PREFACE: "We" were a group of 5 adults ranging in ages from 34 - 80. I had cruised before, but this was to be a first cruise for my mom, dad, grandma and cousin (Madelene). We sailed 7 days round trip from Tampa on the Splendour of the Seas, departing December 11, 2004. We visited Key West, Florida; Costa Maya, Mexico; Belize City, Belize; and Cozumel, Mexico. My previous cruise experience has only been with Princess (PCL from here on), so I can not help but make comparisons to that line. Both RCI and PCL have certain areas in which one is better than the other, in my opinion. In light of that, and due to a few complications, this review is pretty lengthy.
DAY 1: Embarkation: We arrived at Terminal 3 around 11:45 a.m. on Saturday morning. Dad drove us to the curb, we unloaded our luggage and he took the car to the parking garage across the street. I believe he walked back instead of waiting for the shuttle (I had read there was one, but I never saw it). There were more people already there before us than I had expected, several were already waiting when we walked in. We were directed to the "check-in" area, found the appropriate line and proceeded to the counter after only waiting for a few minutes. The check in process was quick and easy, we received our Sign and Sail cards and a little slip of paper with the letter "G" on it. We were then directed to the sitting area to wait for our letter to be called. We had a few cookies, a cup of lemonade (water also available) and chatted while waiting for the boarding to begin. I suggest arriving early if you would rather sit in the chairs than stand in line waiting because those lines really began to grow at this point. An announcement was made informing us that we would begin boarding as soon as the ship had been cleared. I'm not sure if there was a hold up or if this was the "norm," but we sat for about an hour before boarding began around 1:15 p.m. Everyone was in a good mood and excited to get our cruise started! When our letter was called, we found the line a bit lengthy but it moved along. Boarding photos were taken, which we purchased later. I've definitely seen better boarding photos and props, this was a bit sub-standard in my opinion. We walked up a covered, zigzag gang plank, and into the ship on deck 4. The Centrum was decorated with a large Christmas tree on the staircase, garland, bulbs and poinsettias, very pretty. I noticed right away the absence of those familiar Caribbean sounds... no music welcomed us aboard, not even Christmas music. I felt a little disappointment as those Calypso melodies are one of my favorite things about cruising. But there were plenty of friendly faces to greet and direct us. We took an elevator up to deck 8 to check out our cabins. Upon exiting the elevator, I noticed that both hallways (port and starboard side) were carpeted exactly the same - unlike PCL where one side is red, the other blue... very helpful when you step off that elevator and can't recall which way is forward or aft.
Our Staterooms: We booked 2 adjoining Junior Suite cabins, 8060 and 8062 on the port side of the ship. Our accommodations were exactly as expected, thanks to the RCI snapshots and the 360 degree photo. There was plenty of storage for the 3 of us in one cabin. There was only one plug, on the vanity. NO plug in the bathroom. Why cant they make those shower curtains just 2 inches longer so that the water stays in the tub? Not much storage in the bathroom, only one long shelf under the counter/sink. Good thing I bought a set of those hanging closet organizers from Lillian Vernon, those came in handy! Our couch looked brand new, the beds sagged in the middle a bit but mom said they were fine for sleeping. I found the pull-out sofa to be pretty comfortable. It was actually better than any sofa bed I have slept on due to it not having all those darn metal bars for support. Instead, it had wide wooden slats for support. The cushion wasn't very thick, but it was adequate. I slept all week on it with no complaints. We were pleased to find the balconies larger than anticipated, which provided us with 3 basic upright chairs and one lounger. The glass under the balcony railing was pretty dirty, but I suppose that is due to the salty sea spray. Most of our luggage was already in our cabin upon our arrival with the exception of my large bag (which did not show up until after 8 p.m.). We found 2 large bottles of water and six various sodas on the vanity, these are not complimentary. There was a refrigerator under the TV, adequate for the soda I brought and a few other items that we stashed in there throughout the week. We attempted to locate our cabin steward to introduce ourselves and to make a few requests -- one being that Gram and Madelene's beds were pushed together. They were obviously two "mature" ladies, why would they want their beds together? Someone wasn't paying attention. We were not able to locate our cabin steward, so after dropping off our carry-ons we headed up to the Windjammer for lunch. The food was plentiful and delicious. I was very impressed with the buffet. I had read conflicting opinions about this. Lots of hot items, fruit, salad fixings, etc. Servers came around offering iced tea, water, lemonade, etc. They will even run to get you something from the buffet line, should you request it. I found the service in the Windjammer to be considerably better than that of PCL's buffet.
