Splendour of the Seas—7 night Greece & Turkey-- October 12-19, 2013
I recently returned from the 7 night Greece & Turkey cruise onboard Splendour of the Seas. It has been some years since I was last on Splendour and I was anxious to sail her after her $50M revitilazation.
I flew from Seattle to Venice via Washington DC and Brussels on United Airlines, using miles to upgrade to Business Class. United’s flat bed seats are wonderful and allowed me to arrive well rested.
Upon arrival in Venice, I had prebooked private water taxi’s to take my group to our pre cruise hotel, then from the hotel to the ship and finally from the ship to the airport at the end of the cruise . By booking in advance at www.venicelink.com we were able to secure reduced pricing. There were 11 of us in my group, and the total cost for all 3 water taxi transfers came to $90 USD per person which was significantly less than taking taxi’s and/or the cruise line transfers and it was by far the easiest way to get around.
After claiming our luggage, we proceeded to the Venice Link booth in the arrivals hall to exchange our voucher for tickets. We were given the number of our 2 water taxi’s and began the long walk (about 10 mins) from the airport terminal to the water taxi pier. Once on the pier it was shear chaos. We saw our 2 designated boats at the pier, however they were loaded with other people and took off. The employee working the pier was less than helpful and after a few minutes things were sorted out and we hopping into 2 boats for the short ride to our hotel.
I booked the group into the Hotel Arlecchino which is located on the canal, but close to the main train and bus terminals. It’s also very close to the Pier making the transfer to the ship the following morning very convenient. The hotel was inexpensive by Venice standards, but still cost us $230 USD for the night, including breakfast and free WiFi. The Hotel Arlecchino is a very small property with only 26 rooms. They do not have an onsite restaurant or bar, but there is a small breakfast room which offers a very decent breakfast buffet that’s included in the price of the room rate. The rooms in this hotel are extremely small, but they were clean, comfortable and relatively quiet. The bathroom was quite large, but the lack of a shower curtain made it impossible not to flood the entire bathroom. The beds were very hard and not that comfortable, but after flying all night, nobody had trouble getting any sleep. The manager of the hotel, Francesco, was wonderful and could not do enough to ensure we had a nice stay.
Our rooms were ready by the time we arrived, so after quickly dropping off our luggage in the rooms we were off to explore the sites of Venice. Half of the group had been to Venice before, while the other half were first time visitors. We purchased a 24 hour Vaporetto Pass prior to leaving the airport at the HelloVenezia booth for 20 Euro each, and used the Vaporetto’s to get around the city. First stop was St. Mark’s Square for a quick snack and some gelato. We wondered around the shops for a while before taking the 1 hour, self guided tour of the Doges Palace. Following the tour we set out on a gondola ride through the canals. The cost for each gondola was 80 Euro for up to six people. If you ride the gondola’s after 7pm, the cost increases to 100 Euro. The gondola ride lasted approximately 40 minutes and after returning we hopped back on the Vaporetto to the Rialto Bridge. Once there, the group split up to explore the shops and to find a liquor store where we could purchase some local wine to bring onboard the ship with us. After an hour or two of shopping it was time for dinner. I had made reservations at a local restaurant I found years ago and it was just as good this time as it had always been. The restaurant Trattoria Dona Onesta, (www.donaonesta.com) is a very small place tucked away in one of the residential neighborhoods, so there’s no worry of being gouged with high prices and inferior quality food. Everything is made from scratch to order, and the most expensive item on their menu is 15 EURO. At the end of the meal, the waiter offered us complimentary shots or Grappa, Lemoncello or another liquor.
After a wonderful meal and a full day walking the canals of Venice it was time to head back to the hotel and get some sleep. Because the hotel is not on a busy part of the canal, it was relatively quiet at night. We slept with the windows open and there was minimal street noise.
Breakfast in the morning is served from 7am-10:30am and consisted of a selection of cold cut meats, cheeses, fruit, oatmeal, pastries, juices and wonderful espresso and cappuccino.
