Royal Baltics and Transatlantic 9/2/14-9/27/14
We got on the ship quickly with plenty of time to settle in and explore before muster. The ship was the same as it had been last year when we spent a month on it; large and laid out well but still lacking a full promenade deck outside. We went to trivia and quickly found some partners who were good, although Ken was the star player. We won our first trivia and got water bottles, I figure by the end of the cruise we might be able to build a raft of water bottles!
Muster was quick and very small and I was surprised how few people there were at muster, not realizing what a small number of people were checking in from Berlin. This was a weird cruise in that it was sold many different ways. Some people embarked in Copenhagen three days before Berlin, some in St. Petersburg, and many embarked in Copenhagen 9/10/14 for the transatlantic. Our dinner was OK, in spite of asking for a large table for 8-10, we were put at a table of 4 and ate alone since our table mates were off in Berlin. We didn't leave Berlin until 10:30 PM.
The following day we changed our table to a larger one for 8 and all of our friend joined us at early seating and this became the highlight of the cruise in many ways. On turnaround day we changed our table of 8 to a table of 10 and that undoubtedly became the highlight of everyone’s cruise. We all looked forward to dinner each night, and maybe gained a few pounds too, afte rall food taste better when shared with good friends
Problems in the Cabin
I Woke up the first morning ready to embrace the day. I had been on the Royal last year for 30 days and experienced some issues so I was ready to embrace a new and improved ship. This was not quite the experience I had. The toilet in my room (A718) was clogged first thing the morning, and you know how that goes when you are traveling. This caused extreme discomfort to us and I spent the morning calling for help. Just like last year, nobody came to fix the toilet until I called 5 times, not my favorite way to start a cruise. We had to vacate the room and race to use the public bathrooms, then to the front desk to ask for help in person, this being the most effective method of eliciting help on this ship. Good grief, I swear I am not doing anything different on this ship than I do on others so I don't understand what the problem is. Could it be related to the power blackout we had yesterday right after we boarded?
Problems on the ship
Some cruise critic friends took my rear facing deluxe balcony C743 (from last year’s cruise), the infamous soot room, and were beside themselves with how bad it smelled, how much tar was on their balcony, and how unusable it was. Please beware that the issues around the sooty aft cabins, and the plumbing problems still exist. If you have booked any of the aft cabins beware that there has been no fix.
Laundry service was another problem, taking 3+ days from the beginning of the cruise, and throughout the cruise the time grew longer, usually 5-6 days. Having spent 10 nights in Berlin pre cruise, I had lots of dirty clothing and was not expecting to encounter this kind of delay. To add insult to injury, close to the close of the first segment of the cruise (the Baltics) they offered a “stuff a laundry” bag promotion where everybody could get as much laundry done as they could fit in a bag for $20. This probably caused more delays for us elite members who were getting our laundry done as a benefit. I refrain to call it free because we spend a lot of money taking a lot of cruises to gain elite status.
Trivia and other Games
Otherwise the Cruise staff was excellent. The Cruise Director Lisa Ball was fantastic; she was very involved in all aspects of the shipboard activities and even called trivia. We really enjoyed her presence and appreciated how involved and active she was, truly a team player and in no way full of herself like some CD’s can be. Lisa really set the bar high for me!
Food/Dining experiences-- Main Dining Room
We had the best dining table ever, seating for 10--infamous Table for 10 group--and we were close to the back with decent views of the water. Our table was filled with good friends, people we have cruise with before and got along with well, my dear friends joined us for the Transatlantic portion and they got along fabulously with the rest of the group, becoming instant family. I cannot tell you what a difference the right mix of people make for a successful dinner group. So what if we were loud and raucous every night. We spend each night laughing till our tummies hurt (really) and generally being so jovial that we were infectious. Most of the tables around us became louder and looked like they were having as much fun as we were. Laughter was breaking out all over the place. Yes one of our neighbors look like they were suffering being close to our loud and joyous table, and they looked grumpy and bent out of shape much of the time but I suspect this was how they were all of the time, independent of our proximity. â˜º
Our tablemate B (not his real name) started this kleptomaniac routine, which he performed throughout the entire 25 day cruise. He was imitating some lady we had talked about who was on a world cruise and had tried to steal all of the dinnerware, utensils, and whatever else she could get her hands on until she got caught. B would casually start stuffing utensils, sugar containers, plates, glasses, and more, often while the head waiter Arkie (short for Arkadius) stood talking to us about what we did that day, or any special orders we asked for. We laughed and laughed every time Bob did this shtick, as he slowly and surely made all the dinnerware disappear. Then he would stand and all the stuff would fall from his clothing causing all of us to squeal with joy and laughter! No matter how many times he did this, we could not stop laughing at it. B should be a comedian!
Our waitress D (short for Dorota) was fantastic, as was her assistant waiter Zoran. Zoran was not around as much as D, I guess he was getting the food all the time, Princess has changed the way the wait staff works and I was told its normal to not see the assistant much. D really put up with us in such a perfect manner; sometimes she faked being stern when we were having food fights, or just being loud and noisy, and other times joining in as if she was part of our group and she was! Our neighbors had appointed her “Queen” of the dining room staff and she regally wore her the crowns they brought for her. She was incredible in her manner and perfect at negotiating large, loud groups! We all loved her dearly.
I always order extra vegetables for each night. Initially I had grilled Asparagus and Spinach steamed with garlic brought to the table every night. My tablemates were quick to agree that this was a very good thing, generally the dinner plates do not have many veggies on them and we all loved the extras. As the cruise went on they first ran out of Asparagus, then they ran out of Spinach. I asked for Broccoli instead and it always came steamed with garlic, I think garlic makes everything taste better.