The muster drill was at 4:30. This was an area that I feel PCL has a far better plan than RCI. We were instructed to put on our life vests and make our way to our muster station by way of the stairs, of course. They did allow Gram and Madelene to use an elevator as they have some physical difficulty with stairs. Thank goodness for this because it's a very unnerving feeling going down 4 flights of stairs in an unfamiliar setting when you cannot see your toes over these bulky vests! Personally, I think this is unsafe and I was surprised that they do it this way. PCL requires that you carry your vests to the muster station and then put them on later during the drill instructions. A much better (and safer) idea! Not to mention that sitting in a lounge is far more comfortable (PCL) than standing outside in the sun (RCI), squashed shoulder to shoulder, in lines like sardines... waiting for everyone to arrive, then waiting for the staff to take attendance from a list of around 100 people. Yuck! Fortunately it wasn't too hot, and as luck would have it, it began to rain... but alas, the sky did smile on us with a beautiful rainbow! Oh, Gram and Dad both mentioned that the guy organizing our muster station smelled horribly of alcohol. He couldn't have actually been tanked, could he??? Who knows, but Gram and Dad were confident that he was.
Dinner in the King and I was fabulous. I have never had such delicious food while cruising. I don't know if it was just this sailing and ship, but RCI blew PCL away in the food department! Oh, and the bread... yummy! I won't mention this on each day, but I never had a meal I wasn't completely pleased with whether in the dining room or in the buffet. Gram, Dad and I ate at the Solarium Cafe one afternoon, which was also very good. For the entire week, our dining room service as well as the bar service was great, and so friendly .... you would never know they do this week after week, they are very good at making you feel special. I had read the coffee was bad on RCI, my parents are avid coffee drinkers so I told mom to bring her own coffee maker. Figures, she never needed to use it. She said that although the coffee was strong, it was "fine, better than expected." Dad cut it with cream, occasionally with some hot water too.
The ship was a-rockin' tonight!! I don't know exactly the size of the waves (I would guess around 12-14 feet), but everyone was staggering all over the place, and we hadn't had a thing to drink yet! After dinner we went to the 9 p.m. show. Comedian Al Romas was pretty good. The jokes were clean and funny, nothing offensive (one poke at the Amish), with the foulest word being "hell." That was a relief, and we all enjoyed the act. When we returned later to our cabin, no one had turned our beds down. Not normally a big deal, except that the sofa bed had not been made either, and we had no sheets to do it ourselves. We still had not seen our cabin steward, so we had to call housekeeping to request turn-down service. It actually took 2 calls to get it taken care of, and when someone finally showed up around 11:30, they acted a bit put out by our request. I questioned them several times as to the whereabouts of our steward, and what was going on. I was told on the phone when I originally called, and again by the woman who was making up the sofa bed, that this service did not typically start until the following night. Huh?? I asked her how I was supposed to make up the sofa bed myself with no sheets, but she did not answer me even when I asked a second and third time. I was not trying to be a jerk, I just didn't understand why she was telling me this and wanted her to explain it to me. I've never heard of cabin service not starting until the next day..?? Anyway, I slept like a baby. Gram and Madelene were not so lucky. Due to very rough seas, something in their wall was making an awful lot of noise, which kept them up all night. They did not call to complain, it was obviously something that nothing could be done about. It wasn't really a problem for the remainder of the cruise, as the seas were much calmer after that first night.
DAY 2: Key West -- This port of call was substituted for Grand Cayman. We were initially disappointed about this, but it turned out to be a really nice day (although chilly!). We docked a considerable distance from Mallory Square, and at first I panicked, how in the world were Gram and Madelene going to walk that far?? But it wasn't long before we saw the Old Town Trollies and the Conch Trains coming to shuttle us into town. When we got off the shuttle, we bought tickets for the Conch Train Tour. It was a 90 minute, wonderfully narrated tour through town on an open-air train. Very informative and entertaining. We all really enjoyed this and were pleased with our choice. We had a nice lunch at Billy's near Mallory Square afterward, then did some shopping. Key West is a great little place, and I would not hesitate to visit again. Tonight's "Variety Show" (as listed in the Compass) was actually a group called "Ole Ole"... they were 2 male musicians and 1 female dancer who performed a Rumba Flamenco show.... It was fantastic!! Amazing talent, the best show of the entire cruise, in my opinion. Do not miss this!
