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1,718 Repositioning Cruise Reviews

We arrived at the cruise terminal in Galveston by car at the designated time for boarding to begin. Traffic was barely crawling into the terminal area. It turned out that the Voyager of the Seas had been delayed several hours by fog, so ... Read More
We arrived at the cruise terminal in Galveston by car at the designated time for boarding to begin. Traffic was barely crawling into the terminal area. It turned out that the Voyager of the Seas had been delayed several hours by fog, so when we arrived at 1:00, passengers from the last cruise were still disembarking. After 2+ hours in line, we were on board and our cabins were ready. There were 5 of us traveling together, my wife and I were on our first Royal Caribbean cruise, we have cruised 3 times on NCL, and our grown daughter and her 2 friends were on their first cruises. Our cabin was a Promenade cabin. It was very comfortable, quiet and clean. Our cabin attendant did an outstanding job. Daughter and friends had a regular inside cabin which was a little crowded, satisfactory.The ship is beautiful, spacious, and clean. There is always something to do and space is always available.The ship has a lot of very talented musicians, in addition to the entertainers who perform in the theater. Cruise director and his staff were by far the best we have ever encountered and they were not driven to making announcements every 10 minutes.The food was available in several venues and was always good, if not excellent. Service was always excellent and friendly.One feature we enjoyed especially was the Solarium, a partially covered area aft of the main pool area on Deck11. The Solarium included a pool and 2 large jacuzzi tubs, as well as a bar and plenty of seating along the sides and around the pool. The Solarium is an adults only area, although on this cruise there were almost no children.The ship stopped in 4 ports, King's Wharf, Bermuda, Punta Delgada, Azores, Cobh, Ireland, and Cherborg, France, with the final destination being Southampton, UK. We made a big mistake in not booking excursions in advance. It was very difficult booking any onboard as there were so few left to choose from. We did go ashore in each port and enjoyed our visit in each place. Cherborg turned out to be our favorite as well as a very pleasant surprise.Disembarkation was very quick and easy as we took the express, carry your own luggage off the ship option.For all of us this was a very good, very enjoyable cruise. We were impressed with the ship and with Royal Caribbean. Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
Warning - do not wear any jewelry you are fond of keeping to the ship's spa.  The spa does not provide any secure area for your belongings.  Learn from my experience. I had a spa appointment, for which they were 20 minutes late (no ... Read More
Warning - do not wear any jewelry you are fond of keeping to the ship's spa.  The spa does not provide any secure area for your belongings.  Learn from my experience. I had a spa appointment, for which they were 20 minutes late (no apologies or excuses offered).  The attendant led me back to the treatment room and instructed me to place the jewelry I was wearing in my pant pocket and hang my clothes on the wall hooks. At the end of the treatment, the attendant place my clothes on the treatment table and left the room.  My clothes fell to the floor - scattering the contents of my pockets onto the floor. Due to an emergency, I needed to leave the room before gathering my belongings. I returned to the room a few minutes later to discover my jewelry was missing.  Needless to say, the jewelry was never located.  The head of the NCL Gem security assured me that NCL had zero tolerance for theft. If you are interested in museums and/ or shopping in local stores, be sure to check whether the ship is docking on a day when these places are open.  The day that the NCL Gem docked at five of the six ports was a local holiday where museums and/or stores were closed.  NCL does provide a "Port & Shopping Guide."  This is generally a one - two page flyer that does little to assist in sightseeing or shopping.  The flyer contains unusable maps of the area.  Little or no information on products unique to the area is provided.  Although given that for the most part shops were not open, the failure to provide such information does not impact your tour.  The maps do not highlight the location of attractions. You are much better doing your own research. The personnel at the reception desk need to be trained to help passengers on a first come first serve basis.  Frequently, they allowed passengers to "cut" in front of others who had been patiently waiting in line. The stores on the NCL Gem were still stocked with Caribbean merchandise.  The ship never fully converted to European merchandise.  Most of the merchandise was of average quality.  Merchandise on sale was displayed as one would expect to find in a Wal-Mart or Target. The tour guides for the NCL sponsored tours were in general knowledgeable and very pleasant.  However, they should mention special accommodations available to the disabled.  For instance, the Vatican has a special entrance for the handicapped.  [We only learned of this from another tourist.]  Also, the tour guide failed to indicate that the "easy ten minute walk" to the Vatican was over uneven cobblestones.  Level 1 tour guides should be sensitized to the impact of such things on the disabled. The nightly entertainment was varied and generally good.  The NCL Gem had musicians, magicians, a juggler and singers.  The bar areas had very entertaining lounge singers.  The ship is beautiful and well maintained.  The personnel at the specialty restaurants are exceedingly pleasant.  The cabin stewards do a good job cleaning the cabins.  Disembarkation procedures at the various ports are well organized. Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
This was our 21th cruise, but the first on Celebrity. We are a Norwegian couple who previous have sailed with Costa, NCL, RCCL and some minor European Cruise Lines. As it was our first cruise with a Premium Line, we had very high ... Read More
This was our 21th cruise, but the first on Celebrity. We are a Norwegian couple who previous have sailed with Costa, NCL, RCCL and some minor European Cruise Lines. As it was our first cruise with a Premium Line, we had very high expectations to this Transatlantic cruise with Solstice. Pre-cruise: We flew into FLL two days before the cruise. We stayed at the Marriott Hollywood Beach Hotel. The hotel is very nice, and it is situated right on the sea front, but we missed some interesting shops and nice restaurants to be established in the neighbourhood.   Embarkation - That went very quickly.  Because we are Platinum Members in RCCL´s Crown & Anchor Society, we also enrolled before the cruise, to membership in the Celebrity Select Captain´s Club. But as we could observe, this membership was of no particular importance this time. Everybody came on board quickly. The Ship: The Solstice is a very nice ship, and in addition we have never experienced a so pleasant crew. Cabin info- We had booked an aft. balcony cabin on deck 9. It was an excellent cabin. One comment though, toilet paperholder useless. Kept paper on the counter. Our cabin attendant could have been more attentive, but our cabin was most of the time being looked after in a proper way. Dining - We had late dining at 8:30 pm. Before the cruise started, we had asked for a table for 2. And opposite to RCCL, it was a relatively adequate number of tables for 2. The Grand Epernay Dinning room has another design and dEcor for a Main Dinning room, than we have experienced on a cruise ship before. The food for dinner was very well presented and also very good, best ever for us in a Main Dinning room. Unfortunately, we were disappointed with the waiter service. Our 2 waiters were friendly enough, and we believe they did their very best, but they always seemed rushed. E.g. - no time to offer salt and pepper, and no time to clean the table between the main course and the dessert. This is the first time we ever have experienced so busy waiters on a cruiseship, and on a Premium Line Ship too!! However, we had a very attentive Sommelier. But to be fair, we also observed PAX who had a satisfactory service from their waiters. The Oceanview cafe had great food for breakfast and lunch. We especially liked the outdoor tables.   We did not eat at the speciality restaurants on this cruise, but they looked very nice. Public areas - pleasing. We also felt that the public areas were very well appointed. However, we have one comment - the Lawn. It is nice to look at, but we do not think it is a rational use of the outdoor space on the Solstice. We will also point out that there often were long waits for elevators. The Bars: Nice - we were particularly fond of the Sky Observation Lounge at the top of the ship, with fabulous views from comfortable chairs - great for a pre-dinner drink. The Martini Bar is also a "must". Entertainment - we did not think the shows were anything special. Itinerary - excellent. A fine mix of 8 relaxing seadays and 7 interesting ports to explore. Disembarkation - very smooth. No real crowds while waiting to leave, and very easy to find luggage. Unfortunately, we really disliked the very expensive price you had to pay on board for a shuttle bus, from the Port to the Airport. Overall - We enjoyed the Ship, the food and the itinerary. It was a relaxing atmosphere on board. We also appreciated the fact that there was not an announcement every 15 minutes. However, as said before - we were really disappointed with our waiter service, that was fare from being perfect. We wonder if the Grand Epernay Dinning room, on a general basis is understaffed? Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
Cruise Critic's embarkation port selection did not have Kobe, so I typed in Osaka which is near Kobe.We were very impressed when we arrived Vancouver, our final destination. All passengers could wait in the stateroom until the ... Read More
Cruise Critic's embarkation port selection did not have Kobe, so I typed in Osaka which is near Kobe.We were very impressed when we arrived Vancouver, our final destination. All passengers could wait in the stateroom until the announcement was made to disembark.  It was very comfortable waiting. It took us only less than 30 minutes from stateroom to the taxi stand at the very user friendly port of Vancouver.Volendam's lunch and dinner improved a lot on May 18 and 20, 2009, on last two days.  Maybe the company wanted us to forget the past 17 days of budget oriented dinner menu with fancy names and explanations.  First time Lobster appeard on the dinner menu was May 18th, and the lobster they served there as well as in the Pinnacle Grill was a warm water lobster and not the cold water lobster like Maine Lobster.   Even  Carnival's 7 day Western Caribbean Cruise serves a lobster and filet mignon once during their 7 day cruise ! We had to wait 17 days to see our only Lobster and Filet.At the speciality Coffee station, I saw the attendant opening a milk carton made in China, obviously Volendam uses milk materials made in China.  So I start to drink my coffee black and avoided all milk products. Somebody should check each Cruise Line to see which product they buy and use aboard the ship from China. I do not want to dine on food made in China.On our  10th day, we still had the same bed lines from Kobe. There were 61 Japanese guests travelling as a group and one of them told me that I had to request personally if I want my linens changed.  So on our 11th day, we had a bed linen changed. I requested bed linens to  be changed on every fourth day and the cabin steward followed my request.In Ketchikan, I returned to my cabin,exhausted from the shore excursion and found out that my bed was neatly made with 3 day old linens.  Cabin steward told me that the fresh linens were not available on the morning of May 18th and when he came back with the fresh linens at 1:30pm, my husband was asleep and could not change the linens.   This shows that cabin steward is doing their best: making bed neatly each morning with the same sheets, and the fresh sheets were not available some mornings.  I suspect it is Holland America's policy to cut the cost, therefore, they instruct the cabin stewards to use the same old sheets as long as they can. I do not blame ship employees as it was obvious everyone was working very hard and they were always pleasant and kind.  I blame Holland America's Corporate Office to put a cheap.policy on bed linens and foods the guests consume daily.I suggest the Line to start offering the eco-friendly card indicating if a guest wants clean linen and towels, to indicate a guest's request as done in most of US Hotels.There was a great Musician/Pianist/Band Leader called Jim. But his Afro American female vocalist was not good.We had sailed Holland America in the Mediterranean and the Carribbean about 15 years ago and our most recent trip was a sad experience for us.  Is there any hope for Holland America to return to the past LEADER of the Cruise Industry ? Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
A moderately short transatlantic cruise at a great price seemed just the ticket for someone who hates hates the overnight eastbound flight.  Especially for me, a veteran cruiser on other lines who has somehow managed until now to avoid ... Read More
A moderately short transatlantic cruise at a great price seemed just the ticket for someone who hates hates the overnight eastbound flight.  Especially for me, a veteran cruiser on other lines who has somehow managed until now to avoid NCL because nearly everyone I knew who had sailed with them seemed to have had problems including one near capsizing in the Straits of Juan de Fuca. But what the heck, I went ahead and booked two of us in separate balcony cabins, looking forward to experiencing the much-vaunted "freestyle" change of pace.  And I did get my money's worth barely. First off, I thought the best features of this particular cruise were (1) the Tsar's Palace dining room; (2) the largely Filipino waitstaff and cabin attendants who all spoke fluent English; (3) the smoothness of the Atlantic contrary to what some others have written here; (3) the shower in my cabin that exceeded the quality of many other lines' cramped and silly ones; and (4) the generally adequate and sometimes excellent entertainment.  I also thought the check-in and check-out processes were only normally inconvenient.  And the overall food quality in all dining locations was well above average. Now what I didn't like.  On all other cruises I have taken, I have been accustomed to begin my day by taking a brief steam and sauna, followed by a brisk walk around deck and a light breakfast on the Lido.  Much to my dismay, I found that I would have had to pay $20 a day just to use those simple facilities.  Needless to say I did not pay it.  Nor did I pay for the alternate dining at any time, though I was invited by others to join them as their guests.  Call me a cheapskate.  And when I used the casino each night after dinner and found that, unlike on other cruise lines, I was losing consistently and steadily after the first five nights, I entertained myself by just betting the nickel slots thereafter.  I did pay $100 to use the ship's Internet cafe as I have no laptop of my own only to discover that well over half those funds were spent solely on time used to achieve a connection.  I resolved from that point on to go out of my way not to add any further to my on-board account, choosing as well to tip my steward and waiters independently rather than giving them over to the tender mercies of NCL. Short, very short, stops in the Azores and Spain were also on the itinerary.  Each was OK, except that the much larger P&O Ventura had dibs on the main dock in Vigo and we had to bus into the town from the commercial shipping dock.  I walked "freestyle" around each town rather than trying to squeeze a shore excursion into the five or six hours we had alloted to us.  I half expected to pay the bus driver on the shutttle but oddly enough it was free. Now don't get me wrong I am happy to pay for extra services, wine, tips to waiters, etc.  I just don't like too much shilling for extras by the cruiseline itself.  I think the best cruiselines always have such things as self-serve laundromats, well-stocked free libraries open at convenient times, INEXPENSIVE transfer services, and the like.  The Jewel had none of those.  And things like "art auctions" (I use the quotation marks deliberately) or much too expensive bingo sessions for the old folks seem misplaced. Oh, yes.  I need to mention that my TV screen at 12" was hopeless, and I had to use the open public toilets next to the restaurants rather than the one in my cabin, which, because it was so tiny and so jammed up against the wall could not even accommodate my 6' 1" and modest 200 lb. frame.  Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
