This was our 7th and 8th cruise so we are not cruising virgins. We knew things were going to be bad when we embarked in Sydney on a cool, rainy day at a mystery location. Embarkation was by tender. Tender? Somehow we got to the mysterious embarkation dock very early so we could get aboard then come back to see some more of beautiful Sydney. I say 'somehow' because Royal Caribbean (RCCL) identified the area where the tenders were loading by a name only the Chamber of Commerce uses. They also used the wrong street name and gave the wrong directions to the dock in their literature. Only a knowledgeable cabbie who knew of at least 3 locations in the area was able to find the dock after 2 wrong turns. The location of the dock was in a warehouse area without any nearby transportation so using cabs was the only alternative if we wanted to get to or from the tenders.
We got a taste of things to come when we were not allowed to tender until all the previous previous passengers were off the ship. That took some time so we sat and sat and sat and finally were allowed to board a tender. Waiting for RCCL to get their act together is something we almost got used to. Sloppiness happened several times on our back-to-back cruise. RCCL doesn't seem to know what the words 'plan in advance' means or they just slapped these cruises together without any consideration of their passengers.
We booked the second cruise primarily to go Cairnes and see the Great Barrier Reef. It was almost impossible for us to do. Cairnes was on the itinerary but the ship did not dock in Cairnes and we did not tender into Cairnes. Ever hear of Yorky's Knob? We tendered into the small yacht basin at Yorky's Knob from about 2 miles out. We were 20 miles at least from Cairnes. The ship arrived at 9:00am as shown on the brochure but by the time we pushed our way onto a tender full of paying tour customers (they are always the first ones on the tenders irregardless of other nonpaying passengers plans ashore) and caught a cab into Cairnes we almost missed the last boat out to Green Island. The reef center was almost deserted when we got there and it scared us to death. The ship should have arrived at 7am, moored off of Cairnes, and had tenders going ashore plenty of early enough for passengers to catch a reef tour out to the outer part of the Great Barrier Reef and get back. The Reef is The Premier Attraction in Australia IMO. I think that RCCL tendered to Yorky's Knob to save on port fees, to generate shuttle bus income ($14 RT per person), and to sell excursions. Like they did in almost all ports.
RCCL made a bundle on shuttle bus fees on these cruises. At $14 RT a person, that comes to $28,000 a port if everyone uses it. How many shuttle buses can you rent for $28,000? In addition to that onboard ship personal play dumb when you ask them if local bus or cab transportation is available at the dock. RCCL should provide shuttle service at their cost or include it in the price. Of course you don't know about this in advance.
Another profit center that RCCL capitalized on was purchasing visas to enter Papua New Guinean waters. The very small print in your documents says that passengers are responsible for all visas but it seems like a company that looks out for its customers would know and tell customers which countries require visas. RCCL 'generously' would process visas for $75 each if you did not have one. You HAD to have one. If you got your visa directly from the PNG it would cost $35. RCCL was charging a $40 processing fee to provide a printout to PNG officials. Cha-ching. $80,000 in profit if everyone got one through them. There is a PNG consulate in Brisbane and we stopped in there and got ours in about 15 minutes. A lot of people were highly annoyed about this outrageous charge. Again this service should have been offered at RCCL's cost and as a service to their customers.
I do not want to describe what the disembarkation was like in one port. It is too painful to recall. 3 hour wait to disembark. 3 hours!! People were stacked up in hallways and lounges for hours and tempers were flaring. Total incompetence. When I asked a senior officer about it he barked at me like I was a deck hand.
Little things add up. Mints on the pillow? No. Toiletries other than a thin bar of soap? No. Ice Cream? The kind you find in a cheap buffet. Soda or Pop? $3.00 a can or an expensive soda card that saved you nothing unless you drank 20 cans a day. Internet access? Slow and unreliable access at $39 an hour. Books in the library? Shabby and too few. The shelves were empty after day 1. Entertainment? One or two good acts. The ship's cast was terrible. We went twice and gave up on it. The other acts were street entertainer quality with one exception. RCCL is cheap. Food? Mediocre but good quality. The same food day after day on the buffet. They ran out of little things like tea, nuts, raisins, and ice cream. The bakery only produced 2 or 3 kinds of rolls. Desserts were okay if you like mousse. Not many pies. Few cakes. Again, the same thing over and over again. The food was so bad I gained only one pound.
Service? Excellent to Outstanding. Friendly crew with exception of some of officers and supervisors. One supervisor actually said that he didn't care when I pointed out a problem because it was someone else's responsibility. The crew, the worker bees, would bend over backwards to help you. Always pleasant, always available. Wonderful, hardworking people. Exception was customer service - terrible. Rude and knowledgeable.
Activities? Good selection. Decent speakers. The TV had only 3 live channels - CNN and ESPN and BBC. ESPN was 24 hours of soccer. CNN was worldwide. The BBC was the BBC. Terrible stuff. Good movies for the most part. Gym and gym staff were first rate. The lounge music was first rate.
Cleanliness and decor? Excellent. A beautiful ship that was well taken care of.