This was our fourth RCI cruise. We had not planned on a cruise this year, but we received a brochure from Oceania with their Russia and Baltic Countries cruise listed. As soon as DH saw the Moscow excursion, he was sold. The only problem was we were #14 through #17 on the waitlist for the cabin catagories we had chosen. So, we checked out RCI and found a similiar cruise. I was happy to be able to book an aft cabin on the eighth deck.
Pre-cruise: Perfect!!! We booked our flights thru the cruiseline, using Custom Air. We chose the flights and found that they were a little cheaper if we used Custom Air. We found a United flight that landed at 10 am London time. We also used the transfers. We were picked up by a private car and taken directly to the hotel. We chose the Royal Garden Hotel, which is right next door to Kensington Palace. We were in walking distance to the underground. There were shops and restaurants all around. The hotel was very, very nice. There were two restaurants. We ate at both and enjoyed the breakfast included in our reservation. The weather in London was perfict
I booked an all-day tour with Evan Evan's tour company. We spent a day touring London with a very knowledgeable guide in a group of about 25. I made all the arrangements thru the internet and everything worked out fine.
On cruise day, we were picked up at the hotel and made one stop at another hotel, then we were on our way to Harwich. The trip was about 1 1/2 hours and it was a nice ride through the countryside. We went from the bus, to the terminal and within less that 20 minutes we were on the ship.
The cabins were sealed off until about 1:30 pm, so we signed up for the soda package, checked our reservations in Chops and Portofino's, had lunch and toured the open areas of the ship.
We had our Meet and Mingle at 3:30 in the Schooner Bar. We had a small group here on Cruise Critic, but they were very helpful with sharing information. We did not have enough to have a sponsored meeting, so we organized our own. It was fun to meet everyone in person and visit here and there on the ship. My husband ended up playing four rounds of golf in the simulator with one of the main organizers.
I was very concerned about the norovirus outbreaks. I usually bring hand sanitizer and a few travel-sized Lysol sprays. This time, I upgraded to a large can of Lysol, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizers and Safeguard Antibacterial soap. I told my husband that I was going to bring latex gloves and mouth masks too!!!! He said other than people thinking we were crazy, we would probably get chairs at the pool!! Anyway, I sprayed all the "touchables" in our room twice a day. We washed our hands all the time. I even bathed with the antibacterial soap after using the pools and hot tubs. I did everything I could not to touch things in the common areas. More about my efforts later.
We had a beautiful send off at our Sail Away. There was a drum and bagpipe "band" that played as we left the pier. Very, very nice!!
Food: Anything I don't have to prepare is good to me. We sat at a ten top table in the MDR 8:30 seating. Our tablemates were wonderful!!! They were all from England, and were so much fun. We enjoyed their company so much. We went to both Chops and Portafino. As always, the service was perfect. I liked the food at Chops better though. We did not use the MDR for breakfast or lunch.
Food Quality: It was good. I was disappointed with the quality of the turkey and pork. I do not like turkey roll and this was the first time I had tasted pork that appeared to be similar to turkey roll. One of my favorite things is the cold fruit soups and I order that every night. Desserts were o.k.
Service: We had two waitresses and they did a great job. Arlene and Ann. One of the couples at our table were quite picky and demanded a lot of attention. They complained to the head waiter about one of the first meals and from then on, they were given special treatment making sure that everything was to their satifaction. The waitresses were extremely patient and professional, when I think others might have lost their tempers.
Cabin: We like aft cabins and have never had any of the problem, like noise or soot that I have read about. The only annoying thing we have experienced on other cruises is cigarette or cigar smoke while we are one the balcony. Our cabin attendent did a great job. We only saw her the first day and the last day, but our cabin was always cleaned perfectly.
Weather: Hot, hot and hot. There was a heat wave in the area. Each day the temperature was between 85-90. We did not have any rain.
Ports: Moscow was the highlight for us. St. Petersburg was a close second. We either booked a ship's excursion or toured the port on our own. The tour guides attached to the ship tours were just "O.K.", except for our Moscow tour guide who was fantastic.
Entertainment: In general, was good. We missed a few shows, but most of the ones we went to were fun. There was a not so funny comedian, a good Beatles tribute band, a guy who played the violin, a tango night, Beach Boy's tribute band (we walked out of that one), the usual musical shows and a few others that I don't remember. All in all, it was fun to go to a show before dinner. We didn't do any of the games, bingo, etc.
Casino: Made several donations there. My husband is a quarter-machine addict, so we spent a few quarters there. I found a penny slot machine that would actually play with me for a while before taking my $20. My husband found a few craps and blackjack players that he would play with each night. He came out ahead at the end of the cruise.
Pools: We like the Solarium, but I don't know why they call it an adult pool when there are four hours a day when children are permitted to swim there. It changes the whole atmosphere of the area. The Solarium pool and hot tubs were closed for two days for maintenance, which angered a lot of people.
On our last day, there was a medical emergency and a passenger had to be medivaced by helicopter to Denmark. We were told that he had a heart attack. Nothing else was mentioned after that.
Oh----about the norovirus. I thought I had done everything right, but in the middle of the last night, I got sick. Not sure if it was noro or food poisoning. We had to leave the ship at 6:30 am, so I didn't go to the medical office. I just self-medicated and hoped for the best on the ride back to London.
Back to reality: We had to leave the ship at 6:30 and got to Heathrow in plenty of time to get to our flight, which was on Virgin Atlantic.
All in all, it was a great cruise. Other than getting sick at the end, everything went well.