We usually travel on Silversea, a small ship cruise line, the largest carrying 540 passengers which has double the number of crew per passenger than on RCL. We have only cruised on one other large ship, that being the Carnival Pride, so our comments and comparisons will be with that background. Three of us traveled in the Royal Family Suite 8518. We were celebrating a 70th birthday, which clearly puts us in the older demographic on this cruise. There were a total of nine in our group, some in suites and some in junior suites all on deck 8. The upgraded amenities of the suites versus the junior suites made a significant difference for us – but more about that later.
The personnel at the port of Baltimore, from the parking attendants to the people checking us in, were friendly and efficient. Being in a suite gave us priority check-in and boarding (around 11 am) that we appreciated due to the crowds. Our initial impression boarding the ship was that the décor was quite attractive, unlike the assault on your senses experienced on the Pride which had plastic mermaids on the ceiling of the buffet area, and a larger than life-size statue of David in the up-charge restaurant (a strange choice).
We ate lunch throughout the five-day cruise in Windjammer because we enjoyed the variety of the offerings at the buffet, especially the Indian and Asian dishes. We felt that the desserts were mediocre and would have liked to have the possibility of eating ice cream without having to go to the Main Dining Room or Ben & Jerry’s.
There were several suite perks which made a big difference for us and without which we would never travel on RCCL again. The special breakfast each morning in Giovanni’s Table with superb service by Mark was a great way to start the day. The breakfasts were well prepared; we only wish that the pastries had been better. Access to the Concierge Lounge on Deck 11 throughout the day was nice, and we enjoyed our complimentary evening cocktail there before dinner. We also had access to the Diamond Club on Deck 6 where we could indulge in chocolate chip cookies so lacking in Windjammer. We also liked the view aft from the South Pacific Lounge, but since that was the venue for the art auction, we avoided it.
We signed up for anytime dining, and our meals in the Main Dining Room at a table for nine were enjoyable with quick service from the kitchen. We also had special dinners for nine at Chops Grille and Giovanni’s Table. We had double checked on the reservation at Chops earlier in the day and thought we had corrected the errors made by the pre-cruise on-line booking service. However, we still received a phone call later in the afternoon trying to get us to change the time of our dinner with a bribe of a “good” bottle of champagne that we declined. We felt that the food at Chops was only fair – not worth the upcharge, and the table service was not as professional as we expected nor was the wine service up to par. When we were challenged about not having pre-paid the meal without the server checking the reservation first, it really took the shine off the special celebration. Our experience at Giovanni’s Table was just the opposite. We were able to book a table for nine the same day. The Northern Italian cuisine was superb, and the service, once again by Mark, was excellent. We highly recommend Giovanni’s Table.
The gym facilities were good, however not as good as on the Carnival Pride which were spectacular but empty. On the Grandeur, they were always busy. The walking track on Deck 10 was good, and Deck 5 was also an enjoyable place to walk if there weren’t too many smokers. It appeared that there was an adequate number of deck chairs for the full complement of passengers on our cruise.
Prior to our cruise, we were contacted by the Suite Concierge, Francis, who explained all the special services available to us. This was particularly helpful since we were “newbies”. He was a great resource the whole time we were on board, and his cheerful manner truly made a difference for us. He constantly checked to make sure that we were enjoying ourselves and answered any questions that we had during the trip.
Disembarkation was handled extremely efficiently for suite passengers with special provisions made for a dedicated elevator and help with luggage. We opted to carry our bags off the ship around 7:30, but once again suite perks gave us a special line for customs and immigration.
Overall, we felt the crew and officers were very friendly and sincerely interested in helping us have a good time.
Now – the less than good aspects of the cruise. Our biggest complaint was the constant sales pressure whether it was the art auction, the special sales at the shops, the raffle tickets for a free cruise, the photographer or the up-charge specials in the main dining room. Our second issue, albeit not one that RCCL canreally control, was the behavior of some of the passengers who had no idea how to dress properly or speak quietly. Yes, everyone was there to have fun, but there are limits, and some passengers did not have a clue how to observe them. Thankfully, we could avoid much of the din by going to the Concierge Lounge for a quiet place to read.
Lastly – the big question: would we travel on RCCL again. The answer is a qualified “yes”. We would only cruise out of Baltimore which is close to our hometown, and we would only travel in a suite to take advantage of the perks. For us, it is not worth the cost or effort to fly to another city to board an RCCL ship. After all is said and done, the cost of the trip approached 80% of the cost of a cruise on Silversea where all tips, coffee, soda, alcoholic beverages and most wines are included in the fare.
Our cabin was adequate with plenty of storage space especially in the walk-in closet. The bathrooms were small, but since there were shelves next to and below the counter, we had no issues. The beds were very comfortable and the linens very nice. Our complaints about the cabin were: the entry hallway was very narrow (and we are not wide-bodied seniors); there was too much furniture in the living room; the curtain to the master bedroom was frayed with the pull cord was lying on the floor; and the carpet needed to be tacked down. Due to the location of the suite on deck 8, we were constantly bothered by the scraping of furniture on the deck above us and the incessant boom of the base drum which accompanied any music on the pool deck. Mercifully, the noise abated by the time we went to bed each night, but it did make sitting in the cabin during the day less than pleasant.
The special suite perks and the superior service by the Suite Concierge made the trip for us.