RCCL AUGUST 2011-But its not a Disney cruise!!!!
Disclaimer;- Firstly this is my personal view, and all my own opinion, I am sure others will disagree, it's an ongoing blog on my holiday, and a comparison against previous experiences.
Well we have done it, we booked a 14 night cruise on the Independence of the seas, sailing from Southampton to the Mediterranean and calling at
• 10th August Gibraltar
• 11-Aug Provence (Toulon), France
• 12-Aug Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Italy
• 13-Aug Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy
• 14-Aug Ajaccio, Corsica
• 16-Aug Cádiz, Spain
• 17-Aug Lisbon, Portugal
• 18-Aug Vigo, Spain
Now we have cruised to some of these ports of call before, so may have some unusual shore trip choices. And find out why, the title is 'not a Disney cruise' soon...its for a couple of reasons.
This cruise was booked in March 2009, and even then we couldn't get our Suite choice, when the 2011 rates had just come out. I booked a Grand suite and it's for four of us, two adults and two kids, who will be 15 and 12. We went on a wait list for a better suite, never had any contact, and then after worries on the bedding arrangements, I called and asked about upgrades, told ship was quite full, and I could only book an inside room that's close to the grand suite. This means that we have extra facilities and privacy but two of us loose concierge status.
So why not a Disney cruise? Well we have cruised before, on Princess, but also our last seven cruises were on the Disney Magic, the family keep saying, ''but this is not a Disney cruise''. But it doesn't stop there, as we had booked a Mediterranean cruise on the Disney Magic for summer 2012, in 2009, that was for eleven nights and concierge, but DCL cancelled that cruise and replaced it with seven night cruises and they went to ports that we had been to many times before. So DCL forced us to cancel and for the first time in many years no Disney cruise. We have by the way booked the Disney Fantasy for summer 2012, and two back to back cruises.
So there will be many references to this RCCL cruise, not being a Disney cruise,..
So let's get some comparisons out early.
Price, this cruise is cheaper than DCL costs, but the staterooms look smaller than the DCL Cat 3's we are used to. Shore trips, on Disney you get a 'window'' o when you can book their specialist restaurants, shore trips etc, this causes a mad rush and demand normally outstrips supply, that in turn causes more people to book on spec for something they may not actually want to have, this is similar to the Disney parks and booking a breakfast with Cinderella. With Disney, when you can book, you generally do not pay for anything until you get onboard and it debits your stateroom account. I say generally as there are some signature shore trips, like special boat hire, private car and van hire has to be paid in full on reservation.
However unlike the 120 days on DCL, RCCL opened up for shore trip and restaurant bookings in January 2011, so some eight months before the cruise, there was no panic rush to book lots of availability, And I suspect this is due to, you have to pay as you book, so it debits your credit card there and then and not ship board account, this stops on spec booking that you may later cancel.
So what do I prefer? Each has its advantages, I prefer RCCL even though I paid in advance, at least no big stateroom account on the last night!
I booked three meals, Chops grill twice and Portofino once. Now whilst on Disney Palo and Remy is adults only, you can book for kids over 13, and also under 13 if the reservation is before 7pm.
I found that the RCCL telephone services slow to respond and lacked customer care in most calls, I did strike luck on one call on booking the inside room and had a very attentive lady, but against Disney this was the only person at RCCL who matched Disney service. However I haven't had website glitches such as Disney when stateroom numbers change or a Palo afternoon tea disappears.
DCL has a lot included, whereas pre cruise impression on RCCL is it nickel and dines you. Take soda, on DCL is free with meals, in restaurants, and also on the pool deck soda station. Only in bars and in room service do you pay. Castaway Cay Disney's island has free soda station. RCCL you pay for a soda package, this is expensive adds to cruise costs and therefore, you can't compare like with like. RCCL however when you purchase the soda package its in all places bars included, bar room service.
So what shore trips have we booked? 10th August Gibraltar
• 11-Aug Provence (Toulon), France- Not Marseille City Tour - Aix en Provence - Cassis - Done those before with DCL.
• 12-Aug Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Italy-Well not Florence and Pisa, done that with DCL.
• 13-Aug Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy - Well not Rome done that with DCL.
Details from RCCL website.
Upper Rock Tour for Families - Includes the southernmost point of Gibraltar, Europa Point next stop the cable car base station, then to the top station, at the very summit of the "The Rock, then St. Michael's Cave, ravel north to the Apes s of the Rock of Gibraltar. Drive through the old town to the Gibraltar Museum,. Opened on the site of the old Moorish Baths it will amaze you with the enormous amount of artifacts that are on display, tour ends in the busy town centre
Saint Tropez - one of the best known resorts of Europe, a scenic drive in countryside of the Var region, to St-Tropez, a walking tour of the town from the waterfront to the neighboring old streets with pink and yellow houses which have been converted into cafes and pastry shops, luxury boutiques, galleries and antique shops. Then Leaving St-Tropez, a short stop will to briefly visit the charming Port-Grimaud, known as the "Little Venice" of France.
Highlights of Lucca - Leave Livorno, drive northwest through Tuscan countryside to the town of Lucca. Begin a walking tour through the town. From piazza to piazza, see the Piazza San Michele, the Via Fillilungo, Torre delle Ore, Piazza Dell'Anfiteatro and the Duomo. Lucca's Romanesque Cathedral dates from the 12th century and features a facade with elaborate reliefs and columns. A stop in Piazza Dell'Anfiteatro, the oval-shaped piazza occupies the site of a former Roman amphitheatre; the surrounding building was built on the theatre's foundations.
