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We just returned from Splendour of the Seas sailing out of Galveston TX over the Thanksgiving holidays. The ship was beautiful and in good shape. We boarded about 11 AM and they were replacing carpet on the main pool deck. There were no lines and embarkation was fast and easy. RCCL is refurbishing a new shore facility next to the original one now used by Carnival. Parking is at outside lots four or five blocks away. Drop off your passengers and luggage at the terminal, go park and catch the shuttle bus back. The police did a good job of keeping traffic moving. Please note that there is a discount parking lot not run by the port facility at Market & 33rd street that also runs shuttles. They will let you park before 11AM and they are a little less ($65 for the 10 days), the port facility parking made you wait until 11AM. The meals in the dining room were good on most nights but the menu selections could use improvement on some nights. It seems that RCCL has just taken the seven-day menu and stretched it to 10. Fortunately, there were the standard RCCL fallbacks for the nights with the not-so-exciting menu (NY strip steak, rosemary chicken, and Caesar salads). There were two formal nights (the two Saturdays); you got Filets on the first and lobster on the second. There were only two midnight buffets in the main dining room and both were on the formal nights. The grand buffet was on the second formal night, at 12:30, just after the lobster. The other was a chocolate buffet the second night. It would be nice if RCCL would put the buffets on nights other than the nights when the best food is served in main dining room just hours before. There was a Tex-Mex buffet at the pool deck one night but it was before an early tender day so we didn't go. Our service in the main dining room was outstanding. The Wind Jammer Buffet was always crowded and the food and service were not as good as the main dining room. The hours of operation seemed to be less than previous RCCL cruises (Breakfast 7-9:30 most days and lunch 11:30 till 2PM), which explains the crowd. There was only one omelet station and two serving lines. Often tables were not cleared promptly, which made the crowd seem worse. The orange juice for breakfast (Wind Jammer only) was always watery. We decided to go to the main dining room and avoid the overcrowded Wind Jammer for most meals. The Head waiters at the main dining room seemed surprised how busy it was but they seated people quickly and service was good. Before we gave up on the buffet, they served various types of fajitas (pork & turkey) but they did not have flour tortillas, only hard corn meal taco shells. Someone told us later in the cruise that they did finally get some flour tortillas on the buffet for the fajitas. Coming out of Texas, you figure that they should get this right. The indoor pool was very nice (even though it was salt water) and the two inside hot tubs were in almost constant use. RCCL has finally changed their policy of closing pools at sunset and they did keep one of the two pools open 24 hours per day. The outside pool was too cold to use much of the cruise, since it is filled with sea water and there was often a lot of wind on the main pool deck. They did have a Jamaican band, Hot Spices (keyboard, drummer, steel drum and rhythm guitar) that played three 45-minutes sets each day on the main pool deck. Every song that they played sounded exactly the same and soon most PAX were avoiding the main pool deck when the band was playing. Chair hogs were not a problem on this cruise. 10 days of a not so good band that only knows one tune was way too much. There was a nice trio (piano, bass guitar & drummer) that played in the Centrum before and after dinner and Sheri could play and sing about anything. She had an excellent voice. What a contrast to the pool band. The ship's orchestra was also very good, but we didn't see enough of them. There was only one production show for the entire 10 day cruise. The cruise director said that they were new to the ship and had just boarded when we did. The one show they did do, on the last formal night, was very good and I definitely would like to have seen more of them. They also did two song selections from "HAIR" for the farewell show on the last night. The 42nd street Theater was very nice with great sight lines. There was no balcony or columns to block the view. Every seat had a good view and every seat was very comfortable. Saving of seats was not a problem and cocktail service was good. The other band which played in the Top Hat lounge after dinner and the 42nd Street theater shows was midnight sun. They played soft rock & roll and would have been good if they had someone that could sing. Most of the karaoke singers (karaoke was in the top hat lounge when Midnight Sun was off) were better than the Midnight Sun lead singer. Hard to believe but there was no C & W band or even a band that could play C&W songs for a cruise coming out of Texas. RCCL should fire both Hot Spices and Midnight Sun and replace them with some local bands that can play a wide selection of music. The other night spot was the Crown Viking Lounge. It was great if you like Salsa, hip-hop or modern day Latin music (no Rock & Roll or C&W here). It should be renamed the Crown Crew lounge because most of the people were ship staff, gift shop or Spa personnel. It was never crowded because