I am new to this board and saw this thread. I placed this mini-review on the Cruise Critic website a while ago. Enjoy!
Hal vs. Celebrity vs. Princess
I previously jotted down a few of my own impressions of these lines in that I have cruised all three lines in the past year and a half. My experiences, in order, were on:
1. Golden Princess (Eastern Car.), October ‘01
2. Rotterdam (N.E. , Can.), May ‘02
3. Mercury (Alaska), August ‘02
4. Zaandam (West. Car.), January ‘03
In comparing the three lines, I will divide the review into four categories: ship, staterooms, service, food and entertainment. Each category will be subdivided into specifics. I have decided to include my experiences on the following ships as well:
1. Carnival Paradise
2. Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas
A little about my wife and I:
We are professionals who live hectic lifestyles and are currently in our mid-thirties. We do appreciate attention to detail and service and prefer a cruise that is less hurried and more relaxed. I also will give some insight from a Group Leader point of view as I lead large, high maintenance groups on these ships.
(9)Golden Princess: An absolutely beautiful ship. We were awestruck as we boarded and walked past the atrium. Everything about this ship from the restaurants to the hallways to the public rooms and private rooms was well designed and constructed with wood, brass and indirect lighting. A fresh peach/ citrus smell hit you all over the ship. Great for groups in that there are so many choices for entertainment.
(8.5)Rotterdam: Sedate, classy and comforting. At first glance, I was not bowled over by the Rotterdam’s interior presence as I saw Joe Farcus in a lot of the interior design. I think this is one area that HAL could immediately improve with their up coming Vista Class. The dining room and Explorers lounge are beautiful with the Odyssey taking the cake for class. The atrium is only three stories but is centered around a beautiful, huge clock which fascinated me. As we continued on our 10 day cruise, however, I became more satisfied with the Rotterdam and her sedate, intimate beauty. Although, in my opinion, the Rotterdam was the most beautiful ship when viewed from the dock.
(9) Mercury: Beautiful ship. The designers had a field day with the design of the Mercury. She is truly a class ship and one in which we were never in a crowd (except in the Lido which I will address later). The cleanest of all the ships that we were on. The public rooms are outstanding and the rooms are incredibly detailed and thought out. The atrium is four stories tall and is centered around a brass/glass global compass that is reminiscent of the Rotterdam’s clock. The dining room is the grandest of all the boats listed. I can’t rate her a ten because of some of the “cutting edge” modern art that was scattered about the ship. I can stomach some of the offerings but the 40 black and white photos of children burping is a bit more than I can stomach.
(8.4) Zaandam : Basically my comments about the Rotterdam apply to this ship as well. The organ was not quite as beautiful as the clock on the Rotterdam. The dining room, however, was more impressive than the Rotterdam. I wouldn’t mind it if they lost the half eaten apple/lady face on the promenade(as you can tell, I’m not much into modern art). Needs to seriously loose the giant organ in the atrium.
(7.5) Paradise: This is probably unfair to give the Paradise such a rating as she is a beautiful ship that tends to tone down the “Vegas” type of interiors that are the hallmark of the Carnival fleet. The reason for the rating is that in quality and finish, she is just below the level of the other ships mentioned. Light pastel colors and sort of a whimsical French impressionist feeling is splashed throughout the ship in her public areas. Joe Farcus, however, is everywhere.
(9) Radiance of the Seas: Big and innovatively beautiful. Absolutely built with intense planning and finish. The details in this ship are truly an industry standard. There is an “open” feeling throughout the ship from 9+ stories worth of a glass wall that they present in the atrium to the exterior elevators. Marble, glass, brass and wood are all intertwined with precision craftsmanship and creativity. Extremely well laid out ship with every room flowing nicely into the next. Some of the highest ceilings in rooms that I can ever remember on a cruise ship. The spongy promenade deck (not wood) is a bit of a let down.
(8) Golden Princess: We had an outside view cabin. Well designed cabin with a comfortable layout and design. Very well decorated in a way that will appeal to all tastes. The smallest bathroom I have ever seen. As a former amateur bodybuilder, I had an awfully hard time taking a normal, relaxing shower. I am only 5 foot 8 and the shower head was hitting me in the nose. Good selection of films that rarely repeated themselves on the T.V.
