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Royal Caribbean International: Splendour of the Seas

Fodorite Reviews

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Feb 24, 2013

Santos Brazil

This is the email that I wrote Royal Caribbean, awaiting their response... To whom it may concern, I am writing you this letter to convey me and my husband's disappointment in our honeymoon trip taken with Royal Caribbean. As experienced cruisers, we had expected a level of quality of major cruise operators and of Royal Caribbean; this was our second cruise with Royal Caribbean and 5th cruise for us each respectively. We greatly enjoyed our

last trip with Royal Caribbean out of Rome, my husband proposed to me on your Navigator of the Seas during the summer of 2011. Therefore, we felt it was a sound decision to again choose Royal Caribbean and selected the 7 Night Argentina & Uruguay Cruise on the Splendour of the Seas for our Honeymoon. We could not have been more shocked and disappointed with the level of quality encountered by Royal Caribbean on the Splendour of the Seas - as we had high expectations from our experience on the Navigator of the Seas. As a brand name, the expectation of quality should be consistent; this clearly was not the case here. See the following issues we encountered on this cruise: • We feel extremely misled regarding the cruise itself. My husband and I are experienced travels and the thought of a Cultural Immersion cruise out of Brazil was a welcomed adventure for us. We both are native English speakers, and speak some Spanish, but no Portuguese. We were informed by Royal Caribbean that the cruise cuisine and activities would be geared toward the Brazilian taste; however, English would be also spoken as a secondary language. This could not be farther from the truth. The number of native English speakers on the boat had to band together to do anything on the ship, and the crew made little to no attempt to engage us. It was also told to us by Royal Caribbean representatives that English would be an option for excursions, television, all staff would be bi-lingual and activities and more importantly announcements would be made in English (just not first). From the beginning of the cruise until the very end there was absolutely no English being spoken. We are both well-traveled Americans that have been to many non-English speaking countries and would never expect anyone to speak English to use while traveling. In this case however, we were blatantly lied to that we would still be able to have fun and participate in the cruise even if we did not speak the native language. The poor service and quality on this cruise was extremely disappointing. As stated, this trip was our Honeymoon a once in a lifetime opportunity to see South America. We spent a total of $7,000 dollars on the trip ($3,300 for the cruise, $1,100 on the ship and the remainder for flights). During the time we were onboard we were not engaged by the staff until day 5. Up until that point not a single staff member passed by with a smile or a hello. Our Suite was in disrepair. The room that we stayed in was Suite 8582 on the ship. While our stateroom attendant was extremely nice and courteous the room cleanliness and quality was just not up to Royal Caribbean standard. During our stay our bathroom sewage backed up two times, to which we had to call someone to fix it both times (and wait extended periods of time). Our bathroom door broke two times as well, screws kept popping off the door. Our towel bar was broke the entire time and never fixed. At one point I couldn't find one of my shoes so I looked underneath the bed only to find an old hair tie (full of someone's hair) as well as a few pills of Tylenol that had been left there by the last guest. The total cost for the suite was $1600.00 per person. I would have expected the stateroom attendant and staff to offer at minimum their apologies for all of the inconveniences. The service on board the ship was by the far worst part of the experience. The staff was not only not friendly but we encountered several individuals that were blatantly rude to us when we had questions. The service in the windjammer and on the pool deck was where it was the worst. Many times when we went to eat we couldn't find a place to sit (due to volume) as well as there were many tables with plates and cups sitting there for extended period of time. On two separate occasions I sat with the previous guests food my entire meal. Besides the evident lack of staff to clean up these areas, on the pool deck plates and cups were left out so long that they were actually rolling around on the deck/floor (falling from the upper deck to lower deck). In our previous cruise experience we were greeted by every staff member we encountered with a hi, how are you, anything I can do to make your stay with us better. Until day five, not one of the staff members acknowledged us with a simple hello even as they passed by. The overall service was horrific and made us actually feel not welcome. To the bar staff, waiters, casino dealers we rarely were met with a smile. At no point were we offered the purchase of beverages or anything while trying to enjoy the pool. There were no staff members walking around period to check on any of the guests to see how they were doing. The food was of horrible quality. Not only were the food choices extremely limited (pasta, hamburgers, deli meat and French fries as the main staples) but the food quality was not up to Royal Caribbean standard. The fruit was never ripe, the cheese and deli meat quality were horrible. Besides the food quality being poor the variety was also so limited. The majority of the excursions were nice (although the options are very limited). There were no water sports or anything really to do besides sightsee. The first excursion we went on was an "English Tour" - the person did not speak English even though we were told she would. Her English was not proficient enough to give a tour, which was really frustrating. If Royal Caribbean isn't able to offer excursions in English, they just shouldn't advertise them this way. Activities-There wasn't a single activity in English. I don't know how Royal Caribbean expects any English speaking guests to have fun, if they can't participate in any pool activities, bingo, casino (everyone was allowed to speak other languages at the table), nightly shows, dance classes etc. Why would Royal Caribbean advertise this cruise to us if we can't do anything on the ship? Even the activities director made every announcement in Portuguese without any thought to just making a second one in English. On our previous cruise many of the shows were tailored so that even if you don't speak the language they could still be enjoyed, this was not the case here. I have never been so disappointed in a trip as I was in this one. I doubt I will be going on Royal Caribbean again and will surely be writing a review on several websites. This cruise in no way should be advertised for English speaking guests as it doesn't even mildly attempt to accommodate them. Royal Caribbean had set a standard for us in quality that we had come to expect and I was sadly mistaken as that must have been a one-time occurrence. The other English speaking guests we encountered were also blindsided by the experience, as I think every English speaking person found each other simply to ask, is that what you were told about this cruise? It would have been nice to have an experience of a lifetime for my Honeymoon. We feel strongly that your organization needs to do something to correct the situation, as this was not acceptable.

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By PAUL_CR

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Jul 16, 2012

Greek Islands

The ship is one of the smaller in the fleet, and a lot smaller than the Explorer which was our last cruise. We felt that it was much more accessible and intimate and yet large enough to not feel crowded. In fact, I am sure that the smaller ships have a bigger public-space/guest ratio than the larger ships! Staff were as always very friendly and helpful- not a single issue to complain about in the entire week. Food is good, but nothing

special, and facilities are modern, clean and well looked after. We had a balcony stateroom, which I can certainly recommend for this cruise ( not so for the Caribbean, where there is not much to see between stops- in the Med there is, and having a place to sit outside and watch the islands go by is worth the extra cost I am not a great fan of ship activities, so I would rather not comment Corfu and Bari- worth a tour. Mykonos- no- just go ashore- you can shop and swim right there, no need to pay to go anywhere. Athens- Parthenon and Athens is worth it- but go very early- in summer, by 0900 there are 50+ coaches waiting! Dubrovnik- kayaking- great fun, but not for the unfit- its quite long and requires a degree of fitness and strength. Venice- we stayed there for 2 days before the cruise- magnificent! From embarkation to the end it was a real pleasure to deal with RCI. They are so friendly and helpful- nothing is too much trouble. I recommend the MY-TIME dining, as it is convenient. we did not see many of the shows, as we don't cruise to see shows- rather spend time on deck. My teenage sons loved it- a week-long party !

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Feb 5, 2011

Mediterranean

Well, unfortunately I have no cruise experience. I booked a Mediterrean cruise on Royal Caribbean (Splendor of the Seas) which was originally scheduled to disembark on April 14th. Now two months before the cruise and about 4 months after having booked the cruise they called to say that the date for disembarkment has moved to April 4th (ten days before the original disembarkment) and after I had already purchased my airplane ticket. They gave two

options either a complete refund (which would be fine had I not purchased my plane ticket) or total voucher/credit of $600. This would be o.k. also had my ticket not been purchased on an airline that charges at least $275 for changes made to the reservations. Additionally any change in fare for myself and my husband's ticket would not be covered. I spoke to someone in their service department who told me that I should not expect for the cruise ship to reimburse me for the charges associated with changing my reservations as their website states that they can make changes. But yes, who plans a trip thinking that their trip will changed? To say the least I am now waiting for them to make a final decision as to what additional reimbursements if any will be given as their are other persons in this siutation. My advice is if you book with Royal Caribbean know that your plans can be changed. I took out travel insurance on both my ticket and cruise and they will not cover costs due to the cruise ship making changes to the schedule. Suffice it to say I won't be taking any trips with Royal Caribbean even if it is a free one.

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Dec 30, 2010

Greece

All old worn out ships from America get sent ot the Med. This ship needs to be sent in to dry dock and refurbished. Old and dated. The best things on this ship was the staff. The food in the buffett was sooo much better than the food in the main dining room. We had a balcolny cabin that was good in footage, but they had a small 13' tube TV. Come on. get witht he times RC. Also our room never had any hot water or any air handler. What this means

is the engineer was in our cabin 6 time trying to fix the heating and air conditioning (as both where needed on this trip) they could never get it fixed. When we needed heat to would blow cold, and went we need air it would blow heat. They finally just shut it off and the only air movement we got was when we opened the balcony doors. The we had to contend with the smokers on left and right of us. They should have offered us another cabin, but they never did. Lots of kids on the cruise with parents letting them run wild. Kids and small children in the adult only areas. So to get any peace it was in your cabin. Aslo, the cruise occured when the volcano in Iceland erupted. People who had booked their complete cruise package through RC where left stranded with not help from the cruise line. RC needs to step up their game other cruise lines and travel agencys covered their customers (Costa Cruise and Thomas Cooke). RC just left everyone fend for themselves. Can't believed they did this as they insist on passagers buying travel insurance. As a matter of fact if you did not watch the news you did not even know the volcan had gone off...they never anounced over head about any of this! I have learned my lesson if I take any trip it will be through a travel agent who in the case of ACTS OF GOD has my back becuase RC sure did not. The excursions of the boat were fantasic. One trip got cancelled and we where added to another excercusion and the difference in the trips was refunded. Not WOWed

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Dec 30, 2010

Greece

All old worn out ships from America get sent ot the Med. This ship needs to be sent in to dry dock and refurbished. Old and dated. The best things on this ship was the staff. The food in the buffett was sooo much better than the food in the main dining room. We had a balcolny cabin that was good in footage, but they had a small 13' tube TV. Come on. get witht he times RC. Also our room never had any hot water or any air handler. What this means

is the engineer was in our cabin 6 time trying to fix the heating and air conditioning (as both where needed on this trip) they could never get it fixed. When we needed heat to would blow cold, and went we need air it would blow heat. They finally just shut it off and the only air movement we got was when we opened the balcony doors. The we had to contend with the smokers on left and right of us. They should have offered us another cabin, but they never did. Lots of kids on the cruise with parents letting them run wild. Kids and small children in the adult only areas. So to get any peace it was in your cabin. Aslo, the cruise occured when the volcano in Iceland erupted. People who had booked their complete cruise package through RC where left stranded with not help from the cruise line. RC needs to step up their game other cruise lines and travel agencys covered their customers (Costa Cruise and Thomas Cooke). RC just left everyone fend for themselves. Can't believed they did this as they insist on passagers buying travel insurance. As a matter of fact if you did not watch the news you did not even know the volcan had gone off...they never anounced over head about any of this! I have learned my lesson if I take any trip it will be through a travel agent who in the case of ACTS OF GOD has my back becuase RC sure did not. The excursions of the boat were fantasic. One trip got cancelled and we where added to another excercusion and the difference in the trips was refunded. Not WOWed

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Dec 30, 2010

Greece

All old worn out ships from America get sent ot the Med. This ship needs to be sent in to dry dock and refurbished. Old and dated. The best things on this ship was the staff. The food in the buffett was sooo much better than the food in the main dining room. We had a balcolny cabin that was good in footage, but they had a small 13' tube TV. Come on. get witht he times RC. Also our room never had any hot water or any air handler. What this means

is the engineer was in our cabin 6 time trying to fix the heating and air conditioning (as both where needed on this trip) they could never get it fixed. When we needed heat to would blow cold, and went we need air it would blow heat. They finally just shut it off and the only air movement we got was when we opened the balcony doors. The we had to contend with the smokers on left and right of us. They should have offered us another cabin, but they never did. Lots of kids on the cruise with parents letting them run wild. Kids and small children in the adult only areas. So to get any peace it was in your cabin. Aslo, the cruise occured when the volcano in Iceland erupted. People who had booked their complete cruise package through RC where left stranded with not help from the cruise line. RC needs to step up their game other cruise lines and travel agencys covered their customers (Costa Cruise and Thomas Cooke). RC just left everyone fend for themselves. Can't believed they did this as they insist on passagers buying travel insurance. As a matter of fact if you did not watch the news you did not even know the volcan had gone off...they never anounced over head about any of this! I have learned my lesson if I take any trip it will be through a travel agent who in the case of ACTS OF GOD has my back becuase RC sure did not. The excursions of the boat were fantasic. One trip got cancelled and we where added to another excercusion and the difference in the trips was refunded. Not WOWed

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Dec 20, 2010

Transatlantic

This was a wonderful family vacation even though I set up higher expectations for this cruise. Food was very good for this cruise, some disappointing moments, but overall good food. We had an inside cabin, which is just fine for crossing the Atlantic. There are many windy days, which you will not enjoy a relaxing balcony day. Old furniture, with some issues with drawers. Carpet is dated. Activities were fun and enjoyable. Really enjoy shows

and dancing classes by the pool. Definitely go out in Rio de Janeiro. Be aware that the Santos port is at least 21/2 hours away from the airport (GRU). Plan for delays and chaotic arrival in Sao Paulo. Go out in Salvador - Bahia - Do not set your expectations too high at the port. You need to have more time to explore Salvador, but go out and explore the Pelourinho, take the elevator, and save time to shop on the way back at the Market (Mercado). RCI - Splendour of the Seas memorable moments, and disappointing hiccups, Trip Review. Barcelona, Nov 27- Dec 12, 2010 The Good: Thank you RCI and Captain Tommy for a safe and enjoyable trip across the Atlantic. Now that I am back home, I can collect my thought about our trip. First of all, let me thank you on behalf of my two Aunts who accompany me on this voyage. While I was able to easy their first experience onboard, having your Ambassador translate and highlight all important communication was very helpful. Additionally, your cruise directors Joao and Bill worked together to make sure every guest were entertained and aware of what was going on onboard the ship. Thank you Joao and Bill for making this cruise memorable. While we appreciated the printing compass “em Portugues” it was disappointing to see numerous mistakes in printing. Nevertheless, having information printed in Portuguese (menus, compass, comment cards, etc.) was helpful to my Aunts who did not understand English. It would not be right to leave out our thanks to everyone behind the scene, who has made RCI shine under the most adverse circumstances, and helping make this trip a little nicer. However, there are some people who have stood out for their outstanding services, and we would like to acknowledge their efforts and professionalism. Our thanks go to: - Thomas Silva, friendly, helpful, informative, and charismatic as he works his way through the Windjammer café attending to everyone’s needs, - Ricardo Yugulis, whether it was a good or bad day, Ricardo did not let anyone of us notice. At all times he was smiling, and welcoming us to Windjammer café. His smile was genuine and welcoming every time we came across in or out of the cafe. It really looks like he enjoyed his job. - Patricia, also on the other side of the Windjammer café entrance, never fell to welcoming us inside the café. Patricia was warm, pleasant and also professional at all times. - Constantine, at the King and I restaurant also deserves our thanks for going the extra mile remembering everyone’s room numbers, names, and matching us with the right group at our dining table. My Aunts were very pleased with his Charisma, memory, courtesy, and attention to details when welcoming us inside the room, as well as wishing us a good night, every night. Constantine, always found a way to seat us at our requested time. Let me take this opportunity to congratulate RCI for the “My Time Dinning” program. I plan to sign up for this program every time I am onboard an RCI cruise. - Lavinia and again Thomas Silva, took care of us most of the nights, and we felt comfortable with them when ordering our meals and spending our time dining with our new friends. Lavinia was very professional and attentive to my Aunts and our table, the kind of gesture I appreciated seeing nightly. Lavinia and Thomas worked well together and we noticed them complimenting each others' work. Thomas was able to engage in small conversation by speaking Portuguese, providing us with additional information on the ship, his experiences and voyages on other ships and his memorable work onboard a ship in Alaska. We really enjoyed having Thomas and Lavinia serving us, and we are thankful for this great match. - To Carol, Marta, Keli, Monika, Fernanda, Andrea, and Pricilla at the purser’s desk, thank you for an outstanding job behind the desk. I would like to commend them, especially when I had questions or comments about our trip. They were all helpful and pleasant. In one instance, I remember Monika trying to help us to avoid missing our flight in SP, by calling ahead to see if we could make arrangements for an earlier pick up at the port in Santos. While the delayed arrival in Santos caused us great inconvenience (additional fees for missing our flight), all staff behind the desk were professional, helpful, and courteous to me and my family. Regardless of the time or how busy it was, each time I approached one of them it was like I had 100% of their attention to my concern as they tried to resolve or answer it accordingly. They have my sincere thanks for their great job and patience. This letter would not be complete without the acknowledgment and thank you to all the extended staff hired to entertain us on this cruise. Most noticeable was Amanda and Denis who thought us how to dance “Ache, meringue, Salsa, and Samba” at the pool desk and at the Top Hat Lounge. Their 30 minutes’ work out combination with learning to dance was the most enjoyable time I had while engaging in group activities. Their participation in the Carnival show, on the last day, was also very memorable. Let me take the opportunity to also compliment your group working at the “Rock Wall” for providing a safe, animated, and sociable working area for us to play. Last, I would like to thank the “SP3 Acoustic, Aquarius and Showband” in charge to entertain us at various places throughout the ship “Atrium, Pool, and at the Top Hat lounge.” While the entire group were wonderful, and I would certainly would like to see them again on another cruise, I would like to recognize the two talented Female vocalists (Juliana end the other younger female vocalist with long hair – sorry for the missing name) for providing us with a great repertoire daily. In regards to your nightly shows, it was impressive and enjoyable to watch a different one every night. My compliments to all of them, but the most memorable shows were the Gary Williams, Claudio Goodman vocalists, the two productions by RCI singers and dancers, The Pampas, Duo Molosov, Zeidwig’s long but talent recital, Maestranza, the two Mexicans playing over 40 instruments on stage, and of course your Terra Nova Group with the carnival presentation at the end. While I hope to sign up for another cruise with RCI in the near future, I would like to thank you for providing a great variety of shows nightly, as my family and I will certainty take many memorable moments from this cruise with us forever. The Disappointing: Although I know my place in the hierarchy of Cruise businesses, I was disappointed to find out that other customers who can provide future business to RCI were offered a bottle of wine and other compensations for their inconveniences onboard. I, on the other hand, as someone who is trained to observe customer relations’ problems from experience, but just a regular customer, only had a pleasure to meet with the Purser’s Desk Manager, Andre to discuss my observations on the short comings of this trip. While, I am compelled to post this letter online, so others can see that not all cruises are perfect, I would hope for fewer unnoticeable hiccups on future cruises with RCI. However disappointed I was, I am grateful to have met Andre at the Purser’s Desk as he acknowledged the problems onboard the ship like: - Unplanned raining day causing security to be disorganized on the disembarking and embarking at Cadiz, even allowing for personal property to be stolen at security which I recovered later. - Again the staff was not prepared for a raining day causing us to jam the Windjammer café, where I and many other guests had to clean up our own tables or sit with dirty dishes while having breakfast and lunch. These incidents happened more than once and we noticed the lack of planning and scheduling adjustments during this voyage. - The most disturbing incident was the movie breaking down (no one manning the station), one afternoon, and again repeating the same problem on the following day. It wasn’t until we demanded someone to be present in the theater that the following afternoon things began to few like we were really watching a movie in its entirety. - Another annoying issue was the “stay connected at sea,” an issue experienced by every customer I encountered. Not only computers were not working and frozen from time to time, the wireless service was set up so I was supposed to save the log out page to avoid incurring extra charges, as it did not log out automatically when exiting the browser. I had to go downstairs to get the log out page reference while incurring additional charges online (I was given $10 credit for the time). Nevertheless, the online set up is cumbersome and frustrating for guests to have to bookmark a page just so they can log out. I am sure the front desk personnel could have spent their time taking care of other pressing matters; instead they had to address the computer log out issue with every unsatisfied customer. - On Saturday Dec 04, to my surprise and many other guests, another major issue happened in the morning time, where a water pipe breaks down and forces the maintenance crew to shut down the water to Windjammer cafe. While not having coffee, OJ, Tea, or anything that requires water pressure is a shame to the maintenance team, it certainly places the captain and his team of officers in a position of embarrassment. Although, the pipe may have been on its last leg and stressed thin, it should have been changed sooner, rather than encountering a situation when at sea. These issues reminded me of the latest explosion and fire onboard a Carnival cruise engine ship, leaving it dead in the water, where the National Guard had to get involved after 3 days dead at sea, away from San Diego. Luckily, our water issue was rectified sooner, and things returned to normal by late morning. Nevertheless, it was freighting to hear servers saying that dishes could not be cleaned, that elevator shafts were gushing water as crew members came up to work, that the floors below were flooded. - Then on Sunday, it looked like the chef of the kitchen had a day off. I have never seen anyone make calamari with floor (which leave an after taste) or make so many cakes for desert in one day aboard a cruise line. However, at this point, 9 days already into this voyage, I was no longer surprised to encounter these and other minor inconveniences, as I realized that this voyage was not going to go a day without presenting challenging problems for the crew and guests. - While by now things began to get better at the café, and I was no longer bussing my tables prior to having breakfast, the time onboard the ship kept changing and people were getting up earlier for breakfast, but the schedule team did not anticipated the change and adjusted schedules accordingly. Once again, I found myself cleaning up my table, due to bad schedule judgment, while hearing other guests asking the only available waiter on the floor for help cleaning up their tables. This waiter replied “that he had already been asked by two other guests to clean up their tables, and that he would clean hers, as soon as he cleans the two previous guests’ tables.” Being polity but expressing the incompetence of schedulers’ and his overwhelming lonely task. - Overall, it looked like the Captain’s team were not in sink and unable to deliver a seemingly cruise experience as they could not look ahead and prevent these and many other inconveniences to their guests. If I was visiting a friends’ house and encountered these many issues daily, I would certainly question his ability to deliver an outstanding service as first impressions are the lasting ones. Wouldn’t you? - Finally, I would like to say that I do understand that I may have set up some higher expectations for this cruise, as I planned this voyage for my Aunts to enjoy and relax after our 15 days traveling around Europe. It turns out we enjoyed and will take many great moments with us from this trip even though there were many disappointing moments onboard the “Splendour” of the Seas. Sincerely, Sergio de Freitas

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Oct 26, 2010

Mediterranean

Overall, this was a wonderful cruise made more so by the RCCL staff. The ship is very beautiful and well maintained but it is older with spots of rust and corrosion in places. No big deal though. The excellent buffet was a big part of our cruise experience as I am a fussy eater. The food in the Windjammer was very very good and except for one dinner in the dining room, we decided buffet style suited us better. The desserts are very hard to

resist, everything is fresh and hot or cold as needs be and the staff cleans up lickety split. We found our table in the dining room very uncomfortable. It was a table for four jammed into a tiny corner so that no one could get out from the inside unless the outside diners got out of their chairs. The waiter hovered way too much and I was disappointed in the seasonings and sauces on my Vitality fish entree. Very comfortable room but the window was old and dirty which hampered out view somewhat. The sickening peach pink plastic walls and floors in the washroom are annoying after a few minutes in there. The bed was hard so I had to sleep on pillows laid out on the mattress. The stateroom attendant did everything possible to make us comfortable but he can't make a new mattress! The linens were always very clean and fresh. The attendant even folded my PJs which I found cute but freaky. There is soooo much to do and so much variety that you would have to be brain dead to be bored. Potty before you leave the ship especially if you are visiting Oia. The public washroom and the bus station washroom recommended by the tour guides absolutely reek from yards away. You will gag! With the thousands of tourists going through that town every day, you would think they could pay someone to slosh around a mop and some bleach. Also truck in some water so the toilets work properly. The town and views from the mountain are gorgeous but I saw a shopkeeper kick a dog out of his store so hard that he hit the wall on the other side of the alley. This sticks in our minds and we would NOT go back to Santorini if you paid us. We would highly recommend this cruise but wouldn't pay for excursions in future except for Ephesus. Take the free RCCL shuttles into town and just stroll and shop with the money you saved on tours.

