This was a nine night cruise from Baltimore to the Bahamas and return, February 18th -- 27th, 2012.
Please consider this as more of a narrative of our cruise experience than a classic ship review.
Despite the challenges mentioned below, mostly caused by several significant changes in itinerary along the way, this was a terrific cruise in many respects. Here're our personal observations. As always, we're sure others aboard may have had different perspectives.
We were heavily influenced to pick this particular cruise because we're less than a ninety minute drive from home to the port. We were not disappointed. Directions to the cruise terminal are clearly marked, right off I-95 as it skirts the heart of Baltimore. The heavy luggage drop-off and parking were well organized. (Hint: Plan to pay for your parking with cash, because the cash car line is much shorter and quicker than waiting in the long double line to pay for parking with a credit card). Check-in and the security check inside the terminal were efficient and fairly painless.
The ship looks great. On this crisp and clear blue-sky day the hull and exterior looked well cared for. The public spaces we saw as we explored different decks looked very clean and maintained. Our cabin was spotless and well appointed, with terrific linens on the bed and in the bathroom. We've sailed on Splendour, a sister Vision class ship without Enchantment's stretch/addition, so we became reacquainted with most of the ship's layout without too much effort.
From the minute we came aboard, and all through the entire cruise, the navigation, security, cabin service, activities, entertainment, and food service staff were friendly, smiling, very helpful, and engaging, as anticipated and appreciated. Our cabin attendant, Fernando, was terrific. Cruise Director John and his wife, Katrina, the Activities Director, were some of the best we've experienced. They were entertaining, professional, and accessible.
The food in the main dining room was good, not always great, but there was sufficient variety and choices every evening. (We're not "foodies", so our evaluation is pretty subjective). The service in the main dining room was very good. In some areas of the main dining room the overall noise level seemed pretty loud. The variety of the foods in the Windjammer Marketplace was so good often it was bordering on overwhelming, and almost all of it was very tasty. The breads, pastries, and soups were our favorites. We ate one evening in Chops, the extra-charge specialty restaurant, and its food/service/ambiance was as good, if not better, than many of the best shore-based restaurants we've enjoyed. We had set up supper "My Time Dining" for the main dining room prior to boarding, and we enjoyed having that flexibility rather than being tied to main/late seating times. The My Time Dining seemed to put extra stress and confusion on the dining room manager the first evening, but as we all got used to how to request dining times, everything ran much more smoothly as the cruise went along. We met the same very nice couple at an adjacent table every evening, and enjoyed sharing our day's adventures.
We've lived in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area for many years, and we're familiar with the school holidays. We try to book our vacations to miss school breaks. We were caught completely by surprise when we discovered upon boarding that several states within driving distance of the port of Baltimore celebrate a week-long Presidents' Week school holidays/break. Yikes! The cruise before ours had ten children aboard. The week after our cruise was to have eleven kids. On our cruise there were more than six hundred children with their families, and an announced ship's full-capacity passenger count. There were young families with children, teens, and 'tweens, young adults, and older passengers. Royal Caribbean has staff dedicated to entertaining the different younger age groups, which was a plus especially on at-sea days when the weather didn't permit being outdoors and at the pools.
The evening production shows we attended in the main show theater were okay. The comedian was very good, as was the Motown trio and the illusionist. The house band was very good, too.
Now, for the overriding influence on this cruise, the modified itinerary. Here's a comparison:
Planned Itinerary Actual Itinerary
Day 1: Depart Baltimore @04:00PM Day 1: Baltimore overnight
Day 2: Cruising Day 2: Depart Baltimore @09:15AM
Day 3: Port Canaveral @10:00AM-10:00PM Day 3: Cruising
Day 4: Cruising Day 4: Cruising
Day 5: Key West @07:00AM-03:00PM Day 5: Port Canaveral @07:00AM-07:00PM
Day 6: Nassau @11:00AM-07:00PM Day 6: Cruising then Nassau @03:00PM
Day 7: Coco Cay 08:00AM-05:00PM Day 7: Depart Nassau @11:00AM
Day 8: Cruising Day 8: Cruising
Day 9: Cruising Day 9: Cruising
Day 10: Arrive Baltimore @07:00AM Day 10: Arrive Baltimore @07:00AM
Here's how it seemed to play out. After the lifeboat safety drill exercise Saturday afternoon in Baltimore, and before casting off lines and getting underway as scheduled at 4:00PM, Captain Gus Andersson announced one of the two propulsion engines was having a mechanical problem. Royal Caribbean had contacted the US Coast Guard to request assistance assessing the safety issues of cruising with one propulsion engine working 100% and the other at a much lower percentage. Later Saturday evening it was announced we would be spending the night in Baltimore while attempts were made to repair the mechanically-challenged propulsion engine, and then everything would be re-assessed in the morning.