Too many Cruise Critic members define "critic" as "someone who frequently finds fault or makes harsh and unfair judgments".  Actually, the word comes from the Greek word meaning "able to discern", which in ... Read More
Too many Cruise Critic members define "critic" as "someone who frequently finds fault or makes harsh and unfair judgments".  Actually, the word comes from the Greek word meaning "able to discern", which in turn derives from the word kritEs, meaning 'a person who offers reasoned judgment or analysis, value judgment, interpretation, or observation".  It is in this spirit that I offer my critique of our 2009 eastbound transatlantic crossing and Mediterranean cruise aboard the Norwegian Gem from New York to Barcelona from April 18 through May 3, 2009.  On the whole, it was the trip of our lifetimes (so far, anyway) which exceeded our expectations in some areas and fell short in a few others. I cruised with my wife as an early (it's next year) 25th wedding anniversary celebration.  This was our seventh cruise since being bitten by the Cruise Bug in 2006, and our fourth with NCL.  We are approaching 50; our two kids are in college and class schedules kept them there for this trip.  We had previously sailed on a 2-nighter aboard the Gem in December 2007, and although she no longer looked brand-new she was well maintained.  The public areas and open decks were always kept spotless. Embarkation at Pier 88 in New York was relatively smooth and quick.  The representative who handled our boarding barely said a word; good thing we knew what to expect - a first-time cruiser would have been confused.  That was the only glitch, and after we were handed our numbered passes we waited in the crowded terminal for boarding to begin.  Standing there (there were four times as many people waiting as there were available seats) we got our first look at our fellow passengers.  I expected Rodney Dangerfield to appear and say to one of them: "So, how does this ship compare to the Mayflower?" Ba-DUM dum!  I had expected an older crowd, but I was surprised at how old - the majority had to be over 70.  Later, I'd learn the implications of sailing with this bunch. Our cabin was a mini-suite, which is not in the suite category but is actually a "deluxe balcony", on Deck 11 approximately amidships starboard.  We knew that the standard balcony staterooms were on the smaller side, and the extra space in our mini-suite was valuable for a 15-night sailing.  The cabin location was ideal, with only minimal noise from the pool deck above.  Plus, it was up one flight to get to the Garden Cafe buffet and down 5 flights to Magenta, one of two main dining rooms.  There was a curtain which could be drawn to separate the sleeping and sitting areas, handy if you stay up later than your companion.  The highlight of the cabin was the bathroom, which was divided into three separate sections with the toilet on one side, the sink in the middle and the tub and shower on the right.  Yes, a bathtub!  It was a first for us, and a hot soak was a great way to relax after a busy day. Far and away, the Gem boasted better bathrooms than any cabin we'd ever booked.  On embarkation day it was announced that the cabins would not be ready until 2PM, so after boarding at 1 PM, we spent the next hour or so having lunch at the Grand Pacific, the other main dining room.  Afterwards, we headed to our cabin, but it was still not ready.  We stowed our carry-on bags in the closet and left to explore the ship.  In the end, the stewards were not finished until almost 4:30 PM, just after sailing time.  Even then, it wasn't very clean.  It was obvious that, for whatever reason, preparing the cabins had been given a low priority that day.  However, by the first morning the stewards had recovered from the rough start, and Deival and Jeffrey did a competent job for the rest of the cruise.  They always followed through if we mentioned something that needed attention, but I would have preferred that they took care of things before being asked.  Service staff on the Gem, whether in the hotel or food service areas, was always friendly and cheerful.  In a competition with a typical American waitress or hotel chambermaid, they'd win hands down!  Sometimes, though, attention to detail was lacking and as a rule I'd call their approach reactive rather than proactive. We chose this cruise because of the unbeatable itinerary.  We had never taken a transatlantic cruise and we had never been to Europe.  This itinerary accomplished both, with more ports and fewer sea days than most transatlantics, and allowed for a 15-night cruise while using only ten vacation days.  After departing Saturday afternoon and enjoying splendid views of the Statue of Liberty and our passage under the Verrazano-Narrows bridge, we headed out to sea, with the next landfall not until Thursday morning in the Azores at Ponta Delgada, over 2300 miles away. After that we'd have another sea day, then hit Lisbon on Saturday, Malaga in Spain on Sunday, Cadiz, Spain on Monday, enjoy a final sea day Tuesday, arrive in Ajaccio, Corsica on Wednesday, dock in Italy at Civitavecchia (Rome) on Thursday, Livorno (Florence, Pisa) on Friday and Cannes France on Saturday.  Then we'd disembark in Barcelona on Sunday.  Looking back, it felt like two separate cruises - the first week was relaxing and unhurried with lots of free time, and the second a frantically paced, port-heavy grind.  We lost an hour's sleep each night for most of that first week, finally ending up six hours ahead of New York.  I thought it would be easier to adjust a bit at a time, not all at once as in jet travel.  However the process left me with a sleep deficit and I was quite tired as we neared the end of the cruise.  Some of our shore excursions required meeting times as early as 6:40 AM.  That certainly didn't help! The seas were smooth, the weather cool and a bit windy for the crossing.  The outdoor decks were deserted and the pools empty as we made our way east.  The temperature was between 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit.  Our balcony was crunchy with the crusty salt spray that continually dried there, blown by the wind even to Deck 11.  The highlights of those early days were our Cruise Critic meeting, the Cabin Crawl that was organized through the roll call, and the destination lectures given by Marianne and Peter Bonenberger that familiarized us with the countries we'd visit.  We enjoyed bowling in the Bliss Ultra Lounge, where I came in dead last, even with the bumper rails up.  I blamed the ship's movement for my poor score!  One night there was a Murder Mystery dinner, and we participated with our Cruise Critic friends. We did not use the casino or the spa, and we only attended one evening show...we'd enjoyed Comedian Bill Hildebrandt on the Norwegian Dream in October 2008, and he repeated his act, word for word, on the Gem.  Not quite as funny the second time around.  Our favorite entertainers aboard were Furioso, a string quartet from Poland.  We'd stop by to listen for awhile after dinner most nights, which is certainly not an option back home.  We didn't find much else worth staying up for that we had not seen already. Dining aboard the Gem was the biggest disappointment of the cruise.  The food was rarely the proper temperature, the soups thin and watery.  Comparing the menu descriptions to what you were served was always interesting. I remember one bit of "menu honesty" though.  What we normally call a Hot Turkey Sandwich at home here was referred to as a "Warm Turkey Sandwich". And, the portions were very small.  I estimated that you'd have to stack three servings of NCL prime rib to come close to what we enjoyed on Princess in 2008.  If I were a host I'd be ashamed to serve such meager dishes to my guests.  There were probably only three or four dishes that I truly enjoyed during the cruise, but most were of no better than average quality, and some a lot worse.  The "Always Available" "Baby" Shrimp Cocktail was like eating a bowl of grubs.  The "shrimp" were thin and stringy, and the whole mess was covered by a cocktail sauce and mayonnaise concoction.  The Fish & Chips in the Blue Lagoon 24 hour eatery certainly wasn't haddock.  Nor was it any other fish I've ever eaten fried.  I loved their tomato soup, though, and most times it actually arrived hot. The Blue Lagoon had the worst service of any eatery.  They didn't use an order pad, and as a result you sometimes didn't get everything you ordered, or all the items would arrive at once.  It might take 20 minutes to have your water glass refilled.  "Comfort food" indeed!  At one meal in Grand Pacific, we were served a breadbasket that looked like it had been already used.  At the same meal, my wife's Caesar Salad was very warm.  She asked for another, but it was no better.  They should put the entrees wherever those salads are kept - maybe they'd warm up closer to the proper temperature!  Paying more to eat in the specialty restaurants was not always a solution.  The Lobster Ravioli at La Cucina were gummy and too fishy-tasting.  Rumor has it they're purchased in bulk, not made onboard.  Worst of all were the "nachos" in Tequila.  We were served a plate of thin chips with Cheez Whiz poured on top - that's it!  I haven't had nachos that were quite that bad since a visit to a drive-in theater in 1980!  The filet mignon at Cagney's was cooked perfectly and the Oyster's Rockefeller was outstanding, but if those French fries weren't frozen shoestrings I'll eat my napkin.  They sure didn't taste like they'd come anywhere near the truffle oil the menu said they were cooked in.  The servers would address a problem if it was brought to their attention, but again, it was after the fact.  We met some friendly servers and chatted with them.  One, Shamilla in Magenta, was particularly personable.  What they serve is decided on a corporate level, and I'll bet all cruise lines have reduced their food budgets. But these hard working servers carry out their duties with hospitality and aplomb. Yes, they have difficult guests to contend with.  Especially on this cruise!  I'm not prejudiced against any group, but the elderly aboard this cruise were the most rude, crabby, and cantankerous crowd I'd ever seen.  They continually pushed in lines.  They cut in front of people in the buffet.  As a matter of fact, the Garden Cafe was such a free-for-all of rudeness and crudeness that after the first week I never returned.  It was not worth the aggravation to fight for the poor-quality food and lack of seating.  The undersized seating area was especially a problem when it was too cold or windy outside to eat.  The opened the nearby La Cucina for overflow seating, but by the time you got there, your food was stone cold.  And if you wanted anything else, you'd have to walk all the way back.  The service was generally better in Magenta than in Grand Pacific, where orders were frequently mixed up, beverages never arrived and where the meals were often unevenly paced. Mealtime on the Gem meant another chance to see how cost cutbacks affect the product.  On the positive side, because the senior set lined up to wait for the included dining rooms to open at 5:30, there were plenty of tables available later in the evening, and the specialty restaurants were practically deserted.  These food frustrations were what led us to reconsider purchasing a future cruise credit.  There are others lines out there.... We booked excursions through NCL in all ports except Ajaccio.  Ponta Delgada, located on Sao Miguel Island in the Azores, was beautiful - a green, hilly island which looked completely undeveloped outside the towns.  It's volcanic in origin, and we loved seeing the caldera lakes and thermal vents on our "Hot Springs & Botanical Gardens" excursion.  There are many cows, and we saw them effortlessly standing on the impossibly steep slopes, presumably not worried about the sheer drop to the sea a few feet away.  The island was clean, with evidence of new infrastructure improvements funded through membership in the European Union.  Tea is produced here, and we enjoyed a sample while visiting a plantation. Lisbon, Portugal's capital seemed a bit less affluent than most capital cities I've visited.  They have all the trappings of modern life, but also cling to their rich history, heritage and culture.  It was a real treat to sail under their 25 de Abril Bridge, which spans the Tagus River on the very day it was named for, which is the anniversary of the day the country replaced their dictator with a democracy in 1974.  The bridge reminded us of the Golden Gate Bridge, and we learned it was built by the same company.  We chose the tour "Monumental Lisbon".  After visiting Rossio Square, the Alfalma, and the Jeronimos Monastery, we headed to both the Monument to the Discoveries and the Belem Tower.  There's a row of restaurants close to the port, and after our excursion we enjoyed a drink and a snack at one of them near the river.  Because it was a holiday in Lisbon, some things that were normally open may have been closed.  At sailaway, one of our fellow Cruise Critic members invited us and a few others to a party in their bow penthouse suite, with excellent views of our passage under the bridge, up the river and out to sea. On Sunday morning we arrived at Cadiz, Spain in a 50-knot, wind-driven rain.  We waited a few miles offshore for the storm to subside.  The wind buffeted the Gem's side and I could not open the balcony door because of the pressure.  The ship actually listed a few degrees too.  The captain came on the intercom to reassure the passengers.  Finally, the storm broke and we proceeded to the dock for a late arrival.  Our excursion was delayed as well; we finally boarded the bus at 11:30 and headed out into the rain and the "Arcos & Sherry" tour.  Arcos de la Frontera was a Pueblo Blanco, or white village, where the whitewashed homes are situated along a sandstone ridge. The top of Pena Nueva provided spectacular views of the valley below.  The skies began to clear as we began the 30-mile ride to Jerez de la Frontera and the home of the Estevez Group, a winery that makes the region's specialty, Sherry.  The tour covered the bodegas, or aging cellars, but nothing else.  It seems that every time we choose a shore excursion to learn how something is produced, we'll see it, and maybe taste it, but nothing else.  At tables inside, four Sherries were offered for tasting.  The last one tasted like raisins or prunes.  Very sweet, and not my style.  I overheard one of our elderly fellow passengers saying "I'm not paying $8 for prune juice"!  It seemed, though, that folks were much more jovial on the ride back to the ship after the wine tasting. That night, the Gem would pass through the Strait of Gibraltar and enter the Mediterranean Sea.  I would have loved to see Africa so close off to starboard, as the Strait is only 7.7 nautical miles wide at its narrowest, but our transit was scheduled between 1:15 and 2:40 AM.  Because I had a much-needed appointment in my very comfortable bed, I skipped my chance to see the lights of Morocco. When we awoke the next day, we were approaching Malaga, Spain.  As the Gem maneuvered toward the dock, we passed two naval ships, one from Greece and one from the U.S., and a beautiful Star Clippers vessel.  Today we'd see the Alhambra, about 2 hours away by bus - and there were six buses headed there from the ship, so we knew we'd have plenty of company.  "Granada and the Magnificent Alhambra" included a 2 ½ hour tour of the palace and fortress complex, a remnant of the days when the Moors ruled Granada almost 800 years ago.  From there we moved to the Generalife Gardens to see the flower beds, hedges and fountains.  Our tickets were repeatedly scanned as we moved from exhibit to exhibit, causing some our fellow passengers to complain loudly.  The kvetching increased considerably at our next stop, a local hotel for a buffet lunch.  It was very crowded, and not particularly well-managed, but I thought it was unnecessary for someone to shout "Help!  Would somebody PLEASE tell us what to do?" at the top of their lungs because they couldn't figure out where the two lines began and ended.  After lunch, we headed straight back to the pier, skipping the promised "panoramic tour of the city" and photo stop at the Albaicin.  I have no idea why that happened - no explanation was offered. Then came Tuesday and our final sea day of the cruise.  We slept until 9AM, and enjoyed every minute.  The weather had turned nicer and the seas smoother once we were in the Mediterranean, and we hit the pools for the first and only time during the cruise.  The chair hogs were out in full force, and lounge chairs were at a premium.  It was a nice, relaxing day.  