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Jul 28, 2010

Mediterranean

All in all, the trip was beyond our expectations! We were seated at the late seating - 9:15pm. We prefer the late dinner so when we get home from the day ashore we can relax or have a drink before rushing to dinner. One note, all the brochures and info stated 2 formal nights, 4 casual and 1 smart casual. There were actually 2 smart casual nights, not 1. Dinner was OK for the week. Again, hate to compare but not nearly up to the standards of Celebrity.

We had to hail down the drink server and always ask for water instead of the ass't waiter just re-filling. This was the only disappointing part of our trip and because of it, we will probably not sail RCCL again. To give a glaring example, my husband ordered two appetizers on the final night of the cruise: risotto and soup. Only the risotto came. I'm sorry, but if you can't get the orders right ON TIP NIGHT, something is very wrong. Anyway, we spent most of the evening in the casinos and exploring and making friends. There is no craps table but we were more than happy with the slots, roulette, blackjack and Caribbean poker. We did purchase the RCCL 12 drinks for $39.99 card which was very easy and a good deal. Also, we found MANY Americans. We thought it would be mostly Europeans and were pleasantly surprised. The ship is considered an American ship and accepts USD in the casinos. You can cash in Euros for USD but you cannot exchange USD for Euros as they are not allowed to carry. All tipping was in Euros for the tours so be sure to get some at one of your ports or before embarking. The tours are all day and long and barely time to find a cash machine. Day 1 - Dubrovnik - Beautiful Port. Very hot. A tip, the steps around the wall were quite slippy, and very steep for the unfit to negotiate.Watch out for queue at entrance to walled city as this can become congested. Day 3 - Mykonos - Loved the cobbled streets with the blossoms overhanging buildings which were all beautifuly maintained. Day 4 - Kusadasi - before starting the cruise we booked a tour from a local company called Trans Balkan Tours. we can't say enough great things about them and the tours they provided. guide was waiting for us at the port, ready to begin our day. i requested that we try to avoid the ship's buses, and they did everything possible to make sure this occurred! it was a pleasure to enjoy the same places that the ship offered at our own pace, staying as long or as short as we wanted for a fraction of the cost! the fact that we were "alone" made it much more personalized. Our guide was very knowledgeable and friendly. we will most definitely use them on future cruises and from comments made from our group, i can assure you they will also! Day 5 - Santorini - because this route arrives here on monday, the ruins at akrotiri are closed. the only tour available takes you to the picturesque town of ia (or oia in some books). visit the town on your own --- don't bother with the tour. this is one of the two big regrets of our cruise. this tour took us to the highest point of the island, the profitis illas mountain, where you can see both sides of the island, Day 6 - Corfu - Waterpark experience awsome if you are young at heart.We did this on our own as cruise company cancelled due to lack of numbers. My husband and I were on the May 26th sailing of the Splendour. A little about us - we are professionals in our early 30's - no kids yet - 2 prior cruses in the Caribbean on Celebrity. This was also our first time to Europe. With frequent flyer miles we arranged a free flight into Venice. We boarded the Splendour about 11am on the 26th. We had every intention of checking in, dropping off luggage and going back into town but since we love cruises, we found ourselves by the pool bar and meeting friends from San Francisco. First impressions of the Splendour - nice, but no Celebrity Galaxy or Century. Not as clean or nicely maintained as the Celebrity ships. We quickly made friends with our pool staff bartenders - Lukas from South Africa, Allan and Marcio. We met another couple and looked forward to the next week ahead! All in all, the trip was beyond our expectations! We made some wonderful friends and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Unfortunately, having cruised in Celebrity a few times, we are spoiled and RCCL did not even come close to the service and cuisine that Celebrity provided. We are very, very 'low maintenance' people but in the future, will spend the extra couple of bucks and sail on Celebrity. We heard too many complaints from other people about the dining room so it was no just 'us'. Our stateroom attendant was EXCELLENT! The bar and casino staff were wonderful and really made this an adventure we will never forget!

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Jul 25, 2010

Mediterranean

My husband and I were on the May 26th sailing of the Splendour. A little about us - we are professionals in our early 30's - no kids yet - 2 prior cruses in the Caribbean on Celebrity. This was also our first time to Europe. With frequent flyer miles we arranged a free flight into Venice. We boarded the Splendour about 11am on the 26th. We had every intention of checking in, dropping off luggage and going back into town but since we love cruises,

we found ourselves by the pool bar and meeting friends from San Francisco. First impressions of the Splendour - nice, but no Celebrity Galaxy or Century. Not as clean or nicely maintained as the Celebrity ships. We quickly made friends with our pool staff bartenders - Lukas from South Africa, Allan and Marcio. We met another couple and looked forward to the next week ahead! We were seated at the late seating - 9:15pm. We prefer the late dinner so when we get home from the day ashore we can relax or have a drink before rushing to dinner. One note, all the brochures and info stated 2 formal nights, 4 casual and 1 smart casual. There were actually 2 smart casual nights, not 1. Dinner was OK for the week. Again, hate to compare but not nearly up to the standards of Celebrity. We had to hail down the drink server and always ask for water instead of the ass't waiter just re-filling. This was the only disappointing part of our trip and because of it, we will probably not sail RCCL again. To give a glaring example, my husband ordered two appetizers on the final night of the cruise: risotto and soup. Only the risotto came. I'm sorry, but if you can't get the orders right ON TIP NIGHT, something is very wrong. . Anyway, we spent most of the evening in the casinos and exploring and making friends. There is no craps table but we were more than happy with the slots, roulette, blackjack and Caribbean poker. We did purchase the RCCL 12 drinks for $39.99 card which was very easy and a good deal. Also, we found MANY Americans. We thought it would be mostly Europeans and were pleasantly surprised. The ship is considered an American ship and accepts USD in the casinos. You can cash in Euros for USD but you cannot exchange USD for Euros as they are not allowed to carry. All tipping was in Euros for the tours so be sure to get some at one of your ports or before embarking. The tours are all day and long and barely time to find a cash machine. Day 1 - Dubrovnik - Beautiful Port. Very hot. A tip, the steps around the wall were quite slippy, and very steep for the unfit to negotiate.Watch out for queue at entrance to walled city as this can become congested. Day 2 - At Sea - where do I start? We went to bingo (and picked up a $150 jackpot!)..Then I entered and WON first place the slots tournament (another $150 and T-Shirt, oh and a trophy) .My husband entered the blackjack tournament and made it the final round and didn't end up on top but did win another T-Shirt. Then went to the Art Auction and finally sat by the pool having drinks (I am Swedish and very fair so the sun is not my friend - need to have other activities to keep me from burning). We packed and went to our final dinner with our wonderful table and then headed off for 'farewell' drinks with friends from the week. I believe about 2am we were winning more money at the casino as they were getting ready to 'close'. Most of the ship was asleep but you have to make the most of it while away! Day 3 - Mykonos - Loved the cobbled streets with the blossoms overhanging buildings which were all beautifuly maintained. Day 4 - Kusadasi - before starting the cruise we booked a tour from a local company called Trans Balkan Tours. we can't say enough great things about them and the tours they provided. guide was waiting for us at the port, ready to begin our day. i requested that we try to avoid the ship's buses, and they did everything possible to make sure this occurred! it was a pleasure to enjoy the same places that the ship offered at our own pace, staying as long or as short as we wanted for a fraction of the cost! the fact that we were "alone" made it much more personalized. Our guide was very knowledgeable and friendly. we will most definitely use them on future cruises and from comments made from our group, i can assure you they will also! Day 5 - Santorini - because this route arrives here on monday, the ruins at akrotiri are closed. the only tour available takes you to the picturesque town of ia (or oia in some books). visit the town on your own --- don't bother with the tour. this is one of the two big regrets of our cruise. this tour took us to the highest point of the island, the profitis illas mountain, where you can see both sides of the island, Day 6 - Corfu - Waterpark experience awesome if you are young at heart.We did this on our own as cruise company canceled due to lack of numbers. Day 7 - At sea - we needed this time off at this point. we were just about "ruin-ed out" and needed a break. we took the tour of the galley that the chef offered and had massages in the beauty salon. the dinner that night included beef tenderloin and lamb chops --- both were excellent and we celebrated over a bottle of champagne our last evening on board with two other couples we had become fast friends with. Day 8 - Headed home from the ship. We decided to get transfers from the ship to the airport at the last minute through our travel agent - what a GREAT decision! I am amazed at the organization and speed at which we were taken off the ship and onto the waiting coach buses. So worth the $19/per person cost. We checked out bags at Venice and since we were connecting in Heathrow, they actually checked our bags through to Newark! This was British Airways and we were then getting on a Virgin flight. Apparently, that is standard now to avoid having to re-claim your bags in London and then re-check. Saved so much time since we had to get from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3. Our flight from London was delayed an hour but they upgraded us to Business Class for no good reason so no problem with that! All in all, the trip was beyond our expectations! We made some wonderful friends and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Unfortunately, having cruised in Celebrity a few times, we are spoiled and RCCL did not even come close to the service and cuisine that Celebrity provided. We are very, very 'low maintenance' people but in the future, will spend the extra couple of bucks and sail on Celebrity. We heard too many complaints from other people about the dining room so it was no just 'us'. Our stateroom attendant was EXCELLENT! The bar and casino staff were wonderful and really made this an adventure we will never forget!

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May 19, 2007

Europe

Splendour of the Seas is one of the older Royal Caribbean ships. It is showing its 11 years in many ways. The carpets in the common areas are in need of replacement, which they were installing at night during the cruise, and many pipes were breaking, including one in the wall adjacent to my Junior Suite, causing us to have a wet floor in part of our cabin for the last 4 days of the cruise. The pictures in the rooms are badly faded

and much of the surfaces show many years of wear and tear. The food was not quite up to the standard I was used to on previous Royal Caribbean cruises, that I have taken to the Eastern Caribbean. I was on the larger, newer ships like Mariner of the Seas. Not that you couldn’t find some good dishes to eat, and the King and I dinning room had good service and many quality dishes, but the larger ships sailing to the Caribbean were a bit better. I can say that there is a big difference between the newer mega ships of the Royal Caribbean line and the older ones like the Splendour. The staff is also at a little different level. One of the crew admitted to me that many of the people on this ship were taken off of the better ships and assigned to this one, due to poor performance and customer relation problems. The Grand Princess was at most of the same ports at the same time as our cruise. We wished we were on her rather than the old Splendour. The ports were nice, but the excursions on the buses were long and hot since the drivers don’t seem to know how to operate air conditioning controls on the relatively new buses that were supplied. That baffles me. I am glad I went in May because the temperatures that people will experience in June through August are going to be too hot for my taste. Climbing the steps leading to the Acropolis in temperatures in the high 70s F was tolerable. But in the 90s F, would be too hot for me. Just be prepared to walk a lot in all the ports in Greece and Croatia. The other two things to do at port are jewelry shopping and eating. The food at the ports was very good wherever we went. Pricey, but good. You can’t count the number of jewelry stores at these ports. I suggest you think about buying one expensive jewelry item per person to remember your trip by, but expect to pay more that you would for a similar item in the US, and remember the fact that you’re paying the Euro conversion price, about 30% more. So to sum up, the ship was a bit of a disappointment, but acceptable as long as your cabin doesn’t flood like mine did. The ports are nice if you like to walk and see lots of ruins and go shopping for very expensive jewelry. Be nice to your fellow passengers and make lots of new friends and the whole experience will, overall, be memorable and enjoyable.

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Dec 9, 2006

Western Caribbean

Wanted to squeeze in a quick mini-vacation before Christmas and signed up for 5-day Royal Caribbean cruise on Splendour of the Seas to Western Caribbean (ports of Cozumel and Costa Maya). This was our 3rd cruise on RCCL (Mariner, Navigator, Splendour) and all have been excellent. Early December seems to offer some excellent cruise bargains. Total costs for us came to $695.50 (ocean view stateroom Deck 3 with over-55 discount) was

$269pp, plus $48.75pp pre-paid gratuities, and $30pp soda card). Add in total car rental costs of $69 one-way Enterprise from Houston Bush to Galveston and $56 one-way Hertz from Galveston to Houston Bush. Both car rentals will drop you at cruise terminal or pick you up and deliver you to their nearby office. A caution on driving from Bush (IAH) airport to cruise terminal … it will take you at least 1.5 hours to get there, and Houston rush-hour traffic rivals Los Angeles freeways in its intensity. So if you dislike stop-and-go driving, just add on the cruise line shuttle bus for $90pp instead. My wife and I were a little nervous about an ocean view room as we have previously rented balcony rooms. The splendor ocean view room had a large 4-foot picture window and it was perfect for the cooler December weather. We loved laying in bed with our pillows on the window sill and staring out at the waves. Day One: We arrived in Houston on the same day as the cruise (not recommended because of potential Houston traffic problems), collected our luggage, caught the shuttle bus to the central rental car location, collected our Enterprise rental car and made it to Galveston in record time. Then we turned the wrong direction to get to the Enterprise office (their directions to office are in reverse from cruise ship terminal as they assume you will be dropping off your luggage at the pier first). If you see signs to the Sea Wolf exhibit, you’re going in wrong direction. Enterprise dropped us at cruise terminal and we were on board in 15 minutes. Arrival process is very smooth. If you’re physically capable, just carry (roll) your luggage to your room. There are no stairs (wheel chairs must be able to make it, so your luggage certainly can) and you’ll have your luggage in time for the 6 PM main dining. We made a quick tour of the ship while awaiting departure and got our soda cards (unlimited sodas @ $6 per day versus $1.75 per drink). It was cool (65 degrees) and rainy, so the pool wasn’t very popular. Located the gym at the stern of ship on Deck 9 and worked out for an hour on the elliptical machine. They had 4 treadmills, 4 Elipticals, a half-dozen Cybex weight stations and some free weights. Also mats for Pilates and yoga. Grabbed a shower and noted the Splendour has standard shower curtain versus the much more pleasant sliding curved glass shower doors on Voyager class. We hurried up to main dining and were unpleasantly surprised to find we’d been assigned to a “small” table #060 next to a column and a server station. The dining room staff all work very hard, but their focus is on the larger tables. Also we find that half the fun of a cruise is the unusual assortment of characters that you meet at dinner. The dining on Splendour is good, but not exceptional. Personally, I prefer the Windjammer cafeteria on Deck 9 for a wider array of choices, better and faster service (it’s self-serve), and pure convenience. However, the wife prefers the main dining for the “exotic” dishes and desserts like tiramisu and baked Alaska. The layout of the 42nd Street theater was very good. Here’s a tip: if you arrive late and it’s mostly full, rather than heading down the main aisle and trying to crawl over 20 people to get to an empty seat, head to the left or right wall that appear to be “balcony” seats and you can walk all the way forward to the front 10 rows and access these seats on the “empty” side. We started hitting some small waves (4-8 ft) about 3 hrs after departure. By 9 PM, the small store on board was out of Dramamine. Day Two: This was a sea day (or sea sickness day for about half the boat) steaming towards Cozumel. Had no trouble with service as many people were in their cabins. Slept late, worked out for several hours, lazed about, attended a few comedy shows and did nothing in particular. That’s relaxation. Day Three: Woke up at 5:30 AM in anticipation of arrival in Cozumel. Repacked my scuba bag (can you say “OCD”) to verify everything present, worked out for an hour in the ship’s gym, had breakfast in Windjammer (great Mexican scrambled eggs) and we were docked alongside pier in Cozumel. Had 2 one-tank dives scheduled with Aqua Safari through ship. Don’t even waste your time trying to make separate arrangements; just go through cruise ship. Walked to end of pier and saw sign for “Scuba” by the fountain in front of Duty-Free shop. After filling out the obligatory paperwork (PADI= Paperwork And Diving In-between), we were put in a taxi for 10 minute drive up the coast to the dive shop. It was interesting to note that I felt perfectly safe at all times in Cozumel and Costa Maya despite going into some pretty off-the-beaten path areas. The only thing the locals were interested in was separating the “turistas” from their dollars. Textbook example of capitalism in action. There were only two divers (myself and a diver with Houston Sheriffs Dept) on the trip. We had an underwater videographer (Angel) and a dive master (Jose) plus the boat captain. It was a fast boat and time to dive site is just a few minutes. This was my first boat dive with backwards roll off sides and was somewhat concerned. It proved to be a non-event and quickly was enjoying the experience of diving in and out of the Playancar Caves. The fish looked like they had neon signs embedded in their skin. We saw a sea tortoise, moray eel, big fat barrel looking fish, and thousands of reef fish. This was a drift dive so the current does all the work. Second dive was at San Francisco Reef and it was equally good. I could have dived here all day and was sad that we were done by noon. This was my second time diving Cozumel and I love it. The Aqua Safari guys were great too and our tips reflected it. Incidentally they have 120 liter tanks available (compared to the standard 84 liter) if you know to ask. Since I suck air like a jet engine, this would have given me more bottom time. Bought the diving DVD from Angel and it proved to be really well done. I had promised my wife that I’d help her locate some fake Gucci, YSL, Prada, Versace, and Louis Vitton purses to give to her friends as Christmasmas presents. Unfortunately, she didn’t remember the store where she’d bought them (“it had a glass window”). We grabbed a taxi at the stand in front of pier, and tried to explain what we were seeking. Seems “replicas” is the most recognizable Spanish word for “knock-offs”. After several hours of driving to every hole-in-the-wall shop in Cozumel, we finally gave up and asked the taxi driver to drop us at the main shopping area by the Carnival pier. There is a small church in the center of the pedestrian-only mall, and if you head inland about two blocks past the church, you’ll find the area where the “replicas” are sold. Expect to pay $30-55 each depending on the number you buy, and the purse’s relative current popularity. Day Four: We were scheduled for 7AM – 2:30 PM in Costa Maya so it was a short day. I had arranged two dives through cruise line with Dream Time Divers. The taxi ride to their establishment was worth the price of the dive. Costa Maya was pure Third World about 5 years before it goes up tenfold in price and the big hotels arrive. Very primitive past the cruise pier area. Had about 9 divers on this cruise and the boat captain mentioned that everyone had cancelled the previous day because of the storm. Should have picked up on this information. The boat ride through the small opening in the reef was typically exciting where boat engine is straining against the incoming surf and pitching up into the air. We focused on readying our equipment and didn’t pay much attention to the heaving until we arrived at the first dive site (Jamaradas) and captain shut off the engines. Then it occurred to everyone they had to get out of the boat and into some pretty big waves. It turned into a comedy of errors and was 30 minutes from my entry into water until group was finally assembled and ready to go down (lost masks, broken hoses, panic, broken purge valve, etc.). Large groups definitely aren’t better and staying together in the strong current and big waves was a challenge. Descent was pretty sloppy and took a while to reassemble the group. Then our dive master headed off against the very strong current which is a poor idea for your average tourist diver. Visibility at 80 feet was poor (maybe 10 feet) with lots of sediment in the current. I’d never felt surges before and wondered how they differed from a strong current. Figured it out quickly when I was suddenly transported 15 feet down and sideways. One guy got separated and headed off on his independent scuba tour when the dive master suddenly veered left and descended into a deep channel. There was no question the other divers needed marker lights under these conditions. We resurfaced and went back to shore for mandatory surface interval. Dive master (who was Italian) spent long time screaming at the diver who had become separated. Think the brochure promises bottled water and sodas on board. Forget it as it doesn’t happen. Also bring a spare mask, extra O-rings, strobe or marker light, etc as this scuba shop and boat operator not likely to have extras. Second dive at Punta Tam had even worse visibility than the first. Several divers elected to stay on the boat or quit early. My most memorable experience was the safety stop as there was no reference line, float, or boat visible for visual reference. Surrounded by nothing but bubbles and sediment below a pounding surf was an interesting experience in controlling depth. Thankfully no one had brought along young children. Passed some off-road dune buggies in our small taxi on the way back to pier. It looked so sad. There were 20-30 two-person dune buggies traveling in tight formation between a lead and trail pickup truck from the rental agency. Several 5 year olds were driving as the speed clearly never exceeded their age. I feel all Americans have the inalienable right to kill themselves while hurtling through jungle over trails they’ve never seen before behind the wheel of an airborne motorcycle, ATV or dune buggy. Made a mental note to never take the dune buggy excursion, but it might be perfect for families that enjoy the Tea Cup ride at Disneyland. If you want more excitement, try the “open throttle” wave runner ride excursion in Labadee, Haiti. The captain announced during the evening meal that we’d be passing Cozumel on our way back to Galveston around 8:30 PM. We went up on deck at the appointed time and watched the lights of Cozumel slip by in the distance. The shows and headliners were all very good. Was very disappointed to miss the “Quest” adult game show. If you have never been to one, then you simply must go. We arrived about 10 minutes before starting time and there was not even standing room in the Top Hat lounge. Went to bed around midnight. Day Five: This was scheduled to be a sea day on the transit back to Galveston. My wife woke me around 7:30 AM staring out the window and commenting on a small two-person run about she saw. Did a quick computation and realized we should be near the center of the Gulf of Mexico. Within a few minutes we had counted 5 small fishing boats. This made no sense as they simply do not have the range. Went up to breakfast and overheard that a young female dining room attendant had contracted appendicitis and the captain had turned the ship around and headed back to Cozumel during the night and had dropped her off. Later learned she was medically evacuated by plane to Houston for surgery. Was most impressed that RCCL would do this given the obvious costs in fuel, extra day at sea, life flight, etc. Day Six: Here’s a new one … Day Six on a 5-day cruise. We were scheduled to get in to Galveston at 4 PM. Just an hour before ship normally departs. RCCL had generously offered to pay up to $100pp rebooking charges on airlines for passengers who had not made air arrangements through them, plus another $100pp for overnight hotel costs if they had missed their flights. Since we had allowed an extra day in Galveston at the end of cruise, it had minimal impact on us. The departure was a real mess. We had to clear out of the staterooms 2.5 hrs before arrival in Galveston. Everyone had colored tags and a scheduled departure time, but there was no one enforcing it and arrival turned into a typical zoo of 1800 people all trying to get off the ship at one time (and a third had their luggage). It caused mass gridlock and we spent another hour moving 30 feet towards the gangplank. It was 6 PM when we finally got through US Customs and to front of cruise terminal. Cruises can be a real bargain in cost compared to all-inclusive land vacations to similar destinations. There is also the convenience of unpacking once for the entire vacation while your “hotel” does the traveling. Another pleasant difference is that the ship’s room attendants quietly and unobtrusively make your room when you go to breakfast or otherwise are absent for a few minutes. Not once did I have the unpleasant pounding on the door from “Room Service, It’s 9 AM and we gotta make your room now” that seems a staple of hotel stays on land. All in all, my only regret was that I’d have preferred a 7-day cruise instead of a 5-day cruise.