there just aren't that many PAX that like that kind of music sailing out of Galveston. The Cruise staff was also new and seemed very un-organized. Richard Cooper was the cruise director and his wife was the social host. They were nice but again it seemed like RCCL took a 7-day cruise program and stretched it out to 10 days. Two nights in a row we were scheduled to have a one-man classical music residual but on the second night, 10 minutes before Showtime, they announced that the piano guy would not be on and the magic show scheduled for the next night would be on instead. We had already blown off the piano guy (after the violin player the night before) and were in the hot tubs when the change was announced and so we missed the magic act. The next night, I did catch the piano guy play for his 40 minute show and it was really stale. My wife made the right decision by skipping him. I do not like the trend that RCCL seems to be going to one man 40 minute shows. Hopefully this trend will be reversed. There were other events that were scheduled in the Daily Compass that were cancelled or ran late because the cruise staff just didn't show up on time. Funny how many activities were cancelled but they never missed having the 2 hour art auctions in the Centrum. I am amazed what people would endure that for free champagne and a chance to buy overpriced art. Even in the library up on deck 7 with the doors closed, you could hear the art auction 4 fours below. The Crown & Anchor Welcome Back party was also poorly planned. It was on the last formal night, from 7:45 to 8:30 for both seatings. The problem is if you had late seating, you were halfway through (show time was 7:15 to 8:15 for late seating) the only production show for the entire cruise and when the show was over, the early seating gang had all of the seats in the Top Cat lounge. It was standing room only; (there were 185 registered for the Cruise Critic party on this cruise so they knew they had a lot of returning PAX) and with the cruise being so light on entertainment, they should have planned a party for each seating. More poor planning by the cruise director and staff. We expected to tender in Grand Cayman and this actually went pretty well since we were there by 7AM and they had open tendering at 8:40 after all of the ships excursions had left. They announced that tender tickets would be available beginning at 9 AM. The tender ride was short and seas were calm. We expected to dock at Cozumel but did not. There were 10 ships in Cozumel and only 6 could dock. The Splendour was one of the ones that did not dock. In fact, it was so windy; the Splendour could not anchor and had to drift all day. This is really poor planning since RCCL had a berth for the Monarch which they could have used before the Monarch's scheduled arrival (noon till 8PM) and then tendered us back from the same dock. The tendering procedure was handled very poorly by the cruise staff. The Daily Compass, which is normally printed and distributed by the cabin attendants during dinner the night before was not even printed. We asked at the purser's desk, they indicated that it wasn't printed yet and would be distributed to the cabins during the night. The next morning, still no Compass and most people did not know that we were tendering. Finally, the Daily Compass was printed and distributed during breakfast and it said to get tender tickets from the Champagne bar at 8:45. There was a mob in the Centrum beginning shortly after 8AM. (More poor planning.) The social hostess showed up at 8:45 and since she could not get to Champagne Bar because of the mob, she began handing out tender tickets from the Centrum steps where the mob converged from all sides. The people who had been patiently standing in line at the Champagne Bar lost out and got on later tenders. There were also a lot of people in the line for tender tickets that had RCCL excursions and they needed to be getting on the tenders reserved for them instead of delaying both the boarding process ands the passing out tender ticket process. Since the tendering seemed to be a last minute surprise for RCCI, and instructions in the Daily Compass were distributed very late, it is was clearly a mess that should have been handled better. Proper planning would be to begin passing out tender tickets at 6:00 at the shore excursion desk when there would have been no line. A sign could have told PAX on listed excursions that they didn't need tender tickets and where they should go and when. Since it was windy and rough, the process was very slow. The first boat loaded was the tour excursion boat going directly to the mainland for ships tours. This took nearly an hour. (Remember some PAX that were supposed to be getting on it were in line getting tender tickets) Next the first tender was loaded with ships tours going to Cozumel and then tender tickets 1 & 2. The Captain was very nice and kept coming on the PA and apologizing. Bottom line is RCCL needs to rearrange the itinerary so that the Splendour docks in Cozumel on a less busy day and if tendering is necessary, a better system of tender tickets and information needs to be planned. Our family did the resort Scuba course in Cozumel with Eagle Ray divers. They had no problems with our group being late and provided very good and patient instruction. Highly recommended. Grand Cayman was great and we did the sailboat tour to Sting Ray City with Captain Bryan. Nice