursion was never listed. My kids (16 and 17) were delighted when I was able to sign them up while ashore that morning. For them, this was one of the most desired and anticipated events of the entire week. I chatted briefly with the RCI crew person, then completed and signed the proper disclosure, and presented that all too familiar cruise card. I confirmed with the RCI crew person, with my kids standing next to me that they should meet "here" at 3:00 PM. Back on board at about 3:30 PM I saw parasailing off the port side and had a pleasant thought about the kids, but about 15 minutes later to my surprise I found them on deck. They shared that upon arrival at the parasailing departure point the RCI crew person stated that they were "not on the list". Since the kids were so disappointed I decided to ask the Excursion Staff for an explanation. After explaining the issue to the excursion staff on deck 5, they called their manager and asked that I meet him on deck 11 near the dive shop. 5 minutes and 6 decks later I was told that the manager had just left and that he was so busy that he would not be able to meet with me until tomorrow. I commented that I could not imagine what would be more important than speaking promptly with a passenger who had just had a bad service experience. I was then handed a form to complete. As my wife and I walked away, my wife took a bad fall as a result of an earlier french fry spill that had turned into the consistency of grease and mashed potatoes by all the passenger traffic. As I was consoling my wife another passenger took the same fall. I reported the spill and falls to a Windjammer wait staff person and returned to my wife. While waiting for a crew member to arrive I personally kept several other passengers from taking the same fall. Later that night, after dinner and my wife still in pain, we decided we should make a report of the injury with Guest Relations. A nice fellow listened, and then excused himself to chat with his manager. After about 5 minutes, which seemed like an eternity, he returned and said that the ship would be happy to make their medical services available - but a fee would apply. The Guest Relations staff person, I guess as a response to his own discomfort with the message he was relaying said "that's not a very good answer is it". Saturday morning I returned to meet the Labadee Excursion Director. Peter informed me that my kid's names were indeed on the list, but had been crossed out since they were no-shows. I shared with Peter my kids' detailed account of their conversation with the RCI crew persons on Labadee and said that their story seemed inconsistent with them being no-shows. Peter reiterated that no other explanation was possible, and that he could not imagine any scenario where ship's crew might have erred. Everyone reading this story should now pause and appreciate that an RCI manager's solution to this customer service problem was to imply that my teenagers were liars. I dropped the matter. Later that Saturday afternoon my wife decided that she wanted to speak with the head of Guest Relations and share her disappointment with how the injury report from the prior night had been handled. She visited the Guest Relations desk and asked when it might be possible to personally meet and briefly chat with the Guest Relations Director. She was told to expect a call with a time and place that would be arranged. Instead, she received a voice mail stating that medical care, for a fee, was available on deck 1. My wife's request to meet the Guest Relations Director was ignored. Both of these events were tremendous opportunities to repair and strengthen brand loyalty, but instead only illuminated front line management's poor expertise in properly addressing customer problems. In hindsight, it's interesting that both managers used the same technique - that of transferring responsibility for the bad customer service event back to the passenger. For Guest Relations admitting that maybe a food spill wasn't cleaned as quickly as it should have been or for the Shore Excursion staff to admit that maybe someone picked up the wrong clip-board when speaking with my kids would have been an admission of a crew mistake. Both events could have been easily addressed with a direct statement of sincere regret and a little empathy from a member of the ship's management team. As this story ends, I can only say that last Friday the 13th was the worst cruise day my wife and I have ever experienced. Separately, the dining room staff and the cabin stewards were polite, efficient, knowledgeable and consistent with both my Princess and Costa cruise experiences. Nice job.
STATEROOM AND PUBLIC SPACE It is a beautiful ship, and the comments about the wear and tear on this new vessel I've read in these web pages are a bit overstated. I found my balcony room on deck 7 somewhat smaller than a Princess mini-suite but larger than a Princess balcony cabin. I was surprised not to see any fire suppression equipment on the balconies. I remember being on the Grand Princess last summer and watching the new outside fire suppression sprinklers being installed, a bit at a time, at every port of call.
Our second cabin was an interior cabin with a window overlooking the Grand Promenade. For an interior cabin it was quite nice with its own small sitting area.
