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. Children`s Programs. Group.
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: Families. Group. Overall Service.
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.
We are first time cruisers. There were three couples, in our 50's and 60's, all from Michigan.
We decided to fly into Vancouver a day prior to our cruise. We took United Airlines flights, arrived on time and proceeded through customs. We had superior rooms reserved at the BLUE HORIZON hotel, wonderful rooms and the view was breathtaking!!!!! The six of us and luggage took two taxi's, and the fare was $35.00 each cab. Once we arrived at the Blue Horizon, one of the couples discovered that they had left one of their bags at the airport. They had miscounted and simply neglected to take it off the baggage claim conveyor. The were in a panic, as it would now cost them another $70.00 to taxi back to the airport, pick up the bag and then taxi back to the hotel. Upon calling the airport and talking to United's service desk, they found the bag and delivered it to the hotel FREE OF CHARGE!!!!! We were amazed and very thankful.
We left our hotel at check-out time and took two taxi's to the pier. The cost was about $12.00 per cab.
TheRADIANCE OF THE SEAS was beautiful!!!!!! We checked in, got our SeaPass and headed to the Centrum bar for a drink. We loved our waiter, SHORTY, and visited him many times during the trip.
We then decided to have lunch at the Windjammer Buffet while waiting for our rooms to be ready. I walked up to the "sandwich station" and picked the tong utensil up from the tray to get a sandwich, once I was finished I was looking for an empty space on the tray to re-lay the tong utensil down and the station employee grabbed the tongs out of my hand and spoke forcefully to me, telling me to "put them down!" The lady next to me looked at me and we both had a look of "Oh My God, I thought he was going to spank me" I was really upset and thought, what have I done, spent all this money for a cruise to be treated like this? Well, let me assure you that was the ONLY employee that ever acted like that. Everyone else, and I mean EVERYONE else, was kind, courteous and wonderful.
Formal Nights and Dining Our men opted for dress shirts and ties for formal nights, ladies for dressy pants outfits, and we all fit right in. Tuxedos were rare, suits were common, and dress shirt and ties were VERY common. The food in the dining room was wonderful!!! Our waiters Cecilia and Reynaldo were excellent.
The rooms were wonderful, the shows were wonderful, and we had a wonderful vacation. The only negative thing we had was the weather. For the week of July 18th-July 25th, it was one of the coldest on record in Alaska, with temps in the 54-59 range. We were prepared and did a lot of layering, lot of fleece and thank goodness for those thermal underwear we brought.
Excursions We did the Taku Glacier Floatplane and Feast in Juneau, and I highly recommend this excursion. The flight was awesome, the food was great, and you talk about seeing bears? I mean up close bears. One fellow is grilling salmon, while the other two have sticks to chase the bears back!
The Railway Trail and Camp Adventure in Skagway was another excursion we did. We took the bus up to Liarsville, saw the show, panned for gold and took the railway back. I think this is a ONE time excursion that you need if you want to see the beautiful scenery from the train, but I would not do it again if I went back. It is important to sit on the left side of the train if you are going up, and to sit on the right side if coming down.
We did the Zip Line excursion in Icy Straight Point. WOW! This was awesome and all six of us did it! I would do this over and over if I could. What they don't tell you until after you buy your ticket is that if you get to the top of the mountain and chicken out, they will drive you back down, but no REFUND. So make sure you can do this before you pay, but it is sooooooo worth it.
Disembarkation and Seward We had to fill out a questionnaire and it asked about your travel arrangements after the cruise. This is how they decide what color of luggage tags you are given and when you are called to leave the ship.
We opted to stay for the day and night in Seward, making reservations ahead of time at the MURPHY MOTEL. I would only stay here if you are looking for something on the cheaper side, as you get what you pay for.
My HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION, whether you are traveling to ANCHORAGE upon departure or not until the next day, is using MAGIC BUS transportation. I picked up the recommendation for them from another Cruise Critic, and what a great choice this was!
We were picked up on Saturday morning (they can also pick you up at the pier, or in Anchorage to travel to Seward). Our driver "Patrick" came for us in a shuttle van, and we could have fit 11 passengers in that van, with luggage tucked in the back. But we only had the three couples and tons of room inside! Patrick gave us many options, and would discuss each one, explain what they were, how much time and then let us make the decisions. We stopped at Summit Lodge for a rest stop and to browse the gift shop, then on to the Wildlife Reserve which was really great and only cost $5.00 per person. There we saw buffalo, moose, musk ox, bear, elk, eagle, and caribo. What a great stop. We stopped at the Alpine Inn and saw the beautiful hotel. They also have a tram car that you can take to the top of the mountain and have lunch. We saw wildlife along the drive, a moose on the side of the road and Patrick turned that shuttle around and got us some great photo ops. We saw a bear walking right down the middle of the rail tracks, and we had a bear walk across the street in front of the shuttle and watched it go up onto the porch of a house! Patrick told us about a flea market shopping experience in Anchorage, and we opted to do that. He dropped us off, gave us his cell phone number and let us shop until we were ready for pick up. We had dinner reservations at the Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage (based on Tim's recommendation -- owner of the Magic Bus) and the dinner was excellent. Patrick picked us up and showed us around Anchorage until it was time for us to be dropped off at the airport. Patrick told us many stories and brought pictures of bears that he or friends had encountered while in Alaska, and we could not have been more pleased with the service. It was a perfect ending to a great trip.
We will never forget our trip!
My husband and I were first-time cruisers and since we never heard anything negative about an Alaskan cruise we were really geared up to go. We were disappointed in the entire cruise experience.
Our biggest complaint is that it's a giant money pit. You pay for everything. Soda, alcohol, all with gratuity added in, even some of the activities onboard included a fee. How ridiculous is it to charge $31 for bingo?
Also, not one review ever mentions the commercialization of the Alaskan ports. The day before the Juneau stop we attended the port & shopping show where they push diamond stores on you.
Walking through the streets of Juneau I was really taken aback to find I was surrounded by jewelry stores that are of course owned by the cruise line. I didn't go to Alaska to buy diamonds and it really takes away from the experience. It wasn't Juneau, just a commercialized version the cruise ship wants you to see.
It was the same thing in Skagway. The whole town was filled with jewelry stores.
I would definitely not recommend this cruise but instead would rather try flying farther north and goingon the land tours as it would show more of the real Alaskan experience.
This review will be quite lengthy. Therefore, significant sections will be highlighted for those not wishing to read the entire review. This was our second time on the Explorer, again as a guest of my wife's niece. Our first Explorer cruise was in June of 2006 on the same basic itinerary, the only difference being the substitution of Bermuda for Labadee (a laudable deviation). RCI has also adjusted the departure date for cruises leaving from Cape Liberty and including Bermuda so as to now leave on Thursday, thus arriving at Kings Wharf on Saturday. Previously, the ship arrived in Bermuda on Sunday when most everything was closed.
As are all reviews, this is only an opinion, but I believe for a number of reasons, an informed one.
The Set Up My wife Fran and I departed our home in East Tennessee and drove to Staten Island from whence hails my wife. We stayed, as we did for our last cruise, at the lovely Nicotra's Hilton Garden Inn. Although certainly not "inexpensive," at a little over $200 a night including tax, it is most reasonable for the New York City area. Within thehotel is Lorenzo's, a restaurant of excellent quality. Speaking of restaurants and for those who love traditional pizza and happen to even be near Staten Island, they must drop into Brothers Pizza at the corner of Forest Avenue and Watchogue Road. Additionally for those whose affinity toward Italian cuisine expands beyond pizza, there's yet another restaurant one has to visit if on Staten Island. Although Italian restaurants can be found on virtually every block in all of the city's Boroughs, the Chicken a la Gino as well as the fried calamari found at Gino's, a little Italian restaurant in the Forest Plaza on Forest Avenue, is to die for and quite reasonably priced. One certainly doesn't have to go into Manhattan for a true Italian dining experience.
The morning we embarked, we again gathered at the home of Fran's niece. From there, five members of a total party of eight crossed the Outerbridge to Bayonne and Cape Liberty (formerly known as the Army's, Military Ocean Terminal). Arriving a little after 12:00 Noon, we were quickly processed and aboard within twenty minutes. One couldn't ask for an easier or more efficient embarkation experience.