By 11 PM we had sailed 4,150 miles since New York and had another 145 miles to sail before reaching Ajaccio, Corsica the next morning. Corsica is a French island 110 miles from the Côte d'Azur.  We had planned to venture out on our own in this port.  We got off the ship at about 9:30 and headed out to find Le Petit Train d'Ajaccio, similar to a Disney World tram but resembling a train engine with cars full of tourists in tow.  I had discovered this online, and it sounded like a great way to see some of the city for only 10 Euros each.  We found the office, but they told us that the trains were departing from... the pier!  So, we walked all the way back, bought our tickets, and waited about an hour for one to show up.  While we were waiting, an elderly man collapsed just outside the cruise terminal.  His companions tended to him until the ambulance arrived.  It's a good thing that one came - despite running back to the gangway and asking that the ship's doctor come down to help - NCL staff would only say that the ambulance was coming.  Finally, trains began to arrive and the passenger backlog began to clear.  As we boarded I watched more than a few portly passengers hoist themselves into the cars with a great deal of heaving and hoeing in an effort to navigate the narrow openings.  Ajaccio is the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, so a stop at his monument was obligatory.  Then we set out for Les Îles Sanguinaires, rocky wind-swept islands where we saw a tower dating back to the time when the Genoese ruled Corsica.  The tour ended back at the town square, and we continued our explorations on foot.  There was even time to by a baguette at a boulangerie before re-boarding the Gem in time for a late lunch in the Blue Lagoon. A day later we were docked in Civitavecchia and on our way to the Eternal City on the "Rome and the Vatican" tour, which was the most expensive excursion of our cruise.  My wife looked forward to this port the most.  She had waited all her life to see the Sistine Chapel ceiling and Michelangelo's Pietà.  First stop was the Vatican Museums. Our guide had a deep knowledge and great passion for Michelangelo and we benefited from her experience as we negotiated the displays using "strategy, my dears!"  I expected crowds here, and I got 'em.  It was hard to keep up with the group due to the crowding; there was only time for brief glances at the wonders on display.  Soon enough we found ourselves in the Sistine Chapel gazing upward in awe Michelangelo's unbelievably impressive paintings.  Amazing.  Four years, on his back, working alone.  It took our breath away.  We were warned not to take pictures, and we didn't - at least none that used a flash...  After another buffet lunch at a hotel we were taken by bus past some ancient Roman ruins, with a stop at the Coliseum.  We were not able to go inside, but we snapped photos from a block away.  We discovered a gelateria where I first tasted the awesome wonders of lemon gelato.  I hope it won't be my last taste!  I wonder why something that good isn't widely available in the States. By now we were getting that "If it's Tuesday, this must be Belgium" feeling, but it was Friday and we had docked in Livorno.  It was also May 1, a holiday in Italy.  This we knew - but we couldn't have guessed how it would ruin the day for us.  We picked the "Cinque Terre" excursion because we thought the museums in Florence might be closed, and instead we would enjoy some quiet time off the beaten path in the remote "five lands" which are inaccessible except by boat, train or a long, arduous walk.  Wrong!  Double wrong!  I think the entire population of Italy descended on the Cinque Terre that day.  The plan featured a bus ride to La Spezia, where we'd board a boat for the trip to the first town we'd visit, Manarola.  From there, we'd walk the Via Dell'Amore, or "Street of Love" to Rio Maggiore.  Then, we'd climb aboard another boat and make our way to the fishing village of Vernazza.  Finally, we'd spend time in Monterosso al Mare, and maybe have lunch before taking the train back to La Spezia and the bus.  Well, we did it, but we certainly were not alone.  I later learned that the Cinque Terre is both a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is often crowded, and more so on holidays.  The stretch of the Via Dell'Amore that we walked was a narrow path along the cliffs overlooking the sea - so narrow, that with the crowds, the pace was "STEP, wait, two, three, four, STEP, wait, two, three, four" at its fastest.  At the worst of the bottlenecks we stood, cheek to jowl, for minutes at a time without moving.  The tour guide made a valiant effort to keep the group together, but this was next to impossible.  An elderly couple with mobility problems kept falling behind.  Understandably so, as the paths were narrow, steep in spots, with many stairs and tight corners to slow them down.  I think the activity level of most of the European excursions should be adjusted to show the true level of difficulty for passengers like this in areas where easy accessibility such as we in the U.S. enjoy because of the Americans with Disabilities Act does not exist.  Looking back, we picked the best excursion on the worst day.  The Via Dell'Amore was not romantic - it's was more like a cattle drive.  The restaurants weren't quaint, they were jammed.  We got separated from our group and wandered around alone for an hour before we relocated our guide.  But we did find a quiet dirt path in Monterosso that led up a hill past houses where fresh laundry hung outside the windows and lemon trees grew in the sunny side yards, and we discovered a centuries-old church where we lit a candle in thanks for our amazing adventure. Then, Saturday, (a lil' French lingo here) the pièce de rEsistance... Cannes, France.  The French Riviera.  Not the original Riviera, though, as that honor goes to the Italian Riviera and the area from La Spezia to the French border.  But when we tendered ashore in Cannes and boarded yet another bus for the trip to "Monaco and Nice", we knew this Riviera was no slouch.  We passed the venue for the famous Cannes Film Festival and famous hotels like the Carlton along La Croisette and the sea.  Arriving in Nice, we had time to stroll a spectacular open-air market with the most incredible variety of fruits & vegetables, meats, cheeses and flowers imaginable: the famous Cours Saleya.  What a shame that we couldn't bring any of that magnificent produce home with us.  But we feasted with our eyes, and took lots of pictures.  We snapped up a small jar of pesto and a selection of local mustards as all-too-precious souvenirs.  Back aboard the bus, we motored to Monaco.  Along the way, we caught a glimpse of Nice's harbor from the road above.  Eze was visible across the ridge, a medieval village we'd have to come back another time to visit.  Then, we arrived in Monaco, where lifestyles of the rich and famous play out on a daily basis.  It's tiny, too.  Imagine: during one cruise were we able to visit the two smallest countries in the world.  Monaco, at 0.7 square miles, is second only to Vatican City in size at two-tenths of a square mile.  We had two stops in the Principality; one on "The Rock", the oldest part of Monaco and home to the Palace and the most breathtaking views of the harbor - and the other in Monte Carlo, home to the renowned Casino and ostentatious displays of wealth at every turn.  The weather was spectacular as we drooled over the yachts in the harbor, saw the guard marching at the Palace and then took a quick lunch at a nearby shop. A short time later we stared in awe at the luxury sports cars, opulent jewelry stores and lavish hotels in Monte Carlo.  We saw the viewing stands and the guardrails in place for the Grand Prix later in the month, the Formula One race held yearly through the heart of the Principality.   What an exciting place to visit!  All too soon it was time to climb into the bus and head back to the Gem.  The ladies sunbathing without the hindrance of a top on the beach at Cannes kept many a male nose pressed to the bus windows on the return trip to the ship.  That night, we'd have to face the fact that it was time to pack and prepare to disembark in Barcelona the next morning.  Disembarkation was easy - your luggage is placed on airport-style carousels for retrieval. Truly, it was the trip of a lifetime for us.  Was everything perfect?  Of course not.   Would we do it again in a heartbeat?  Absolutely!  We have seen much more of this wide world now and we've seen its people - and we're richer for the experience.  We met a great group of people on the Cruise Critic roll call that we would love to sail with again, and who added immeasurably to our enjoyment of the cruise.  We loved the itinerary, but not the type of crowd a transatlantic attracts.  I don't get it:  they have money, the time and the physical ability to go on a cruise like this - so why are these older folks so petulant and rude?  And, despite a few disappointments or places where we thought the cost-cutting had gone too far, Norwegian and the Gem and especially its crew were a good choice to help us get there.  What a trip: over five thousand nautical miles of memories to last a lifetime.             Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
Background Mid-60's, 30th cruise overall, 8th on Royal Caribbean which includes four trans-Atlantics, one Panama Canal, and three one-week cruises. Pre-cruise Flew into Ft. Lauderdale a day early and stayed at the Red Carpet ... Read More
Background Mid-60's, 30th cruise overall, 8th on Royal Caribbean which includes four trans-Atlantics, one Panama Canal, and three one-week cruises. Pre-cruise Flew into Ft. Lauderdale a day early and stayed at the Red Carpet Inn.  Reviews were mixed and leaned towards negative but we found it fine for our purposes.  Free airport shuttle and port shuttle, clean, free internet, and had a reasonably priced restaurant attached to it which was good as there is nothing else around it other than a sports grill attached to the hotel next door—I think it was a Best Western.  Although in the flight path of the airport, we were not disturbed by the planes at all. I think they limit take offs and landings at night.  Largest pool I have ever seen for an establishment of that size. Embarkation We had heard that because the hotel's port shuttle was first come, first served it was advisable to line up early which we did at 10:30 a.m. for a 11:00 shuttle.   However, since we were leaving on a Thursday, there was no line, just one other couple and a lady waiting.   First they took the lady to the airport rental car location to pick up a car and then took us to the port.  The driver remarked how easy it was leaving on an off day.  It was around 11:30 when we got to the port and handed our luggage over.  We were directed to a large waiting area and told that the computers were down, and we would have to wait until they were up again to process our boarding. When the "hostess" made a remark about how clean the ship would be with the wait, I got suspicious that maybe they were cleaning because of the virus.  Especially since they were still cleaning cabins when we got on.  However, our cruising friend got there before the computers went down and he got right on. There was seating for everyone in the waiting area and employees who would ordinarily man the check-in counters circulated offering  water or juice. There was no separate area for Platinum, Diamond, etc. Every 15 minutes or so they would tell us that they computers were still down and thank us for our patience.  Around 12:45 they started boarding.  It was done in an orderly fashion with people being released by rows from the seating areas to the check-in area in the order they arrived at the terminal..  Check-in went efficiently and we were thanked for our patience by every employee we encountered.  We got on the ship and dropped off our things in the cabin before heading for lunch. After lunch we returned to the cabin to find our Diamond Value books and concierge lounge pass key but no ice in the bucket yet.  We had a balcony cabin on Deck 6 very near the front.   A few minutes later the room steward dropped by to introduce himself and I requested four things:  1) two Compasses a day; 2) ice put in my six-pack thermo bag which would be on the shower floor because it "sweats;" 3) empty the mini fridge and  4) see if he could hustle us up an egg crate mattress which he did do. By 3:00 p.m. luggage had been delivered and unpacking complete.  That is a record.  All contents of the suitcases were intact if you get my drift. The muster drill for our section was held in the Ixtapa lounge rather than outside.  Much preferred this to standing in the hot sun, cheek to jowl with other passengers.  It went quickly.  I liked that the closet had a "cubby" for life jackets storage in the cabin.  Let the cruise begin! We are "discarded" Diamonds on our first cruise as Diamond members.  The overflow lounge was full to be sure but very organized with no problem getting drinks (either at the bar or ordered while seated) and very nice appetizers. We requested late dining because the eastbound TA cruise  we took last year had early dining at 5:30 rather than the 6:00 we expected.  Couple this with moving the clocks up an hour at noon several days at sea (making our dinner at 4:30 "stomach time") and port calls that lasted until 5-6:00 p.m. we switched from our usual main dining time.to late.  However, on embarkation, we found our late dining would be 8:30 which is a little late for us and early dining would be 6:00.   So I asked the concierge (hey, I'm Diamond now if only for a few minutes) if he could assist us in changing to MTD and, basically, he blew me off.  If he had politely told me that he wished he could help but this could only be handled by me in person or some other words to that effect, I would have understood.  Instead, he told me to go down to the desk at the dining room and see if I could get it changed.  I did and after waiting 20 minutes for the lady who could handle it, I was told to come back at 9:30 the next morning as the lady was "unavailable."  So, we went off to the dining room the first night  to discover we had been assigned a table with great people.  A family and friends group from Canada who warmly welcomed us into their circle.  We decided we didn't want a change after all.  Things do have a way of working out. Our cabin was a D2 which we got on a guarantee.  The only difference I could see between that and an E2 (which we have had before) is the sofa was longer so I guess the cabin was longer, too. It was still just as "skinny."   There was a shampoo dispenser in the shower but no soap dispenser.  If you have a  "soap on a rope" stashed away, now would be a good time to use it.  The little bars provided slip through the wires on the soap holder and good luck picking it up without getting out of the shower. The shower had solid, curved doors rather than a curtain that "loves" you.   The cabin steward emptied the mini-bar but put all the items to the side of the fridge inside its "cubby.".  As the cruise progressed, the fridge "moved" over and one of the soda cans got punctured by the door hinge.  So we took everything out and put it on shelving on the side which was not being used, telling the room steward why.  He offered to take the things away but we told him no need to.  We did not get charged for the soda.  Another thing I liked about our balcony was it was glass below the railing vs. steel that we had on the Voyager.  Three previous trans-Atlantics have been on the Voyager so this review will make inevitable comparisons between the two ships.  The layout is the same other than different names for the venues except the Sports Bar was replaced by a wine bar. To me, the crew was much friendlier.    Not that they weren't on the Voyager but I felt more so on the Navigator. There seemed to be better organization throughout the cruise particularly in the area of port calls and accuracy in the Compass.  They had separate gangways for the ship's tours so that alleviated the crowding to get off.  We only disembarked one time with the "masses" to catch a private tour and walked off the ship with little or no delay.  Other times, we waited until later as we didn't have any tours lined up other than the HOHO.  There were fewer announcements.  I can only remember one or two for Bingo or the Art Auction.  The ship offered shuttle service into town centers but it wasn't heavily hawked with words like "you are miles from town and you need to buy our service because cabs are not readily available or more expensive (pick one).  In fact, you weren't that far from town and, if you shared a cab, it was cheaper than four individual shuttle tickets.   If you got off and decided to hoof it after seeing how close you were, you could get your unused shuttle ticket(s) refunded.  We are big time trivia players.  