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Nov 30, 2006

Mexico

Intro: This is our third cruise, 2nd with RCI, and 2nd on Splendour of the Sea. I’ll give brief daily synopsis as having a 2 year old limited our activities. At the end a few category items. Pre Boarding: We stayed the night at the local Holiday Inn, with a 2 and 4 year old we did not want restless little ones while boarding the ship. So we came a day early and this was money well spent. 100 bucks and we parked at the hotel. They

shuttled us to the ship and back. This was the most effortless way we have sailed. Well worth getting there a day early and leaving the car at the hotel. Boarding: Our shuttle left the hotel at 11:30am. We had a 5pm sailing but the ship was ready to receive passengers at 11am. Check-in took all of 20 minutes. We roamed the ship and had lunch on board in the Windjammer. I don’t remember specifically what we had but it was good. Our rooms were ready around 1pm. NOTE: The Windjammer looks to have been fully renovated as all the buffet lines were new and repositioned. It was a much more efficient process to get through the lines and all the food for the entire cruise was always hot. Sail-away (Evening 1) We ate in the windjammer for dinner as well. With the pickiness of a 2 and 4 year old, this works well. I had the Chicken Cordon Bleu and it was very tasty. With children we basically skipped all the shows for the week, sorry. Day 2: Sea Day: We were able to get our 4 year old plugged into Adventure Ocean and she had a blast for the rest of the cruise. They had activities from arts and crafts, to science experiments. If you have a 2 year old, you may want to leave them home until they are 3 and potty trained. Otherwise this greatly alters your cruise experience. It was just far easier to skip all adult activities than to try and schedule onboard sitters 24 hours in advance. I did get the chance to play a round of miniature golf with my nephew on deck 10, a pretty good time. Day 3 Cozumel: Typical Cozumel. We skipped booking an excursion. We got a cab for 13 bucks, went to paradise beach. Had drinks and fed 4 adults and 4 kids snacks for 60 bucks. Taxi back to the pier another 13 bucks for 4 people. Shopped around for a few hours. Had lunch at Ponchos Back Yard, do not miss this place, and get the tamales. Shopped some more. Note: The ship had to anchor and use tender boats, this always sucks, no reflection of the cruise line, using tender boats just stinks. Day 4 at sea: Again, having a pre 3 year old, limits your activities. We spent the day roaming the ship, playing video games, reading, and eating. Leaving the movies because you will wait. Just don’t be in a hurry to get anywhere and you won’t be frustrated. We were off 10 minutes before our scheduled time but it was still 10:20 before we saw customs/immigration. This was smooth and we were processed in about 5 minutes. I recommend when you leave your room, go have some breakfast in one of the dinning areas. Because you have to leave your room at 7am. If you are on deck 2 this means you are last off the ship, usually around 9:30, so find some place comfy to sit. Food: You can find something to eat. I prefer the windjammer because I don’t care for the formality of dining room service. I like to grab my food and go. After 2 trips on Splendour, I have found all the food I have tried to be good to excellent. Entertainment: While we did not go to any of the shows, the past cruise was pretty good as far as the shows go in the 42nd street Theater. Overall: I just like the Splendour Of The Seas, she is a good sized ship for us. Not so big that we get lost and not too small that she moves all over the place while sailing. Good food, Good service, Good time…..

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Aug 13, 2006

Western Caribbean

Just returned today from a week long cruise starting off in Venice, Athens (port of Pireus, Kusadasi in Turkey, Heraklion in Crete and finally visiting Corfu. I really had to post this sooner rather than later whilst I still have the holiday feeling! I went on holiday with my husband, my three young daughters and my parents. We had an absolutely fantastic time. This was our third cruise and beats our previous cruises we went on some

ten years ago hands down. The staff were friendly and helpful. We had a stateroom with a view outside which was on the small side, but there were four of us sleeping in two sets of bunk beds so what could we expect!! My parents and one of my daughters also had a stateroom further along than ours which seemed a lot cooler than ours, our air conditioning in the room had a lot of work to do!! The only other minor criticism is that the hairdryer kept overheating and turning itself off after 2 or 3 minutes, but it was not really a problem. The shower in the bathroom however was very good and there was adequate storage space in the room. Overall the food was very good, although we ate most evenings (main seating) in the King and I Dining Room and the food was never very hot. Our waiter did advise us each evening which selection to choose and he was pretty accurate. The food in the Windjammer was good and plentiful and looked appealing. The egg chef was our favorite and makes a mean omelet! The ship was constantly being cleaned inside and out by staff and was immaculate. Overall our experience was a fantastic one and we would book to go on the Splendour again without hesitation.

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Apr 10, 2006

Western Caribbean

This was our first cruise and we pretty quickly booked a second one. We did this for a spring break trip. The date may not be exact. The sea days were great. The boarding was quick and efficient. We boarded at about 3:00pm for a 5:00pm departure after walking around Galveston for a couple of hours. Our room was clean and the room attendant met us in the hallway, took the time to greet us, and learned the children’s names and remembered

them for the remainder of the cruise. The towel animals were fantastic and it took us quite a while to find the monkey. We all had a blast with the towel animals. We had an outside stateroom and it was nice to be able to see outside. We have not stayed in an inside cabin, but we can’t go without a window (our next cruise will be a balcony room, to hear the ocean). The seas were rough on the first couple of nights and on the second morning our 6 year old became sea sick at breakfast, but quickly recovered and participated in the Adventure Ocean activities for the rest of the day and had no further problems. It was really neat leaving Galveston and entering the Gulf of Mexico and seeing the other ships and the oil drilling rigs. Dinners were great in the King and I. We found ourselves ordering several of the entrees and trying a little of each one. There was no such thing as a small portion. The same held true for desserts. We could not have been happier with the wait staff. All three members were out of this world. Our 6 year old complained on the first night that there were no green crayons. On the second night there were 5, although the children ate with the Adventure Ocean group that night. The wait staff remembered our names and made sure to address us by name. They took care of our every want. They had our drinks down by the second day and had them waiting. If one member of the wait staff was busy one of the others would take care of us. The staff sang to the dining room on 2 occasions. Our table being in the middle of the dining room gave us a great seat, but the first time it happened our waitress announced it and we thought they were singing to us because we had ordered all the desserts that night. There was also an occasion when the younger children dressed as pirates and paraded through the dining room. The one day we had lunch in the King and I we were treated very well and our head waiter was part of the lunch staff. He remembered us in all the dining rooms and greeted us each time. The other lunches and breakfast were generally in the Windjammer and were very good. On several occasions we would try little bits at the Windjammer in addition to our regular meals. We did have lunch on our day in Cozumel and had a pretty good lunch at Carlos and Charlie's and at one of the restaurants near the pool in Costa Maya. The outdoor pools were fun, but it was strange to be in a pool with salt water. The kids loved it and due to the rough seas the pools became wave pools. The pools were occasionally cool, but the hot tubs were nice. The fitness center was well equipped and provided nice views while working out. The walking track was short, but it was generally open and provided great early morning walks at sunrise. There were occasions when the track became clogged later in the day with sunbathers as the weather was fantastic for our entire trip. We did not have any rain and aside from the wind it was great. There were generally plenty of seats around the pool for sunbathing and reading. Towels were an issue at times. There were times when the towel people made you feel like you were signing away your life, but there were also many times when the towel bins by the pools were unattended. We were a little late for excursions in Cozumel (pay close attention to the times). So we just walked around Cozumel and had a good time (put several miles on our shoes that day). We thought it was going to rain so we grabbed a taxi (which was fine). In Costa Maya we did a snorkeling adventure and it was a positive experience (questionably worth the price). They took you to the spot on a nice comfortable bus and the tour through the countryside was very interesting and informative. We were on the level of the Seattle’s Best Coffee and the service there was on an even par with the dining room staff. The attendant learned our names and preferences quickly. We saw a couple of the shows and they were fun. We spent $20 in the casino and enjoyed it. Overall it was a fantastic experience and we would recommend it for any one who wants a great trip. Our tips were well worth what they charge, but we found it annoying to have them automatically added to everything.

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Mar 13, 2006

Western Caribbean

This was my first cruise, and my husband's too. We booked the cruise last-minute, one week before actually! We had the MOST amazing time. I was pleasantly surprised by the cabin -- a junior suite. Contrary to other reveiws I have read, the balcony was plenty big. The food was not the best I have ever had, but come on people, what do you expect? It is a boat first of all. Secondly, you are paying (in our case) $1200 per person for 5

nights accommodation, including ALL your meals and snacks. How good did you expect the food to be??? We had lobster and steak and many other nice choices for dinner. The buffet was fine as long as you went earlier rather than later so that the temperature of the food was still good. The staff was great -- our stateroom attendant was a HOOT! Our waiters were amazing. The spa was fantastic -- best massage I have ever had. Maybe I am naive because it was my first cruise, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.

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Mar 6, 2006

Bahamas

My husband, Randy, and I just returned from our 4 night cruise to the Bahamas on Sovereign of the Seas. We loved it! I had read several reviews on here that had negative aspects, but after cruising on Sovereign, I could find nothing really to complain about. I will separate my review into sections, as it might be more helpful. The Ship: As a first time cruiser, I was awestruck by the ship! It really is beautiful. When I first walked

on board, there was the Centrum, which is 4 decks high, with a glass elevator, curving staircase, and tons of atmosphere! Very elegant! I had heard about stains in other reviews, but I didn’t notice any that were that bad. The ones I saw were in heavily treaded areas, which makes sense to me. Try having 3,000 people walking on your carpet every week and see how clean it stays. As for odors that I had heard about, especially on the lower decks, there were none! And I mean NONE! We never smelled any kind of odor or sewage smell… and believe me, I was definitely preparing for it. The Stateroom: We were in an inside stateroom on the 3rd Deck (which on the ship is “A Deck”) and we were very pleased. Our stateroom attendant, Emanuel, went out of his way for me on the first day. He brought an egg crate to put on the bed to make the ridge in the middle less noticeable. It was very comfortable! He also brought me a fan, which sounds silly, but it meant a lot to me since we always sleep with one. We had two towel animals while we were there, and Emanuel always replaced our towels with new ones, turned down our beds at night, etc. It was perfect! The room was small, but I was prepared for that, so it wasn’t that bad. If you go in with a good attitude, I think you will be fine. The Entertainment: We went to several events on board, mostly at night, since we were beach / pool bums during the day. The first night we went to Rodney Johnson’s comedy show, and he was very funny! He was funny without being vulgar, which was good since there were a lot of children around. We also went to two productions that RC’s singers and dancers put on: Flashback and Dancing through the Movies. We loved both of them, especially a singer named Renata. She was fabulous! Every time she sang I got goose bumps! We didn’t go to Dueling Pianos, which I really wanted to do and heard was great. We went to Dancing Under the Stars, which had a great buffet, and lots of good music. The best part was the midnight Chocolate Buffet… that was awesome! It was beautiful and I got some good pictures. Make sure you don’t miss it! The Dining: I was also looking forward to this, since I had mixed reviews about the food. The only thing I have to say is if you leave hungry, it is your own fault. We ate in the Windjammer every morning, and Randy really enjoyed it. He told me that I need to cook for him every morning like that! HA! In the afternoons, we ate at Windjammer each afternoon or at Sorrento’s pizza. I usually ate at Sorrento’s because it was easier for me! Grab some pizza and go back to the lounge chair and the sun! We never ate at Johnny Rockets, and never talked to anyone who did, so we have no idea what it was like. We were in the Mirage Dining Room on Deck 4. Anthony from the Phillipines was our waiter, Eduardo from Venezuela was our assistant waiter, and Tbolt from Hungary was our head waiter and they were all perfect. Our menu was as follows: Appetizers – Tomato Bisque (Very good) Shrimp Cocktail (Good) Seafood Risotto (Excellent!) New England Clam Chowder (Excellent!) Dinners: Atlantic Cod (Good) Filet of Beef with Peppercorn Gravy (Very Good) Tiger Shrimp (Very Good) NY Strip (Very Good) Desserts: Tiramisu (Good) Apple Pie A la Mode (Good) Cheesecake (Good) Key Lime Pie (Good) All of the food was really wonderful! The whole dining experience was great for us, and we were completely in awe of how courteous the staff was with us under every circumstance! The itinerary: We were supposed to go to CocoCay first, but since the winds were high, we went to Nassau first. We actually got an overnight there, which was neat. We didn’t get off the boat at all in Nassau because we were there to relax. We sat on the boat while all the “spring break” partiers were on the island. CocoCay was amazing! When you get on the island, turn left toward all the chairs… then go right for a long time and eventually it gets to a really secluded part of beach. There are hammocks everywhere and beach chairs galore! It’s quiet and so relaxing! The water is amazing! All in all, this was an incredible vacation! Randy even said he would definitely go again, which is a big plus! Go, enjoy yourselves! Go in with a good attitude and you will have a great time!

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Feb 9, 2006

Western Caribbean

A note to fellow winter travellers-we found out why you can obtain bargain fairs during this time period! Read on for an explanation. This was my second cruise out of Galveston on Royal Caribbean ship. The first was on Rhapsody of the Seas with my husband and two sons, ages 10 and 12, in July of 2003 and was a wonderful experience for all. This cruise on Splendour started great. Boarding the ship went very smoothly, although my traveling

companion and I were a little irritated that although the vans that shuttle you from the parking lot to the pier specified "no luggage carried on" there were several individuals allowed to board the vans with all of their luggage. The correct procedure was to drive to the pier, drop off your luggage, then drive to the parking lot, pay a $45 or $60 fee (depending on whether you wanted covered parking or not) and catch the van back to the ship. We boraded the ship about 3:00 for a 6:00 departure. The cruise line specified that you should not board before 2:00, but we talked with several passengers who boarded about 11:30 and took advantage of a lunch buffet in the Windjammer. Our room was ready when we boarded, and our luggage was delivered about 3:30. We had an interior cabin on Deck 8 with two twin beds and also two bunks which could be pulled down to accommodate 4 in the cabin. The bathroom is basically an airplane bathroom with a shower--not very roomy, but adequate. the only issue we had with the cabin was that there was no alarm clock and with an interior cabin, was pitch black dark with all the lights off, no matter what the time of day or night. I would recommend bringing a lighted clock. There was a hair dryer provided in the cabin, but no toiletries. Drawer space and closet space were adequate for two passengers. We had the early seating in the dining room, The King and I, and my traveling companion and I shared a table for 10 with 8 others, all couples from the greater Houston area ranging in age from 40's to 60's. Most of the diners at teh first seating were in that general age range. There were a few families, but due to the time of year, not that many young children on board. The age group of the second seating at 8:30 appeared a bit younger--more of the 20's-30's crowd. I saw less tables available for 2 and 4 passengers than I had seen on the Rhapsody. Food was great, but not excellent, on all 4 nights. Our service was wonderful--our waiter and assistant were very attentive and we saw our headwaiter at least twice during every dinner. One night, he even cut up my chicken for me! One cute note--the first night one of our table mates ordered "nothing" for dessert and received a plate with "nothing" written in icing. We had one formal night and three casual nights. On formal night, the attire ranged from long dresses and tuxedos to open collared shirts and khakis for the men and casual pants outifts for the women. It doesn't appear the formal attire is required, but it is fun to dress up at least once. We chose to eat breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer, which has a buffet of some sort going most of the day and evening. Lots of selection and everything appeared fresh. One day, we ate lunch in the Solarium, which had a selection of burgers, pizza, and hot dogs. One complaint--although you are not charged for water, iced tea, and lemonade, you cannot readily find these beverages anywhere except in the Windjammer and the dining room. You are charged for bottled water, and there are signs stating that you cannot refill the bottles for health reasons. Also, you can buy a soda package for $4 a day for children and $6 a day for adults that offers you unlimited sodas. They give you a cup, but also put a sticker on your Sea Pass that all the bars will accept if you don't want to carry around your cup. Now-on to why you can get a good deal during the winter. The weather was not good for our 4 day sailing. We left Thursday evening in about 65 degree weather and wind. Our Compass--the schedule that shows the daily activates--told us the weather our Friday at sea would be sunny and 85, so we dressed accordingly--and had to go back to the cabin and change into sweaters and jeans as it was about 65 degrees and windy due to the speed of the boat. It was sunny, and some brave souls braved the poolside, but my deck chair and drink both blew over, so I only lasted about an hour. Those that tried to walk on Deck 10 were almost blown off when heading into the wind! The indoor pool at the Solarium was very crowded and cold--the hot tubs were pleasant, but not what I would call hot--most people chose the hot tubs over the pool. Indoor activates were therefore very popular--there is a good sized casino, art auctions, daily Bingo (beware--they charge $35 per session for 5 or 6 games), of course bars--our favorite was the Schooner Bar where there was live entertainment in the evenings from a friendly guitar player who always remembered our names. The shows were adequate but not excellent--I felt the entertainment on the Rhapsody was superior. We had a comedian the first night, a musical review the second night, what I would call a "lounge singer" the third night, and an acrobatic group the last night. Saturday was our day in Cozumel--our only port. Attend the shopping talk on Friday--it was very worthwhile for maps and directions, but lasted an amazing 1 and 1/2 hours, with a lot of advertising included. We did not stay for the entire talk. Thankfully, the weather in Cozumel was about 80 degrees and partly cloudy, and we were able to take our planned shore excursion of a clear kayak and snorkeling, booked through RCCL. What they did not tell us--the beaches in Cozumel are pretty well gone--wiped out by Hurricane Wilma. Our excursion went to Playa Uva, which has a lot of damage, and you could tell the small beach area was man made. Beach shoes are a must--you have to literally climb over rocks to get into the water, and most people on this excursion were disappointed, as the snorkeling is not good--very few fish. also, the docks were damaged and are being rebuilt, so you have to tender in, which is time consuming. The first tenders are very crowded, but if you wait until after 9:30, there is no line. Try to come back by about 3:30, because after that the lines get long. The last tender is at 5:30 and the ship sailed about 6:30. The shopping areas in Cozumel don't appear to have been affected by the hurricanes--there were three ships in port the day we were there and shopping was very crowded. Bargaining is okay in most of the small shops, but beware of bargains in jewelery. My friend was going to buy a tanzanite pendant for a great price but decided to look elsewhere--and then discovered that what she was looking at was imitation. Stick to the shops suggested by the cruise line for serious jewelery purchases. We made an obligatory stop at Carlos and Charlies for a drink before getting back on the ship--lots of fun but women travelling alone need to watch out for the locals--we were approached several times even though we were both wearing wedding rings! Our worst weather occurred Sunday morning beginning at 3:30 a.m.--very high winds of close to 50 mph and 15-20 ft. seas. The bad weather lasted through lunchtime Sunday--about 8 hours--and many on the boat were seasick, including myself and my travelling companion. Note--we borrowed seasick patches from one of our dinner table mates--these worked great, but made us very sleepy. Also, you need to put them on 4 hours in advance of when you need them. A clerk in the gift shop, who was having a run on Dramamine, blamed the captain for the rough trip, saying that he runs the boat too fast and is not willing to go around storms in order to keep on schedule--I suppose this is a problem on a 4 day cruise--not a lot of extra time built in. Due to the weather and rough seas, all outdoor activities were cancelled and both pools were drained. The best place on the ship to ride out bad weather--as low as you can get and as near to the center of the boat as you can get. For me, this meant a couch on Deck 4 overlooking the Centrum for about 4 hours--so I got to see an entire art auction and a cooking demonstration. My traveling companion spent the time in the Casino, which she enjoyed but I did not--very smoky and crowded. After a two hour nap around 2:00, the seas had calmed down, and dinner and the show were enjoyable. this is the night that you pass out all of your tips to your waiters and cabin steward--I would suggest using the prepaid voucher program--the vouchers are delivered to your cabin and you put them in their respective envelopes. We spoke to some people the last day that did not use the vouchers and then had run out of cash to use for tips. I also had a massage in the spa that evening. Book early, because on a 4 day cruise, everything fills up quickly. The spa was very nice--prices for a massage or a facial were comparable to what I would pay in Houston. Our bags needed to be outside by 10:30p.m. that evening, but I don't think luggage was actually picked up until after midnight. Monday morning back in Galveston: there is no room service the last morning, and everyone must vacate cabins by 7:00--so there is a big run on breakfast between 7 and 7:30. Luckily, our waiter the last night told us to get to breakfast--either in the dining room or the Windjammer before 7:00. He was right--we went at 6:45 to the Windjammer and had no trouble getting a table. Be prepared to sit awhile--we were one of the first groups to disembark, and that was about 8:00. You must then retrieve your luggage and go through customs. This took about another hour. Another problem with the van service to the parking lots--I left my traveling companion with the luggage and rode the van to retrieve my car and pick her and the luggage up back at the pier--but there were many people getting on the vans with all of their luggage. Also, the van ride decided to take a very long route around the Strand when the parking lot was just across the street--once we actually got to the van lot 20 minutes later, it was a a short 2 minute drive back to the pier to collect my travelling companion and luggage. All in all, not the best cruise I have taken and I would probably not choose to take another cruise in the winter months. It is a good weekend getaway, though, and would have been pleasant if we had better weather. However, my traveling companion, a first time cruiser from Colorado, was very impressed and would take this cruise again.

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Jan 26, 2006

Western Caribbean

First I would like to say that sailing from Galveston is a breeze. If you are within driving distance of Galveston, Texas, it is great not to have to deal with the airports! There is lots of parking available. This time we parked in “Parking lot D” and the cost for parking for a 5-day sailing was $45.00 paid in advance. They have a shuttle that will take you to the ship with luggage or without if you drop off your luggage in advance.