The Ship For those who are not familiar with the Explorer of the Seas, she is what is known as a "destination ship," meaning there are so many various attractions aboard that she could, to put it succinctly, be considered her own port of call. Details surrounding the design and building of all of the Voyager Class ships (including literally thousands of photographs) can be found at Voyager-Class.com. One thousand twenty-one feet in length, 127 feet in the beam, fourteen passenger decks high (210 feet from the water line to the top of the ship) and weighing almost 138,000 tons, the vessel is enormous. The second of five "Eagle" or Voyager class ships, she was christened in 2000 (the other four being: Voyager of the Seas (2000), Adventure of the Seas (2002), Mariner of the Seas (2003) and Navigator of the Seas (2004)). The ship's highlights include The Royal Promenade, a veritable "street" patterned after an actual street in Milan, Italy that stretches over 300 feet and is four decks high. On the first level are duty free shops, bars, the Promenade Café, etc. and above "street level" there are three decks of staterooms overlooking the Royal Promenade. While indeed "inside" cabins, these staterooms nevertheless have a window overlooking the "street," thereby creating the effect of hotel rooms or apartments looking down over the Promenade. At each end of the Royal Promenade are two soaring atriums. The ship has a three deck high main dining room in the aft section, each level of which has it's own kitchen. Deck three is called the Magellan Dining Room, deck four the DeGama, with deck five being the Columbus; an elegant and impressive dining venue indeed.
Another and one of the most impressive features of this ship is it's ice rink, where stunning ice shows are performed by extremely talented skaters from all over the world. Passengers may also ice skate at certain periods throughout the week (and yes, it's real ice, 18 tons worth in fact). If you wish to see the ice show (it's classified as a "must"), you need to get your tickets the day you board from the Purser's desk (now known as the Guest Relations desk -- I'm sorry but I'm a purist). While free, if you wait to get them until the next morning, they'll probably be gone as the show really is that popular. Understanding that the ice arena in Studio B only seats around 350 people, there are not that many shows and factoring in that there are a total of anywhere from 3,100 to 3,800 passengers and well, you figure the odds of getting a ticket if you tarry.
Considering the fact that the ship is eight years old and has had probably well over one and a half million passengers sail upon her during that time, the Explorer is immaculate. Should you really want to find some wear and tear, I'm certain you can, but you'll usually have to hunt. One of the few things I found was that the stateroom furniture, if ours was any indication, now shows some stains. I shouldn't be surprised to learn there is some reupholstering or replacement to be scheduled in the not too distant future. Remember that probably in the neighborhood of 6,000 people on average, have occupied each stateroom since the ship was christened.
In case you're wondering, on this nine night Eastern Caribbean run, the Explorer of the Seas traveled approximately 3,956 miles and burned over 400,000 gallons of diesel fuel and with the price of diesel being around five bucks a gallon, at today's price of diesel, that's a total approximating $2,000,000.00!
The Food and Dining Facilities We were assigned table 411 in the DeGama Dining Room on 4 deck. Our dining room wait staff; Waiter Eduardo Batac of the Philippines most ably assisted by Asst. Waiter Kanyisa Palma were professional, prompt, courteous, friendly and most efficient. It is obvious that the two have worked together as a team for quite some time. Head Waitress Lilla Kuzma who calls Hungary home, was quite warm and friendly and ensured that all bases were covered. Bar waiter Desmond Goodluck had my bourbon highball awaiting me every night. Food is a very subjective issue. One man's favorite dish is poison to another. Nonetheless, after reading literally thousands of reviews, I long ago concluded that there is a significant number of people out there who couldn't tell you the difference between butter and margarine. Is the food in the main dining rooms on the Explorer five star? Of course not. Is it excellent? Most certainly. When someone equates the Explorer's dining room cuisine with "standard" wedding fare, my instant reaction is, "You have got to be kidding!" No, I don't like certain dishes nor do I like what others may feel are outstanding seasonings. For example, I ordered a shrimp ceviche (marinated in citrus and cilantro) one evening only to find out that my taste buds equate that combination with Palmolive liquid. Is that the fault of the chef? No. I'll know better than to order ceviche in the future. The breads (of which there are more than several) are outstanding as are the pastries, especially the Napoleons. The beef is prepared, in my experience at least, as requested and the pasta is served al dente. Every fish dish that those at our table ordered met all expectations.
Now about the Windjammer buffet. I often read of people comparing the food at the Windjammer with your typical buffet found on land. Comparable to your "typical" buffet (Ryan's, Family Buffet, Golden Corral, etc.)? Preposterous. I have also recently read remarks along the lines of the menu offerings often being rather pedestrian, and with such remarks I am inclined to agree. Such is, sadly, probably a result of the ever exploding costs of operating cruise ships in today's environment. That being said, I had the southern style fried chicken and being a southern boy, was rather surprised to find it remarkably good. Another thing that it is difficult to find in restaurants, even better ones, is pork that isn't completely cooked to death and dried out. On the Explorer, every pork dish I tasted was juicy and delicious. An acquaintance of mine had a bad experience with white wine on an RCI cruise and asked me to find out if the white wine was served chilled. A member of our party ordered white wine one night and it was indeed served chilled -- all of which brings me to table service in general. Decent restaurants (not just the fine dining ones) are supposed to routinely remove all used silverware following each course and replace it as necessary. Knowing this, do you know how long it's been since I've last experienced such a level of service? Removal of the used silverware was de rigeur on the Explorer and suffice to say, was representative of the outstanding table service we enjoyed.
We dined our first evening in Portofino's, an extra charge ($20.00 per person) restaurant of Italian Cuisine. With Portofino's, we're really talking in the neighborhood of five star quality. As the restaurant seats only a little over 80, you'd do well to make your reservations by mid-afternoon the day you board. Although most of our party (in fact all but yours truly) are Italian, I too concur with their accolades and highly recommend this fantastic dining experience.
There are an additional couple of extra cost eating options, such as Ben and Jerry's ice cream located adjacent to the Promenade Café, where one scoop of ice cream will set you back three dollars!, and a Johnny Rockets that sports a $4.95 per person cover charge. In addition to the Johnny Rocket's cover charge, your beverages such as malts and shakes are extra. The hamburgers are good as are the onion rings, and the wait staff entertain their guests with singing and dancing just as at the Johnny Rocket's hamburger chain on land. The best time to hit this venue is during a port day as it generally is always crowded while at sea.
Our Cabin Fran and I enjoyed our second Category F Large Stateroom. This voyage we were booked into stateroom 9502, the mirror image of 9202, the cabin we had in 2006. Located just beneath the bridge, at 211 square feet, the cabin is quite spacious. What makes this cabin rather uncommon is the fact that it is one of a relatively few number on cruise ships that actually faces forward over the bow. A look at other cruise ships will confirm that sparsity. I explain my choice by telling people, "I want to actually see the iceberg before we plow into it."
The new duvet bedding is nothing less than sublime. You'll sleep like the proverbial log. There is indeed ample storage for just about everything and that includes those such as my adored wife who grossly over-packs. I think why some people think storage space is lacking is because they often overlook what is there. The clothes closet is wide and spacious with six wire shelves located on one side. The desk has a large mirror adjoining which on either side is a large fluorescent make up light, and continuing past those is a narrow mirror extension. The two narrow mirrors are actually doors that close over four small glass shelves on each side, providing more than enough space for all the perfumes and assorted jars of emollients and lotions, etc. that most women absolutely cannot do without. In the bathroom there is also another narrow door covered by a mirror alongside of the large mirror over the sink, providing more than enough space for toiletries, shaving gear, etc. In addition to the large make up mirror, there is a tall floor to ceiling mirror strategically placed at an angle on a wall across from the make up mirror, affording the ability for one to view their appearance from all angles, something of which my wife made grand use. There are six standard sized drawers on either side of the desk. Additionally there is a restricted size drawer above the standard ones on the left side which is good for those small "pocket items." It's twin on the right side contains the hair dryer that is permanently wired from behind the desk and, as a result, that drawer is pretty non functional for any other purpose. Above the TV are two doors, the lower one of which covers the safe door. The safe is operated by inputting a four digit code of your own via the touch pad. Above that is a generously sized cabinet with double doors. On the left side of the desk are two 120 volt outlets (the only two with the exception of a special outlet for an electric shaver in the bathroom, so if you have a lot of electronics, etc., bring a power strip). On the opposite side is a 230 volt outlet for guests from outside of the U.S.