Orvieto, A trip in Umbria and Orvieto. The fortified medieval town is home to a superb 13th century cathedral and world-famous wine. North from Civitavecchia along the west flank of the Apennines to Orvieto. Umbria is a land of steep hills and deep valleys with small villages boasting medieval castles and churches. Built on a massive limestone outcrop, Orvieto boasts over four thousand years of history. Once a citadel of the Etruscans, the city is a medieval gem. Little new building has been done since the 14th century. The city stands above vineyards which produce a dry white wine made from Trebbiano grapes. A visit the magnificent Duomo which lies in the heart of the city. Lunch featuring traditional Umbrian dishes, is included.
Ajaccio Scenic Tour -Drive along the main street Cours Napoleon to the main square De Gaulle, which is dominated by a large bronze statue of Napoleon and his brothers. Continue to Austerlitze Square where Napoleon used to play as a child and where there is now an impressive monument in his honor. Depart the square for Punta della Parata for a view of the red granite islets that have become the symbol of the town. Return to town center for a guided walking tour of the old quarter. Pass the Cathedral where Napoleon was baptized. Walk along the narrow streets to view the exterior of Maison Bonaparte where the Emperor was born. Next, walk to Square Foch for views of Napoleon as first Roman Consul and the Town Hall.
Cadiz & Flamenco - Depart the port of Cadiz for a tour of the historical town centre and its bay. Includes the Mudejar-style tobacco factory (1741), Santo Domingo Church, the old Royal Prison in Andalusian neo-classical style and the Roman Theatre that overlooks the city's main cathedral, the ancient Phoenician port of La Caleta, the botanical gardens, and the castle walls that once protected the town.
We will see the Plaza de la Mina, once a monks' vegetable patch, and the outside of the Cadiz Museum. On Calle Ancha, there are beautiful 19th-century palaces and the Cathedral where you can step inside to view an eclectic transition from 13th-century Baroque style to 19th-century neo-classical style. Then Flamenco Place La Cava where we see atypical Spanish dance along with tapas (Spanish snacks).
Panoramic Lisbon - view many of the city's main landmarks from the coach. Begin with a photo stop at the Alto do Parque Belvedere, with its splendid city and harbour views. Drive through the 'Piccadilly Circus' of Lisbon, Rossio Square, where the mile-long Avenida da Liberdade leads to the Statue of Pombal, the man who helped rebuild the city after the earthquake of 1755. The drive will take us across the 25th April Bridge, sister of the Golden Gate Bridge, to the base of the Statue of Christ the King, from where magnificent views of Lisbon can be seen. Another photo stop will be at the Jeronimos Monastery, built on almost the same spot from where Vasco da Gama sailed for India in 1497; this marvellous structure is one of the city's finest examples of unique Manueline architecture. Then one last photo stop at the Belem Tower and the Monument to the Discoveries. At Belem Tower, the turrets and open balconies make an interesting and historical snapshot. In addition, at the Monument to the Discoveries, set along the River Tagus, you can take photos of this modern-day monument, which is a tribute to Portugal's great marine explorers.
Vigo Sightseeing & Bayona -Vigo has been a major Spanish port for centuries and the great Spanish galleons returned there, loaded with treasure and riches, from the New World. Drive through Vigo, a city that expanded greatly during the last century thanks to the importance of its active commercial port. From the coach, you get a spectacular view of the Cies Islands, which have been declared a National Park. You will stop is at Fortaleza del Castro for a panoramic view over Vigo Ria. Continue with a drive through the Galician countryside to Bayona La Real, one of the most important fishing towns on this coast. Bayona was the town where the boat "Pinta" first arrived back, after Columbus first voyage of discovery to the Americas in March 1493. See the remains of the old walls and ramparts. A visit will also be made to the fascinating Monterreal Palace. En route to the ship and time permitting, you can walk through the Oyster Stalls on Stone Street to glimpse the seafood culture in Galicia
Cica 4,000, will feel crowed, we are used to 2,700 cruisers.
In the top four largest cruise ships of the world.
Extensive WiFi capabilities and connectivity for mobile phones
Full-size, flat-screen TVs in every stateroom
Themed bars and lounges
Adventure Ocean® youth facilities
Day Spa & Fitness Centre
Full-size Everlast boxing ring
Full-size sports court
Nine-hole miniature golf course
Johnny Rockets® '50s-style restaurant
Portofino Italian Restaurant
Ben & Jerry's® ice cream
I understand there are additional charges such as for Johnny Rockets and Ben and Jerry's.
So choice of room?
Well I went for the Grand suite more by default than anything else, it was the only one I could book, RCCL cruise reps were slow to action my request and then said, just within a week of release that the suites above this one had all gone. We like a higher deck room, so we are not close to the sea, or vibration of the engines and do not feel enclosed. Sea days normally are great with a veranda and with a large ship, and crowds our own space seems a good idea, the room is quite large, not as large as a Disney Cat 3,
We booked the extra room as it seemed with teenage kids we would be on top of each other and only have one bath, hence more internal queues. We have found however that looking at the sea getting fresh air, helps deal with any motion sickness.
The Start of the holiday..