I had arranged for the water taxis to pick us up at the hotel at 10am and they were right on time as promised. Once onboard it was a short 20 minutes to the Pier. Upon arrival at the pier, there were dock workers available to take our checked luggage directly to the ship. We then made the short walk into the terminal to begin the check in process. Once inside the terminal, they announced check in would begin at 11am and they were right on time. Checking in was a bit slower than we’ve experienced at other embarkation ports, but it wasn’t anything major. Immediately after receiving our SetSail cards we were invited to go through Security and directly onboard the Splendour. We were sitting outside the Windjammer on the pool deck at 11:30am. The Windjammer opened shortly thereafter for lunch and as we were some of the first onboard it was very quiet. Unfortunately that didn’t last long, and by around 12:30pm, the place was jam packed with people trying to find a place to sit.
Just before 1pm, they announced cabins were ready for occupancy so we headed down to Deck 8 and our Aft Junior Suites. Originally I had us all booked into E1 balcony cabins, but shortly before final payment, there was a price drop and we were able to score JS’s for $60 pp less than the balcony rate. Also by some miracle, all of the aft facing JS’s were available, so it was a no-brainer to make the move.
My cabin was 8588 and it, as well as the JS’s our group occupied was in great condition. The furniture all looked like it had been replaced during the renovation, and the bathroom was completely redone with new sink, vanity and abundant storage. The beds were very comfortable and there was more than enough storage places. The balcony was huge and contained a table, 2 chairs and 2 loungers. The only issue we had with this cabin, was due to soot from the ships funnel. It didn’t appear every day, and depending on which way the wind is blowing you may or may not have any soot at all. Our cabin attendant, while not the sharpest knife in the drawer, did manage to keep our room clean and he did completely scrub the entire balcony and furniture a few times during the week, so the soot wasn’t really much of an issue for us and we enjoyed many hours on our balcony.
After settling in and unpacking we went off to explore the ship before Muster Drill. The Splendour was refurbished in 2012, and the ship looks brand new. There were very little signs of wear and tear, and I don’t recall any signs of rust on the exterior. I think the major drawback to this ship is there are too many guests given the small size of the ship and its venues. The Schooner Bar was standing room only every night until closing time. I’m sure this had a lot to do with Anselmo Boles who is one of the best piano entertainers in the fleet, but nonetheless, it did get old not being able to find a seat in the lounge or at the bar any time we went in. The Centrum R Bar was also another place you could not get near. Every seat at the bar was taken and the seating in the Centrum was also full. The Top Hat Lounge was fairly large, but wasn’t used much during this cruise which made little sense given the crowded Centrum and Schooner Bar. There was pretty much non-stop entertainment in the Centrum. During the day, they had several dance classes, yoga and light music being played. At night, there was live music and several parties taking place along with the new Centrum Ariel Shows. The casino was very small, and did not have its own bar, so if you weren’t going to gamble there was no point stopping in there at all. One note.. the casino on this ship was the tightest I’ve ever seen. Very little winning happening here!
The shops onboard were also very low on stock. I’m not sure if this was due to the end of the Europe Season or not, but there was very little to be had, including RCCL logo items. They had the usual daily sales and $10 watches, but the selection was disappointing.
The new Diamond and Concierge Lounges could have been located in a better place other than within the Top Hat Lounge and the fact that they didn’t have walls that extended all the way to the ceiling made them a bit noisy when events were taking place in the Top Hat. The rooms are fairly good size, but the furniture is way too big and there’s way too much of it for the size of the room. Fortunately the Concierge Lounge never had more than a handful of people in it at any given time so it wasn’t too cumbersome. I never set foot into the Diamond Lounge so I’m not sure how crowded it was.
The Pool Bar was the place to be during the sea days, and the live poolside music was provided by all three of the ships house bands at various times throughout the cruise. The main pool was heated to a comfortable level, and there was very little chair hogging which was a miracle given the large number of Germans (they’re notorious chair hogs) onboard. The Solarium Pool was packed every time we passed through, and it was so hot in there, I couldn’t understand how anyone could spend more than a few seconds in there, but it didn’t seem to stop people from camping out. The Park Café was a great place to grab a quick breakfast before going shore, or a light snack upon returning to the ship. The Viking Crown Lounge was used at the nightly disco with the usual music offerings and an a la carte Tapas Menu.
