This was my second cruise, the first being a Baltic/Russia cruise 2 years ago, on RCL's Brilliance of the Sea. It was fantastic, and was port intensive. This time, I wanted my next cruise to have MANY sea days, and this ... Read More
This was my second cruise, the first being a Baltic/Russia cruise 2 years ago, on RCL's Brilliance of the Sea. It was fantastic, and was port intensive. This time, I wanted my next cruise to have MANY sea days, and this Transatlantic had 10 sea days, 8 of them consecutively. This is what I enjoyed the most - the ship's culture, activities, service, etc. The ports and excursions were secondary, but more on that further down.
Embarkation went off without a hitch. Although the lines were long, there were sufficient staff waiting to check you in, that the line seemed to never stop, and rarely did one stand in the same place for any length of time.
The ship itself was a bit smaller than the Brilliance and had no mini-golf, but this was known ahead of time, so can't fairly complain about that. The Windjammer Cafe seemed to have a fairly limited menu, but I was still able to find sufficient quantities and varieties of food, but did not quite meet my expectations. I ate breakfast here every morning, except on a couple of days when I went without, as the time change (we gained an hour on 6 days as we travelled west) occurred at 10 am, and made it too close to lunch time. Lunch was here every day, save one. My experience with both breakfast and lunch was the same: Food was adequate to excellent, and the service was ALWAYS excellent. Their attentiveness can't be faulted, offering juice, water, tea/coffee. Their pleasant demeanor and smiles made me feel welcomed and at home. One warning though: in an effort to remove empty plates and keep tables clean, the staff can be overzealous here. If you do go back for seconds, or for dessert, ensure at least one member of your party stays at the table - or if dining alone (as I sometimes did), leave a personal item (I would leave my e-Reader). Otherwise, you will come back to the table you had, but already occupied by others.
Dinner was always in the MDR, again, save for one night. The menu each evening offered a fantastic variety of starters, main courses, and desserts - different each night (with a few staples or "Classic" entrees offered every night). Variety was not a problem, and the quality could rarely be faulted, although one fish dish I had was a bit on the cold side (but had been thoroughly cooked). As a pair, our servers were adequate. The main server was quite personable and interactive, always asking if "everything was ok", but his assistant was a bit of a mystery - he seemed to be always smiling, and was quick at filing my ever-empty water glass! But he barely said a word, and his heart just didn't seem in it. Perhaps he had too many tables to serve? But for me, I like to interact and chat with my servers whenever I can (in any restaurant) and he just did not seem to care.
We did use the specialty restaurants twice - both times at Giovannis - once for lunch early in the trip, and then later on for supper. Both times we had the same waiter - in fact, he offered us to return for supper at a 20% discount ($20 for lunch, $25 for supper, but with the discount he offered, it was $20 for both). Ali was quite attentive, very enthusiastic about his service. He just LOVED to bring us food, more food than we could possibly eat. The supper we had, we had with a married couple we had met in the airport in Toronto (after having met online through the Cruise Critic Roll Call), and as a group, in good humour (and faultless motives) chided Ali about all the food he was bringing (large portion, etc.) For whatever reason (perhaps cultural?), he took offense to it. He did his best to hide it, but it appeared to us we had inadvertently cause some harm. So we did apologize and left what I hope were considerable tips (despite the menu saying the price of the meals included the gratuity).
The only late night venue which offered hot food (or any food at all after 11pm) was the Park Cafe, located in the solarium, by the pool. I used it a few times for slices of pizza (adequte, but certainly not gourmet) or hamburgers, cold drinks, and a small selection of sweets. Salads and sandwiches were also usually available, but I did not have any of these.
Ports of call were adequate, but this was not a focus for the cruise for me, and nor should it have been for many. Key West was our first one, and it was nothing special to me, although a visit to the one of its museums taught me much about its history. Funchal, Madiera (Portugal) was an occasion of white knuckles for me. We had booked a 4 X 4 Madiera Adventure, and that it was! Some of the roads on this island born of volcanic activity are extremely narrow - such that one would have to pull over to allow oncoming vehicles to pass. That some of these roads were right on the edge of cliffs, sometimes with no barriers, and often times at such high inclines, this is not for someone with a fear of heights (such as me). My hand actually started aching from hanging onto the handle that was handing from the ceiling of the Land Rover.
Gibraltar was quite enjoyable. Exploring the Siege Tunnels, get a chance to see the Barbary Apes, and visiting Europa Point - the southern most point in Europe. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate, and seeing the north coast of Morocco was not possible.
None of the excursions in Malaga appeared overly interesting, but I choose the Caves at Neja. For caves they were spectacular, but caves don't really capture my attention. The Port of Malaga is one that I could have done without.
But having said that about the Ports of Call, I didn't choose this cruise for the ports. It was for the sea days - to do nothing if I wanted. I was able to read 5 books on my eReader, watch a few movies, and found a willing and much better Chess opponent, where we spent hours playing each other. It turns out he was once on his native country's national chess team. This entire period of the cruise was relaxing and rejuvenating. Just to do what I wanted - or do nothing at all - at my own pace - was liberating.
One final highlight: Cruise Director Steve allowed High Seas Ministries to conduct church services on the 2 Sundays of our cruise, and on Sea Days, they did a 1 Hour Bible Study. Tracing the themes of creation, covenant, and salvation through each of the 66 books, we spent 5 days in the Old Testament and 4 in the New Testament. This was not something I had expected, but it was a wonderful blessing. About 50 attended regularly. Kudos for Steve and Royal Caribbean!
Disembarkation went off well, although we were about 1/2 hour late leaving the ship compared to the posted schedule. But there was still plenty of time to get on our Royal Caribbean transfer to the Barcelona airport in time for our flight.
In all, it was a very good cruise, and it was almost everything I expected. Ship was clean and presented well. Although I have little to compare it too, many often commented about the extremely high level of interaction by the ship's officers, from Captain and right on down. For what I wanted out of this cruise, I surely received it. Read Less