The 12-day cruise on Enchantment from Baltimore, Maryland to five ports looked like a good deal, so we took it and for the most part were well pleased with our cruise. Although fully booked, we did not find it crowded; there were always plenty of chairs on deck and seats in the Orpheus Theater. There were kids on board but RCI staffers kept them engaged and happy in special activity rooms. The only place that consistently drew a crowd was the Windjammer Cafe, or as I took to calling it, the "Traffic Jammer." This casual dining venue is located at the front of the ship which means that every rock and roll is more pronounced than it would be midship or aft. Its circular design is intended to serve two sides of the room with equal food choices, but this fact never seemed to register with guests who lurched unsteadily (while we were underway) around the entire circumference in both directions! I think this design tends to confuse people. There was also a bit of a search for a table but we always managed to find one, sometimes accepting the offer of friendly fellow travelers to share theirs--a nice custom that we adopted when we were "first finders!" Staffers here do an excellent job of helping spot open tables, assisting guests with mobility issues, cleaning tables quickly, and scurrying back and forth with drinks. There is no charge in the Windjammer unless you wanted alcohol or freshly squeezed OJ. Here's my review of other areas by category;
Embarkation: Excellent. As Crown and Anchor members, we got priority boarding, but observed that lines for nonmembers moved quickly. Boarding personnel were friendly, quick, and efficient.
Ports of call: Labadee (RCI's private beach). Excellent. RCI moves the cruise ship to the beach where you can zip line or visit a small amusement park (for a fee), enjoy a great complimentary lunch, or just relax on some very pretty beaches. Beach chairs and cabanas are free, but expect to tip to have someone move these items for you. Wear swim shoes. Some underwater areas are quite rocky! There is a so-called "artisan's village," and vendors will try to draw you in to purchase from them. But it's all pretty low key. I did not feel hounded. And when I explained that I'd left my cash on the ship, no one bothered me! San Juan. Excellent. An evening debarkation leaves time for an evening drink or dinner ashore. St Martin: Excellent. Easy walk to shopping right near the ship or a longer stroll (15 to 20 minutes) to downtown shops and seaside restaurants. St. Thomas. Excellent. If this is your first time here, skip Havensight shopping near the ship and go into town to experience the pretty architecture and vibe. You can walk or take a taxi. Antigua. Excellent for water sports or tours. Shopping is so so. Tortola. Excellent for water sports or tours. Shopping is not great except at Sunny Caribbee (short walk from the ship into town), which sells spices, teas, coffees, and cool artwork.
Shore excursions: We chose snorkeling from catamarans in St. Thomas, Antiqua and Tortola and found all to be a good value. You can book some of these same excursions ashore if you want, but we like the time savings in booking through the ship as well as the efficient handling of refunds when tours cancel (one, in St. Martin).
Entertainment: Generally good. However, many performances have a "retread" quality to them. I wish someone would tell ship comedians to get off the stateroom toilet jokes and overworked overeating jokes and think up some fresh new material. Magician was magical. Tribute band (to the Temptations) also good. Surprisingly, the juggling act was the freshest and most innovative act! The song and dance team more than make up for what they lack in experience with plenty of enthusiasm and youthful charm! Note to staff: I know how to applaud and will applaud loudly when a performance deserves it. Don't like having my applause "milked."
Entertainment staff: Outstanding. Always smiling and seemed genuinely to enjoy people. Great cruise director! The only sour note here was from the activities director. He kept having problems with the sound system (often cutting off music in the middle of songs) and had a heavy-handed approach that tended to dampen rather than engage spirits! I started to count the times he would say "Let's get this party started," and then did not! There were a lot!
Food: On balance, good, but average. Our waiter did an excellent job steering us clear of entrees that he thought were not up to par. But I can point to only one or two meals that were memorable. There were Indian selections at each meal, and these tended to have the most flavor. You won't starve, but if you are a foodie, you may be disappointed in some of the bland tastes you'll encounter.
My time dining: We were at second seating and did not choose "my time". I was curious to see how it worked and can report that I am not a fan. I can see how some cruisers would want this option, but it tended to throw off the service timing in the main dining room and it also meant that the room was almost empty in some areas. So the big dining room lost that celebratory buzz it gets when it is full. And we had to dodge our way around the service staff assisting the "my timers," on the way to our table each night. It just felt awkward and weird. And those goofy but charming waiter parades felt cheerless when they boogied their way around so many empty tables.
On board shopping: Good selection. Nice sales. Poor organization! One sale set up on deck had only one staffer who quickly became overwhelmed by cruises eager to snap up the two for one tee shirts. Similar jam ups occurred inside for the "sidewalk" sales. Generally on board shops are competitive with shore shops except in liquor. AH Riise on St. Thomas still offers the best buys.
Stateroom: We had an interior stateroom on Deck 2. Though looking a bit worn, the room was comfortable with plenty of storage space (we only brought two suitcases -- one went in the closet and one did double duty as an end table to the single chair). We liked the room width curtain that we could close against the light and sound that leaks through the main door. It made the bed space feel all cozy. Bed was very comfortable with lovely soft linens. Wish they did not place sodas, snacks, and bottles of water on the desk. Surface space is at a premium. I guess we could have asked room steward to take them away but kept forgetting. It wasn't a big deal. We got a new towel animal each night. So much fun!
Ship overall: Enchantment is headed for dry dock and a refurb in December 2012 and though it is quite a beautiful ship, it needs it. Carpets and furniture are showing wear and there is some creaking that might indicate something needs tightening! It will return to the above itinerary in January 2013. Don't know if I'd want to be sloshing around for five days (2 down from Baltimore, 3 back) in the colder waters off the east coast of the US in January! If you go, pack your parkas for this part of the trip or stay inside!
Room for improvement: Ship's photographers cover the cruise very well but at $19.95 a photo, costs can quickly add up! So wait till the end to make your purchases. Your pictures will be on display all cruise. There are some package deals, but this is still a pricey way to preserve memories! I can't recommend the CD. Months after the cruise you'll be saying "who are these people and why did I buy this?" On board art auction. RCI has created Royal Art as an alternative to Park West. Like Park West it hosts champagne "auctions." So, Royal Art auctions are not auctions in any sense of the word. The uninspired "auctioneer," gave a general description of each artwork, announced the price, asked who wanted I, and then asked us to applaud (the few) purchases. It was like being expected to applaud at the drug store because someone "got" a bottle of hair color for the list price! His style of "auctioneering" put more than one person to sleep! Finally, RCI, please consider ditching the 'behind the scenes' ship tour. At $150.00 per person to see the engine, laundry room, kitchen, and other areas that once were available on tour for free, this just feels like a cash grab. I wonder if anyone would take this tour at that price?