Boarding in Galveston was smooth. They have a separate check in line for Platinum and Diamond past passengers and they have a separate line for handicapped. Cabin: We had an ocean view cabin on this cruise on deck 6. It was midship and very convenient to the elevators and stairs and it was just around the corner from the “Seattle’s Best” coffee shop! The window in this cabin was huge! I missed not having a balcony…but this was the next best thing! The cabin has a small desk and chair and even a small loveseat and table. The bathroom had a lot of storage inside the mirror and a caddy in the shower area for more storage. The room also has a safe (no charge) and an ice bucket that the cabin steward always kept full. This category does not have a refrigerator. They provide a hair dryer…but never enough outlets so be sure to bring an outlet strip and extension cord to plug in your curling iron, cell phone, digital camera, video camera, cd player etc……….I would also recommend a small flashlight so you can find the bathroom at night in the very dark cabin! Also, always remember to bring a travel size clock since there are no clocks in the room. Food: There was always plenty of food available. On the first day the Windjammer buffet stayed open until 4:30 pm with lunch and then the Solarium grill opened at 5:30pm. The first night we were tired and our luggage did not arrive right away. Be sure to have anything you may need in the first few hours in your carry on. On a few of the nights we went to the Windjammer for the dinner buffet and found that it was very good and there were waiters to pick up plates and stations that were both carving meat and cooking to order fajitas or crepes on different nights. As good as the dining room is…the Windjammer dinner buffet on Royal Caribbean ships is a well-kept secret…..until now……. They offer pretty much everything that is on the dining room menu and it is plentiful, fresh, you can dress however you like, and it is a whole lot quicker than the dining room and of course there is no surcharge to eat there. I am a traditionalist and have been on many, many cruises……but even I can see the benefits to this more casual style. They also offered a grill area by the Solarium pool that had pizza and burgers and fries. This ship does not have any alternative surcharge restaurants…except the Seattle’s Best coffee shop and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop. The ship: The Spendour of the Seas is a great size at 70,000 tons….easy to get around and easy to get to know. The ship is clean and well kept. The lounges are nice….they try to keep the smokers separate…..it doesn’t work in the Schooner Bar, it was too small and smoky for me. It worked better in the Viking Crown because it is a bigger area. The main pool area is very nice, it has the shallow ledge around the pool, which is nice to sit out in or walk in to cool off. This ship has a small work out area and a nice sauna and steam room in the ladies locker room. The spa is rather large and has many treatment rooms. We got a good work out just walking around the ship on the upper deck in the wind. Be sure to bring a jacket with a hood or a headband so you will be able to tolerate the wind if you want to take walks. Cozumel: We were really glad that the ship was going to Cozumel. This is one of my favorite ports and I was anxious to see what is going on there. This port has come a long way in the recovery after all they have been through. I have seen pictures that were taken in the days just following the hurricane and I can tell you what I saw on January 28 was a miracle! They have made this port spot clean in the shopping area with new paint, new foliage, new roofs etc…. it looks even better then before! Now don’t get me wrong….they still have a lot to do with the piers and hotels that were destroyed but for what a tourist will do for a day from the ship the tours and shopping are up and running. The ships are tendering into town. Our ship tendered in to the Punta Lagosta pier and we exited out of the port area right across for Carlos and Charlie’s which is up and running. They are using the very large 2 level tenders so they can transport a lot of people at a time and it seems to run smoothly and is a quick ride. We spent our day shopping with lunch at Casa Dennis and then took an afternoon boat through Dive Paradise with divers and snorkelers. It was a great day. I could really see the devastation of the piers from the dive boat trip. It is still hard to imagine (even though I saw it with my own eyes) that the whole International pier is gone! This is the pier that the Carnival ships all dock at and there was a huge shopping complex on this pier………it is all gone, (for now). This island is resilient and is bounding back. They need the support of tourism and the ships. Check out www.diveparadise.com for any snorkeling or diving excursions that you may be interested in. The owner has been a friend for many years and can use our support. If you have any questions, or need help planning your cruise, I would happy to assist. Email me at [email protected] Bon Voyage

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Dec 10, 2005

7 Day Western Caribbean

The trip from Hell! This was our second cruise with Royal Caribbean, the first was for 7 nights on the Rhapsody of the Seas and we just loved the experience. This short 5 day trip on the Splendour of the Seas was to be a break from the stress of the Christmas season. We left Galveston on the 10th of December 2005. In this review I want to be as fair to Royal Caribbean (RC) as possible because some things were beyond their control. First,

the good. The check in and embarking was excellent. Passengers were allowed to start boarding a few minutes after 11:00 a.m. The Windjammer Café started serving lunch just after noon, but coffee and tea was available shortly after 11:30. Most of the staff in the Windjammer were very helpful and pleasant to passengers. We talked with some of the other passengers who agreed the staff in the Windjammer and in general throughout the ship did not seem happy – few smiling faces on this ship. The outside wall of our cabin was glass so we had a beautiful view of the water and ports from the cabin. The stateroom was very comfortable and our attendant, Ranea Edwards, kept everything in perfect order. The cabin had more than adequate drawer space but as usual the hanging of clothing is a little tight. The bathroom was small but very nice. In “The King and I” main dining room the food was excellent and the service was very good. Our waiter was “Chander” from India and his assistant was “Emil” from Bulgaria. Chander and Emil were without a doubt the class of the main dinning room. In looks no one in Hollywood can compare with Chander and Emil and all of the ladies definitely notice them. The only problem was the number of staff members was short and all of the waiters and assistants were handling two or three tables. However, they keep up with everyone and we could not have asked for better service. We were seated at a table of eight and our tablemates were from Texas. Don and Jane had their son, Dan, and his girlfriend Tabitha with them. Dan’s friend Heath and his girlfriend Michelle, who just happens to be Tabitha’s best friend, rounded out our table. The staff performed a song on several of the evenings and did their best to keep us entertained. One thing that bothered me was the failure to enforce rules on the night of the formal dinner. Many of the diners were dressed the same as other nights – this was the same on the Rhapsody of the Seas. I believe it is time for RC to enforce the formal dining or go with casual dining during the cruise. While many of us look forward to formal night it may have out lived it time? Several of the shows were very good but their headliner was Elaine Lesley, who seems to want to be a cross between Tina Turner and Tom Jones – I walked out on the third song. She had just finished touring Europe with Willie Nelson. No one I talked with seemed to care for the show. On the first night they had a comedian named Tom Briscoe who was very good and the ship talk was that everyone enjoyed his show. He was followed on stage by “The Amazing juggling of David & Diana Dillon” and they were just great. The best show was done on the 2nd night by the RC singers & dancers when they did a big band show called “Jump Jivin’ Swing”. The ship had a number of entertainment events throughout the days and evenings. However, due to weather the outdoor pool, spas, and other outdoor areas were not used as much as would normally be the case. The casino appeared to be larger than on the Rhapsody, which is a larger ship. There were a number of bars or other places on the ship for drinkers and I can say that I saw more drinking on this ship than on the Rhapsody. Maybe it was the cold weather. Now for the bad. The Sun did not really shine until the last day of the cruise – not something RC could control. Most everyone wore sweaters, jackets, or sweat-suits during the first two days. The food in the Windjammer was simply, terrible. I talked with a large number of people during this cruise and only one person said the food was good. Everyone else said it was the worst they have encountered on any cruise, with any cruise line. Many of the passengers started going to the main dining room for breakfast and lunch. It is really bad when everyone agrees about the coffee being really below par – actually it was some of the worst coffee I have ever had the displeasure of drinking. In Cozumel it rained at mid-day but was pleasant otherwise. As for Cozumel it should be avoided if possible. The hotels fronting the beach were destroyed as was some of the shopping plaza located at the pier. To say the least this did not look like the same Cozumel we visited on our prior cruise in March 2005. The piers were destroyed by Wilma, thus, requiring passengers to be tendered into the port. The waters were quite rough and really caused some problems getting passengers from the ship to the tenders and back to the ship. Many of the shore excursions were not an option at Cozumel since the reefs have been rendered useless for snorkeling. We met a couple who were extremely unhappy and demanding to see the Captain of the Splendour due to a shore excursion. The man stayed on the ship to care for their small child and the lady took the Dolphin Encounter trip. The Cozumel Dolphin area was also destroyed by Wilma so the Dolphin Encounter is now on the mainland 45-minutes from the pier. However, when the lady was returned from the mainland she was put off in downtown Cozumel (much of the town was destroyed) and having spent all of her money buying items at the Dolphin area she ended up having to walk 3 miles back to the Splendour. We heard a few other such horror stories from other passengers. The photography area really needs help on this ship. They failed to get everything set up and many of us missed the pictures normally taken while embarking in Galveston. The same thing happened in Cozumel. Then to make matters worse the photographers lost some of the rolls of film taken during formal night and from what I heard another photo session. During the Captain’s reception we went in the right door and pictures were being taken, with the Captain, inside the left door – supposedly we were to be told but were not. When people inquired about the pictures not displayed from formal night the staff lied and said their machine was broken but would be repair before arriving back in Galveston. On the last night they started telling people the rolls of film were lost. How about telling the truth to start with? On the last day I noticed that I had a “bar tab” charge and since we did not drink I talked with the desk and they had two people spend 28 minutes trying to prove that I purchased the drinks, but could not. They finally agreed to remove the charge but would keep checking after getting other passenger problems cleared up. The amount was just under $5, which I would have paid just to stop the confusion – they seemed to waste a lot of time for the small charge. The lady behind me said “remember if everyone was over charged a small amount the ship could make a great deal of easy money”. The debarking was a nightmare. We left the ship an hour and a half later than expected and then stood in line for another 30 minutes waiting to clear customs. As a total review I would give an “A” rating to the main dining room, staterooms, and embarkation personnel. A generous “B” for ship staff and things to do on board. Entertainment a “C”, food “C” because of the high quality in the main dining room. The photo staff, excursion staff and pursers staff, as well as the debarkation procedures “F”. The total package of Cozumel and Costa Maya “C” and the shops on the ship “B”. The total cruise I would be generous in giving a “C”.

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Nov 12, 2005

Transatlantic Crossing Westbound

Translation kindly supported by Petra and Andreas Halamoda arrival: Flight with Lufthansa German Airlines from Düsseldorf, Germany to Barcelona, Spain without any problems; arrival in Barcelona at 9.30 am, reception and luggage pick- up by RCCL- service staff at the airport. We had to wait about 20 minutes for the arrival of some more fellow cruise passengers on another flight. We got in a bus together with some more german passengers

and some american passengers, who had just arrived at another terminal. Because of our early arrival we had a little sightseeing tour of Barcelona for free which took about 1 ½ hours. Unfortunately it was raining all the time and there weren't any photo stops. However at all attractions were already long waiting lines, although day time was still early. Arrival in the port of Barcelona was at 11.30 am, the check-in procedure took approximately 10 minutes, very fast. The corridors and hallways to the cabins were blocked by boards, telling that the cabins would be ready no sooner than approximately 1.00 pm, which was acceptable for us. So we had an early lunch in the Windjammer Cafe and took a first look around the ship. cabin: (KabineI2, I4)"large" inside cabin, # 7583, large is pretty over the top (see photo) with 149 sq.ft. After the cabin attendant changed the double- bed- configuration into two single beds alongside to the walls was enough space to use the cabin, first with the double- bed it wasn't. Wall closet had acceptable space, but only to hang up clothes, there were no shelves for shirts or other clothes inside. Only 3 bigger and 4 smaller drawer cabinets and 4 drawers near the beds. Bathroom was of normal size, with space below the washing stand and behind the mirror. The cabin is equipped with one arm chair, one chair and a small writing desk, a safe, a refrigerator is missing. When asking the front desk about the cabin size, they told us that the Splendour has the smallest cabins in the fleet (which is wrong) and we should be lucky, because we have obtained a larger cabin (normal inside cabin 138 sq. ft.). We asked for a larger outside cabin and they replied, that they all were booked out. This also was not correct. Later during the cruise I received a list from the Cruise Director for my review about the passengers and the nationalities. Partly refurbishment: the cabin had been partly refurbished during our cruise. It was done within 2 hours. Unfortunately we had not been informed, that our cabin was part of the refurbishment of 547 cabins. So they left after having made a mess with our clothes lying on the arm chair. Partly refurbishment means, that the arm chair and chair got new covers, as well as the head board and new curtains in front of the beds. New carpets will layed during the next weeks. But to me the choice of colors was not the best, it doesn´t really match together. A specialist company from Finland has been on board for this refurbishment with its own workshop. As a counterexample, the superior inside cabin measures 172 sq. ft. and the balcony cabin has 193 sq. ft. plus 38 sq. ft. balcony. Passenger Nationalities: 1.572 passengers from 30 nations. USA: 931, United Kingdom: 335, Canada: 86, Germany: 56, Netherlands: 45, Mexico: 23 and the rest from many different countries ranging from Australia to Uruguay. Decks: passenger decks 2, 3, 6, 7 and 8 Deck 1: medical facilities and ship entrance and exit while in port. Deck 3: conference - center, newly refurbished Deck 4: Atrium (atrium 1 and 2), open from deck 4 up to deck 8, very tasteful, with pastel shaded green and blue armchairs and sofas and glass- tables. Champagnebar: enclosed by beautiful glaswalls; out to the Atrium with a large band- stand for Live music, changing several times on evening, ranging from duos or trios to even a Big Band with 10 musicians. Also space for a dancefloor (sadly not for me, because my husband belongs to that species of man, who are stick- in- the- muds when it comes to dancing). This was one of our favorite places in the evening, to enjoy a cocktail (starting at 4,25 $) or a beer (16 OZ 3 $) and to observe the parade of our fellow passengers. 42nd Street Theater (theater1) ,an obvious difference to the other ships we know is that it stretches only over one floor. Good view from everywhere, even when seated in the back of the theater, which we prefer, so that we can leave without any disturbance, if we don´t like the show. Comfortable sofas for 2 or 3 persons, still in good condition. Quality of the shows very different, but I must admit, that we did not see all the shows. Band with 10 musicians surprisingly big, 10 dancers, 4 singers. Schooner Bar (scooner1), which we did not like as much, as on the other RCCL ships. Smaller and darker, pianomusic too loud, so it was almost impossible to have a conversation with other people. Casino, like all Casinos loud and smoky, because passengers were allowed to smoke there. If we wanted to go from the atrium to the theater we had two choices, either through the casino or over the deck below the lifeboats. We prefered the latter. King & I Dining Room (lower floor) (dinner 2) tastefully decorated, with blue or red chairs and dark wood. Tables for 2 to 10 persons, very spacy, even for the waiters for better service. Lunch: to be able to write about the lunch in the dining room, we have eaten there once and were very disappointed. Like our experience on other ships, the staff is during open seatings not as polite as in the evening to their guests at their dinner tables. In this case it was so terrible, that we spoke with two of the headwaiters and complained about both the service and the food. The result was, that the headwaiters had a meeting with the dining-room-staff and discussed this. I told them, people could have the impression that the waiters are only friendly to those at their own tables because they know, that they'll receive a good tip at the end of the cruise. This is both not correct and not acceptable for me as a guest. The food quality also was not good and our waiter expected that we'd use the same cutlery for all our courses. He was not inclined to bring us new cutlery after clearing up the plates. So we got it by ourselves from other free places. He also did not serve the ordered softdrinks (we had a soda-package - 14 days - 102 $ per person), even as we asked him again to serve Sprite. It was so different to the excellent service at our table for dinner. Deck 5: front desk and shore excursion desk, Shopping"mile", Top Hat Lounge and upper floor of the Dining Room. Boutiques with different small stores and a free space in the middle for daily changing offers. Hallway to the Top Hat Lounge (top hat lounge 1,2,3) - biggest lounge on the ship, used for events as Captain's Welcome Party , Repeat-Cruisers Party (445 Gold-Members, 190 Platinum-Members, 71 Diamond-Members and 3 Diamond-Plus-Members), several other events, dancing classes, catholic mass and much more. Tasteful furniture and in good condition. King & I Dining Room (upper floor) (dinner1) Dinner: for dinner we were 7 Persons at a table for 10. We have been seated together with two friends of us (a german couple) and a wonderful american couple from California and their female friend, a wonderful lady from Texas, all very sophisticated people. It was a pleasure having dinner with all of them and you could not find better tablemates. Very obliging service by our waiter from India and the Assistent waitress from the Philipines and the Headwaiter, also from India. There was a choice of 4 starters, some of those were repeated too often, 2 soups (partly chilled soups, the best I have ever had), 2 - 3 salads with a choice of dressings, if desired also our favourite dressing (Blue Cheese). 4 Entrees and 4 daily available standard alternatives. 4 - 5 different desserts plus different ice- cream both in really good quality. If desired, French Fries and other extra wishes were fulfilled. During the first two days food was slightly cool, but it improved day by day. The meat-quality was excellent, the fish-quality above average. Our waiter served most of the time one or two more dishes (appetizers, main courses and desserts), that we all could taste something different. The Executive Chef was from Austria, we had some nice coversations with him. The Maitre'D Orlando P. Rosa came recently from the Jewel (where we met him last year), a couple of other crew members of the Jewel management will follow him to the Splendour within the next weeks. Deck 6: Photogallery for the usual photos of passengers and a Café, but hardly enough places to sit and enjoy coffee or ice- cream. Deck 7: Library (Bibliothek1) also tasteful and discreet furniture, with deep red and halfround green leather- armchairs. The choice of books in the library was relatively small and most of the times lent, because a lot of passengers spent their time reading. A sheet was on display, on which you could register for a tour of the bridge of about half an hour for 15 persons each group on days at sea with 4 tours in the morning and another 4 in the afternoon. Cardroom (Spielen1) - 10 tables with 4 chairs and some separate chairs, all in green leather. There were exceptionally beautiful wooden folding shutters at the windows. Deck 8: Crown & Anchor Society an area for those, who want to inform themselves about future RCCL cruises and to make a reservation. There was also the popular Internet-Cafe: (Internet1) equipped with 16 IBM-Computers, loudspeakers, a seperate Laserprinter, but no webcams. Cost: per minute 50 cent or package for 25 $ - 59 minutes, 35 $ - 89 minutes, 50 $ - 151 minutes. Deck 9: Pooldeck (deck9_1) - we found the pool, heated to 72 - 75 degrees, with two different depth levels. There were two roofed jacuzzis as well. Adequate number of deckchairs with plastic strings, which I found very comfortable. Some were close to the pool in the sun, some were under a roofed area at both sides of the deck. Several tables with 4 chairs on the side and in front of the Windjammer Cafe. Smoking section on one side of the ship. The sliding- windows could be opened towards the sea. There was blue astroturf cover (which was in strong need of a renovation) and partly timber floor. A small stage for small bands was found here, but they did not play all the time. An area for activities, like some poolgames or dancing was in front of the pool. Solarium - a roofed area towards the stern on the same deck, with several deckchairs and tables, 4 chairs each, pool heated to 90 degrees, 2 jacuzzis, a Bar serving Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, French Fries and Vegetarian Pizzas (very good) on different hours until 1.30 late at night. Hallway to the stern where we found Spa and Gym with several equipment, like treadmills, crosstrainer, dumb- bells and more. Some of the equipment were out of order. Behind the Spa and Gym was a wonderful sunterrace for about 40 people, partly roofed and really quiet. Windjammer-Cafe: (windjammer 1,2,3)at the bow of the ship, offering about 450 seats, a panorama view to three sides, and so a beautiful place to eat and see. Smaller than on other RCCL ships, offering tables for 2 to 6 persons, in a very worn and torn state. Really not acceptable any more, they should be removed completely. Chairs were still acceptable. But the ship is scheduled for drydock in Lisbon next may and the Windjammer will be completely renovated then, similar to the one on the Legend OTS. breakfast: starting at 6.15 am on days in port and at 7 am on days at sea. Divers sorts of bread, rolls, small cakes, donuts, and danish. Some warm meals, a small selection of cold meat, sausage, cheese and fish. A station for warm pastries like Toast, English Muffins and more, 2 stations for coffee, water and milk, several sorts of tea, 2 stations for juices like orange and ACE. Adequate choice of fruit, fresh or cut, or canned ones. Then my husband's favorite station, the egg cook, who prepared fresh omelets with a wide selection of ingredients, and fried eggs, turned or sunny- side- up. Lunch: from 12 am to 3 pm. A choice of several salads, already prepared or a selection of fresh ingredients and dressings to create your own, unfortunately without any variation during the 14 days of our cruise. Two soups, freshly cut meats, a diversity of vegetables as side orders, different warm main courses, and every day freshly prepared pasta, excellent both in quality and taste. As desserts there were daily changing custards and different cakes (which we'd prefer for tea- time) As beverages always lemonade and iced- tea, sometimes brought to the tables by the waiters. Like in the dining room at dinner- time, the service staff was always helpful and they assisted older or handicapped persons with their meals. Tables were cleared up relatively fast. Tea- time (Coffee- time for us germans): starting 3.30 pm, a selection of cookies and dry cakes, sandwiches (yummy), waffles, several warm dishes and every day Tacos and Tortillas with the usual toppings. Dinner: we never had dinner at the Windjammer. But the restaurant manager told us, that more than 200 people were dining in the Windjammer every evening. Deck 10: Joggingtrack (deck10) (4 laps - 1 Mile) and sundeck with two roofed areas for about 12 deckchairs. There were plenty of deckchairs to place individually all over the deck. At the stern of the ship was a minigolf course, 2 Shuffleboards and the rock climbing wall, a special feature of RCCL. Deck 11: Viking Crown Lounge (deck11_6) - a very tasteful interiour in this bar area with outstanding circumferential visibility, during the day a wonderful place to rest, relax, observe and read. In the evening it turned into the Disco with a DJ. But I admit that it was too late for us to visit the Lounge at night. But I met people, who were there every night until 2.30 am. Seperate lounge for cigar smokers. Weather: The weather on a transatlantic crossing is a hot discussed topic on our german cruisers forum. Many questions arose, so I decided to write down the weather conditions every day. The First Officer told me, that we had an unusual course, different to normal crossings, almost in one line from east to west. If we would have left Tenerife two days later, we would have been facing a really bad storm. Here is my weather report: Barcelona - rain, 63 degrees; in the afternoon less cloudy and warmer Alicante - rain, 57 degrees; in the afternoon warmer up to 68 degrees Malaga - 48 degrees; in the afternoon 64 degrees Day at sea Malaga – Tenerife; sunny, 68 degrees, waves rising between 4- 6 Meters, rough seas Tenerife - sunny, 70 - 79 degrees, calm seas 1.day at sea- sunny 70 degrees, calm seas; 2. day at sea- sunny, 77 degrees, calm seas; 3. day at sea- fog, rain, 75 degrees, rough seas; 4. day at sea- in the morning sunny, 77 degrees; in the afternoon cloudy, calm sea; 5. day at sea- rain in the morning, in the afternoon sunny, 73 degrees, calm seas, strong winds (force 6); 6. day at sea- around 79 degrees, rough seas, again Windforce 6-7; Bahamas - warm, 75-79 degrees, during the night very rough sea due to crossing the gulfstream, windforce 8; 2 days at sea - warm, 75 degrees, windy, very calm seas, almost like a lake; I have to remark, that it was really windy at almost every day at sea. The worst part of the cruise was disembarkation. We were called ½ hour later than scheduled and had to wait outside the terminal for about 20 minutes because the terminal was overcrowded. After entering the terminal we had to pick- up our luggage, only very few porters were available and they only took the luggage of some groups. We stood in a long waiting line for about 1 hour, before we reached the US customs and Immigration booth. A very nice and friendly officer handled the immigration process in approximately 5 minutes, including fingerprints and photos both with and without our glasses on. But then we were confronted with the next lack in organization. Torrential rain poured down with thunderstorms and flooding. There was not enough service staff present to help you with the transfers and to guide you to the right bus, which were even not allowed to stop in front of the Terminal whereas private cars could stop there. We got wet to our bones on our way from the Terminal to the Transfer bus. So we had to change all of our clothes when arriving at the Houston Airport. Even the luggage was completely wet, too. This was badly organized by RCCL. >From our point of view there is not much to tell about our ports of call. In Alicante (Alicante1) and Malaga we had a free Shuttle-Transfer to the city, because we´ve docked far away from downtown. Because of the rain, we made only short sightseeing on our own. In the afternoon, when the sun came out in Alicante, we took a taxi to a Fortress with a wonderful panoramic view over the coast with its beaches and the port. We paid 20 Euros (about 24 $) for the whole trip with the four of us, 20 minutes waiting time for the driver at the Fortress included. After having a private walking tour in the center of Malaga, we took a taxi back to the ship. Cost was 6 Euros (7,20 $) Remark: there were almost no english speaking taxi drivers, in spite of the fact that we were asking for them. So communication was very difficult and I had to use my small knowledge of Spanish. In Tenerife (Terneriffa1)we took the public bus number 103 nonstop from the port in Santa Cruz to Puerto de la Cruz. That was an advice by a member of the visitor information center. They were standing at the pier and provided information about Tenerife Island. So we rode in 45 minutes for a price of 1,90 Euro (2,30 $) one way. I can't imagine a cheaper way to get around the island. People who want to visit the famous Loro Parque (like a zoo, but famous for their parrots) have to pay an entrance fee of 33 Euros (40 $) for an adult and 19 Euros (23 $) for children. As the bus- stop was in quite a distance to the ship we took a taxi for our way back, costs: 6 Euros (7,20 $). Puerto de la Cruz is worth visiting, highlights are its black beaches (because of their sands of lava) and the artificial saltwater-pools in the center of town close to the sea, well- known for their exceptional design. Bahamas - again we did a private tour, hiring a van and a driver for 2 ½ hours costs were 20 $ per person. Our driver showed us different sights of the island, different beaches and the famous Atlantis Hotel on Paradise Island. Our opinion about Nassau: One day is more than enough. The city center was too crowded (Splendour, Zenith, Sovereign, World, and Regal Empress were docked) and there is too much traffic. Besides it is too expensive, what is very important. If you take the advice of the cruise line for serious, that you can make a bargain here, it turns out as a lie, if you know the prices on some Caribbean islands like St. Thomas and St. Maarten. The Days at sea were very pleasant and really relaxing for us. We took part in only a very few activities, like the Crown & Anchor member wine-tasting-seminar, a roll- call- meeting with members of another board, a tour of the bridge and two visits of the arts & crafts activities, with handicrafts on the level of Kindergarden- kids due to my opinion. Everytime we desired to sit outside in the sun we found deckchairs at our favorite place, or we found a nice place inside to relax or to read a book. Many conversations we had with many crewmembers were always interesting, from Ass. Waiters to different cooks up to the Executive Chef and the Captain. We met the Captain in a private atmosphere and not during the usual Captains Reception. We were very pleased and honored being invited to the Captains Table. It was an interesting and informative dinner and not too formal. (Captain1) Captain Yngvar Knutsen took command of the Splendour in Barcelona when we came on board. He decided to become master of the Splendour, because he did not want to be Captain on any larger ship. Like many other RCCL-Captains he is from Norway also like the majority of his officers. He told us that the Splendour is scheduled for drydock in Lisbon after the transatlantic Crossing in may 2006 for 9 days, as it is usual almost every 5 years. Several exterior renovations are on the to- do- list and a complete renovation of the Windjammer Cafe. We heard from the Sous Chef, a nice guy from Holland, that the refurbishment will be done in the same style like they did it on the Legend of the Seas, the Splendour's older twin sister, the year before. Totally 547 inside cabins will be partly redecorated, like I wrote before. These redecorations will be done while cruising. Because of the Splendour's new itinerary next year departing from Venice, Italy they prepare themselves for another passenger mix, more German and Italian guests. So they are changing a part of the Management. The hotel director Luis Acosta left the ship in Galveston, the cruise director Tim Seivert finishes his contract with RCCL in January and more responsable managers will be switching over from the Jewel of the Seas to the Splendour. Summary: A great and relaxing cruise for us. Besides, our first Transatlantic Crossing. We would love to repeat it, but this time on an Eastbound Crossing, to have minor problems with the time changes. We have set our clocks 7 times back, and then there was the flight back from Texas to Germany with 7 hours ahead time difference, causing a huge jet- lag. Important to know for some of you, that we had 3 formal nights. The apperals were totally mixed ranging from evening gowns, smokings, dinnerjackets (I even saw a swallowtail) to also nice suits or other beautiful combinations. My husband was dressed in dark grey with changing ties, correct due to my impression. On the other evenings, he never wore a jacket, a nice dress shirt instead, a vest and a nice slack (but no jeans) worked out well. For me I wore every evening something special like a nice pant or pantsuit combined with a chic shirt or blouse. I never felt underdressed. Those people, who didn´t like to dress up, had their dinner in the Windjammer-Cafe. I never saw someone dressed inappropriately in the Dining-Room. Because we knew in advance, that the ship was not in a newly- like- condition any more, we were pleasantly surprised how good she appeared, especially compared with Celebrity's Zenith. But we have heard, that the Zenith has been into drydock and redecorated after our Southern Caribbean cruise in february 2005. The size of the Splendour was pleasant. You did not feel being together with 1.570 passengers. The ship was never overcrowded, in fact it was opposite and we always found a quiet place to relax. We never saw rude or drunken passengers, although we have never been around the ship in the late evening hours. Our latest was midnight and this was just for taking photographs of the Gala-Buffet. Only a few children were on board and they've never been bothering. Food was much better than on the Zenith in February this year, service was really good and we had no officious wine stewards. Considering it all in all it was a wonderful cruise, with many quiet moments, but also a lot of nice and interesting conversations with people from many different countries. Our personal summary for other cruisers: absolutely recommendable. During the winter- season the Splendour is based in Galveston, making four or five day cruises to the western Caribbean with ports of call like Cozumel. Exception is one cruise during Christmas holidays, which lasts 10 days. On April 23th 2006 she will be departing for the Eastbound Transatlantic Crossing to Lisbon, Portugal. After drydock she will be cruising out of Venice, Italy weekly for 8 days. There are 2 weekly changing itineraries with the following ports of call: Piräus (Athens), Greece- Kusadasi (Ephesos), Turkey- Heraklion, Greece- Korfu, Greece or alternatively Piräus- Mykonos, Greece- Rhodos, Greece- Dubrovnik, Croatia. The captain told us, that the Westbound Crossing in fall 2006 will be very unusual. It will take 20 days, starting October 29th until November 17th 2006 with the following ports of call: Venice- Dubrovnik- Messina (Sicily), Italy- Barcelona, Spain- Alicante, Spain- Malaga, Spain- Teneriffa (Canary Islands), Spain- 6 days at sea- Bahamas- Key West- Galveston. Surely a very interesting cruise.

