Prior to the cruise, there weren't any email communications/updates from the cruise line. It felt as though I wasn't sure the reservation existed until I did the online check-in. I guess I expected some email reminders or countdowns, etc.
The cruise was certainly for the retired crowd. There were very, very few people under 60 on the cruise. Because of this (I’m guessing), everything closes early, about 12-1am.
On first day, you’ll probably have to wait for your stateroom if you board early. If so, go get lunch in Windjammer while you’re waiting. Windjammer will be very busy around this time, but you can eat out by Rita’s Cantina if it’s nice weather. It’s actually a much better option if the weather is nice!
The mandatory drill is at 4pm, so plan things around that. In between lunch and the drill, try to find out when the formal nights are, and when the specialty plates are being served in the main dining room. It’s good to know when the formal nights are so you can book spa treatments (hair styling or shave) on formal nights. Similarly, you’ll want to know when the special plates are being served in the main dining room because you don’t want to have a reservation for a specialty restaurant when they’re doing something special in the main dining room (lobster night). The Guest Services desk should be able to give you all this info, but don’t take “We’re not sure yet” as the answer. Tell them you need to know to plan your spa and specialty restaurant reservations. You might have to push a little because they’re quick to give the easy reply that doesn’t really answer your question. But why wouldn’t they know this well in advance?
You could also find out when they’re doing tours of the ship (if any – I didn’t see any on my cruise), and what type of entertainment is playing, and where it’s playing. It’s fun to be on deck for the “Sail Away Social” with a drink for the departure. However, get your drink at one of the inside bars, because they’re less busy than on the deck bars and may have quicker service. If you find out what other entertainment options are playing during departure, you may prefer the classical violin music (Schooner Bar), or Rock music (on the deck), or dance music (in the Centrum).
You can also make your reservations for the spa based on what you’ve planned for the week (i.e. if the men want to get a shave, or if the ladies want to get their hair done, before the formal nights). However, do your mani/pedis on land before the cruise because I’m sure it’ll be way less expensive on land.
This would also be a good time to make reservations for the specialty restaurants, assuming you’ve already found out when the specialty plates are being served in the main dining room as mentioned above. More advice below on that…
There were rough seas on my cruise, which meant for a lot of rocking. Not much you could do about that. The ship had to stop for a few hours for the storm pick up ahead of us. It was OK after that.
Dining is the biggest reason I’m drawn to cursing as my vacation choice. In my opinion, the purpose of the cruise is to treat yourself, and indulge in great food. I book cruises because I love the excellent food, but I was seriously annoyed, if not disgusted, that Izumi and Rita’s had a la carte pricing and NOT a cover charge (as advertized online when I booked). Chef’s Table, Chops Grille, and Giovanni’s were still cover charges, gladly. This meant that Izumi and Rita’s had prices on the menu, which basically meant you would pay for each item you order from the menu. The prices were quite expensive too, even for a NYC resident like myself. I was looking forward to trying out Izumi and Rita’s, but not when I can get the same food for the same price on land! Because of this, 50% of my specialty restaurant options were effectively no longer of value to me. Sorry to say it folks, but this change in pricing put a HUGE damper on my trip.
And now for the rest of the dining experience…
We ate in the Windjammer every day, and the main dining room several times. We also ate at the Chef’s Table, Giovanni’s, and Chops Grille, but as I mentioned above, not at Izumi or Rita’s, even though I would have liked to.
The first two nights of “My Time” dining had very long lines and waits, even with reservations. To avoid this, you could take advantage of the discounts they offer (20% off) if you eat in one of the specialty restaurants on the first night. You could also avoid the lines if you eat during the last sitting, which is 8pm I think. Specialty restaurants were fast to book up, but when we were there, there were lots of tables open, which was confusing.
Make your specialty dinner reservations early, but make your reservations for nights towards the end of the cruise. I recommend this because eating in the specialty restaurants during the early part of your trip makes the food in the main dining room look poor in comparison to the amazing food in the specialty restaurants. Save the best for last, if you can. As I mention above, try to find out when there are special plates being served in the main dining room (you don’t want to be in a specialty restaurant on lobster night). Don’t forget; you can order multiple items on the menu, so don’t be afraid to try several things. I suggest making your dinner reservations earlier in the evenings, unless you don’t mind eating (a lot of food) at a later sitting. I prefer to not sleep on a full stomach. Give your poor body some time to digest all the food you’re about to eat.