DAY 3: At Sea -- Had a relaxing day... we grabbed a table up on the pool deck and played cards for a while. Had a few Mango Coladas, half-watched the belly flop competition. There was Bingo and art auctions, all the typical sea-day stuff. Tonight was the first formal night... grab a chair in the lobby and do some "people watching" ... very entertaining! Tonight's show was "Jump, Jivin' Swing," which was performed by the RCI singers and dancers... '40s, '50s, '60s big band music, it was pretty good. Later, I read in the Compass that we were to turn our clocks back an hour before going to sleep, so that we would be on CST when we arrived in Costa Maya. Well, I hit the roof! I had called RCI twice prior to this cruise, and was told both times that we would remain on EST for our entire cruise. I had also participated in several discussions on the message boards regarding this and generally got the same information. So I was quite annoyed, to say the least, to find out that my independent tour plans were now in jeopardy. But fortunately, my next tour in Costa Maya was a ruins tour that I booked through RCI online... no worries.... right?
DAY 4: Costa Maya -- Wrong!! I booked the Chacchoben Ruins tour through RCI on their website back in October. I received 2 confirmations of my scheduled time, 10:30 a.m. Low and behold, we look at our tickets which were delivered to our cabins, and see the time says 7:30. Hmm that's not good, but I assumed this was just a mistake on their part and hopefully they could put us in on the 10:30 time, since we had been confirmed for that. (I did go directly to the shore excursion desk the evening before when we first noticed this to fix the problem, but they were closed - very limited hours!). So I got up early and went down again first thing this morning at 6:45 a.m., they opened around 7:10 a.m., a little late. When it was my turn, I approached the desk and explained that they had made a mistake and put the wrong time on our tickets. I was told that no mistake had been made, they had changed the tour time to 7:30 (its now about 7:20). What?! How can you do that and not inform the participants?? Of course, she said it was my responsibility to verify times and there was no other time choice for that tour. Obviously we could not make that time, we had no idea the schedule had been changed, and my group could not be ready in 10 minutes - we would need to cancel and get a refund. Nope... they have a 24 hour cancellation policy, and there would be no refund. WHAT!! Ok, we went around and around at this point. I understand that they have a policy, I understand I should have looked closer at my tickets earlier (I told her that I did try to speak to someone the day before, but they were closed), and I realize that they reserve the right to pretty much do whatever they want. Why was the schedule changed?? Well, because they had dropped Grand Cayman, she said. How does THAT have anything to do with Costa Maya 2 days later?!? She then tried to blame the change on the tour operators in Costa Maya... that made no sense, what did they care if we didn't go to Grand Cayman?? And would it kill you to staple a little red note (something eye-catching) to the tickets notifying us of this change?? I was not about to lose $300 without a fight! She offered me a choice of 2 other excursions in place of the one we had booked, the All-Terrain vehicle tour and the Kayaking tour. Neither of which Gram or Madelene are physically able to do. It took me about 20 minutes to convince her that I was not going away quietly, so she finally told me to come back later and she would see what she could do for us. Fine... that's something, at least. So I broke the news to my group, and of course, we were all disappointed. They have never been on a cruise, never been to Mexico, never seen ancient Mayan ruins.... we were all really looking forward to this tour. It was the one and only excursion we booked with RCI. Well, ok... plan B: Lets go ashore, do some shopping, and then we have all kinds of time to go to the adjacent beach for snorkeling. Gram and Madelene wanted to laze on a beach chair and get some sun, Dad wanted to learn how to snorkel. I had done this last time I was in Costa Maya and it was fantastic, so I had them all pumped up for this. After browsing in the plaza, watching the dance show and having a couple drinks... we headed for the pier, we needed to change into our swimsuits and get our snorkel gear. I glanced over at the beach.... hey, wait a minute.... how come no one is over on the beach or swimming?? I asked this to a uniformed guard who was standing at the foot of the pier. He informed us that the beach was closed. WHAT! How come?? He didn't know. Someone later told us that it was probably for monetary reasons, if they close this beach which is free, that forces the passengers to hire taxis and pay for snorkeling excursions to other beaches. Great. We were back on board, empty handed and very frustrated by noon. The rest of our day was spent playing cards and tinkering around the ship. That isn't a necessarily a bad thing, but our day was pretty much a wash.... total bummer. Upon returning to our cabins later that day, we found our carpet soaked near the balcony door and both balconies full of water. They must have washed the windows or something, but the water didn't go down the drain, instead it pooled right in front of the sliding doors. As for our cabin, half of it came inside (no, the door had not been left open). We waited to see if it would dry up on its own, but hours later we finally had to call to have someone come clean it up because we could not go out on the balconies unless we wanted to stand ankle deep in water. That also took 2 calls to get it taken care of. Later, when the shore excursion desk was open again, I went down to see about the problem with our missed excursion. As soon as I approached the desk, the woman who I had talked to earlier remembered who I was and immediately told me that she would be giving us all a credit for the price of the excursion, which was applied to our individual ship board accounts. Good... at least we did not lose our money. We were all satisfied with this resolution - and a lesson was learned. The magician tonight was pretty good. However, poor Madelene (she's 80)... as soon as the lights went out, so did hers! She slept through the entire show, we were wearing her out.