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Aug 27, 2005

Western Mediterranean

Royal Caribbean International Splendour of the Seas 7-Night Western Mediterranean Cruise Tom Ogg The Setup: Joanie and I tried to sneak a little vacation around this cruise, so we came to Barcelona a few days early. We also stayed a few days after the cruise before Joanie went home and I went to Venice, Italy to pick up a group of travel professionals on Celebrity's Millennium. We were both the group escorts and seminar facilitators

on the Splendour of the Seas. In fact, we had had a group on her last year and wrote a very thorough review of the ship itself. You can find the review by clicking here. For this reason, rather than review the Splendour of the Seas again, this review will be our travelogue of the cruise. Getting to the Ship: We used mileage on American Airlines to fly from San Diego to Barcelona. We flew American first class to Chicago and then flew Iberia Airlines business class from Chicago to Madrid connecting to Barcelona. The flight to Chicago was great and using the first class lounge was even greater, but having flown Iberia before, I know what was coming. We left Chicago about an hour late but made up some time and arrived in Madrid only about 15 minutes late. Our connecting flight was scheduled to depart from a gate in another terminal so we made our way there. Of course, there was no gate agent and the flight wasn't listed at that gate. We rechecked the monitor and we were at the right gate. After 5 minutes or so another couple showed up looking for the Iberia flight to Barcelona. We finally decided to find an Iberia Airlines employee and see if they knew what was up. When we finally found a gate agent, she looked the flight up in the computer and insisted that it left from the gate that we had just come from. I was starting to laugh at the situation and she must have taken pity on me because she then called someone and let us know the real gate it was going to fly from. The flight was oversold and as it turns out this seems to be their common practice. We departed Madrid for the hour flight to Barcelona and landed right on time. After clearing immigration, we made our way to the luggage claim area. We waited and waited as flight after flight unloaded luggage and finally our flight was up on the screen. We waited some more and then continued to wait as thousands of bags were circulating on the carousel. Since we recognized many passengers from our flight that were also waiting, we felt there was just a delay getting the bags into the terminal. One by one they gave up and left to file a claim at the Iberia lost baggage claim that was across the terminal. After a couple of hours or so, another Iberia flight arrived from Madrid. Knowing how airlines work, I suspected that our bags would be on this flight. Another hour and no luggage. I made the walk of despair too get in the long line to file my claim for our lost luggage. To make matters worse, since I was traveling for over a month, I check all of my luggage in two separate bags and only had my electronic equipment in my carry-on. Joanie had her shoes and purses, which I guess are very important to a lady. We filed our claim and as it turned out there were literally hundreds of bags sitting around that were obviously someone's on vacation somewhere and Iberia simply didn't care or were simply completely inefficient. I made it a point to never fly Iberia again. We cleared customs and grabbed a taxi to our hotel, the Hotel Claris. Barcelona's Segrada Familia Barcelona is a wonderful city and well worth a number of days investigation. We enjoyed some excellent meals, tons of walking, great beach days, wonderful shopping for Joanie and just had a fabulous time. I would highly recommend the Hotel Claris for its location (away from the major tourist areas, yet close to everything). The rooms are quite generous in size and feature beautiful hardwood floors, the breakfast that is included is awesome and the restaurant on the top of the hotel is gourmet. We would always choose to stay at the Hotel Claris, as it added the finishing touch to an excellent stay in Barcelona. Our luggage finally showed up at the hotel after a couple of days, but in plenty of time for the cruise. HINT: I strongly suggest that you always fly into an international port at least one, if not two days prior to departure and always pack a carry-on piece. Here is a link to a men's and women's packing list for a carry-on. Barcelona's Cruise Terminal Day One, August 27th, 2005; Barcelona, Spain, Casual After a wonderful stay in Barcelona, we eventually made our way to the cruise terminal to board the Splendour of the Seas. Being Diamond members, check in was a breeze. We were boarded and in our cabin within fifteen minutes. We went to the Customer Relations Desk and reconfirmed the detail for our group and then made our way to the Windjammer Cafe for lunch. Joanie and I were just on the Splendour of the Seas on a Panama Canal cruise, so finding our way around was like coming home. We did some exploring and then made our way back to our cabin to get ready for the life boat drill....yecchhh. After the drill, our luggage had arrived in the elevator area, so I retrieved it without waiting for our cabin steward to do it. He seemed thankful that three more bags were delivered by their rightful owners without his having to bear the effort. We unpacked, relaxed and the started to get ready for our cocktail party. We met our group in the Viking Crown Lounge and started immediately to bond with one another. We had a great group of folks on this cruise. After our cocktail party, we moved on to the King and I Restaurant for the first of our dinners together. We had a wonderful group of people and dinner became the focal point of the evening. Even though we needed to get up early for the morning's seminar, Joanie and I made our way to the 42nd Street Theater for the cruise's opening show. It was OK, but then no first show on any cruise is excellent. We went to bed right after the show. Docked in Marseille Day Two, August 28th, 2005; Marseille, France, Formal We were up early and decided to work out, have breakfast and then debark to explore Marseille. After a vigorous work out, wonderful breakfast sitting on the very most forward part of the Windjammer Cafe watching the Splendour of the Seas arrive in Marseille, we decided to disembark to explore Marseille. I must admit that I have ported in Marseille and found reasons to simply stay on the ship. For whatever reason, every time I have visited Marseille before, it was either a holiday, too short a visit, there was a strike or some other reason to stay on board. Today was different. Marseille's Vieux Port We disembarked, took the shuttle into the center of town (Vieux Port) or the Old Harbor where one could start their exploration of Marseille. I must say that I have not heard too many positive things about Marseille, but I have been told quite a few negative things. I was surprised to find the charm and character that we found so close to the center of town. Marseille is not one of those ports where you walk off the ship into excellent sightseeing. It takes a little work to find its beauty, but if you are the type of person that would rather strike out on your own, rather than take a tour you will enjoy your stay in Marseille. Joanie and I walked all around the downtown area, our to Fort St. Jean and then continued on for a few more blocks into what was starting to look like a nice beach area. We had heard that the beaches in Marseille were legendary, so we made the decision to hire a taxi and visit the beaches. The taxi queue was all the way back at the mouth of the old harbor, so we made are way back. We negotiated for a taxi to take us to the beach for 25 euro and off we went. We went right back the way that we had returned to the old harbor, past the fort and into the area that we had walked. About another three blocks the driver pulled ver and informed us that we were there.. There was a beach, but if we had just kept walking another few blocks we would have been there. We walked further to the taxi queue than it would have been to the beach. Having a good sense of humor, we paid the taxi driver (no tip) and licked our wounds. HINT: It is my impression that the taxi drivers in Marseille are crooks, but that is just my opinion. Marseille Beach Club Joanie and I passed on the beach that we were dropped at because it was too crowded. We walked further away from town and came across a wonderful little beach club/dive shop and decided to rent a lounge chair there for the day. We had a great time. Great food, lots of sunshine, no tourists or cruise people, just everything French. We had a coupld of bottles of wine for lunch and were feeling no pain as the afternoon wore on. When It finally came time to start heading back to the ship, we simply paid our bill, hailed a taxi to take us back to the shuttle pick up spot (5 euro including a tip, grrrr) and made our way to the ship in plenty of time. Once back on board, we made our way to our cabin and decided to dress for the evening's formal night early and make our way to the champagne bar for a glass of wine and music before attending the Captain's Welcome Aboard party prior to dinner. We ran into some from our group and had a wonderful time relaxing and sharing our stories about our day in Marseille. The party and the dinner that followed were simply delightful. Tired from the sun that we took for the day, we decided to pass on attending the evenings show. We slept like newborn babes. Villefranche's Harborfront Day Three, August 29th, 2005; Villefranche, France, Casual Both Joanie and I love France. Our idea of a total vacation is to hide out in Paris for days on end and eat, shop, drink wine and walk ourselves into oblivion. Both Joanie and I have traveled this area extensively. In fact, Joanie was in Monte Carlo a year or so ago with a group of travel executives and had dinner with the Prince of Monaco. We decided that since we had such a wonderful day in Marseille that we would take advantage of the stellar weather and spend the day at the beach,. I remembered the beach at Beaulieu-sur-Mer as being spectacular from my last cruise that stopped in Vaillefranche, so we decided to make ita beach day and visit Beaulieu-sur-Mer. What a great decision it turned out to be. It was hot, so we took up residence in a couple of lounge chairs on the beach and were served all day long. It was have a sip of wine, jump in the ocean, have a nibble of this or that followed by some more wine and another jump into the ocean. It was just heavenly. It reminded me very much of some of the best days in San Diego when it was hot, but not too hot, and the water was refreshing, but not too cold...everything was just perfect. The Beach at Beaulieu-sur-Mer Beaulieu-sur-Mer is located just beyond the beach at Villefranche and is well worth the walk. The beach at Villefranche is wonderful, don't get me wrong. It is just that if you want a truly French experience, Beaulieu-sur-Mer will deliver it. The two beaches (and bays) are at one side and the other of a large isthmus and a large peninsula of land juts into the ocean to form the community of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. Joanie and I decided to walk the ocean front trail to Saint Jean Cap Ferrat and were treated to an incredible experience. In San Diego, we have a community called La Jolla. La Jolla is marked by gorgeous oceanfront homes, incredible beaches, excellent shopping in town and an overall fantastic experience. We decided to walk through the residential area of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat and were treated to some incredible homes. Ferraris, Lamborghinis and other extravagant sports cars seemed as common as Fords and Chevys in San Diego. The French have it right. After returning to Villefranche in the late afternoon, we decided to stop in one of the harbor front restaurants for a glass of wine and an appetizer. The lady that waited on us made us feel very special and we had the best dining experience of our entire cruise. France is wonderful! We made it back on to the ship just in time to attend the evening's meal with our group. Once again we were sunned out and tired. We had a wonderful time at dinner and thoroughly enjoyed our company. We had arranged for a round-robin dinning situation so that we could jump from table to table within our group, so that we could get to know one-another during the cruise. We slept like rocks the entire night. Ponte Vecchio Day Four, August 30th, 2005; Livorno, Italy We found ourselves sleeping in while the day passed us by. It was another wonderful day with warm temperatures well into the high 90's. Joanie and I had decided to take the train into Florence for the day as there was one of Joanie's favorite stores there, Zarra. We grabbed a taxi to the train station, just made the next train and 60 minutes late were in Florence. I think Florence is one of Europe's most beautiful cities. I mean, it has everything going for it. We arrived in Florence, departed the train station and walked into the main tourist area by the Duomo. We walked along the shopping streets all the way to Ponte Vecchio before turning around to do some serious shopping (well, that would be Joanie). We passed a small restaurant that looked great, so made a mental note to return to it for lunch. I found a nice little sidewalk cafe to enjoy a latte at while Joanie explored her beloved Zarra. After an hour or so, she reappeared with a modest amount of bags and we decided to make our way back to the restaurant for lunch. The restaurant was named Trattoria Ponte Vecchio and it was located just a block or so east of the Ponte Vecchio bridge. What a huge mistake! We entered the restaurant, were seated and then given a menu. Both Joanie and I ordered and also wanted a glass of wine. The waiter assured us that if we purchased a half bottle of wine that it would be much more reasonable. Since both Joanie and I love our wine, we agreed. We didn't ask the price. If You See This Restaurant -- Run The Other Way Lunch came and was mediocre, the wine was satisfactory, but the bill was outrageous. Before we were presented with the bill, another couple in the restaurant became quite verbal about the bill they had been presented. Apparently they shared an entree, but were charged for two. On top of that was a service charge for sitting at the table in the amount of 40% of the entire bill. Because they were so verbally upset (causing a scene in the restaurant) the waiter waived the "service charge". When it came time for our bill to be presented, there was no "service charge" but Joanie's half-bottle of wine cost a whopping 22 euro. That is simply unheard of in Italy. Don't get me wrong, I love great wine and have been known to pay dearly for it, but 22 euro for a half-bottle of so-so wine (Joanie knows the difference)? I disputed the bill asking to see a wine list to verify the price. Unfortunately, they produced one. Would I go back to the Trattoria Ponte Vecchio? Not even in a life threatening situation. After lunch we continued to explore wonderful Florence and then made our way back to the train station for the last possible train that we could take and still make the Splendour of the Sea's departure time. Once back in Livorno, getting a taxi back to the ship was no problem. We showered and dressed for dinner and then made our way to the Champagne Bar for a glass of wine before heading to the repeaters party that was held in the Top Hat Lounge. The party was a wonderful introduction to the evening's events. We left the party and made our way to dinner and another wonderful experience in the restaurant and stayed way too long. We still managed to make it to the 50's and 60's party back in the Top Hat Lounge. We arrived ready to dance and have a good time with several of our group members, but quickly realized that there were so many people ready to dance that our best bet was to head to the Viking Crown Lounge and enjoy an after-dinner refreshment. We had a great time, especially when many people arrived after the party in the Top Hat Lounge was over. I remember at one time I was dancing with at least 15 ladies all by myself. It is a good thing I have an understanding wife. St. Peters Basilica Day Five, August 31st, 2005; Civitavecchia (for Rome), Italy, Casual/Toga Joanie and I were up early and decided to take an early work-out before breakfast. We had decided to take the train into Rome and had planned to get off the ship as early as possible so as to spend as much time in Rome as we could. Rome is one of those ports where you could spend months and still never explore everything there is to see. After a leisurely breakfast, we disembarked, walked to the train station, purchased our tickets and boarded the next train to Rome. Rather than get off at St. Peters Basilica, we opted to take the train to its final destination in Rome, the main train station. As planned, we took a sightseeing taxi ride past most of Rome's most famous sights and were then delivered to St. Peter's Basilica. Since it was a Wednesday, the Pope had just finished his public presentation and there were crowds of people. We patiently waited in line to enter the Basilica. They had added a security check point since the last time I was there and it was somewhat concerning to think that the religious capital of the Catholic religion had been forced to resort to airport tactics to protect itself. Shopping Near Spanish Steps We enjoyed the Basilica and then decided (well Joanie decided) to do some shopping. For those that don't know, the area around the Spanish Steps contains legendary shopping for shop-aholics. Joanie was in heaven. After visiting every shop on every street, we decided to break for lunch. We found a great restaurant just a few blocks from Spanish Steps. We had a bottle of wine, great food and excellent service. We lingered long after we should have and then decided to walk to the Forum, which we did. Once we got there, we realized that the day was fading away and that we had better make our way back to the train station and get back to Civitavecchia. We barely made the last train. Arriving back in Civitavecchia had its moments. On the way back to the ship, Joanie spotted a surf shop and wanted to stop to buy our son something from the shop. We entered the surf shop, but the only thing they were selling was American surf logos. I thought to myself, "How sad that the Europeans have not found their own surf identity" We were back on board in plenty of time and decided to enjoy a Jacuzzi before dressing for dinner. We had arranged to meet some of the folks from our group for cocktails before dinner and then enjoyed another wonderful dining experience with our group in the restaurant. Joanie and I were bushed, so we turned in right after dinner. Naple's Hydrofoil Wharf Day Six, September 1st, 2005; Naples, Italy, formal We were up early, took breakfast on the aft fantail and then prepared to disembark in Naples. We had decided to take the ferry to Capri and then on to Sorrento and explore the various areas. The hydrofoil piers are right next to the cruise terminal making it quite easy to purchase a ticket and make the crossing to Capri. If you are thinking of doing this trip I wrote a special report about it that you can find Here. We were on one of the first hydrofoils of the day and made the quick run over to Capri only to be met by hordes of people who had the same idea. We explored Capri and Anna Capri (at the top of the island) and decided that it was simply too crowded to enjoy and chose to move on to Sorrento. This proved to be an excellent choice. Sorrento's Beach Clubs We purchased a ticket on the next hydrofoil to Sorrento and off we went. The ride took about 30 minutes or so and we were deposited on the hydrofoil wharf in Sorrento. Sorrento is simply beautiful. It is at the start of the Amalfi Coast and the cliffs that jut out of the ocean tower above Sorrento's beach scene. In fact, piers have been built out into the ocean around breakwaters so that folks can enjoy the morning sun that does not touch the actual coast until around noon. We arranged for a lounge chair on the furthest pier and settled in for some serious sunshine and ocean activities. The water in the lagoon was crystal clear and there were many fish everywhere. Sorrento was captivating Joanie and I. After a few hours in the sun we decided to explore Sorrento. We found the elevator that would take us up to the village, but opted to climb the walk/stairway up to it. We were treated to fantastic vistas on the way up and I would highly recommend it rather than taking the lift. Sorrento's Quaint Shopping Streets Sorrento is a very quaint town with meandering streets full of specialty shops and restaurants. Joanie shopped while I just enjoyed the architecture and people watching. It was getting somewhat late, so we decided to take lunch and started looking for the perfect place. We found it when we located Pizzeria Aurora. It offered an outside dining area as well as an inside. We chose outside and ordered a bottle of wine from their extensive wine list. Our waiter suggested a bottle that was within our price range and it turned out to be fantastic. We also ordered salads and some bread. The entire meal was delicious. While we were dining, two other couples from our group happened by and joined us at the next table. Their dining experience was as good as ours. I would not hesitate to recommend this restaurant to anyone and would seek it out on a return visit. We enjoyed the sunshine and wine so much that we lingered longer than we should have. When we realized that the last hydrofoil left in about ten minutes we immediately started for the hydrofoil wharf that was some distance away. Fortunately, one of the locals was kind enough to show us a stairway that led all the way down the cliff to the sharf. I ran ahead so that I could buy tickets for everyone who followed behind me. I met them at the entrance to the pier and we ran towards the hydrofoil. They saw us coming and waited for us. Once we had boarded, they shoved off and we were on our way. It was truly too close for comfort. Pizzeria Aurora -- Don't Miss it! Once back at the hydrofoil terminal in Naples we departed the hydrofoil and spent some time shopping in the general area before heading back to the ship. The cruise terminal in Naples offers some reasonable shopping for those folks looking for tourist items. After boarding the ship, Joanie and I decided to take a relaxing Jacuzzi before dressing for our second formal evening. We had arranged to meet some from our group for a pre-photo cocktail and then met our entire group for our group photo. They are always so much fun to do. We all enjoyed cocktails after the picture before heading into the restaurant for another wonderful dinner. I have to say that we were treated to a wonderful dining staff and service. The food was good to excellent depending on the evening. I always enjoyed the fish entree and was never disappointed. There was a late show after dinner entitled Ole Ole that featured a Rumba Flamenco Show so Joanie and I attended the beginning of it and then turned in for a good night's rest. Day Seven, September 2nd, 2005; Day at Sea, Casual We were up early for our seminar that was held in the conference room. We had a very lively seminar, as everyone had bonded during dinner and their personalities had long since come out. Everyone had a ball. It was a sunny day, so after the seminar, Joanie and I decided to simply lay out in the sun for the afternoon after a quick bite to eat in the Windjammer Restaurant. It felt great to enjoy the sun, but it was also sad that the cruise was winding down. When the sun started lowering we made our way back to our cabin for the dreaded chore of packing to get off the ship. I let Joanie pack first and then I started. The afternoon wore on as we accomplished our winding down tasks. We attended the early show (7:00 pm) and enjoyed the farewell show before heading for our last dinner on the Spendour of the Seas. All in all, I would miss this group and the ship. Barcelona's Wonderful Beaches Day Eight, September 3rd, 2005; Barcelona, Spain As diamond members, Joanie and I were off the ship by 8 am and made our way to the Hotel Claris, as we were staying on in Barcelona until Joanie had to return to the U.S. for work and I was going to fly to Venice, Italy to pick up another group on the Millennium. Barcelona is one of the world's finest cities and offers everything anyone could want in a destination. The Hotel Claris offers anything anyone could want in a hotel. It is simply an excellent hotel in every aspect. We stayed for another 4 days before moving on, but we could have stayed four weeks. Comments on the This is an excellent itinerary for first time Europe cruisers. It is not too long, nor to exotic, yet it covers most of the unique sights of the Western Mediterranean. However, it is very busy. There is a new port every day and the only day at sea occurs on the last day before you return to Barcelona. This cruise is best enjoyed if you do a good amount of preplanning. Know what you want to see in each port and arrange for a shore excursion that will maximize your time and you will have a wonderful cruise. Comments on the Internet Cafe: Royal Caribbean has changed providers for their Internet Cafe and the results are STELLAR! Not only is the connection much more stable and quicker, the cost is minimal compared to the old provider. Congratulations to Royal Caribbean for correcting a bad situation! Don't hesitate to sail Royal Caribbean if you are dependent on being online. You will be very happy! Comments on the Barcelona Cruise Terminal: WOW! There has been substantial improvements to the Barcelona cruise terminal that make it an international star. It is easily ready to handle the increase in cruise lines selecting Barcelona as a port of Departure. However, getting a taxi when departing with the masses requires a lengthy queue at best. If you are in a hurry to make your flight or simply do not want to have to wait in line for an hour or more, arrange for a private transfer in advance to meet you at the cruise terminal. I am not sure what the problem is, but suspect that it has to do with unions or the port authority.