Sunday morning arrived, overcast and grey, threatening rain, and the announcement was made the overnight repairs had been minimally successful. The Coast Guard did clear us to depart, which we did at 9:15AM. We crept down the Chesapeake Bay with a harbor tug shadowing us off our port stern. We stopped several times in the Bay, and then restarted, to evaluate the success of the repairs made up to that point. The result was we could only muster 13-15 knots instead of the normal 22 knots cruising speed attainable with both propulsion units operating normally.
By Monday morning, sometimes not-too-subtle shortages were appearing in the dining room and the Windjammer Marketplace. The coffee was being rationed, some of the fruit juices were in short supply, the wrapped butter pats became sparse, and we heard from staff there were shortages of rice and also gluten flour for the pastries. In hindsight, the food prep staff was already trying to stretch provisions for the extra days we'd need to get to Port Canaveral to restock the pantries.
Over the course of the next few days, we bounced around in what must be typical winter coastal 18-foot seas with gale-force winds and a brief snow squall. It became obvious we weren't on schedule because of the reduced cruising speed. It was taking too long to get to Port Canaveral, our first stop. Captain Gus gave periodic status reports, which were helpful and upbeat. He first announced we would have to lose our stop in Key West, then later announced we would also have to lose Coco Cay, and finally we'd have to modify our all-day Nassau stop to an afternoon/overnight/early-morning. This meant canceling many of the planned excursions. In our case, it meant we didn't need to haul our snorkel gear along on this cruise, because we never were able to use it.
In one of Captain Gus' announcements early in the cruise, he said Royal Caribbean had decided to grant each cabin an onboard credit to help compensate for the initial itinerary change. As other day stops were canceled, he announced Royal Caribbean had chosen to refund the entire price everyone paid for their cruise because of the major itinerary modifications. This was quite a surprise to us, especially since the cruise contract states Royal Caribbean can change ships, equipment, itineraries, etc., based upon weather and unspecified and/or unanticipated conditions, with no compensation or damages due to the passenger. The refund certainly helped distract us all from focusing solely on the fact we were going to spend a lot more time at sea on this cruise.
Our time in Nassau was frustrating because we got there late in the afternoon, so most of the planned excursions off the ship had been canceled. We were leaving the next morning after breakfast, and that meant no excursions off the ship then either. There was a mass exodus off the ship once we tied up in Nassau. The other large passenger ships tied up alongside us in the harbor had a weak trickle of their tired passengers walking back to their ships after a long day as our throng headed into town. Those other ships sailed before dark or shortly thereafter, leaving us by ourselves until the next morning when five new passenger ships arrived. What an amazing show of maneuvering such large vessels in the tight turning basin, and easing them into their docking space. As we sailed away that morning, the sky was blue, the sun was shining, and it was the start of a perfect warm day, albeit aboard and underway instead of snorkeling off a catamaran or on a beach on Paradise Island.
We enjoyed almost a whole day on deck overindulging in the sun and pools before we came back to the reality of cruising north again, with chilly winds blowing across the deck as we headed home to Baltimore. The falling temperatures reminded us our cruise was coming to an end.
Disembarkation in Baltimore was even smoother than anticipated. We claimed our luggage in the terminal, and were through US Customs and loaded into our car less than twenty minutes from the time we left our cabin. It couldn't have been easier.
This cruise was the most unusual and sometimes frustrating of any of the cruises we've done, but also enjoyable in many ways. We've decided we want to cruise on Enchantment again in the near future, hopefully with Captain Gus, on one of Enchantment's other itineraries out of Baltimore. Just not during a school break next time.