I am a first time cruiser. The first ship I went on was a ferry to Ilfracombe , and that wasn't a proper cruise, just a day out, so my expectations were pretty low. We arrived, My wife and myself, in Southampton by train and walked to the port. We made it to the terminal via a coffee shop, which had run out of coffee. There was a big queue formed that snaked around about 5 times, it looked a bit like Argos at Christmas, well maybe not that bad. Free cookies were on offer and some squash and the queue kept moving so that was good. Then, for the first and last time of the whole two weeks I produced my passport, you never have to show it to anyone again, if you don't want to! Once past the check in desk it was to the first photo opportunity with the ships photographic team with the Ship under the sea background. This is something that happens allot, every time you get off the boat in fact, and all formal dinners, you get your picture taken. You could say no, but then you might feel you weren't joining in with the cruise sprit so I just grinned my way through them. You should also bear in mind that all your pictures go up on public display, everyone gets to see them. I found myself looking more at other peoples photos than my own, so bear that in mind when you've got a face like thunder on. We got on the boat and another part of your cruise is sanitizing your hands. I splashed mine all over until they told me what it was, but you can never be too careful. I had to ask directions on the boat for our cabin. It took all of thirty seconds to explore. But embarkation is nice for me in comparison to other holidays, no flights, no long queues at airports, baggage claim, check in desks, just down to Southampton and thirty minutes later your in your room. We had stateroom 3535, which I wouldn't recommend to anybody. Let me give you first timers a nugget of advice; Check your room out against the ships floor plans before booking. Line it up exactly as to what is above it and what is below it. We were told to pay extra to upgrade and the higher the better. We did this for one floor and above us was the champagne terrace bar kitchen. The bar closed at 1 AM but this was when the cleaning began and some clumsy oaf would drop a tray of cutlery and the noise was akin to a whale trying to make love to our stateroom. At first this didn't bother us, we were so tired we slept through it and I originally thought this was a passenger in his room above us until I went upstairs to remonstrate with him and had a dime bar moment. I asked the pursers desk what they could do and the answer was nothing much except to ask the work crew to keep the noise down, and the noise went away for a that night and then it was back with a bang! This was the only dampener to the holiday overall really, not just being woken up every night but the fact that Guest relations wouldn't even talk about it or answer or letters I wrote to them and the Pursers desk just offered sympathy, not allot of use to me. The most obvious solution to me would be to give that cabin to crew member who works in the night, like the guy who cleans up in the champagne bar for instance? I am sure there are other rooms that are affected like this, in hindsight deck 2 would have been better and cheaper. Personally I don't know what the point of paying extra for a window or a porthole anyway because we didn't think we would spend much time in our cabin, just for sleeping and on this itinerary that was about right. 9 ports in 14 days. If we wanted to read a book we always went out onto deck 4, the quietest and most pleasant of areas on the ship! Pay more for a balcony not a window in my opinion. We did the muster drill, I was hoping to sneak out of this but with no luck as they come looking for you, close everything and check your cabin numbers off the life jackets. I still don't get it, so if the ship gets torpedoed, catches on fire or is attacked by a giant octopus we have to go to deck 4 and form a very large crowd where we all squash together? How is that going to help me when I have a giant tentacle wrapped around my neck? Even though the cruise was fully booked it never seemed crowded, which was good. The pool on the top was busy though, lots of families and kids love the pool ,and table tennis apparently. This is a family ship and so expect to find lots of children. I don't mind them at all as long as they don't follow me and call me baldy grumpy bugger like they do in my local park. The Passengers were mostly British, although there was a Brazilian conference being held on the ship and there were about 250 Brazilian freemasons on board. I've always wanted to join the Freemasons, I'm led to believe that when you join this secret handshake group you are told the true identity of Jack the ripper, The name of the man who shot President Kennedy and the 11 secret herbs and spices that go to make Colonel Parkers southern fried chicken pieces. If I spoke Portuguese then I might have been able to pick up an application form but no luck this time! If you are a member of