First off let me say that we have sailed with 5 different cruise lines so are in the position of making comparisons. We look for good value for money in a holiday. This trip we sailed on RCI's Splendour of the Seas Greek island ... Read More
First off let me say that we have sailed with 5 different cruise lines so are in the position of making comparisons. We look for good value for money in a holiday. This trip we sailed on RCI's Splendour of the Seas Greek island cruise, leaving Venice (Italy) on 3rd October 2009, and calling at Split (Croatia), Corfu (Greece), Piraeus (Athens - Greece), Mykonos (Greece), Katakolon (Greece) and returning to Venice (Italy). There were 35 different nationalities amongst the passengers, the majority from the U.S.A., the next largest group was British then German.
The Ship. Difficult to fault the ship. Splendour is what I would call medium sized, holding a maximum of just under 2,100 passengers (on this trip there were a few more than 1800) and weighing in at around 70,000 tons displacement. Although apparently one of RCI oldest ships, you wouldn't know it from the way the ship is maintained. It is excellent, with few signs of wear and tear (a few marks or torn fabrics on the 42nd street theatre and Centrum couches.) It is well laid out and easy to find you way around unlike some other ships we have sailed on (Costa Serena - nightmare!). There are plenty of places to sit and relax in the evening either out on deck or inside, listening to the many offerings of live or recorded music you will find available all over the ship. There is a wide variety of bars, some focusing on music some with back-ground music. There is a "space" to suite everyone, but therein lies a problem; bars mean drink. With Royal Caribbean International, drink means profit; a BIG profit. More of this later, for the cost of drinks and extras with this company put a BIG dampener on this holiday for us. On the one and only full day at sea on this trip, there was plenty of room all over the ship, both inside and on the many sun decks to accommodate all us passengers with ease. Plenty of sun beds to go around. The crew also made the sea day very entertaining and supplying even more food (if that is possible) by way of an on deck BBQ, plus of course all manner of entertainment.
Cabin (sorry - stateroom) We were located in an inside "L" class cabin on deck 6 (main deck) with of course no windows at all. This cabin along with most others are referred to by RCI as a stateroom. Being inside and no windows, the room really was pitch back once the lights were out and many times we nearly over slept! It was good enough being clean, tidy and adequate. With a small toilet/shower facility and enough storage for all our clothes plus a small TV with enough channels and information available, though I was unable to find how to access our on board account via the TV. I suspect this cannot be done on this ship or level of stateroom. The bed was most comfortable, and absolutely huge (super king size). So big in fact that on my wife's side (fortunately) there was only 3 inches gap between the corner of the bed and the fitted cupboard/tv cabinet requiring my good lady to climb over the corner of the bed to access her side of the bed. She found this far from amusing at 3 A.M!, though at bed time I found it most amusing! The room was fairly quiet, but footfall noise from next deck up could become intrusive. Overall; not bad, not bad at all.
Food & Drink For many cruisers, dinning is a big part of the experience. There are two main dinning areas on board Splendour. The more formal "King & I" restaurant offering fixed time early (18:30hrs) or late (21:00hrs) servings or RCI's "My Time" dinning (for details of My Time please see RCI's web site) and the less formal self service "Windjammer" restaurant. Both offer very good food. The Windjammer was our chosen place to take breakfast, offering a staggering selection of food and drinks. You would have to be unbelievably fussy not to find something you liked. The food was always well presented, hot (were appropriate) and plentiful.
BEWARE; - If you choose fresh squeezed juices such as the orange, they are a separately chargeable item.
All other offerings are of course included. Well aren't they? Ah, well not quite. If you want coffee types other than the standard RCI free coffee, (which is quite good if you like strong tasting coffee which I do) for example Cappuccino, then this again is a separately chargeable item.
