This was my fourth cruise and my second with Royal Caribbean. The only port I had visited before was Naples so lots of opportunities for new experiences. I flew from Glasgow, via Amsterdam with only one hour to change planes at Schipol airport, thankfully all went well and the RCI rep was easily found at Rome airport. I was directed to a coach and we set off for the port. Embarkation was fast and seamless; when staff noticed my Crown and Anchor registration (despite only having Gold level) I was directed through the fast lane.
My stateroom was inside on deck 6; being a solo traveller anything higher classes are prohibitively expensive. The room was fine; I like the RCI layout of having a couch to sit on. Ice was provided every day but no coffee or tea making facilities which was disappointing. They could do with upgrading to flat screen, smaller TVs as the ones in the cabins are very bulky. No toiletries provided other than a tiny bar of hand soap and shower gel of some sort on a wall dispenser on the shower wall.
The ship has a central ‘Royal Promenade’ lined with shops, cafes and bars. While it was nice for people watching I much preferred the Atrium style of Serenade of the Seas and Ventura. The promenade doesn’t give a shipboard feel, along it there is an English style pub with a good country singer in the evenings, a wine bar called Vintages and a champagne bar. My favourite bar on the ship was Ellington’s on deck 14 with panoramic windows across the sea and lovely staff; much more of a cruising feel and it was never really busy. It was also a lovely bar to watch as we left ports.
Service throughout the ship was excellent. I asked in the restaurant to change from late dining to early as late wasn’t until 9.00pm, later than normal. This was done quickly with no problems at all and I had a lovely table for the rest of the cruise. The stateroom attendant was also great; I couldn’t fault any of the staff at all. The food was good, although I didn’t try the speciality restaurants. I main dining room is spectacular, spread over three decks. I was lucky to have a table by the window. I chose to have breakfast in the main dining room rather than queue at the Windjammer buffet. It was a good move, also the dining room has a small buffet so is ideal if you are rushing for an excursion and don’t have time to wait for service.
There was a good variety of activities on the ship, especially on sea days although there were more instances of charging for activities than I remember from previous ships. I guess in the current climate they need to maximise customer spend as much as possible but it is a bit off-putting, as is the custom of adding 15% to all quoted drink prices which aren’t cheap anyway. I also found it irritating that many of the drinks do not have a price of any kind beside them.
I thought the entertainment was disappointing, especially the shows in the main theatre. Two guest acts were really good: the Beatles tribute band and a foursome, I think they were called FourEver, reminiscent of Il Divo. The best show of the cruise was the Ice Show. Absolutely wonderful. I went twice. You need tickets to get in, they are free, but because the ice rink is much smaller than the theatre they ‘sell out’ very quickly. I can’t recommend this show highly enough, it was better than many a west end show that I’ve seen. The country singer in the Wig and Gavel was good and had good rapport with the audience and other bars had music and dancing regularly with different genres of music.
I try and do a 50-50 split of organised excursions and doing my own thing. In Israel I booked my two excursions with Guided Tours Israel and they were wonderful. The coaches were small, 16 seaters and completely air conditioned. The smaller numbers enabled us to see much more than the larger ship’s excursions could and we got around places much quicker. The guides were knowledgeable and friendly. I did the ship’s excursions in Kusadasi (for Ephesus) and Athens and they were fine. Crete, Rhodes and Naples were easy to do on foot and I had brought little maps with me which helped.
At disembarkation I did feel more rushed than with previous cruises but it wasn’t too much of an issue.
Overall it was a really enjoyable holiday. Would I travel again with RCI? Probably, but I would prefer not to feel that, after paying a good deal for the cruise, there weren’t so many ‘hidden extras’ on the ship and I don’t feel they cater as well for solo travellers as some other cruise lines.