Year Started: 1969
Ships in Fleet: 22
Summary: The largest and most technically impressive cruise ships in the world. Great for kids, families and adventurous adults. A large fleet, but Oasis and Brilliance are often cited as favorites
Good for: Families. Overall Service. Seniors.
Regions:Eastern Caribbean, Western Caribbean
Good for: Families. Overall Service. Value for Money.
Regions:Caribbean, Canada, Transatlantic
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Bahamas, Southern Caribbean
Good for: Families. Children`s Programs. Seniors.
Regions:Bermuda, Bahamas, Eastern Caribbean
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Eastern Caribbean, Western Caribbean
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Bermuda, Bahamas, Eastern Caribbean
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Western Caribbean, Eastern Caribbean
Good for: Children`s Programs. Group. Families.
Regions:Western Caribbean, Southern Caribbean
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Western Mediterranean, Panama Canal
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Western Caribbean, Eastbound Transatlantic
Good for: Families. Value for Money. Teens.
Good for: Teens. Group. Families.
Regions:Singapore, Malaysia, Phuket & Port Kelang,
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Eastern Mediterranean, Caribbean, Eastbound Transatlantic
Good for: Seniors. Families. Overall Service.
Regions:Eastern Caribbean, Western Caribbean
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Hawaii, Tasmania
Good for: Children`s Programs. Seniors. Families.
Regions:Hawaii, Alaska, South Pacific
Good for: Group. Families. Children`s Programs.
Regions:Western Caribbean, Suez Canal, Bahamas, Dubai
Good for: Children`s Programs. Seniors. Families.
Regions:Brazil, Western Mediterranean, Greek Isles
Good for: Seniors. Families. Singles.
Regions:Norwegian Fjords, British Isles, Scan Russia, Southern Caribbean
Good for: Children`s Programs. Group. Families.
Regions:Toyko To Taipei, Australia, Asia
Good for: Teens. Children`s Programs. Families.
What a great cruise we had.
The food was great. I had lobster, filet minion, ribs, halibut, salmon, and shrimp until it was coming out my ears. I even tried escargot. I ate all of the evening meals in dining room, breakfasts and lunches in both the dining room and the buffet. All of it was great. The waiter and waiter assistant were right there whenever you need something. And if you didn't get enough just ask and they will bring you more.
The cabin we had was the size of most motel rooms, but we had a handicap cabin that was two times bigger that most cabins. There was never an unmade bed, and the cabin attendant always made little animals out of the towels.
My wife brought a book along, but didn't get a chance to read a page. There are so many things to do on the ship that you have a hard time fitting everything in.
We took the tequila town and country excursion in Puerto Vallarta. And it was ok. But I think hiring a taxi driver to show you the sites is better. It is cheaperand you can have him stop whenever you want him to.
The only problem we had was getting to the viking lounge on the 11th floor. I'm in a wheelchair and after 10:00 PM the won't let the elevator go to the 11th floor.
Just the Facts Ship: Voyager of the Seas Date: January 11-January 18, 2009 Captain: Patrik Dahlgren Entertainment Director: Eric Dowis Ports: Galveston -- Cozumel -- Roatan -- Costa Maya -- Galveston Weather: Poor all week
This was my 11th Royal Caribbean cruise and 3rd cruise on the Voyager of the Seas. We are cruising and traveling with my Sister & BIL and meeting good friends who we have sailed with previously.
Day One -- Sunday -- Embarkation The Voyager had major embarkation problems due to fog (5+ hours late) the previous weekend so that was our major pre-cruise concern. We were actually pleased when a small cold front came through central Texas on Saturday. We would gladly trade the cooler weather for the assurance of no fog and thus a delay. The front reached Galveston late Saturday so the weather was clear, and colder than normal at embarkation, but no fog.
We left the Ranch at 6:00 a.m. BIL drove and I navigated and enjoyed following with the very nice GPS system. The GPS system took us the exact same route we usually take. We had a nice and easy drive to Galveston. Houstontraffic was fine. We arrived early enough to drop our bags at Cruise Terminal #2 before automobile traffic became heavy. I drove over and parked at EZ Cruise parking and then walked over to the ship terminal. I highly recommend EZ Cruise parking and they have shuttles, but I prefer walking. By the time I got back to the terminal our party had reached the front of the first security ID check. They had a priority/VIP line for the 2nd security check point that we used and then went to Priority check-in desk. We had just settled in with our complimentary glass of champagne when they announced they would begin boarding. Nice group in the priority area and no mad rush to the door. The ship's staff were extremely friendly, everyone welcomed us on board ship and offered help or guidance. We went to the Windjammer and were ahead of most of the arriving passengers. With fewer people there we could appreciate the three beautiful ice carvings and the fruit displays. The roast beef was very good as was the salad and the desserts.
We went to our cabin shortly after 1:00 p.m. when cabins became available to guests. Our luggage arrived about 1:30 p.m. so we were unpacked right away. I promised DD that we would go down to the Promenade deck and wave at the web cam at 2:00 so we did (she later reported that she saw us) and then stopped at the Pig & Whistle for a cocktail and cokes. The Promenade deck was packed as the cool weather kept passengers off the outdoor decks and inside the ship. The Grand Promenade is a very good people watching spot and I saw several friends and acquaintances. It was busy early due to the cool weather. The sports bar was packed with people watching the NFL football playoffs that were also shown on cabin TV. We later finished unpacking and explored more of the ship. It was quite chilly for muster drill.
The Welcome Aboard Show for both dinner settings featured comedian Keith McGill, Eric Dowis the Cruise Director, and the Voyager of the Seas Singers and Dancers. It was a good show and a good start to the cruise. Dinner was scheduled for 30 minutes later than usual as is sometimes common on embarkation day. Friends and family are all at the same table as requested in the La Boheme dining room. The Vidalia onion tart and Tomatillo (spicy) soup were very good. I also had the Prime Rib (with fresh horseradish) as an entree and Savrin for desert. After a busy day and dinner we retired to the cabin for the evening.
Day Two -- Monday -- At Sea Warmer today than it was yesterday, but still cool and cloudy most of the day. I slept very well and a little late. I went up to the Windjammer and it was packed so I had a very nice breakfast in the Carmen (main) dining room. After breakfast I picked up tickets for the Ice Skating Show for our group. The Captain gave his midday report and announced that there would be a delay in arriving in Cozumel, not sure why. We had lunch in the Windjammer. They had roast pork at the carving station and the specialty station had "prepared to order" pasta. There was a wide selection of items in the buffet. The chocolate peanut butter pie was fantastic as were the egg custard and tutti-frutti, some of my favorite desserts. A short nap before we went to the 4:00 ice show, Ice Odyssey. It was an excellent show and not to be missed. The Captain's reception was held in the Grand Promenade. He introduced his senior staff from a bridge above and across the promenade. Dinner tonight was at the usual 8:00 pm in the dining room. Escargot, Shrimp Cocktail, Beef Filet, Sea Bass, and Grand Mariner Soufflé were my selections. The headwaiter brought me a plate of sliced Hearts of Palm (one of my favorites) that were fantastic. This was my favorite dinner of the week. The Hughes Brothers were the featured entertainers this evening, but we skipped having seen them previously. Another early cabin night.
