Let me start by saying, I have sailed almost exclusively RCL, and even though I look at other cruise lines, I keep coming back to RCL. I always seem to find their itineraries best meet my interests and budget. At times, I've taken fairly adventurous shore excursions, and have packed every available minute. This cruise was a bit of a family reunion. I sailed with my two sisters (all in our 50s), and my Aunt & Uncle (mid 80s). Most of what we planned was much more laid back.
We drove into Baltimore 1 day pre-cruise, so we could sight see Baltimore. We drove down to the Inner Harbor, and enjoyed the Aquarium, as well as the shops. I've been there before, and enjoyed it as much this time. We then made our way to G&M Restaurant. GREAT CRABCAKES! Unfortunately, parking was at capacity, so my sister dropped us all off and parked her truck across the street. Even more unfortunately, she did not take note of the signage, and her and I had to take a little side trip to get her truck out of the impound lot that it had been towed to. The cab driver was pretty candid about what a revenue maker it is for the shops across the street who own the parking, and the towing company. They hover close by waiting for unsuspecting tourists. $300 later, we were reunited with the truck. Oh well.
We took advantage of the Park & Cruise offered at Comfort Inn BWI. The room price was $99, which was a bit more than their best advertised rate, but for the convenience of the car parking and the shuttle to the ship, it was ok. The hotel was clean enough, but pretty well worn. The breakfast buffet was actually in a little attached restaurant. The food choices were better than average for a hotel breakfast, but the restaurant had some pretty bad smells that were very off putting. The shuttle to/from the dock was poorly organized. When we got back off the ship, we called for the shuttle as instructed, and were given a confirmation number for the next shuttle. When the shuttle arrived, people without confirmation shoved their way on, and the driver did not control the situation. We of course stood there expecting our confirmation number to mean something, and it did not. If we would have known it was a free for all, I would have got a seat. We were able to get my Aunt & Uncle on, who reported the pushy passengers were actually picked up by somebody when they got off the other end. It did not even appear they had cars at the hotel. The next shuttle dropped people off, and then left! Two hours later, the rest of us were finally picked up.
For some reason, I keep coming back to the Vision class ships. Our 1st cruise was EOS, we sailed VOS to Alaska, and had a fabulous time last year on the LOS in the Mediterranean. I enjoy the intimacy of the smaller ships. Another CC member has already expressed some of this on their review of this cruise, so I won't beat it into the ground. The ship did seem more crowded than I've experienced in the past. I was traveling with Seniors who could be lumped in with the average age of the passengers, but I gotta say, the over 80 crowd showed up an hour early for every show and every activity. I don't have a problem showing up 30 minutes early for the evening show, but on this cruise, the crowd was already lined up through the casino before the Orpheum doors even opened. Most of the shows were packed beyond capacity. It may have been because we were on early dining (making a stereotypical assumption that seniors eat early). We were told by the Maitre D' that early dining was at capacity with wait lists, but one could get any table option they wanted at 2nd seating. I also think the itinerary and time of year may have contributed to the crowding, as the outdoor areas were much underutilized. It was next to impossible to find a chair in any of the common areas.
Speaking of the entertainment, hats off to Carly, our CD, and her staff. It was a tough crowd at times, but they managed to keep their composure in addition to being entertaining. The evening shows were typical. A few too many singers for my taste, but they were good enough. The comedian/juggler was outrageously funny, even though I've seen similar acts. I personally think RCL is putting more energy into the RCL Singer & Dancer shows. In the past, I felt they were incredibly amateur, but my last two cruises I have thought they were at least as good as the traveling Broadway troops. As I mentioned earlier, the people camping out for some of the daily events made it not worth the effort to attend. Sometimes on this kind of cool weather cruise I realize how much time I usually spend at the pool. Three sea days was probably one too many with this itinerary.
I had a couple trips to the service desk for non-critical issues. They seem to cringe every time they were approached, but a few kind words and a decent attitude, and every time the warmed up quickly. Zero complaints from me on the service desk. My requests were all handled graciously. I find it an interesting study in human nature the way different people perceive the same experience. I think I heard more griping passengers on this cruise than I've ever heard. My aunt and I had a casual conversation with a lady who hated everything from the entertainment to the toilet paper (seriously). She thought the Motown singers were horrible. My aunt mentioned she actually liked them best among the singing groups, but when the woman started to get huffy, she quickly added we were from the Detroit area and liked that kind of music. The woman huffed, "not everybody is from Detroit." That became our standard joke :-). How can anyone judge the entertainment as bad because it's not your style?