Well this is the last weekend pre cruise, and I have everything organised, i emailed RCCL Dinning for a table request and also concierge on the ship for room requests. At this point RCCL dinning have responded and confirmed a table for four next to a window area. We prefer no to dine with others, as we tend to get to the meals exactly at opening time and so not wait for others and when we have shared it's been 50/50 if we get good table companions or poor ones. We have had to wait for dinner whilst others are late, or we have ordered wine and offered some to others who accept, but then it leaves an awkward feeling do they offer back or not. So we prefer to go it alone.
So pre cruise I have read reports that on a USA Travel and leisure survey DCL is the 4th most popular cruise lines and RCCL just makes the ninth position in the top ten, cruise reviews on the internet are mixed from Butlins at sea and crowds and poor food, to five out of five reviews. Still debating if this was a good or bad idea going on IOS and RCCL or would have it been better to go on DCL Magic in the Mediterranean sea now.
I have Euros and Dollars in currency and have pre paid excursions. We are staying at the Hilton Southampton the Friday the day before the cruise and have booked free car parking at the Port of Southampton. We will drive down from London on Friday just to avoid any last minute traffic jams or panics. We have TGI Fridays in Southampton booked for Friday night to get us into the swing of holiday time.
We stayed there overnight, a nice hotel, the rooms looked nice, well kept, the swimming pool was great, but the car park was beyond overflowing, harder to get into when we returned from a meal in Southampton, and the rooms were so hot you had to have windows open, but being in the middle of three Motorways it was very noisy and couldn't sleep. There are closer hotels, in fact a couple just across the dock and I would recommend these, as they are also close to the city centre and the railway station.
This for me in the past has been a worry but handled well by DCL at Port Canaveral, (and LA , Barcelona and Dover). On RCCL we drive up to Terminal 101 at Southampton.
Well Embarkation was a breeze the gate 8 dock opened quickly, we dropped off our bags, and were directed to be parked and walked back to the cruise terminal. All very fast indeed. We (suite) line went straight to an embarkation agent, but all lines were nearly empty. We just about got settled, and saw in the terminal lots of free magazines and before we sat down boarding started at 10.55am, we had boarding card no1, so were going on, and was on the Independence of the seas at 11am. Embarkation was a breeze, and the best embarkation ever.
RCCL 10 of 10 and I would compare that to embarkation at Port Canaveral for DCL, with 7 out of ten for DCL. Not sure how RCCL can do it, but with 4,000 guests to embark, they did it far far better than DCL.
The ship, she is so so big, and very beautiful, inside, From the outside the ship looks purpose built, ie a block of steel and not a lot else. When we were in the town we saw the top decks, with the rock climbing wall etc, but she didn’t look good against Disney. Outside appearance, DCL 10 out of 10, and RCCL gets a 5. But inside RCCL fit so much in, the mini golf, the shops on the promenade, a sports deck. Big big pools and kid water zone against DCL, and every bar, has a fantastic view. It’s planned so well, and looks so good.
Built in 2008 one of three sister ships which at the time were the biggest cruise ships, before the Oasis. The Flowrider, rock climbing wall and mini golf look great. The ships facilities are fantastic. Long decks, large kids H20 zone with considerable water features, then two large pools together with three family whirlpools, and then an Adults pool, with canter-leaved whirlpools. You get a big *wow* as you walk around for the first time. There are deck chairs on three levels, including a concierge area on top of one stack. This has upgraded beds. Whilst talking concierge there is a concierge lounge on deck ten and this has room key door access, and has menus for all meals, soft drink making facilities and a concierge at set times during the day to arrange meals and also show tickets.
On deck 5, there is a large pizzeria, pubs, wine bars, shops, and a lot of these!, Clothes, general, duty free, jewellery etc. There is quite a lot of space, and flowing bridges across the mall, and also at each end near the elevators, big centariums that have an open space from the top deck right down to deck five, giving a very open feel. Guest services, shore excursions, re booking on board all have there own large open areas. At first look it is so well laid out and beautiful.
There are a number of additional lounges on other decks, bars, and all very large. There is so much to see, we had a walk around and for ships interior, I would give RCCL a 10 out of 10, and DCL a 6 out of 10.
Windjammer the lunch buffet was very well laid out, with islands for each food type, i think this confused some people as the lined up at the first, ‘fast food’ one but if you walk around there was so much more, carvery and vegetables, pasta, pizza, desserts, and free juice. Against DCL and I am thinking of Topsiders on the Magic, it’s about an 8 to RCCL and a 6 to Disney. Why an 8? Well that’s the issue so far with RCCL, the crowds, Every place you go there are crowds, and Windjammer filled up quickly and became rather busy, my pre cruise fears coming true, the same as the shops are, the promenade cafe was nice, but a crowd and also difficult to get a table, guest services had a long line on embarkation, and I was about to know why.
At Windjammer the food very good.
Quick note about the Pools and decks they are generally 24 hours a day, you can swim anytime, and this is better than DCL where they close at night.
Stateroom first thoughts
We have two rooms a Grand suite and an inside room. The grand suite is very nice, looks new bar the handrails on the verandah hasn’t been varnished for a while, as you go in you get a wow, its very well laid out lots of mirrors to make it look bit, but if you compare it to a Cat 3 (T), on the Magic, its a lot smaller. The facilities are good, are cases turned up nearly as soon as we got there at 1pm, and we had fruit delivered and a nice pack of information, lots of extras in the bath. Well its a tale of two rooms and service here, the inside room looks small, and you really do not want to spend time in it, no shampoo extra, bar a dispenser in the shower, and also, the luggage at 4.30pm was nowhere to be seen but checked in same time, beds were put together but we asked online for them to be apart. In the main room a number of our gifts didn’t turn up and when we asked the stateroom host it was go to guest service, -hence the queue down there, DCL would sort it out there and then.