Day Three -- Tuesday -- Cozumel Weather was cloudy and moist today. Midday temperatures around 80°. I had breakfast in the Carmen dining room. A very good breakfast: tomato juice, grapefruit, fried eggs, bacon, hash brown potatoes, and toast. We arrived three hours late in Cozumel docking after 10:30 am. The cause was stated as weather and water currents early after leaving Texas although I think we have been traveling on only one screw since we left Galveston. There were four ships in Cozumel, two at the International pier (Voyager & Grandeur) and two next door at Puerto Maya (Carnival Fantasy & a Costa ship). We were the last to arrive. Because of the late arrival and on again and off again showers we didn't do any excursions or island tours as originally discussed and we just took a taxi into San Miguel. Our first stop was the Mayan Pearl owned by our friend Nelly. I had a much needed haircut at Antonio's barber shop. Martin has been cutting my hair for over three years. We did some shopping at Ron Jon's and our favorite store La Cinco Soles. We had arranged to meet our friends at La Candela and we all arrived there about 2:00 p.m. Lunch here was fantastic and it is a very attractive and clean restaurant. They set up tables for our group of eight on the lower patio next to the little waterfall. The owner is Cuban so there is a nice selection of Mexican and Caribbean (Cuban) dishes. Our group ordered a wide selection of items from the menu and ALL were very good including the fresh Seafood dishes, Shrimp dishes, Soups, Mexican & Guacamole dishes, and the unique house Salsa. They also have a full bar and very good service. A little shower again fell, but we were protected on our little patio. After lunch we visited the Havana Blue cigar bar as rumor was that they are serving mojitos from there although the main bar is still closed. Our group drank all the mojitos that could be made as they ran out of the 'makings' so we were offered some samples of various Cuban premium rums.
We headed back up the Malecon to the main square and then taxid back to the ship. As we have done on previous cruises our group likes to meet on deck four over the gangway just before sail away. It's fun to watch the late arrivals and their condition as they return to the ship. At Cozumel there were some lucky people even though they were late. There was a large ship tour from the mainland that was very late so no one would be left at the dock. We sailed about 45 minutes late. The feature production show this evening in the LaScala Theater was Music in Motion. The show is very enjoyable although we skipped having seen it twice and having had such a busy day. DW & I stopped by the Concierge Club for a cocktail before dinner. Dinner was good. DW had a very good vegetarian entrée: a multi colored pasta cooked in a blue cheese sauce which is their best vegetarian entrée in her opinion. I had the Maryland Crab cake, Soup, Grilled double sliced Pork Steak and a Black Angus Sirloin Steak, with a Mango parfait type dish for dessert. The Pork Steak was very good. This evening the Country & Western night/Texas Party was held in Cleopatra's Needle. They had a western band and did line dancing directed by the cruise staff.
Day Four -- Wednesday -- Roatan The Voyager arrived around 9:30 a.m. and the weather is overcast with showers. You can't see the mainland today. Temperature is very humid 82-84° with showers. I again had a very nice breakfast in the Carmen dining room. Due to the weather we all changed plans from a trip to the West End/Tabyana beach. DS & BIL took an island tour by taxi and our friends went to the Fins & Flippers located in Coxen Hole, the same harbor as the cruise terminal. We watched a movie in the cabin and then had lunch in the Windjammer. Each of us had great salads. I also had roast beef and baked potato. Dessert was a very good Lemon Merengue pie. We decided to take a walk after lunch just around the pier area. They have now completed the construction of the three new buildings at the Coxen Hole Cruise Terminal, and they look very nice -- a sort of old colonial warehouse style architecture. They will eventually house shops and services. There is already a Diamonds International opened, some may say that is progress, others not so much. Although still cloudy and an occasional shower we decided to take the tender over to the Fins & Flippers to see what it was like at this new resort. We got there about 2:00 pm and found our friends on the beach and in the water snorkeling. They said the snorkeling was wonderful. We stayed and had a bucket of the local beers, Salva Vida and Port Royal, until the rains really came down about 3:30. Fortunately it was a warm rain. The tender took us from the small island directly to the cruise ship pier. That allowed us to avoid the crowded walk back and was very convenient. At Sail Away we had a fantastic impromptu sail away party. The deck four gangway party merged to our large aft balcony for cocktails and fun as we put the view of the island of Roatan and sunset behind us. We even ordered a dozen Fruit & Cheese plates for a nice snack.
A lighter dinner, just having a steak as an entrée, but the waiter again brought a plate of sliced hearts of palm (one of my favorites) that we shared with the table. The Love and Marriage game show hosted by Eric was held this evening in the La Scala Theater.
Day Five -- Thursday -- Costa Maya We docked very early this morning and it was pouring down rain. Also docked at the newly reopened pier is the MSC Lyrica and the P&O Oceania. The Lyrica is the ship we hope will be sailing from Bayport (Houston) Texas soon. We watched the Love & Marriage show on the cabin TV this morning and Eric Dowis is amazing. A great ad-libber and he makes the now standard cruise show very humorous. I met our group for breakfast in the Windjammer and the plan for the day is to sit out the rain until afternoon. Team GangwayRay/Mohahual were the Voyager of the Seas Team Trivia Champions for Thursday. The question that we answered that put us over the top as no other team got it was: Who was Robert LeRoy Parker better known as? The weather slacked a bit about noon so a group of us headed over to Costa Maya and Mahahual. It was still sprinkling, but gradually stopped although still very overcast. This is my first visit since they recently reopened the port. It had been closed since Hurricane Dean in August of 2007. The modern village has been completely restored and is very nice. All the shops, bars, and restaurants are open and it is very clean and convenient to the ships. We decided to go on to the old former fishing village. The ticket/transport area has been moved further south, but allows more room on the outside for loading. The cost of transportation to Mahahual either by bus, taxi, or van is $3 per person.
