Our cabin was smallish, but perfectly formed, and with a bit of creativity we managed to store away the entire complement of luggage we brought (which amounted to 7 pieces!) and fit four people into it reasonably comfortably. This was helped by the fact that our cases were of the holdall type, which allowed us to compress them, stack them inside each other, and slot them under the sofa. We did take extra hangers which came in useful, although I am sure that our very helpful cabin steward would have provided extras had we asked.
We ate most meals in the main dining room, and chose to do the My Time Dining option (which we booked once onboard) This worked well for us, as it allowed us to decide each day on a dining time and fit our day around that. It meant we were able to see most, if not all of the shows, at a time of our choosing. It also meant that if we wanted to take our time on a Port day we had that flexibility. To take advantage of this option we had to pre pay our tips, which we did happily, and also tipped extra on top, as we received excellent service from all the service personnel. The quality of the food in the dining room was good, and the choice varied and we were very satisfied with all aspects of our dining room experience. We did try to book in at Chops, but could not secure a suitable reservation so we paid extra from the MDR menu and had the Filet Mignon from the Chops menu. To be honest this was not worth the extra, it was a steak but nothing to get over excited about, maybe we had been seduced by the hype surrounding Chops or maybe there is nothing so historic you can do with steak!
We also ate in Windjammer on occasion, and although the food was good, and very varied, we had issues with finding a table, and I personally disliked the plastic plates, glasses and mugs. I understand the issues with taking proper plates, glasses etc out onto the deck, but as drinks on deck were sold in ordinary glasses it seemed strange to use melamine tableware in Windjammer. This gave it the ambience of a school canteen for me, although I think I may be in the minority here, as others seemed very happy with it.
We paid extra for the Murder Mystery Dinner, and although it was a pleasant experience, the quality of the acting, and the overall dining experience (quite cheap plonk was served) did not, in my opinion, warrant the $50 per head charge. The menu was probably not representative of Portofino's per se, but rather a mass catering experience, not that it was bad, just that it was not out of the ordinary
We had no issue with the drinks prices, they were similar to the prices charged in good hotels/city centre bars, and were good measures. Worth noting may be that a half of lager is only 50 cents less than a pint, so from a value for money aspect it is worth ordering the larger measure, and maybe ask for two glasses, if you are not happy drinking pints (thinking of the ladies here!). We also bought the 12 bottle wine package (only available on boarding day apparently) this was value for money as opposed to buying an individual bottle every night at dinner. When buying this though, do be aware the person selling may try to steer you toward the top of the range package,(platinum) rather than giving you the option of the lower priced Gold one, which we found perfectly acceptable, so do ask to see the range before committing yourself, as there is quite a price difference. For those who do not drink alcohol the soda package is also good value, unlimited soft drinks for kids was $64, which as they are $2.50 each works out as a good buy in my opinion. Although it was fountain coke, rather than the real deal.
We enjoyed the entertainment, the shows were very professional and slick, and were obviously expensive productions. The ice shows were excellent, and five minutes on the skating rink makes you realize how good these skaters are, it is not easy, and they make it look very easy indeed. Queues for ice show tickets were long, but quickly cleared and they are really worth seeing, so don't be put off by the queue. The individual performers were also mainly good, and seats for the shows plentiful. The hypnotist is very entertaining, although some people felt his adult only show was a bit too near the knuckle, and some parents actually allowed their kids to remain in the theatre to watch, which, given the content, I found amazing. We enjoyed the tribute acts, and if you didn't want to go to see a full show, most of the other venues had some form of entertainment on. All in all everyone was well catered for entertainment wise. The parades were odd to me, a bit Disney, but serving no real purpose, and people were almost on each other's head so tightly packed onto the Promenade were they. We watched from the vantage point of a Promenade cabin, and were glad we were not down there in the crush. Lots of afternoon quizzes, both sporting and trivia, and Jackpot Jen was very vocal with her bingo sessions, we never attended one of these but plenty of people seemed to enjoy them. Try to get to the Quest "show, it was very funny, and the best of the game show type entertainment. The cruise director Graham Seymour was very good at his job, and really made the events go with a swing.
Ports of Call
We enjoyed most of the ports of call, although in places like Rome and Florence we felt that time was too limited as the Port was quite a distance away from the centres. As we have visited both before it was not too much of an issue for us, but we heard many other passengers saying it was not worth the travelling time each way for the time actually spent at the sites of interest. Gibraltar is not somewhere we would rush back too (although our youngest son loved the monkeys) and I feel the tax free haven card is overplayed, we didn't find the prices significantly lower than anywhere else. I feel another port of call could be found to replace this one as many other passengers expressed a similar negative opinion about it.