DAY 5: Belize -- Due to changing our time to CST, I had to scramble around the day before to cancel our early morning carriage tour of the city as we knew we would not be able to tender ashore early enough to make it. I had obtained VIP tender tickets, but they were useless down in the tender area. We waited in line for about 45 minutes - just like everyone else. It was about a 15 minute tender ride to the Tourism Village in Belize City, we docked at Terminal 1. We were to meet Coral Breeze at Terminal 4 (a short walk) for our tour to Caye Caulker. Monique met us and checked us in. The ride over to Caye Caulker was about 40 minutes, and it was rough! The front of the boat was rising up and slamming down due to the rough water. If you take one of these tours, sit in the back of the boat, it's not as windy as you might imagine and definitely a smoother ride. Upon arriving at Caye Caulker, Monique helped me find a place to rent a golf cart. The cost was $10 per hour, so I paid for 2 hours and we puttered around the little island, including a stop at the "Split." It was a relaxed and interesting afternoon. We had the option of going on the snorkel portion of the tour, but we decided against it as it was cloudy and somewhat cool again today. We did a little shopping and had a decent lunch at the Tropical Paradise Hotel (not the Rainbow Restaurant as advertised on their website, Monique said they were forced to change to a different location for certain reasons). Later, the ride back to the Tourism Village was neat - weaving through the mangrove-lined cayes, really nice. We browsed the shops at the village, then grabbed a tender back to the ship around 3:30. Dinner tonight was formal. Dad and Madelene said that the lobster was very good.
DAY 6: Cozumel -- We docked at the International Pier, got up bright and early, headed ashore (long walk up the pier for the ladies, no tram here). Dad and I grabbed a taxi and went into town to pick up our Jeeps from Less Pay ($44 per Jeep, including mandatory insurance), then returned to pick up the others. We went through town and headed east out to the other side of the island. We bypassed the San Gervasio ruins, maybe next time. We had an appointment in the afternoon that I didn't want to be late for. We stopped at Mezcalito's which is at the intersection where the road that cuts across the island meets the eastern shore road. I have read that the food here is great, but it was early and we weren't hungry yet. We stayed for a bit, had a drink and enjoyed the view from their beach-front patio. I could have stayed right there for hours, but we had someplace to be. There was also another restaurant there called Senior Iguana's but they were rather rude to my mom and Gram, so we had nothing further to do with them. We made our way down the east shore, stopping here and there to take photos. If you have never been over there, do take the time to check it out, the scenery is gorgeous... the water is a brilliant shade of blue! If you watch carefully, you will see the blowholes. We came around the southern end of the island and back up towards town. Decided to grab some lunch before going into Chankanaab Park. Right along the main boulevard which runs along the western coast of the island, just north of the Int'l Pier, we spotted The Grill. It was convenient and looked nice enough, so we parked our Jeeps at the curb and went on in. They did in fact have very good food. Our waiter, Danny, gave us superb service and even took some photos of us all together... very nice! We arrived at Chankanaab Park around 1 p.m., and our Dolphin Encounter was at 2 p.m. This is a really nice park, next time I will be sure to devote more time to seeing the whole thing. We got to play and interact with a dolphin named Sinbad. Gram and Madelene had really been looking forward to this and it did not disappoint! We got great pictures of them smooching him, we also purchased the video. The encounter lasted about 30 minutes, and we were pleased with it. We were the only ship that stayed late in port, the others left around dinner time, but we stayed until 11 p.m. Today was my birthday, and Dad had arranged a little something during dinner... stinker!