Mahahual: They have developed a Malecon with a nice walkway along the waterfront. They will now only have permanent structures on the shore side although they will have palpas, umbrellas, etc. along the beach side of the walkway. Several restaurants are building nice structures on the shore side with a nice beach area for guests. We stopped at the El Faro beach area first and had a few beers, very good guacamole & pico de gallo, and enjoyed a large mariachi band, but showers moved us into their patio across the street. To be honest their permanent building lacks the charm of their former location. They do have good toilets in the building, but it will not be my favorite place in the new Mahahual. Pez Quatro has the most impressive structure so far, but I do not recommend them. The beer is $3 per beer which is $1+ more than other beach locations. The real sin was the nachos that are made with canned processed cheese and canned nachos. Basically the same as the ballpark nachos you would get at Ranger stadium, just dressed up a bit. They may be acceptable for the people off the Lyrica, Oceania, or 30% of the passengers of the Voyager, but that's not real nachos. After having so much fun here in previous years I was very disappointed with Mahahual this time. After returning to the cabin I enjoyed watching everyone return to the ship and the sail away of the Lyrica. The entertainment this evening in the La Scala Theatre was Merrill Osmond, lead singer of the famous Osmond Brothers family. He had a great multimedia show and sang many Osmond hits. This was one of the better shows we have seen on a cruise ship. This was Italian night in the dining room. My selections for dinner were the Scallops Risotto, Minestrone soup, Chicken Marsala, Sponge Cake with strawberries, and Tiramisù. The waiters ended Italian night by singing O Solo Mio (kind of ironic because of the weather -- no sun).
This evening the Quest was held in Studio B, but I met friends in the High Notes Lounge to listen to Synergy, a jazz/pop group who did a variety of music. The female vocalist was great.
Day Six -- Friday -- At Sea It is a cloudy & very windy day today, but a bit nicer on the aft balcony. I was up early today so made my way up to the Island Grill to get my first omelette. It was very good. The lines have been longer at the omelette station this cruise as many more people have discovered it. Corned beef hash, bacon, tomato juice, and milk completed breakfast. We entered the Team Trivia contest again and tied for 1st, but lost the tie breaker: What book did John Hinckley have on him when he shot President Reagan? I tried my luck in the casino with the free slot pulls that come with our C&A booklet and won some credits. We watched a movie on cabin TV and then went to the Windjammer for a light lunch. The green salads are very good and I also had some Schnitzel and potato salad. I took a nap after lunch and then tried some more trivia but we again lost out to the same team. I did discover that they read this simple blog though, so they are obviously 'intelligent' folks (wink). The second production show for our cruise was before dinner. Broadway Rhythm & Rhyme featured the singers and dancers in a Broadway style review show featuring popular songs from Broadway shows. It was an excellent show. Tonight is the second formal evening and dinner was again good. My selections were the Baked Ziti, Garden Salad, Fisherman's Platter (Lobster & shrimp) and the assorted dessert selection with ice crème. The Karaoke Superstars was following dinner, but we went to the Big Band Swing show by the Voyager of the Seas Orchestra that was held in Cleopatias Needle. After the show we stopped to check some of Derrick Lewis' Kamikaze Karaoke at the Pig & Whistle Pub. Derick has his own group of followers that have sailed with him many times previously from Galveston on the Rhapsody and now the Voyager.
Day Seven -- Saturday -- At Sea Partly cloudy and sun this morning. Best weather of the cruise on the last sea day. We tried to sleep in this morning as we have ordered room service breakfast for the balcony. I filled out an application for a future cruise booking and left it with the Loyalty Ambassador this morning. He seemed very nice. We were invited to the luncheon for Platinum and Diamond guests at noon. It was in the Magic Flute and it was well attended. We were able to eat with friends from a previous cruise as well as DS & BIL and met some new friends and fellow ranchers from the Granbury area. They served two starters, Duck Pate, and a Potato Soup with flaky biscuit. The wine served was very good. We had a choice of entrees. I had the Filet Mignon that was excellent and they prepared some vegetables for DW. The dessert was a very, very rich Chocolate Cake. After lunch I used a C&A coupon to try a Mango Lava Flow from the Aquarium bar and it was very nice. I leave a tip when using a coupon and the bartenders seem to appreciate it. If you wait until after 2:30 pm on the final sea day and purchase liquor from the General Store you can take it with you to your cabin. I purchased two bottles of Bacardi rum ($21) and the price gets better the more you purchase, but Texas has a legal limit of one liter per person. The weather finally improved enough that passengers used the pool deck this afternoon. The band played and the pool bars were finally busy. We took our first stroll of the cruise along the decks about 4:00 pm. We did sneak in a visit to Johnny Rockets this afternoon and did catch a dance from the waiters. DW & I had cocktails in the Concierge Club and visited with friends. We skipped the Farewell entertainment show, but watched it on the cabin TV later while packing.
Dinner was again very good. I had the Cesar salad, New York Strip Steak, French Onion Soup, and Key Lime Pie for dessert. All selections were very good. After dinner was the Island Frenzy Parade in the Royal Promenade.
Day Eight -- Sunday -- Debarkation No room service on debarkation morning, but a full breakfast menu in the dining room. Of course today we had the best weather of the week. The Voyager arrived early and we were docked by 6:30 a.m. They have a new debarkation system. They make no announcements at all, everyone is allowed to select their own departure time earlier in the week and are assigned a meeting spot for that time. The staff then goes to each location at the appropriate time and escorts them to the gangway. I think this will work well. They started allowing the self-debarkation people off about 7:00 a.m. thirty minutes before scheduled. It was really fairly smooth considering how many people are using it. We debarked, went through U.S. Customs, rolled our bags across the street, loaded the truck, and were off the island at 7:50 am. Gasoline was $1.68 in Galveston. We made our stop at Ama's in Hearne Texas for migas, picked up the dogs in Waco, and arrived home in fine shape about 1:30 p.m.
Ship This was my 4th time on a Voyager class ship. I am still very impressed with these magnificent vessels. There are good and bad things about the size. The elevators can be busy or full and I recommend taking the stairs when possible. The additional size also means that there is room for the photo gallery, casino, bars, etc. without any one of them dominating an entire deck. On this particular cruise, because of a lot of cool and wet weather, the additional interior spaces was needed and utilized. The Aquarium Bar and Champagne Bar are very impressive as are the Studio B, the Theater, and other public spaces. The Grand Promenade is very impressive indeed and must be experienced. The ship was very clean and the public rooms were always spotless. They replaced the carpet on deck seven aft during the week so they are still making repairs even though they have a dry dock scheduled soon.
Crew The staff and crew are very good. The staff are very friendly. I guess they have really adjusted to Texas and the friendly crowd. We had our third different Captain on the Voyager and he did keep us informed of the weather for better or worse. Our waiter and assistant waiter were excellent. The bar staff all were very friendly. Even the maintenance crew would greet you. Very impressed.