During the Baltics portion of the cruise our fixed dining time was 6pm, and during the transatlantic portion, we were supposed to come at 5:30, although we always showed up between 5:45 and 6pm. The only negative to dining at the traditional early seating is that we always missed sail always. The trade off was well worth it, late dining was between 8 and 8:30 and that was just too late for all of us to eat, digest, and get to sleep for early ports.
We went to Sabatini’s to celebrate our friends wedding anniversary on one of the formal nights. We actually dressed for it, although you don’t have to dress formally on formal nights to dine here. We had our infamous Table for 10 group and started at 7pm and we did not finish until close to 11PM, that’s how much fun we had! The food was excellent, with a few exceptions, and service was great too. Food always tastes good when accompanied by good friends and good service.
Horizon Court Buffet
At the beginning of the cruise the HC is incredible, do try to make it up there on day one for lunch because you will be amazed at the variety they have there, including 4 carving stations. We often went up to the massive buffet at 11:25 am, a perfect time for Ken to grab breakfast and me, lunch, timing being everything here. I always grabbed some yummy grilled veggies, wild rice and asparagus, some lean brisket or other lean meat, Roasted Chicken, and a veggie salad with lo cal dressing. There were many healthy options in the Buffet, no need to feel deprived if dieting. I really enjoyed eating at the HC for Breakfasts and lunch, but really hated it at dinner.
The dinner options were far less abundant than the options during the day. Half of the Horizon Court was closed, or refashioned for Fondues or the Crab Shack. The grill area was always closed, no yummy fresh grilled veggies or meats for dinner were ever available, although they always has several carving stations opened. At dinnertime nuts and dried fruits and lot of veggies and meats were plentiful but as the cruise progressed they seemed to run out leaving less options. I tried to make a trail mix to take with me on port days as a snack, don’t forget to bring ziplock baggies for this. At 5:30 pm there is always an array of deli meats and sandwiches which can be used to make sandwiches for the next days port visit, if you are so inclined to do that this is the place.
On several occasions we brought the infamous table for 10 group to the HC, we even found a table for 10 and this became our alternative dining spot although we only ate here twice because of late port visits or because we wanted to see a sail away.
On our first formal night, we dressed for it but hated to as we always do! I noticed that lots of people did not dress for formal nights, many choose to eat at the Buffet. I think we ended up dressing for every formal night except the last, mostly because one of the 10 enjoyed it so much and we wanted to make her happy!
During one of the last sea days there was a surprising “man overboard” announcement and we were all asked to go back to our cabins for a head count. Everybody did this pretty quickly and mostly hung over the balcony railings looking for whomever had jumped ship. Our room Steward came by and noted we were in our cabin. Meanwhile I noticed a beach ball like red thing floating in the water off the port side of the ship, by this time Captain Sagani had turned the ship around and we were heading back the way we came. A tender boat was lowered into the water and I saw it heading straight for the red ball then suddenly it turned and started going away from it. I could not believe this, I grabbed the phone and called passenger services and told them to tell the captain that the red floating thing was off the port side at 11 o’clock. After a few minutes, the tender boat turned and headed straight for the red thing and in quick time they determined it was nothing more than a fishing marker. Captain Sagani came on and told us that the passengers and crew were all accounted for, complimenting us on one of the quickest counts he had ever seen, and also thanking the passenger who called and directed them to where the red ball was. I hope I was not the only person who called.
Meet and Greets (2)
We had two M&G’s, the first one was during the “Most Traveled lunch” and only one staff member showed up and he was very late. That staff member was the Safety officer and he was hijacked by several people who were having soot issues, poor guy he did invite questions! The second M&G was more crowded and a few more crew members attended including the CD. Both were in Club 6, not terribly conducive large groups and lots of folks had to stand or sit on the floor during the introductions. I know I missed this because I was sitting in the center part of the room and all the activities took place close to the bar area, which is also the smallest area!
Ports and Princess Tours
We did one Princess tour during the 25 day cruise, and this was in Kristiansand, Norway. We did a cruise through the Blindleia Passage to Lillesand, a cute and charming little town which was quite scenic. The cruise was nice but the guide was not very exciting and I just didn’t feel any passion or love from him, something I notice that good guides always have. The town was mostly closed, not only because it was early in the day but also because it was late in the season and most residents were there for the summer only. Finally, we only had a half hour to visit this place and it was not enough time to walk through the narrow lanes of the town, so we didn’t see much of it at all. The excursion was not worth the money we spent on it at all! Other than that, we only did private tours.
Disembarkation was quick and easy, especially since we booked a transfer to the airport with Princess. We left our room by 8:30am and waited no more than 20-30 minutes in our appointed meeting place before we got off the ship. Immigration was quick and easy, and our luggage was neatly placed in its proper area and we found a porter who hauled our 3 pieces to our transfer bus and off we went to La Guardia. Unfortunately our driver was unable to take us to the departure area of the airport, he grumbled some excuse and dumped us at the arrival terminal and we had to schlep our luggage upstairs to find the proper check in area. This was a mess and most of the folks just grabbed their luggage and dragged it up to the proper place, like us. I did notice that the excuse our driver made, that his bus was too high, there were no restrictions on height up at the departures area and we had been duped by a lazy, know-nothing bus driver!
The Cabin was fine, the toilet did not work on the first full day of the cruise, this was eventually repaired by the afternoon and I never had any other problems with this cabin. The bed was a bit hard, had to ask for extra toppers (they don't have egg crate style toppers on this ship) and once I got them it was more comfortable. The room was a little worn, there were a few stains on the floors, and the TV intermittently didn't work so well, sometimes it would go dark in the middle of a movie making that experience very frustrating. Finally, the vent top on the side of the cabinet while holds the refrigerator was always falling off and finally I just leaned it against the hole, and because of this I could not use that storage area.