Having taken over 18 cruises on various lines (5 with RCCL) I've been able to gauge expectations fairly well. This one threw me a curve ball. The itinerary was absolutely fabulous! The ship not. Built in 96, she's 12 years old but looks 20. I recently sailed on the Sovereign (built in 88) and thanks to a recent refurbishment, she looks fantastic, so age isn't a true gauge. A 12 year old ship CAN look fabulous, but the Splendour did not. Here are a few obvious examples we noticed...
Public Rooms: Cigarette burns in the leather seats of the Champagne bar, torn leather seats in the Viking Crown lounge, carpet stains, stains on chairs in dining room and in solarium lounge cushions.
Cabins: Our cabin hadn't been cleaned upon arrival. We met with the cabin steward to discuss the condition and he did return that night to clean, but there were still sticky glass rings on the tables, spots from splashed liquids on the mirrors, and dirt/hair inside the drawers. He never provided room service order forms, and did the minimum for the remaining cruise. There was mildew in the torn fabric lining on the shower walls and the mirrors inside the bathroom were cracked.
Clearly, the Splendour needs a refit! One is forgiving if all else shines. But it didn't.
Shops closed early without notice, shore excursion desk was rarely open, shows were OK, food in the Windjammer was below average, service in the Windjammer was downright rude at times. Food and service in the main dining room was better but not up to RCCL standards. They've cut out the Ship Shape Program, poolside band, midnight buffets, ice carvings, Baked Alaska night and some onboard activities. Yes, these are in part, a sign of the times. Cruise lines are looking for ways to cut expenses and increase onboard revenue. But if you offer something else in place, and deliver excellent service, you can get by with it. In this case, the staff argued and exhibited a poor attitude with the passengers leaving a bad image with many of the cruisers.
A woman at our table was missing the port book from her suite. Her cabin steward argued with her and told her she must have overlooked it, then proceeded to rummage through the drawers filled with her clothes, etc. looking for a book that was never there. The woman (a previous Princess cruiser) was appalled. Another table mate was standing in front of the logo shop looking at greeting cards and the staff member turned off the lights and started shutting the gate (at 10:05 AM and shops were to close at 11:00AM). He handed the card over to her and said he'd just get that one (since obviously there wasn't time to continue looking). She took the card from his hand, returned it to the rack and said "We're closed."
I could go on. The attitude permeated throughout the ship and poor attitude is not acceptable. There are always the outstanding crew members that are MUCH appreciated, but they can't carry the entire staff.
However, the solarium is a lovely place to spend time, and their bar staff did an excellent job of chasing children out of the adults-only pool. The string quartet in the Centrum was excellent and provided a touch of elegance. The port lecturer gave great tips for those exploring on their own.
PORTS - VENICE With independent air arrangements, we arrived a day prior and stayed at the Antiche Figure Hotel in Santa Croce which I would highly recommend. It's a lovely, boutique hotel on the Grand Canal and a 5 minute walk from Piazzalle Roma where the taxis or buses will leave you. From the hotel, walk back to Piazzalle Roma and take the free RCCL shuttle bus to the ship, or a taxi (it's only a 5 minute ride). You could walk to the ship in about 15 minutes but it's not a pleasant walk especially with luggage.
The pier at Venice is industrial with lots of shipping activity. The port isn't great but thanks to RCCL's efficient boarding procedure, you won't be there for long. It only took us 15 minutes to check in, clear security and board the ship. You can walk all of Venice and see quite a bit in a day! ATHENS It's a 20 minute walk to the metro/train station where you can buy a train ticket for 1.65 Euros. Once you board, you'll get off on the 7th stop to visit Plaka and the Acropolis (takes about 15-20 minutes). It's an easy walk to the lovely shops and cafes in Plaka which is delightful. The walk to Acropolis is an energetic one and there's no A/C or shade once you reach the Acropolis, but there is a nice breeze and it's SO worth the walk. You can see the restoration of the Parthenon and gorgeous views of Athens. Our ship was in port from 12 - 7 and we didn't debark until 12:30 but still had time to visit the Acropolis, shop almost EVERY shop in Plaka, and take in a long, late lunch. We took the subway back to Piraeus and were onboard by 5:30 without rushing.
MYKONOS Probably the most unique and picturesque port with lovely white washed buildings, wind mills, shops and lovely beaches. RCCL provides a shuttle into town and you can walk 10 minutes to a square where public buses will take you to the beaches or you can just take a taxi.
KATAKALON RCCL downplays this port and sells the excursions to Olympia, but if you chose to stay in town, it's really delightful. There's 1 street with shops lined along both sides. You'll find horse-drawn carriages to ride you around and there's a mix of souvenir shops and higher end artistic shops. 12-15 restaurants line the waterfront with outdoor tables under umbrellas, perfect for enjoying a lunch or drink while watching the sailboats in the marina.
SPLIT GREAT! Full of history, ritzy shops, grand promenades and cafes everywhere. If you're tired of souvenir shops, you'll love shopping here with upscale name brand stores. Visit the temple of Jupiter, explore the cobblestone streets of the medieval section, and smell the fresh lavender from the flower stalls at the open air fruit and flower market. The marble promenade is breathtaking and a picturesque place for a drink. But if you walk into the town, you'll find amazing cafes with great food facing various squares. Local students dress in colonial attire and will pose for photos. CORFU Probably my least favorite port. The shops all carry the same cheap tourist souvenirs. Not many of the historical buildings within town have been restored. The new section of the city is definitely city, complete with traffic, noise and trash. The older section is more charming but you can see everything in about an hour, unless you take an excursion.
In the old days, it was a given that you either booked a great ship with a weak itinerary, or a great itinerary with an average ship. With so much competition and new builds entering the marketplace, we've become spoiled with fantastic ships sailing exotic itineraries. This is not the case. I would definitely recommend this itinerary but probably not the ship until the line addresses some of these issues. The Splendour could be great again - but she needs some attention both to the hardware and staff.