Cabin We have cabin 7688, an aft wrap balcony on deck seven. It is an average sized cabin, but a very nice balcony and quiet location. Our cabin steward was excellent. He did keep my small cooler full of ice and the cabin in good shape. The cabin was very clean when we boarded and cleaned very well during the week. He also kept the balcony neat and clean. The safe has a button keypad. Air conditioning worked very well. You can check the status of your on board account using the RC-TV. The cabin refrigerator was well stocked, but we never used it. The toilet paper had been downgraded to an industrial quality. Also no mints on your bed at turn down, but some nice towel animals most nights.
Food We had second or late seating for dinner. Our dining room was the La Boheme, deck four (middle level) of the 3 level restaurant. It was an eight top table and had a perfect view of the beautiful main chandelier. Our waiter, Reynaldo from India is very good. The assistant waiter, Dennis from Romania, is also very good. The headwaiter Betty from India came by several times to check our table and arranged for the hearts-of-palm. We enjoyed all the dinners in the dining room. Johnny Rockets is a good alternative for lunch or an afternoon snack. Lunch in the dining room has the same menu each day with one special item that does change daily. All the bread selections are very good on board. The Windjammer had a daily pasta bar and a carving station for nice meat selections. We enjoyed the green salads and specialty items. The desserts are very good. There are several ice cream machines with strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate flavors. We do use Room Service more when we have a balcony cabin. You can order room service on the RC-TV, but I recommend calling room service. DW used it for light breakfast every morning. We also used it a few times in the afternoon for Fruit plates & Cheese plates and twice for sail away parties. Service was good when used.
Weather This was the worse weather I have ever experienced on a seven-day cruise. No severe weather, but it was just consistently cloudy, windy and rainy. A majority of the shore excursions in all three ports were canceled. The weather also created longer lines and people in the Windjammer or Johnny Rockets as it was too wet for the food usually served on the pool deck. I know many were disappointed they could not use the pools and other outdoor activities.
Cruise Highlights We 'appreciate' CD Eric Dowis, the fantastic Ice show Ice Odyssey, the Broadway style Rhythm & Rhyme production show, and Merrill Osmond. Our favorite port this time was Roatan.
Comments This was our first cruise as C&A Diamond members so we are learning the advantages of that level of membership and we did enjoy the Concierge Club. The weather really affected the overall atmosphere of this cruise. We made the best of what opportunities we had to make our own fun when we could. Traveling with friends helped a lot in this situation. We had a good cruise, but it would have been much more enjoyable with better weather.
Our group: grandma (me), grandpa, daughter, son-in-law and 3 grandsons, 17, 15,13. our fourth cruise on the Mexican Rivera. The last 3 were on the Princess ships because RCI had a smaller ship on the itinerary. Since they brought the Mariner to Mexico, we decided to try RCI this time.
the cabin was gorgeous, spacious with a balcony on deck 9. the cabins were amazingly quiet. seems like on past sailings we were always hearing doors slamming open or closed. not on the mariner! and, this is the first time i have actually had hot coffee (as opposed to lukewarm) delivered by room service. on my birthday, my husband order a bouquet of 6 roses del on our coffee tray. that did not happen so they del it later and made it a dozen. the flowers were so wonderfully fresh, we were impressed. the mattresses were a bit firm so we asked for covers and that made them so comfy. the mini-bar will be stocked when you arrive. we asked for it to be cleared out so we could store our water, it was no problem.
our flights to theship were delayed and we did not make it to the buffet until after 3pm when it closes. we were able to go to the promenade cafe on deck 5 for a light lunch.
food on board was great, not huge portions but you can order as many servings as you want. we ate most meals in the dining room except when in port when it is closed and you have to eat in the buffet. the dining rooms offers "brasserie 30" meals for lunch which only take 30 minutes. they do a fresh salad bar where they make your salads to order also, yummy. our waiter, emanuel, and his assistance, kittipan, had our names and drink orders memorized by the second day. service was great.
one thing that could be improved on the mariner is the ice show. it is just chaotic with people saving rows of seats although it is not "allowed". if you eat in the early dining, go to the 5pm show one evening. it is only 45 min long so you will make your dinner fine. the later show was really a mess.
i have a prescription face cream that cost me $120. in the u.s. i walked off the ship in mazatlan and bought it for $20. as it turned out, we walked to the new costco in PV (there is a costco in all 3 ports) and i was able to buy it there for about $10. if you are buying drugs, take the name of the drug, not the brand name. it will be a different manufacturer in mexico. not sure what the laws are regarding the importation of drugs but i had no problem with mine.
the exchange rate was 12.39/pesos on my amex card and 12.56 on visa including the currency exchange.
the last night on the ship, our family voted and every one said we would go on RCI again. nothing wrong with princess but the mariner just worked better with the teens. so much for them to do and it seems like a younger crowd than princess.
thanks to all the reviews before we sailed, it really helps. Bon voyage.
The ship was nice, the staff very helpful, the food good enough, and the ports were interesting but, a ship of this size carries way too many passengers accustomed to the ways of pushing and shoving in the buffet lines, dropping food on the floors and in general they're a group of folks more suited to the Carnival Cruise line.
What happens in this new day and age is the cruise line fears offending any paying passenger , and in doing so doesn't even enforce their own rules, letting the passengers run rampant.
Whether we elect to re-engage with RCCL for a 5th cruise is in question. Princess and Holland America cater to more refined cruisers and most likely we will cruise with them in the future.
This was our fifth cruise and our 2nd on RCI. Last one was East Carib on RCI's Radiance of the Seas.
The Rhapsody is a lovely ship. Our 10th cruise from Sydney took in two stops in New Caledonia and two stops in Vanuatu. The Isle of Pines in NC was a beautiful south pacific paradise -- but little there and souvenirs $$$$. Luganville and Port Vila in Vanuatu are third world dirty, hot and crowded. Don't bother getting off at Luganville.
The ship's dining room meals were excellent. The buffet breakfasts and lunches got a bit tiring after awhile.
Cruise Director Matt (from UK) was a pro and is very good at his job. Most shows were very good. Staff friendly. Good value. Just wish it had been a Med Cruise as ports out of Australia are limited.
Not a cruise to go on for shopping as the islands offer little or, in the case of NC, are $$$$.
Weather was good. Rate: 8.5/10.
Overall a very fun trip. Service, food and entertainment up to par with other cruises I have taken with RCL. Embarkation was quick and took about 20 minutes from the cab to the cabin. (I arrived at the pier just after 1:00). I was upgraded from a D1 balcony to a Junior Suite (Cabin 1596). The JS was clean, well appointed with lots of closet space for clothes and electronics. My wife loved having the bathtub. Great service from the cabin steward and wait staff. The head waiter was at our table every night, which was the first time that has happened to me on a cruise. I was impressed by the friendliness and service attitude of all the staff, even when passing maintenance staff in the hallways. The seas days always had activities, and the ports (aside from Columbia) were great. The weather (out of control of the cruiseline) was sunny and warm every single day. Getting off the ship was easy (although too early for me).