I have been to guest services, and so far on service its DCL 10 and RCCL a 7.
Basic requests were not carried out and also no sign of concierge so far, ok there is a concierge lounge but on DCL they have a welcome meet and come to you. –Updated, this did improve and there was more contact and sorting out our requests, so the word, ‘’different’’ to DCL, but not worse on concierge.
I like the facility to order Room service on the TV, and also review your account, thats great, it also can allow you to book short trips, however we had already done that pre cruise.
Well this was very badly organised and I not in hindsight feel very comforted about Disney and their thoughts on safety against the RCCL process. The announcements were poor, it was a mess, you couldn’t see demonstrations on life jackets and the CD announcement was more about kids conduct on deck than the safety elements. They took your work for the room number who was their and didn’t check if all the party was there. The information was very direct, and would upset young kids, on DCL they repeat, that the ship is safe, modern and the ‘’unlikely event’’ of anything happening, the word ‘’unlikely’ was used once, and very businesslike. I having cruised many times before now have concerns on the effective disembarkation of this ship in an real emergency, the only reassurance is the ship is new, only three years old and it is actually very unlikely. Basically RCCL need to sort this out. It felt funny without life jackets, albeit DCL I think have changed to this as well but, for example on our last cruise my son was too big for the jacket provided, and they changed it, here no one has tested sizes or suggested it. As we are in different rooms we were assigned different muster stations, this concerned me, I know its allocated per room but maybe they should say that all four of us are in the grand suite for this and no one in the inside room. I am starting to regret booking the extra room its causing all different problems from room keys to the muster station.
Ship drill, RCCL a poor 5, and feels unsafe, DCL 10 out of 10.
And where is the corridor, and public room music? DCL has piped Disney music, yes a bit cheesy, but I miss it.
Summary of ‘’first thoughts’, pleased we are on this ship, yes, rooms Suite very good, inside room, poor like a cell, Service and safety seems lower than DCL. Facilities are very good.
Dinner first night and first Thoughts.
The dinner was ‘nice’ let’s say business like, we have a nice table, one for four people, just our family, and next to big windows overlooking the sea, so a great view. There was good choice, a nice selection to choose from which includes, vegetation, and low calorie dishes. It’s not an experience like on DCL, no show, or fancy costumes for the waiters. We were served quickly, apart from when we were near our desserts, when a large group came to the table next to us, rather late, and had ot be served, our waiter apologised and asked if it was ok to delay our desserts we said ok, and as they took longer than anticipated other servers came to us, to finish off our meal. The assistant server did ask a few times for a wine order, or other alcohol, but as we are not alcohol drinkers we didn’t want to order anything, I think he lost a bit of interest later, now we had purchased the unlimited soda package so had a couple of sodas, but they were not refilled fast like DCL, where its free!.
So dinner was fast and to the point, fine and satisfactory, can’t really say anything else, it was fine.
So DCL would be a 10 here and RCCL say an 7.
Nice show the surprise was it was just one show tonight, not repeated, it was on at 7.45 so just in-between the two dinner settings, I would have thought it better to have had it run twice, We had ballroom dancers and a band and a comedian and an introduction to the cruise staff. It was nice, satisfactory, but again not a DCL blockbuster, maybe we have blockbusters to come. The theatre wasn’t full when it started, but filled up during the show, I assume due to dinner, and people were leaving before the end, assume for second dinner, so not logical why it was on at 7.45pm only. First impressions of the cruise director is again he is satisfactory, he is ok, not your Disney CD, they so far seem to be so much in front, they do more, and have high visibility, just is only the first few hours and a big ship, but stage presence etc, it’s not on a par. I didn’t say anything about the show until I had asked the rest of my family for their view, and they were all disappointed, I said, the first rule is to not ( do what I am doing here), and not compare to Disney but look at it being something totally different.
So here I am going to be nice first night and say, the products are so so different, I will not mark either, and leave to another night.
PS at the close of first night, after speaking to stateroom host and then concierge, the missing gifts, are still missing! So service is not on par to other concierge, where it’s sorted in seconds. I saw the call being made, but nothing turned up! (four hours).Edit update the luggage for the inside stateroom turned up at dinner time so post 6pm. We found out later the gift of the apple juice pack, wasn’t to be delivered as they hadn’t had supplies come onboard at Southampton, but no one had told us, until I asked about it. We were offered orange pack, and said yes, and then they phoned and said that had run out as well so gave us a refund.
First full sea day.
Well after an excellent night’s sleep on a comfy bed, we have woken up to a bit of sunshine, we are over the Bay of Biscay, and the sea is very choppy, but we are not feeling too much movement the odd pull on one direction or the other, the top deck pools have some movement but down below you feel it a bit more near shops etc. The sun is trying to come out, the clouds are falling back, but not fully in retreat, and it’s quite windy on the open decks. We ordered room service for light breakfast, ie coffee, and tea and some toast and fruit, they called exactly on order time to say they were coming and it arrived about ten minutes later. Got to say I noticed it last night and with this order ships coffee is xxxx. The coffee is bitter however much milk or cream you put into it, I wonder if this is to get you to purchase the speciality coffees in the cafes.