The prizes were much better than on the Voyager which seemed to only have key chains, pens, and water wallets. We got backpacks, shoulder bags, photo albums, hats, t-shirts, halfway useful stuff.  It  probably helped that they are doing away with their Vitality Program so they had items you traded for tickets to get rid of.  However, I heard on the Voyager TA at the same time, it was water wallets, pens, and key chains for trivia.  The hosts were more congenial and their English easy to understand.  On the Voyager there seemed to always be a confrontation at every game over one or two questions and some passengers getting quite ugly to the entertainment staff.   Did not happen once on this cruise.  There was one question that clearly had the wrong answer to it on the paper and the host  discarded it as even she knew Beethoven did not die in 1927 (lol).   There were three or four games a day, although, the 8:00 p.m. one usually involved a music theme trivia as in "name that tune/artist/movie" which was not our strong point. They had a trivia marathon which kept a running score for the 10:00 a.m. sea-day trivia sessions with the final held on the last day.   Unfortunately, the last day trivia was evicted from our usual meeting place at 10:00 a.m. by the art auction so the final was at 10:15 p.m.  The art auction had been a "problem" on most of our morning sessions trying to set up and this severely limited seating.  All the teams seemed to make it to the late hour for the final session.  All the trivia games were held in the Schooner Bar other than the marathon which was in Ixtapa.  However, the Schooner is too small a venue for trivia and seats went fast so people were pulling stools out of the casino and from the bar.  I did not think the production shows were as good as on the Voyager. The dancing was good but the sets minimal and the songs were for the most part ones we were not familiar with.  Husband and I had a running argument over whether the music was live or recorded.  It was probably a little of both.  The main singers may have been live and the orchestra was on the stage in the background during one of the shows.  However, on another show they were in the pit at the beginning which was lowered when the show started but not covered and I didn't see any tops of heads showing (we were in the balcony) nor were they bought back up when acknowledged after the show was over.  The third show I never saw the orchestra either before or after.  The Cruise Director was missing in action unless on stage.  At the M&M for our cruise critic group the staff had a few raffle prizes one of which was a small stuffed seal which I won.  The Activities Director hosting the M&M told me to bring the seal  to Bingo because there were some bonus things that went with it.  He was late getting there and when he got there, he had to chase down the sheet of paper which took awhile.  Turned out it was worthless stuff for me like 10 percent off at a gift store or something off spa treatment, or extra jackpot card for Bingo.  Anyway, while waiting, the card sales were going on, I did some calculating.  It was $32 for six cards for each of four games.  They had an electronic thingee for $67 that had 30 "cards" on it.  You just sat and held it and it did all the work keeping up with the numbers.  Other things was a strip of somethings (scratch offs???)  that if you bought you got a t-shirt, and you could buy my seal for $12 that came with the sheet of discounts.  If you bought  two "packets," you got an extra jackpot card of three games.  A lot of ways to separate you from your money.  When the game started, I counted about 80 people there.  Say they paid an average of $50 a person (and I think that is conservative) that would be $4,000.  The first game was straight bingo, around 10 numbers called, three winners split $76.  Next game was four corners, again about a dozen numbers called, think that one was worth $92.  The next game was "postage stamp" winner(s) got $102.  The last game was coverall and if all your numbers were covered in 44 pulls, you got the jackpot of around $1,500.  If not, then the game continued and the winner got $128 or thereabouts and some money was put towards the last session "jackpot must go" coverall.  Now you do the math.  $4,000 minimum taken in, and $400 paid out plus maybe $500 held back for the final day jackpot unless someone covered up all the numbers earlier with the allotted pulls.  That's $3,000 in their pocket each of the six sessions they had.   Out of curiosity, I went down to a couple of more games and the number of players participating were down (they can do math, too) so the payoffs were even less and split many times. The last coverall game where the jackpot would be given away had maybe 100 people there and the jackpot was $3,600.  They called 60 numbers before someone got it.  $67 electronic handhelds won most of the prizes—doh.   I figure the cruise line made about $18,000 on that little venture. The M&M was well attended with the Activities Director emceeing it with some helpers. They had punch and appetizers.  Raffle prizes were given out and everyone received a bag with a water wallet in it.  The helper facilitated the gift exchange by handing out drawing tickets to those that participated when they turned in their gifts and then delivering the gifts after their number was called.  Food I would like to say it has improved.  Not.  I've learned on the TA's that once the menu gets to Steak Diane, it is going to go downhill from there in my opinion.  They did have lobster twice—once on the Fisherman's Platter and again as "surf and turf." Unfortunately that night they had a special showing of the ice show for Platinum, Diamond, etc. people at 8:00.  Since our dinner hour was 8:30, we went to the Windjammer to eat prior to the show.  However, before the show started, they told us that it would be o.k. for late seating to go late to dinner.  Wish we had known that beforehand.  Both lobster dinners were on a formal night.  If you like salmon, fish, pasta, chicken then you are in business.  No one at our table availed themselves of the $15 steak so I can't comment on that.  It really saves me from myself because I don't agonize over which appetizer, entrEe or dessert to order and end up ordering multiples.  I've never left the dining room hungry, there is always something even if I make a meal on appetizers, soup and dessert. We ate lunches in the Windjammer and could always find a place to sit either by ourselves or asking someone at a large table if we could join them.   I noticed some people would come in and get their silverware and place it on a table to save it while getting their food.  I usually just had soup and dessert but husband filled his plate and there seemed to be a good selection.  The plates have shrunk from the large oval ones to regular dinner plate size.  No trays.  Service was pretty good with clearing tables and getting drinks if you asked. We ate all our breakfasts in the MDR.  On the Voyager, the MDR had an "express" breakfast buffet that had fruit, bread, eggs, bacon, etc. your basics every day.   You could, also, order omelets, pancakes, etc. from the menu.  On this ship, they had a buffet some days or maybe just a fruit bar or a pancake making bar or nothing at all a few times.  So I can't address how the seating was at breakfast in the Windjammer. Casino They only had about seven penny slots and one was down the entire cruise.  Two of them paid off enough to keep you entertained for a half-hour or so with a dollar at a penny a pull.  The others just sucked up your money faster than a tornado through a trailer park so you had no trouble at getting a seat at those.  Usual table games but I did notice the minimum at BJ was $5 rather than the $6 on the Voyager.  On formal nights, it was non-smoking in the evenings. I didn't happen to go through there so I can't comment on whether the attendance was up or down.  I do know that non-smokers were very pleased, though.  Cost Cutting/Amenities No chocolates, towel animals some nights but not every night.  On the good side, the Compass was not loaded up with all the inserts as in the past.  The Art Auction one was always there but I suspect Park Galleries supplies those and they had the half "strip"of  promotions but that was it.   Gift is slated to go in September.  We got the ever popular baseball hats this time. No daily "newspaper" was a real bummer because on a TA you are in a vacuum as far as news goes.  CNN on the television was reruns of what we had already seen four days before and Fox News didn't provide much either. We got bits and pieces about the Swine Flu.  ESPN equally worthless—taped reruns of long ago played games—usually soccer.  I did go to the concierge lounge twice to see what it was like.  I didn't stay more than a few minutes each time.  Neither time was it crowded (11:15 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.)  Not being a coffee drinker and wanting more than a danish and juice for breakfast, this is one amenity I won't miss come September 1. Because of the length of a TA cruise, you are bound to have a lot of older, retired, multi cruised RCL people.  This was no exception so an overflow lounge was utilized in the evenings.  I know people have said it is not about the drinks but, trust me, it is about the drinks.  I made a mental note of people around me and for every glass of wine/champagne I saw poured, I saw five or six mixed drinks.  I saw people downing several mixed drinks in an hour.   I will be interested to see how that ratio works on our return TA in November when the mixed drinks are 25% off and wine/champagne is free  The service was outstanding in the lounge and the appetizers plentiful and good.  There was a lot of socializing when people would come into the lounge and spot friends and join them or made arrangements to meet there at a certain time.  If seating was "tight" (like right before the first dinner seating when you have second dinner seating people coming in before 1st seating people have left), people were not shy about asking to join you if you had seats at your table and always welcomed.  It really is a good perk to get together with fellow cruisers and I am glad that Royal Caribbean is keeping it in some fashion. They had a section by the pool roped off for suites but I never saw more than three or four sitting there.  Since the weather, for the most part, was windy and cool, there was no problem getting seats elsewhere.  No chair hogs this cruise!  In the show room they roped off the first two rows of the balcony for the suite guests.  However, I heard some people just stepped over the ropes and sat down.  Maybe they were suite people. We were laughing because the first row of the balcony is not that desirable because the railing obstructs the view.  I did not see either the pool or the theater area being "monitored" to make sure it was only being used by suite guests.  We never had any problems getting a seat in the theater even coming at the last minute.   I have no ill will towards the suite guests getting these perks any more than against those that ride first class in an airplane while I am crammed in the back.  They paid a lot more than I did for the cruise so they deserve more than I get.  The Value Booklet has been gutted for all practical purposes.  Wine is a BOGO, JR has a BOGO for a milkshake only, coffee, same, percentage off things of like 10 percent—just about everything required you to buy something to get something.  They did still have the $5 match play at the casino and the slot pull coupon.  Has anybody ever won anything with that other than a key chain or t-shirt? Admittedly, the service is not as good as in the "old days" but that is due to cutting back on the staff not the staff not doing their job.  They can only do so much in the time allotted to them.  Our room steward was as good as we have ever had.   Our dining waiters were, also, satisfactory. Our waiter was new so there were some "whiffs" but still better service than I have had on many cruises.   I noticed we saw the head waiter much more frequently now as he/she is pitching in to take up the slack when necessary.  In the "old days" about the only time we ever saw him was when he was "trolling for tips."  A quick "how is everything" while looking past you  plotting the move to the next table.  Hence, I was never quick with a tip for them if I didn't ask for anything from them.  Now, I feel they earn the tip because they are so visible and helpful. This is a review so I am not going to editorialize on my opinions of the new policy of not allowing OBC/discounts being combined or the Diamond loyalty program cuts other than to say the playing field as been leveled in our choosing future cruises.  Library It was as pitiful as it is on the Voyager.  Bring your own reading material.  On the last day, I was taking up a paper back I had finished planning to put it on the shelf.  As I entered, there was a lady doing "dumpster diving" in the box that you return books in.  She had placed some of her books in there.  I know because she pointed out one she said she had finished by the same author of ones I was putting in there.  There were many paper backs which the library doesn't have.  I was wondering how one would distinguish what hardback was a donation and what was the library's when husband pointed out the library had "dots" on the spine to facilitate shelving them.  So, if you get desperate for reading material, do some dumpster diving.  It seems to me that Royal could dedicate some shelves for a "book exchange" since a lot of their shelves are empty.  Sick Bay Unfortunately, I had to visit the medical facilities.  My ears stopped up—probably a combination of air pressure flying in and build up of wax.  While it didn't seem that crowded when I went to the waiting room (maybe a half dozen people there and some were waiting with companions), it was still over an hour after I signed in to be looked at.  Once  the doctor saw me, he was very professional but English was definitely a second language and I had trouble understanding him.   Boy, am I glad I had insurance. $70 to walk through the door, $82 each ear to treat it, $35 for "medication" which was some ear drops and peroxide. I think I'll come out about even paying for insurance vs. charges.  I heard a broken wrist was over $3K.  Buy that insurance!! When checking in, the nurse went over the $70 charge to be seen and said that there would be an additional charge for services and medication.  So it is not like she didn't warn me.    I noticed a vending machine for OTC medications outside the door.  Didn't check out the prices, though.  Smoking As a smoker, I found the smoking rules very acceptable.  As I mentioned before, no smoking on formal nights in the casino.  I was surprised that smoking was allowed in the Two Poets Pub because on the Voyager, I heard, they don't have it in the Pub there anymore.  I never smoked in the cabin to begin with as a courtesy to those that would occupy the cabin after me so this was not a problem for me.  I did smoke on our balcony when the balconies on either side were not being occupied.  Early in the cruise, when my neighbor was out on the balcony at the railing, I did ask him if my smoking on the balcony bothered him and he told me it did not.   In the Schooner Bar, they have taken the smoking away from the "main" area but there is smoking allowed by the casino entrance.  Smoking allowed on one side of the Bolero Lounge separated by the stairs in the atrium.  Smoking was allowed on the Starboard side of the pool deck.  There were no ashtrays on the tables but a lot of "standing" ashtrays scattered around.  I was glad I had my Altoids tin to use.  Overall, I think their smoking policy is very fair for smokers.  While I am sure the many non-smokers would like to see the entire ship non-smoking or smokers relegated to the top deck by the smoke stack, that is not going to happen.  I think Carnival's Paradise showed this not to be an economical option.    I think Royal Caribbean has a good balance accommodating both smokers and non-smokers. If smoking on balconies bothers you, then you can cruise Celebrity which does not allow it.  Disembarkation On past cruises, there was always a paragraph in the Compass about how you should buy their transportation to the airport because cabs could be a two hour wait.  I assumed they meant they weren't plentiful.  When we disembarked last year in Barcelona, we carried our own luggage off as we arranged for our own transportation to the airport with pick up at  8:30.    I saw plenty of cabs there but, keep in mind, this was 7:30 or so in the morning.  This time, we were spending the night in Barcelona so we were not in any hurry to get off the ship as our hotel room would not be ready.  I, also, noted this time we were not asked to vacate the cabin by 8:30 as we have been in the past.  Aside note:  Our cabin steward knocked on the door at 7:30 and started to come in the cabin.  