boat and a good price. Not crowded like the ships tours. Roatan is pretty much a beach and diving stop. The Island is green and tropical and has good beaches and great diving. We had Foster's resort (just down the beach from where the ship's tours go) pick us up and we spent a relaxing Thanksgiving day on a nice beach, did some snorkeling and sea kayaking and returned to the ship for turkey dinner that night. Key West was nice and the weather was wonderful but the stay is too short for anything other than shopping. Although scheduled to dock at 7AM (8AM local time- this was the only port where ship's time was different from local time) the ship was not cleared by US INS until after 9AM and then you had to show passports on the gangplank to exit. This left only about 4 hours of shore time. One of our table mates took the PT boat ride ($40 for 3 hours) and said it was great. We just shopped and walked around. Too little time to parasail, so our boys will have to wait till the next cruise. On Jamaica we took the ship's tour to Dunn's river falls and lunch at the Margaritaville in Ocho Rios. They transported us in 25 person A/C buses; diving time about 2 hours each way. Percy was our driver and he was very nice and also very safe (see other messages about other buses). Lunch was chicken, rice and fish buffet in the crowded upstairs room set aside for ships tours (no Cheeseburger in paradise) and took most of the time allowed for the Island Village stop. Only about 5 minutes shopping at Island Village but the bus did stop halfway back for a shopping/rest room break and also shopping at a selected shopping center in Mo-Bay. We were back at the dock by 3:30PM but two of the ship's tour buses where delayed by traffic and the Captain delayed the ships departure until 5:30. If you are on a tight schedule or traveling a long distance, it is best to pay the extra $ for a ship's tour because they will wait. At all other stops, we arranged our own tours, had smaller groups and saved $. The children's programs seem to be well run and our teens had fun. There were over 200 kids on this holiday sailing and they were not a problem. We had a lot of fun and didn't let the minor problems with the cruise staff and second rate bands bother us. Hopefully they will get organized, get better bands and make this cruise even more fun. Hey for the first 10 day sailing out of Galveston, it was pretty good and I recommend it to everyone. Gary.Bowden@bakeratlas.com April, 2003

Splendour of the Seas

Splendour of the Seas Cruise Review by Gary Bowden

Trip Details
  • Sail Date: December 1899
  • Destination:
We just returned from Splendour of the Seas sailing out of Galveston TX over the Thanksgiving holidays. The ship was beautiful and in good shape.
We boarded about 11 AM and they were replacing carpet on the main pool deck. There were no lines and embarkation was fast and easy. RCCL is refurbishing a new shore facility next to the original one now used by Carnival. Parking is at outside lots four or five blocks away. Drop off your passengers and luggage at the terminal, go park and catch the shuttle bus back. The police did a good job of keeping traffic moving. Please note that there is a discount parking lot not run by the port facility at Market & 33rd street that also runs shuttles. They will let you park before 11AM and they are a little less ($65 for the 10 days), the port facility parking made you wait until 11AM.
The meals in the dining room were good on most nights but the menu selections could use improvement on some nights. It seems that RCCL has just taken the seven-day menu and stretched it to 10. Fortunately, there were the standard RCCL fallbacks for the nights with the not-so-exciting menu (NY strip steak, rosemary chicken, and Caesar salads).
There were two formal nights (the two Saturdays); you got Filets on the first and lobster on the second. There were only two midnight buffets in the main dining room and both were on the formal nights. The grand buffet was on the second formal night, at 12:30, just after the lobster. The other was a chocolate buffet the second night. It would be nice if RCCL would put the buffets on nights other than the nights when the best food is served in main dining room just hours before.
There was a Tex-Mex buffet at the pool deck one night but it was before an early tender day so we didn't go. Our service in the main dining room was outstanding. The Wind Jammer Buffet was always crowded and the food and service were not as good as the main dining room. The hours of operation seemed to be less than previous RCCL cruises (Breakfast 7-9:30 most days and lunch 11:30 till 2PM), which explains the crowd. There was only one omelet station and two serving lines. Often tables were not cleared promptly, which made the crowd seem worse. The orange juice for breakfast (Wind Jammer only) was always watery. We decided to go to the main dining room and avoid the overcrowded Wind Jammer for most meals. The Head waiters at the main dining room seemed surprised how busy it was but they seated people quickly and service was good. Before we gave up on the buffet, they served various types of fajitas (pork & turkey) but they did not have flour tortillas, only hard corn meal taco shells. Someone told us later in the cruise that they did finally get some flour tortillas on the buffet for the fajitas. Coming out of Texas, you figure that they should get this right.