On either side of the bed are bed tables with one drawer and a large space underneath for additional storage. Below the TV is a door that covers the refrigerator door. Inside the fridge are all sorts of goodies and beverages but understand, especially if you have children, they certainly are not free! There is a price list inside and in case you're wondering, they're set up in a specific order and the contents are counted each day. Anything found missing will be charged to your Sea Pass account. For those who have children who drink a lot of soft drinks or for like-minded adults, a soft drink card is available with the price for adults being around $60 for a nine night cruise with the cost for children being somewhat less. Keep in mind that with a few minor and occasional exceptions, the only free beverages on board are coffee, unsweetened tea and lemonade and, of course, juices at breakfast.
A dispenser in the shower contains a combination of shampoo and conditioner and bars of toilet soap are provided as well. I actually preferred the soap to that which I brought from home. We brought our own shampoo as well but evidently RCI has upgraded their shampoo-conditioner to such a level that we ended up using theirs rather than ours. In reply to a review I read around a year ago, neither mine nor my wife's hair came out like straw. Many passengers find it inconvenient that the bathroom lacks a waste basket. Actually it has one but because of the small size of cruise ship bathrooms, on the Explorer it's a plastic rectangular shallow pan located underneath the bathroom sink. Necessity truly is the mother of invention.
Officers, Staff and Crew To differentiate, the Officers are in charge of the ship. The "staff' generally include the medical professionals (while yes, the Doctor wears a uniform, he is not an officer), entertainers and those who work in the shops, spas, etc. (many of whom are employed by concessions (including the "art" auctioneers) and are not actually cruise line employees). By and large, the crew consists of the wait staff, bar tenders, maintenance people and those whom you never see (such as the galley staff, laundry crew, engine room crew, etc). The staff and crew number 1,180.
It came as no surprise that every single employee with whom I talked (whether staff or crew) were unfailingly polite, helpful to a fault and wonder of all wonders and contrary to what you may read elsewhere, actually enjoy their jobs! Now isn't that novel? The RCI wait staff are now under six month contracts which makes for good continuity for all concerned. I even ran across a waiter who so ingratiated himself to all of us who patronized the Promenade Café during our last cruise on the Explorer during '06. Now however, Gabrial Fernandez works the Deck 3 (Magellan) dining room and the Windjammer. For those so interested, he works about ten hours a day (sometimes a tad more) broken up as five hours usually in the morning at the Windjammer, then a break, and then five hours for supper in the evening ("dinner" for those above the Mason-Dixon line). Gabrial got married last Fall and his bride remains home in Bombay. He does not get a full day off but, as he puts it, that doesn't bother him because he enjoys the people plus his many duties help pass the time. He states when asked, that the ship provides marvelous recreation. Gabrial has now worked five back to back contracts with a two month break in between each contract. Of course he misses his wife as do all married seamen/women, but as I've written elsewhere on this site, he readily admits that his job affords his new family a standard of living he would have never ordinarily achieved in his own country. I believe in recognizing those who go "over and beyond" so, as I do in my newspaper column and in keeping with that tradition, that list includes in addition to those mentioned above, Delroy Keene (Cabin Attendant) and Desmond Goodluck (Bar Wait staff). Additionally, our group adopted another waiter whom we met at breakfast. Mehmet Bakirci. Mehmet hails from Turkey and is on his first contract. He is indeed an entertaining and charming young man who was adopted as a surrogate son or brother by the six females in our group. He kept our entire crowd in good spirits, especially during the interminable wait for disembarkation (a sore point -- more about that later). It shan't be long before RCI will really appreciate their wise decision to hire Mehmet.
To an individual, the staff and crew admirably maintained the long-time traditions of exceptional service provided those cruising aboard passenger liners. I am so sick and tired of hearing people complain about having to tip. By and large for the overwhelming majority of passengers on cruise ships, the level of service the passenger receives will never be paralleled in any other hotel or restaurant they will ever visit. My thing is, if you cannot afford even the basic tipping guidelines set by the cruise lines or if you are so unbelievably cheap as to not adhere to such minimalist guidelines, then stay home.
Entertainment Replete with everything from a casino with over 300 slot machines plus gaming tables and rock climbing walls and an ice arena, Explorer of the Seas offers something for everyone.
One thing that I think needs more promotion is the quality of the shows and the musicians. If those on the Explorer of the Seas are any indication, they are truly top shelf. While yes, some of the headliners might be considered "second stringers" and people complain that cruise lines should offer more "name" entertainment," that, however, should in no way diminish the fact that the overwhelming number of cruise ship entertainers are consummate and very talented professionals. I am not by any stretch an expert in the entertainment field but I do know this for a fact. Fame can be fickle and while it shines on one person, there are always others who have even greater talent who never achieve a similar pinnacle. I love, understand and appreciate good music, and I appreciate such talent whether it be the classical pianist, southern gospel, rock 'n roll or big band. I have always favored the piano and electric base and I cannot remember the last time I listened to a better pianist, regardless of the type of music, than the two I enjoyed on this cruise. Although I don't recall his name, the head of what I call the "house band" on the Explorer is exemplary. For that matter, so are the eight or nine accompanying musicians. I'll put the Explorer's electric base player up against anyone out there. And when it comes to lounge piano, they don't get any better than Alvin.
Good entertainment affects emotions at all levels and ages. That being the case, the emotion evinced by the entertainment on the Explorer of the Seas (as I'm sure it does on most other cruise ships), proves my point.
There was one item that many passengers felt improper for a couple of reasons. That was a late evening dance performance in the main (Palace) theater. What was left out of the information in the Cruise Compass (RCI's daily activities newsletter) was that the performance was what amounted to a dance recital by obvious members of a dancing school or schools. While the children were adorable, there were a whole lot of upset passengers making justified comments along the lines of, "Good grief, I love kids but while I HAVE to attend my own daughter's dance recitals, I don't expect to pay over seven thousand dollars for our family's cruise and then find something similar on stage, especially after ten o'clock at night!" Thankfully for the children's sake, most in the audience had the good graces not to walk out on the kids' performance. But that didn't mean they were happy campers. Bad call, RCI.
Shopping Aboard Ship This might throw you, but in several different instances we found deals on merchandise that were as good as, if not better, than some found ashore. That being said, it always helps if you're familiar with the quality of the article you're considering.
Ports of Call The Ports of Call were: King's Wharf, Bermuda; Philipsburg, St. Maarten (Netherlands Antilles); Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas (USVI) and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Though not that much of a "port" couple, especially since we've previously visited all but Bermuda; we nevertheless got off the ship at each one. I did notice a marked undercurrent of hostility toward the passengers at both Philipsburg and Charlotte Amalie. Nothing overt or anything one could put a finger on, nevertheless the formerly omnipresent Caribbean smile and greeting we last experienced was noticeably and frequently absent.
Following disembarking in Bermuda, we took a water taxi ($4.00 per person each way) over to Hamilton. We strolled along the bay and walked up to the Princess Hotel where a member of our party spent their honeymoon forty years ago. An elegant hotel, the Princess sports beautiful landscaped lawns and gardens and offers every amenity. As such, it certainly isn't for the budget minded. The girls made their obligatory purchases at several shops of what seems to most husbands as the hundreds we visited. Prices, as has been noted in earlier reviews, are in many instances rather high.
Philipsburg, which markets itself as the "Friendly Island" or something similar, didn't live up to it's motto. The clerks at virtually all of the shops my wife and I visited could often be described as almost sullen. As a matter of fact, the friendliest people we met were a couple of European kiosk operators.
The reception in St. Thomas was basically the same.
