My review of the Splendour may be irrelevant since hours after we disembarked, she was taken to Cadiz for the refurb, but I think my review may be helpful for those interested in sailing with RCCL for the first time. We sailed out of Venice on Oct 17, 2011, for what amounted to be a transition cruise as the ship was sailing to Spain to be refurbished. The Splendour is among the oldest and smallest in the RCCL fleet, and the company felt it was time to spruce her up. Our Captain mistakenly joked during his welcome speech that they were extending the ship and many passengers aboard were concerned. There seemed to be a consensus among those I spoke with that Splendour was the perfect size. It will definitely benefit from new carpets, flat screen tvs, and alternative dining venues, but in terms of passenger capacity and easy of navigation around the ship, she is absolutely wonderful just the way she is. He did clear up his little joke during a chat with the passengers in the centrum on the second sea day. The ship will remain the same size, and that alone encourages me to sail her again once she is back on the seas.
Embarkation in Venice was...interesting. I'd gotten some bad info about how to get to the ship. Many people had mentioned a shuttle that picks RCCL passengers up in Pizalle Roma. This was not the case. You had to board the "People Mover" which is a light rail type tram that carries your from Piazalle Roma to the edge of the port. To board the "People Mover" enter the building next to the luggage storage place on the bridge side of the square. Buy a ticket from the automated machines (there is no customer service agent to help, you just have to figure it out) then take the elevator or escalator up one floor to board the tram. Get off at the first stop, THEN there was a shuttle bus to the port, but at that point you are so close by that most people walk. Another alternative is the water taxi which picks up and drops off at St Marks. It will take you to the pier. We took it from the pier to St Marks and walked back, so I can't give details on how to do it in reverse, but it is a nice ride along the same route the ship will take sailing out of the city.
When we arrived at check in, it was not busy, but the building is large and there are no signs to direct us. There were plenty of RCCL staff around, but they seemed much more interested in talking to each other than in helping to answer questions. I know it was the end of a long season for many of them and they were all looking forward to getting through this one final week of dealing with us, but I got annoyed quickly both because I'd had little sleep for the previous two days getting to Venice and because it happened over and over and over. We arrived in the building and had to interrupt a private conversation between 2 RCCL employees (who were sitting at a table at the entrance, clearly they were the greeters) to ask which way to go. Then we got to the next station and the man was just standing there staring off into space. I felt like I had to wake him up from a dream to ask him where to go. Then, after having our passports checked 4 times in the space of about 50 yards, we finally had our cruise cards and made it through security. The next step was to board an elevator to get to the ramp that would take us to the ship. The elevator filled up quickly, yet the RCCL employee who was standing in the door of the elevator to keep the door open was also staring out into space, and I finally had to say, "Excuse me, we are full" before she came back to the present moment and let our elevator ascend.
Once we boarded the ship, we were handed the usual pile of flyers encouraging us to check out the spa etc (but no champagne, no beverage of any variety) and then we were set loose without any instruction. Since no one mentioned NOT going to our cabin (no one told us anything about where to go), we took the elevator to Deck 7 only to find the fire doors shut and another RCCL employee standing there looking dazed. Here was our conversation:
"It looks like we can't go to the cabin yet."
"No, the cabins will be ready around 1 o'clock"
"Okay,so where would you like us to go?"
"Oh, you can go anywhere."
"Is there someplace where we can get something to eat?"
"Can you tell me where that is?"
"The Windjammer Cafe"
"Can you tell me what deck that is on?"
"It is Deck 9"
It was like pulling teeth to get the information out of her. Maybe I am just used to sailing on cruise lines that give you too much information. I am normally herded (and frequently escorted) from the time I board the ship right to the cafeteria or directly to my cabin. And because it is day one, I appreciate the assistance because despite this being my 14th cruise, it was my first time on this ship, and my first time using this cruiseline. I wanted to do things the way they wanted it done, but the RCCL way seems to be to either expect that you already know what you are doing, or to just let you grope blindly along?
Sorry to be so disparaging, but it was a very poor first impression. Luckily, things improved from there. Our cabin Steward, Oleg was very nice. He found our one missing piece of luggage on the first day and often checked in with us in the halls when we were coming and going. He made us several creative towel animals and despite the fact that RCCL has ended the chocolate on the pillow routine, one night we returned to find mini snickers there, a special treat.