We then went to Windjammer for breakfast, one of our party had a made to order omelette which was very good, i had fruit and it was ok, there are plenty of serving stations to get nearly anything you can think for, for breakfast, and it was not too crowded, we got a seat straight away, if we needed too as we hold a gold card we can sit in one of the adjoining speciality restaurants, but we didn’t need to.
As I write this the sun is trying to get out and on our verandah it’s not so windy as the top deck as we have some protection.
As well as the ships daily newspaper of events, the ‘Ships compass’, there is a morning Ship TV programme which is a good idea, they film it the previous night and it covers a lot of the things on today. I like this idea, and it was well presented. Is good to have in the background, its on a loop so as one of our party is getting ready in the bath area the other can catch up etc.
I noticed that in room Films cost $14.95, that’s a bit of a rip off, and whilst there are more than 53 film choices, I can’t see the justification for this, when other cruise lines such as Disney supply this for free. DCL has a large cinema, and a lot of first run films, many in 3D, here there is a small and nearly un advertised cinema, that holds just 60 people. I haven’t seen a list of what’s on so far.
*Movies are in the Sea Compass daily newspaper, its one film a day shown something like 10am 1pm 5pm 8pm etc. Missed it there the first few days.
Whilst this is just our first full sea day there is a theme developing here, coffee poor, go and buy a special one, films in cinema not advertised and in a small venue, but $12.95 in room, there are orange juice places for fresh squeezed juice, etc, so your money can go quickly, you are nearly pushed at all points to purchase quality, and the normal stuff is downgraded, even the chops grille steak in the main dinner rooms is a premium cost, it does come with a glass of wine, but you have to watch the add on’s. The in room fridge is full of cans of soda etc, but it’s a in room bar and has a cost, I asked our host to clear it out, and put in our soft drinks. With the soda package etc, this is not all inclusive, like other cruise lines and you start to feel a ‘’wallet’’ only, luckily I do not gamble so didn’t go to the casino, but that will eat into some peoples budgets. Spa people are out and about at most busy junctions on the ship, say entrance to Windjammer and in concierge lounge to promote their services.
The in room kettle and cups and supply of tea and coffee is a nice idea, haven’t used it as was lazy and got room service, but will try it soon!
Well sea day one turned out ot get more and more windy as the afternoon went on until they closed the top decks. It was cold and wet. We saw a film in room, ‘’Paul’’ what we wanted ot see and that passed some time.
Dinner was again ‘fine’ nothing bad nothing spectacular. It was satisfactory. Reasonable choice and cooked ok. Service fine for our sever, and passable fro assistant server. I would mention the desserts clearly these are below par against Disney, the soufflé I had tonight looked ok went it turned up and also even when they put the sauce on, but, it just didn’t have the taste bud experience of DCL particularly Palo but any one served in the dining rooms. Disney make a ‘show’ and experience out of dinner, this is business like over and done and just an intake of calories for need and not an experience. IE Menus are just plain paper with lists, not the fancy themes and pictures on DCL.
Tonight’s show was once upon a time, we had a clue in the title what this was and it was various Disney type story tales put together including Cinderella, Rapunzel, Pinocchio, but this was all set to modern pop sings and also songs used in modern theatre and not Disney songs, (copywrite?), It took a time to get into it, the acting, and singing were good, and the orchestra was very good, the theatre is nice. But if you have been on Disney and seen their shows , well let’s call it different. It was like having Twice charmed set to the music of the deck party music of pirates night.
There is a scene in Pinocchio, where the dancers are on strings that are good, but as they change songs the bears on the toy shelves behind start to move their arms with the music as well, it’s cute and a nice touch.
I must say, it started slow and I thought how can they do this to these stories but I then got into it, and enjoyed it, remember its different and therefore you should do as i do and compare. People with Disney blood may not think this is good and may think its a sarcastic take on their shows, but actually it was a good show.
Captain’s reception tonight was spectacular, it was held in the promenade, on deck 5 a type of shopping mall, and the performances were a band on our floor near a shop and singers who came down on the floating bridge from the ceiling. They were good and the waiters had a good selection of captain’s drinks, here RCCL has knocked the socks off Disney.
So on day one, weather rubbish, dinner RCCL 5 and DCL 10. Desserts would have RCCL far lower! Shows RCCL a commendable 9 out of 10, DCL would get a easy 10 here, but, I feel the Disney cruisers may be disappointed on the sacrilege of their stories performed this way. Captains reception RCCL 10 and DCL a poor 7 on this one, and that includes missing characters.
Day two sea day, fine sunny day and bright and calmer now. Ice show tickets on sale this morning, now why on second sea day? Why at 8am on a morning when we lost an hour overnight? Long queues, and why do they not just drop some in on each stateroom, why cause a queue.
We have tickets to two shows and the first of these ice shows is tonight at 5pm.
We have dinner at Chops grille tonight, which is a premium dinner and they allow kids before 7pm. Better on kids than DCL and Palo where its adults only.
Well it was a day of highs and lows. The highs, the weather was good and hot, the ice show and chops, but also there was a terrible low imho on customer service, one of those, do I really want to come back here ever again? So lets go through the highs. The Ice show was spectacular, it was all that everyone said and more, a very good show, and how can they perform on such a small ice space. I have seen ice shows before but on larger facilities like Wembley arena. But this is small. Anyway it was a well constructed and well performed show based on the 50s 60s 70s and 80s. Well impressed, and you can’t compare to Disney as they do not have ice rinks! So RCCL 10 of 10.