Inasmuch as the entry onto US territory for this itinerary occurs at St. Thomas, the United States INS does it's passport check the morning of your arrival commencing at 8:00am. It is over before you know it (truly a breeze) but if one doesn't want to be embarrassed by having their name repeatedly announced over the PA system, I'd strongly suggest you be where you are assigned to be at the appointed time.
As the stop at San Juan is so brief (and Fran and I always disembark later and re-embark earlier to avoid the crowd), we just took a leisurely stroll over to the casino in the Sheraton Hotel just across the street from the ship. My wife is loathe to pass up a casino.
Since you don't know me, please believe me when I tell you that I'm outgoing almost to a fault (Fran is forever telling people that I'll stop and talk to a rock). I go out of my way to be cheerful and pleasant, especially when visiting a strange town, much less a foreign country, for I feel we're all, in a way, ambassadors and should conduct ourselves as such. I'm even the type who smiles and casts pleasantries to toll collectors! Yet my cheerfulness was rarely reflected by many of the citizens of St Maarten and St Thomas, behavior I found troubling. To be fair, the people you are most apt to meet are undoubtedly "touristed out," especially if the tourists are generally American inasmuch as we tend (and let's be honest now) to be pushy. Still and for whatever reason, this isn't good.
Clientele Group I stuck this category in only because I have to tell you about the most precious couple my wife and I have ever met. While awaiting entry into the dining room one evening, my wife and I struck up a conversation with a senior couple who mentioned that they had cruised numerous times. When I stated that my love of ships goes back to the hey day of the trans oceanic greyhounds such as the Bremen and Europa, I was truly taken aback when the lady mentioned she had sailed on the Europa -- in 1930! The couple then formally introduced themselves as Abe and Julie Smith, formerly of New York City and now residing in Pennsylvania. Abe and Julie have been married almost seventy years! Abe is 92 and Julie is 90 and they are in very good health; so good in fact, that they cruise alone, just the two of them. Abe and Julie took the entire vessel by storm when they absolutely aced the Love and Marriage game show. This couple remembered exactly what they did on their first date in 1934! And boy what love and support they have for one another! Talk about charming. When the wives were escorted back on stage, who was the only husband to stand when the women entered into his presence? Yep, it was Abe. These two wonderful people are truly treasures and I urge everyone to be on the lookout for them when next you cruise.
Disembarkation Disembarking was the exact opposite of embarking. As usual, it left a whole lot to be desired. At least this time we were allowed to remain in the Promenade Café. I don't understand why Royal Caribbean doesn't have it's passengers wait in their cabins until their color is called. If Carnival can do that and still get all of the staterooms cleaned prior to the boarding of new passengers, then I'm sure RCI could as well.
Summary Royal Caribbean produces a great product and it shows. That does not mean, however, there can't be improvements. Aside from the debarking, while we had the greatest cabin attendant possible, the cabin attendant maintaining my wife's niece's stateroom on deck seven, could at best be described as barely adequate. Additionally, when she and another member of our party needed to ask a question relative to the Crown and Anchor program, of which they're members, they were referred to the Crown and Anchor desk on deck six only to discover no one there. Someone told them they had to make an appointment in a register at the desk even to ask why they didn't receive the amenities for their level that the rest of us received. That is not an example of excellent public relations. While I truly appreciate RCI, from a lot of what I read of late and now hear personally, I myself am even beginning to get the impression that RCI might be considering itself so grand that they need not pay attention to the details. To my way of thinking, that's a perfect way in which to downsize, regardless of intentions.
Everything being equal, however, one still receives a huge bang for the buck with RCI and after all, isn't that what we are all looking for? If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me on the message boards as ToddDH.
While my review may seem overly critical, we still had a great time on our trip. I think it is important to report the good with the bad so that is what I have tried to do in this review. The cruise was good, but it wasn't the "wow" that I've come to expect from Royal Caribbean. Overall, I don't think I can recommend this cruise.
Embarkation Embarkation was smooth. We arrived at the pier around 10:30 am and we were able to check in quickly. After a brief wait in the terminal, boarding was opened up around 11:00.
Crew/Service Every crew member I encountered was smiling, friendly and displayed a genuine eagerness to help! Service in the dining room during dinner was a bit slow and spotty at times (forgotten desserts, missing soup spoons, very sluggish service) but overall it was good. I also found it difficult to communicate with some of the crew members and more often than not, they struggled with English and had trouble understanding what the guests were saying. I saw miscommunication between staff and guests happening everywhere I went.
Staterooms Our 7th floor balcony cabin was spacious,well laid out and very clean. We had plenty of storage space and there were lots of little cubby holes hidden all over the room. Beds had nice, crisp and fresh new bedding and were comfortable. A hair dryer was provided as was a pre-stocked mini refrigerator. The balcony was a bit on the small side and there was a lot of rust and peeling paint.
Dining Royal Caribbean overall has some of the worst food of any major cruise line. The food in the dining room is much better than the food offered in the Windjammer Cafe, room service, or at the Solarium snack bar. The Solarium Cafe was absolutely horrible. Truly awful pepperoni or cheese pizza was served up by the slice, as was hot dogs (with cold buns and wieners swimming in an oily water pan) and ice cold hamburgers (don't ask for cheese, you'll get a huge pat of Velveeta-like orange "loaf" that doesn't even melt on your burger)! There were limited late night dining options on the ship and it is not a cruise for foodies or night owls.
Entertainment Awful! We couldn't sit through one of the shows! Even the karaoke was boring and terrible! Most of the entertainers were Asian guys with electric guitars -- maybe because the previous itinerary was in Asia. One night I said "oh, listen to that awful guy singing karaoke" but it wasn't karaoke -- it was a paid entertainer! The evening shows in the showroom ranged the gamut from a very unfunny "dirty" comedian (oh dear, he said one bad word!) to a trio of flamenco guitarists and puppeteers (I am not kidding). While the showroom was really nice, the entertainment was the worst I have ever seen. There was no variety and most nights I just felt so bad for the entertainers. They were giving it their all, but it just wasn't very good. I guess when a ship is full of non-lively passengers, you'd expect the entertainment to be very, very low-key.
Activities/Fellow Passengers I would say the average age of passengers on this cruise was easily in the 55+ range. On-board activities were geared to the over 60 crowd. All of the activities were very low-key (making a rose out of ribbon, bingo, art auctions, digital camera seminars, towel folding, very short trivia games, etc.) and were scheduled to start early in the morning and most were over by 9 p.m. There is nothing wrong with that, but I think before you book this cruise you need to know what to expect. Most people on this cruise wanted to sit and watch the beautiful scenery go by (including us), but we would have appreciated some fun activities in the evening. Most passengers were on the "Grandma and Grandpa" schedule -- go to bed early, get up with the sunrise. If you are looking for a very active ship with lots of different things to do, this cruise ship is not for you! If you have cruised on a luxury line or a mega-ship, this cruise ship is not for you.
During the evenings, the library was turned into a "cigar lounge" and the Viking Crown lounge was a "disco." The same awful band played in the atrium night after night. There was just no variety anywhere! We felt really bad for the teenagers and children on board -- all of the ones we saw seemed to be bored out of their minds. They had a very small arcade but more than half of the video games were out of service, and they were 95 cents each to play. The indoor pool and hot tubs were open late, though the pool and hot tubs outdoors had spotty schedules and were hardly ever opened. The ship did have a rock climbing wall but that's about it as far as the activities go! I'm not sure the kid's program was that great on this ship either. We don't have children so I can't speak directly about the programs on the Rhapsody, but on previous cruises we haven't been bothered by kids at all. On this cruise, kids were literally running amuck everywhere.
We didn't book this cruise for ourselves; we were on a family reunion and it was selected by someone else. There were lots and lots of multi-generational families traveling on this cruise -- a bunch of family reunions. I think cruises to Alaska have a reputation as the perfect vacation to take Grandma and Grandpa as well as the great-grandkids along because there is something for everyone to see. The onboard vibe is very different than a cruise to the Caribbean, Bahamas or Mexico. On one night at sea, something pretty much summed up the entire cruise: we watched as a group of four 60 to 70 year olds "cut a rug" on the dance floor doing the Electric Slide. This was the "late night party crowd" at 10 p.m. That was as good as it got the whole week.
