We were a large party who sailed from Venice to Dubai on the Splendour of the Seas, a ship soon to be sold by RCI. I was a bit apprehensive given that the ship was 20 years old (despite a recent re-fit) as my previous experience on ships of this age with a re-fit (Celebrity Infinity) proved very disappointing. I was pleasantly surprised however as RCI clearly take care of their fleet.
Before I review the cruise, their is one matter which appalled us all. At no time when booking the cruise, or prior to the cruise, were we made aware of the 'pirate precautions' which would be carried out. These included being banned from the top deck for a night, not being allowed lights on our balconies some nights (which rendered the balcony out of bounds), the anti pirate crew drills, the covering of windows through out the ship with brown paper, the general darkness the ship was in for some nights, the 'safe haven' instruction re any potential attack and most concerning of all the weapons which were brought on board labelled as 'security equipment' (is this legal under maritime law?). There were a few on our group who, despite the assurances this was merely a precaution, could not relax during this part of the cruise. Shame on RCI for not making anyone (not even travel agents) aware of this at time of booking or prior to the cruise to allow us to decide if we wanted to cruise under these conditions. Be aware of this if you consider this cruise (with any company).
Embarkation - was as smooth as I've experienced. Compared to Celebrity last year (Panama Canal cruise) it was much smoother and quicker.
The ship was clean and well looked after, though in comparison to modern liners a bit on the small side. This was particularly acute given the 6 days in a row sailing we had. The windjammer self service was a too small for the number of passengers, however we always managed to get seated together at lunchtime once we coordinated the securing of tables. Crew were all very pleasant and helpful and seemed genuine in their hope we enjoyed the experience.
We dined in the first sitting at 6pm which is about an hour earlier than we'd have preferred. Given the size of our group, any time dining was not really an option. Second sitting was at 9pm which was too late for us. Main dining was good, though it is disappointing that RCI continue the trend of charging extra for a small number of dishes which remain free on other cruise lines - lobster being the main one. The waiting staff were good, though as with every cruise I've been on, it constantly grinds that the men in our party were served alcohol immediately we sat down whilst the ladies had to wait, sometimes in excess of 15 minutes. A quick word with the head waiter sorted this, though it shouldn't have been necessary. We also paid for 4 night speciality dining at Choppes Grill and Azumi Japanese restaurant. Ignore the Sushi option, it was bland and not worth going to. Choppes grille was very good and the steaks amazing, but we couldn't help feeling a bit annoyed that the high quality of food in the speciality restaurants (which you pay extra for) used to be the norm in the main dining restaurants of RCI.
Entertainment - The theatre shows were pretty poor. I don't think any of us lasted a whole show before leaving. We much preferred our time in the Schooner bar. For a ship with only 3 inside bars, it was annoying that the bar in the Top Hat lounge was not open during the day, more so as most of the 'during the day entertainment' took place in that bar. There's not much to do on the smaller ships other than quizzes. Thankfully we were a large group so could entertain ourselves. I'm happy we never did this cruise as just a party of 2.
Excursions - We did our own thing in Athens which I'd recommend. For 70 Euros (in total), a local taxi driver gave 4 of us the same tour that RCI were charging $120 each for (albeit we had to feed ourselves). The driver was great, very trustworthy and only wanted paid at the end of the day, whilst he gave us time to enjoy the sights and shopping.
Haifa- We did the tour of Haifa and Acre (or ACCO as we were informed by the guide). Not much to see in Haifa and it's quickly forgotten, however Acre was a really good tour. The only down side was we were continually told there was no time for shopping until we reached a local souvenir store (which the tour guide was clearly promoting) where we were allowed 30 mins to browse the tat on offer. We bought nothing.
Jerusalem - A tour encompassing the wailing wall, the old city (including the 14 stations of the cross) and the Holy Sepulchre was amazing. Well worth the cost of the tour on its own. Then on to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity which although I am not overly religious was quite moving. This tour was a bit spoiled again re the shopping. Not being allowed to browse any shop or stall other that the tour operators preferred tat store meant again not much purchased.
Salalah - We did or own thing again and for $150, 6 of us were given a tour of Salalah. (of note, there is no cheaper price to get into the town). Not much to see, the Souk was Ok but almost all stalls sold the same stuff.
Dubai - Again did or own thing which was good. No pressure re time given we had an over night stop. High Tea at the Burj al Arab 7 star hotel is a must.
Disembarkation - The Smoothest I've ever experienced probably helped by some passengers staying on board for the next cruise and some who chose to disembark the day /night we were in Dubai.
Being the second time we've sailed on an older and smaller ship, for future it'll definitely be the larger and modern ships for us and time to give cruise lines other than those in the RCI stable a go.
Given the age of the ship the cabin was good. Plenty of storage, a good size and importantly clean (particularly the bathroom and shower). The only gripe I have was the daily assault by the shower curtain.
Embarkation was smooth
Do your own thing. For 70 Euro for a party of 4 a taxi driver will give the same tour as RCI offer at a far higher price.
Highlight of the trip.
Highlight of the trip.