Itinerary Day 0: Arrived in Miami a day before, stayed at the Holiday Inn downtown Miami. Old hotel, but close to the pierand the market. Day 1: Leaving Miami. Usual assembly drill, to the bar for a pre-dinner drink and then dinner. Day 2: At Sea. Relaxing day by the pool. First formal night. Day 3: At Sea. Another relaxing day by the pool. Day 4: Aruba. Walked on our own, did some shopping, stopped for drinks at Senor Frogs. Day 5: Columbia. Stayed on the ship. All tablemates regretted getting off at this port (even on RCL organized shore excursions). Day 6: At Sea. Day 7: Panama Canal cruising. Day 8: Costa Rica. Did a private tour. Murder Mystery at Portafino's. Day 9: At Sea. Got to do a bridge tour. Second formal night. Day 10: Grand Cayman. Day 11: Last day at sea. Day 12: Leaving the ship. One last day in Miami before coming home.
The Good Murder Mystery Dinner Staff Three smoke-free nights in the Casino The ship itself Lots of deck chairs in the sun The length of the cruise
The Not So Good Older crowd (the disco was empty at 11:30 on some nights). Theme nights not as good as on other cruises Columbia port of call
Tips Except after the evening show in the Coral theatre, the forward elevators are never busy. If you can, use those. The Centrum elevators were always busy and crowded.
Unless you like adventure, stay on the ship in Columbia (based on the feedback I got from all our tablemates who took RCL shore excursions).
Save your vacation, run screaming from RCL.
On Royal Caribbean, you are vacationing cattle, held captive to be herded and milked dry. You will encounter all manner of crass, tacky scams designed to wring every penny from you before you are hustled grumbling home. Royal Caribbean brings new meaning to the term "shake down cruise".
Tips for Royal Caribbean cruisers:BEWARE OF RCL AMNESIA: Record everything the Royal Caribbean reservations agent says to you. Bring the recorder with you aboard. You will need the recorder and a stool for the hours you will spend complaining at the "Guest Relations" desk. Get everything in writing. RCL reservations will tell lies to get your booking. Nobody on board will honor the lies. WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES: You will be gouged by RCL for a ride to the end of the pier. It is worth the walk. Royal Caribbean shore excursions are a complete rip off. You will find great cheap tours within a block of the pier head. REVENUE ENHANCEMENTS: Royal Caribbean will give you crummy orange juice, awful coffee and cafeteria food as a part of your ticket. If you want decent food, real orange juice, sodas, water or drinkable coffee, you must pay lots extra. On our RCL cruise, there was a $25 dollar per person cover charge just to set foot in the decent restaurants. Internet service is set to run at a snail's pace, maybe because RCL charges by the minute. You will be given a handful of gratuity envelopes. Swallow your anger and tip, in person, only those staff that actually did their job. In our case, our cabin steward, one bartender and one waitress. ADVANCE PURCHASES: If you purchase anything from RCL reservations for a "discount" you are being screwed. The same packages are available at the same price aboard the ship. When you try to redeem anything you pre-purchased from Royal Caribbean, be prepared for a long, long wait and something like an IRS audit. The usual excuse is "nobody has the wine locker keys" or "the wine steward is off duty". If you advance purchase wine you can't have it delivered to your state room. Room service will, however, sell you another bottle instead of delivering what you have already purchased. RCL tells you where and when you can have the wine that you pre-purchased. If you buy a soda package you are doomed to roam the ship for two weeks carrying the "special" sippy cup that you must drink from to be served. ALCOHOL: You will pay simply infuriating prices for alcoholic beverages aboard a Royal Caribbean cruise. RCL will search you and your bags at each gangway to make sure you don't have any bottles. They even sniff your mouthwash. Once they are sure you have no bargain booze they will really put the screws to you. Expect to pay multiple times the retail price for a bottle of wine. You will pay almost the cost of a twelve pack for just one beer. Plan to get short poured on cocktails and bend over and grab your ankles when they bring the bill. AIRPORT SERVICE: Imagine the service you have received from the airlines in recent years. Picture your worst airline terminal nightmare. Visualize long lines, screaming kids and high handed treatment from puny gods behind counters and podiums. Now surround that with water and you get some idea of the Royal Caribbean cruise experience. Royal Caribbean advertising bears no resemblance to RCL reality. As our shuttle bus finally departed for the airport, someone yelled "Anyone who had a good time, raise your hand." Nobody did.
Royal Caribbean still owes us $92 dollars in disputed charges. They were going to contact us. I am not holding my breath.
There were 3 couples on this trip, all forty-somethings cruising for the first time sans kids. We flew out Thanksgiving night on the red-eye nonstop from Los Angeles to San Juan on American. Given the state of the economy, I think airlines should be improving in flight customer service, not going backwards. Except for the in flight staff, the flight was uneventful.
We stayed at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan. In a word it was excellent!! I had read several reviews of this hotel on the Trip Advisor website, and was concerned about spotty service, but service was uniformly terrific!! I thought I had already gotten on the ship, as every staff member was friendly and said hello with a smile. The one very minor problem I had was taken care of very quickly, and with a smile. The property was lush, well maintained and beautiful. The private beach was wonderful. Enough about the hotel, and onto the ship.
We arrived at the port at noon after sitting in very heavy traffic for about 35 minutes. The largest ship I had cruised on before this was a Princess Grand Class ship,so WOW was this ship huge!! They had just started allowing passengers to board when we got in line, so we went through the check in process and were on board in about 20 minutes -- that was the second fastest I had ever experienced. Once onboard, we were told that cabins would not be available until 2pm, so we headed up to the Windjammer buffet for lunch. We were greeted by Santiago the singing waiter, and went inside. The buffet was a typical buffet, but the food was hot and fresh.
At 2, we went to our cabin, and dropped off our stuff, and we were greeted by our terrific cabin attendant Linda. She kept everything sparkling clean and provided towel animals on several nights. After going to the cabin, I left my wife to do the unpacking, and I went exploring. I was impressed by the variety of activities available, and all of the public spaces. While this ship is seven years old, and did show some wear, it was very clean and well kept, and I saw crew constantly cleaning. The only negative comment I have up to this point is about the lack of hand sanitizer throughout the ship. There was NONE! My wife and one of the other couples started to feel like they had a cold by Friday, and they are still sick almost a week later. After the required muster drill, we went up on deck for sail-away, got our first frosty drink and watched Puerto Rico move off into the distance.