Dinner. For many cruisers, the highlight of the day. We elected for the formal early sitting and had opted to sit on a large 10 person table. RCI had selected a good group of passengers to sit together. We were blessed with a fabulous group of new friends, comprising of couples from England, Denmark, and the U.S.A. For us this was excellent and just what we wanted. With a fine selection of food, served well and tasting brilliant we were very pleased with the food. I would class the evening meals overall as very good rather than excellent. However, every evening there was always a different Asian vegetarian offering provided by the head chef who apparently is Asian and trained in classical Asian cuisine. Let me say, as someone who has plenty of experience with Asian food this guy really knows what he is doing with spices. The Asian vegetarian options were truly outstanding and worthy of an excellent rating.
Do you like a drink of wine with your meal? We do. This is one major source of irritation for us. After a good friend of mine returned from an RCI cruise and told me of the drink costs we contacted RCI before we sailed asking about drink prices on Splendour. Below is the listed reply from RCI; Draft Beer is $7.50 a pint, bottled beer is $5.25 or $6.25 for the larger Aluminium Cans. Drink of the Day is $6.95, Beefeater and Tonic, $7.50, Glass of House Wine $6.25, Bottle of House Wine $26 Mohito $7.50, Can of Coke $2.25. Dry Sack sherry $6.50 Bristol Creme sherry $6.25 Strongbow cider $5.75 Diet coke $2.24 Based on an exchange rate of 1.55$ to the UK pound, this makes house wine £16.79p. The (fractionally cheaper) option is to purchase a "wine package" where you pay up front and you get to choose which wines you care to drink from a fixed selection of offerings (go to Before You Board > Cruise Additions > Food & Drink on the RCI web site for full details). Different (more expensive) packages offer better quality and greater choice for a higher premium price. We eventually opted to purchase a 7 bottle "Gold" (cheapest) package for a total of £109 (including the mandatory 15% service charge!). On return from the cruise I researched the choices available and I discovered that most could be sourced in the UK for no more than around £6/bottle and most of those for less than £5/bottle. I am aware that you pay a premium for wine in a good restaurant and especially on cruise ships, but remember we have the good fortune to be able to compare with 4 other cruise lines, and RCI is by far, THE most expensive that we have sailed with when it comes to drink! It goes without saying, and rightly so, that you are not allowed to bring your own alcohol on board either initially or when re-boarding at the ports of call (where you baggage is scanned for security reasons - and I guess this would detect booze no doubt!). You can bring water etc back on board and you may want to consider that when you see the price of bottled water on board also.
Service Being a U.S. owned and managed ship, I had expected 1st class service throughout, especially when it is suggested that your end of cruise gratuity payment to the service staff is $9.75 per day per passenger! (this is discretionary, but this level of tipping IS expected!) Yes the service the in cabin (sorry, I mean stateroom) was adequate, as was the table service (if somewhat slow), but really no better than other ships we have sailed on. On several occasions we were asked (apologetically) if we could vacate the dining table ready for the next sitting. This was primarily because service systems (not personnel) and placements of the tables (too close for the waiters to easily progress around the table in a single rotation, but having to walk back and forth to get to all sides of the table), all conspired to slow service delivery down substantially. Food still arrived fresh and hot though so no complaints there. Again, on the menu you could find a wide variety of food choices, and you would be hard pressed not to fine something you liked. For coffee at the end of service, although listed on the menu, should you choose an "specialty" coffee such for example, cappuccino then guess what? Yes that's right' it's a separately chargeable item, plus of course the mandatory 15% service charge.
Entertainment We attended most shows in the 42nd. theatre and can report that most were good, two were excellent, and the remaining OK. Other offerings of recorded and themed music (frequently in the Viking Lounge at the top of the ship on deck 11) and in the Centrum are great and I enjoyed these offerings a lot. It has become a habit of ours that during or after the shows when cruising, that my wife and I enjoy a cocktail. My wife enjoys a brandy Alexander. She reports that sampling offerings from 4 of the bars on board. Not one got it right (no nutmeg apparently !!) and incorrect proportions of ingredients. Cost was $5.75 (+15% service charge) or about £4.26, still a little expensive. My regular choice is a Negroni. Sadly this contains more that one spirit, and although they mainly tasted fine for me a stomping $9.25 (£5.97) was WAY over the top. For example, this cocktail bought last February on Fred Olsen's Boudicca was around £3.50!!! You see what I mean?