So, put out the do not disturb sign the night before.  When they "kicked us off the ship" around 9:30 a.m., we got in line for the cabs.  Good news is that there were plenty of cabs.  As fast as they could load them, they were leaving with another one waiting.  The bad news, it was over an hour by the time we got in line until we got to the front of the line. I think this is where the up to two hour wait sentence came in.   I'm sure we got in the line when it was at its longest. because there were many spending extra nights in Barcelona.  I did not hear anyone boo-hooing they were going to miss their flights because of the lengthy wait.  I don't think our cab driver was happy we weren't going to the airport because to make up for it instead of going around Las Ramblas to our hotel, he went down Las Ramblas which was very slow going and the meter was ticking.  Miscellaneous Notes No hand sanitizers.  The reasoning I heard was that they aren't that effective for Norovirus to start with and that people were depending on them rather than washing their hands which is the most effective way to protect against it.  As far as I know, no one got the virus or the swine flu.  However, lots of coughing, colds, etc.  I think it is due more to being in a confined environment than lack of "sanitizing."  I do a heavy dose of building up immunity before leaving home and while flying/cruising with Airborne, Cold FX, and a few of those awful tasting zinc tablets.  So far, it has worked for me.  I could set the clock of being sick 48 hours after any long-distance flight or commencing a cruise before I started being pro-active.  The clocks were moved up at noon every day (7 of them) except for the last advancement which was done at night.  Did not have any major problems with getting elevators except during those times you would expect it—dinner, leaving the show.  We think the ones that don't go to decks 13 and 14 were quicker to arrive, though.  When reboarding after spending a day in port, if you keep on walking past the first bank of elevators you come to, you will come to a second bank and there was never a wait there for one.  No iced tea except in the Windjammer between lunch and 9:30 when it closes.  I make my own stash by putting a tea bag in a water bottle and fill it with water for those off times. Husband liberated a coffee cup from the Windjammer because he said the paper cups in the Promenade were flimsy and too hot to hold even with the thingees there to put around them. No yellow mustard—French's type.  The only mustard husband will eat.  On the Voyager you could get it in packets in the Promenade Cafe but not on this ship.  They only had Dijon type. Ports I won't go into them much as the TA's are one time stops. Tenerife One of our fellow CC members lined up a private tour which took us to the volcanos.  Very good tour and half Royal Caribbean's price.  The only downside is you must walk off the pier to get to the transportation as no cabs or tour buses other than RCL's are allowed on the pier.  It is about a ¾ mile walk.  I think what surprised me the most was I wasn't aware of how "stark" part of the island is around the volcanos.  In fact, our driver told us that movies are filmed there (and we saw one was being filmed) because it resembles moonscape and "old" West.  Reminded me of Monument Valley.  A lot of beautiful vegetation in the lower levels. Lisbon We did the HOHO bus there. Having never been to these ports, we decided to get an overview so when/if we return, we will have a better idea of what we would like to concentrate on.   I purchased all our HOHO tickets from Expedia before leaving so I would not have to worry about having Euros or finding a kiosk or whatever to purchase them once in the port.  As it turned out, you can buy them from the bus driver but they want Euros.  They may take dollars but I'm sure the exchange rate would not be good (lol).  We bought shuttle tickets from the ship but it turned out the HOHO bus stopped right in front of the terminal so we got a refund on the ship's shuttle tickets.  Those that took the shuttle were let out with a five minute walk into town. Cadiz In Cadiz, we couldn't dock where they had planned; we were put in a cargo terminal instead.   We were delayed getting off so the port call was extended an hour.  When we got off, numerous crew members (including the Captain, I heard) were deployed to direct people around the containers to the end of the pier. Again did the HOHO route.  We had to walk about ½ a mile to get into town.  The reason why we were shifted to the cargo port was because the Ruby Princess beat us to our docking place.  Once it town, we went to the tourist information office to find out where to pick up the bus.  In front of Burger King  right across the street.  Unfortunately, the stop before this stop was right in front of the Ruby Princess.  So, when the bus got to us, it was mostly full—maybe only a dozen seats left.  The first bus came and some people shall we say, were not very orderly.  Being told that it would be half an hour (it seemed longer) until the next bus came (Cadiz does not usually have that many cruise passengers in town at the same time so they were overwhelmed) we got a little more "organized."  A line was formed and people politely told where the end of it was.  After awhile a HOHO employee came over to direct people to the end of the line and keep things organized.. Malaga HOHO.  About a ½ mile walk to the bus stop along a promenade by the beach.   This is where I came to the realization that ear buds are not designed for my ears.  No matter how I pushed, shoved, twisted, they would not stay in my ear.  In Lisbon, the driver spoke over a PA system (good English, easy to understand).  In Cadiz and Malaga they had the ear buds which you could hook up and choose a language.  Mental note to self, next TA when I plan to do the HOHO, bring some el cheapo ear phones with me.  Continental Airline's won't work because they have two prongs instead of one.  You need a one pronged ear phone. Additional Notes In Tenerife, our first European stop, we tried to get Euro's.  For some reason, our cards would not work in the two ATMs we tried.. We had some Euros with us so this was not the end of the world.  If push came to shove, we had a friend who could get euros off his card for us.  In Lisbon, we again attempted to get some Euros from an ATM with no luck.  It appeared the ATM wanted  a six digit pin and we have a four digit one.  However, at a second machine, we noticed that in addition to buttons running down the side of the machine which we had pressed to "confirm our transaction"  after using them to set the transaction up, there were some buttons on the base of the machine where we could "confirm our transaction."  That worked.  For some reason we cannot fathom, we were invited to dine with the Captain.  We were in an el-cheapo balcony guarantee cabin, just made Diamond, our ship board tabs on previous cruises have been practically nothing due to OBC (on the last TA cruise got $100 back), don't wear designer clothes or expensive jewelry, don't gamble, didn't suck up to any officers, but we do clean up nice.   Dart board?  We were extended the invitation on a Monday evening at dinner and told an invitation would be forthcoming.  Tuesday evening the Head Waiter discreetly told my husband he needed to speak with us after dinner.  We figured they were going to tell us that a mistake had been made and give us a bottle of wine for our disappointment (lol).  Nope, just wanted confirmation we were coming and to give us the official invitation.  Needless to say, it was the highlight of this cruise.  The Captain and his wife were there and an officer.  The other couples invited to round out the 12-man table were just Plain Jane people like us—or appeared to be.  I was worried husband didn't have a tux with him but we were told a suit would be fine.  Only one other male guest had a tux on and he was "apologizing" saying it was all he had bought. We had a special menu, signed by the captain and wine was flowing.  They took a group picture of us from the balcony and presented it to us after dinner.   I am passing this on not to "brag" but to give everyone hope they, too, might get an invite. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to e-mail me at whitlock@alumni.utexas.net.  It was a great cruise. Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
This is the second time on the Grand Princess. We sailed on her 11 years ago. I was not happy with the shelf space then and it still hasn't changed. Luckily I was prepared for this and packed appropriately. The room size and bathroom ... Read More
This is the second time on the Grand Princess. We sailed on her 11 years ago. I was not happy with the shelf space then and it still hasn't changed. Luckily I was prepared for this and packed appropriately. The room size and bathroom is adequate, but compared to other ships I'd give it a C+. The room steward was fantastic! Our room was always taken care of and he was pleasant and understood us and I needed ice in the room and he made sure it was there... The crew members were very friendly, the waiter and assistant waiter were phenomenal...the food was the best and so were the desserts. What I liked was that you plate was not filled with food you couldn't eat nor was it too little an amount. Unfortunately, our crossing was grey and cold and there could have been better alternative entertainment for the passengers aside from first run movies...The TV was awful...there are plenty of old release movies that people would have enjoyed too... The internet was extremely unresponsive. Andrea, the internet manager was very helpful. The internet was supposed to be in all public areas and that was not so. The Computer teacher, Rachael, was fantastic and helpful...On other cruise lines this is free...but Rachael was worth every penny! The ports were fabulous and we used alternative excursions and did very well with them...I would stay far away from any cruise line's excursions....too pricey...You do take the chance of being left in port if you don't return on time, but its worth the little worry if you take your time and choose your guides... This time my husband and I came down with upper respiratory tract infections toward the end of the cruise. No fever...totally viral. Unfortunately, it is still hanging on and has made us both quite ill...There were very few hand sanitizers that I saw, but this is airbourne so I doubt they would have helped. Norovirus is more touching a place where the virus was deposited... Getting off the ship was a horrible experience for someone who not handicapped, but when someone (and I saw many) is in a wheelchair and unable to assist themselves its a double horror. Then add into the mix people who did not know which airline terminal they were supposed to go to...No one explained to them that once they got off the ship, they needed to know this information. This made things even worse, not to mention that the ship just kept on letting people off and making the situation worse...no one was communicating with anyone...I would give the disembarkation an F----...a BIG F! The Grand Princess needs to be refurbished and the social directors need to direct...there wasn't any...a pity...Oh and the photography is getting expensive everywhere...make sure you have your own good camera... Read Less
Sail Date April 2009
Although the Solstice is a very pretty ship,we would not sail that class again. We are both smokers and we were very restricted in the areas we could smoke. On the 5th floor they only had about 8-10 chairs available for us to sit on. ... Read More
Although the Solstice is a very pretty ship,we would not sail that class again. We are both smokers and we were very restricted in the areas we could smoke. On the 5th floor they only had about 8-10 chairs available for us to sit on. Believe me there were always more of us smokers out there than that! It definitely was a bonding experience though. One good thing came from all this. We discovered we got along fine without smoking on our balcony so we will be able to save money booking outside cabins instead of balconies!!!! The chairs on board were very uncomfortable. The only places I could sit and have my feet touch the floor and not be slouching in cushions were in the cafe Bacio and up at the Lawn club. The designers chose "pretty" over comfort. After getting my coffee in the morning and of course wanting a smoke I had to go up one floor or down one floor to the smoking areas. Again maybe a good thing because I got more exercise climbing stairs more often! The food was nothing exceptional although good. I enjoyed the buffet upstairs because they had sushi every night. The choices there could have been a bit better. We did eat at Silk Harvest and Tuscan Grille and definitely enjoyed both of those meals, although the Tuscan has leather high back chairs and I kept sliding out of mine. Of course the crew were very friendly and definitely went out of the way to get you anything you needed. Although we would not sail Solstice class again we did book our next cruise on the Mercury which will be sailing out of Charleston next March. So as you can see the smoking policy has not deterred us and who knows maybe we won't even be smokers next year!! Read Less
Sail Date February 2009
This cruise I travelled solo, as I was cruising just to surprise some friends/coworkers who were on the ship. My regular job is as a Musician in the entertainment department. I flew from Adelaide to Auckland via Melbourne with Qantas and ... Read More
This cruise I travelled solo, as I was cruising just to surprise some friends/coworkers who were on the ship. My regular job is as a Musician in the entertainment department. I flew from Adelaide to Auckland via Melbourne with Qantas and Jetstar. I thought the combined Qantas booking, and Jetstar being a subsidiary of Qantas, would have let my baggage be checked through, but it wasn't, I had to re-checkin at Melbourne. No big deal, just not what I'm used to. My hotel in Auckland was the Heritage, on Hobson Street, about 5 blocks back from the Princes Wharf where embarkation was to happen. I organized a later checkout (12pm) which the hotel was fine with, in fact they were very friendly and amenable, I can't fault the hotel at all, with the exception being the towels provided in the bathroom. Small and thin. The rest of the room was super, complete with small kitchenette, big bathroom, comfortable beds, lots of storage, just the small towels which seemed unusual. Embarkation was a breeze, I rocked up about 1:30pm, dropped my bag pierside, checking in took maybe 15-20 minutes. No long lines and it was all just nicely organized. I proceeded straight to my room (didn't hear any announcements if it was ready yet, but thought I'd have a look, sure enough it was all set. Since we were doing sea days straight to Sydney I headed back off the ship to the local shops and stocked up on some junkfood and Pepsi for the cabin. The first thing I noticed about this ship was the cleanliness. Definitely one of the cleanest ships I have been on! This is my first time on an R-class ship, having spent most of my time on S-, Vista- and Jewel-class ships. Returned about 3:30, my bag was already delivered, so I unpacked what I needed and then headed outside for boatdrill at 4pm. Was a reasonably quick one, and the weather was just comfortable no sweating or shivering which helped people keep quiet and get us out of the quicker. Headed upstairs to the sail away party for a few minutes, the HalCats were playing and were sounding good, and a good crowd was enjoying the view of Auckland harbour as we left. I went downstairs to the office and introduced myself to the Cruise Director Michelle and Hotel Manager Robert (I worked with Robert last year on the Statendam) and let them know I was aboard and was asked if I could play keyboard in the band since the replacement hadn't shown up. Shamefully, I had to admit my keyboard playing isn't as good as my real instruments (Sax/Percussion), and besides I was on vacation :) That aside, the band still sounded quite good. I ate in the Dining Room 2 nights, and the Pinnacle 1 night. It was enjoyable meeting different people at dinner (was seated at tables for 10-12) and although the majority of cruisers were of an "advanced" age, there were a surprising number of sub-30s as well - but I think most were there for the 3 days as opposed to the longer offerings of this cruise. Entertainment was the expected fare of HAL - George Kowalski was in the Ocean Bar (another flashback to last year's ship) for his 38th year on ships, playing ballroom dance music. Those who were there were enjoying it, I saw some serious dance couples. The String quartet in the Explorers lounge were great, playing from memory and taking requests. Marisha & the HalCats were all over the ship, and sounded great, but their hours in the crows nest were largely to small/non-existent crowds. A shame, as this particular HalCat band is tight, has fun, and is well-led by their bandleader James. Surprisingly I only attended one show in the Frans Hals lounge - the cast production show "Gold" (yet another flashback to a previous ship). The cast was talented but was let down by the audience - a lot of B2B passengers had seen it the previous week, so hadn't come back. I just wish Holland America used LIVE musicians to play the shows, as the midi backing track can't compare. The other two showtime offerings were the welcome aboard show - which was too cheesy for me to stay for, and Martin Lass - a great violinist whose show I have played on a few occasions. In the Piano Bar there was always a large and enthusiastic crowd to have fun with Randall Powell (yet another flashback to previous ships). I did not take part in any activities, but the event staff were all great and we all hung out at various times. Nightlife on the ship was very quiet after about 11pm. The Stateroom was great, looking out over the Lower Promenade deck, but luckily I had a direct view to the sea, and didn't notice people walking past so it wasn't an issue for me. The 2nd morning there was some loud noise (similar to a circular saw) which lasted for about 10 minutes at 930am, but I was able to return to sleep without hassle. Due to a problem with one of the turbos, combined with a head swell, we were 2 hours late arriving into Sydney, but this allowed more people to experience the sail-in through the Heads, past HMAS Sydney's Mast, the Opera House, the Bridge, and into Circular Quay. Disembarkation began approximately 1030am, my group was called off just after 12. It was not that huge a dilemma since the disembarking passengers were a small number compared to the in-transit passengers, however it would mean the embarking passengers may have had to wait longer than usual. Sorry about that. I walked myself up to the Swissotel on Market street, just around the corner from Pitt Street Mall and the Centrepoint Tower, checked in about 1pm, and relaxed. All in all, it was a great way to see the ship from the "other" side of the coin. Having worked from the service end of the industry I knew what to expect, and how to make life easier for all involved. I would love to cruise for longer next time. I hope this review has been enlightening for some at least. Read Less