Dress Code I know this is a hot topic of discussion on message boards, so I thought I'd give my observations about our sailing last week. While I always try to respect the dress code, I don't judge others if they choose not to. About half of the passengers adhered to the recommended dress code. I actually did see shorts and t-shirts in the dining room at dinner time (I did think that was a bit disrespectful). On formal night, I would say less than 10% of the male passengers wore tuxedos; a bit more wore suits and ties, and most wore khakis and long sleeve shirts (what I would consider business casual). Obviously the crew doesn't care about enforcing the dress code so if you don't want to dress up, you shouldn't have any problems. We were in tuxedos and evening/cocktail dresses each formal night and dresses/jackets on smart casual nights, but you would not feel out of place if you either chose to dress up or you didn't. I'd say 99% of the folks dressed up for dinner would go back and change into casual clothes before going back out to the shows or lounges at night.
Ship The ship is really showing her age. We had a balcony cabin and the entire balcony had huge rust spots and chipped paint. The railing was worn and needed to be re-varnished. To their credit, Royal Caribbean did have painters and maintenance workers at work while we were in port, but there is a lot of work that needs to be done. The rooms and common areas just felt so dated. The casino was nice and spacious, and the showroom was well laid out with seats that felt more like comfy couches. It seems like kids and teens would be really bored on this ship. There is a "champagne bar" but it's more about the name than actual champagne as on some of the other RCL ships. The small game room was always packed, as was the library. The Viking Crown Lounge was a very nice and quiet spot but it got really hot (since heat rises, of course). The other bars and lounges were fairly empty all day and night. If you've sailed on any of their Voyager or higher class ships, this one will be a rude awakening. It wasn't a terrible ship, but it was probably the worst I've ever been on. I do not recommend choosing this ship for your trip to Alaska.
Disembarkation Very organized and swift! We were off the ship by 8:45 a.m. The color coded tag system worked great.
Overview We left a day early to fly overnight to Barcelona. I was sure our bags would never make it from Philadelphia to Barcelona since we nearly didn't, but thankfully, there were no problems. We got to the port bright and early and were on board by noon.
Ship I was super excited to be cruising a Royal Caribbean ship as I had always heard great things about them and they always looked so luxurious. The Centrum is amazing. All the glass and lights and décor is beautiful. I thought there was a Royal Promenade and was looking forward to a parade, but found out quickly I was wrong. The movie theatre was awesome. The shops were set up nicely, and I loved the photo gallery area -- so organized. I loved the pool area and deck space, and the Solarium pool area was wonderful. Even the children's pool area with the slide was super nice. The rock climbing wall is a nice touch, I climbed it twice and even got a gold medal! The lounges and clubs were set up nicely as well. What I did not like about theship was that it was not always easily accessible. There seemed to be crew only doors every door I tried to go in. After I spent a few days on it, it was easier to navigate. All in all the ship is really nice and well kept.
Stateroom I loved our stateroom. We had two beds, a pull down bunk, and a giant round window I could sit in! The beds were comfortable. We had plenty of closet and dresser space, and I brought an over the door shoe hanger with plastic pockets to put our toiletries in so it wasn't cluttered. All the navy and white made nice touch.
Dining Dining was decent. I think the Windjammer should have better hours, as well as ice cream/frozen yogurt 24 hours a day. The pizza was wonderful on board, and the Windjammer has an awesome set up. Going into the second week they had to serve us due to GI illness, which slowed service quite a bit, but let up on it halfway through the week. I never got to try Portofino's or Chops, or the Seaview or Solarium Café's. We ate Windjammer food during the day and ate in the main dining room @ 8:30 every night.
Service Service excelled in some areas, and in others not so much. One Explorations desk girl helped me tremendously. Our assistant waiter in the dining room was exceptional. He catered more to us and seemed to enjoy our company more so than our headwaiter, therefore earning a bigger tip. We absolutely loved him. Our headwaiter did not seem to like our table, and his service was so poor on the last night we didn't even order desert. We enjoyed our cruise director, Bill, and his staff were phenomenal in attempting to assure a good time aboard such a busy cruise. We had a few bar waiters in the disco and clubs that we became friends with that always took care of us when we were there. Our stateroom attendant was pretty good as well.
Ports I have already decided I will be back to Europe within two years. We went and did and saw so much, and yet didn't see nearly enough.
June 11 -- Villefrance, France: Here we got off the ship and taxied to Monaco/Monte Carlo and walked around. It was nice but really commercial. We saw the Castle and the Grand Casino. Then we bused back to Nice and went to the Stone Beach, which was peaceful and beautiful. Super nice, but I'm not dying to go back.
June 12 -- Florence/Pisa, Italy: Florence is incredible. Everything is marble/bronze/gold plated, and the giant church and bell tower and basilica there are so incredibly detailed with carved marble and the colors are beautiful. There were statues, churches, and fountains galore. We spent a good part of the day on the guided tour and then had some free time. After lunch, we went to Pisa. I was speechless as we walked up and saw the basilica and the tower hanging there. I told the girls "You know, it hasn't hit me that we are 6,000 miles from home seeing something that most people only read about." I'm not sure that even at this point it's totally sunk in.
June 13 -- Rome, Italy: Rome was one of my favorites. We went to the Vatican Museum, which the detail of the carvings/tapestries/paintings cannot be adequately described in words. The Sistine Chapel was a totally emotional experience for me, being in what I have always thought to be one of the most holy places in the world (I'm not Catholic, but a Christian, and have always had a revered respect for Vatican City). Every panel is a different story. The Last Judgment was not what I expected but better. I wished we had more time in there, because that is somewhere I could spend all day. We went over to St. Peter's Basilica and that is somewhere I could spend three days. Again, the detail and architecture are amazing. We saw where the Pope comes to Mass and the giant altar. There is a dead Pope in a glass case, which is kind of creepy. They had a mass going on in one of the smaller chapels in the Basilica. The dome is gorgeous. I could go on and on. President Bush was in Rome the day we were. If he had messed up my tour I was going to be so mad. Happily that didn't happen and we got to see what we came to see. After lunch, which was fabulous, we went to the Coliseum. We got to go inside and walk around and see where all the gladiators came in and the emperors sat. They were also setting up a stage for a ballet to take place that night inside. Driving from place to place we saw great parts of the city. We did not get to see the Trevi Fountain or the Spanish Steps (because the tour I wanted sold out), which I was so disappointed about I wanted to cry! But what we did see was well worth it and I am so ready to go back!
June 14: Saturday was a cruise day. I spent the day outside on deck and playing with some little girls (ages 10-11) that were cousins of a guy (Jose) I had met the day before, and then he joined us. After playing in the hot tubs/children's pools I went to get ready for dinner as that night was the Captain's night and I had to get all dressed up to the nine's. The Captain's party was ok. I was hoping for better drinks. On to a fun night at dinner and later dancing in the disco.
June 15 -- Mykonos, Greece: The tour I wanted had sold out, so we just tendered off the ship and walked around. Tendering was a total mess, incredibly disorganized and not planned out well at all. It took us an hour and a half to get off. I thought Mykonos was really pretty, with all the white and villa style buildings. We made it up to the windmills, which are impressive. It was so hot that after a few hours we called it a day and took naps. The girls stayed asleep but I got up and got to spend a couple of hours by the pool again with my new friends (Jose and his cousins).
June 16 -- Ephesus, Turkey: We had booked the Ephesus, Didyma, and Miletus tour. Ephesus was great. So many ruins and we walked the length of Ephesus, walked around in the Library, saw the baths and toilets, the giant stadium, and saw an interactive show. In Miletus we walked around the stadium there and saw some more of the baths. After a buffett Turkish lunch, which was pretty good, we went to Didyma where the Temple of Apollo is, which was incredible. We walked all over and inside that temple. From there we went to a carpet demonstration and I so want a Turkish rug. However, my bank account says no. We walked around the Grand Bazaar and many streets in Turkey before returning to the ship, where I spent a good amount of time outside at the pool area before getting ready for dinner.