Likewise, our diningroom team of Soner and Marino were always quick and efficient with dinner. Soner also made sure to check in with us on the food. He told us what he thought the best dish of the night was and he really wanted to know what we thought and he was determined to have everything be right for us. Marino was excellent about keeping my water glass full ( I drink a lot of water) and he always offered extra bread to the table.
The cruise director was Bill Bruckheimer, an American. I think it was my first CD from the USA. He seemed very pleasant on announcements and on the TV, though we never met him in person. There were actually several members of the staff from the USA which (in my experience) is unusual. Both the staff and the passengers were an extremely diverse group.
Our cabin was 7588, a D2 balcony. It was larger than expected, and we enjoyed breakfast on our balcony one morning which is my favorite thing to do on a cruise!!! We were in a perfectly central location, but unfortunately on the "northern" aka less sunny side of the ship as we headed west across the med. The food onboard was pretty average, though I'd say dinner in the Windjammer was the best meal. Entertainment was decent to poor-Rat Pack show was good, comedian/impressionist was poor. The song and dance numbers were average.
Our first port was Dubrovnik. The cruise line offered a shuttle that cost 10 Euro per passenger for unlimited back and forth trips, but honestly, who is going back and forth more than once? I had been told it was too far to walk, but it was really only a little more than 2 miles each way to the old town, so I could have easily made it. There is also a public bus which picks up/drops off right in front of the port gate. The old town was not terribly crowded despite the cool but sunny day. We were rather late in the season (Oct 18) but I was glad not to be there in the height of the tourist crunch. I think large crowds would seriously detract from the enjoyment of this World Heritage Site.
Next was a sea day. I got some exercise running around the jogging track on Deck 10. I appreciated the fact that the track circumnavigates the entire deck and doesn't cut it short, so that 4 laps equals one mile. Many ships are short changing those of us who like to take a run in between luscious desserts!
The next port was Malta. It was fantastic, my favorite stop. We walked into Valletta from the ship. I'd read a lot about the "steep climb" up to town, but it is all steps and there are plenty of places to stop and take in the views, so we skipped the taxis and the horse drawn carriages and hiked our way up. I recommend it. It wasn't that difficult. The town is a very neat grid full of interesting sights and history. We got in town early when it was still quiet and poked around before the crowds arrived. Later in the day we took a taxi to Mdina, the medieval capital of Malta. It is much smaller than Valletta and well worth a look, and it is only about 15 mins drive away.
Next day was at sea. It was windy and the ship rolled quite a bit. I suffer from extreme motion sickness, so in addition to taking some pills, I hung out in the centrum (mid ship, deck 4) most of the day because it helps to be on a lower deck and in the middle of the ship. Later in the day, the movement died down and I attempted to work out in the gym (it was too windy to be on deck 10 to jog). Unfortunately, the gym on this ship is quite small and all the machines were full. I do not know if there are plans to improve the gym during the refurb, but I hope so!
Our next port, was Cartagena, Spain which was a place I had trouble finding any info on during my internet search. It was wonderful. The Roman Theater that was uncovered in the late 1980s was fantastic, and the old castle which has been turned into a museum on the history of Cartagena was interesting. The town has numerous lovely public parks, a wide open waterfront area, and a large pedestrian main street. The old bull ring is still in the process of being refurbished, but it looks like little has been done and perhaps the money has run dry, but a lot of money has clearly been spent sprucing up this port and it is nice to walk around and enjoy.
Our final stop was Gibraltar, but it was a bit of a disappointment. We arrived on a rainy Sunday, and much of the town was shut down including the war tunnels in the rock. I decided to hike up (all the way from the ship to the top of the rock). The Mediterranean Steps which actually wrap around the most southern portion of the rock were the best part of my hike, but not for the faint of heart. It is a long steep climb with extreme drop off, but also fantastic views. If you are not interested in sweating that much, either take a minibus/taxi tour, or ride the cable car up and walk down. If you plan to take the cable car both ways, note that aside from the view you will only see the monkeys without walking to one side of the rock and or the other.
By the time we woke up on Monday morning to disembark the Splendour in Malaga, Spain, work had already begun. The pool deck was ripped up and the boutique shops had already packed up all their goods. I'm sure the ship will look fantastic when it returns to service and I'm so glad that it will remain small and intimate. Aside from my concerns about the questionable customer service of some of the staff, I will consider sailing on her again. However, for anyone considering trying RCCL for the first time, I'd say stick with your favorite line. I'll be going back to Celebrity because despite being under the same company umbrella, Celebrity just does a much better job form customer service to the little details. I think RCCL has sacrificed too many of the little things that make a cruise special to keep me as a customer.