the freemasons perhaps you could send me an application form as I am up in court for a parking offence on the 17th and I need all the help I can get. I thought the ship was in good condition, but I don't have another to compare it too, the lift area and Centrum looked really nice to me though, and I especially like the theatre, very comfortable seats, which are good to fall asleep in as you watch the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers go through their routines. I liked also the Library which was never crowded, there was one book i found to read and this lasted me the entire 14 days. We set off on time and it was pretty cold and windy, but that's Britain for you. The first day across the bay of Biscay was very rough, a bit like a ride at the fair ground that makes you feel sick and want to get off but you just have to be sick and get on with it. I heard lots of sea sickness cures but the one that works for me is to eat something and also to take the free tablets they give you. I felt allot better after that however allot of people stayed in their rooms I think feeling pretty green. I still went to the Dancing class as I thought the tossing and turning would give my two left feet a valid excuse. My Wife and I took all the dancing classes on the trip. They had two instructors there who were on a cruise themselves, so had obviously got the trip at discount. I wish I knew something that I could teach to passengers?. I used to be a postman so dog handling might be in order. I should have trained the RCI staff as 3 out of the 5 articles of correspondence I received were for other staterooms. One was an invitation for a welcome back party . I got very excited about this, saying to my wife how nice of Royal Caribbean to treat us like this and that we would have to get dressed up until I realized it was for the cabin next door, I was going to go anyway, but on the advice of my wife, gave it to our neighbors in the end. Reading other peoples mail brought back memories of my life as a postal worker, and why I got sacked . All the other letter I received in error were bill demands which I read anyway, old habits die hard folks. I will tell you some of the things I thought were a right Royal Caribbean rip off 1. The stateroom coca cola or water. £1 a can or £1.30 a bottle of water. Even in budget motels you get free coffee and tea in your stateroom so I thought these were complimentary, no chance. I wouldn't mind a fair price but £1 for a can of pop isn't. 2. In at number two is the internet. It's 20 p a minute. What's wrong with that ! I hear you cry, well that works out at £12 an hour which isn't cheap. There was a cabin in Villefrance, where the launches arrived and he charged 3 euros an hour as well as a good deal on phone cards and a phone to use them on. If you can hold on til then. I was glad they charged so much anyway because it kept me off it, and do you know what everyone? I didn't miss it! 3. The Laundry. It's a small sized bag which you can only put smalls in, no suits, no trousers, no big shirts, jumpers, jackets or anything like that. And its £11. Take travel wash or buy A mano and bring an iron, or they will be taking the shirt off your back! 4. The bus into town. Why do they charge 5.60 euros when the municipal bus only charges 2.50 euros? If they want to take me for a ride then they have to lower the price. 5. The phone. Even ET couldn't afford to phone home at these astronomical prices £4.95 a minute! 6. Anything in the ships spa, I heard that it even costs £5 to change your mind in there. 7. The wine list. It really is a mediocre selection but with an executive price policy.
However don't forget folks that all of the above are optional, your not forced into taking any of those services so it's a take it or leave it situation, I would have taken it if I didn't feel they were trying to squeeze my wallet like a ripe orange. In reference to the crew I thought in General, they were good. They treated us well. Our waiter seemed like he had seen it all before, and I guess he had. Throughout the whole cruise the ships crew make you feel pretty special, and for us it was a really special holiday. For them, in reality it is just another two week treadmill of customers. This was evident in the waiter service, I liked the welcome aboard song from the staff and headwaiter and I also liked the friendship parade at the end, but they go through the same thing every two weeks. Some of the waiters and bus boys in the Romeo and Juliet in the morning, especially the Filipinos, seemed to be not trying very hard to be nice, on two occasions One waitress would just drop the napkin in my lap as if she were throwing it over a dog doodle and say pleasure and walk off, another waitress would always try to give us a table for 10 when we asked her for a table for 2, then she would try to give us the worst table in the restaurant, there are a few of these two seater tables which are part of the aisle. Another day the waiter completely forgot to take our order until a headwaiter noticed we still