OUR GROUP: My husband and I are in our late 20s. We traveled with another couple our age and my mother and aunt (50-60). This was the third cruise for Mr. and Mrs. Feisty, second for our friends, and first for my mom and aunt. Our past cruises were in the Caribbean on Carnival Destiny and Carnival Valor. We loved those cruises - fair to good food, excellent service, and fun ports. Everyone in our group ordinarily does land vacations and has done many, including in Europe.
THE RUMOR: "You'll love RCI! It's so much better than Carnival. Carnival is full of drunken partiers and has terrible food and mediocre service. RCI has much nicer people and great food and service."
THE TRUTH: I was delighted to find drunken partiers on RCI's Splendour since I hadn't found them on either our Carnival cruises. (The "drunken partiers" were charming and a lot of fun, so this is definitely a point in RCI's favor over Carnival.) We were, however, very disappointed with the food and service on Splendour, which was severely lacking in comparison to our Carnival cruises.
EMBARKATION/DEBARKATION: A++ on both ends. RCI had a free shuttle to/from Piazzale Roma (it's a bright orange bus with a small "Port of Venice" sign in the front and no RCI signs; confirm that you're being taken to the Splendour before you load up though), which made things easy. We got to the dock around 2pm and absolutely flew through the "line." Our cabins were ready, and our luggage arrived in plenty of time before dinner (9pm). Since we had an early flight (11:30am), we dragged our own luggage off at about 7:15am and arrived at the airport a bit after 8am (free shuttle to Piazzale Roma, number 5 bus to airport). It was all very easy.
SHIP: Having sailed on Carnival Destiny (also a 1996 launch), we were prepared for the ship to be small and worn around the edges. Like the Destiny, Splendour is well maintained. We did, however, giggle at the ugly decor after we'd been told how RCI's decor was so much nicer than Carnival's. There are some problems with the Splendour - it's just too small. There aren't enough bars (not a problem on Destiny), and it's very difficult to find a place where there aren't already a ton of people. The deck behind the spa was quiet but never empty, so that's a possibility if you're looking for a quiet spot. The Solarium was always hot and muggy, so go there only if you're prepared to fall asleep. The gym was fine but lacked a scale.
CASINO: The casino was fine. The dealers were very nice, if a little un-educated about the games (wrongfully picked up friend's chips at least once). There were a couple non-smoking nights, so that was very nice. The poker tourney was not well attended (5 people), so be prepared if that's your thing.
DINING ROOM: If you like really plain food and don't mind eating pretty much the same thing every day, then you'll be satisfied. Our group was bored to tears. Breakfast was the same every morning. The only difference in eating in the dining room instead of the Windjammer was that it was served to you. The one time we had lunch in the dining room, it was pretty good, which was not the norm. Every night, the menu consisted of 1-2 unimaginative pasta dishes that may or may not be prepared as described, 1-2 steak options which may or may not be butchered correctly and will be served with a boring potato option, a boring chicken option, 1-2 seafood options (we and our friends don't eat seafood; my mom had mixed satisfaction with her seafood selections), some other meat option (pork or whatever) that was usually disappointing, and a couple of vegetarian options. They had an Indian option (vegetarian) most nights, and that was usually, but not always, very good. The head chef is from India, so that probably explains why there were some successes. On our past cruises, the big decision each night was whether we would order 2 or 3 desserts. I have a major sweet tooth, so I was looking forward to this. We were terribly disappointed with the desserts. If you like Grand Marnier, you may be happy. It seemed like that was in at least one dessert each night. Service: Our servers in the dining room were generally adequate, which was disappointing considering how we'd bonded with our servers on our past cruises. They were good to remember that we liked to start with a plate of fries and a cheese plate each night, but they totally missed our anniversary.
WINDJAMMER: I love buffets. I love to eat and eat until I feel like I'm going to explode. I especially adore breakfast buffets, and I'm not picky about them. I hated eating in the Windjammer. The food was always the same! And always boring. Another problem was the staff. They absolutely glared at me any time I wasn't seated! I'm not sure why they were so cranky.