Because the Splendour spends her winters in South America, most of her crew are Brazilian due to a law that requires the ship to be staffed with 80% Brazilian citizens. This definitely changes the overall atmosphere compared to other ships in the fleet that have a more varied crew. While the service was overall very good, the attitude of the Brazilians was more of “I’m here to do my job and get a paycheck” rather than “I’m happy to be here and I enjoy my job and my guests”. I don’t mean anything negative against the Brazilian culture and I have some very good friends that are Brazilian as well, but it must be mentioned. Even one of the Brazilian Bartenders said he doesn’t like working on a ship that’s mostly staffed by his countrymen for the same reasons I mentioned. Our cabin attendant did the basics and any requests needed to be made multiple times, for instance, we did not have any tissues in our bathroom and it took several requests and 4 days to get a box of tissues. Getting him to keep us supplied with ice was another challenge. He also had a hard time comprehending the meaning of the “Do Not Disturb” sign. Several times, he would call us on the phone, thus disturbing our nap, to tell us our laundry was ready, C&A tried to deliver a cheese plate etc. and because our DND sign was out they would have to come back. Obviously if the DND sign is out, you shouldn’t be calling!
The staff at Guest Services was WONDERFUL and could not have been more helpful with any inquiry. Similarly, our dining room staff was also excellent. We had a 12 top, near the windows on Deck 4, traditional late seating. Mohammed from India, and Eder (not sure where he was from) made a great team and were a pleasure to see each evening. Our Head Waiter Andriy from Romania was also one of the best we’ve ever had.
The Cruise Director, Bill Bruckhorst was in a word… BORING! He should be working for HAL where there’s never anything happening after 9pm. He’s very lazy and does not like to run the usual game shows and other events so the ship lacked the usual nightly entertainment options. Even his cruise staff don’t like working with him because he does the bare minimum.
We did not attend any of the main production shows or the guest performances. I did hear the RCCL Singers during one of the Centrum ariel shows, and they seemed to be talented. The Centrum shows only lasted 15 mins, and the best one by far was the last one. If you want to see these performances and you don’t want to stand.. get there EARLY. Each time we found a decent spot near the railing on Deck 7 which turned out to be a perfect vantage point.
This was the first cruise where we’ve eaten in the MDR since the new menus were introduced and the food was vastly improved. We dined 5 nights in the MDR, opting for Chops and Chef’s Table on the 2 remaining nights. The food in the MDR was delicious every night and the new menu items were a nice change. The quality has also improved and the portion size was perfect. Within our group, I think we tried most, if not all of the items on the menu and nobody and any complains. Due to the shortage of snails, escargot was only offered on the formal nights even though it is still listed on the “Always Available” menu. Dinner in Chops was as good as it always is, and the service was fantastic. Chef’s Table was a bit of a disappointment and not an experience I would repeat on this ship. Unlike Chef’s Table on Oasis, Radiance, Rhapsody and a few other ships, where the Chef’s Table is in a private, secluded location, on Splendour it’s located in the MDR, but the walls do not extend to the ceiling. Combined with the fact that the walls are open to the MDR, it’s very noisy. During our 3 plus hour meal, we were “treated” the waiters singing during both first and second seatings. All of the noise from the MDR carries right into the Chef’s Table and it’s far from a relaxing meal, and it’s impossible to hold any conversations during dinner. It was so loud that both the Chef and the Sommelier had to walk around the table when explaining the menu items as it was impossible to hear them if they stood at the head of the table. Whoever designed this space should have their head examined. In spite of the noise, the food was excellent and the service was top notch but this is the first and last time I dine at a Chef’s Table that’s not completely walled off and private.
The Windjammer offered up the usual fare for breakfast, including a made to order egg station. Lunch brought varied choices, all of which were very good, hot and fresh. There was a nice selection of European cold cuts, cheeses, olives, etc. out each day and they always had some sort of whole, steamed fish available. One thing to note, they did not have any of the flavored waters available that you’ll find on the other ships. Free drinks were strictly “Old School” water, iced tea and lemonade and of course coffee and hot tea.