June 17 -- Santorini, Greece: Beautiful. We visited Oia and went to a winery, where I found a wine I actually like and promptly bought (I don't like wine in general.) I loved the village. We went back to the city area where we could take cable cars back to the tenders and walk around a bit, seeing a Greek orthodox church and then cable carring it back down, because there wasn't much else to see. I went to the pool and hung out with my friend Jose and his cousins while my girls slept or found something else to do.
June 18 -- Athens, Greece: We hiked up the hill to the Parthenon/Acropolis and had lots of free time to walk around. You can't walk through any of the temples but you can see straight through them. The architecture/detail is incredible. The Parthenon is amazing, and the most amazing thing about it is that it's not remotely duplicated anywhere in the world. The guards there are very strict about not crossing the boundaries to take pics and will take your camera and delete the picture if you do (I saw this happen to a guy.) It was so hot that day. After visiting we went back to the ship, then walking around Piraeus for some shopping.
June 19: Another cruise day. I spent this cruise day partly by myself, then going around with my friend Jose to an art show, spending some time in the Concierge club, seeing the Turkish rug he had bought (I am so jealous) playing out at the pool, and just being lazy. It was great.
June 20 -- Naples, Italy: While we did not see any of Naples except from our ship, we did go to Capri, Sorrento, and Pompeii. Capri is now one of my most favorite places in the whole world. It's gorgeous and their gelato is really good. We did not have nearly enough time there or in Sorrento. Sorrento is nice too. And Pompeii blew me away. That buried city they have dug out is so big that I swear if you ever went in at night by yourself without a guide you'd never find your way out. The city walls are still intact for the most part, the brothel rooms restored, and the courtyards with the temples are amazing. We saw the buried people of Pompeii behind the wrought iron cages, and the words from Titanic kept repeating in my head "Waiting to live, waiting to die, waiting for an absolution that would never come." After a stop at the Cameo shell necklace place, to watch how/where they make the beautiful Cameo necklaces, we went back to the ship.
June 21: Another cruise day. My girls wouldn't get up, so I went out again by myself. I spent the day with my friend Jose and his family, eating breakfast, playing ping pong, going to a movie and to bingo (where at bingo I found my girls, who wanted to play but decided it was too expensive and a couple from our table bought them bingo cards), then going off by myself for a bit. After Jose's bridge tour we jumped in the pool and hung out til it was time to get ready for the pre-dinner show/dinner.
People We met some awesome people. Our dinner table was amazing. There were two couples from Brazil, who did not know each other, and only one of them could speak English. Another couple from Maryland, and another from California. Dinner was one of our favorite times because we enjoyed the company so much. We all got along, and were even able to make ourselves understood between us and the Brazilians who couldn't speak English.
I met two guys, Jose from Miami whom I met on our tour in Rome and he was super nice and his family was awesome. His cousins, whom were 10 and 11 and one boy cousin who was 13, were a lot of fun to be around. And he had an aunt who was totally fun loving and made everyone around her have a good time. We spent quite a bit of time together on the ship, and it was nice having someone to hang out with because my girls were always napping in free time or not wanting to do much. The other one was Julio from the Dominican Republic. We met up because my sister's friend, Sarah, asked him one night in the Colony club what time it was in Spanish, and when he told her, she said "What?" He repeated in perfect English. It was hilarious. He ended up on our tour in Athens and I went to one show with him. We hung out a bit on the ship together, and I exchanged numbers and email addresses with both.
Our bar waiters in the Colony Club and the Disco were great. Maria from Naples was in the Colony Club and she was witty and always ready to please. Roberto in the Disco bought us drinks one night because someone stole our seats, and after asking for ice water the first night he always brought it as soon as we walked in.
Our assistant waiter Joseph in the dining room rocked. He did so much more than the main waiter. We loved him.
Sarah and Crystal made some new friends as well, but not anyone I think they are keeping in touch with.
Entertainment Shows: The shows that the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers put on were so so, although parts of "Now and Forever" were really good. Duggie Brown, the comedian, had some jokes that were great, others not so much. Tango Buenos Aires was incredible. Jonathan Kane as Elton John was so good you would have sworn it was Elton John sitting right there. The Abba tribute group wasn't that great, so I didn't stay for the whole thing. Nestor Torres, a man whom played the flute as well as other instruments, was quite entertaining. The juggler was hilarious, as well as very talented.
Onboard Activities: The disco was dead nearly every night, except a few. The Latin Fiesta Night was a big hit, and we were happy not to be the only people dancing. The 70s party also did well, and the male cruise staff dressed up to a T as the Village people. I went to Mariachi Music one night with Jose and his family, then to the 50s party. Another night, Crystal and Sarah learned to line dance at the Western Party in the Colony Club. Karaoke in the Colony Club was always fun. We attended salsa class one day. The Toga Party the staff had one night was great. They wrapped anyone willing up in Togas and we looked great! We attempted Greek dancing but they got going so fast we almost fell, so we just watched. The piano guy at the Schooner Bar was pretty good. The pool was almost always an option, except it was closed a few times. We had plenty to choose from. There just wasn't always others wanting to join in. Not a lot of 18-35 year olds onboard, more of an older crowd, which really had Crystal and Sarah disappointed.
Debarkation Debarkation was the easiest I've ever been through. I loved the fact that we came off the ship without wait, walked in the terminal, and our luggage came out on conveyor belts like at the airport. I think that idea is phenomenal. There is no trip and try to grab bags over everyone else doing the same thing. We got our taxi and headed to the airport.
Flying Home Leaving Barcelona was not an issue. Leaving Ireland was quite another. The plane that was supposed to take us from Ireland to Philadelphia decided it was going to leave the runway 30 minutes early. Soooo -- there were about 30 of us (from the Brilliance and the Norweigan Jewel, and these were only who we could find to count, there were probably more) stranded. Luckily, Aer Lingus, the company we flew in on, put us all up in a super nice hotel, fed us gourmet food, and got us transportation to/from the airport. Not a bad place to be stuck in. We did get home the 23rd about 5'ish in one piece with all our luggage.
Summary The trip was amazing and I did like Royal Caribbean. There are things they can improve on, such as food and tendering, but Royal excels in their pool area, debarkation, and cruise director's staff, as well as the itinerary choices. The places we saw and the things we did are beyond words. I got to spend that time with my sister Crystal on the trip of a lifetime, which I can never get back and will never forget. I hope she enjoyed it as much as she seemed to. I think Sarah had a good time too, and I'm glad my sister got to share it with her best friend. I will be going back. And I will cruise Royal Caribbean again.
Before we start, a quick caveat. I have been on 14 RCL cruises and my wife has been on 7. We like Princess, then Celebrity, then RCL. I am in my late 30's and my wife is a tiny bit older. We live in South Florida. We enjoy RCL and overall this was a great cruise. Any negative comments contained hereunder are mostly nit-picking.
This trip was our first trip to Europe and we decided that a cruise would be a great way to travel and very cost-effective too, due to the strong Euro. This cruise was a seven day cruise round-trip from Barcelona. This trip was very "port intensive" with ports the first 6 days and only one day at sea at the end. Ports visted included Ville-Franche (and Monte Carlo), Florence (port city was Livorno), Rome (port city was Civitivecchia), Naples and Sicily. Needless to say we were very tired when we got off the ship.
Barcelona is a great city and we enjoyed touring it on our own as we arrived one day early. Barcelona airport is clean but can be confusing for baggage claim so be careful. Iberialost 1 of our 3 pieces of luggage but delivered it 15 minutes before the cruise left! In Barcelona, they speak Catalonian Spanish and not Castillian Spanish as I know it. This caused a lot of confusion at times.
Barcelona just opened a new seaport terminal a few weeks before our arrival. The new terminal made things easy and quick even though 2 cruise ships were in port loading passengers. We got to the terminal at 11:15 a.m. and were on the ship by 11:30 though the staterooms were not available until 1:00 p.m. Our first stop was the spa, where my wife made a massage appointment for the only day at sea.
The ship was in excellent condition. In January, we took a 5 day cruise on the sister ship "Navigator of the Seas" so we were familar with the ship already. On Navigator we attended most of the shows and most of the activities on the ship. During this cruise, the significant port time left little time to use any ship facilities.
