Legend of the Seas Cruise Review by Kenn
- Sail Date: April 2016
- Destination: Asia
The fleet-wide cheapening of Royal continues. As has been remarked by many, the “little extras” continue to disappear. No chocolate on the pillow at night, no ginger or mints as you exit the dining room, no petit fours after dinner on formal nights. Things that once were free are now available at a “nominal fee.” This includes ice cream by the scoop outside meal times and espresso drinks. Then again, this cruise has great value—the cabin prices are almost ridiculously low, with roomy inside staterooms available for well under $100US per day per person. Even Legend’s least expensive rooms have adequate closet space and generous number of drawers—far more storage space than some “better ships.” Don’t expect a refrigerator in lower-priced rooms.
The big gripe with sea savvy cruisers that affect all “mid-range” lines such as Royal, Princess, Holland America and Celebrity is the sell, sell, sell mentality and charge for whatever you can get away with. At least six of the fifteen or so TV stations on the ship are dedicated to selling something whether future cruises, shore excursions, drink of the day, or spa treatments. (Note: on most ships there are several TV channels that are sound-only offering music to different tastes from classic rock to classical. Not so on Legend which offers no music channels) The omni-present photographers are all but underfoot, virtually blocking the entry to the dining room some nights. One improvement over my last cruise on Royal (Autumn, 2014) is that the daily program is not bulging with stuffed-in adverts and promotions. This is made up for by the morning TV show, which allegedly informs guests of the day’s activities, but consists of a one- or two- minute reading from the daily program and ten minutes of sales pitches with “special interviews” from such stellar personalities as the ship’s barber. The hosts are the cruise director and sidekick whose patter runs from funny to asinine, moreso to the latter. The latest sales gimmick is a special “backstage tours” of crew areas, the galley, the bridge and the like. You can take the Legend tour (which would have been free 5 years ago) for $150 per person. That’s right, one hundred fifty US dollars. I asked one couple who bought the tour what they thought and the not-surprising one-sentence was response was, “Not worth it.” Speaking of the daily programme: that is your sole “newspaper.” RCI has dropped the 8-page dailies that selected news, business and sports stories for British, American, and Australian/New Zealand audiences in English-language editions as well as a variety of same in other major tongues.
Prices, like the constant and pestery hucksterings, have gone up: drinks (shot of vodka-no ice, no lemon is $10AUS) and drink packages, internet, and the “special” dining rooms\ fees. Unlimited internet at home costs $25AUS a month. On board Legend, I could have bought unlimited internet for two for a mere $600AUS. That’s for half a month. What a deal.
I had one of the most unbelievable experiences aboard Legend in my 30-year history of cruising. All cruisers expect that on formal night one can expect the photographer to ask if you would like a picture taken of your table. This is standard and acceptable. Otherwise, you are spared sales efforts while trying to have your dinner. However, one evening, while in the midst of dinner in the Romeo and Juliet Dining Room, a waitress from the Izumi ‘specialty restaurant” went from table to table hustling up business for her chow house upstairs! Not only that, she didn’t want to go away when we politely informed her that we were having dinner (in case she couldn’t tell) and enjoying one another’s company and not interested in her pitch. Eventually she left, but not without giving us a hurt, pouty look. Now that I look back on it, of course it was not the poor woman’s fault—she was only doing what some hosehead had sent her to do. And the poor hosehead was only going on instructions from Corporate to push those specially meals.
I learned the waitress is on her first contract and, because she spoke good English was sent down from a near-empty Izumi to stir up business for the joint. She was from Mainland China. So are a lot of the Legend’s 61-nation crew. As the cruise lines exhaust the shores of the Philippines and Indonesia seeking English-speaking waiters and room stewards who will work long hours for little pay and nine-month contracts, the search, akin to that of Shell and Chevron mining new corners of the world for oil, so goes the talent scouts of the cruise lines. From the looks of the crew on this voyage of Legend, China may be the new mother lode. Unlike the Filipinos and the Indonesians who come from lands occupied by European powers for four centuries, the Chinese have not grown up knowing Western expectations, standards of service and preferences, nor how persons from Europe and Europe-settled lands expect to be served. The Chinese, while hard-working and pleasant, were much less outgoing and seemed quite reserved when encountering Westerners. This cruise made stops in Bali and two in the Philippines—both nations home to hundreds of crew stewards, waiters and other crew. RCI was most generous in giving as much leave time as possible to crew members to visit home as well as inviting hundreds of crew family members to visit onboard.
The main Romeo and Juliet Dining Room has been reconfigured to provide “more” window tables which actually results in fewer window tables. They have turned all the window tables for two sideways so that one diner sits facing the water and the other with back toward the sea. The result is that the one diner with back to the window has no water view at all and the other person at the table can’t see the water either as the person across blocks the view!
