Just come back from a Christmas / New Year cruise aboard Explorer of the seas:
A regular cruiser with RCCL and in their Diamond Crown and anchor programme. This may well be our last cruise with the company. I feel a bit sad because we`ve sung their praises high and low to all and sundry over the years but the company are rapidly spiralling downwards. If there was one thing the company has lost sight of it`s their customer`s dignity.
Of late we`ve always booked an Owner`s suite. This time we booked a Junior suite because it was all they had. The room it`s self was fine, plenty of space, masses of storage, small bath, settee etc. We were told we`d hit the Diamond plus level prior to booking which we assumed meant all the owner`s suite benefits (and a few more), would be in hand. We also get priority check in at the dock and to be honest that`s one of the biggest reasons we have stuck with RCCL. I`d hate to go back to those 2 or 3 hour queues of 15 years ago !
New York dock (Bayonne). Queued in the taxi for 1 hour to get from the dock gate to where you are dropped off.
Queued in the freezing cold for 40 minutes to get into the terminal.
Queued for 20 minutes whilst in the terminal to get through one of the 3 body scanners (between 3,500 passengers). After security queued for 40 minutes in the "VIP fast tack" check in.
No one to greet you as you stepped aboard. The safety drill was under way at 3.30pm and with 1/3 of the passengers still ashore. (We left at around 6.30pm from memory). Didn`t bother with the drill as we had just got to our cabin when the all clear notice was issued.
Diamond plus membership was actually still diamond membership. They didn`t have all our cruises on the "system". We found some whilst on board and a series of emails to Miami (at $0.55 a minute on the slowest internet connection on the planet) invoked a response of "we`re not that bothered, if you`ve got a problem email us photos of previous cruises. Not that easy when you`re in the middle of the Atlantic.
My time dining service abysmal. Sat for half an hour at the table with no food, no wine. Had to drag a wine menu off the server. On the third day moved to a fixed seating and was looked after very well by Oliver and Luany. Ate 3 times in Portafinos.
Contacted after a few days to say the "cash account limit had been exceeded". This despite giving credit card details on line prior to the cruise and at the dock side. More queuing to resolve. More queuing when we realised the video arcade credits weren`t transferred to the new card. Cost me another $10.00.
The Diamond member breakfast was lovely if a little early on port days (7.00am - 9.00am). There was a Diamond members lounge in the evenings (to replace the concierge lounge we used to get). But there was a bit of a kick in the nuts. Sit down and see if you can figure this one out, because I certainly can`t. Champagne (their description not mine), was free. As was a rather sickly Chardonnay and a red wine. Soft drinks were free but a beer or a mixer was chargeable (all be it with a 25% discount). You were actually better off enjoying a stiffer drink in the champagne lounge and enjoying canapEs if you had to pay. The guys who ran the Diamond members lounge bar from 5.00-8.30pm were charming beyond reproach. So this isn`t a ship issue, it`s a RCCL head office issue.
Kids were running riot around the ship. Had to chastise some for throwing stones around the mini golf, others for getting out of lifts, then getting back in, then chatting half in and half out. The lifts were an extension of the Adventure Ocean amusement programme. Sometimes there would be kids just sitting on the floor chatting when you got in.
Foul language went unchecked as did the fact the hot tubs were pretty much off limits to anyone over 16-18. I once counted over 30 kids in one tub ! Footballs were thrown around the crowded pool deck narrowly missing innocent bystanders. I had to ask a bar tender to quieten a bloke shouting to his child at the bar during a theatre performance (the bar tender was there all the time and didn`t do anything). In fact the only time saw any form of control was at the Vault nightclub where ID was checked to ensure entrants were over 21.
The ice cream machine was left un-attended or was looked after by someone who didn`t dare step in and take action to the point where I saw ice creams thrown overboard, thrown in both the hot tub, pool and deck and the machine looked like a war zone most of the time.
Now, just to surprise you a little I`m not an old fart without kids. I was there with my 9 year old daughter who has previously lived in the kid`s club. She went in briefly 3 times and told me kids were just running riot so nothing was getting done. We couldn`t get her to go back.
Ship board DECT phones were not available to rent this time because "they hadn`t been replaced after guests damaged them". Once again help me out here. Circa $50 a week to rent and with a $100 deposit they are paid for after 3-4 weeks. I`m not asking for charity, simply for someone to pull their finger out and order up new ones so they can make more profit for the company.
Paint flaking all over the ship and details starting to look a bit shabby. After we left it was off for a 2 week mini make over (and to get the "graze" cut out of the hull).
We spoke to Alexa who not only was in charge of the Crown and Anchor loyalty programme but also the future cruise consultant about a 14 person family cruise we`re looking to book in the summer. She basically just asked what we wanted a quote for and provided nothing in the way of advice or added benefit / knowledge.
The one good thing she did do was to quote us a fare so high on Oasis of the Seas that it enabled us to book on either Seabourn or Silverseas for no more money. I kid you not. All inclusive with vintage wines, champagne (and beer / mixers free rather that 25% off). Silver service and no tips expected or required. A far cry from Royal Caribbean where you are constantly reminded of your duty to pay their employee`s wages at the end of a voyage.
If you are new to cruising or just want a really cheap cruise and are prepared to sacrifice your dignity by queuing or topping up drinks bottles from restaurants to carry round with you then Royal Carribean is your answer. If you want something a little more special then sadly they aren`t hard to beat these days. They`ve lost the magic of old. Guests are just walking bits of meat with a credit card attached to be herded around.
Ah yes. Dave the cruise director. He is an individual human being so I will limit myself to saying he isn`t that good. His "morning show" is at best juvenile, the "gulping" of drinks made you want to throw up and there was simply nothing at all to endear him to you. Ironically our last cruise on RCCL was hosted by Joff Eaton the finest cruise director I`ve seen in 2 centuries cruising (we started very young !).
The shows, in particular the ice show were breathtaking and the one thing I will miss when we book elsewhere, but I`m not prepared to sacrifice the rest of my vacation for 40 minutes in the theatre.
I know RCCL are punting their sister company Celebrity to returning cruisers in a vain attempt to catch some of the people jumping ship but to be honest I`m not sure I want the company to have my money as I feel so let down with the demise of RCCL head office, the folks I thought of as "my" cruise company.
Sorry for the rant but I hope it helps if you`re thinking of booking a cruise.
Able Seaman H.