Chops grille is a upmarket steak house, and the comparison is to Palo on DCL, now the Independence has two of these, the other one is Portofino and we are going there in a couple of days, that one, is closer to Palo being Italian and pasta, and seafood, but the only reference point is Palo. Anyway service was very good, the food was very good, the bread given at the start was good and the Dessert and Tea after were great. Now so far RCCL haven’t done desserts well, well they can do it, this one was great, you may notice I said Tea and i am a coffee drinker, well as RCCL standard issue coffee is so so bad, I am drinking tea now. I know they want you to pay for upgraded coffee, but the standard issue is xxxx. Anyway like Palo eat too much and have that full feeling.
Chops on RCCL 10 out of 10, and Palo, well it would be 10 out of 10 as well, a draw!
Low point, I do not wish to moan so I will not go into detail, but I have noticed that there is a difference in service on the ships but couldn’t quantify it before, cruise staff are generally nice, say hello, smile at you make eye contact and there are some nice people on board. But today encountered what I would call in my opinion, a ‘jobsworth’ person, who likes to ensure rules are met 100%. I noted my daughter had a long conversation with a staff member, we have purchased a soda package for all four of our family. You have the soda package marked on your cruise seapass card, (room key) and given soda mugs. When she returned she was quite and when I asked what occurred she didn’t say anything. Then I noted something wasn’t right. Anyway, there was three of us there, with all four soda bottles, my son stayed in the room, So far if one two or three of us went with the bottles anywhere they didn’t ask or look for the card just filled it up. So we didn’t think there was an issue.
Here there was a refusal of a paid for service, this was refused, in rather silly circumstances; you could actually if you were a dishonest person resolve this in about 2 minutes by going to another bar.
I went to sort it out when I realised what had occurred, the person wasn’t going to budge, no one was rude, but as they were not going to move, I said I was going to go to guest services. Now as said, we have been ok on this for three days and no one else has said we were doing anything wrong in all of the previous situations that were exactly the same, ( in fact all cruise no one asked to see the card bar when we didn’t have our bottles, in fact a lot of time it was on trust say in the shows or Chops you just said, you have a package and they trusted you Anyway, firstly I expected the person to respond when I said I would go to guest services, they didn’t bother. There was an opportunity to resolve this or consider alternatives to an impasse. Didn’t occur. So I did go to guest services. The person there said actually the RCCL staff were technically right, I was by default wrong. OK, it’s their policy, so I pointed out, I haven’t been picked up on this before, and also could resolve this quite quickly, by walking up to the next bar and they wouldn’t be any the wiser. They didn’t comment on what other staff had allowed, but said actually you are right you could go to the next bar and no one would know any different.
Anyway sorry this rambles, but it’s one of those awkward situations that occur and play on your mind for hours. It did upset me, and whilst minor, I in my mind, went, that’s it, NO RCCL ever again!
Then I had a brilliant meal at Chops and nearly forgot this, bar typing it up.
Anyway a big downgrade to RCCL service here, it’s nowhere near Disney, they wouldn’t have allowed this to occur,( in fact actually it couldn’t have actually occurred in the first place Soda is generally free and no package), and I know in a situation like this Disney would think outside the box and resolve this in a flash. Rules on RCCL are there to protect revenue and revenue based and when their logo and motto says, ‘’Why not?’’. Well its true, they will say, ‘’Why not’’, if a rule is there to protect revenue, even if you are a honest person. DCL does think customer first.
Customer service scores now DCL 10/10, RCCL are currently a 6, and that’s after Chops staff picking it back up!
Calm seas at the moment no movement, and nice weather.
Evening show was a Take that’ tribute band, and they were very good indeed, all of the audience was joining in, it was completely full. Fantastic show. A comment here on crowds, Windjammer no issues so far, no need to use concierge area in Chops grill at any point. Pool areas were crowded with people putting towels on deck chairs and securing them all day, there were regular announcements but it continued. Gold/ concierge private area was full they did bring up more deck chairs but those were full as well. Concierge area in Theatre was also very handy to use and lots of people, too many tried to get a seat there at 8.55pm five minutes before the show.
Entertainment 10 of 10 tonight,
Sea Day 3.
Now we have had quite poor weather so far, but it’s said to be 41c on this sea day and warnings to not to go too far and wear sunscreen. Is going to be Formal night, they seem to be coming through like buses, and its a 14 night cruise, I note there are few at the end where they could have been added on short port days or Sea days.
Well first thing it was rather windy, we did have sunshine and few clouds, but very windy, particularly on the suite sun deck which is rather high and un protected. Cruisers seem to be up long hours on this ship. Facilities are open far longer than Disney ships, on DCL everything really closes down at midnight. On the Independence there is a 24 hour promenade cafe, and Sorrento’s pizza, which is open from 11am to 3am. Sorrento’s is far larger than its equivalent on the Disney ships. Interesting the ‘access’ to daytime deck food is better on DCL. Apart from sprinkles ice cream, everything is in Windjammer, yes its open longer hours, say from 7.30am to 10.45am, then again 11.30 to 2.30pm, afternoon tea 3pm to 5pm, and then dinner at 6.30pm to 9pm, but its the only place up top for pizza and burgers etc. Disney has various places dotted around the pools which are easier to get to and you do not need to leave your sun bed. Now talking sun beds, the ones in the sun are gone before 9am, the ones out of the sun and away from pools may have all gone by 10am. The concierge ones go quite fast say by 10am and they try to squeeze more in.