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By Mike_CR

  • New

Apr 16, 2005

Western Caribbean

My Previous experience cruising was on the Mariner of the seas last year with my Wife. This time we brought our three kids (ages 3,3,4) with us. Actually, it was a large party which consisted of my mother-in-law, my mother and father, my sister, my step-brothers, and my aunt and uncle a total of 21. This cruise was bound to be 'different' compared to my previous experience. The ships in contrast are quite different themselves. The Mariner

is brand new and has the newer amenities offered by RCCL. The splendor is a little older and somewhat smaller, but has just as much to offer in activities and entertainment, minus the ice show of course. Leaving from Tampa was a breeze and we were able to board around 1pm. This might have been a benefit of the smaller ship, less people to get off and on. The Splendor has the luxury and beauty throughout which I appreciate and immediately noticed. My room was an ocean view stateroom. It had drop-down bunks to accommodate the kids. The room was slightly smaller, but was manageable. The bathroom, was similar in size to the mariner's, but as I've heard is smaller than most other cruise lines. Storage after unpacking was a big challenge for this many people, drawer space is limited, and there are only a few hangers. Dining was wonderful, the menus appeared to be exactly the same as the mariners. The food quality was an 8 out of 10, baked Alaska is a must have, as it was authentically made (where on the Mariner it was ice cream with cake underneath). The Waitress was wonderful, and extremely friendly despite cleaning up after my twin 3 year olds each night. The assistant was around less than I would have liked. Others in our large party had a different waitress and found that her personality was left back at the dock. My wife and I had drinks most nights, during the show usually, and found that they were excellent in quality, beating any local restaurants in alcohol content. I don't recommend the soda package it is over priced, you can buy 3 sodas a day and still spend less money. There's always alternative drinks as well, Iced tea at dinner and lemonade in the windjammer to quench the sweet drink cravings. The entertainment was very good, I felt it was diverse and fresh each night. The bars and lounges were good hang outs although, for the late night crowd, the night club was pretty quiet. The pool party is alot of fun as well. If you don't want to splurge for the balcony rooms, don't. If you want to get away and just relax peacefully, head down to the deck were the muster stations are, there is hardly anyone out there, then just grab a lounge chair, a book and enjoy. Or during the daytime, go on up to the viking lounge and sit, its pretty empty there before 5 or 6pm. The pool's are all saltwater. And this can be chilly water depending on the time of year. The Ports of call were grand cayman, costa maya, belize, and cozumel. Grand caymen is a very nice place the people are very friendly and the shopkeepers are not pushy or pesty. The island is still recovering from Ivan. I definitely recommend the stingray city and Island tour, its reasonably priced and quite interesting, absolutly perfect for the kids. We got a well guided tour through the town. Then a short ferry ride to a floating observatory, we saw many stingrays and fish, the kids were enthralled. After that we headed over to the sea turtle farm, this was interesting and we all got to hold a small turtle. Costa Maya, well its costa maya, it is a small development project on top of a fishing village. A few shops at the pier, if your looking for deals or like haggling with the locals, this is the place. We did the all-terrain truck and beach tour. All-terrain was slightly exaggerated here, it was just a bumpy ride on a dirt road in the back of a truck. The guided tour wasn't bad, learning about the area the wildlife and people. For those with kids 5 and under this portion of the trip can be tough, it was a little hot and the hour of bumping around soon leads to complaints. The destination is a strip of beach were you can swim and kayak for about 2 hours. The kids enjoyed this, although there were many tiny jelly-fish in the water. Next was belize, The heat was unbelievable, attributed to the lack a wind. Belize is a small set of the usual tourist island shops encompassed by a 20 foot barb-wire fence, which is slightly intimidating, so venturing beyond the shops was less than welcoming, especially with kids. We didn't have any excursions here. The rest of our party did though, the Cave tubing. The cave tubing has bee raved about in other reviews, but this is not the case. It was described to me as boot camp-like, the tour guides constantly yelling to "move-it". you have to hump it up a hill after walking 45 mins through the jungle carrying the tube. Then at the top of the hill (no breaks allowed) you have to jump or repel off a 10-foot cliff. That was the easy part. The tour continues on the tube into the cave. Nothing leisurely here though, the group had to paddle their butts off to keep up and often hit the bottom as it was only 6 inches deep. At one point a couple my mother and mother-in-law got separated from the group, and got left behind. thankfully a tour group was behind them and found them and helped them out. no one of any age or physical condition enjoyed the trip. The problem was apparently that the water level in the river was very low as they were getting into the dry season. Cozumel, I enjoy Cozumel, shops, bars and things to do are plentiful here. We had an excision booked but we didn't go because the water was teaming with jelly fish apparently it's seasonal and they drift where ever. The cruise was a wonderful escape otherwise. Advice for people with kids. When you cruise, there isn't alot for the kids to stay entertained on the ship "getting into things" will happen. Take advantage of the kids programs, My kids loved it, they had a lot of fun, it also made it easier for my wife an I to relax, and see the shows. The sleeping arrangements work OK. if you get the bunks and you have small ones, I recommend resetting the room so the two twin beds on the floor to the center and make a double. We did this so if one did fall out of bed they would only fall onto the mattress below or one of us. Consequently, no one ever fell out of bed. When dining, in the dining room bring a pen or crayons for coloring. And do as we had to, instruct the waiter to not bring the small ones drinks in water glasses, as this is an accident waiting. Advice for traveling as a large group: There are advantages and disadvantages to traveling in a group. The main thing to remember is not everyone wants to do the same thing, everyone will not be happy all the time, even on a cruise, and there is nothing you can do if people get on the ship with issues from home. Don't let it spoil your trip. Finally I rate this cruise overall a 7 out of 10. I recommend this cruise line and this ship.  

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  • New

Feb 12, 2005

Western Caribbean

[email protected] Boomer Introduction: January in Cleveland is not pretty and this year was no exception. It had been an exceptionally cold and snowy month and I had been counting down the days, hours and minutes until this cruise materialized. I was eagerly anticipating a respite from the harsh realities of winter in northeastern Ohio. A good friend and former teaching colleague of mine, along with her husband, were joining me

on this western Caribbean cruise. Jane and Ralph flew to Tampa with me the day before the cruise, and we planned to stay at the Sailport Resort that night. By the way, I strongly encourage everyone contemplating a cruise, particularly during the winter, to plan to arrive at least one day early. Not only does this eliminate the stress and worry of travel delays that may prevent your arrival at the ship on time, but it allows you the luxury of beginning your cruise relaxed and rested. My roommate, Pat, (yes, “THE Pat” from many of my other cruise adventures) had arrived in Tampa a few days earlier and would be joining us at the hotel. I would be escorting a women’s friendship group from the Detroit area on this cruise and would meet them once onboard. Pre-Cruise Day: Our non-stop, Continental flight arrived in Tampa about 3:00 PM as scheduled, and we used the hotels complimentary airport shuttle service to transport us to our waterfront suites. Be aware if you are utilizing a shuttle service, that at the Tampa Airport you must go to the end of either terminal, as shuttle busses cannot pick-up passengers at baggage claim. We were unaware of this, and after waiting for about 45 minutes for a shuttle that never arrived, a limo driver asked if someone had forgotten about me and informed me of my error. Well, apparently the shuttle from the hotel had made 3 trips to look for us, while we were waiting in the wrong place!!!! Once we found the correct pick-up location, it was only a matter of minutes before we were whisked away to the Sailport Resort. It was certainly a good thing that the 3 of us had come from the cold climes of Ohio, because the weather was unusually chilly by Tampa standards. Let’s put it this way, since we had subjected ourselves to standing out in the “cold” for an extended period, I am glad I was still wearing my winter leather jacket! The hotel was reasonably priced, had a nice pool and the rooms all had balconies that offered expansive views of the bay. They were actually apartment size and apparently there were a number of units that were used as long term residences. The rooms were certainly adequate, the shuttle service and location were both convenient, but there was no restaurant or lounge on the premise. Also, since these were suites with full kitchens, there were no ice machines. For a one-night pre-cruise the accommodations were certainly satisfactory, but I am not sure that the term “resort” would be quite apropos. After settling in, we had the shuttle drive us to Landry’s for dinner. The meal and service were both outstanding and a high point of our pre-night stay. After dinner, we called for the hotel shuttle and he was there to pick us up within just a few minutes. By now, my traveling companions and I were all growing weary; so we called it a night and planned to meet the next morning after breakfast. I awoke well-rested, grabbed a few samplings from the complimentary continental buffet and prepared for the short trip to the port. It was still relatively chilly, so I opted for wearing slacks and warmer top. (This was not quite the kind of weather I had envisioned for the start of my Caribbean cruise.) Upon checking out of the hotel at 11:00, once again, the complimentary services of the hotel shuttle were at our disposal; and we were port bound. There were 2 formal nights, 1 smart casual and 4 casual nights. Theme nights included a country night, a rock ’n roll night and a Caribbean night. Make sure to pack an alarm clock. Refrigerators are not furnished in standard inside and ocean view staterooms. The wine packages were a good bargain (if you enjoy wine with dinner). Catholic Mass was offered every day. There was a definite lack of public restrooms on the Splendour. There are no restrooms on Deck 4 (The Entertainment Deck) requiring passengers to travel down to deck 3 or up to deck 5. Since in most instances, the use of a public restroom is needed while on deck 4, this was a negative design flaw and particularly inconvenient for the physically challenged. There are many things to do each day. Make sure to check your Cruise Compass and pack a highlighter to highlight those activities you don’t want to miss. Having visited the disco on a few occasions this cruise, it is perhaps appropriate to note an interesting phenomenon regarding the ship’s discos. On each cruise the passenger load is different. Although itinerary does play a part in that composition, from week to week, ship to ship, the level of activity in the discos varies. I have been on ships where the age range has been quite similar to this cruise (30’s – 50’s for the most part) and the disco has been empty. Not so, on this cruise. It was packed every night (and not with just the 18-25 yr. set). Take advantage of the early bird tender special if you have an independent tour scheduled. Port highlights: Cave Tubing in Belize or plan to snorkel the Belize Reef and Shark Ray Alley; Swimming with stingray in Grand Cayman; Swim with Dolphins in Cozumel or hang out at a beach like Mr. Sancho’s; Get out of the port complex in Costa Maya and visit the town of Mahuhual or visit the ruins on a shore excursion. According to Pat: Don’t waste your time or money on the City & Sanctuary Tour in Belize. She found it boring and for her it had absolutely no redeeming values. The guides were poorly prepared and their knowledge of Belize was extremely limited. In fact, we will be returning to Belize in April and Pat has already decided that she will definitely be staying onboard. For those who may have late flights for the return home, a convenient baggage storage service is available at the Tampa Port for $5 per bag. The Splendour of the Seaqs Anchored Final Evaluation: In the final analysis, all things considered, these are the grades that I would assign to the Splendour of the Seas on this particular sailing: Appearance: “B+” (The Vision Class ships are still quite attractive and the Splendour is no exception. All of the public areas were kept clean and polished, but it lacked a special pizzazz that would give it an “A” grade) Staff/Service: “B+” (Everyone was friendly and helpful without being overbearing.) Food & Dining: “B” (My experience in the main dining room was great, but the buffets were only standard fare) Entertainment: “B+” (The production shows were stellar, the headliners were entertaining and I enjoyed Barry from Boston, but some of the other talent was not what I would rate as “A” material) Activities: “B” (Although there were a variety of options, I think there were many Baby Boomers onboard who would like to have had more opportunities for enrichment – like computer classes, more than one digital photography class, cultural lectures, even gaming lessons, etc . Stateroom: “B-“ (The cabin was attractive and well designed, but the shower was only satisfactory, I missed a refrigerator and would have liked voicemail service on the phone) but this was a pretty standard Western Caribbean itinerary)

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By KAZ_CR

  • New

Jan 29, 2005

Western Caribbean

Here’s my attempt at a cruise review ... simply, Splendour of the Seas was indeed a SPLENDOUR! We has a magnificent cruise, "Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams". We were able to go to all 4 ports of call, as according to previous posts here and crew members, they've had to skip Grand Cayman the past 3 cruises due to rough weather. The only "bad" weather was the final day at sea heading back to Tampa, as it was a

bit windy and mostly overcast., but there are tons of things to do onboard. Departure For those of you parking cars, the parking garage is right across from RCCL’s cruise terminal ($10/day). However, drop your suitcases off first to the agents at the terminal, then drive the car to the garage to park. Then, you basically just walk across the street without baggage to the terminal. We walked right in and almost immediately completed our check-in around 11:30am. After briefly sitting in the waiting area, I’d say by noon we were on the ship, we’re both Crown & Anchor members from our previous cruise, so they let you board first! After exploring the ship, eating lunch at the Windjammer Cafe, and stopping at a few bars to sample cocktails, it was probably around 2pm when they had opened the room hallway corridors so we checked on our room. Both of my bags were there but my companion’s didn’t make it until closer to the 5pm departure. We were on Deck 6, Ocean view stateroom, right outside the Photo Gallery, thus in the middle of the ship with easy access to elevators and stairs. Our Crown & Anchor coupon books were waiting for us on the bed. The room looked brand new, extremely clean, especially the bathroom which was spotless. Our stateroom attendant Agnes was fantastic the entire trip. Weather was sunny and 70’ for our 5pm departure. Captain Petter told us we would go under the massive Sunshine Skyway Bridge at 7:30pm, which I commute to work over, so I had to experience that. They must have a very slow channel speed limit in the Port of Tampa for us to take 2.5 hours to get there, but trust me, the time flew. Much to my surprise, there were quite a few folks at the front of the ship to experience the event, it was pretty coool to see, just wish it still had been daylight. Off to change for the late dinner seating at 8:30pm, ate, a few after dinner cocktails at the piano bar in Schooner’s, then time for bed. "Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams" I’m not going to day-by-day, but did want to highlight an incredible 24 hours or so we had starting Weds. morning in Belize. We woke up to a leisurely breakfast at the Windjammer, then sat by the pool for a few hours to really relax, get some sun, and let the mad rush of people off the ship as we were in no hurry. Got ready and caught a tender with little to no waiting to Belize, checked out the sights, then returned to the ship to get ready in our formal attire for our Crown & Anchor welcome back reception and formal dinner. I had a new shiny little cocktail dress, so I was excited to be able to sport that at both events. The reception was very nice at which we sat at the bar in the Top Hat Lounge and had free-flowing CHAMPAGNE. I’d take a sip or two and the bartender would top me off immediately. And of course dinner was yummy as always. After dinner, we changed into casual clothes to have a cocktail at Schooner’s, as we wanted to stay up to see the midnight buffet. I wandered into the casino, had been there briefly 2 other days but nothing, but this time Lady Lucky was shining on me. Put a $20 into the 2-quarter Red, White, & Blue double slot ... within a pull I hit 60 coins, then in another pull or so .... JACKPOT!!! I hit a red 7, double, double which was $600!!! Needless to say, I was ecstatic, as cruise casinos generally don’t have loose slots. After receiving the hand pay of $600 (don’t forget to tip slot host), I still had 130 or so credits so we played a bit more, hit another $160 and built it up to $250, then figured it was time to leave as a winner .... $850 for the night and the cruise. Did not go near the casino after that, as how am I going to top such gambling? On to the midnight buffet which was seafood themed, and yes, had CAVIAR. Exhausted, but happy, we went to bed. Woke up the next day figuring my winnings had paid for my cruise, but my companion talked me into treating myself with the “free money”. So, I used part of it at Diamonds International in Cozumel and spoiled myself with a 1 karat DIAMOND tennis bracelet. Phew! The cruise was just heavenly, but those 24 hours were something else. I wish you all the same luck! Shopping/Excursions -- I highly suggest attending the Discover Shopping Talk on Day Two, as Karen will review and recommend places to shop in both Grand Cayman and Cozumel. plus she’ll tell you how to get a few taxi voucher from her for Cozumel. Each evening/morning before all 4 ports you’ll receive an Explore Shopping guide listing shops that RCCL recommends, but Karen gets into more detail specifically on Grand Cayman and Cozumel, as those ports have much much more to offer than Costa Maya or Belize. Regarding excursions, having heard from fellow passengers and friends, let alone what we witnessed in Costa Maya (see below), I’d strongly encourage you to book excursions via RCCL. Why? Because they only book with reputable folks and guarantee money back if problems/cancellations, it’s safer as you never know about the public excursions offered on land and your safety, the quality of where they take you and your guide (table mates said their snorkel excursion was a joke, wished they had gone through RCCL), and lastly, RCCL will wait for you if you are late returning to the ship from an excursion booked through them but not for one you booked yourself since they don’t even know about it. Ports of Call Grand Cayman (tender) -- We did the city tour/turtle farm excursion which was reasonably priced and lasted a couple of hours. It was very enjoyable, as you get to see a few attractions (like the bizarre land of "hell"), especially the gigantic sea turtles. You are able to pick up the smaller ones for photos. The devastation from Hurricane Ivan is quite noticeable, as we were told it was very lush in areas where it was now barren. When done, we walked around to do a bit of shopping and sight-seeing in the port area, which was very safe. Go to Tortugas, CHEAP rum prices, on both their own and Bacardi ... convenient too, as they delivered to the ship and we received it in our cabin the final afternoon of the cruise. Rum cake samples were delicious too. Costa Maya (port) – Very pretty, but to me it seemed like a little shopping strip on a beach set-up just for the cruise ships. They did have some unique items none of the other ports had, but the shops are a bit pushy and definitely be ready to barter. A straw hat I was interested in I was told $25 at first and got it done to $10 which is what it was worth. They have a couple of bar/restaurants, a pool area, and a nice beach you can spend the afternoon at. Some people snorkeled right there on the beach. Several people we spoke to did snorkeling excursions in Costa Maya and liked it. We were docked right next to the Princess’ Grand Princess, which left about 30 minutes before us, to which we all waved good-bye to the folks waving to us. About 5-10 minutes later, we see this speed boat dash from the dock out to the Grand Princess. The gangway door opened as the ship slowed down a bit, and it was quite a spectacle watching them get this woman into the ship. Evidently it was quite an expensive speed boat ride and we were also told she would be heavily fined by the cruise line. Yikes! Belize (tender) -- Unlike Grand Cayman, it was a good 20 minute tender ride to land, as we were anchored far away. Honestly, I wish I had taken an excursion, else there's little reason to get off the ship. The shopping area isn't much to see, and you have to stay in the contained village area or else it's not very safe, actually I’d use the word seedy which several crew members warned us. I heard the caves tubing is pretty cool, but it's a very long bus ride to/from and thus the excursion takes up most of the day. Cozumel (dock) – Fun fun fun! Use your taxi voucher (from Karen’s shopping desk) to get to the Forum Shops, farthest shopping point from ship, then walk your way most of way back, grab a taxi from wherever you’re done shopping for $6 back to the ship. Great shopping, lots of stores, variety, very safe, good prices, etc. Diamonds, silver, Mexican arts, trinkets, blankets, etc. For a wild crazy time or just a beer to watch the antics, stop in to Carlos & Charles and/or Senior Frog’s. They’re next door to each other and they always hopping. While most other ports had 3 or 4 ships in port, Cozumel must have had 10 or so. I actually wish we were in Cozumel for 2 days, as I’d of ventured further out from the main area. Some people also rented scooters, plus all along the short area there are beaches at which we saw people tanning, relaxing, snorkeling, etc. As were departing, some poor guy in his mid-20’s was on the dock with his suitcases shouting up to his friends. Evidently had planned to leave the cruise here and fly to NYC on business. Well, he had immigrated properly with the Mexican authorities, but had officially disembarked, so neither RCCL would take him back nor did Mexico feel he was legal. So, he was escorted away by a policeman as we left the dock. Hopefully it was a happy ending for him. Crown & Anchor Society Given the fact we’ve only been on 1 other RCCL cruise, thus Gold Members, I was quite pleased with the benefits. You get to board in Tampa before other passengers and our saving booklet was in our cabin on the first evening with some decent offers for being just gold – 2 for 1 cocktail, free wine-tasting ($10 value), internet use, free ship photo w/photo gallery purchase, casino deals, etc. The welcome back reception with the Captain on Weds. was free-flowing alcohol of your choice, hors d’oeuvres, and the Captain spoke/answer questions. Lastly, the RCCL logo gift which was in our cabin the last evening was very nice ... I’ll say no more so it will be a surprise. Bars/Lounges All of them were nice, but we spent most cocktail time outside near the pool bar or in Schooner’s. The Viking Crown is always a beautiful spot for a sunset. Poolside, look for a Jamaican female named Venice, she's very cool! We ordered most of our drinks from her, she's fast and friendly! Gave us a lot of good advice about the ship and the ports of call. Our bar bill was reasonable all in all, but the complimentary wine tasting, welcome back reception, and bottles of wine we brought in our suitcases certainly helped. Again, we packed a few bottle in our luggage with a corkscrew and we had no problems having it in the room and filling a glass to take to the dining room for dinner. Just don’t be blatant about it, keep it in one of your stateroom cabins. While the beer and cocktails prices are reasonable for a cruise, the only 1 of my 2 complaints would be that their bottled wine prices were 3x what you’d see in a store at home. The other complaint would be that juices should be complimentary all day, not just at breakfast. Misc. Champagne Art Auction – offered twice during cruise. We didn’t participate, but was fun to watch, and there’s FREE champagne. Wine Tasting – was a lot of fun and interesting. Plus, we met some wonderful people at our table that we saw/hung out with during other parts of the cruise. Pool Games – didn’t participate, but they are daily. If you’re at the pool, fun to watch adults being silly as kids. Washing Hands – get ready. Every time you board the ship and enter the Windjammer, you will have to sterilize your hands with that gel. Dining – with the exception of one night, we ate all of our dinners in the King and I dining room. We chose the late seating as we didn’t want to be rushed to get back to the ship at a port to get ready for an early seating. Plus please don’t take offense, but we are in our our early 40’s and the late seating leans more towards younger and middle-aged folks like us, while the early seating has the families w/kids and older seniors. Room Service – remember, it’s complimentary, so use it! Great for breakfast, serves as an excellent wake-up call. Snacks – pizza, hotdogs, burger, chicken sandwich, and fries in the Solarium. Around 3 pm near the pool bar they have Mexican snacks where you can make tacos or nachos. Photos – this cruise didn’t seem to take as many photos of you, which is fine by me. We only bought 3 of ours, as they can be pricey. Entertainment – the Star struck dinner show was quite good, a lot of talented people. Barry from Boston in the piano bar is a great piano player but just an o.k. singer. We had such a fantastic piano bar guy on Sovereign, it would be tough to top him. Happened upon karaoke the one evening and we were surprised by the talent of the singers, the number of people in attendance, and the unbelievable clapping/support the audience gave even to the poor performers. Miniature Golf/Ping Pong – always a good time, be a kid again .... be an adult, play for beers! Arrival to Tampa Always such a sad day. :-( Suitcases had to be in the hallway the night before, 7-10pm with the tags they provided to you that evening in your cabin. We had the late dinner seating, so got back to the room around 10-10:30am to change into shorts, and our bags were still in the hallway surprisingly, so we quickly seized the opportunity and shoved our dinner clothes in them and they were picked up shortly after that. We had to be out of our cabin by 8am, so we caught breakfast in the dining room. We were yellow tag – 2 ... suppose to be 10:30am off the ship, but ended up more like 9:30am when we were called. The entire process from when we left the ship, cleared customs, and got our back took at most an hour. Fortunately we live in the Tampa area, so we got to at least be home immediately and stay in warm weather. I felt for the poor people who had to catch flights returning to cold, snow weather. Overall The food was very very good, the crew and service was excellent, from the waiters at the pool for drinks to our state room attendant. For being 9 years old, the ship looks fantastic, she’s beautiful, they keep her in great shape and super clean. What a wonderful cruise vacation we had with the food, service, activities, ports, etc! Definitely one of the best vacations I’ve ever had and the 7 days just flew by. I’d recommend this cruise/ship to anyone! Bon Voyage to those of you heading on Splendour of the Seas! I’m sure I missed things, so don’t hesitate to ask any questions, and I’ll try to answer.  

