The Thanksgiving (November 27-December 12, 2013) voyage of Royal Caribbean’s Legend of the Seas, while not a Turkey, gave fewer reasons to give thanks than it might have.
For approximately two hundred passengers, the San Diego embarkation got off to a rocky start. On the previous cruise, Legend of the Seas was reportedly unable to recover a tender and had to leave it at its Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, final stop. When the unlucky two hundred (some Royal Caribbean Crown & Anchor Society Diamond members among them) came to check in they were told they could not be accommodated on the cruise due to a lack of lifeboat capacity. First shocked and then angry they were mollified when clearance came that we could sail without the tender. (That boat was ultimately recovered successfully when we arrived in Cabo two days later) For the rest of us embarkation and check-in was normal, not too slow and not too fast. However, starting out with over ten percent of your passengers (some of the prestigious variety) angry or anxious is not a good thing.
This was a Crown & Anchor Society “Member’s Cruise” so prestigious passengers were the norm rather than the exception. For some lesser types, a feeling of second-class citizenry was palpable during the entire sailing.
Legend of the Seas is (by necessity because we were transiting the Panama Canal) the smallest ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet. Bigger ships won’t fit. It is, as a result, “quirky.” The Windjammer Buffet is significantly undersized and, therefore, always crowded. The walking/jogging track, however, at a full quarter mile in length is perfect. Many but not all of the in-cabin safes are unusual in that, rather than entering a code of your choosing for access, you must “swipe” a major credit card for access. That means you have to (otherwise unnecessarily) carry a credit card in addition to your SeaPass card everywhere you go. But don’t put that credit card in the same pocket because its magnetic stripe will eventually render your SeaPass card unusable. What were they thinking choosing credit card safes on a cruise ship?
Legend does not have an outside fantail bar, devoting that potential space to an underused quiet deck outside the health club on deck nine and a mostly ignored rock climbing wall on deck ten. The wine staff is virtually invisible in the dining room. If you want a bottle of wine, you have to ask your waiter to get one of them to stop by. Some people liked the fact that they weren’t solicited to buy wine; I didn’t like it. Royal Caribbean lost a lot of revenue on this cruise as a result. Instead of buying one bottle of wine every other night, I bought only one during the entire cruise. Had I been able to, I would have purchased at least six more bottles giving Royal Caribbean a minimum of $250 more of my money.
The only tender port, Cabo San Lucas, started out as a nightmare of failed debarkation logistics. Guests were forced to wait for too long to disembark and some crowding and shoving resulted. The crew was ill-prepared for unruly passengers who became impatient and exacerbated the situation. The same thing happened at our Puerto Quetzal stop that didn’t require tenders. Training will help here but they need to get on with it.
The senior staff is very helpful. Maitre’d Rodrigo worked to find me a table with other solo travelers and Food & Beverage Manager Silvio Ghigo quickly acted on my request to add tables on the smoking side Viking Crown Lounge veranda to match up with similar tables on the non-smoking side.
The junior staff is not so accommodating. In Cartagena the maintenance staff was power washing deck ten forward of the rock climbing wall. Elderly passengers were slipping and sliding on sudsy water flowing over the walking track. I asked both a deck steward and a climbing wall attendant to place some of the yellow “caution” cones at the wet places so people would step more carefully. Both told me that wasn’t their job. I found an officer down on deck nine who got the cones.
When my pocket was picked in Cartagena (both foolish and careless on my part) I had no cash for a taxi back to the ship, I inquired of three separate Legend of the Seas Tour Guides and Tour Bus Drivers if I could hitch a ride home. “No, you didn’t buy a tour from us so we won’t/can’t help you.” Fortunately a fellow passenger (George, God bless him) stepped off one of those busses and loaned me $20 so I could get back to the ship. The Guest Services representative confirmed to me that since I did not purchase a Royal Caribbean tour I would not be entitled to a ride even though I had been robbed of my money. Later, I mentioned to Keith Williams, the Cruise Director, that Royal Caribbean should consider a possible policy change in such a situation. He wrote it all down and implied that someone would get back to me but no one did.
The Senior Officers (Master Kjell Nordmo, the Staff Captain, and the Hotel Director Francois Wache, etc., are mostly aloof). Captain’s daily noontime public address announcements failed to contain interesting tidbits of real information as is, in my experience, the main reason to stop what you are doing and listen. Also, inexplicably, public address announcements are not audible on any television channel in the cabins. If you are in your stateroom and want to hear what is being said, you must step into the passageway to listen.