Also, the ship only gave info about its own shuttle buses, not the fact that at most ports the hop on hop off bus was nearby and a better option. Perhaps this was understandable but nevertheless it felt less than honest. We found that at most ports it was considerably cheaper to DIY. Take Rome as an example, there was a trip from the ship on a private train for 59 euro, they took passengers to the station which was 10 mins walk from the port gate, saw them onto the train and waved goodbye. We did the same trip on a normal train for 9 euro, as a family of 4 that was a huge saving.
Similarly, in Livorno we had arranged car hire via Salacar, a 5 seater Ford Focus for 80 euro inc GPS (which we needed!) they were great, the car was waiting at the side of the ship at the appointed time, and the man who dropped it off was so helpful. We paid by credit card dockside and were off to Lucca (we have done Florence before). We had a great day, at a fraction of the cost of the shuttle bus, taxi or organized trip. When we returned we left the car right by the ship and got back onboard, no hassle, no fuss, Well worth doing, and I would recommend Salacar to anyone.
The shops onboard were pricey, and had quite a lot of high end clothes, which could have been useful if you had forgotten to pack for formal night, or were in the market for a $300 handbag. The stalls which were set up every evening were the other extreme, market stall tat in the main, or perhaps more kindly gifts for those you want to get "something" for but do not want to spend too much! ! Photos.
Lots of different photo ops, different backdrops, including dinner table shots on formal night, good photos and a nice memento of the cruise but quite expensive at $19.95 per print. Good system of viewing photos though, input your sea pass and up pop all the photos associated with your party, it removes the tedious trail around the photo boards looking for your shots. We bought the cruise DVD (specific to your cruise) for $29.99, not sure if it is good value, but it is a good souvenir.
Pools, Outdoor Space etc.
The pools were amazing; we are not pool people so we didn't really use them too much. They were however, as was to be expected, crowded. Sun bed hogging was a problem, as people put down the towels, and went for lunch or a sleep, or to any of the other activities seemingly oblivious to the rest of the ship who may have wanted a sun bed. I never saw anyone remove a towel despite the time limit supposedly being 30 mins. The Solarium was popular and a nice place to read, if you could find a spot. The addition of cushions to the swing seats would be an improvement though, the wooden seat was quite hard and not conducive to relaxation.
We observed the suggested dress code every night, as did most people. Some however did their own thing and as far as we could tell were not turned away from the dining room. Formal night was a mix, Tuxedos to suits, to shirt and tie, our kids wore formal but some kids did not, but to their credit they realized that more were conforming than were not conforming. Blazer, school pants and tie, is sufficient for pre teens if you don't want to go to the expense of a suit, but remember the school shoes,.... trainers look so odd with formalwear, but we saw them!! The ladies wore a variety of formal wear, short, cocktail length, full length, formal trousers and tops, but take less shoes, one pair of black heels is enough, trust me!! As is one pair of black pants......no one knows they are the same pair. In fact, my one piece of advice would be pack less, save time and space and stress.
The other passengers onboard were predominantly British and most of them were great. As with anything a small minority can spoil it for the majority though. Why do some people seem to leave their manners at home when on holiday? Most of us I assume generally wait for those getting out of a lift to do so before getting in ourselves, not here. As soon as the lift stopped passengers surged forward to get in, paying no attention to those who wanted to get out.....we saw this happen to disabled passengers too, it sometimes appeared to be every man for himself. We did see some bad behavior from teenagers too, stemming from the fact that some people clearly abdicate parental responsibility when on holiday, and let them run wild. The majority of teens/kids were well behaved and well catered for though, and caused no problems, considering there were 1300 children onboard.
Although the ship was full, there were always places you could go to find a quiet spot, the library, the numerous bars, and the card room. The ship is very impressive, the promenade is stunning, and the shops well stocked if a tad pricey. The wait staff, cabin staff and bar tenders were excellent, and most of the guest relation staff were also very professional, however, I have to say that in my opinion the female guest relations staff were better, less brusque, and more polite than their male counterparts. The Guest Relations Manager was excellent, and a credit to RCI, but hand on heart I could not say this was true of her male subordinates.
The reason we had quite a lot of interaction with the Guest relations staff was that on day eight our eldest son was diagnosed with Chicken Pox,(we had thought they were mosquito bites!) and had to be quarantined. This was, as you can imagine quite a blow to the whole family, but I must stress that we understood and fully complied with their request to observe a quarantine period, and in fact we were thanked for our complete co operation at the end. Apparently many people simply ignore the instruction and try to get around the isolation and carry on as normal.
Guest relations arranged for him to be moved to another cabin, but as the ship was full, he was placed in an interior cabin, overlooking the Promenade, which meant he had no fresh air for 5 days and was looking at others enjoying their holidays whilst he was stuck within four walls. It was at this point that I first experienced indifference, bordering on rudeness from the male guest relations staff.