We had late seating dinner, so off we went into the Mozart dining room, and the aforementioned Santiago the singing waiter turned out to be our assistant waiter. He and our waiter Aristides were excellent. Our head waiter Neeraj was also wonderful. This was my 9th cruise, and I don't think I have ever had a better dining room experience. We had six wonderful dinners during the week with them. The reason for only six is that all of us went to the Murder Mystery Dinner on the first formal night. DO NOT MISS THIS! It was kind of corny, but a lot of fun. There was no night that I could not find something that I liked on the dinner menu. Most nights there were at least 2 desserts that I wanted to try and usually did! For those of you wondering, yes there was lobster, but it was on a casual night instead of formal because, according to our head waiter, they were getting too many complaints about stains on formal wear!
Onto the ports -- Aruba: Never left the main shopping area, so I don't have much to say about this one.
Curacao: Here is my one big fat honkin negative complaint. We took the Jewish Heritage Tour, and the supposed tour guide either had never done this tour before, or after she was trained, she just decided to make up facts and figures along the way. I was truly disappointed about this, and when I returned to the ship I complained to the tour desk, and was given a form to fill out. I filled it out and returned it, and after investigation, RCCL refunded the full amount for this tour. The port was beautiful, and I think I could learn to live there.
St Maarten/St. Martin: I think it is a toss up between this port and St. Thomas for the most beautiful. We took the city highlights tour here and really liked the tour guide Marcel and the tour. Did a little shopping here and just like Curacao. I think I could learn to live there.
St Thomas: Did some shopping and tried to go to the synagogue here, but it was the sabbath, and it was locked in the afternoon when we got there. However, we got lucky in that a member of the congregation showed up as we arrived, and allowed us to at least get some great pictures of the harbor and Charlotte Amalie from on the balcony of a house the congregation owns and uses as its banquet hall. Sadly once back aboard, it was time to start packing.
Disembarkation was very slow to begin with, but once it started it took very little time to get to our luggage, and clear customs. After a second lousy flight on AA, we were back in L.A.
The last cruise I took was an Alaska cruise on the Norwegian Pearl, and I thought that the food and service were very good, but after several cruises with choice dining, I forgot just how much I really liked connecting with the wait staff. We were trying to decide whether to take NCL or RCCL for our next cruise, as we had no really big complaints with either. After this cruise, I give the edge to RCCL, as their food and service were just that much better. All in all, this was a great cruise on a great itinerary, and we will cruise RCCL again soon.
The Royal Caribbean International (RCI) Independence of the Seas, with her sister ships Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas, are the biggest cruise ships afloat. They will hold this title until December 2009 when the 220,000 ton Oasis of the Seas will be launched! This Saturday morning she sat alongside another renowned cruise ship who previously held the title of "Biggest Cruise Ship": The Queen Mary 2 of the Cunard Line.
Captain Teo Strazicic of Dubrovnik, Croatia is very proud of his beautiful behemoth, which although larger than RCI's Eagle Class (Voyager, Explorer, Navigator, Mariner, and Adventurer of the Seas) she still uses only the same number and types of engines, but more efficiently. Bravo RCI this awesome ship is a true engineering marvel!
Embarkation Saturday noon, the I-95 traffic was bearable and we arrived at Port Everglades at 12:00pm, however, it took thirty minutes to go through traffic control. Many passengers were surprised at this delay, since other ports are more efficiently handling security. Once in port, things moved along more quickly. We were through Check-in in five minutes, but had to wait for another wheel chair for Vincent fortwenty minutes. The ramps to the ship were not too steep, but they were very long ones. Mary's motorized wheel chair handled them easily!
We checked on our dining arrangements and found we had a nice table for two at the rear of the Romeo & Juliet Restaurant near the magnificent triple deck staircase. We kept this table because of its proximity to the live music. Now, we were off to the Welcome On Board Buffet: which was overcrowded, but even with courteous assistance we had an unusual dispersal of hot potato soup!
Embarkation was good considering over 3,600 were boarding along with crew members.
Ship The Independence was launched in May 2008, so it is in pristine condition.
Hotel Director Darren Budden (Newfoundland, Canada) has a right to be proud of the Independence: she is immaculate, well run, service is pleasant and immediate. He kindly gave us a book: "Art The Collection" on board. There are 15 decks with many eclectic pieces of art which merit a detailed overview.
Deck 1 is mainly for crew except that the Medical Facility is located aft.
Deck 2 forward has the Alhambra Theatre with a beautiful Austrian crystal beaded curtain. The design has five dark haired Flamenco dancers with their gorgeous ruffled skirts spread: all forming a 13 paneled 28ft tall by 46ft wide spectacular display. Midship is the Ice Skating Rink, a RCI innovation, which allows passenger skating and show opportunities. There are also staterooms on Deck 2.
Deck 3 again forward is the Alhambra Theatre. Then toward midship is the Labyrinth night club with its Harry Cardross stained glass windows featuring the "Raven of the Tower" (Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, the British Monarchy and the country will fall.) The second window features the "Raven of the Battle." Midship is Studio B, On air Studio and the Art Gallery. There are also staterooms and aft is the Romeo and Juliet Restaurant. At the entrance is a marvelous all white 3D bust of William Shakespeare, which follows the viewer as s/he walks by. It has the effect of motion. Very cool!
Deck 4 forward has the balcony of the Alhambra Theatre; then towards midship is the Schooner Bar with its nautical décor and a ship model of the "Flora of Tjomo," one of RCI's founders Gjert Wilhelmsen' first barques. Then there are the upper level of the Labyrinth, the spacious Casino Royal, the Photo Gallery and Shop, and the Boleros Lounge. All the way aft is the Macbeth Restaurant.
Deck 5 forward has the Pyramid Lounge with the entrance flanked by a series of imposing Pharaohs and inside is a stunning black and gold statue of King Tutankhamen based on the one found in the boy King Tut's tomb in the King's Valley, Egypt. Also located here are Clarissa Parish's two frescoes of Egyptian women.
This deck has the unique Royal Promenade with its many shops and eating venues: "Sorrento's Pizzeria" features antipasti, pizzas, garlic toast, and panini, daily; plus Italian biscotti, macaroons and amaretto cookies. There are logo shops, "A Clean Shave" barber's shop, men's and women's boutiques, a perfume shop, a general store, "The Dog & Badger English Pub" and "Ben & Jerry's" ice cream. Also there is "Cafe Promenade" serving excellent coffee and tea, sandwiches, scones, RCI's terrific cookies and doughnuts.
The star exhibit of the Promenade is the blue 2008 Morgan V6 Roadster handmade on commission by RCI. Aft suspended is Larry Kirkland's Greek Drinking Vessel featuring dolphins -- a good omen at sea. Kirkland modeled his huge cup on a 550 BC work by Exekias in Athens. Also here are located the Guest Relations Desk and the Explorations Desk. All the way aft is the King Lear Restaurant, which completes the third tier of the dining complex with a gorgeous crystal chandelier visible from all three tiers.