The ever popular subject - food. I am not a big fan of the Windjammer, and this cruise I managed to avoid it all but boarding day. So, no review of the food or service. As for the My Fair Lady Dining Room, our waiters, Edguardo and Carlos, we two of the sweetest guys I've ever met. I was certain my aunt was going to find a way to smuggle Edguardo home with her. I don't think my uncle would have objected. I've been on many cruises where I couldn't even identify who the head waiter was, but not this time. Peter was very attentive, and looked like a great boss to his team. If a table needed bussing or service was bogging down, he jumped in to help. This is the 1st cruise I've ever been on where I felt like the standard tip for the head water wasn't enough.
Every time I read the great food debate on the CC boards, I expect I'm going to see a huge drop in quality on my next cruise, but I have to say I enjoyed the food as much as ever. Several in our group enjoyed every steak on the menu, both medium rare, and medium well, and claim all were tasty and tender. I can't list everything we tried, but between all of us, not a bad meal or appetizer. I always enjoy the Indian entrEe, but only sampled one because there were so many other appealing choices on the menu. The one I had was not shy about the heat and had well rounded flavors, just as it should be. Between five of us, we had maybe 1-2 desserts that were not good, and all the rest were good to excellent. I was even surprised the cheesecake was not gelatinous as I keep reading. I know the stuff they serve in the Windjammer has always been bad, but the cheesecake I had in the dining room was real cheesecake, and I am a snob about my cheesecake. Maybe I've learned to avoid the desserts I don't think they'll do justice to (like crème brulee), but most restaurants don't to that justice.
Portland - Three of our group stayed in Portland and took the Downeast Duck Boat Tour, which we arranged ahead of time. It was an easy walk from the dock, and they reported they had a great time. They also reported lunch at Gilberts Chowder House was top notch, with decent prices on some delicious whole lobsters. My aunt is a pro and picking a whole lobster clean, and my sister who was with her has taken the handoff on the family skills now.
The other two of us rented a car from Enterprise, and drove up to Freeport for a little recreational shopping at LL Bean and the surrounding stores. We did the local economy good. With the help of my trusty GPS, we tracked down Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster for lunch. Great lobster rolls and what a scenic little restaurant! It did not feel touristy at all. All in all, a fun 1st port.
Bar Harbor - This had to be the coldest day of the whole trip. Windy and a bit damp. There had been some problems with the tenders 1st thing, but we did not attempt to get off until around 10 am, and we were next up. Bar Harbor is a cute little town, even if it's a bit touristy. We took the Ollie's Trolley ride up to Acadia National Park. Certainly no fault of anybody's, but we were disappointed through the whole trip that Fall colors seemed to be running weeks behind expectations! The poor Trolley driver was stopping by single trees to try to give people photo ops for color. The U.S. has so many wonderful parks, and Acadia was nice, but I did not find it memorable. We had several restaurant choices, but the Trolley driver pointed us to the Fish House Grill. Really a disappointment. One of us had an $18 lobster tail smaller than the one served on the ship, and another had lobster claws that that were almost dried up inside. Olley's Trolley resides in the same building as the restaurant. Think twice who you get your recommendations from.
Saint John - With a rather short day in Saint John, we decided to just walk through town, visit the City Market, and see what else was available. It was Canadian Thanksgiving, but most of the shops along the way were open. I wish we would have explored more of Saint John, as it is a lovely city. I really enjoyed the wood carvings sitting on the park benches and such and they made great photo ops as we posed with them. You have to play tourist sometime. Outside of sampling food at the market, we didn't stop for lunch so no restaurant feedback!.
Halifax - We booked a private tour with Halifax Taxi. Our driver, Les, was outstanding. Knowledgeable, funny, interesting. We did the standard tourist loop of Historic Halifax, Peggy's Cove, and the Titanic Cemetery, but I know it was infinitely better with the interesting history/anecdotes Les added. The historic area was really lovely, and the cemetery was more interesting than I expected it to be. I think we would all vote this was our favorite tour of the trip.
Boston - I have never been to Boston, but I'll be back someday. Great mix of old and new, and way too much to really see in one day. We took the Old Town Trolley Tour, which I had booked ahead of time. I understand if you booked it through the ship, it was not a hop on/hop off. We were on a mission for a perfect bowl of Clam Chowder, and took the driver's recommendation of the Union Oyster House. This is the oldest restaurant in Boston and the oldest restaurant in continuous service in the U.S. — the doors have always been open to diners since 1826. I had a fabulous cup of clam chowder and an outstanding fried oyster roll. I've been craving them ever since.
We really did have a great time. This is the 1st time we've all been able to cruise together, and hopefully it won't be the last. The itinerary was enjoyable, but I probably wouldn't do it again. I cruise for the ports, and even though the ports were interesting enough, I didn't think there was enough to see/do to call me back. I am happy to see the Enchantment in Baltimore, because it's one of very few ports that I consider drivable from home. I might catch the Bermuda 5 day next Summer.