OTHER FOOD: This was a problem. We had second seating for dinner (it's 9pm, not 8:30 like we expected), so we always wanted a snack when we got back onboard at 3-6pm each day. From Carnival, we were used to pizza and a grill (hamburgers, french fries, hot dogs) being open pretty much all the time. We were sorely disappointed with Splendour's options. Although there was a place to get pizza and sandwiches in the Solarium, it wasn't always open and the service there was always rotten. The set up for burgers, dogs, and fries nearby was poorly maintained and sometimes closed up early. That was especially annoying considering that the Windjammer often opened late.
OTHER PAX: All the passengers we met were lovely. There were about 1,500 from the U.S., possibly in part due to a big grocery convention onboard. We especially enjoyed those folks.
ACTIVITIES: Although I missed the water slide, Splendour beat our Carnival ships hands down when it came to activities. The mini-golf course was hilarious (please try it!), and it was super fun to ring the bell at the top of the climbing wall. We also really enjoyed all the dancing. There were several dance classes throughout the week; I remember waltz, meringue, and line dancing. The Swingstreet Trio played slow numbers; the Boleros, a Latin trio, played TONS of salsa, some meringue, and the occasional cha cha and rumba; the DJ on the top floor disco played all types of music. I recommend going to the 70s line dancing class and then hitting the disco that night - hilarious! The fitness classes are about the same as on Carnival - $10 each, not of great quality but better than nothing (I took a yoga class).
ENTERTAINMENT: I am still trying to figure out who truly believes the shows on cruises are of good quality. As they go, these were marginally better than the ones on Carnival. We've been taking ballroom dance lessons, so we enjoyed the professional ballroom dancers.
CABIN: This was another big disappointment for us. We couldn't fit our suitcases under the bed like we had on the Carnival ships (same suitcase and a new smaller one). I've since read a suggestion to open them up and slide them under, which is a good one. The drawers didn't all work well, and some of the hangers in the closet were broken. My main gripe, though, is the size of the shower. I thought our showers on previous cruises were tight but tolerable. I cursed this shower on a daily basis, and I'm a size 2. Ladies, I'd highly recommend getting your legs waxed before cruising on this ship. Our cabin steward was fine, though he did manage to forget to leave a Cruise Compass one night. Oh, also, the hallway outside the cabin smelled a bit bad.
PORTS: Awesome, amazing, incredible - all the positive adjectives you can come up with apply. This is why we adored our cruise even though we were so disappointed with the food and service. If you'd like to check out my in depth reports about what we did each day (this was the Athens/Mykonos/Olympia/Corfu/Split itin.), check out my blog at feistync.wordpress.com. I promise it's worth a look.
MISC.: The Wine and Dine program worked well for us. We also very much enjoyed the RCI's special Belgian beer, Royal. Check it out! The shopping tips, in at least one case for us, turned out to be abysmal. RCI goes on and on about The Loom, this "terrific" rug shop (Athens and Mykonos). We popped in a rug shop just down the street from The Loom in Athens and shopped there for a bit. The owner gave us a lesson in machine v. hand made and showed us incredible rugs at fair prices (we have access to a couple of outstanding discount stores in North Carolina, so we didn't buy). We then went to The Loom, where they were trying to sell machine made rugs at hand made prices and wouldn't give you a straight answer about how the rugs were made. I'm very grateful we stumbled into the first shop, and I'm now hesitant to buy from any ship recommended shop without at least doing some research first.
CONCLUSION: If you're not too demanding about food and service and haven't visited these ports before, I highly recommend taking this cruise. If you are more discerning, check out some other options and, if you sail Splendour anyway, go prepared so you won't be disappointed. It really is an incredible itinerary and was far and away my favorite option when we booked. It could only have been more perfect IMO by adding a night and a stop in Santorini!