On the talent side, Musical Director Filmer Flores delivered great shows with the most memorable performance being his solo night of classical offerings in the “That’s Entertainment Theater.” Singer Aaron Libby of the ‘singers and dancers’ is a standout. Multi-talented piano man Chuck in the Schooner Bar draws an appreciative crowd but must fight to be heard due to sound that bleeds in from the musicians playing on the adjacent Centrum Stage. The glass doors between those two venues will not stay in the closed position.
Headliner entertainment was very good, led by Broadway show tune singer Michelle Murlin and variety act “Los Pampas Gauchos” who were a hoot. Foreigner’s Domenick Allen rocked the house. Cruise Director Williams doesn’t go overboard with too much personality as many of his peers do. For me, at least, he sets the perfect tone. He is at a disadvantage here, however, as his ship offers smaller and fewer venues. The final night’s “Broadway Showtunes” performance was underappreciated by guests who mostly didn’t recognize the mostly obscure selections the performers had chosen to sing.
Too many guests in the “That’s Entertainment” show lounge were rude to those same performers, choosing to leave their seats and exit the theater during applause for the final number and before Cruise Director Williams made his closing remarks. There is nothing the Royal Caribbean can do about rude patrons.
One strong disappointment was the port lecturer who was, to put it kindly, in way over her head. I had many conversations with fellow passengers who compared her to other lecturers on other ships and found her wanting. She read her lectures from a word-for-word script where many passages seemed to be lifted from web pages and then haphazardly pasted together. I love great shipboard lectures and none were offered here.
Dining Room food and service is, as you would expect, good to very good but never great. Windjammer fare is just OK. Steakhouse Chops, on the other hand, is excellent (on both evenings I tried it) with the porterhouse outshining the strip steak. Izumi’s “hot-rock” table-top grilling concept is fun and the sushi there is very good. Izumi was severely underused by guests and I suspect it won’t last long.
The Chef’s Table experience is amazing with five fine wine pairings and just the right amount of pomp and circumstance. Chef Rudy delivers a Royal meal and you can see his pride on both the plates and his face. All three specialty restaurants can be enjoyed for a discounted price of $115 per person if you buy the “Dining Package.” If purchased separately, the three will set you back $145 or more.
I found “My Time” dining room service to be curt and impersonal but at the late 8:30 seating one deck below I felt both welcomed and valued. I did not dine at the early seating nor did I try room service. Late in the cruise I attempted both breakfast and lunch in the main dining room but gave up due to long lines at the doorway.
We became aware of the fact that the Norovirus boarded Legend of the Seas on Day Ten of this cruise. By Day Thirteen we were in full Code Red mode with all serving tongs, beverage dispenser buttons, ice bins and more being handled exclusively by crew members. As we departed Cartagena on Day Thirteen, the unofficial word on the ship was that 98 passengers were down with gastrointestinal distress as were 40 members of the crew; just over five percent in each category. No official specific information was forthcoming (as is the practice on Cunard) so these numbers could not be verified.
I was, again unofficially, told that at one point sixty cabins sported the yellow “quarantine” magnets above their doors. Having been through this twice before on ships (Cunard’s Elizabeth and on Celebrity), it is my opinion that these outbreaks are mostly the fault of fellow passengers who fail to observe proper sanitation and hygiene.
However, Legend’s outdated beverage dispensing equipment and a completely unacceptable Windjammer and pool deck ice dispensing process could and should be eliminated to reduce clear points of preventable risk. (Dispensing ice from plastic bins with passengers dipping their glasses, both new and used, or handling the communal ice scoop would be a health-code violation in virtually every U.S. jurisdiction and would not be allowed)
Early in the cruise, both crew and passengers, from my observation, all but ignored the ubiquitous Purell dispensers early in the cruise. Later it was “too late.” Crew members were poorly trained on gloved-hand procedures as I witnessed several using their gloved hands to smooth mussed hair, scratch noses, rub eyes or lean on unsanitized surfaces and then use that same hand to serve food or distribute utensils, cups or glassware. Again, proper training is lacking. In fairness, however, kids’ center staff and even musicians were serving food at one point and perhaps cross training those folks is not normally required. I don’t know.
