Returned last night from the Nordic Empress, New Years Eve cruise.
Once on board, we learned that RCI markets this ship heavily in Puerto Rico, and were told by the staff that on the 5 night cruise, there is typically about 50% Puerto Ricans on board, the 4 night cruise is around 80%. No problem but be forewarned about the chance of being seated with someone who doesn't speak English. The overall cruise had a 'Latino' flair and every night until 1:00 am or so, they had music up on deck by the pool. First night, we were seated with a family from Puerto Rico and it was quite fun trying to communicate, between the Spanish KayakGuy can speak and the Engllish they knew, we were able to communicate.
The Ship: absolutely love her, a great size, extremely well maintained. Rooms fairly standard, shower was smallest I have ever seen.
The Food: Very good to Excellent.
The Service/Staff: Outstanding, this was the best cabin steward we have ever had.
Our flight arrived in San Juan around 11:40 a.m., we went to baggage claim and were at the pier around 12:30. We got in line and RCI had staff checking to make sure that all paperwork was filled out properly.
Check-in began around 1:00 p.m. and we were in our cabin around 1:30.
That is the GOOD...
1) RCI dropped the ball here, we met people who, arriving after 2:00 p.m. stood in line for up to 4-hours (yes folks, I said FOUR HOURS). There was no viable reason for this, NO EXTRA security measures were in place.
2) On embarkation day, the decision was made to switch to open seating (since embarkation was taking so long), but this announcement was ever made about this. Getting into the restaurant was horrible.
3) Due to the boarding and dining problems, after the muster drill, the announcement was made that until midnight, ALL beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) were FREE.
4) The bars were packed until midnight, and being the good sport I am, decided to FULLY participate.
There were several different versions of when (and if) passengers would report to Immigration before the ship could be cleared.
Version 1: Those with flights before 11:30 am would report at 7:45 a.m. Those with flights before 2:00 pm would report at 8:00 a.m. Those with tours would go thru Immigration when departing the ship. Notice, this leaves out those who were staying in San Juan, either locals or those doing their own thing.
Version 2: Everyone would report to Immigration at 7:30 a.m.
Version 2 is what happened and what ensued on the Nordic Empress was literally crazy. We went right away and waited only about 15-minutes. In the line, I noticed that some people had their Customs Declaration Forms. The Cruise Director was standing close by and I asked him, if we needed them. He said that he had absolutely NO IDEA if they were needed or not. Well, we were handed new forms to fill out in line later. Can you imagine the Cruise Director DID NOT KNOW this.
After going through Immigration (where they validated Citizenship, marked the Declaration Form and marked your boarding pass) we went back to breakfast. Leaving breakfast, the line for Immigration was zig-zagged in the show lounge and out thru the Centrum and back thru the casino.
Then, just a little later, something happened that I could not believe. RCI began calling people off the ship BEFORE everyone was through Immigration.
We reported to our assigned spot for the tour. Not ONE RCI crew/staff were in sight. We were to report at 9:15, at 9:25 or so, one did show up and ask everyone if they had been thru Immigration, of course, not all had, so he took them to expedite the process. We were then taken off the ship and at the gangway, we saw the last RCI representative. There were no staff outside the terminal to direct anyone to the tour busses. I finally asked a driver and he directed me to it.
Our 9:30 tour left the pier at 10:10 (with CruiseAholic a bit in a rant).
The tour of the rain forrest was excellent.
We got the the airport at app. 3:00 (our flight was at 6:15). We waited in line at the American Check-In for about 40 minutes. There were no lines for security to go to the gates (San Juan has for a long time not allowed non-ticketed guests to the gates). We stopped at a sports bar, ordered a drink and chicken fingers and watched TV for about an hour, then headed to the flight.