This is our 3rd cruise this year, and thankfully our last till 2011 (Princess, Disney, Royal Caribbean International). Is there such a thing as taking too much time off? This review is going to be a bit of a nitpicker I'm afraid. I've been on too many different lines this year not to notice the differences between them.
RCI, here's a biggie for us. Have you become a budget cruise line? This is not the first time I've been on a RCI cruise but the first time I've gone in my stateroom bathroom and not found any toiletries. No lotion, no shampoo, no conditioner, and just a plainly wrapped flat brick of hand soap. Did our stateroom attendant forget to put them out? I'm afraid not, I checked with the other folks in our group and they didn't have any toiletries in their bathrooms either. What the hell? I pulled the curtain back on the shower to see if they were there, nope. The only thing in there was a communal liquid soap dispenser. Oh boy! Are we staying in a gym now? My prior experiences with RCI were a couple of cruises on Sovereign of the Seas. Built in 1988, the bathroom was so small you could literally do EVERYTHING from one place. The bathroom in the Radiance (built in 2002) was slightly larger, though you still can't move in the shower without your body moving the curtain open and dousing the floor in the bathroom with water. With just about a 1" lip between the shower pan and the bathroom floor it's a good thing there's a floor drain in that part too or the bathroom would flood. Don't forget not to put anything you want to stay dry on the floor. Our balcony room was the smallest of the 3 balcony rooms we've stayed in this year, a big disappointment considering the ship was built in 2002. (Disney had the largest balcony room of the 3, built in 1998) The "sofa" in our room was wide enough for only 1 person to sit on so somebody always has to sit on the bed to watch tv or sit at the makeup table. The layout of the room is poor as well because they put the bed on the balcony side of the room instead of the bathroom side. Meaning the dividing curtain separates you from the bathroom instead of the balcony which kind of defeats having a balcony room, you can't go outside to enjoy it in the morning if someone is still in bed without blasting them with sunlight. Strange too was the overall exterior design of the ship. Our room was small because there was 15' between the edge of our balcony and the ocean. They made the rooms smaller to accommodate the exterior architectural design look. Nothing functional mind you, just a 'look' Our room was 7th floor, starboard aft about 3/4 back. Plus you look to the right of our balcony and the last 10 or so rooms had balconies that were twice as deep as ours (but were still 8' from the edge of the ship) though the room was still the same size. What the hell were they thinking when they designed this? Give me a bigger room! Other design flaws that hampered our enjoyment was the fact that there are no aft elevators on the ship. There are 7 elevators in the Centrum, midship and 3 more elevators in the forward section of ship. ???? We were told this ship was built for Alaska cruises. I'd have gone insane if I had to spend a week in that room.
The Centrum was very nice as it is open from the 4th to the 12th floor. The shops were the shops, nothing special and what you see on any cruise line. Hawking gold platted chains outside the Windjammer (Foodjammer) cafe everyday along with the spa table hawking their services. And don't forget the "fresh OJ machine" $2-4 for a glass if you don't want the not from concentrate fresh squeezed that comes out of the carton around the corner. Has anyone else dumped the "soda package" fee beside Disney? I just can't shake the feeling that RCI has become the Nickle and Dime Cruise Line. Of course they have their 'you can't BYOB' rules and they're quite adept at locating any beverage you may have wanted to sneak by for consumption in your room. Clearly they go through additional screening checks/x-raying your bags for anything that looks like it may be a bottle or something that may have a beverage in it. Your bag WILL be held aside and you will be called to come to the security office to open your bag for inspection. Any bevs will be confiscated though you will be able to retrieve your bevs on the morning of departure. They, Celebrity and P&O are the only cruise lines that do this that I'm aware of (and all 3 are owned by RCI I do believe). Has anyone else had an experience like this with any other cruise line? The house chardonnay was $7+grat which struck us as being a bit steep. Absolut was $5.75+grat. Alcohlic bevs used to be quite reasonable on the high seas. Other than straight liquor drinks, apparently not so much anymore.
The food was inconsistent. There was nothing in the Windjammer that was out of the ordinary or special. Other than the "blood sausage" there appeared to be nothing served at breakfast that you couldn't get at a Denny's. I remember the food on the Sovereign's Windjammer was so awesome with varied international dishes. The main dining room food was good and the service was too. We ate at Chops one night and the service was absolutely impeccable. We had 2 servers at our table and the Maitre d' was hovering over them and us pampering us at every moment. (the Maitre d' swooped in and replaced your napkin when you got up to go to the bathroom or smoke). The food was ample in size and of good quality (not "prime" rated beef) though my rib-eye was not as good as I had expected. They made a fuss when they asked how my steak was but I declined to have them make me another one. At $25pp it's the highest I would be willing to pay for an 'other than main dining room' experiences. That price includes the grat but we added an additional $10 and bought a bottle of wine. $108 for our steak dinner for two.
Disney's upscale/upcharge restaurant (Palo)is only $15 and it's fantastic. Oh and by the way, by far, RCI has the most disgusting pizza in the industry. Princess had the best pizza (hand tossed and baked in pizza ovens in front of you and burgers (ground fresh onboard, you could even sign a waiver if you wanted a rare or medium cooked burger!). Premade crusts? Come on RCI, you should do better!
With all that said, would we do an RCI cruise again? It's likely, but for the older ships, a 3-4 or 5 nighter would be my limit. I'll try the Oasis or Allure eventually. I just don't like getting nickle and dimed for everything. Price the cruise appropriately and include it! You're captive already, I don't want merchandising and selling being hammered upon me every minute of the trip. I can fly to anywhere I want to visit, to go by boat is the point of cruising isn't it? It's about the cruise, not the destinations. Bon voyage!