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Jan 2, 2005

Western Caribbean

Well I don’t know where to start…I guess Tampa. It was my first visit to Tampa and our first cruise. Ask me a year ago if I wanted to go on a cruise and I would have told you not no but h*** no am I going to spend a week on a crowded boat laying by the pool all day drinking my vacation away and having to get dressed up every night to eat “ship food”. Ask me now and I will have my bags packed and flight booked waiting on your doorstep.

We actually got to Tampa a couple of days early to visit family for New Year’s. We were new to this so we went for a drive Saturday the 1st just to see where we had to go the next day. SIMPLE. The port is very nice and easy to get to, compared to our port in Texas, which, from some visits to Galveston, is not too nice. It was easy to find the right terminal and plenty of room for everyone. If you can take the long way from the airport and go down Bay shore Drive….Beautiful view. Our agent told us to get there early even though the book said boarding starts at 1:00pm. We, in our excitement, got there at 11:30am…went through check in…got our pics taken boarding…found our floor….12:15pm. I was told this would take a couple of hours. Maybe we were lucky? I do however recommend getting passports even though a birth cert. is fine, Its just much easier, even though you will only use them twice (once to embark and next when you come back through customs). And get there EARLY!!!! We went to see our room. We got the jr. suite with a balcony and it was worth the extra 200.00…..incredible view. We were on the 8th deck, the highest deck with rooms. I was kind of worried it would be noisy since the pool deck was above us but we were in the aft so it was fine. I would recommend being fore or aft if you are on the top deck, because you can hear the pool splash from down below in the middle. We got to our room and the attendant came by and said he had a little more to do but he would let us get settled first……This was the first encounter of the SUPERB service we experienced. We found the Windjammer easy…follow the crowd. There was plenty to choose from. We ate 5 times the first 4 hours, but…..I do feel that SOME of the food was not up to par. In all I would rate the Windjammer a 4 out of five stars, the Dinning room a 2 ½ stars and the Solarium café 3, only because the menu never changed. The Pizza was GREAT however, Hamburgers grilled, and the hot dogs………well, they were hot dogs. Pizza GREAT, I guess I mentioned that. The dining room dessert was incredible as was the appetizers, but the main meal disappointed. We only ate there 3 nights though….maybe we hit the bad nights?? Although if you didn’t like the food they would gladly take it back and bring something else, or if you wanted one of everything they would do that to. I usually got two shrimp cocktails, they were very good. As far as the dress code. What code??? IT’S VACATION!!!!!!!! We packed way too many cloths. We took suits and evening gowns for the formal and felt over dressed. Not really, but as far as the women’s dress…don’t spend time or money for an evening gown…just bring your Sunday best. Most men wore suits, a few tucks, some not even a suit. Mainly bring comfortable cloths. Dockers, Kakis, polo-golf shirts, shorts, t-shirts, “Sunday dress”. We only went to one formal night and did the pictures which were very nice and worth the 20.00. You will have your picture taken about 20 times. You can go to the photo gallery look at the pics, find the ones you like trash the others. You only buy the ones you like, or none. Next were the activities. I could spend two paragraphs on this but I will just say….GREAT. I do have to mention that we were lucky to have the room next to us to be the entertainer’s room. We had John Davidson one night and (excuse the spelling) Yackov Smirnoff the other. We met them both. The shows great, the entertainers great, the on-board activities crew incredible. GO TO BINGO…YES BINGO. Hamish was the best BINGO guy ever. Don’t forget the casino. And I must finish buy saying hello to Andre’ from the Ukraine. The BEST bartender ever!! Knew all the card/bar tricks and a hoot to B.S. with…I spent a lot of time at Top Hat Lounge, needless to say. You don’t have to tip the attendants because it is figured in the tab…But you can add an extra tip for “excellent service” and with Andre’ I did!!! Well worth it. My girlfriend said many times that if we never got off the ship this would be an incredible trip…..Of course we couldn’t do that…The diamond shops were on shore!!!! Our first stop was Costa Maya. Not very impressed. We decided not to go on any excursions except the cave tubing in Belize. We kind of missed that though because of the night before partying….But what happens on the ship stays on the ship!! Anyway when at Costa Maya go parasailing or something because there is not much shopping to do and the restaurants weren’t all that great. The water not as clear as Cozumel but nice. Snorkeling would be nice. We just wanted to experience the port and the shops, we both have been snorkeling before, and we wanted to do that in Cozumel. The next stop was Belize. We didn’t dock there we tendered there. Like I said before we were going to go cave tubing, which I heard was incredible, but we kind of oversleep and literally missed the boat! We had lunch and went on shore later that afternoon. It took 1 hour of wait to take a 10 minute boat ride to shore to see a dirty town! It will be a nice stop a couple of years down the road; they are doing some expansion and renovation now. By far Cozumel was the best! Mexico yes…..but you expect that. We docked up the road at the international pier and had to take a 6.00 cab ride to the “SHOPS” and of course Carlos and Charlie’s. I am glad the boat stayed until 11:00pm. But we could have stayed another day. We mostly shopped, went to a near by beach did some snorkeling ate lunch shopped more, went to Carlos and Charlie’s, and back on the ship……YES it happened that fast…Day gone! In conclusion I would definitely take another Royal Caribbean cruise…..I’m thinking Mariner of the Seas, January 21, 2006, Eastern Caribbean, Port Canaveral. I want to experience the BIG boat! Look me up if you are on board…..I will be by a bar somewhere!  

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Jan 2, 2005

Western Caribbean

[email protected] Overall Impression I traveled with my husband, his cousin and wife – all of us are late-20’s and early-30’s. We had a terrific time. The food was terrific, the ship was clean, and the staff was friendly. Embarkation There’s a lot of construction in Downtown Tampa, so finding the port was difficult. Once we were there, embarkation went smoothly. Within fifteen minutes of walking into the terminal, we

were onboard. Cabin The cabin was tiny, but then again, we didn’t spend that much time in our cabin other than sleeping. We had an adjacent cabin to the other couple that we were traveling with. Nina, our cabin steward, was terrific. The water temperature in the shower was good. There was a good selection of TV to watch – my favorites were CNN International, the sitcom station, and music videos. Passengers It was a very white crowd, not as ethnically diverse as other ships that we’ve been on, which was a bit disappointing. There were people of all ages onboard, from small kids to senior citizens. Ports Costa Maya This port was clearly manufactured by the cruising industry. You won’t find anything resembling true Mexican culture here, unless you get on a bus. We booked a snorkeling trip through a local vendor. Including transportation to Majahual, a small fishing village about ten minutes away, this cost us $25 per person, as opposed to booking through Royal Caribbean, which would have been $54 per person. The snorkeling was ok, and I think we got some extra time out on the boat. Belize City Here’s the part where we got most frustrated with Royal Caribbean. The night before, we were told that if we get in line between 7 and 8 am, we’ll get right on a tender boat to Belize City. This was not the case. We were on line at 7:45 am. There were a couple hundred people waiting by the time we got in line, so the line went up the stairs up to the third level. It was very disorganized with people getting off the elevator and cutting in front of others. Then, in spite of waiting for a while, they let a couple of hundred people who were booked on excursions cut in front of us. It was rather frustrating. So, we didn’t get ashore until about 8:45 am, barely arriving in time for our tour. We booked Cave Tubing through www.ecotoursbelize.com because we had read some terrific reviews. The rave reviews were well-deserved. Our tour guide Junior was awesome. I highly recommend cave tubing; it’s a once in a lifetime thing to do. You float in a tube through caves with a headlamp on. Then we went for lunch to Amigos, a local restaurant. Once again, you can book through the ship for $89/person, or through any local vendor for $60/person. Cozumel We took a taxi to Paradise Beach, which we were told was free with free lounge chairs. But, nothing is free in Mexico. We either had to purchase drinks or food or a $5 wristband to use the kayaks, trampoline, and climbing rock. That was no big deal. The beach and restrooms were pretty clean. Entertainment Gavin, the Cruise Director, was good, other than his annoying overuse of the expression “wooohoo!” On the first night, we had magician Mark Taylor who was awesome. The next night was a show by the dancers/singers onboard. I forget the name, but it’s your standard cruise show of let’s find a lame plot line and throw together a bunch of scenes from musicals so that we appeal to every generation on board. It was done well. Then we had John Davidson, the former host of Hollywood Squares. He was somewhat entertaining. All I kept thinking through the show was, man this guy got old! Next was “Jump, Jive, & Swing” with the singers/dancers doing a little jig for the elders onboard – I fell asleep about 10 minutes into it. We also had Yakov Smirnoff, who of course was funny, but Al Romas, who is less known, was even funnier. The last night was Elaine Lesley, the “International Singing Star” – who??? So we skipped that one. We eavesdropped on the end, which was this terrible, melodramatic version of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, and were glad we skipped it. The Gym As I work out 5-6 days per week, I was there every day. I was impressed with the facilities. It was clean. There were plenty of treadmills, elliptical trainers, and bikes. There were also a few nautilus-style machines, free weights, stability balls, and mats. Food Mmmmm yummy! The Windjammer, which is the buffet, had lots of choices and excellent food. The soft-serve ice cream machines were a nice amenity, though the ice cream was too icy, which I remember from working at a frozen yogurt place as a teenager means that the machine isn’t working properly. The King and I, which is the main dining room, was terrific for dinner. There were lots of choices on the menu, and there was always a listing of vegetarian choices. We gorged ourselves every night. Our waiter was good, but not the most friendly that we’d encountered, possibly because her English wasn’t so good. She would tell us that everything we ordered was a “very good choice” and “good I’m glad you like” when she picked up our dishes. Vegetarian Stuff As a vegetarian, I feel obliged to mention my experience, as it’s a big consideration for me when traveling. The vegetarian options onboard were good and plentiful, even up in the Windjammer, and were far better than my experience on Carnival. However, there are only so many times that you can eat some variation of grilled vegetables on a bed of pasta/rice/starch. I would have liked to see vegetarian options with more protein, like a tofu stir-fry. Room Service Not terribly punctual. On the first morning, we ordered room service to arrive from 9-9:30. At 9:35, I called down and was told they had not received our order, that “The children probably stole it” off of our door. So, we wandered up to the Windjammer. In the meantime, around 9:45 we’re told, our breakfast was delivered, but unfortunately, we had already left. Another day we ordered room service, it arrived toward the later end of the half hour block that we requested. Security Though I didn’t plan on encountering them, I was impressed with the security officers on board. They were very professional. The issue that occurred was one involving a single employee, and I certainly don’t hold it against Royal Caribbean. Debarkation Debarkation was very smooth and ahead of schedule.  

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Nov 13, 2004

Barcelona to Tampa Bay

My husband and I wanted to sail transatlantic on a ship that offered several days at sea. The repositioning itinerary of Splendor of the Seas sailing from Barcelona to Tampa Bay was perfect. We live across the bay in St. Petersburg, Florida. Another plus for booking this cruise, was being able to board the ship the day before it sailed. This eliminated flying to Barcelona a day early and overnighting in a hotel. From the airport, we hailed

a taxi to transfer to the ship. The eighteen mile trip cost us $20.00. The check-in at the pier was just as speedy as the taxi ride! Before entering the Atlantic Ocean, three ports-of-call were visited. Barcelona, Alicante and Malaga. Shuttle service from the ship to two cities was offered by the cruise line. In Malaga, we could walk to the main shopping area. In both Barcelona and Malaga there is a two hour hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus with narration's in several languages. Good value for for both time and money. As we watched Malaga disappear, late in the afternoon, the buzz on the deck was about the ship sailing past the "Rock" that evening. Someone said the best view will be from the windows of the Windjammer Cafe. That someone was right! The Rock of Gilbraltar was lighted with spotlights and easy to see from the windows of the buffet restuarant. It was a sight to behold! The last port before six days at sea was Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, off the west coast of Africa. Again, shuttle service was offered from the ship to the main area of the city. As we departed Tenerife, we realized the next land we would see was seven days away. The words "what if" spun in the windmills of our minds. "What if" we encountered a hurricane? Would we be tossed about like Dorothy in Kansas? "What if" boredom set in? "What if" we ran out of food? Well, the sea was calm, with no waves over four feet. We forgot about a storm spinning off the coast of Africa. The temperatures were in the mid-seventies. Cruisers walked and jogged the track wearing shorts and sleeveless tees. Others played twelve holes of minature golf. A few people climbed the rock wall. It must have given them a rush to look at the expanse of water from the top. And then there were the swimming pools and whirlpools. The adult-only indoor pool has machine made waves, that by the end of the day became quite strong. The card room and library were always in use and in the public rooms, you could hear bingo numbers being called, or the sound-track of a first run movie, or the auctioneer's voice selling an original work of art. There were cooking demonstrations, wine tastings, and poolside contests. No time for boredom to rear it's ungliness. And for the last "what if". "What if" the kitchens ran out of food? If you could have seen us disembarking in Tampa, you would know the kitchens never closed. We looked like bears coming out of hibernation! A friend told me, many years ago, before we had cruised, that getting off at the ports was incidental, it's the fun you have on the ship that makes cruising so special. So six consecutive days at sea is not boring, is not tedious, is not gloomy. When the ship docked in Nassau, nobody kissed the ground. Now that's cruising.  

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Jul 31, 2004

Meditterrean

I have taken numerous cruises before, and was very disappointed with the Splendour of the Seas. The food and service on the ship are sub-par, with the food being a major disappointment. The quality rarely got above "Coffee Shop" standards, and was extremely unimanginative. Basically, every meals was chicken, beef, or salmon, and was usually only lukewarm. The ship looks dated, and one should avoid any cabins below the swimming

pools, as the noice will keep you awake all night. The constant "nickel and diming" buy the crew gets annoying. You are always being hustled to buy a cocktail, a picture, etc. Also, RCCL is not charging for espressos and other coffee drinks, and has the nerve to charge for cold, inedible "Tapas" at the pool side bar. The itinerary is very good, and I would definitely recommend taking the trip to Avignon on Sunday when the ship docks in Marseille. (Otherwise, there is very little to do in Marseille, and the city is not very attractive.) Also, Florence is very crowded in summer, and be forewarned that you will not get into any major attractions unless you are on a tour, or you book your museum reservations in advance on the internet. We would definitely take another European cruise, but not on RCCL.

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May 15, 2004

Mediterranean Cruise

The only other cruises my wife and I have taken wer of the budget variety with Carnival and Sun Cruises. This we thought would be a step up. Things didn't start very well with my case being left in England whilst I was in Barcelona. We found out later that I was just one of about 44 other cruisers who had lost their luggage. It became quite stressful having

only the clothes I stood up for 3 days until I could buy more or until my case caught up with me as it did in Villefranche. The first thing we found when we checked in at the cruise terminal that the meal sittings hads been changed from 2 siitings at 18:30 and 20:15 to 4 sittings at 18:30, 19:30, 21:00 and 22:00. we had been moved from the 2 nd sitting to the 21:00 sitting so first job was to change this to 19:30. Then we found that on some nights the shows in the 42nd Street Theatre were only put one once at 20:00 and on other nights at 19:15 and 21:00. We thought that being on the 19:30 sitting we would be able to see the shows at 21:00 but we were wrong about that. Each night our dinner took 2 hours to serve. By the end of the cruise we realised it was not the fault of the waiting staff but must have been the fault of the kitchens so when we wanted to see the show on the Thursday evening we had to forego the sweets and coffee. Also we compared the quality of the food both in the King & I restaurant and the Windjammer Cafe with our previous cruises. Sorry RCCL but the budget cruises won hand down. Almost all the food in the 2 main eating areas was usually only luke warm. We were also looking forward to the "midnight" buffets which on our 2 previous cruises had taken place each night but were surprised to find that these did not exist on Splendour apart from the Thursday night when they had one called "The Grand Gala Buffet" at 0:45. Any later and it could have been breakfast. Anyway onto the ports of call. Day 1 - Marseille. OK but bear in mind that it is Sunday so very few shops open (if you have to buy neew clothes). Otherwise quite a pleasant city. Day 2 - Villefranche. A very nice town and such easy access to Cannes, Nice, Monaco/Monte Carlo.We did Nice to buy clothes and Monaco/ Monte Carlo but this was busy due to the setting up of the equipment for the Monaco Grand Prix. Day 3 - Livorno. A word of warning for do it yourself siteseers like us. The train line between Florence and Livorno is not very reliable and many passengers had difficulty getting back to the ship before it sailed without spending a lot of money on taxis. Be careful about this. If you do want to go to Florence under yout own steam the n go in a group so that if you have to get a taxi back there are otheres to share the cost (£100, $170 or 150 Euros). day 4 - Civitavechia. Possibly the best day of the cruise. The ship will not inform you of the following or no-one would book the tours but each Wednesday morning the Pope gives a public mass in St Peters Square where ther could be as many as 100,000 people. A magnificent site. It also proved very easy to get round most of the other main sites in Rome by bus or taxi. Day 5 - Naples. Don't bother with Naples but you could get round Pompeii, Sorrento and Capri all in one day if you set off early. Get the train to Pompeii and spend 2 hours there then continue on the train to Sorrento for a few housrs and then take the ferry from there to Capri. At the end of the day return to Naples on the ferry which drops you off at the side of the ship. Another warning to older passengers on the ship or any ship using Barcelona port. Beware of rogue porters. When we disembarked 2 ladied took the advice of RCCL and aske a porter to take their luggage round to the taxi rank but as they could not walk fast they did not keep up with the porter. When they reached the taxi rank there was no sign of the porter or their luggage and RCCL did not want anything to do with it. Our cruise was a mixture of stress, dissapointment, great scenery and wonderful sites but it may be some time before we take a RCCL cruise again. Just to top it off my wife had her hand luggage stolen on Barcelona on the morning we returned home. I do hope future passengers on this ship experience a better time than se did.

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May 15, 2004

7 day Med. from Barcelona

When we go our tickets we noticed Malta was no longer on the schedule and another port in France added, but we thought no big deal. The first day, Sunday, nothing was open, what a waste. We should have stayed on the ship. The French can keep their country with all the dog droppings on the sidewalks. Monday we took a tour into

Monaco and Monte Carlo. Several members of the tour were left behind at the first stop. The French tour guides response was "too bad, we had an appointment". At the next stop, the Casino at Monte Carlo (which was closed) my wife and I were almost left behind. A couple on the bus insisted that the guide go back and find us, when the guide came back she was very rude and argued with my wife for several minutes. We cancelled the remainder of the tours we had booked for the week. The tour desk is only manned for 1 or 2 hours a day making it hard to cancel. We also had to transfer to city buses with SRO for the Monaco portion. Tuesday was better, we went to a modern Tuscan winery and got loaded tasting local wines. Not the greatest but potent. The red reserve was the best. Wed. we stayed on the boat and relaxed. Most of the areas to tour were about 2 hours away and we heard transportation was unreliable. Thursday we decided to go for a walk and see Naples (Napoli). Just as we left the ship a cabbie asked (in very good english) if we would like a tour of Naples, Sorrento etc. Since we had not planned on doing much that day we did not have much cash and told him we we did not have enough for the entire day. He had started at 260 Euros for the day and finally accepted 200. We were with him from 9:30am til 6pm and had the best day of the trip. A personalized tour, not a cattle drive, for the same price. We chose what we wanted to see, stopped for coffee, stopped to take pictures, went to the factories and wholesalers not the tourist traps that charge twice as much. At dinner that night the people that took the tours from the boat said the buses were stuck in traffic for 4 hours and the afternoon tours were cancelled we were glad we had cancelled. Friday was a day at sea. Sunday was the flight home.

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Apr 12, 2004

Western Caribbean

My husband and I with our three children traveled on the Splendour of the Seas from April 12 to April 17. The cruise overall was O.K. but unfortunately three things ruined the entire trip for me. First, the disembarkment was totally disorganized and they didn’t have enough buses to get us from Galveston to the Houston Airport. We stood in the middle of

traffic and bus fumes for 30 minutes. Second, we had two cabins and I somehow left most of my 11 year old daughter’s brand new clothes in one of the drawers. I called them right away Sunday morning and they told me that their policy is that any lost clothing is immediately donated to Good Will Charities. I called my travel agent today who had never heard of this policy and I then talked to a supervisor at Royal Caribbean again and she reiterated this ridiculous policy. And third, my husband’s credit card was stolen from the room. We had two adjoining cabins and I did notice a couple of times that they left our cabin door propped open when they were in the other cabin cleaning. So, I don’t know if the thief was a Royal Caribbean employee or not but in any event they shouldn’t have left the door propped open. Needless to say, if we cruise again, it will not be on Royal Caribbean.