(9) Rotterdam: We had an outside view on the Lower Promenade. Great cabin with plenty of storage and well laid out. Very tastefully decorated. The bathroom was a pleasant change from Princess in that it was the largest that we had seen so far. Music channels at your head-rest behind the bed and a good area for my wife to put on make-up. Only minor down side was the T.V. being placed on the make-up counter / desk. Be warned: the outside cabins on the Lower Promenade Deck are considerably smaller than those on the Dolphin and Main.
(8.5) Mercury: We had a balcony cabin. I need to be careful here because the balcony in Alaska really made the trip for us. Nice room with plenty of storage. Bathroom was a bit smaller than the Rotterdam and had vacillating hot/cold water temperature throughout the cruise. T.V. was a good size with a VCR. All in-cabin movies are pay per view (this irritated me) or you can watch re-runs of old ER episodes. Colors in the cabin were a little garish (Bright blue, yellow and red (I hear they are not like this on the Millennium class ships)).
(9.5) Zaandam: Our favorite cabin layout so far. Great room to move around and plenty of storage. The T.V. was elevated for viewing. Bathrooms are big and easily traversed by someone with big shoulders. A decent size couch is in the room as well. I could live in this cabin for a year. Music channels at classical and 40’s romantics made the trip for us (Aahhh, romance!).
(7.5 / 9) Paradise: What should be mentioned is that I have been on this ship twice; once with my wife for ourselves and once leading a large group. On my first voyage, I had an inside cabin and for the second voyage the Penthouse Suite. The inside cabin is spacious enough, and it should be stated that the restroom was quite a bit larger than what can be found in higher class cabins on other fleets (RCI, Princess). Room was extremely dull in décor. In our Penthouse suite, we had the luxuries of marble basins and tubs with separate areas where the double basins were. The room was quite large and had enough space to have a good-sized separate living area. Décor was what you might find in a very nice Ramada.
(8) Radiance of the Seas: If it wasn’t for the finish of wood, well-thought-out decoration and moldings, this cabin would be less than average for a balcony cabin. Honestly, a smallish cabin with the smallest bathroom I have ever encountered (Let’s just say that when on the throne, one’s knees have a tendency to knock against the bottom of the sink apparatus.) Decent closet space and area for shoes.
(6.5) Golden Princess: Princess could really do themselves a huge favor by throwing out PC dining. The waiters and asst. waiters have a much harder time keeping up with who is coming in and out, what their preferences are etc.. We had plates sitting in front of us and out of liquids for thirty minutes. No personal interaction like we are used to. Service in the specialty restaurants is better. Front office is sufficient and courteous. Lido helpers are staring out the windows, communing together etc. Cabin steward was excellent and had fun with my wife’s travel bear. Tipping is automatic so no recourse.
(9.5) Rotterdam: Awesome , attentive, friendly service in all areas of the boat. Every need was taken care of and every problem (no working hot water in cabin) was taken care of immediately. Rolled hand towels in public rooms smiling faces who remember you. Best example: my wife cut her hand picking up a glass in the Hudson room that apparently had a chip in it. We went to the infirmary and had it disinfected and bandaged. We brought the glass to the food and bev. Manager just to let him know where we had found it so no one else ( who might freak out) would cut themselves. He sent us a $175.00 bottle of merlot that night for dinner. My wife and I truly had tears in our eyes when we departed in Montreal. Cruise service can not get any better than this.
(9) Mercury: Attentive, proper, white gloved service is excellent but not very personable (except for our waiter). A table next to us had Vlad the Impaler from Romania for a waiter(never smiled the entire length of the cruise). Ladies never have to carry their trays in the Lido. Very efficient and complete in every way and with a “can do” attitude. NOTE: Probably the best group coordination of any of the lines that I have been on. The group coordinator met me (and knew my name (?)) as soon as I took my first step on the ship. She catered to our group’s every need and complaint. I cannot commend her enough.