Sorry to say, but dining room food disappointed. This is my third Royal Cruise in as many years and previouslyI have found the dining room preparations equal to or better than other lines such as sister-company Celebrity and competitors Princess and, even, Cunard. I don’t know if the step-down in quality is Royal-wide or just this ship or this particular cruise. In this 18-day journey there was perhaps one “Wow!” meal. The rest were ordinary hotel food quality or hit-and-miss. Ingredients have cheapened. Many fewer prime cuts of meat or premium fish. Much more chopped up stuff in starchy sauces. As with most mid-range companies, the selection continues to shrink. Both main course offerings and appetizers are fewer and often repetitive. At lunch the “pasta special” was linguine with marina sauce about three days out of five. Remember when everyone waited for “lobster night”—usually the last formal night of the cruise? On Legend you don’t have to wait. You can have lobster at dinner for a “nominal fee” of $35. But wait! One night it is offered as a “special “ for a mere twenty bucks. Never for free.
The effort to chase people away from the dining room and into the upstairs buffets continues. This is another industry-wide unhappy trend. Dining room serving hours shrink at both breakfast and lunch. The dining room isn’t open at all for breakfast and lunch on port days, a practice that is becoming common except for the premium lines. Just because it is the new “standard” doesn’t mean it is right. The dining room has become less so a “dining room” at breakfast and lunch and is now a quasi-buffet with the center of the dining room turned over to the buffet concept as a “granola bar” which has all the other cereals, fruits, juices and the most popular hot dishes such as bacon, oatmeal, scrambled eggs. Your waiter all but nudges you to go get your own leaving him to bring you only the custom-cooked dishes such as omelets or eggs benedict. If you stick to your guns, the waiters will get the other things for you from the buffet, but you gotta be tough! Speaking of the eggs benedict, I had them four times (they were the daily breakfast special about every other day) and they ran everything from snotty runny to perfection, to tire-grade rubbery. Lunch in the dining room is a repeat. Another “buffet bar” this time with salads—in effect the upstairs buffet moved downstairs. Luncheon to-order dishes from the small menu went from so-so to inedible. The BLT was cardboard posing as bacon with orange-hue “tomatoes”. Somehow they managed what I thought was impossible—toast made up of nothing but tooth-breaking hard crust. In over fifty cruises on at least a dozen different cruise lines I have perhaps sent back a half dozen meals or walked out leaving them barely touched. On this cruise I returned three meals—two lunches and one dinner—and feel justified in doing so.
One problem, other than what goes on in the galley, is that the dining room wait staff is unevenly trained. There are a handful of old salts who have been at sea for years, but a lot of first-contract waiters whose restaurant experience perhaps was at some third-world McDonalds. As most who labor at sea, they are overworked. At times they take this out on the passengers. If one arrives in the dining room shortly before the closing time at breakfast or lunch, you might get hustled with the “hurry up.” A favorite at lunch is, after taking your order, to ask, “And for dessert?” The correct answer—and they know it—is for the guest to say, “I’ll decide on dessert after my meal,” but that doesn’t stop waiters from trying to pull it on you hoping you’re a first-timer or just intimidated. Another technique, nearly perfected by Legend waiters, is to bring plates you have ordered as separate items at the same time. The headwaiters should be catching these things, however they spend most of their time on loud, squawky walky-talkies they carry on their belts like John Wayne packed his six-shooter. You can imagine how this looks on formal nights with a tuxedo.
Upstairs in the buffet things are somewhat better. As mentioned above this is intentional, trying to drive business out of the labor- and linen-intensive dining room. As to be expected, the variety is far greater. Each lunch one of the numerous food bars offers ethnic foods that change daily—one day Mexican, the next Chinese or Indian. Hint: Avoid the pizza if you’re one of those gourmands who thinks crust should be made with flour and not concrete. The carvery offers a different roast each day—again not premium cuts such as prime rib or rack of lamb, but serviceable. Most days they run out of the roast about half-way through lunchtime and replace it with pre-made sandwiches. All cruisers know to avoid the buffet at high-tide times for breakfast and lunch, that is, if they want a place to sit. Legend is no exception. it is hard to find waiters to help those who are infirm or who have not yet gotten their sea legs to get their dishes to the table. In what is becoming yet another industry “standard”, there are no trays for buffet patrons, although rails remain where once trays were used. This results in passengers having to make several trips to the various parts of the buffet to get a meal as they cannot hold all the dishes, cups and flatware for their meal in their hands. No doubt this results in a great savings on food and trays are one less thing that need to be stocked and washed. It also is a nuisance to guests.
Speaking of “guests” (anyone old enough to remember when we were people on a passage called “passengers”?) the Guest Services staff is excellent. They deal with a lot of anger, confusion and misunderstanding and are the ones who get yelled at when some other department messes up. The pursers’ staff aboard Legend is top drawer—the calibre one finds on premium lines such as Oceania, Seaborne or Crystal. The Shore Excursion staff also is very knowledgeable and helpful. This cruise went to a lot of off-the-beaten-path ports not often visited in the cruise world such as Bali, Borneo and the Philippines which means dealing with locals not accustomed to having a cruiseship full of half-drunk Australians (about 75% of the guests, with 10% Brits and maybe as many Americans) dumped on their shores. The shore excursions were of good quality considering where we were and the excursions got off and back on time.