You really note that you are on a ship with 4,000 guests on the sun decks on sea days. Windjammer so far hasn’t been any issue, I still have found a table each day, and I would say better than at Topsiders on the Magic, and people are respectful and move on quickly.
As it was hot, in the afternoon to avoid too much sun we went back to our verandah and used our sun beds there, they were in the shade but nice to have our own space.
We also dropped down for afternoon tea in the Promenade cafe, nice cakes and rolls etc.
I must say the pools are so much bigger than Disney ships, they haven’t been too crowded, but seem to be quite cold, not like Disney, and I have been on Disney and in the pool in the Baltic, not just the Caribbean.
So summary;- Pools RCCL 10/10, DCL 8/10 (Magic class), Crowds management on deck RCCL 5/10 Disney 9/10. Facilities open RCCL 9/10 i.e. 1 off for not on deck, and DCL 6/10.
Signed up for Internet, you have to go down to the Online lounge, and sign up using your Room sea pass card, and swipe it through. DCL you log in using room number and a combination of surname and first name. The prices and speed are similar on each but maybe RCCL is faster considering the number of people on ship. Note it isn’t fast, but it works.
We have a comedian and impressionist for the evening show tonight and also a suite Captains reception meeting with cocktails at 7.30pm so a busy night. Toulon meeting times is 8am and a full day on Thursday, out until 5pm. I hope we are on time on arrival in port, and also hope that the getaway isn’t as bad as Gibraltar. That was a mess. Considering ours is a long day, and there is only one other that is so long, I hope we will have priority off before others.
We now have four ports of call in four days. So a number of early starts.
The suite cocktail party was nice, a good piano player and met the Captain and first officers all of them were very good, and sorry, I had to mention the poor coffee and the officer in charge of food, took note.
Just a quick update on the show it was a bit hit and miss, slow to start, in fact 8 people in the front row in front of me left ten minutes into the show. But actually it did get better. He started off mimicking some well known song artists that didn’t go down well, but when he stopped singing and telling jokes actually he won the audience over, well the ones who had stayed. I actually overall enjoyed it but maybe they should have run it through first.
Recap on Service first week.
Stateroom host very good very attentive, good high standards, you notice the difference however between our suite room and the facilities in the inside room, we have towel animals and chocolates, and also tubes of shampoo, and bubble bath etc, they do not. Room service takes about 20 minutes but is good and attentive. At Dinner the main server is very good and is also attentive, the Head server has come around a few times to say hello, and I was given upgraded coffee free last night for my comments to the officers the night before. We have ordered cocktails at dinner and in the show and these are good, but sometimes at the start of dinner it’s a bit slow. For booze the main server or assistant server ask the bar steward, who will be serving others, if you know what you want you are ok, but if like me you are sampling new cocktails and choosing different things it slows down.
Now on arrival in the stateroom post show there was a letter there asking for comments on the first week of the cruise and also, asking us to post any feedback that they can work on for the second bit, I thought this was a nice touch and even though we have been on longer cruises before, I haven’t had this from Disney before. Also on Saturday this was followed up by a call from guest services asking the same thing.
We have been invited to tour the bridge on Monday at 10.30am and this is a nice touch and they invited all of the family, to date it has been a bit split between the two rooms. Again RCCL have beaten Disney here, never been invited on the bridge before!!!
RCCL are really pushing the boat out!!!!!
Can’t comment on the kids clubs as my children have decided that they do not want to go to them. On Disney they enjoyed them, when they were younger but as they grew up they used them less and less, and now seem disinterested whatever the clubs put on. There is a daily newspaper with club details delivered for their age groups and looking in at the clubs when we have walked past they look good for younger kids, but also a lot of kids on deck and around ship so i assume a reasonable number are not going to the clubs.
Sea Day 4.
Today we will have a lie in, rest, we have a bridge tour and also Portofino Dinner booked.
Woken up to blue seas, sunshine and calm seas, have verandah door open and enjoying the sound of the sea and fine sea views whilst watching breakfast TV.
At 10.30am we went to the meeting point for the Bridge tour and met up with a few other families, and security turned up, to check us all in. We were all on a long list and had to confirm our identity. We were taken forward on our deck and firstly went through the officers quarters, and then straight onto the bridge. Whilst you can see the bridge on ships, and the two viewing areas at either end to facilitate, docking, the first impression was how large it was, and it has so much space. It is a massive area but equipment is centrally located in the middle, and then on the two viewing areas at either end there are repeated panels for ease of use. Lots and lots of space. Basically one or two Officers on duty the ship is sailing on automatic, and it’s very quite. They do not need to keep in touch with any navigation on land bar at busy places such as ports and English Channel. There were stunning views to the open sea from the wide windows, and also deck plans and equipment monitoring all decks by CCTV and alarms.
I noticed instruction cards for various incidents, checklists what to do, for man overboard, collision, fire etc. But the vas openness of the area is what impressed me. I was told they set their speed for arrival and departure times in port and not for fuel cost reasons, and they will try to anticipate issues such as strong currents in the Gibraltar area. They if possible will try to avoid bad weather but it’s not always possible. They say they see whales, dolphins and turtles quite often up there. I was really impressed by this tour.
Spent the afternoon on our verandah as deck chairs on deck have all gone now, and didn’t attempt to save any, when we were on a bridge tour. We have the second Ice show, ‘Strings’’ today at 5pm.
Very impressed with RCCL today!.