(10) Zaandam: I really have to give the Z this rating because the dining and lido staff was the best we have ever had. Sammy, Ketut and Miffi saw to it that we never had to get our own beverages in the Lido restaurant (I have never tipped a Lido staff before but these guys made more than $300.00 off of our group!) and never had to get up for seconds (I’m serious). Yus was as kind and personable as a waiter could be in the dining room. The rest of the staff on board seemed to want to go out of their way to be personable and helpful.
(7) Paradise: Good service throughout the ship but don’t expect anyone to remember your name at the end of the sailing. Kind, thoughtful attention in the dining room but non-existent in the Lido. No one really goes out of their way to make you feel welcome. Group management was so-so.
(4)Radiance of the Seas: Let me start out by saying that our cabin steward, Xavier, was one of the best that we have ever had, and the service by Glenn in the Windjammer (they had little carts that they would wheel around to each table to refill liquids) was fantastic. However, the rudeness and absolute incompetence of the staff of the Radiance was amazing. In the dining room, the waiter actually suggested that if people wanted more than one lobster tail that, in turn, he would expect a higher tip. Water glasses and coffee would go unfilled for a half-hour. My entire group of eighty was seated indiscriminately, not in accordance to the dining room assignments that I had sent in THREE MONTHS ahead of time. Front office staff was argumentative. I even had the Group Coordinator dismissed on the second day of sailing. I’ll write more on this on another post: simply amazing.
(5) Golden Princess: Like a night out at Denny’s. I’m just being honest and the folks who “just love Princess” need to be honest and tell it like it is. For some reason Princess’ food quality has dropped below acceptable levels in the dining room. I think one reason is the PC dining option (our food rarely came out fresh or hot). On the advice of one of the waiters, we switched to traditional dining by the third night and received hot and fresh Denny’s steaks. I swear, the taste was that bad. My lobster bisque tasted like bubble yum. Sabbatini’s is a great improvement over the dining room and you won’t go hungry. Don’t waste your time in the Tex-mex. The Lido was what kept this rating above a 3: probably one of the best lido’s we have been on in terms of variety and accessibility (Not to mention the most beautiful lido we have seen) but not necessarily quality. Hopefully the acquisition by Carnival (Who has better food (7.5) than Princess) will solve this problem. Also, people sitting outside on steps and window ledges waiting for tables was an experience we wish to not have again.
(8.5) Rotterdam: Excellent food and taste in the dining room and Odyssey. The dining food was always hot and the steaks and seafood were always quality and fresh. Appetizers and soups were excellent and the deserts were good. The meal that we enjoyed at the Odyssey was Celebrity quality. The lido was good but could have used a little more taste in the main dishes. The pasta/ omelet bar was good. The ice cream sundae bar was filled with topping choices, hot fudge and flavored liquors. Good hamburgers and pizzas. Free mochas and cappuccino made the trip for us 30ish yuppies.
(9.5) Mercury: The most outstanding cuisine that we have had at sea. Steaks were incredible, fish was flaky fresh, vegetables were perfectly cooked each time. Sauces were out of this world and the soups were incredible. Desserts were unique and well thought out. The Lido buffet was by far the best tasting and most varied buffet that we have ever been to. A couple of problems in the Lido though: the buffet was so crowded that we could never find a seat and they kept on consistently running out of coffee (I mean, this was every morning!). They didn’t have the machines that Princess, Carnival and HAL have; they would have to stop and replace filters, put in the grinds – the whole bit! We would be 60% through our breakfast and then would have to make a mad rush to the nearest coffee machine to get some java before it ran out again! There were at 2 mornings that NO coffee was available to be served at all for 15 minutes. I have heard that they have fixed this problem on the Millennium class ships. Cova Café Milano is nice but you have to pay.
(8) Zaandam: Good overall food but not as good as the Rotterdam. Food tended to be a little less fresh and a little less flavorful than on the Rotterdam. The Odyssey on the Rotterdam also was a bit better than the Marco Polo. A couple of differences in the Lido: Rotterdam had Cappuccino machines in the lido , the Zaandam did not. The Rotterdam had flavored liquors and hot fudge at the sundae bar, the Zaandam did not. The breakfast, however, was a bit fresher in the lido on the Zaandam.