The indoor pool was very nice (even though it was salt water) and the two inside hot tubs were in almost constant use. RCCL has finally changed their policy of closing pools at sunset and they did keep one of the two pools open 24 hours per day. The outside pool was too cold to use much of the cruise, since it is filled with sea water and there was often a lot of wind on the main pool deck. They did have a Jamaican band, Hot Spices (keyboard, drummer, steel drum and rhythm guitar) that played three 45-minutes sets each day on the main pool deck. Every song that they played sounded exactly the same and soon most PAX were avoiding the main pool deck when the band was playing. Chair hogs were not a problem on this cruise. 10 days of a not so good band that only knows one tune was way too much.
There was a nice trio (piano, bass guitar & drummer) that played in the Centrum before and after dinner and Sheri could play and sing about anything. She had an excellent voice. What a contrast to the pool band. The ship's orchestra was also very good, but we didn't see enough of them. There was only one production show for the entire 10 day cruise. The cruise director said that they were new to the ship and had just boarded when we did. The one show they did do, on the last formal night, was very good and I definitely would like to have seen more of them. They also did two song selections from "HAIR" for the farewell show on the last night. The 42nd street Theater was very nice with great sight lines. There was no balcony or columns to block the view. Every seat had a good view and every seat was very comfortable. Saving of seats was not a problem and cocktail service was good.
The other band which played in the Top Hat lounge after dinner and the 42nd Street theater shows was midnight sun. They played soft rock & roll and would have been good if they had someone that could sing. Most of the karaoke singers (karaoke was in the top hat lounge when Midnight Sun was off) were better than the Midnight Sun lead singer. Hard to believe but there was no C & W band or even a band that could play C&W songs for a cruise coming out of Texas. RCCL should fire both Hot Spices and Midnight Sun and replace them with some local bands that can play a wide selection of music. The other night spot was the Crown Viking Lounge. It was great if you like Salsa, hip-hop or modern day Latin music (no Rock & Roll or C&W here). It should be renamed the Crown Crew lounge because most of the people were ship staff, gift shop or Spa personnel. It was never crowded because there just aren't that many PAX that like that kind of music sailing out of Galveston.
The Cruise staff was also new and seemed very un-organized. Richard Cooper was the cruise director and his wife was the social host. They were nice but again it seemed like RCCL took a 7-day cruise program and stretched it out to 10 days. Two nights in a row we were scheduled to have a one-man classical music residual but on the second night, 10 minutes before Showtime, they announced that the piano guy would not be on and the magic show scheduled for the next night would be on instead. We had already blown off the piano guy (after the violin player the night before) and were in the hot tubs when the change was announced and so we missed the magic act. The next night, I did catch the piano guy play for his 40 minute show and it was really stale. My wife made the right decision by skipping him. I do not like the trend that RCCL seems to be going to one man 40 minute shows. Hopefully this trend will be reversed.
There were other events that were scheduled in the Daily Compass that were cancelled or ran late because the cruise staff just didn't show up on time. Funny how many activities were cancelled but they never missed having the 2 hour art auctions in the Centrum. I am amazed what people would endure that for free champagne and a chance to buy overpriced art. Even in the library up on deck 7 with the doors closed, you could hear the art auction 4 fours below.
The Crown & Anchor Welcome Back party was also poorly planned. It was on the last formal night, from 7:45 to 8:30 for both seatings. The problem is if you had late seating, you were halfway through (show time was 7:15 to 8:15 for late seating) the only production show for the entire cruise and when the show was over, the early seating gang had all of the seats in the Top Cat lounge. It was standing room only; (there were 185 registered for the Cruise Critic party on this cruise so they knew they had a lot of returning PAX) and with the cruise being so light on entertainment, they should have planned a party for each seating.