Sail Date January 2009
Journey was practically identical to Regatta except it looked a little tired and in need of care. The wonderful lounge and Piano Bar on Regatta had a whole extension from the Casino in its place on Journey.This left their midships ... Read More
Journey was practically identical to Regatta except it looked a little tired and in need of care. The wonderful lounge and Piano Bar on Regatta had a whole extension from the Casino in its place on Journey.This left their midships 'Shopping Mall' as the locale for Trivia, Piano Sing along etc, not enough seats, no bar and limited service. They took away tables that were in place on Regatta on the outdoor area at the stern at the 9th deck buffet and installed a bar on Journey. The bar was rarely open, the seats were chipped and in need of stain and varnish. At night they had a barman but no waiters. The service level EXCEPT in Discoveries was poor, not enough wait staff in any of the Bar areas. In the Buffet (Windows) they had specialty cooking station but only one chef leading to long line ups for specialized fish, Asian, Indian Entrees. Your dirty plates could sit around for quite a while as there was no help to move them. Water or drinks were your own responsibility. The same criteria applied at the Grill on Deck 9 Poolside, one cook doing custom work. Discoveries was impeccable with a MAitre'D who remembered your name after DAy 1, great service, great selection and perfect cuisine. If Journey could apply the principles of Discoveries to the rest of the ships management they may catch up with Oceania. CAbin Service was poor. The much touted Butler Service was just a Housekeeper with a Bow Tie. we got Fresh Flowers Day 1 and they were never replaced. The Fresh Fruit was only replacing as and when they felt like it. If you like attention, towel figures and all that forget it. We never saw the Butler after Day 1. When our door lock failed neither they or Customer Relations helped, I had to seek out the Engineering Officer (SAfety) who fixed it for us. Just a lack of commitment and organization. Always polite but it was largely superficial. The Entertainment Staff were Bizarre. Events on Board were carried out by a very energetic DJ/Trivia King Ron 'Hollywood' a very hard working energetic individual with help from Eric Brohman a would be magician and trivia host. Both friendly and fun. Whenever you asked a question though the answer was "We don't know what we are doing any day until late the evening before" Hence a Presentation was cancelled as they had not done a dry run on their computer. This happened several times with AV equipment, no rehearsal apparent, flying by the seat of their pants! The Pianist, Dan, was brilliant, talented and should have been Cruise Director as he was also so people oriented, the lady harpist was talented and great fun. Both of them said many times that they hadn't a clue what was expected from them on a day to day basis. Seemed a little 'devil may care' despite their great talent. The 'Events Organizer' Kelsey was hard working and very pleasant but was always being overshadowed by her boss. The Cruise Director Sue Denning was the most incredible example of square peg in a round hole. On most cruises the Cruise Director is thew 'Passengers Friend, Organizer, liaison etc. This lady had an ego the size of the ship itself but without the managerial abilities to match. Sue had talent, belted out a good song and was quite the Comedienne but didn't know when to switch it off. She was very much a 'Legend in her own mind' and contributed little to events on the cruise.She was aloof, lacking eye contact, running hother and yon but never getting directly involved in anything. All questions were answered with "Sorry, Luv, I'm too busy" Consensus of many I spoke to was she was not really sophisticated for her role but may be good on a lesser class of ship as one of the Acts. Her lack of Motivational skills showed up in the attitudes and planning of the staff reporting to her. The ship was nice but not as nice as Regatta, the Crew nice but impersonal. To be told to tip an extra $5 for Service in Prime C after already being told to pay a staff gratuity was a bit cheap. The debarkation started early on the 15th , for the 18th arrival!! First we got our customs forms and instructions 15th, lecture next day by Sue in 'Bossy Boots' mode . The fruit went from the room on the 17th as well as the slippers we were supposed to keep. On the 18th , following Instructions we breakfasted at 6 am, waited till 7.40 for our time for Customs and Immigration. That started at 8 am and it was a free for all, no organizing at all. We then dutifully waited for our 8.50 call for our luggage tag only to get Sue shouting to the crowd in the SHopping Mall area "I know you are in a hurry to get off, try and observe the sequence but if you don't want to just don't shove your way out" Once again another free for all. Eventually we worked our way through a chaotic baggage claim to waiting buses that sat forever it seemed , organized by no one from Azamara. The driver left about 10-15 for the Airport, the driver , Lovell, making a pitch for tips on the intercom. It was a nice cruise BUT if I have the choice its still Oceania for me. Read Less
Sail Date December 2008
This was our (wife of 40 years!) first Celebrity cruise. We have travelled extensively in the last 30 years. Many river cruises, several transatlantics, a few med. cruises plus SCUBA diving all over the world, Aust. Tahiti, China etc. I ... Read More
This was our (wife of 40 years!) first Celebrity cruise. We have travelled extensively in the last 30 years. Many river cruises, several transatlantics, a few med. cruises plus SCUBA diving all over the world, Aust. Tahiti, China etc. I booked this trip through an agent and paid a lot more than I would have if I had set it up myself. I'm getting lazy I guess. The worst part of the trip was the flights the agency booked. A 6AM from Newark to Miami at double what it should have cost. The flights home started at 9:30 PM. Because the flight started so late (off the ship at 8:30 AM) we booked an excursion at 189 per person, even though we had a transfer included. We then had a 5 hour wait at the airport! for a 8 hour flight to MIAmi. Changed planes AND AIRLINES in Miami, two hour layover, but they lost our bags anyway! I accept that this part was all my fault for trusting and NOT questioning the details from the agency. This agency had over 400 people on the boat! Before I left I checked this message board with the proverbial "can you bring alcohol on board?" Most people said yes, there is a two bottle rule...WRONG.... NO BOOZE is the rule period! But, I put three bottles of wine in my checked luggage and a bottle of booze. They are so busy getting you on the boat, all arrived in good condition. I gave one bottle to my cabin steward. Celebrity is marketed as "upscale". Nope, sorry, same as any other line we have been on. We have been on bigger ships and a few smaller, size does not matter! Dining room food was always good but never GREAT! Same as any up scale restaurant in the states with the exception of a few off the chart Michlin places. On three days there was a special brunch in the dining room (trellis) they were really good with an excellent variety. The deck 10 buffet was typical of most ships. Better than the Costa (2) we were on but not quite better than the Norwegian Jade we did a transatlantic on. Crew, wait staff etc, were all excellent. I've never had a really bad encounter on any ship. Ask and you shall receive. Our staff was perhaps not as experienced as some we have had but all you had to do was hint that something was not right and they tried to fix the problem. The ship had just spent two weeks in dry dock for "sprucing up" actually, I think it was a mechanical problem being fixed. The ship was clean but not spotless. We had no problem but we did hear other passengers complain about towels not being changed, floor dirty etc. WE did not see this but heard about it from unhappy passengers. A few GOOD things: On the last three cruises we were on, we spent $120 on bottled water for the room! On this boat we ordered ice and ice water 3 times a day which Urall brought every day after I asked. No charge! I hate paying for water! The agency we book with had two people on board who were always at their station during appointed hours and did their best to work out any problems. As usual (for us anyway) we found the ships staff anxious to help. The drinks were good, $6-7 for a beer, $ 8-9 for a cocktail. Problems: Several passengers complained that the grout in their bathrooms stuck to their feet and came out of the tiles. We has a little of this in our shower. Several rooms were flooded (deck 7 even side). I never found out why but they were flooded. A few people were upgraded as a result but the ship was fully booked and some had to go back to smelly damp rooms! Very VERY unhappy! NOTE: When the Shaman on the train excursion in Peru does his performance and explains how the white man did an evil thing in making cocaine from the sacred coca leaf, listen! When he passes out a few leaves of coca and tells you it is OK to chew, DON"T LISTEN!! I tried it. It is supposed to be a mild stimulant. It did nothing for me in that regard, however, I think his Llama cleaned his butt with them! I got VERY sick the next day and stayed that way for 4 days! Read Less
Sail Date December 2008
My first cruise on a ship with more than 40 passengers was a 16-day affair on Azamara Journey from Miami to Los Angeles via the Panama Canal. We had stops in Aruba; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua; and in Huatulco, ... Read More
My first cruise on a ship with more than 40 passengers was a 16-day affair on Azamara Journey from Miami to Los Angeles via the Panama Canal. We had stops in Aruba; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua; and in Huatulco, Acapulco and Cabo San Lucas , all in Mexico. We arranged our own airfares and hotel in Miami in order to use air miles points. Aeroplan hammered us for 200,000 points for the flights alone and we reserved weeks in advance. Aeroplan loves to rob its customers. I was told that Azamara was a small, luxury ship with great service—a 2:1 ratio passengers to staff—-fine food and excellent entertainment. One out of three isn't bad, I suppose, it is a small ship. And speaking of small, the sole swimming pool in minuscule, but that's OK I guess. I did expect more. We arrived at the docks on time and the boarding process was relatively smooth although I got in to Russia without showing my passport as many times as I did boarding Azamara Journey in Miami. Once aboard, we found our stateroom (#6077) with a private balcony to be cozy and well appointed. The toiletries supplied by Azamara were very good. The bed linens were excellent as was the mattress. The towels were over-sized, thick and absorbent and the robes splendid but heavy. No slippers were to be found, nor binoculars! Our stateroom attendant, Alexis, was the best; hardworking, pleasant and courteous. He often ran ahead of my wife just to open the door for her. Other staff was largely attentive and smiled a lot, but too many of them were hopeless at their jobs. Their English was often lacking and many were untrained in the service industry. It must be said, though, that some were excellent, Roxanna in the Discoveries dining room, Maria a wine server with a constant smile who never stopped moving, and a couple of young women in the Aqualina dining room were exceptional including Ludmillia (spelled somewhat differently)and her wine steward. The entertainment crew, Eric Brouman, Ron Hollywood,and Geny Alie, were worth the price of admission both while working and while just mingling with the passengers. The harpist, Mary Amanda, was wonderful to listen to and charismatic to boot. The male piano player, Dan, in the Cova Cafe was a great entertainer. Otherwise, the entertainment was sub-standard. One performer, a woman with a ventriloquist's dummy whose mouth moved less than hers, was beyond description, I fear. A female piano player and a violinist were hardly from the entertainment A list The food was OK, but not up to the descriptions by Azamara. If salt is what you like in huge doses, you'd love this stuff. My biggest complaint, however, was that the kitchen had no idea how to do a steak. While my rib eye was done properly, four filet mignons were unbelievably under- or over-cooked. Christmas dinner was dreadful. It was advertised as mid-western turkey with seasonal vegetables. I'll bet the meat had never seen the mid-west, or even a turkey, for that matter. It was, I'm sure, processed meat. The main seasonal vegetable was asparagus—a spring veggie where I come from. Over-all it was hopeless. But New Year's Eve dinner topped it. We had a table for 10 and were led to the captain's table—minus the captain, which is fine with me—by the head man in the food section. A fine young fellow named Scott. That was the end of the good stuff. We waited 20 minutes without so much as a glass of water and nary a suggestion that a server was assigned to our table. I was able to locate an assistant manager of Discoveries to ask what was going on. Unbelievably, he said the waiter who looked after our table was off sick. That was it. I asked him whether we should wait until the waiter recovered or would someone be assigned to us. He said he'd serve us. About five minutes later the menus were distributed and the waiter vanished for a further five minutes. When he came back, we got some water and one of our fellow diners ordered wine that was available in an upstairs dining room, but not in Discoveries. No problem, said the waiter, I will see to it—perhaps the $65 price tag, plus the 18 per cent gratuity helped. Alas, 10 minutes later, Maria, the wine lady, showed up and asked for our wine order. Told that the waiter had said he'd look after the special order, she said he had just passed it on to her. I then ordered a bottle that was on Discoveries' list—also $65 plus the ubiquitous 18 per cent. They arrived together another 10 minutes hence, although the bottle from upstairs was the wrong one. We kept it because by now the hour was getting late and we were thirsty and hungry. Then the ordering started. When asked what came with the veal, the waiter said he didn't know. And he didn't offer to find out. And so it went. No apologies. Nothing. Had that happened in a good dining room there would have been hell to pay. However, despite reporting our displeasure to a higher-up, we heard nothing. The fitness and recreation facilities were fine. My wife enjoyed the stretching classes, the yoga sessions, especially when they gathered on deck, and occasionally pilates. She thought the instructor Dicky, a Dutch girl, was very good. The fitness facilities, too were adequate and well maintained. We didn't go on any organized excursions, which we thought were a little pricey and we didn't travel all that way to spend hours on a bus. We did manage to travel around in hired vehicles with local guides. So what did we think of the cruise over-all? We had a great time because of the people we met on board. Thanks to the ship's small size, we met a good number of people, 90 per cent of them terrific company. The other 10 per cent? They probably didn't like me any more than I liked them. It was Hanukkah and some Jewish people invited us to the candle-lighting ceremony. We had a brilliant time. We socialized with Brits, Americans, South Africans and Canadians. Would I cruise again? I'm not sure because I can't imagine meeting such a great group of people again. If we did go on another cruiseand I suppose it's likelyit would be on a small ship. Cruise Beginner13 Read Less