Decks 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 are all staterooms and located nearby the aft elevators on each deck are the Business Services, the Library with open stacks, the "Royal Caribbean Online" computer center and the "Concierge Club."
Deck 11 has many guest facilities. Forward is the State of the Art Fitness Center with beautiful views of the sea while using treadmills, etc. In the Solarium are two huge whirlpools, one on each side of the ship, cantilevered over the sea, and a swimming pool just for adults. Near here are two Barsanti Mosaics named "Tigers in the Jungle" based on the works of a French Post-Impressionist painter Henri Rousseau. In the forward stairs portside is the Robert Silvers' head of Venus inspired by Botticelli's unforgettable "Birth of Venus." This artist creates his work by computer using thousands of tiny photographs to form a larger image -- You must look at this up close, rather than the usual admonition to "stand back in order to get the full import of a picture." Here, you must go up close to see how this was made. Amazing!
Deck 12 forward is the Day Spa, the Sky Bar, and the jogging track. Toward aft is Johnny Rockets, a 50's style diner and the Challengers Arcade, Adventure Ocean children's area, and the Surf Teen Disco.
Deck 13 has the Rock Climbing Wall, the Sports Court (basketball, volleyball, tennis), the Golf Simulator and the Dunes Mini Golf. The most unique sports opportunity is the Flowrider which allows passengers to surf standing or kneeling.
Deck 14 has the "Olive or Twist" & the Viking Crown Lounge, the card and game rooms and Diamond Lounge where we met the Diamond Member Concierge Columella Arandia.
Deck 15 has the nearest thing to heaven on the sea: the Skylight Chapel.
The Independence of the Seas is decorated with art work inspired by the Old Masters, but executed by modern artists -- very interesting.
This ship is huge at 160,000 tons and 208 feet tall (double the height of the Statue of Liberty) and its Royal Promenade is longer than a football field. Its enormous size allows RCI to offer a more diverse vacation.
Service & Food The state of the economy has finally done what years of begging from us could not accomplish. The over abundant portions have finally been reduced to appropriate sized portions. We are so happy not to waste food -- we could rarely finish those too ample entrees. It does not restrict those with gargantuan appetites, since they can still order as much as they want.
RCI has brought eating back to normalcy. Thanks to Executive Chef Ivo Jahn, we enjoyed dining in the Romeo & Juliet Restaurant. Maitre D' Dominic Barr gave us a nice table and our Waiter Sabit Majaki and his Asst. Waiter Chantelle John made every night a dining pleasure. Head Waiters Jason D'Silva and Francesco Orlando made us feel special.
Sunday formal night we dined with Captain Teo Strazicic (a very erudite gentleman, who had insightful ideas on education (Vincent & Mary are both university teachers) and other world topics. It was a fantastic dinner only surpassed by Chef Ivo's Almond Brittle Hand Made Chalice filled with wild berries and cream! The food is of good quality and available all over the ship: from Sorrento's Pizzeria on Deck 5, to self serve frozen yogurt on Deck 11 at Sprinkles. We also dined at the Chop's Grille where both food and service were excellent. Food & Beverage Director Joao Mendonca oversees a complex system with dexterity. Bravo! Room Service all week long was prompt, hot and appetizing.
Cabin Wheelchair accessible cabin #7324 is bright with light pine wood and the RCI trademark blue and aqua colors. When entering on the left there is the oversized bathroom with a 4'X4' shower with safety rails and a fold away seat. There is one sink with a large medicine chest for amenities. Next, there is a sofa and a queen bed flanked by two night stands and reading lamp sconces; the head board is the traditional aqua suede.
When entering on the right, there is a triple armoire with shelves and both high and low cross dowels for hangers and a private safe. This last is the handiest item since cruisers may lock up valuables and go wallet and purse free all week. There is a lighted mirror on the desk/vanity, a LCD TV and a hair dryer in the first of four drawers.
The far wall is all glass and has a door to the extra large balcony with two chairs, a small table and a chaise which our excellent steward Lenore Reid brought for Vincent. Our week was perfectly restful thanks to the lovely Lenore.
Entertainment On the Independence there is no shortage of opportunities to be "amused."
Sunday evening from our balcony there was a beautiful sunset with a clear view of the slenderest crescent moon in the SW sky. Above the moon shone the planets Venus and Jupiter. All three heavenly bodies were close to each other -- picture perfect and brighter than 1st magnitude stars. However, as we looked at other balconies, we were astonished to find that we were the only audience for this phenomenon; so we took a picture of it! This is why we love to cruise.
For other more typical activities, Cruise Director Allan Brooks does his very best. The RCI singers and dancers perform in production shows like "Center Stage" in the Alhambra Theatre along with comedians like Michael James; ballroom dancers Olga & Dimatri have a dance competition. The Ice Show "Strings" with world class performers on ice and an extraordinary violinist from Canada (so sorry we haven't got her name.) This is only the beginning. For the athletic minded the "Flowrider" and the "Rock Climbing Wall" are musts. Don't forget golf, basketball, shuffleboard, ping pong, swimming, Bingo, Casino games and tournaments, etc. etc. Oh, just get out there.
Ports of Call Day 1: Ft. Lauderdale -- Sail Away 6:00pm. Day 2: At sea. Day 3: San Juan, Puerto Rico -- Arrive 1:30pm, Depart 8:30pm
For first timers this port has an interesting "Old & New San Juan City Tour" (2.5 hrs, $32.) Try the "Fortifications Segway" touring the old city on a Segway (3.5 hrs, $95).
Day 4: St. Thomas, USVI -- Arrive 7:00am, Depart 5:00pm
This is one of the best shopping ports in the Caribbean. A tour especially designed for the handicapped is "Accessible Scenic Island Drive and Mountain Top" (2.5 hrs, $64).
Day 5: Philipsburg, St. Maarten -- Arrive 6:00am, Depart 5:00pm
One of the most fascinating tours here is the "America's Cup Sailing Regatta" (3 hrs, $89) -- A sailing competition with famous yachts like Dennis Corner's "Stars & Stripes," "Canada II" and "True North." After the exciting race, participants are treated to complimentary rum punch.
Day 6: At sea. Day 7: Labadee, Haiti -- Arrive 8:00am, Depart 4:30pm
This is RCI's private island where passengers may enjoy the white sand beach and swimming or snorkeling in the sparkling clear water. For those who love water sports there are many choices: "Kayak Adventure" (1.5 hrs $38.); "Personal Watercraft Experience", enjoying the thrill of speeding on a Waverunner (1.5 hrs, $95 adults and $29 children); "Snorkel Safari" (2 hrs, $46), etc.