We had a superior balcony stateroom which is nestled among the junior suites. Our room had plenty of storage space and was very comfortable. Everything in the room worked well. Our room steward was excellent.
Our dining staff was also excellent and we received the small table we had requested. Even the head waiter was attentive. We had 6:30 seating out of the 5 available choices (6:00, 6:30, 8:00, 8:30 or 9:00). The most negative thing I can say about the cruise was that the menus were not catered towards the European cruise. The menus looked very similar to the menus we see when we cruise the Caribbean. The food in the dining room, although nothing special, was still very good. Not that my wife or I cared, but there was no lobster on the menu (waiter made a point of letting us know this). We did go to Portofino's one night only bacause our travel agent gave us free passes to do so. Food and service at Portofinos was excellent. This ship did not have a steakhouse.
Almost every night before dinner, we took advantage of the concierge room which is available to Diamond or higher level Crown and Anchor passengers and suite guests. Free drinks and hot and cold hors d'ouvres before dinner made dinner even more special. We used the conceirge to make reservations at Portofinos and to check our bill the last night of the cruise. He was very helpful.
We used very few amenities on the cruise. Even though we skipped it on this cruise, I highly recommend the ice show. The variety shows were what you would expect though we did not even attend one. I never heard of any of the performers who were aboard our cruise (a juggler and a singer, no comedian that I heard about). We never got to play shuffleboard or miniature golf or go ice skating or in-line skating, but we knew that we were using the ship as a hotel and less as an attraction on this cruise.
As we had never been to Europe and many of the sites are far from the port, we opted to book a shore excursion from RCL at every port. The shore excursions were all excellent and all lasted almost the entire time in port (9 to 11 hours). All of the guides spoke very good English and were very knowledgeable. The buses were all comfortable and air conditioned but none of them contained a rerstroom on board. When the tour warns you about spending a lot of time on the bus, they were telling the truth. In addition, wherever you sat the first time you got on the bus, that was your seat for the rest of the tour. In Livorno (port for Florence) and Civitivechhia (port for Rome), it truly was 1 to 2 hours into the main city from the port. All of our tours included lunch and the meals were excellent. All meals included wine, bottled water and at least three courses. The meals tended to be chicken or beef though a vegetarian option was avialable upon request, and of course a pasta course. Service at all of the meals was excellent.
I will not bore you with all of our shore excursions but will just try to highlight. In France, we chose to tour Monte Carlo and Eze. An excellent choice. We toured the royal palace in Monaco and the Grand Casino. In Florence, we skipped Pisa and the Florence museums and went to Tuscany, another excellent choice. We toured the ancient town of Volterra and San Gimignano and ate lunch at a Tuscan farmhouse and winery. The Tuscan countryside is gorgeous and reminded us of Napa Valley, California. In Naples, we originally chose Capri and the Amalfi Coast tour, but that tour was cancelled for lack of interest. We instead toured the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento. This was an especially great tour with a wonderful guide ("Stefano"). How the bus got through narrow winding cliff-side streets of the Amalfi Coast, I still am not sure. Positano and Amalfi are gorgeous. It really was a slice of heaven. In Sicily we chose to visit the North part of the Island including Segesta and Erice. This included a trip up a mountain in a cable car. Though Sicily was nice, there is no reason to go through the effort to return there now that we have seen it.
Disembarkation was a breeze. The port uses baggage carousels (like an airport) so you really have to wait until your color is called to get off or you will be waiting for your luggage a long time. We had booked a tour through RCL for the city of Barcelona ending at the airport. The tour was brief and did not include lunch but we did get to the airport at the promised time.
Overall, a great trip, though very tiring. I think I need a Carribbean cruise just to unwind.
It took my wife ten years to talk me into a cruise since I work on ships. I was hooked the first day.
This was our 5th cruise, first Europe cruise. We had been on Voyager a few years ago in the Carribean and the ship had not aged except for 2 cloudy Windjammer windows. I can tell you it's incredible the job RCCL does maintaining the vessels.
I also noted the detail and sobriety with which safety is carried out and the manner of the drills. All top notch.
The ports the company chose were great from a historical, amenity, and activity point.
Our two afternoon tours in Villefranche and Pompeii were top notch. As a jaded world traveler I'm telling you I was blown away. The tour guides had volumnous knowledge, were cheery and well organized -- a great value.
Do I really need to mention the great food and service!
The shows were fantastic. You can't possibly do everything they offer. If you don't believe me, buy the cruise in review and watch it when you get home!
I think we'll do a Greek Isle cruise next. Now it's yourturn -- get out there!!!
We are cruiseaholics with fifty plus cruises. Traveling with good friends whom we met cruising in 1992. Our ages range from mid forties to late fifties. We sail two to three times a year, multiple lines.
Unfortunately due to a personal customer service issue with RCL land operations and issues with smoking policies on RCL's Celebrity brand we are not planning to sail with RCL or their product lines in future. However that is a personal decision that in no way reflects on the cruise experience we had on board The Mariner of The Seas which was excellent.
We traveled a day in advance of sailing making arrangements to stay at the Radisson at the Port, Port Canaveral. Booking online and paying in advance we secured a rate of $99 for a double, w/tax $109.89. This rate requires immediate charge at booking and limited cancellation.
Hotel was in an excellent location about 5 minutes from pier and provided FREE shuttle to ship. Pool area was nice with bar and food available. Room was adequate, small motel style, nothing fancy. It is a non smoking hotel, however plenty of opportunity to step outside room (motelstyle entrances) or hang at pool bar area where smoking is permitted.
ORLANDO AIRPORT Our first time there, large but well organized. You shuttle via smooth operating automated rail car from gate area to baggage, main terminal area. Baggage area to rental cars and transportation level require elevator to another level. Porters are available and $3 self hand carts also readily available. The self cart would be the option to use if renting a car as you might be waiting in line for a while and therefore need second porter. TRANSPORTATION to Hotel Pier area, about 50 miles or one hour can be arranged via various online services in area of $100. RCL did not offer pre-day arrival transportation unless on their packages all which were theme park programs. We elected to rent a car since we were also visiting friends in area for a couple hours. Our friends arriving from different location and time also rented a car though going direct to hotel. We all choose Budget based on rate which was in area of $61 W GPS for under 24 hour rental. The Budget rental office is located less than a quarter mile away from hotel and makes for an easy return the next morning.
NOTE: Pickup at Orlando airport sign up for FASTBREAK or suffer the 30 to 40 minute line to do paperwork. Budget is very popular surely because of rates and line is long. With fast break acct. number you can go right to car area (which is at airport -- no shuttle needed) and pick up keys and car, bypassing all the lines. HAD I ONLY KNOWN!
EMBARKATION We were shuttled over to pier from hotel -- it is a short ride of 5 minutes or so. Upon arrival porters took our luggage. Signs at pier indicate that porters are salaried and tipping is not required. A personal decision whether you wish to do so anyway.
It was a short walk to entrance to first check point. ID and ticket check followed by X-ray and metal detector. We all know the drill by now. Then up an escalator to check in areas. If you completed your forms online and printed out your SeaPass forms you have a special line and were handled very quickly. Merely ID again, present credit card you indicated online and boarding pass issued. Really does simplify process on all lines I have used it on so far. This is where it became a LONG line, boarding, mainly because ship had not yet started allowing passengers on so there was a bit of a backlog once they commenced actual boarding. NOTE -- Platinum and Diamond members also have priority boarding and entered the long line to board well ahead of many. Still they suffered lines as well to some degree. Also, though we fit into Diamond category we did not readily see that boarding area. You really have to look and ask for priority boarding most places, this one included. I don't go nuts for it because I have found in previous years that such priority boarding can be a plus or minus depending on how staffed and such.
NOTE: Once on board you cannot get to cabin areas until 1pm. They actually have doors that close off the corridors -- shut and locked.