The chefs table was very well done. When you arrive, you’re greeted by a crew member (they'll recognize you by face and address you formally by last name the entire dinner). You wait in a small private room with the other guests, and are given a glass of champagne. You're seated at your assigned spot, and you chat with the other guests. Formal dress is requested, so if it's not a formal night, it will be a third formal night you'll need to pack for. You get a five-course meal with excellent wine pairings with each course. The chef will explain (very quickly, unfortunately) how the dishes are prepared. Be ready to listen carefully, because the chef’s accent can be difficult to understand because he speaks so quickly. The first course was a jumbo shrimp and salmon, followed by scallops, followed by soups, followed by Kobe beef, and ended with peach desert and side of wonderful chocolates.
We ate at Giovanni’s on another night, and didn’t think anything could beat it, until we ate at Chops Grille on another night. They were both absolutely amazing. I have 4-5 bakeries within a few blocks of my apartment in NYC, and Chops Grille had the best Red Velvet cake I ever tasted, and I’ve tasted some great Red Velvet cake.
Windjammer was buffet, and it was good on first and last day. The other days were good also, but not as good as first and last. I suppose you have good and bad days everywhere. FYI; the orange juice in the Windjammer is not orange juice; it’s concentrate. Gross. Because seating can be sparse at times in Windjammer, eat out by Rita’s Cantina because the view is great on nice weather days, and there is usually seating readily available. The Windjammer crew was pretty attentive to the guests, but the drink bar attendants weren’t friendly, and sometimes rude. For instance, I was getting wine with lunch one day, and I accidentally knocked over a wine glass (this happened primarily because there are no trays, so you need to carry your plate, drink, flatware, and personal belongings, etc. to your table). When I knocked over and broke the glass, the attendant just looked at me and didn't do anything, almost as if he expected me to start cleaning it up. I would have, but he didn't even offer me a paper towel. I’m in the service industry, and that response was completely unacceptable. If a guest accidentally knocks something over, you do whatever you can to make sure they don’t feel bad about it. I was also unpleasantly surprised that the fresh juice bar was only open for a limited amount of time in the mornings, and on one day, they ran out and closed early. Not sure how this can happen on a cruise. It was annoying because I paid for the drink package.
BTW; the Park Café (in the Solarium) has salmon, bagels, and cream cheese each morning. This is not available in Windjammer.
The classical guitar was absolutely fantastic. The guitarist was in Schooner Bar when I checked it out, and the ambiance there made the music even better.
On another night, big band entertainment looked like it would have been nice to dance to, but I got there too late.
Temperature (a singer and 3-person band) was excellent. The main singer was an entertainer at heart and I could have listened to him all night.
I saw the aerial acrobatics in Centrum. It was cool, and different, but still not my cup of tea.
The piano player/singer was not good I’m sorry to say…
The string quartet was also nice if you like classical music, which I do. It was very relaxing.
The late nice dance option was totally empty every night, which was depressing, and meant we stopped trying after 2nd night. However, the bartenders and DJ were always a blast to hang out with in the empty bar! One-on-one entertainment!
We went to the later seating of the shows in the theater, and it was hard to get seating. I think that’s because all the older guests went for earlier dining, and went to the later show after dinner. Therefore, the later shows were packed, unlike what the daily program suggested.
We thought we heard announcements that excursions were all booked up, but I later found out that they weren't. It made me wonder if they made those announcements to spur bookings. Excursions were expensive for what you were getting. We went on the Halifax Titanic tour, and the tour guide was great. However, there absolutely wasn’t enough time in the museum. I only saw about 50-60% of what was available to be seen, and had to rush out without even seeing the gift shop. The guide explained everything we were seeing while on the bus, and did a very good jog explaining the Titanic graves. BTW, the tipping etiquette for tour guides is 10-15% of the tour price, if you’re happy with the guide.
I’m sorry to say the St John was disappointing, even though the tour guides were fun. We did the Scenic St. John tour. We could have saved the $50 each and just walked around town. They brought us to the Reversing Falls Rapids. It was nice, and somewhat interesting, but the backdrop was a HUGE power plant, which killed the scenery. I would have rather taken a cab to the museum, and then go to the Old City Market to walk around. The Old City Market had some really cool stuff, and GREAT food. Definitely check it out.
We had great weather in Bar Harbor, and it was beautiful town. We didn’t do an excursion, and I’m glad we didn’t. We walked around, browsed the shops, and ate at an AMAZING restaurant named Paddy's Irish Pub & Restaurant. Best clam chowder!