(7) Paradise: Let’s be honest; if you are going on a Carnival Cruise, you don’t expect fine cuisine. In the dining room, however, you can find an excellent variety of entrees and each one will, for the most part, be prepared quite well. Everything comes out warm (not always hot) and tasty without any sort of strange taste. We did, however, have a few meals that we had to send back. The lido is quite a different story. For the fourteen days that I spent on the Paradise, I must admit that every entrée that was available in their buffet was very similar in taste ( a hint of curry and rosemary in everything from Italian dishes to Swedish meatballs). Breakfast was hurried and the drink service was next to impossible to obtain without making a second trip. The lines for the buffet would stretch out into the pool area.
(4.5) Radiance of the Seas: The Windjammer “food court” concept is now something that I am absolutely sold on. For a ship this size with this many passengers, we NEVER had to wait in line for anything that we wanted. All different courses of your meal are broken up into different islands that allowed traffic to flow nicely. Food quality, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. The dining room experience was basically a step below what we had experienced on Princess. Food came out cold, meats dry and hard, fish cold and mushy. Soups were lukewarm and tasteless. Lobster tails were good but, as I already mentioned, the waiter expected to be tipped extra for the effort (what effort!?!). The specialty restaurant was basically the same quality of what you would find at a normal meal on HAL or Celebrity (Service was excellent, though).
(9) Golden Princess: Super high quality productions with imagination and variety. All sorts of activities on board including a miniature golf course (we used it several times), an excellent gym, virtual reality center, tons of different bars, shows and dance choices. Something for everyone. The comic they had on board was crude and resorted to bathroom humor ( I would have given a 9.5 if it hadn’t been for him). Music playing throughout the ship (especially noticeable in the Lido) would be great for a while (Debussy or Mozart) and then, PRESTO, change to Techno dance music (say what?!?). Schizophrenic in the canned music atmosphere to say the least.
(8) Rotterdam: Decent shows but lacking imagination and change of dynamics. Lots of “song and dance, song and dance.” I loved the string trio and enjoyed the music played throughout the ship (from Les Mis to Frank to light jazz).
(8.5) Mercury: High quality and well thought out productions with a lot of dazzle. Good vocals and imagination used in changing the pace of the shows. Great string bass, violin, piano and clarinet quartet in the dining room. Good variety of music throughout the ship and good choices in the Navigator Lounge (Celebrity’s crow’s nest-it is beautiful).
(8) Zaandam : Song and dance, song and dance production shows with good vocals but an extreme lack of variety and change of pace (I tried to suggest this in our TA Q and A but Jessica (Cruise Director) got pretty defensive). I have stage experience, a degree in music and have a job in music, so believe me - when I say that something can be done, they just need the right guys to write and compose. The Champagne Strings were our buddies by the third night. They were fantastic and, once again, made for incredibly romantic evening with my lovely wife, Sau. If you go on the Zaandam and enjoy them, don’t forget to tip.
(8.5) Paradise: Good, high-energy productions with flair, imagination and variety. Bands on the ship tended to be geared more towards the 80’s type of sound but were done well. Lot’s of activities for the kids (regardless of age) and always had something going on at the pool (not a plus in my book). Constant contemporary music playing in public areas.
(8.5) Radiance of the Seas: Big, Vegas-review type of shows and varied entertainment. More nightclubs and bars than anyone person could visit in one day. High quality band playing in the Colony Club and great classical guitarist at dinner. Big, theatre seating, movie theatre. Unfortunately, the atrium was used as a hub of entertainment and activity. I say “unfortunately” because the noise level of the interior of the ship seemed to be always at a fever pitch. Constant, loud, top 40 rap and contemporary music playing in all public areas of the ship (it was incredibly irritating to try and relax at breakfast while P-Diddy and Pink was being forced upon my senses).
(7.5) The Golden Princess was certainly the most crowded (especially in the promenade where they have put the photo display area and in the atrium around dinner) with somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 passengers that seemed to clog every public area during dinner hours. Trying to traverse the promenade area where Sabattinni’s and the Explorer’s Lounge was impossible due to the photo gallery opened in front of them (I mean to tell you that it was completely jammed every night). Wherever they could, Princess would stick art to sell through out the ship (stairways, walkways, entrances to restrooms) and would make sure that you would either see it or trip over it. During the days, however, you could make your way around the ship fairly easily due to the amount of pools and deck space. Lido was extremely easy to navigate and seating was always easy to find.