Park Café was a great place to grab a quick bite for breakfast, lunch or a midday snack as was the Boardwalk Dog House. Food at both venues was always fresh and tasty.
Now on to the ports… On this cruise, our ports were Split, Kusadasi, Mykonos and Argostoli with 2 sea days. The weather forecast this week was not too promising with calls for 60-80% chance of rain showers and cooler temps. We lucked out and had sunny skies and temps in the upper 70’s to low 80’s.
Our first stop was in Split, Croatia and having been here before we opted to head out of town. I booked a private guide and driver for the day to take us off the beaten path. Split is supposed to be a tender port, but to our surprise (and to the surprise of our crew as well) we were given space to dock. The crew said this was the first time they had ever docked in Split and were a little taken back by this. Not having to tender is always a good thing, and as soon as the gangway was cleared, we were off to meet our guide who was on the pier waiting for us as promised. We loaded up into a very nice minibus and began the 70 mile drive to KRKA National Park. During the drive, our guide told us about life in Croatia and gave commentary on the areas we passed through. Upon arriving at KRKA, we began by exploring the Ethno Village and learning about how the early settlers milled corn and used the power of the parks 16 waterfalls for hydro-electricity. We then set out on a leisurely 2 hour walk through the park visiting the 16 different waterfalls and learning about the flora and fauna. Everyone in my group loved the natural beauty of this park and because we got an early start, the place was virtually empty. Just as we were leaving, the RCCL tour busses began to arrive. After leaving KRKA, we headed back toward Split, this time taking local roads to see more of the Croatian countryside. We made a stop at the village of Trogir where we spent a few hours with our guide learning about this area. It was Sunday so most of the shops were closed, but we managed to find a gelato shop and the town was not crowded at all. After leaving Trogir, we went back to the ship just before sail away. We had a private guide and driver for a full 8 hours at a cost of 59 Euro per person.. far less than what the ship was charging for a tour half that length. Our guide Frane was great and very accommodating to our needs.
Our next day was a sea day, and we spent it enjoying the sun and solitude of our aft balcony.
Next stop was Kusadasi, Turkey and again I arranged for a private guide and driver for an all day tour of Ephesus and Sirince Village. We were met on the pier by our guide Sami who escorted us to our waiting minibus. Kusadasi was a mad house this morning, as it was a local holiday. We quickly left the city and headed out toward the Temple of Artemis and the Church of St. John. We made a brief stop at the Isa Bey Mosque and explored the grounds and interior. Sami was an Archeology Major and was a wealth of knowledge, without going into so much detail that you became uninterested. He was able to answer every question and really painted a picture of what it was like to live during the ancient times. Following the Mosque, we drove to the Village of Sirince, again arriving before the crowds, and had about an hour to explore the Bazaar and various merchants/cafes. Enroute to Ephesus, we made a brief stop at a local artists shop. This man worked in pottery and he demonstrated how he forms the pieces by hand on his potter’s wheel. We also saw how each item is hand painted and were treated some some delicious pomegranate juice. The items in this shop were beautiful and very reasonably priced. They even told us if any of the items broke in transit back to our homes, they would send us replacements for free. The people in this shop were wonderful.. not pushy at all and even rounded down when figuring out the exchange rate. Everyone in the group found something to purchase and it was nice to support a local artisan in the hopes that they keep the craft alive.
Our next stop was at the House of the Virgin Mary. Sami had called ahead to make sure it wasn’t too crowded as he said some groups have spent up to 3 hours in line trying to get in. Luckily his friend was working there that day, and we managed to get right in. The house itself is very small, and not much to see, but the grounds were absolutely beautiful. We spend about an hour there before heading off to the main attraction.. Ephesus. Once at Ephesus, Sami provided excellent commentary on the ruins and how life was back then. He kept us away from the crowds and took us to a few out of way sites that I’m sure not many tourists get to see. Our tour included the Terrace Houses which were fascinating to see and again really came alive with Sami’s vast knowledge. We spend about 3 hours total at Ephesus and the time flew by. Everyone agreed Ephesus was much more impressive than the ruins of Pompeii. After a fantastic afternoon, we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant who set up a table for us outside in their garden. We were served a huge Greek salad, bread, water, soft drinks, and a meal of grilled kebobs with pita bread and rice, finished off with a piece of cake and fresh fruit. Lunch was included in the cost of the tour and at $129.00 USD per person for the entire day… it was a bargain! Upon arriving back in Kusadasi, people had the option of exploring on their own, going back to the ship, or going to see a carpet demonstration. I’ve heard horror stories of the pushy carpet salesman and I had a morbid curiosity to see how bad it really was. The store Sami took us to was not high pressure at all and was very informative. They told us a lot about how the rugs are made, how to tell a fake from the real thing etc. They offered us Turkish coffee, wine, water etc and at the end of the demonstration they of course wanted to sell you a rug. We simply declined the sales pitch and thanked them for their hospitality and that was it.