Twenty foot swells and gale force winds greeted the passengers on the next to last sea day out of Cartagena. Pools were closed (the Solarium pool was drained), sea sickness bag holders graced every staircase landing and decks were mostly abandoned due to high winds. Some passengers were sickened while others were exhilarated. I felt sorry for those already suffering from gastrointestinal distress on those heavy seas.
On this fifteen day cruise, tuxedos and evening gowns were much in evidence on the three “Formal Nights” (Day Two, Day Eight and Day Fourteen—all sea days). There were fewer dress-code scofflaws on this trip than I have experienced on other Royal Caribbean sailings with shorts, caps, tank tops and bare feet rarely appearing where they should not be. Besides the three “Formal Nights” there were four “Smart Casual” nights in the mix with all other nights being some variation of “Casual.” Legend does not have guest-accessible laundry facilities but does run a $30 “cram all you can into this paper bag” special along with regular 48 hour laundry and dry cleaning service.
Wi-Fi signals are, by cruise ship standards, strong and acceptably fast if you bring your own laptop, and, by the standard on all cruise ships, too expensive. Passengers who used the ship’s computers on Deck Eight complained of very slow speeds on what they called “outdated” equipment.
Smoking is allowed in the casino but, while you must pass though the casino on Deck Four to get to the That’s Entertainment Theater, the air handling equipment spares you from too much secondhand exposure. Also, you can walk up to Deck Five and then back down to Deck Four to avoid the Casino smoke on that route if you wish.
Royal Caribbean did a stellar job of finding live NFL and college football broadcasts to play in the Schooner Bar, on the Big Screen at the pool and on the stateroom televisions. First run movies were offered free of charge on the latter two venues as well. Channel offerings include CNN International (not the U.S. channel, unfortunately) and Headline News but no Fox News or MSNBC nor any of the four major broadcast networks.
This cruise departed San Diego stopping in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico; Puerto Vallarta, Mexico; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; transited the Panama Canal; and then stopped again in ColÏŒn, Panama; Cartagena, Columbia; concluding in Fort Lauderdale. There were seven sea days. Much is written elsewhere about ports so I will leave those details to others except to recommend that excursions should be considered mandatory for Puntarenas and ColÏŒn as those port areas are unappealing in every way.
Most of us commented that there wasn’t that much to do on sea days and while I agree, I will credit that in part to the small ship’s lack of venue opportunities. Trivia competitions were usually oversubscribed for the size of the Schooner Bar and seats in the Centrum for before dinner entertainment were hard to come by. Trivia teams are limited to six members. On the first day I found myself, as a solo traveler, locked out since I would be the prohibited “number seven” on any team I approached. Trivia is “progressive” so if you don’t find a home early, you have a tendency to be left out for the balance of the cruise.
The Canal transit was, for most, both the reason to book this cruise and the highlight. Many passengers who rose early to grab the best viewing spots later commented, however, that they could have easily slept in. It turns out that if you closely observe one lock experience, frankly, you could skip the others if you wished. Those of us who were fascinated by the intricacy of both the Canal’s construction and operation were rewarded with insightful commentary from a local narrator that Royal Caribbean brought on board. He offered up just the right amount of public address information, neither weighing us down with constant chatter nor failing to anticipate a detail about which we might be wondering. He made up for a sub-par destination presentation that day before by our on-board lecturer.
Given the choice, I personally would not choose to sail aboard Legend of the Seas again. But, I would transit the Panama Canal again. Since the new wider Canal that will accommodate larger vessels won’t open for another couple of years, I am told that Royal Caribbean Crown & Anchor loyalists have only the Legend available for Canal transits. Maybe they ought to consider trying another line for this itinerary to see what the competition has to offer. I am sure that Royal Caribbean would be happy to welcome them aboard a Celebrity ship even if their points won’t count. I am told that Crown & Anchor privileges will be available to them but, given how these Diamond and Diamond Plus members seem hooked on Royal Caribbean points, I suspect shifting to a different brand may be unthinkable to them.
For me, I wish Royal Caribbean would take a look at what hotel chains such as Marriott, Hilton, Starwood and others do: make their frequent cruiser program points inclusive of all their brands (Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara). They would likely have all my cruise business if they would do that. And, I would be a Diamond Plus member (instead of not quite Platinum) by now. Until then, I have divided my purchases (78 nights at sea in 2013) trying various providers from Royal Caribbean to Carnival to Princess to Cunard to Celebrity to SilverSea. Some folks don’t know what they’re missing and I suspect that is the way Royal Caribbean wants it.