I understand the fiscal need to fill cabins, and the ship was full, but I expected RCI to have a few balcony cabins kept in reserve to cover this type of eventuality, (we would have happily paid for our son to have a balcony cabin to ensure he had access to sunlight and fresh air). Two guests died during the cruise, and one party left for personal reasons, hence a cabin became available. No cabins are kept in reserve for the quarantine of contagious guests. I would have assumed that RCI would have covered this base, especially in the light of the Swine Flu issue. Apparently not, and my polite questioning about this lead to stony faces and gritted teeth!
When I put my complaint into writing to the Guest relations Manager, she handled it very differently, and agreed that it was an issue which needed to be addressed by RCI and promised to forward my letter on to the appropriate department at their head office. She also arranged for my son to have some perks during his confinement, (free movies, coke, and Internet access) which alleviated the boredom a little.
Another issue which arose was the length of quarantine, we believe he was kept in quarantine for too long, as the chicken pox had reached the stage where he was no longer contagious (according to the internet, and our GP whom I telephoned from the ship) yet the medical centre refused to see him and insisted he remain confined for the remainder of our holiday. I understand the need to protect other passengers, but they also needed to understand that we wanted to salvage as many days as possible of our long awaited holiday. It was only when I asked point blank if they were prepared to stand behind the fact that he was still contagious legally, that the doctor agreed to visit and take a look at his spots. When she did so, she agreed he was no longer contagious, as the spots had been at the same point for 2 days we feel that had she done as requested and visited earlier, our son could have had another two days of freedom.
For this medical service, we received a bill of $210, which considering it was of benefit to the ship that we report such an illness we felt this charge should have been waived, although to be fair, it is repayable by our insurance.
From this experience I take the following, the fact that RCI have not really thought through the needs or ramifications of an illness onboard which requires quarantine, the fact that the needs of the individual passenger are (perhaps understandably) secondary to the needs of others, and the failure to realize that although we as passengers want to play fair. and help the ships medical crew to contain any such outbreak, we also want to be assured that our interests are kept forefront too, and quarantine time kept to a minimum. We did not feel our needs were really given much weight in this instance, and really had to fight to be heard, which is not what you want when you have paid a considerable sum of money for an annual holiday.
Would we be as quick to visit the medical facility again?.......probably not, which is not the desired outcome for any of us.
The next issue which arose was the inclusions on our folio of all the items which we had been assured were free by Guest Services. This necessitated me standing in line at 6am on departure day whilst yet another less than polite male guest relations officer removed the charges individually. When I complained that this should not have been necessary he was dismissive, and stated he did not have the information to hand that the charges should not have been levied. How could that be correct when it was guest services who agreed the perks at the outset?
All in all this was a stressful experience, made worse by the seeming suspicion (again only from the males we had dealings with) that we wanted something for nothing, which could not have been further from the truth.
Ironically, as we approached the ship when docked in Cannes, and before our quarantine issues, we were approached by a young woman, who asked were we worried by the illness onboard, she was a reporter for a French radio station, and had got wind,(erroneously) that Swine Flu was onboard and wanted a comment. Naively, I stated that although we had not heard of any outbreak, I felt sure that RCI would contain and control the disease, and put into action their pandemic contingency plan. How wrong could I be!!! So, it seems very ironic to me that I had been an ambassador for RCI on the very issue that we were later to realize they had not got covered, as no contingency plan for the quarantine of infected guests exists.....c'est la vie!
Despite all of the above we (those of us not in quarantine!) managed to have a good holiday onboard IOS. We cannot praise the ship and her amenities enough, nor could the service staff (with the exceptions noted above) do enough for us, and those are the memories we will take with us. A special mention must go to our waiters Cherino and Karla who were wonderful, and to our favorite bartender Rendell in Olive or Twist, who was excellent at his job and very entertaining, and to Matt from Manchester, Amy , and Augusto of the entertainment crew, who were also really good at their jobs.
Despite the problems we encountered (most of which were beyond anyone's control, but which we feel could have been handled more sensitively by some) we wouldn't hesitate to sail onboard IOS again, and indeed hope to do so. I hope readers will feel that despite our problems this is a fair and accurate review, and that the pros are not colored by the cons we experienced. I have attempted to make this a balanced and true account of our experience and hope it will be received as such. I do welcome your comments and perspective on the situation we found ourselves in.
Outcome of Complaint
I received a very well written and sympathetic response from RCI customer services regarding the issues outlined above. I felt that they had listened and taken onboard my comments. They responded to every individual point raised, and gave me satisfactory answers and details of the actions they have taken to resolve some of the issues. The point about balcony cabins being kept in reserve for quarantine situations (in the light of the pandemic) is under review by their Head Office. The issues with Guest relations staff have also been addressed. They also made a financial gestures which we considered fair, (OBC for a future cruise for our son). I feel happy with the outcome and am satisfied with the weight given to our complaint. As I had given chapter and verse on the problem, I felt it only fair to include the detail of the resolution.
Sorry for boring anyone, and thank you for reading this far!!! Read Less