Royal Caribbean has over twenty ships in service and over three decades of cruising experience. How Legend could engage in one of the biggest gaffs in my many voyages baffles me. The Philippine government requires each visitor to have a “Shore Pass” while in the country.. The Shore Pass is issued by the ship the day before arriving in the Islands. For Legend, that means several thousand pieces of paper issued to as many souls aboard. After receiving the shore pass your “Sea Pass” (room key) is scanned to make sure you passed through the “inspection.” There are many ways any of us could think of how to do this. One would be to have the room stewards leave your Shore Pass on your bed with an instruction to appear for the inspection at a given hour. Another might be to ask persons on Deck 2 come to a given lounge between 4:00 and 4:30, Deck 3 a half hour later, etc. so that the whole ship is done in an orderly manner. Royal is oblivious to such a system as this.
Instead, as passengers were drying out from an equatorial downpour in Borneo upon returning to the ship, announcements started blaring that EVERYONE was to come NOW to the Deck 5 Centrum (the midships elevator lobby) and line up to receive a Shore Pass and to be inspected. Absolute CHAOS followed. Nearly two thousand passengers tried to gather in a space that comfortably holds fifty. Those dripping wet who had just come from shore were elbowing in with old people on walkers and crutches who waited up to an hour as lines crept along. Naturally all sorts of persons were sent to the wrong line, the wrong table, the wrong inspection point. As I have mentioned earlier, I am a veteran of over fifty cruises since the mid-1980’s. I have witnessed nearly every kind of delay and mix-up imaginable from baggage worker strikes to having to move a ship from one announced arrival dock to a different one. But never anything self-inflicted as this Shore Pass disaster on Legend. Often the company cannot be faulted (after all, they didn’t call the dockworkers’ strike), and sometimes government regulations create situations about which the cruise line can do nothing. But that was not the case here. No Philippine officials were involved. The shore passes were handed out by Legend Crew and the scanning of the Sea Pass done by them. All the “traffic control” in the entire mess was engineered by them. This is shameful for a company that calls itself a world class line.
For decades Royal has been known for the best entertainment at sea. Period. No other line comes close. Legend, being the old bag that she is, does not have the glitzy venues of the newer and bigger ships on the line. However, the quality of entertainment, given the constraints, is excellent. The ship’s own singers, dancers and musicians are tops. The guest performers, mostly Australian for the 75% Australian audience, were a hit with the locals. The around-the-ship entertainment seemed just fine for the clientele. The ship’s “heart” called the Centrum, is the Deck 4 mid-lobby activity center. The combo played dance music pleasing to the crowd, and, at drink time, Dave, the Centrum pianist, offered up good renditions of old favorites of Sinatra and ilk, emphasizing the songs of Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Kern and other composers of standards. Dave, the combo and almost all the other small-group entertainers are Filipino but well acquainted with Australian and American tastes.
The port lecturers had a big job for an 18-day cruise and were informative providing good visuals. For an exotic and lengthy cruise such as this, there should have been, however, even more lecturers and lectures, The chief lecturer was a cartographer who spoke, naturally, on geography, and his wife who gave the “what-to-see-in-port” talks. Having these duties shared with a second, or even tired, expert such as an historian, naturalist, cultural anthropologist or other specializing in the lore and life of the region would have been welcome. As has become “standard,” the few travel programs on stateroom television had nothing to do with where our ship was taking us. Having some of the fine shows available about Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia and the other places we were going would have bee a real boon. The History Channel, National Geographic, Travel Channel and others have a library of such programs. Instead, we were treated to travel films on Jamaica and Colonial Williamsburg! Maps and guide sheets for upcoming ports sometimes were available—but one had to seek them out. Thank goodness, Royal seems to have dropped the list of “approved shopping” while ashore. The “approved shopping” racket is another moneymaker for the cruise company and no bargain for passengers.
The other lecturer was a “brain expert” from Arizona (I guess to help the old people with their memory) who seemed to have a following, that is, when people remembered to go to her talks. There was a rabbi on board (as it was Passover) and a Catholic priest who said Mass on sea days and presided over an interdenominational Sunday service. Religious services were very heavily attended. Many passengers appreciated having religious services on board such a lengthy voyage and asked why clergy—once a staple feature aboard almost any ship— have become almost a rarity on many cruise lines.
The reader who has stuck with me this long sees that this is not a terribly positive review. This is the first time that I have given Royal less than “good” to “excellent” marks. It could be me. The future cruise desk where repeat customers can sign up for one, two or more cruises in advance was always busy. Two salespersons were at the Deck 8 location every day and I never passed by that they were not both taking a booking. Obviously, there were many passengers satisfied enough with Legend to sign up for yet more Royal cruises. In the past I have given Royal very high marks, especially for its new and biggest ships. Maybe the reason this review is not so positive is because the ship is old and without the amenities expected today.
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