Day 8: At sea. Day 9: Ft. Lauderdale -- Arrive 6:00am.
Disembarkation We had a terrific going home breakfast in the main dining room at 6:30am and went back to our stateroom. At 8:30am a wheelchair came for Vincent and we were taken down and off the ship to baggage pick up, customs and passport control. We were out on the port at 9:00am. This is quite good for the biggest cruise ship with so many passengers.
Conclusion This was another great cruise. As "Frequent Floaters" with 37 cruise credits on RCI ships and Diamond Plus membership in the Crown & Anchor Society, we enjoy all the repeaters benefits aboard, including the use of the Concierge Services, the Diamond Lounge, evening cocktails, reservations for specialty restaurants and tickets for the ice skating show, and other favors. That is the reason RCI is our favorite cruise line. However, we are addicted to cruising and we also cruise on other lines. Until now we have never experienced a bad cruise, although some cruises have been better than others.
Now we look forward to cruising on the Norwegian Pearl on Jan. 4 and on the Ruby Princess on Jan. 24. We have also booked transatlantic crossings on the Celebrity Solstice in April and Queen Mary2 in May, as well as the inaugural cruise on the Oasis of the Seas on Dec 12, 2009. Happy Cruising!
Departure Tip: Be sure you do the computer on-line pre board. Hold onto passport. Porters at curbside whisk away your luggage. Up the escalator to airport style security checkpoint. On to customs visa check. On to photo op and finally take another picture and receive all important "Sea Pass". Walk the gangway and, boom, you're lost. Since your luggage is in limbo and your room may or may not be ready you ask how to get to the Windjammer on Deck 9. Find elevator and this is the first really cool impression of shipboard life. The buffet is in full swing with everything you could want, live Calypso band playing in front of the friendly bar on the open deck in front of the monster pool, and you with this new Sea Pass card where you can charge anything that is not included. Food is included, they charge for alcohol, photos, etc. but the prices are moderate. Tip: Included in the price of drinks is the gratuity. No fuss with cash on board except for Casino. Slots seem loose at Casino which includes; Craps, Roulette and Blackjack.
Rooms are ready "sometime" shortlyafter boarding. Tip: Get a room with a balcony, truly worth it. Rooms are narrow and the head is compact. TV, Phone, Room service is fantastic. Second most important person on the ship is your room steward. Luggage arrived about one hour after room was ready. Not bad considering there are 2,300 people on this ship.
At Sea Brace for first day put-on-your-life vest and muster on deck for abandon ship drill. The Vision of the Seas is a beautiful ship. The ship does a little rock and roll and should rock you to sleep at night. Huge and sleek with every amenity. Captain gives progress report every day at noon. You can see all the features in your book. OK, the next hurdle is seating in the dining room. We were celebrating 40th wedding anniversary on the day of departure. We got in line (there are lots of lines) for dinner and it was like they never heard of us. Reservation was booked four months in advance for main dining room at six -- and maître'd said "sorry no table for you". Tip: When you get your Sea Pass Card approaching the ship, check to see if you have a table assigned. Your travel agent does not get a table assignment. Our card said Table 00 which meant we did not have a table but we did not know that. So they sat us at 8:30. We met a delightful family from China and during dinner, the dining room boss came and told us he had a six o'clock table for the following night. These dining room people are the first most important people on the cruise unless you do the buffet every day and night. There is a total org chart of people serving you in the dining room. At your table alone is the assistant waiter, the waiter and the head waiter. Then there is Kumar who is in charge of the whole dining experience and who we tangled with the first night. In fairness, he arranged for a first rate table for two which was rare and delightful for the duration of the cruise.
The dining room is nice even if you have to dress up a little. Tip: the formal Captain's Reception/Dinner is really special and worth the effort. I really resisted getting dressed up for the formal part of this but it was cool. The party-hearty tank top and shorts bunch who walk around the ship making too much noise with a Corona in hand and live at the bar and all-you-can eat buffet, well...party on.
At Port Unless you really know these towns I suggest a signed up in advance for tour except Cabo. Generally I think things get better the further south you go.
Cabo San Lucas, Baja del Sur: Cabo is basically a party town for rich gringos who love Marlin fishing with famous night clubs such as Cabo Wabo, Squid Roe, etc. Cabo has a really lovely bay which you can see from the ship. You will take a small boat from the ship to the marina. Lots of lines. Most of the tours want to take you around the bay on a catamaran or maybe horseback on the beach. I recommend no tour in Cabo, (OK maybe a glass bottom boat). Just take the tender to the marina dock and walk the marina and follow the signs to the shopping area. Walk around Cabo. Don't buy much, prices are higher here than further south. Not a town for kids. Weather is super. Tip: Most vendors will accept USD, Visa, etc. They may give you change in Pesos which you don't want to get stuck with when you arrive home. Tip: Best shopping value for booze is duty free on board the ship.
Mazatlan, Gue.: Now on the mainland and in a different time zone, different feel, more conservative, the ship is tied up snug to shore and the shore is green. Tip: The ship changes time during the trip and not necessarily consistent with local time zones so be sure to know what is "ship's time". We took the tour to Stone Island (not really an island), were loaded on a two deck panga, toured the bay, saw Pacifico Beer Factory, and finally herded into the "limo" -- a flatbed with slat seats pulled by a tractor to the other side of the "island" and spent a lazy morning at a lovely beach with open bar and Mahi Mahi lunch included. Pinata party for the kids. Wife won a prize dancing the Macarena on the shaky stern of the panga on the way back to ship. Great tour guide, Humberto. Although we enjoyed this, I recommend some other tour that gives you a better look at the city of Mazatlan.
Puerto Vallarta, Jal.: We took Town, County Tequila Tour with Jose. A bus tour which I thought was excellent. A good look at PV upscale hoods and rural life. Went to small tequila fabrica and learned how it is made, lots of free samples with an energetic Jose leading us in various toasts. Good tacos for lunch with handmade tortillas. ($2 a taco was a little pricy). End tour with look at downtown PV, the malecon and shopping. Wife bought Mexican Fire Opal in 14k setting for $300 USD while the store staff plied me with "free" Pacifico beer. PV from a distance looks like Las Vegas in terms of construction underway, condos, etc. Lots of growth. Weather is like Hawaii.
Summary Excellent trip overall. The cruise is a good value. Crew is truly international, (get used to very different accents) and really work hard to please customers. The ship is clean and luxurious. 2,300 people is a crowd and you will encounter some long lines and all types of people. This cruise had 600 kids, lots of large family reunions which can test your patience in an elevator.
I smile at the term "Mexican Riviera" but there is a deep pride even from jaded tour guides and I suspect the true Mexican reception of cruise passengers is probably much more friendly and sincere than the other side of the pond.