We had dinner in the speciality ( extra charge) restaurant, Portofino. When you go in it has the feel of Palo on the Disney Magic. I found at start the service wasn’t as attentive as Palo, but I started a conversation re the server’s home town and then they became more chatty. The food was prepared very well, in particular my Tenderloin steak was fantastic, and the ladies in our party both ordered a skewer of seafood including Lobster and salmon and scallops, and this came to the side of the table on an upturned and hanging large skewer, and was then prepared at the table side and served. This was impressive and the closest I have ever seen like this before was at Ohanna a Polynesian resort WDW, where food comes on long skewers.
The service was very good and the dessert of a trio of Italian desserts was very Palo brunch style.
The show was another singer, she was good and sang older songs, like these boots are made for walking etc. We have had quite a few singers now and singing shows so getting a bit too much and the theatre wasn’t full when she started. There was a Mad hatters parade along the deck 5 shopping mall at 10.30pm.
Overnight we noticed the difference between the Med and the Atlantic. It has far more movement. But I must say the ship is very well stabilized and whilst you notice a slight movement, its nothing, and in fact helps you to sleep. We noticed it a bit more in the Theatre on deck 3, but even there it wasn’t an issue.
Now we enjoy having our photos taken on Disney, yes the characters make a point of it all and add some fun, Formal night is nice, for those professional photos, but at each port, you have one person half dressed up in a silly costume, that is worse than the worst dressed person at a fancy dress party, and they try to get people as you disembark to have a photo, those who see it in advance do cleverly avoid it, those taken by surprise or do not want to be rude and say no, get a photo. They really could try to do more here, either take a photo without a silly dressed person but with a good backdrop/view, or get them to make a lot more effort. They also hover around at dinner, and again without characters there is little point and most say no.
Thursday night, we had spent some of our time post port departure on our verandah, seeing some great views, of the local Islands, and using our nice sun beds, we have actually preferred to use these than the chairs on deck as they go quickly. We had a second dinner at Chops Grille which again was very nice and the service very attentive. Well worth the extra fee and the quality of the food there is great.
The penultimate show was the last of RCIs own four production shows and they really pulled all of the stops out. Every musical performer was there. So 19 musicians on the band, with the dancers and singers as well and the international professional dancers and acrobats.
They were made up of the Independence of the seas band, the trio who play at dinner each night, the violinist who played in the Ice show, and a lounge band. It was really impressive and ran for over an hour, all previous shows being just 45 minutes.
It shows RCI can pull all the stops out if they wish and anyone would be left with a wow after this show. If anything the only criticism is the same thing again, lack of structure, there didn’t seem a thread to pull the show together bar a showcase of the talents of all of the performers. Tonight post show there is a British parade, and some of the music, like Elton John, and the Beatles, and Queen clearly connected with that, but the was a section performed very well about American Film music by John Williams, whilst goof didn’t quite sit in with a British theme. This is a show that should be used for a Formal night, but that was last night, so seemed disjointed.
Seas were ‘active’ overnight but not rough, some movement and squeaking in the room of doors, but really you don’t feel the movement. Today we have woken up to active seas, we are three quarters over the bay of Biscay, and on the way to northern France. Its sunny but cool, but the top deck and pools are active, going up soon. Disembarkation talks are now on the TV explaining Tips, and luggage etc, and there are some sales on in the shopping mall area.
So final thoughts who is best at what.....
The ship, the facilities, the shops, the pools, etc extras like flowrider,
Concierge, offers such as Bridge tour and Ice Show tickets, concierge sun deck and concierge area in theatre.
Inter active TV, to order room service, and shore trips.
Pro active asking for service feedback, letters in room etc.
Officers at Captains cocktail reception for suite guest took note of any issues and acted on them.
I have seen people get extras in the restaurants if they are unhappy, ie extra traditional vegetables such as Carrots the way you cut them at home.
Guest entertainers, are good and the production shows can meet Disney standards but not consistently there.
Whilst Suite staterooms look smaller the style on RCL is more modern and no step into the bathroom.
Enforcement of guest conduct policy, sunbed hogging, and saving seats in theatre, not totally effective but more proactive.
More of an 24 hour ship, a cafe open 24 hours, long hours for pizza, pools open 24 hours, Casino, more night life.
Theme days and nights
Dinner theme and food in restaurants.
Concierge pre cruise service.
Attentive concierge service. Call on you to ensure you are ok, (not just one central location. Only one concierge RCI is a big ship with many suites.
Concierge gift each day, RCL was three only.
Stateroom size, both Suite and inside room.
Consistent high level of service everywhere.
More all inclusive. Not lots of extras and catch pennies.
Daily information paper ‘Navigators’ is better to read and better laid out than RCL ‘Compass’.
Quality information from CD, found some misinformation from CD on RCI.
Characters and fireworks at sea and soda included. (One location and also with meals, RCI when you have a package its all bars).
All feels joined up, port adventures, entertainment, food, meals, there is a theme, RCI feels a bit haphazard.
Small food outlets on deck for burgers, sandwiches etc, so you do not have to leave sunbed. (But leads to more mess on DCL.
Top deck buffet.
Kids Clubs (Cant judge)
Stateroom host, (bar more cholocates, turndown and towel animals on DCL).
Queues at guest services on both can be bad. Willingness to correct is good on both.
Errors on drink orders in theatres, experienced on both ships.
Inside rooms are small and dark and lead to people laying in longer, unless you book a wake up call.