Left Southampton on a bitterly cold day, raining heavily at appointed embarkation time meant that luggage was piled up on pavement in the open, consequently top 2 cases and contents were soaked. [Note to RCI this never happened with P&O.] Just too many people trying to check in at the same time.
Statutory dinghy drill prior to sailing required long wait in open. We had coats and scarves but some were frozen. [Note to RCI P&O do this briefing in the lounges]
The ship is remarkable, stunning at first sight, with no expense spared on decor and some very comfortable chairs, although getting one on sea days requires early occupation. The central atrium or Promenade was mind-blowing at first with shops on both sides selling booze cigarettes and all sorts of useless tat. The pubs were a popular venue as long as you nursed your drinks. Buying a round of any size could result in early insolvency.
Our cabin was well appointed, the bathroom and shower were excellent and the bed was top class for comfort and size. But, on asking the steward for a bottle of gin and a dozen tonics, we were told that this was not permitted in the cabin. Checked on the price list for permitted wine in the cabin to find that the prices for the cheapest were in the order of $34 per bottle for basic plonk. Totally unacceptable. RCI, sailing out of Southampton, would sell a lot more drinks to UK customers if they charged reasonable prices instead of $13 for the house white plonk and a beer.
We had no need for room service so cannot comment. There were no launderettes on board and the laundry service charged $25 for a bag wash, returned dried and folded but not pressed.
We agreed that the food in the WindJammer was of high quality with a wide variety, Asian, Indian, American and solid Uk standards. You needed to avoid peak periods in this area otherwise it became a bunfight. This would be improved if they provided trays which would cut down the congestion because it would obviate the need for so many return journeys to the buffet. An inexplicable omission, particularly for those passengers using a stick with one hand. Staff were very helpful, water and orange juice were served at the table, and the passion for cleanliness was evident with all customers being given an effusive welcome and antiseptic tissues on entry followed by staff continuously wiping down surfaces, chairbacks, table tops etc.
We used My Time dining which was a great improvement on the set times we have experienced previously. We were willing to share and consequently met many different table companions. The Brasserie was a good lunch venue, once again we met a wide selection of lunching companions, always interesting. The menu was varied and some dishes we had never encountered before in a lifetime of world travel. All restaurants except Windjammer were closed on port days which led to a mad scramble when morning tours returned with passengers trying to beat the closing deadline of 1430 hrs. However they did start serving food again at 1530 and you could get free snacks on the Promenade in the interim. No need to panic.
Excursions. We thought that the three we went on were well organised with interesting guides. They were expensive and our dinner companions, touring independently, were often able to save considerable sums. We were not impressed by having to pay for the shuttle bus service to the port gates on several occasions. In Palma this is reasonable because of the distance involved, but not in Livorno where passengers are not allowed to walk to the port gates.
The only show we saw was a poor imitation of the Bee Gees which we did not enjoy. The films on board were aimed at a junior audience although some old films on cabin TV were good to see again.
As regular readers we were pleasantly surprised by the library. There was no need to take books from home. They also had some very comfortable chairs. The uncovered sports decks were obviously designed for warmer climes. On sea days there was always a bitter wind across the deck so, although we are both keen swimmers, the uncovered pool did not tempt us. On a couple of port days they were well patronised and the imaginative childrens' area was the best we have seen, with free tea,coffee and help yourself soft ice cream available.
Based on the mob scene when we boarded we were unsurprised when disembarkation was just as bad. On paper it looked good. We were corralled in a restaurant with several hundred others and their hand luggage. Unfortunately the tables were still in there as well. As we tried to gain access lots of others were trying to get out. We were all given lots of different colours denoting times but when push came to shove and they called a whole bunch of colours at the same time, there was a predictable rush for the gangways. Having muscled our way off the ship we were faced with the luggage retrieval problem. Imagine several Jumbo jets arriving at a small regional airport at the same time and you can see that it was not a good experience. There were plenty of trolleys but little room to get them between the rows of suitcases. Tip here is to only take carryon luggage and leave before the rush.
The crunch question is would we go again and the answer is no. It is not a ship for senior citizens or for temperate/winter climes. It has many good features..it is comfortable, deals well with rough weather and the food is good. Against this is the constant feeling that you are being ripped off by the management through excessive charges for all extras.