had the menu. The Waiter then came over and said why didn't you tell me you hadn't ordered, like I was going to tell him how to do his job. Then he wanted to be friends and said where are you from? Wales I replied, Why are you from Wales? he said. I wasn't ready for such a philosophical question at breakfast, but it went downhill from there anyway. Mind you, if I could take any solace from the service that morning was that they probably weren't getting paid. On the whole I thought the food selection and quality was good. I enjoyed the Romeo and Juliet, for the evening meals although on two occasions when asked how I would like the steak cooked I asked for Medium rare, however if the Steak which they brought had been any rarer than it was it would have walked out of the kitchen itself, on 4 legs and with a bell around it's neck. Lucky I can stomach rare. I did notice that our poor waiter didn't have a night off on the whole trip, When do you get one I asked one night, Six months he replied, now that's tough, I suddenly forgave all surliness. I managed to find out some company secrets as well. Did you know that when the bus boys have to work in the Windjammer buffet, which is two weeks out of 6 they don't get paid, at all, anything, no wages. Does that stink or what? I read somewhere, in the royal Caribbean brochure that tipping was my way of rewarding good service, why don't they reward good service, they may as well say We hope you pay our staff, because we wont be. Mind you I also read in the P&O brochure (supposed question from customer) I love shopping, can you help? Oh mama! So its the Royal Pirates of the Caribbean when it comes to paying staff, because some of the others are begin paid less than $2 dollars a day. The bar staff get paid the 15% service charge and nothing else, work for 8 months, get 4 off, no pay. I was surprised they were still smiling at me and not going through the safe in my room. Then I found out the room attendants only got $50 a month and that they had first dibs on the safe. It's hard to enjoy your sloozie cocktail next to the pool when you know your luxury holiday is made off the backs of poor, hardworking people isn't it? I genuinely felt so bad for them that I decided to take all the friends I made among the staff out for dinner one night!, I feel sad to report that it was a table for one, facing the wall in the Windjammer that night. The staff I found the hardest to get to know were the South Africans, they wouldn't have any of the friendly questioning and were very much company people. Especially the personal trainer. We attended a seminar entitled Natural remedies, now you have to be careful when attending some seminars and free lectures as they are nothing other than a info commercial for something sold on the ship, and all of hers were to do with treatments in the Spa. This was no different. She promised us that if we didn't exercise now we would be in wheelchairs at fifty, that's a fact. She told us that the sea was the cleanest thing on earth because of algae and that if we came to the spa we could get some rubbed in our faces for £50 or something like that. Then she told us she had the answer to why we felt tired, why we get ill, why we are prone to infections, why we can't lose weight, why we have no energy, why the sun shines and all of that and pulled back a curtain to reveal a device that looked like a 1980s fax machine and it was such a holy, magical piece of equipment that no one was allowed near it ( unless they had £16.95 ).
Another interesting part of the cruise, which intrigued me, was the art auction. From reading other cruise reviews it seems that allot of the cruise lines are at this, but I must admit I was suspicious. I have a limited knowledge of art and the auctioneers kept telling me that any purchase was an investment. I would never invest in anything I didn't know anything about and I would give that advice to anybody, however I did witness some people, 5th glass of beer in hand buying artwork. I became more suspicious when my wife won a competition to guess the value of a Picasso they had there, she's quite good at that and the auctioneer proudly announced that she had won a $300 piece of artwork. Wow, I thought, that's great. So what she won was an art print just like the ones you get at Ikea for £10, not signed by the artist or anything, just a print. Doubly unfortunate that it wasn't held on the ship either but at their gallery in Chicago so they would have to send it to me in the post which costs $90. That must be one heavy print!, what's it on? A brick. This is all packaged in a tube, no frame you see. So I'm sure when customs see the docket and the valuation certificate they will slap on 17.5 % and add to that handling charges from postman pat and your looking at a hefty price for a poster, especially when you can get prints from the same artists on ebay for $19.99. We never took them up on their offer.. They were giving away $50 prints just to turn up for a seminar or to hand back your bid card, now, no one gives away $50 