Sail Date December 2008
We cruised from Southampton to Ft. Lauderdale on this mega-ship's first Transatlantic crossing. The Independence had been in Europe since being put into service in May '08, and was still as good as new. Our midship balcony ... Read More
We cruised from Southampton to Ft. Lauderdale on this mega-ship's first Transatlantic crossing. The Independence had been in Europe since being put into service in May '08, and was still as good as new. Our midship balcony stateroom on deck 8 was fine, with the practical and pleasant layout and abundance of storage found on most newer ships, kept tidy by a friendly attendant. In general, it's a well laid-out ship, and despite its huge size easy to move around on. It's fun to walk around the multi-story center "mall", which provides a community feeling, no matter how temporary it may be (although the shopping opportunities are not better than on less extravagant vessels), and it's also a nice stage for some of the cruise staff's elaborate evening parades. The ship offers very good sports and workout opportunities; I especially loved the Flow-Rider surfing machine and couldn't get enough of it. (I'm 61 and had never surfed before.) However, the dance floors are much too small, especially in comparison to Princess and Cunard ships with the exception of the temporary dance floor which sometimes covers the ice skating rink; it's of good size but very sticky and, therefore, uncomfortable to dance on. This was a shame because there was a decent band playing ballroom music as well as a good Latin band. Also, far too few dance lessons were being offered by the excellent professional Russian dance couple (3, on a 13 day cruise with 10 days at sea). Dinner service as well as room service were good, food quality average. We attended a Crown & Anchor wine tasting, and I would strongly recommend against it: The four wines presented were of sub-par quality, and the wine steward must have been the worst presenter on board; he dragged out for an hour what could have been explained in a few minutes. My wife and I consoled ourselves by digging into the accompanying cheese platters. The variety shows in the theatre were uneven two excellent ones, others less so. Both ice shows were very good, with highly professional skaters who, to our surprise, also doubled as rink attendants during passenger skating hours as well as support personnel in the ports. The cruise director was possibly the best one we've experienced over the 13 cruises we've taken in the past dozen years; all his people were very personable, and there were plenty of activities for every taste, including the famed Quest, which we, contrary to our preconceptions, enjoyed enormously. There was only one truly weak spot on this ship, at least for us: Customer / purser service did not live up to our expectations and was considerably below what we've experienced on other cruises most recently a Transatlantic crossing on the QM2 and a Transpacific crossing (Alaska to China) on the Sapphire Princess. Calls to their "0" number were often not answered (ring-ring-ring forever), and several times we were given outrightly false information worst in Funchal, Madeira, concerning car rental opportunities: We were advised to purchase RC's bus tickets from the dock into town, where there would be car rental places nearby. This proved to be completely wrong: After taking that bus and losing nearly an hour asking around ("no, there is no Avis or Hertz or you-name-it here"), a rare cab driver who did not try to convince us that he was the only "car rental" in town ferried us from the city center in the opposite direction to the Lido area (which we could have gotten to from the ship's dock in under 5 minutes by cab or maybe 20 minutes walking), where one can find every car rental agency imaginable, all near each other and priced very reasonably. When, upon our return to the ship that evening, I complained about the wrong information that had caused us to lose time and spend extra money, the person at the purser's desk (not the same who had given us the faulty info to begin with) told me they hadn't known, and she would see to it that we were at least reimbursed for the unnecessary bus trip into Funchal's city center. The reimbursement never materialized (and I didn't want to lose more time by again standing in line at the purser's desk to follow up with a complaint). Also, their feigning ignorance with regard to the location of car rentals in Funchal is not very believable, considering that RC and the Independence of the Seas have been regulars in that place. Otherwise, we enjoyed the crossing, including the three first days of cool mist and rain (Southampton to our first port: Vigo, Spain) and, of course, the magnificent weather and mostly calm seas from Madeira to St. Maarten and finally Ft. Lauderdale. Read Less
Sail Date November 2008
Having previously sailed on Symphony and posted a review, I decided to file a follow-up of the differences from our previous experience. It's said that there is only one chance to make a good first impression. This is true, but our ... Read More
Having previously sailed on Symphony and posted a review, I decided to file a follow-up of the differences from our previous experience. It's said that there is only one chance to make a good first impression. This is true, but our second impression was equally good. We signed-on to this voyage for the obligatory "bucket list" transit of the Panama Canal, and were not disappointed. I selected cabin 8001, which is the most forward one can get on the starboard side. From the photos of Symphony, I noticed that its balcony partition seemed to be cut to provide a forward view when standing at the rail. This is true and provided great vistas during the passage. I had some concerns about wind, and it was breezy at times. However, the aerodynamics of the ship appears to result in an interesting phenomenon: Cabins aft of us were windier and, in fact, their verandas got wet during an intervals of high seas and rain ... 8001 did not. I would recommend 8001 to other Panama Canal bucket-listers. We were lucky because the Symphony made the passage through the port channel. This provided us with a view of the central area of the canal and the large container ship accompanying us in the starboard channel. The (I believe) HAL Zuiderdam preceded us in the lock ahead, but stopped in Gatun Lake and headed back in the afternoon. There was a Society of Wine Educators lecturer aboard who presented a series of three tasting/lecture sessions. The sessions were listed as limited to 50, but when the waiting list expanded the number to 120, they just opened it up to everyone. Pasquale, the sommelier, and his staff had to work hard for these events ... the arithmetic extends to more than 400 wine tasting glasses to set-up and pour (followed by clean-up). It was excellent, and the price was right ... gratis. We had a nice laugh with Pasquale about what became a somewhat "lively" evening at the Vintage Room on our prior voyage. A tip from Pasquale: He gets a budget for these events and can and will arrange it the way you want. Therefore, if you tell him to, he will ease-up a little on the cuisine and put the emphasis on better wines ... something to remember if you are an oenophile. Having booked the voyage to visit the canal, we had no expectations for the ports of call. Cartegena was a pleasant surprise, the old town being quite well preserved and attractive. We were not disappointed with the ports of Grand Cayman, Acapulco, and Cabo because they pretty much met our expectations ... none. To be fair, we live where many folks come to lie on the beach and buy tee shirts and tacky trinkets ... but we did this anyway. Heard in all ports: "Prices coming down ... almost free". After the wives went back to the ship after a morning of hard bargaining in the Acapulco Artisan Market, the husbands continued wandering. We were approached and asked if we wanted to visit a "Happy Hotel". When told the wives probably wouldn't approve of that, the response was "you don't have to bring them" ... yikes, time to get back to the ship! Having experienced the Crystal "never say no", I had planned to special order Clams Casino. This resulted in the only major disappointment on the cruise when the answer was no, all clams are allocated to Prego where, incidentally, Clams Casino is not available. Oh well, there were certainly many other excellent dining options. The cuisine highlight for us was the Silk Road. Earlier this year my wife took me to the local Nobu's for my birthday and the small sampler menu totaled about $100/person. For the amount we "sampled" in Silk road on our three visits there, at "retail", the cost of our voyage was very well "subsidized". Now, they aren't trolling for Ahi from the stern of Symphony as we sail, so the fish was not alive on the morning of our meals. However, it was still as excellent as it could be. We were joined in Silk Road by our "Table 84" mates from Central Canada, where the fish is only raw when hauled over the stern of their boat. They were terrific sports and made it through the entire meal with chopsticks. We hope to reconvene with them in Silk Road at some time in the future. Crystallization Status: The crystals are larger, but not set. Crystal is the best cruise line we have experienced to-date but don't feel parochial enough to declare that it should be sailed to the exclusion of all others. Read Less
Sail Date November 2008
Overall, we enjoyed the transatlantic cruise on the Voyager of the Seas very much and would do it again. In addition to the ships features and quality of service, we enjoyed traveling and sightseeing with passengers of a good range of ... Read More
Overall, we enjoyed the transatlantic cruise on the Voyager of the Seas very much and would do it again. In addition to the ships features and quality of service, we enjoyed traveling and sightseeing with passengers of a good range of ages (albeit skewed towards retirees), from a diverse group of backgrounds (ethnic, geographic, and political), and with a variety of family structures (couples with an elderly inlaw, newlyweds, and GLBT families alike).. A few areas for improvement are noted below. Embarkation Embarkation was smootheven better than our experience boarding the Majesty of the Seas at RC's homeport in Miami. The staff was friendly, the embarkation facility was comfortable, and the process was efficient. I especially appreciated that I wasn't feeling like the baggage handlers were pressuring passengers for a tip situation that I felt when I embarked in Miami. All of our baggage arrived just a few hours later. Stateroom We did a guarantee rate, and was in an inside stateroom on deck six. The beds were comfortable and had enough blankets to keep us warm. Though we had requested that the beds be put together, we found it to be separated on our first day. We ended up rearranging the beds ourselves. Being relatively low and centered made the rocking less noticeable (good because I was prone to sea sickness). We packed light (considering it was a 15-night cruise) so there were adequate storage for both of us. However, some of the doors for the storage were beginning to get loose and sagged. It rarely felt crowded, even when we ordered room service. The cabin attendant was not as friendly as others we've had (though he wasn't unfriendly either), but he was responsive. When we asked for the clothes line to be replaced, it was done by the next time we were back. Also, when we asked him not to leave the lights on after making the bed, he made sure not to do so again. Shows We greatly enjoyed the performances by the ship's singers and dancers, as well as the performances by the ice skaters. The ice skaters were phenomenal and it was just amazing what they could do in such as small space (especially while the ship was rocking). We only wished that they had more musical reviews by the singers and dancers since they only did two. They did also perform during the parades, but it can be hard to see the performance because there usually were so many people in the Royal Promenade and the performers were usually on the bridge. Food As usual with Royal Caribbean, we liked the food on the ship. It wasn't the best that we've ever had, but it was very good for the price. And although we were on for 15 days, the food had enough variety that it didn't get old. We frequently indulged by having multiple desserts during dinner. On a typical day, we went to the Windjammer for breakfast and lunch, and then went to the dining room for dinner. We wished we knew how good the lunch options (especially the salad bar) was in the Carmen dining room sooner. The midnight buffet was not as impressive as past cruises I've been on (where they've done "chocolate extravaganzas"). However, I did appreciate that there were a lot of fruits, which made it healthier. One complaint is that the soft serve ice cream machines on deck twelve were frequently out of service (a significant problem since one of us has a sweet tooth for ice cream). Though we complained to the manager, he did not seem to really care and gave us a somewhat flippant response. During the 15-day cruise, the soft-serve ice cream was probably only available for a few days. We especially appreciated late night (up to 2 am) availability of the Cafe Promenade, which served pizza, sandwiches, fruit, and desserts. When we stayed up, this was a great place to get a small snack so we're not starving late at night. Activities Going on a transatlantic cruise, I thought that I may get boredI was wrong. There were plenty of activities on the ship and at the end of each day, we often wondered where all the time went. We worked out, played in the sports court, learned a dance, listened to lectures, ice skated, or mini-golfed when we were on the ship. As much as we can, we went to see Mimi (one of the lead singers) performshe just had such a great voice. Our one complaint would be the movies hosted in the screening roomthe facility was way too small and it was just too frequently packed. Though we tried a couple of times, we never were able to make it inside. It was surprising since the screening room was hard to find (just below La Scala). GLBT-Friendly Atmosphere There was a sizable contingent of GLBT passengers (and staff) who were all welcomed and made to feel at home on the ship. We were surprised how many passengers showed up for the FOD meetingsthere ended up being three different times to accommodate everyone's varying schedules and preferences. Other passengers were very welcoming and we had no problem presenting ourselves as a same-sex couple. Even during the dance lessons, we slow danced together and no one batted an eye. At Port We made a point to engage in sightseeing at each port. Not everyone does (we were guilty ourselves of having slept through a port on our last cruise). This time, we walked quite a bit around each of the cities (and helped burn off all the extra calories we were consuming). None of the ports were boring. The ship had ports of call in: Cartagena (Spain), Funchal (Madeira), Canary Islands, Nassau (Bahamas), Miami, and Galveston. Cartagena - a great city with very interesting old ruins. We highly recommend seeing the roman amphitheater and going to the old fort for great views of the city. A large family of peacocks also reside in the old forta nice treat if you've never seem peacocks. While docked, there was a renaissance fair going on, so we were also treated to medieval music and folks in period garb. Madeira - a great place to sample and buy Madeira. It was our first time trying Madeira and we found it to be robust and delicious. Well worth the time to sample and buy some to take home