More poor planning by the cruise director and staff. We expected to tender in Grand Cayman and this actually went pretty well since we were there by 7AM and they had open tendering at 8:40 after all of the ships excursions had left. They announced that tender tickets would be available beginning at 9 AM. The tender ride was short and seas were calm. We expected to dock at Cozumel but did not. There were 10 ships in Cozumel and only 6 could dock. The Splendour was one of the ones that did not dock. In fact, it was so windy; the Splendour could not anchor and had to drift all day. This is really poor planning since RCCL had a berth for the Monarch which they could have used before the Monarch's scheduled arrival (noon till 8PM) and then tendered us back from the same dock. The tendering procedure was handled very poorly by the cruise staff. The Daily Compass, which is normally printed and distributed by the cabin attendants during dinner the night before was not even printed. We asked at the purser's desk, they indicated that it wasn't printed yet and would be distributed to the cabins during the night. The next morning, still no Compass and most people did not know that we were tendering. Finally, the Daily Compass was printed and distributed during breakfast and it said to get tender tickets from the Champagne bar at 8:45.
There was a mob in the Centrum beginning shortly after 8AM. (More poor planning.) The social hostess showed up at 8:45 and since she could not get to Champagne Bar because of the mob, she began handing out tender tickets from the Centrum steps where the mob converged from all sides. The people who had been patiently standing in line at the Champagne Bar lost out and got on later tenders. There were also a lot of people in the line for tender tickets that had RCCL excursions and they needed to be getting on the tenders reserved for them instead of delaying both the boarding process ands the passing out tender ticket process. Since the tendering seemed to be a last minute surprise for RCCI, and instructions in the Daily Compass were distributed very late, it is was clearly a mess that should have been handled better. Proper planning would be to begin passing out tender tickets at 6:00 at the shore excursion desk when there would have been no line. A sign could have told PAX on listed excursions that they didn't need tender tickets and where they should go and when.
Since it was windy and rough, the process was very slow. The first boat loaded was the tour excursion boat going directly to the mainland for ships tours. This took nearly an hour. (Remember some PAX that were supposed to be getting on it were in line getting tender tickets) Next the first tender was loaded with ships tours going to Cozumel and then tender tickets 1 & 2. The Captain was very nice and kept coming on the PA and apologizing. Bottom line is RCCL needs to rearrange the itinerary so that the Splendour docks in Cozumel on a less busy day and if tendering is necessary, a better system of tender tickets and information needs to be planned.
Our family did the resort Scuba course in Cozumel with Eagle Ray divers. They had no problems with our group being late and provided very good and patient instruction. Highly recommended.
Grand Cayman was great and we did the sailboat tour to Sting Ray City with Captain Bryan. Nice boat and a good price. Not crowded like the ships tours. Roatan is pretty much a beach and diving stop. The Island is green and tropical and has good beaches and great diving. We had Foster's resort (just down the beach from where the ship's tours go) pick us up and we spent a relaxing Thanksgiving day on a nice beach, did some snorkeling and sea kayaking and returned to the ship for turkey dinner that night.
Key West was nice and the weather was wonderful but the stay is too short for anything other than shopping. Although scheduled to dock at 7AM (8AM local time- this was the only port where ship's time was different from local time) the ship was not cleared by US INS until after 9AM and then you had to show passports on the gangplank to exit. This left only about 4 hours of shore time. One of our table mates took the PT boat ride ($40 for 3 hours) and said it was great. We just shopped and walked around. Too little time to parasail, so our boys will have to wait till the next cruise.
On Jamaica we took the ship's tour to Dunn's river falls and lunch at the Margaritaville in Ocho Rios. They transported us in 25 person A/C buses; diving time about 2 hours each way. Percy was our driver and he was very nice and also very safe (see other messages about other buses). Lunch was chicken, rice and fish buffet in the crowded upstairs room set aside for ships tours (no Cheeseburger in paradise) and took most of the time allowed for the Island Village stop. Only about 5 minutes shopping at Island Village but the bus did stop halfway back for a shopping/rest room break and also shopping at a selected shopping center in Mo-Bay. We were back at the dock by 3:30PM but two of the ship's tour buses where delayed by traffic and the Captain delayed the ships departure until 5:30. If you are on a tight schedule or traveling a long distance, it is best to pay the extra $ for a ship's tour because they will wait. At all other stops, we arranged our own tours, had smaller groups and saved $.
The children's programs seem to be well run and our teens had fun. There were over 200 kids on this holiday sailing and they were not a problem. We had a lot of fun and didn't let the minor problems with the cruise staff and second rate bands bother us. Hopefully they will get organized, get better bands and make this cruise even more fun. Hey for the first 10 day sailing out of Galveston, it was pretty good and I recommend it to everyone.
Gary.Bowden@bakeratlas.com
April, 2003
Gary Bowden’s Full Rating Summary
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