Compliments to RCI for corralling all the auction art into one area on deck 3 - Princess should follow your lead. Maybe next year it can move to deck 2. This ship is massive and with a full passenger load it does feel somewhat crowded. On a spring break cruise with 1300 children aboard the average cabin occupancy had to be on the high side, so how could it not seem crowded? Those who say this ship is not crowded, I suspect, were not cruising during spring break or the summer season when school is not in session. With school back in session this week, I bet hundreds fewer teenagers and children are aboard. Not a complaint as our family needed a spring break cruise, but be advised that this ship's facilities cater to families with kids and successfully attracts them.
ENTERTAINMENT The FOS has raised the bar by a substantial margin. The production values (props, lighting, special effects) are all substantially improved. The number and variety of musicians and genres is most impressive. The Arcadia Theatre space rivals the look and feel of a land based music venue with almost every seat having an unobstructed view of the stage. The theaters egress however is poorly designed and if you sit near the stage you'll feel like you're in the last row of a jumbo jet after the show. Having raised the technical bar so high, it's now possible that the audience will begin to expect a show experience commensurate with a land based theatre. Suggestion to the cruise director - make your closing comments shorter. After several great shows the cruise director droned on endlessly and actually managed to destroy that "audience high" that comes from a fine performance.
WINE and RCI's ALCOHOL POLICY First let's comment on the RCI policy that prevents the passenger boarding of any wine, beer or hard spirits. RCI's commitment to this policy becomes clear as your read page 4 of the daily newsletter - the Compass where you'll read that the main dining room, Portofino and Chops are delighted to serve wine not purchased onboard for a corkage fee of $12. Translation - the corkage fee is mightier than the rule. In an apparent effort to differentiate each venue (Vintages, Bubbles, Portofino , Chops and the Dining Room) the marketing experts have deemed a somewhat different wine list for each location. As a result don't look for Veuve Clicquot or the Chianti Ruffino on the main dining room's wine list. To discover what's offered and where, you have to make the rounds and compile your own mental list. In other words, the marketing staff has made it hard for those of us who enjoy wine to see the complete offerings. It was only mid-week that I realized I could ask our main dining room waiter to retrieve a bottle from the Portofino or Chops wine list. Many of the wines offered aboard are quite mediocre and are potentially aimed at the new wine drinker who will buy based on the vintner's familiar name. For instance, well known names like "Mondavi" and "Beringer" are on the wine list but what's being offered is their 3rd of 4th tier wines. BTW - the Mondavi Private Selection and the Beringer Stone Creek can be had for under $10 retail but both carry a 3x markup aboard ship. This is contrasted with the Chianti Ruffino a $22 wine at retail that sales for about $40 aboard ship and Veuve Cliquot a $37 wine at retail that sells for about $80 aboard ship. It's interesting that the lower quality wines with familiar names carry a greater mark-up than some of the higher quality and less well known wines.
PORTS of CALL Many of the pre-existing posts here at Cruise Critic already describe the ports and excursions with great detail, so I'll be brief. Snorkeling in Cozumel was fun. I too booked Eagle Ray based on comments here at Cruise Critic and offer my thanks for the referral. They did a fine job. The Canopy Tour in Jamaica was great. While I only subscribed to this excursion at the request of my teenagers (what sane person wants to fly over a rain forest suspended from a cable?), I too had a great time. Flying 300 feet above the rain forest across a 1000 foot traverse was quite a rush! The "flea market" at Labadee is billed as an opportunity to bid the price down with the locals, but that's not an adequate description. Imagine walking through a small store and having 3 or 4 merchants continuously IN YOUR FACE at the same time. This "flea market" makes the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul look like a suburban shopping mall. The Gator/Airboat Excursion in Miami was also a lot of fun.
DISEMBARKMENT The usual "hurry up and wait" even though we booked a post cruise excursion that ended at Ft Lauderdale Airport. However, the delays were caused by too few US Customs personnel and not RCI. The cruise terminal is a real treat with luggage handling facilities that resemble an airport. No searching over oceans of luggage for your bags at this cruise terminal.