and enjoy. The honey cakes make for a good item to bring to the office. A little dry by the time we got back, but it was fine if you dunk it in a little coffee or milk. Canary Islands - We initially intended to the beaches, but we didn't end up spending too much time exploring the Canary Islands since it was somewhat rainy and cold. Here we found an interesting monastery that was celebrating its 500th anniversary by displaying art and antique instruments and tools. After a few hours, we went back to the ship and stayed (since there was a long walk back to the dock). Other guests told us later that the other side of the island was sunny and had amazing landscapes. I suppose we'll have to catch that next time we take this cruise. Nassau - We ended up visiting the straw market and snorkeling while in Nassau. We also recommend going up to the old fort, where you will be treated with a view Nassau's cruise docks. It's possible to walk to the fortplan for a 20 minute walk. Miami - Unfortunately, getting through customs was a big hassle and there was a lot of confusion because it was unclear if people who were staying on needed to fill out forms. We were givin conflicting instructions by members of the crew, but also saw customs officers giving conflicting instructions. Moreover, it was clear the two hadn't coordinated with each other. We were supposed to get off around 8:00 AM, but we didn't get out until 11:00 AM due to the confusion. Some friends of ours ended up being 4-hours delayed, so they stayed on. Galveston/Houston - We ended up signing up for the ship organized excursion for a tour of Galveston. During the excursion, we drove through parts of Galveston, saw the rocket center, and parts of Houston. Hurricane Ike had just hit a few months prior and it was clear that the community needed more help and had more work ahead of them to fully recover. At Sea Captain Patrick Dahlgren did a great job and made key decisions that made the 6-day voyage across the Atlantic more pleasant. A storm front in the northern Atlantic and we would have crossed through parts of it had we maintained our planned course. The Captain took us further south and because of that, we enjoyed relatively calm seas and warm weather that was conducive to relaxing on the ship's pools on deck 12. We definitely appreciate the Captain's decision for it made the cruise much more pleasurable. Activity-wise, I've explained what we ended up doing already. So I'll just leave this with a few suggestions: (1) participate in the Olympics - it was a good way to meet others and it's a lot of fun during the ocean crossing; (2) do the walk-a-mile - it's a nice workout, you get to enjoy the seascape, and you even get rewarded if you do it often enough; (3) wake up early - try to catch a sunrise and you'll be rewarded with a majestic view; and, (4) stay up late - go to the helipad in front of the ship late at night, and you can see so many stars. Also, note that during the ocean crossing, you'll gain an hour on most nights (at least going westward). So feel free to stay up a little, maybe go to the disco, and know that you'll get about an hour back anyway. Disembarkation Disembarkation was pretty easy, though expect to wait. Keep a book or a magazine with you to keep you entertained while you're waiting. And the airports are pretty far from Galveston so make arrangements for a shuttle ahead of time. Taxis can be very expensive. Read Less
Sail Date November 2008
Overall, we enjoyed the transatlantic cruise on the Voyager of the Seas very much and would do it again. In addition to the ships features and quality of service, we enjoyed traveling and sightseeing with passengers of a good range of ages ... Read More
Overall, we enjoyed the transatlantic cruise on the Voyager of the Seas very much and would do it again. In addition to the ships features and quality of service, we enjoyed traveling and sightseeing with passengers of a good range of ages (albeit skewed towards retirees), from a diverse group of backgrounds (ethnic, geographic, and political), and with a variety of family structures (couples with an elderly inlaw, newlyweds, and GLBT families alike).. A few areas for improvement are noted below. Embarkation Embarkation was smootheven better than our experience boarding the Majesty of the Seas at RC's homeport in Miami. The staff was friendly, the embarkation facility was comfortable, and the process was efficient. I especially appreciated that I wasn't feeling like the baggage handlers were pressuring passengers for a tipa situation that I felt when I embarked in Miami. All of our baggage arrived just a few hours later. Stateroom We did a guarantee rate, and was in an inside stateroom on deck six. The beds were comfortable and had enough blankets to keep us warm. Though we had requested that the beds be put together, we found it to be separated on our first day. We ended up rearranging the beds ourselves. Being relatively low and centered made the rocking less noticeable (good because I was prone to sea sickness). We packed light (considering it was a 15-night cruise) so there were adequate storage for both of us. However, some of the doors for the storage were beginning to get loose and sagged. It rarely felt crowded, even when we ordered room service. The cabin attendant was not as friendly as others we've had (though he wasn't unfriendly either), but he was responsive. When we asked for the clothes line to be replaced, it was done by the next time we were back. Also, when we asked him not to leave the lights on after making the bed, he made sure not to do so again. Shows We greatly enjoyed the performances by the ship's singers and dancers, as well as the performances by the ice skaters. The ice skaters were phenomenal and it was just amazing what they could do in such as small space (especially while the ship was rocking). We only wished that they had more musical reviews by the singers and dancers since they only did two. They did also perform during the parades, but it can be hard to see the performance because there usually were so many people in the Royal Promenade and the performers were usually on the bridge. Food As usual with Royal Caribbean, we liked the food on the ship. It wasn't the best that we've ever had, but it was very good for the price. And although we were on for 15 days, the food had enough variety that it didn't get old. We frequently indulged by having multiple desserts during dinner. On a typical day, we went to the Windjammer for breakfast and lunch, and then went to the dining room for dinner. We wished we knew how good the lunch options (especially the salad bar) was in the Carmen dining room sooner. The midnight buffet was not as impressive as past cruises I've been on (where they've done "chocolate extravaganzas"). However, I did appreciate that there were a lot of fruits, which made it healthier. One complaint is that the soft serve ice cream machines on deck twelve were frequently out of service (a significant problem since one of us has a sweet tooth for ice cream). Though we complained to the manager, he did not seem to really care and gave us a somewhat flippant response. During the 15-day cruise, the soft-serve ice cream was probably only available for a few days. We especially appreciated late night (up to 2 am) availability of the Cafe Promenade, which served pizza, sandwiches, fruit, and desserts. When we stayed up, this was a great place to get a small snack so we're not starving late at night. Activities Going on a transatlantic cruise, I thought that I may get boredI was wrong. There were plenty of activities on the ship and at the end of each day, we often wondered where all the time went. We worked out, played in the sports court, learned a dance, listened to lectures, ice skated, or mini-golfed when we were on the ship. As much as we can, we went to see Mimi (one of the lead singers) performshe just had such a great voice. Our one complaint would be the movies hosted in the screening roomthe facility was way too small and it was just too frequently packed. Though we tried a couple of times, we never were able to make it inside. It was surprising since the screening room was hard to find (just below La Scala). GLBT-Friendly Atmosphere There was a sizable contingent of GLBT passengers (and staff) who were all welcomed and made to feel at home on the ship. We were surprised how many passengers showed up for the FOD meetingsthere ended up being three different times to accommodate everyone's varying schedules and preferences. Other passengers were very welcoming and we had no problem presenting ourselves as a same-sex couple. Even during the dance lessons, we slow danced together and no one batted an eye. At Port We made a point to engage in sightseeing at each port. Not everyone does (we were guilty ourselves of having slept through a port on our last cruise). This time, we walked quite a bit around each of the cities (and helped burn off all the extra calories we were consuming). None of the ports were boring. The ship had ports of call in: Cartagena (Spain), Funchal (Madeira), Canary Islands, Nassau (Bahamas), Miami, and Galveston. Cartagena - a great city with very interesting old ruins. We highly recommend seeing the roman amphitheater and going to the old fort for great views of the city. A large family of peacocks also reside in the old forta nice treat if you've never seem peacocks. While docked, there was a renaissance fair going on, so we were also treated to medieval music and folks in period garb. Madeira - a great place to sample and buy Madeira. It was our first time trying Madeira and we found it to be robust and delicious. Well worth the time to sample and buy some to take home and enjoy. The honey cakes make for a good item to bring to the office. A little dry by the time we got back, but it was fine if you dunk it in a little coffee or milk. Canary Islands - We initially intended to the beaches, but we didn't end up spending too much time exploring the Canary Islands since it was somewhat rainy and cold. Here we found an interesting monastery that was celebrating its 500th anniversary by displaying art and antique instruments and tools. After a few hours, we went back to the ship and stayed (since there was a long walk back to the dock). Other guests told us later that the other side of the island was sunny and had amazing landscapes. I suppose we'll have to catch that next time we take this cruise. Nassau - We ended up visiting the straw market and snorkeling while in Nassau. We also recommend going up to the old fort, where you will be treated with a view Nassau's cruise docks. It's possible to walk to the fortplan for a 20 minute walk. Miami - Unfortunately, getting through customs was a big hassle and there was a lot of confusion because it was unclear if people who were staying on needed to fill out forms. We were givin conflicting instructions by members of the crew, but also saw customs officers giving conflicting instructions. Moreover, it was clear the two hadn't coordinated with each other. We were supposed to get off around 8:00 AM, but we didn't get out until 11:00 AM due to the confusion. Some friends of ours ended up being 4-hours delayed, so they stayed on. Galveston/Houston - We ended up signing up for the ship organized excursion for a tour of Galveston. During the excursion, we drove through parts of Galveston, saw the rocket center, and parts of Houston. Hurricane Ike had just hit a few months prior and it was clear that the community needed more help and had more work ahead of them to fully recover. At Sea Captain Patrick Dahlgren did a great job and made key decisions that made the 6-day voyage across the Atlantic more pleasant. A storm front in the northern Atlantic and we would have crossed through parts of it had we maintained our planned course. The Captain took us further south and because of that, we enjoyed relatively calm seas and warm weather that was conducive to relaxing on the ship's pools on deck 12. We definitely appreciate the Captain's decision for it made the cruise much more pleasurable. Activity-wise, I've explained what we ended up doing already. So I'll just leave this with a few suggestions: (1) participate in the Olympics - it was a good way to meet others and it's a lot of fun during the ocean crossing; (2) do the walk-a-mile - it's a nice workout, you get to enjoy the seascape, and you even get rewarded if you do it often enough; (3) wake up early - try to catch a sunrise and you'll be rewarded with a majestic view; and, (4) stay up late - go to the helipad in front of the ship late at night, and you can see so many stars. Also, note that during the ocean crossing, you'll gain an hour on most nights (at least going westward). So feel free to stay up a little, maybe go to the disco, and know that you'll get about an hour back anyway. Disembarkation Disembarkation was pretty easy, though expect to wait. Keep a book or a magazine with you to keep you entertained while you're waiting. And the airports are pretty far from Galveston so make arrangements for a shuttle ahead of time. Taxis can be very expensive. Read Less
Sail Date November 2008
Background: Married, early 60's, numerous annual cruises on multiple lines from Carnival to Seabourn. We took a standard suite. There really are no Balconies. Short version: Positives: Best food on the sea's, spacious ... Read More
Background: Married, early 60's, numerous annual cruises on multiple lines from Carnival to Seabourn. We took a standard suite. There really are no Balconies. Short version: Positives: Best food on the sea's, spacious beautiful suites, good entertainment, all wine, spirits, or sodas are included anywhere onboard. Negatives: Very poorly designed, old ship (see more below). Dining service was poor both in delivery and charm. Old and very stuffy clientele. This ship is for a certain type of person (see summary). They advertise WiFi but it is unusable. Details: Boarding: Very good, but not quite up to other premium and luxury lines. We boarding in Europe which is always faster and smoother than in the US. Stateroom: It is an all suite ship. There are no balconies on this ship. Balcony means your window opens with a bar so that you not fall out. The suites are all the same except a few special suites. They are large, well laid out and are in excellent condition. Certainly the nicest physical aspect of the ship. Service: Friendly and excellent, but do not expect the nice mix of nationalities seen on other lines. They are almost all white and mostly European. Generally they lack that polished professional service touch, but are trained to attend your every need. If you enjoy the variety of personality of the staff and talking to a staff from various origins, this is aspect of cruising just does not exist here. They also have an "aristocratic air" that they share with huge number of repeat customers. Dining: There is no question that this is the best food on the seas in the main dining room. They use nothing but the highest quality products and have an incredible chef. Oceania is only line with Chef's as good or better, but they do not have this food budget. However, the service was irratic at best. Only rarely did they bring the correct items for every course, and many on the staff have an attitude that the British seem to like, but it will appear very stuffy to many Americans. There appear to have plenty of service members, but they wander about somewhat chaotically resulting in a very irratic performance. Do not expect the polished waiter you are used to on your favorite line. But in the end, the food overrides everything. Entertainment: Actually very good for such a small ship. Good guest entertainers, excellent enrichment speakers, and very high quality ship entertainers. Active daily activities. Ship and Common areas. It is an old ship that is poorly laid out. Very low ceilings throughout (less than 8 feet) which means if you are 6'4' you have to duck in the hallways. At 6' I could not use the treadmill without touching the ceiling. Low ceiling in the large dining room is particularly unattractive. The lounges are nice and the open bar on the top deck is inviting. Remember that it a very small ship, so there is no wandering about. The pool area was never used by anyone because of design. Very high exhaust noise on back half of open decks with noticeable diesel odor. Family: Strictly an adult ship. Best if you fit in the average age of mid to late 70's. Value: Fair, but some of what you pay for is just to keep "Joe six-pack" off. There is no added value to selecting a suite above the lowest 4 level suite that I could detect. If you are will to pay to travel with older people with a very aristocratic air about themselves, the value goes up on this ship. Key Question: Will we take Seabourn again? Probably, but not until a try a few other Luxury class lines. Read Less
Sail Date October 2008

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