CABIN We were in JR Suite 1650, with our friend in 1652. These have an adjoining door if you wish to have unlocked by the steward. I can't say enough about this category, we were extremely happy with the cabin size and design! We have sailed the Grand Suite category on other Voyager ships which is start of "real amenity" suite category and I liked this cabin every bit as well. The walk-in closet was fantastic! Very, very convenient and very, very roomy! Plenty of drawers and even a laptop storage and use drawer. If you need more space you definitely over-packed!
A large safe with self programmable code and a mini bar refrigerator also. Cabin space, balcony -- more than adequate with couch, chair and table. Location and deck, 10, good for buffet and pool access and other areas of ship, though a bit aft. Bathroom has a bathtub. As a JR Suite you do not have true suite amenities such as Concierge lounge use, DVD and such. The value of those items is in the eye of the beholder. Diamond members have lounge use no matter what accommodation taken. SMOKING is allowed on balcony, but NOT in cabin. That was not a problem as weather was perfect.
DINING/FOOD We were second seating table 532 -- I think it was with Utou (spelling?) and Michele, who were excellent. Food is always a personal opinion, and we were happy enough with it. Service was excellent and we had no complaints. BUFFET area was excellent in our opinion offering many choices, iced tea, lemonade, and water complimentary and several locations makes for easy pickup. We don't use specialty restaurants so can offer no comment. Coffee was decent and on the BLVD you can get excellent lattes and such but they are at additional cost.
ENTERTAINMENT The Voyager class ships offer as much in activity as large ships -- mini golf (we used it and it was fun), rock climbing wall, ice rink and such. Two pools offer best of both worlds. Main pool noisy and active with pool games and music. Second ADULT only pool quiet and enjoyable, plenty of sun and shade areas for both. Shows were entertaining enough for shipboard variety acts featuring standard dancers and singers but also some comedians which we enjoy. Lounges had various music offerings. The ICE SHOW remains a must see. Tickets are required for one of the four shows as crowd control, but there is no charge.
INTERNET Both internet lounges with terminals and wireless laptop connections offered. As is usually the case on board a ship, connections are like fast dialup, much slower than most of us are used to. Charge is .55 a minute which is less expensive than previous .75 a minute that has been the norm. They also offer packages that bring down price per minute for purchasing set number of minutes. Wireless connect is limited to several areas and lounges mostly forward and the internet café. Printing is available in café and there is no extra charge, excellent for printing out airline boarding passes and such at end of cruise. I have taken to limiting my internet use onboard to a quick mail download to laptop, so I appreciated a relatively reasonable minute rate. Sign up is done at internet café terminal and is a painless self process. Crown and Anchor members also receive some free internet charge coupons. As Diamond we had $20 worth, simply fill out and drop in box at Pursers desk and credited against your usage.
ITINERARY Having sailed these islands many times we decided for most part to stay onboard and enjoy pool facilities and such while all were almost exclusively ours. So I leave island activity and review to others. I will say we got off and took a brief walk in Jamaica to mall area near ship, where Jimmy Buffets is located. Souvenirs were somewhat expensive there. Cozumel was a much better deal for those T-shirts and the like. Best Cigg price was on ship at $86 for 5 cartons. Other prices in ships store for clothes very high.
DISEMBARKATION Done by color tags as usual. They do not allow you to wait in your cabin nor do they offer room service that morning. They repeatedly state they would like you out of your cabin by 8 am. I am usually not happy about the hurry up, get out and wait system but on Mariner it is not as much of an inconvenience as it is on some ships. Being so large there are many areas to get comfortable awaiting your turn.
It seemed that Mariner gets disembarked quicker than most ships we have sailed. Perhaps since airport is hour drive or maybe just because the lines are after you walk down the gangway and are off the ship. You present yourself to immigration and customs at same time in an area of booths containing the Officers and computers. After clearing through there you head for your luggage. Again something a little different, a baggage carousel like at airports. Much better than the pile of luggage on the floor to search through. Porters were readily available to transport your luggage to pick up areas.
We secured transportation to airport via bus at purser's desk during the cruise. Bus to airport was convenient and comfortable at $32 per person.
GENERAL COMMENT Mariner of the Seas was a very nice ship, being newer and in great shape. Staff and crew friendly and helpful, and Captain Johnny from the bridge is a want-to-be comedian providing information in a jovial way. He was often seen walking about the ship with members of his staff. Overall the Mariners cruise was an excellent one.
You can see a few pictures at our website.
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This was a wonderful family cruise. We had a party of 6 in a family suite. We arrived at Port Canaveral at 11:15 AM and were aboard by 12 noon. The cabin was ready by 1PM. Plenty of room for 6, including 2 under 5.
The ship is beautiful, service was superb, food in all venues was quite satisfactory and well presented. Plenty of activities to keep everyone busy, or quiet areas to hide and read a book. The Spa and Shipshape center are excellent and superbly equiped.
Ports of call were a mixed bag. RCCL private port of Labadee is fantastic! Best in the Carrib. Jamaica is so so. Cozumel is good for snorkeling. Grand Cayman was very good, with history (pirates) and excellent excursions, with the pirate ship experience outstanding for all ages.
The children's program for my 2 grandsons (4 and 3) was well-staffed and they loved it! Due to the size of the Mariner, it is a great ship for large families.
If available, concierge service is well run and provides many services. The business side of the ship provides good service, though response can be spotty.
One problem wedid encounter was in their photo department. Seems that a new system was installed which did not work as planned. They lost many pictures, so be careful until they work out the kinks.
The cruise, on a whole, was wonderful. The ship, weather, guests, and crew made this trip a pleasure for the entire family.
Can't wait till our cruise to the Panama Canal in Jan '08 on the Jewel of the Seas!
We just returned from a 9 day cruise on the Explorer of the Seas. The review follows.
Embarkation Ease of embarkation depends on the time one arrives. I was told later by some passengers that the lineup going to the dock at Port Liberty was a mob scene around noon time. We arrived at 1:30PM, drove straight to the baggage check in, parked the car ($16 a day), proceeded to the passenger check in and were on board in 15 minutes.
Stateroom We usually opt for an interior room and this one (7129) was on the small side but well designed. Despite a seeming lack of space, there was more than ample storage areas and a well designed, albeit small bathroom. The shower is particularly nice with a fully enclosed circular shower door.
Food All of our dinners were taken in the main dining room which proved to be a beautiful venue. We were seated at a table for eight (beside a window overlooking the ocean) with an extended family consisting of three generations. Our table waiter Eduardo and his assistant Yvonne provided excellent service. The food was generally good to very good,with the only exception being the fish dishes which were not to my liking. Up at the buffet in the Windjammer, the food was quite good although some dishes were overly salty. Some of the more interesting cuisine was found in the center specialty island during lunch with Pan Asian dishes and during the evening with a sushi buffet. One morning while selecting breakfast I found congee with all the fixings, something I got hooked on while in Thailand. One thing I found rather unusual was the fact that of all the cruise lines I have been on, this is the first one I have seen that had no hand sanitizing stations in the buffet area or the main dining room. There is only one specialty restaurant aboard, Portofino, but we didn't dine there.
Entertainment This was pretty much standard shipboard fare with a resident song and dance group and a decent 9 piece pit orchestra. Four other entertainers did one man shows, but there was one standout comedian, Max Docelli, who went on the first night and was a real hoot. The rest of the shipboard staff were always available and helpful including cruise director Mike Hunnerup.
Ports of Call The ports of call were Labadee, Haiti; Casa De Campo, Dominican Republic; St. Thomas and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Having been to all of them except Labadee, my only comment on the last three is that Puerto Rico is always worth the trip despite the peculiar fact that most cruise lines only port there for 6-7 hours. Hardly enough time to do the place justice. Although I had mixed feelings about going to Haiti, Labadee turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I've seen in Caribbean. It was vaguely reminiscent of Bora-Bora.
Disembarkation The ship had been sold out (3616 pax) due to spring break and it showed getting off the ship. Even at that, we cleared our room at 8AM and were off by 10:45. The ship started boarding passengers at 11:30.
All in all a very good cruise with one of the main advantages being that if you live within driving distance of Port Liberty, you can get to the ship with a minimum of hassle without having to deal with the madness of airline travel. Also, you have a choice of several itineraries going round trip out of Port Liberty. We'll probably do Canada next.