Itinerary We chose this trip because of the itinerary. So yes it was exactly what we wanted and we got what we expected. We cannot comment about RCI's excursion offerings other than from what I saw of the prices they seemed just a little expensive compared with others we have done with other cruise lines, but on this trip we had the experience to "go it alone" (with help from other Cruise Critic submissions with tips and tricks that all worked out well)
Embarkation and disembarkation Now I appreciate that we travelled to and from the ship independently, locating and using the free RCI shuttle bus from Venice's Pizzale Roma to the pier and back again. First, embarkation: Thanks to Cruise Critic and a preliminary visit the day before sailing we found out from local bus personnel where the RCI shuttle bus would terminate at the main bus terminal, and it's a good job we did, for there were no signage what so every on cruise day pointing to when there shuttle bus stops!!!!. When you did find it, there was no organisation what so ever. The only RCI rep that came with the bus didn't speak Italian well enough to talk with the bus driver (good job one of the passengers did !!) and boarding the bus was madness, almost fighting to load your own cases into the luggage hold. When we did get the ship embarkation point, once again very little signage and no personnel to guide us. Once inside the check-in centre things were better but still horrendously slow and ponderous. Not a great start. Disembarkation: First we had to be up, dressed, breakfasted and off the ship by 08:20 (others had to be off well before us). If we wanted to stay on board until later, it would cost us $35 each, but would still have to vacate the cabin by 09:00, and relax and use the ship facilities until latest 15:30 (I think). You have to use your credit card to make any purchases on board during that time. Once we were actually off the ship, things were equally poor. Once out of the port terminal, no signage to direct us to the shuttle bus terminus, and few staff to offer directions. It took 20 minutes to find it pick up point, then a 1 hour wait in the queue for the one shuttle bus, but at least getting on the bus was supervised by someone with experience. This is a far cry from other companies I have used, were embarkation / disembarkation is generally smooth and slick. I suppose if we had used a taxi the journey to and from the bus terminal to the pier and back again would have been a lot smoother. Also bare in mind that at Venice the city bus terminal is only a 20-25 minute walk from the ship pier.
Gratuities We have touched on this already, but let us take a closer look. Gratuities and the level thereof can be quite emotive, for you are always aware that the people who are serving you are dependant on your gratuities to afford them a decent income for the long hours they work. Now think again; you are expected (though you don't really have to) pay gratuities at the rate of $9.75 (about £6.30) per day, per passenger. This was a 7 night cruise, so the total sum for us as a couple is around £88 per week! Now, add to this, EVERY purchase you make on board is subject to a further, mandatory 15% gratuity fee, this means for example that for table wine, you are paying gratuity twice for the same service! We are not amused.
Conclusion On the whole, yes we enjoyed the trip, but then again, any time away from work for me is quality time! Would I sail with Royal Caribbean International again? Well probably not. Not unless of course there was say about £200 on board credit included in the package. Value for money ? Well we did get what we thought was a good deal from our agents (GoCruise in Preston Lancs), including a couple of nights in Venice pre-cruise. So I guess the best we can say is that it was fair value for money, but not good.
While I mention Venice, allow me to say a few words about this city. Venice is a city I adore. We have been there now 4 times, the last being just 2 years ago, when we concluded that it was a fair place price wise to visit, with stunning architecture with that exquisite Italian style that you only fine in this part of the world.
Cost wise, the same cannot be said for it now though. Yes, I know there exchange rate does not favour visiting EU countries with about a 17% (+) drop in value for us English over the last 12-18 months, but comparing costs with our last visit 2 years ago, we estimate that costs are around 35% (+) more expensive. For example, an average though nice meal for two with a glass of house wine each and two courses only, in a nice "al fresco" type restaurant, NOT near the popular tourist centres of Rialto or San Marco, costed out to over 60 Euro (or about £56 GBP). With beer about 4.50 Euro per 500ml (about £4.2 /pint), two American coffee's, and 1 cappuccino plus 1 Danish type pastry was 10 Euro (£9.30 ish), we would have to think carefully about re-visiting Venice in the foreseeable future, which is a great pity for it is a truly wonderful place.
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