DAY 7: At Sea -- Spent this day as everyone does - packing, eating, relaxing and saying goodbye to all our new friends. Our vouchers for the tips that we had added to our shipboard accounts did not arrive until right before dinner. This is a convenient way to take care of tipping. They do add the head waiters tip on, even though it's not mentioned in any of RCI's printed guidelines -- that was .75 per person, per day. I believe the total came out to around $68 per person. You can add extra to the envelopes as you wish, which we did for our waiters, Denitsa and Charlene... they were wonderful. We also tipped a few other waiters that were not our own as they had given us exceptional service at breakfast and lunch. If you get Louis from South Africa, lucky you, he's a great guy! We were fortunate to have very enjoyable table mates, and we had made the acquaintance of several other fellow passengers. It was sad to say goodbye to everyone. We didn't want to leave!!! Luggage was to be out in the hallway between 7 and 10:30. Where did the time go......??
DAY 8: Tampa -- Disembarkation: Our shipboard account statements arrived this morning as we were gathering up the last of our personal items. All purchases were listed on one sheet, although they each had an identifying number, the total due was a lump sum. Not convenient at all, mom and I had to sit and manually add up what was theirs and what was mine, we didn't happen to bring a calculator (not that this is hard to do, but everything is so rushed on this last morning that having to make time for this was a bit annoying). PCL has separate statements for each person, regardless of how the bill was to be paid. We needed to vacate our cabins by 8 a.m., so we headed out to our last breakfast in the dining room. After eating (heavens, we were so miserably stuffed by this point!), our waiter told us we were welcome to stay until our number was called as he had other open tables, we accepted his offer. It wasn't long. I will say that unlike PCL, the service onboard RCI remained very attentive right up until the moment we stepped off the ship. We were off by 8:30ish and through customs fairly quickly because the ladies required "assistance." Their use of a cane advanced us through the customs line rather quickly.... whew, it was quite a line! I have no idea how long it would have taken had we stood in it until our turn. After clearing customs, we went to locate our luggage. There were porters immediately offering their assistance, they helped us search for each piece of luggage. Very nice! These guys earned a hearty tip. Porters were scarce in the PCL terminal at the end of the cruise.
Summary: At the beginning of the week, I found myself missing PCL - but as the days passed, many other things made up for the few disappointments we had experienced and I was glad we booked with RCI. I was very pleased with the condition of the 8 year old Splendour. Of course, there are always things that could look a little better, but she was clean and looking pretty sharp, at least what we saw. The public rooms were in very good condition, we really enjoyed the chairs and sofas located around the Centrum Lobby. We used the Card Room a lot, it's the largest one I've seen on a ship and it did get busy on the sea days. The Library was also nice, big leather chairs and sofas... quite comfy. I did not try the mini-golf course, my Dad did and said it was just a matter of luck getting that ball into the holes.... something about lots of hills and no flat areas. But I think the condition of the course was fine. I had only minor complaints regarding the ship, one being that there are no elevators at the back, so those aft cabins can be inconvenient for those who have difficulty walking long distances. Also, I had read that there is a constant vibration on this ship... true! I did not find it particularly bothersome, but I can see that others might. It put me to sleep at night, so I kind of liked it. It was quite noticeable in the dining room, your water dances in your glass. Keep in mind, you ARE on a ship, there will be ship-noises. Don't expect complete silence, that's just impossible. I applaud RCI for taste and variety of food, as well as overall service - with the exception of our cabin service, which I realize was probably an isolated issue. The steward who had the block of cabins next to ours was always in the hallway, busy taking care of his passengers every single time I walked by. RCI's staff was much more personal than my experience with PCL. I also felt that the passengers aboard the Splendour were more friendly, RCI does draw a slightly different crowd which I felt more comfortable with. In regards to entertainment, PCL seems to put on bigger shows with more stage dressings than RCI, but I personally enjoyed the RCI performances more. PCL did a better job organizing their tours and distributing information. Whatever you were told with PCL is what you got, unfortunately that was not our experience with RCI. Our last mini-suite on the Grand Princess seemed slightly larger than this Junior Suite, but generally I think the cabins were comparable. I also like that PCL gives you the choice of traditional or free-style dining. I saw no Trivia games on RCI, just some worksheets left in the Library daily for independent completion. That takes all the fun out of it, PCL gets you together with other passengers for these types of activities so you get the chance to meet others. Both could use a little help in the daytime activity schedules, how about something new! Overall, these 2 lines each have their strengths and weaknesses. Will I sail with RCI again? Absolutely. Do I like one line more than the other? In the end, not really... they both really give you an excellent cruise vacation. Read Less