Mykonos was our next port, and we had to tender, as NCL was given the single spot at the pier. Actually in Mykonos, it’s better to tender as the tenders leave you right in the center of town, whereas if you dock, you must take a shuttle bus to town. Everyone in my group was free to explore on their own today and we all went off in search of different things, wandering up and down the small streets and alley ways. The walk to the windmills is a short and easy one and affords greats photos of the town not to mention the ship at anchor in the harbor. Due to it being the end of the season, most of the shops had discounted their merchandise and there were a lot of good deals to be had.
Back onboard the weather turned during the night, and the up until this point, smooth seas became a little angry and rough. It also became very windy but the ship handled the 30 foot swells very well.
We weren’t scheduled to dock in Argostoli until 12 noon, but around 11:30am the Captain made an announcement in all the cabins that due to the high winds and rough seas, the port of Argostoli was closed and we would not be able to make our stop here. He went on to explain that the surrounding ports of Corfu and another few islands were also closed so we would have to spend our day at sea. We spend the afternoon circling around the islands following by two or three other cruise ships that were also locked out of their port calls. The seas were rough, it was windy but sunny and we had the perfect spot to relax on our aft balcony so all was good. The ship continued to rock and roll for the remainder of the day and night, but the following morning we woke up to calm seas, sunny skies and a perfect last day at sea. Nobody really seemed to be too upset at missing this port.. there’s not a lot of information on it and everyone in my group had planned just to walk around the town.
Missing Argostoli turned out to be a blessing in disguise though. Because we were basically 7 hours ahead of schedule in arriving back to Venice, we basically spend most of our last sea day hovering off the coast of Venice. This was a blessing because the morning of our arrival back in Venice there was very dense fog that closed the port for a few hours in the morning. Because we had been so close, we were able to sneak in during a break in the fog and were docked in Venice at 4am. When I woke up at 6am, I went out onto the balcony and the fog was so thick, I couldn’t see the pier or the terminal 2 feet away! Unfortunately the 4 other ships (MSC and NCL) were stuck waiting for the fog to lift and didn’t begin to pull into their piers until after 9am. I hope everyone on those ships was able to get to the airport in time for their flights.
Debarkation morning, we went for a quick bite in the Windjammer and then carried our own luggage off the ship at around 8am. As a point of reference, those doing the Express Departure were being called off around 6:30am. Normal debarkation began around 7am and they had listed in the Compass that everyone was to be off the ship by 9am. My group walked off the ship at 8am, luggage in tow and were met by our private water taxis right next to the ship. We piled into our 2 water taxis and were on our way to the airport in a matter of minutes.
Now a word about the Venice airport… It’s a ZOO! Lucky for us those other ships weren’t able to dock when we did or it would have been even more of a madhouse. The airlines do not accept checked luggage until 3 hours prior to your flight departure, so you are all stuck in this small waiting area of the ticket counters with no place to sit, stand, move or breathe. Lines for Security are long and slow moving as are the lines to check in with your airline. If at all possible, I suggest you check in and print your boarding passes on the ship the night before.
In summary, everyone had a wonderful time on the Splendour. While her venues are somewhat small and overcrowded compared to her larger sisters she still provided us a comfortable home for a week of cruising.
If anyone has any questions, I’ll do my best to answer. I will post the link for my video and pictures as soon as I get them uploaded.