(10)Rotterdam : How else could I say it? We felt like the Rotterdam was our own ship for the 10 days that we were on her. Never a line (except for the debarkation day) in the lido and great passenger flow through the whole ship. My wife and I could cruise on the Rotterdam for a year and be comfortable .
(8.5) The Mercury was not bad in most public areas but really suffered in the Lido deck. This is where I wish Celebrity would have cut back on the amount of passengers a tad. We literally could not find a seat on a couple mornings and had to walk around the lido three times before we could be seated.
(9) The Zaandam had excellent passenger flow and control and never had us feel as if we were crowded. Great Lido seating and ease of passage constantly. Quiet, older crowd with a few mid-thirties mixed in for good measure.
(7.5) Paradise: We could always find a table, always seemed to be able to find a quiet spot (A non-smoking ship tends to bring a non-party crowd which was the case on both of our sailings). We had major congestion on formal nights in the promenade and theatre.
(7.5) Radiance of the Seas: The ship had the public areas well spread out and placed at several areas of the ship. Had a few problems finding a place to sit during breakfast in the Windjammer. Crowd tended to be a little on the rowdy side at night. Quite a few kids that made their presence known.
SPA AND GYM
(10) Golden Princess: Extremely well laid out gym with an ethereal sense and feel about the entire facility. The weight-room/free-weight section was obviously thought out by someone who truly works out as much as I do (I am a former bodybuilder). The spa areas are private and center around a romanesque style adult only spa pool. Excellent combination of machines and weight benches. I had George Clooney spot me there; I ain’t jokin (now all the ladies are switching their allegiances to Princess). May I also state that the Golden was the ONLY ship listed (that had a tennis court) that kept it’s tennis facilities in good working order and replaced the tennis balls day after day (It only costs $1.73 a can per day when you buy in bulk).
(8) Rotterdam: Good facilities with nice free-weight selection up to 60lbs. Good weight-plate machines and plenty of room to get around. Didn’t really care for the locker room facilities or the two showers (clearly not enough) that they had available for us. Tennis court was in tatters and old, wet balls were left in the holder.
(7.5) Mercury: A beautiful spa with the hydrotherapy center in the middle. Free weights were indiscriminately thrown in a cardboard box and topped out at a whopping 25 lbs. Decent, new-age music being played all throughout the gym. Weight machines were un-maintained (un-oiled) and had tears and rips in their leather. NO free-weight benches to speak of. The spa facilities and ambience more than made up for the lousy gym for the ladies. They loved it; otherwise, I would have rated it a six. Tennis court was unusable.
(7) Zaandam: Same comments as above with the Rotterdam with one caveat: the spa was not well maintained and both showers were out of order for our entire voyage. Dirty towels from the morning (I usually work out twice on sea days (the extra food)) were still present in the evening. Tennis court, again, was in tatters and three wet, dark kittens( I mean sorry excuses for tennis balls) were left in the hold. When I told the cruise director, she told me that the tennis balls are refreshed every voyage. “Baloney” was my response. She said that she did it herself which was again followed by “Baloney” from me and a walk up with her to the court. I hated to stick it in her face but she shouldn’t lie about silly stuff like this.
(6.5) Paradise: Decent amount of space given to machines and free-weights. Machines, however, were the pneumatic type that really irritate me (personal pet-peeve; I don’t like lifting air). Excellent shower and locker room facilities with the best showers yet at sea. The big detraction: LOUD, PROFANE RAP blasted so loud that I couldn’t even hear my lifting partner. The music was so loud that it would bleed into the message therapy rooms. Other detraction: the staff was constantly hogging the machines and free-weights.
(9) Radiance of the Seas: Huge space devoted to machines but free weight selection was sparing. Very similar to the Golden but not quite as beautiful. Really nice spa area. Locker rooms were large and showers were powerful. The Jungle style spa room was phenomenal and creatively laid out.
I hope you enjoyed the comparisons. I have tried to be honest about all facets of the cruise experience with out being biased towards one line or the other. All are good choices with some being stronger in some areas than the others.