artwork, so I began to be a bit suspicious about all of this and stayed away from bidding on any art pieces I would be very careful about this but if you know what your doing then that's fine. I did have a little joke with the yellow stickers you are supposed to put on the items you want included in the auction, I put them on everything I could find that wasn't in the auction, Ships pictures, photos, plaques commemorating voyages and some of the poker machines too. I wanted to put a sticker on Derrick, because he looked like a Picasso but I knew I would get in trouble if I did. They did auction a Mohammed Ali signed poster for around £1200 pounds Sterling. I have seen the same thing locally for £800. the auctioneers seem enthusiastic about the savings you can make by buying art at sea, like no rental fees for the gallery this didn't make sense to me because I doubt 100 % that RCI give the Park West Gallery floor space on their ships for nothing. So do your own research, make sure the paintings are dry by the time you pack them in your suitcase, and don't forget there's only one L in Dali. Time to turn my attention now to the ships entertainment. On the whole I was very pleased with the selection of entertainers for the two weeks. A comedian magician who's act was criminally out of date but very funny, Gary Lovini who we thought was very accomplished and very entertaining, as were the others. Pete Matthews comedy juggling was excellent and the man of a thousand voices was entertaining too even if I didn't recognize any of his voices, for he first thirty minutes I thought he was the warm up! We also had Paul Adams, He worked in the Royal Albert hall Crowed Gordon, as a cleaner, we found out later. He wasn't very funny and it was lucky that the theatre was empty ( Barcelona night ). The funniest line of the night came from the audience; Paul Adams- I'm trying to emigrate to Canada, but I have to prove to the Canadian Government that I can make a living out of making people laugh Heckler- When are you coming back then? Spent the rest of the night wishing I had said that. If there was another downside to the entertainment then it was the in house entertainers, Royal Caribbean show dancers and singers. Their productions stank big time and their male singers, Josh was one, I renamed Fred West and Ted Bundy because they serially murdered every song they touched, If dear old Rod Stewart isn't dead then he would be turning in his grave to hear his work dragged through the Ab Fab night, which was a celebration of British music and included Kylie Minogue As British as a Shrimp Barbie. Even funnier was that the member of the cast who looked least like her in EVERY way played Kylie. The Female singers were good, but even as I write, the recollection of the Male signers is reminiscent of a man dragging his nails down a blackboard, just like in the film, JAWS. Ab Fab had some very very thought provoking Music interpreted as Dance which left me mystified, I wonder if I took drugs would see the same thing? Another of their un-entertaining stinkers was the From footlights to Hollywood Which had some show numbers which were the least popular in the whole world of musicals and I wondered if there were copyright issues which stopped them doing anything anyone had heard of before. As you can guess, I'm not very entertained by people singing and dancing. I Saw the cruise compass out for the next cruisers, Day 1 , on our last day and I kind of felt sad to be getting off. We had a knock on the door of the last morning and I hoped that it was the guest relations manager to apologize for the countless interrupted nights, it was just the cruise director who lifted me up by the ankles to shake me, trying to get some more money out of me! The Disembarkation process was smooth, I had plenty of time to eat something beforehand. I think they clear the rooms out in the order of which guests paid the most. All the suites go first and anyone with an early train connection, so there's your tip if you can't wait to get off. I did go back to my room for one final goodbye and found Gordon Wantmore with his hand down the back of our little settee. I didn't feel very sad disembarking but later on, when we got home, I did begin to feel as though I wished I was sailing from Southampton that day instead of going to the supermarket, I was wishing that I had another cruise to go on! So in the end I would repeat the process. But I would say I have learned this, research the room, and what's above or below it, buy all the cigarettes and alcohol from Gibraltar, you wont find them cheaper anywhere else, I would choose the later seating time for dinner as on some port days you would get back to the ship at 4pm hungry, go to the Windjammer, have more than you originally planned and then end up having to go to dinner at 6.30. I wouldn't pre pay the tips again and would rather do it at the end of the cruise, you have more control over the process and who receives what. I wont mention names because I don't want any of them to get in trouble. Read Less