We didn't even get off the ship in Portland due to lack of interest. Weather was great, so a sailboat trip may have been nice, but it’s hard to guess the weather. Nonetheless, it’s a depressing day since it’s the last day, so maybe an excursion would have been nice, but they were expensive, so I guess it depends on your energy levels.
Our cabin was smaller than other rooms in same class (class “H”) by 20 sq ft. Not sure why our cabin was so much smaller, and there was no notice about it. I only found it out because our travel partners were in adjacent room. The bathroom smelt mildew; not terrible, but noticeable. The shower was tight. I'm 5'11", 170lb male, and if the shower was any smaller, it would have been too small for me. It makes me feel claustrophobic just thinking about it. The shower curtain didn't reach ground, so a lot of water sprays all over the bathroom floor. Also, the rim at the bottom of the shower was very low, which made it even easier for water to spray on the floor. Make sure you put down a floor towel. The showerhead was a misty spray, as opposed to a stream, which was a little annoying. There was good closet and drawer space. We couldn’t find channel guide, and there was no iron. The cabin steward was good. And BTW, the tipping etiquette is $3 per day per person. I wish I found that out before I went on the cruise, because I under-tipped the steward. Oops… Sorry Mark…
I got the Premium liquor package ($55/day), but it doesn't include items in mini bar or room service. The bars make measured drinks, which means the drinks aren’t strong at all. I would've been annoyed if I had to pay for each drink. Most, if not all, of the drinks were under $10, which is what the package covers. The Ultimate drink package (one step up, for an additional $10) would have also allowed you to get premium coffee, premium tea, sparkling bottled water, and fresh squeezed orange juice. It would have been worth the price with 1-2 lattes a day, and a fresh squeezed orange juice at breakfast (because as I mentioned, the OJ is concentrate otherwise).
When you start the cruise, pick a bartender, and tip that one so you can get speedy service from him/her during the rest of your trip. They’re pretty responsive to tipping passengers. They'll also provide a heavier pour sometimes. Although you prepaid tips, an extra $1-2 a drink will go a long way when you need speed things up during busier days. Cash tips are even better.
For the shopping on board: the brands on the ship are ok, but not spectacular. The only benefit is not paying duties/taxes, so don’t plan on any great deals other than saving on duties and taxes. The shops on the ship sell pretty cheap (as in quality, not price) goods. The prices are incredibly inflated, so they offer big discounts throughout the cruise to spur buying. There were raffles that felt like a racket because the prize was a free fifth item if you buy four other items. THAT was the raffle prize; a free 5th item after buying 4 others. The same thing happened with the artwork. They gave a seminar that imparts value for the artwork, then offers a discount if you “buy today.” For instance, they were selling paintings that “would normally go for $750-$1250 each”, but they’ll sell them to you for $350 each, or $950 if you buy five. Are you serious? Maybe I just wasn’t a fan of the art?
I got really annoyed by a towel attendant (male, Eastern European) at the pool one day. When I was done with my towel, I wanted to return it to them instead of leaving it on the deck for them to pick up. When I asked the attendant if this is where I can drop it off, he didn’t even reply, and just rudely pointed to a basket. Again, I’m in the service industry, and he could have just said “Oh thank you sir. You can just place in that basket.” Instead, I felt treated as if I was an annoyance. I just wanted to help…
The photographer on board was good and took great pictures, and had great energy. The down side is that the prints were $24 a print for 8x10 and $14 (I think) for 5x7. I had tons of my own digital pics (as does everyone else), so I’m surprised they cost so much. They should lower these prices to make the option more appealing, especially since they throw out the prints if they're not purchased.
There's no laundry avail to guests. You can have wash and fold laundry done on board for $30 a bag, and it’s a pretty small bag. The bag should take 24-48 hrs. They’ll allow pajamas, pairs of socks, shorts, swimwear, t-shirts, and underwear only. The bag would probably fit a pair of shorts, a few pairs of underwear and socks and 2 t-shirts. You can also do the laundry per item cost (not cheap). You can also get items dry-cleaned. That should take 24hrs, or you can do express service for 50% extra.
Seating in Centrum was sparse at times, especially when the entertainment was good (Temperature).
The gym is very good, which is important when you’re eating and drinking whenever you’re NOT in the gym! I wish they had heavier free weights, but the machines were pretty good, and covered the basics. It wasn't crowded whenever I went, but I think that’s because of the demographic on board.
Their "library" was two bookcases. They call it a "nook". It is not a “library.” Read Less