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Mar 29, 2004

Western Caribbean

Sorry this is so long, but I love reading the reviews on this site and don’t see a lot of postings recently, so … here goes. Our family of five sailed on Splendour of the Seas on March 29-April 3, a five-night cruise with stops in Cozumel and Costa Maya. My wife and I had been on cruises before and thought our kids (ages 15, 12 and 10) would

enjoy taking one someday. We planned well in advance for the trip, choosing Galveston because we could drive there and the Splendour because its five-day cruise fit into the kids’ spring break week from school. The port of Galveston was easy to find and accessible (on a Saturday). The area is a little bit dumpy, but there seemed to be some nice restaurants in the area … and if it becomes a common sailing port, I’m sure they’ll fix it up. Parking was close, the shuttle service was great (45 bucks to park for five days) … At any rate, we wanted to be among the first people on board … we got there about noon. So embarkation was quick, we got on, and started exploring – and eating! Our cabins were on floor 2. My son and I had an inside cabin, and my wife and the girls were in an outside, with a Pullman. They were small, but comfortable, and we chose them because we didn’t plan on spending much time in the rooms; and they were the least expensive on the ship. We knew going in that the bathrooms would be tiny. Big deal. Our cabin steward, Javier, was outstanding. Yes, they don’t turn down your bed on the first night because they are loading luggage, but it wasn’t a big problem. We can turn them down ourselves. And get chocolate elsewhere. Javier made towel animals for the kids, which really delighted them. Being in the lowest berth, and having a steward like that, is a real feather in Royal Caribbean’s hat. A slight aside … the in-room movies were excellent. We don’t watch many up-to-date movies, and on the rare occasions were in the rooms during the trip, we got to see such 2003 classics as Return of the King, School of Rock, Master and Commander: Far Side of the Seas, and Freaky Friday. It would have been nice if the ship had a movie theater to show those flicks during the day; on a previous cruise, our ship did have a theater to show such movies. The Windjammer was our first stop for the buffet. Of course, this is the highlight of any Royal Caribbean cruise … lots of food, plates the size of cafeteria trays. Our kids also enjoyed the endless supply of ice-cream cones by the outdoor pool, and the snack bar in the Solarium pool where you could get burgers, pizza and – best of all – French fries. We showed them the lay of the land so they would never go hungry! You can also buy drink cards so your kids can get pop/juice, but our kids were happy (we think) getting lemonade or water at poolside between meals. They had milk and juice at dinner. Another aside – we took a water purifying pitcher to keep in our rooms, and our steward delivered a pitcher of ice water at all times. We encouraged everyone to stay hydrated for when we started getting too much sun. As for my wife and I, we each got one drink a day, at the nightly show, so we didn’t spend too much money on booze. (When in Mexico, however, we drank quite a bit of beer, whenever we could get a can for a buck. We also brought two bottles of liquor on board ship in Cozumel, and they didn’t say a word … it was in our carry on bag. So, I guess you can do that.) There’s a rock-climbing wall that was fun for the kids. They open it for a few hours every day, and limit the number of times you can do it, so it wasn’t dominated by any one group. There are different skill levels, so it’s pretty easy for any kid who puts in a little effort. I guess there used to be an 18-hole mini-golf course there. When they put the rock-climbing wall in, they cut it to 12 holes. It was not very well planned out, and all based on luck. I’m not saying that you have to make it PGA quality, but it could have been better thought out. Usually the golf course was crowded, although if you played it once you usually lost your affection for it. The four shuffleboard courts were usually busy. We were disappointed there was no basketball court. Our kids love to play, and the last cruise we went on had a nice court, with lots of games and contests. I guess there isn’t enough room for a sports court on this ship, but maybe they can replace the dumpy golf greens and put in a basket or two. One thing we like about Royal Caribbean is the pre-dinner (or post-dinner) shows in the 42nd Street Theater. On this cruise, they had two song-and-dance shows by a fairly talented group of players, two comedians and a juggling duo. None could be described as spectacular, but they were all worth seeing. The theater, as advertised, was wonderful for sight lines. The cruise director, Alan Melhuis, was a big jolly guy who was pretty good. We didn’t have much interaction with him, but everyone seemed to like him. We had the 8:30 seating for dinner at the King and I, which was fine. Our table was right next to a serving station … but also right next to a window. Some people were bothered by the location, but we weren’t. The dinner selections were always pretty good … but, as other posters have said, there is no lobster. And the prime rib (which some has said was kind of tough) was served on a Friday night … and during Lent we, as Catholics, stay away from meat on Fridays … so it would have been nice if we’d had lobster that night! (Sorry, I suppose that wasn’t exactly in the religious spirit, eh?) We left Galveston in chilly weather, and our second day – the Day at Sea – was also on the cool side. We got a lot of rain in the afternoon. Still, it was a lot of fun. The kids checked out the teen nightclub, and our 15-year-old son spent a lot of time there and met some friends. The girls (12 and 10) hung with mom and dad. We kept busy all day doing fun things. The only bugaboo was the workout center, which only has three “running’’ treadmills. Since there were a lot of teenagers on board – many of whom appeared to be training for the track season – the running treadmills were hard to get on. But you don’t exactly go on cruises to exercise like a maniac, do you? Another aside – because of spring break week, there were probably more than the usual amount of children on board. That didn’t bother us, having three of them ourselves … but others might have been a bit annoyed. The solarium pool is supposed to be for adults only (over 16) … in that area, they had the snack bar, so there were a lot of kids loading up on food. For the most part the solarium pool wasn’t very busy, but there were some parents who brought younger children in there. No pool police were available to suggest they get the little rug rats out of there. At the outdoor pool, it was hard to find a deck chair some days, but the early bird gets the worm. The hot tubs at the outdoor pool were always full of kids who sat in them forever, and I’m guessing that bugged some people, too. The Day at Sea ended with the captain’s dinner and formal wear. Naturally, we scarfed a few rum punches at the cocktail reception. The formal dinner was really nothing special (again, no lobster?) … and they had their snazzy midnight buffet with ice carvings and food carvings, etc. Fun, but you have to wonder why they do that when there’s a 7 a.m. docking the next day? They should do it before the last Day at Sea, when people can sleep in. The ship docked in Cozumel early Wednesday morning, one of seven ships that was docked there on this day. We got up early to beat the crowds and took a cab to Chankanaab National Park, camped out under a grass hut and rented snorkeling gear. Chankanaab’s coral reef has been trashed over the years; it’s protected now by ropes, but it might have been too late. It’s a good place to snorkel and learn to snorkel, but there aren’t a ton of fish. But it was fun to relax in the sun, walk around, see the iguanas, etc. There are a lot of expensive things to do there (swim with dolphins, etc.), but we just wanted to feel the sand between our toes and swim. Our kids are water maniacs and, coming from a winter climate, we really enjoyed it. We returned to the ship about 2:30 to get a quick snack, then took a cab into town (we were at the International Pier, which is about three miles from town). Immediately after we got dropped off, there was a monsoon that left two feet of water on some streets. We took refuge in a church, and talked to some children and nuns and got a feel for the local life. After the rain slowed, we did some window shopping, then got back to the ship for the 7 p.m. show and dinner. The ship sailed for Costa Maya, and docked early the next morning. I’ve seen a lot of postings saying Royal Caribbean should dump Costa Maya as a port. At the end of the dock is a shopping mall, and the beaches are either private or too rocky to explore. Although Royal Caribbean used to advise against it, most people who didn’t take a tour headed into the little town of Majahual, a cute little town with a beach, some bars and a lot of shops … and not many clean bathrooms, ha! (A lot of people booked excursions on the ship. We are the type of family who usually get off and find something similar, yet less expensive … but if you are a first-time cruiser, booking on the ship is the easy way to go.) We did some swimming, hiking and shopping. Again, we just loved being out in the hot weather. I can see why people wouldn’t think Costa Maya is that exciting, but for me, getting a Cuban cigar and six-pack of beer was just hunky dory. The girls got their hair braided (we saw a wide range of prices for this throughout the cruise … some people paid 100 bucks to have it done, others were as low as 20 bucks). Anyway, the ship left at 3 p.m. (missing three people, I was told) to begin the trip back to Galveston. The Day at Sea was nice and toasty, at least until we got closer to Texas. People were happy to crash out by the deck. There were also lots of programs (Bingo, towel-folding, art auctions, etc.) going on. I haven’t said anything about the casino yet, because we didn’t set foot in it the whole trip. I guess the casinos are kind of fun, but we’re not gambling folks. Likewise, because we were with the kids, we didn’t spend much time in the bars and lounges, so I can’t comment on how much fun they were. But there didn’t seem to be many complaints from people on the ship. The kids ate breakfasts and lunches in the Windjammer, but my wife and I usually went to the King and I to be seated so we could meet people and chat with them. That is one of the most enjoyable parts of the cruise for us. The waiters and assistant waiters all seemed to be helpful. We had nothing but good experience. At dinner, we never saw our headwaiter until the last night, when he stopped by … probably to make sure we hadn’t forgotten him come tip time. We tipped the suggested amount to everyone, even gave a little more to the room steward. As you can tell, we don’t spend much money … outside of the hair braiding, we only bought a couple of jewelry items where we bargained like maniacs. The crew was wonderful, though. We had great conversations with people working at the purser’s desk and in the shopping area. In our opinions, that’s where Royal Caribbean stands out. Debarkation in Galveston was hassle free. We were the last folks off, but we camped out on the top deck, ate at the Windjammer and got some fairly good weather … we got out of Galveston and were on the road home by 10:30. All in all, the trip was exactly as we expected … a wonderful late-winter getaway and a great family trip. I’d suggest it to any family, and we have. We will definitely cruise again, and we like the idea of Galveston, since we can drive there … however, we think next time we might try one of the big ships (Voyageur class) and go for seven days, so we might have to drive to Florida for that. It’s not the cheapest vacation in the world, but it’s pretty close to the best!

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Mar 6, 2004

Mexico

The Royal Caribbean Splendour of the Seas paid a visit to the port of Galveston, and what follows are some of the details of the ship, comments on ports of call and the overall impressions of the vacation. First, we have cruised as a family five prior times on Carnival and Royal Caribbean. This vessel is the newest we have sailed, and the positive

attributes are noted below. The Splendor is a beautiful ship. She has graceful sight lines from the dock, a gorgeous lobby and dining room that all hid the age of the vessel well. The solarium and pool area also show excellent maintenance, and carpets and walls all reflect regular refurbishment schedules. Cabin: Stateroom size appears smaller than the Carnival ships, but the ample amounts of storage made up in the difference. This was our first cruise with a balcony, and as with other things relating to cruises, if you can afford it, get one. The spring weather and wave action made for great cool late evenings with the sound of moving water. It was also a place to view the ports and get out of the wind while enjoying the view. Bed quality is poor at best. These beds were low to the ground, thin and had little back support. In addition, the converted poorly to a couch during the day, and it was of little use. These beds reminded me of the original Carnival ship the Mardi Gras. Food: The Windjammer Café does an excellent job in buffet style meals, and we took advantage of a pre-cruise meal and a couple of breakfasts and lunches. The food has been improved here by comparison to our past Royal Caribbean sailing, and downgraded in the main dining room. Where is the lobster? Missing were both lobster and a quality cut of meat for all the meals. The abundance of chicken and seafood made up for most of the difference, but prime rib was offered only one night, and it was tough. Royal Caribbean has done a nice job compensating for the lack of lobster with good food preparation and presentation, fresh vegetables, excellent desserts, and outstanding service. We had our food quickly, accurately and with the best service we’ve ever experienced. We had one in our group try room service, and it was dreadfully slow. What was dubbed as the midnight buffet has been moved poolside, was lacking in variety and did a poor job substituting for a real well decorated event. This looked like a tailgate party at best. Activities Aboard: We saw all the brochures touting the rock wall and golf course, and we tried the golf. It was luck more than skill, but passed the time prior to sail-away. Bingo was $35.00, so if you want to play all the games bring a C note or two to enjoy all the games. We attended all the evening shows, and the dancers and singers were very good. Prior reviews had not been as kind to these shows, and with good costume selection, excellent sound and nice back up track recorded music the shows were better than we expected. The one performer that was promoted as impersonator of many voices was mediocre, but most in our group liked him. The 42 Street Theatre is truly beautiful, and with no support posts to block view the seats all had excellent views. One note, this theatre had computer enhanced stage lights that follow the performers, and these added a very professional touch to all the performances. Casino gaming was about the same on the other ships, tight slot machines, large amounts of cigarette smoke and all that goes with that, so I didn’t spend much time there. Poolside events were funny, well attended and well emceed. The cruise director (Warren) was funny, worked the crowd well and kept the pace of the events flowing. The second entertainment area was the Top Hat Lounge. We attended all the events here, and even karaoke was entertaining. Again, the dialect and humor of the cruise staff made this happen. This lounge has great seats, nice decorator touches, and all it lacks is enforcement of the smoking versus non-smoking tables. We visited the Viking Lounge only once, and the views from here are outstanding. This lounge was the site of a couple of parties, but we skipped them and opted for a much slower paced evening on the balcony. Solarium and Pools: This ship has a tremendous pool and sun chairs arrangement. The ample supply of deck chairs, and multi-level access made for many choices of places to spend some time. The Solarium is one of the prettiest places on the ship. We took full advantage of the warmth of the sun, the pool and access to the lunch service in this area. Bring your Walkman or Mp3 player and book and spend some time here. It looks like a resort at a fine hotel in this area! The outdoor pool was cold! It was cool in air temperature on this cruise, so this is no fault of RC, but the large selection of hot tubs made up for the weather. Ports: Cozumel has become a city with much to do, and the shore excursions lured us away from the shopping for the first half of the stop. We like Passion Island, but 3 hours to visit the island is far to short. The shopping areas have migrated to the cruise docks, and we saw little need to take a cab downtown. Review the shore activates online long before you go, and make an educated choice as to what you want to do in Cozumel. Costa Maya: (or the town that isn’t a town) This port is man made, created by the cruise line industry. In my opinion this is a place that best serves the goals of separating tourists from their cash. We took in a frozen daiquiri or two, did some shopping, walked around and got back on the ship early. Again, this is a personal observation, as some in our group of 65 loved this port the best. I felt like we were dumped at a mall with bad music and goofy dancers in the courtyard square. The Mayan people probably hadn’t planned for their traditional dances to be performed by the bungee swing and margarita bar. A word about debarkation; this is the first ship that enforced the color bands for clearing immigration officers on board. We were turned away when we tried to expedite the departure process as we have done for 5 cruises in the past. This made the entire process about 90 minutes to leave once we docked. One event that Royal Caribbean handled extremely well was a small fire atop of engine one the evening prior to debarkation back in Galveston. The fire was extinguished almost immediately, and we were two hours late sailing back to Galveston the next morning. Personally, while a fire is no picnic for safety I liked arriving in port in the daylight hours. The views were great! This appears to be an experiment of Royal Caribbean in bringing in a first class vessel for the less than 7-day itineraries. The Rhapsody sails every Sunday from Galveston, and Carnival sails a variety of durations from here. All of us hope it continues. The ports are the only shortcoming about this vacation. Mexico is slow to develop to world class as Nassau, St. Thomas and other ports, but the costs of airfare were skipped on this vacation. Royal Caribbean has a current them called “Get Out There” and I suggest they get our there and net a lobster or two, sail to a better port than Costa Maya and then we have a the perfect vacation for a drive to cruise departure.

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Jan 26, 2004

Western Caribbean

(We are late 40's and have cruised 13 times, including HAL, Celebrity, NCL, and RCI.) Embarkation was fast and smooth. We had an inside cabin. Very small compared to other lines, but adequate even for the long itinerary and all our scuba gear. Cabin steward was excellent; room service was timely and room service food was good.

Ship was clean and well maintained. Lots to do onboard: good gym, rockwall, minigolf, lots of hottubs, nice sauna, etc. Solarium allows for hot tubbing & swimming regardless of weather. Fun dance lessons, games at the pool, and fitness reward program. Ship's crew provided excellent service all-around. Passengers were great. All ages represented, although there were very few children. A good crowd; mostly from Texas and the south/midwest mainly; very friendly and accommodating to fellow passengers and crew. I'm going to start cruising more out of Texas for this reason alone. Food was good (not great) in both dining room and buffet. Not near as good as Celebrity or HAL, but overall tasty and well presented. Lots of selections and good dining service. Entertainment was mediocre. Broadway group was average, singers were mediocre, magician was pretty good. Poolside band good. The Panama Canal itinerary is fantastic. We zip-lined in Costa Rica (outstanding), cave-tubed in Belize (lots of fun), scuba dived in Cozumel and Georgetown (always great). We stayed onboard in Panama and enjoyed the transit. Costa Maya was disappointing for me: poor diving conditions and a poor dive operation. If you are a diver: I recommend DO NOT use the "Blue Haven" dive shop; do not dive with this bunch; overloaded boats, poor transport arrangements, too fast underwater. I wish I had followed my wife around while she shopped and smoked a cigar and sipped a cerveza fria! You WILL enjoy this ship and this itinerary. Small cabins and mediocre entertainment are more than offset by great service, good chow, and so much to do onboard and at the ports.

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Jan 15, 2004

Western Caribbean and Panama Canal

Tom Ogg CruiseReviews at aol.com The Set up Joanie and I were the seminar leaders and escorts for a group of travel professionals aboard the Splendour of the Seas 11-day Western Caribbean and Panama Canal cruise departing from Galveston, Texas. Getting to the Ship: Neither Joanie nor I had been to the port of Galveston before, but had sailed from the port of Houston a number of times. Envisioning the port of Galveston to be similar

to the port of Houston, we scheduled ourselves for a late arrival into Houston’s International Airport and had arranged for a car rental to drive to Galveston and spend the evening before boarding the ship in the morning. We arrived on schedule, rented the car and then followed the signs to Galveston. We had booked ourselves into the Hilton Hotel on the Seawall in Galveston and had little trouble locating it. Driving through Galveston, we immediately recognized that we had made a huge error in our decision to arrive allowing minimal time to explore Galveston. Galveston is a wonderful ocean-oriented community that offers excellent restaurants, shopping and other attractions. We choose Landry’s Restaurant for dinner and it was superb (as always.) Landry’s was an easy choice, as it was conveniently located next to our hotel, but there were easily a dozen quality restaurants we could have patronized instead. The oceanfront seawall runs the length of the area and is lined with all types of businesses that would be of interest to visitors. I was surprised to see surf shops and what looked to be ridable surf around 25th Street. Regretting our decision, I would suggest that everyone stretch their cruise a few days and spend at least two nights in Galveston at one of the hotels located in the seawall area. The Splendour of the Seas Docked in Galveston We were up early in the morning, but unfortunately had to spend most of the time on the Internet cleaning up last minute details before boarding the cruise. We checked out of the hotel and then made our way to the cruise ship terminal. The terminal is located on Harborside Drive that is the first off ramp heading south (frontage road) once you go over the bridge that crosses Galveston Bay. The southbound exit is clearly marked, but if you are coming north from Galveston you would exit the last frontage road before the bridge marked with a sign indicating it leads to Harborside Drive. One heads east on Harborside Drive a number of miles until one sees the ship and then the old historic port area. HINT: There are a number of parking lots along Harborside Drive that offer covered parking for the duration of the cruise at a rate of $10 per day. They aggressively try to get you to pull into their lot and offer a free shuttle to the ship. One lot has a huge plastic dolphin at its entrance with a guy holding a sign in the shape of an arrow that shouts “CRUISE PARKING”. When you first see it, you are left with the impression that this is the official parking lot for the cruise line. Since Joanie and I had decided to drop our luggage before parking, we continued on to the cruise terminal, checked our bags and then started to head back to the lots. We stopped at the exit to the terminal and asked about parking and were directed to Parking lot “A” that was located right at the ship, the best part? The cost was only $80 for the 11 days. The only difference was that the parking lot “A” spots were not covered while the other lots did offer covered parking. Check-in was a breeze and we were in the terminal and on the ship in less than 20-minutes. If for no other reason than to get on the ship early and without pain I would suggest that you arrive at least the day before the ship’s departure. Folks flying in the day of departure had to scramble to make it to the ship in time and were then greeted with lots of people in the same boat. The shipFirst Impressions: This was my first cruise on the Splendour of the Seas, but I have sailed most of her sisters in Royal Caribbean’s fleet. The Splendour is the epitome of Royal Caribbean, as she features absolutely beautiful public areas, interesting itineraries and traditional dining in a wonderful restaurant with excellent service. The passenger make-up on this cruise was different from any other Royal Caribbean cruise I have taken. There were lots of seniors and the vast majority of the passengers were from Texas. Cabin #2592: We were located on deck two, aft in cabin 2592, while the rest of our group was located on the same deck, but all the way forward. The cabins on the Splendour are quite adequate. We had a picture window, while many in our group that were forward had portholes. There is a king size bed (converts into two twins) with nightstands on either side. There are also nightlights on each side with separate controls. A large mirror beside the bed makes the area seem larger than it is and is also very handy when getting dressed. The sitting area of the cabin is very comfortable with a good-sized sofa on one side and the entertainment/storage area adjacent to it. A color television offers numerous channels including CNN and first run movies (they are posted in the daily Compass) The desk is quite large enough for a computer and printer and there are two separate 110v outlets (as well as two 220v) The two mirrored side cabinets open towards the large mirror over the desk so that folks can use them to see their hair and other views generally hidden from sight. There is a telephone and air conditioning control on the left-hand wall that is easily accessible. There is a safe hidden from view on one of the three shelves mounted above the television set. Across from the desk is a floor to ceiling mirror that is perfect for that last-minute check before you commit yourself to the hallway and public rooms that lie beyond. There is ample storage in the large closet that is clearly divided into two sections, one to accommodate full length dresses and the other offering two levels to accommodate suits, shirts and blouses. All in all, there is quite adequate storage in the room for an 11-dayh cruise. The bathroom is a typical cruise ship bathroom with a tight circular shower, toilet and sink. There is a 3-shelf medicine cabinet and additional storage in the bathroom to handle all of the necessary toiletries for the 11-daqy cruise. HINT: The only amenity provided on the Splendour of the Seas is an all-purpose soap dispenser in the shower. I would suggest bringing your own bar of soap, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion (if you use it) Dining: The King and I Restaurant, decks 4 and 5, aft: This is the main dining venue on the Spendour of the Seas serving a formal breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Breakfast and lunch are generally open seating while dinner is served in two seatings, main and late. Main seating sits for dinner at 6 pm, while late sits at 8:30. On almost every evening, there is a pre-dinner show for late seating passengers so that everyone is done with dinner and a show (no pun intended) by around 11 pm. The King and I Restaurant The restaurant features a full dinner menu with appetizers, soup, salad, pasta entrée and traditional deserts. Our servers, Fernando Cunha from Portugal, Carmelita Beirre from St. Vincent and Kelly Batistelle from Brazil had become more like family by the end of the cruise than employees of Royal Caribbean. You will love the service and the cultural interchange. Everyone found the quality of the food and the presentation extremely good. Every meal I had left me quite satisfied and wanting for nothing. Our waiters made it quite clear, that they would correct any element of the dining experience that was not up to par, but no one took them up on it, as the meals were simply wonderful.. The Windjammer Café, deck 9, forward: The Windjammer is the Splendour’s buffet venue and is open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon snacks and dinner. I loved the Windjammer as there was always fresh fruit, yogurt, juice and other healthy choices in ample quantity to make even the most demanding health nut happy. Lunch continued the healthy offerings with fresh steamed vegetables daily along with an excellent salad bar. Here Royal Caribbean stands out as exceptional, in my opinion. The Windjammer Cafe There are also traditional breakfast offerings such as eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, cereals (hot and cold) and several other choices. An omelet and fresh egg station was featured daily and offered a specialty meat selection as well. Lunch always saw many different selections. On the main buffet there was always a fish and meat selection, as well as a specialty carved meat, potatoes, soup, bread and other selections. A specialty buffet line was also offered daily. Asian fare, Indian cuisine, Thai noodle dishes and so were offered on some days. While crowded during peak hours, the Windjammer was a comfortable place to enjoy a casual meal. While we didn’t dine in the Windjammer for dinner, we heard that it was a pleasant experience. The grill next to the Solarium Bar also served lunch and snacks all day long. Hamburgers, pizza, hot dogs and chicken sandwiches were a favorite with many of the passengers. In the afternoon, cookies and other treats were made available for those that wanted them. One of the favorites with everyone was the unlimited ice cream cones that were available by the main pool bar. Offering two different flavors every day and a blended selection, as well every afternoon saw numerous people walking around licking their ice cream cones. Coffee, iced tea, milk and water were available all day long at the same area and juice in the morning, replaced by lemonade in the afternoon were always available in the Windjammer Café. Joanie and I used room service frequently for coffee in the morning and had exceptional service. Of course, we tipped early and often. The Entertainment Venues The 42nd Street Theater, deck 4, forward: The Splendour of the Sea’s main entertainment showroom is an excellent venue for the production shows that are presented almost every evening. Excellent sight lines and acoustics add to the enjoyment of the performances. In order to get a front row seat, however you must arrive early. Late arriving passengers will find it difficult to find seats easily, as once the lights are dimmed, the terraced nature of the showroom makes it uncomfortable to negotiate your way to a seat. HINT: If you plan to attend a show, make sure you allow 5 to 10 minutes in advance of the start of the show to find seats and get settled in. 42nd Street Theater The Top Hat Lounge, deck 5, forward: This is one deck above the 42nd Street showroom and is used for many of the shows (especially the comedians) Once again I would recommend arriving early as the seats in the rear of the lounge are subject to the noise at the bar in the rear of the room. While a part of the lounge, the bar area seems to be favored by those that would rather talk during the performance than enjoy it. On one occasion, a group of people were talking and laughing so loudly that it prompted folks to “shhhhh” them until they left. The Top Hat Lounge is an intimate venue allowing you to feel personally involved with the performance. Top Hat Lounge The Champagne Terrace, deck 4, midship: Every evening before and after dinner a group plays dance music in front of the Champagne Bar. Couples enjoy the slow dance tunes (especially on formal night.) The music produced by the group is excellent and the surroundings are beautiful. Joanie and I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out here. Revelyn Bongar in the Champagne Bar. One of the Best Waitresses Joanie and I have ever Experienced. The Viking Crown Lounge, deck 11 aft: This is Royal Caribbean’s signature lounge that resides on every Royal Caribbean ship. It is a great bar, a disco, scene of the ship’s karaoke nights and an all around fun place to be. At the rear of the Viking Crown Lounge is an area designated for cigar smokers and it was heavily used during this cruise, however the scent nor the smoke never made it to the public bar side of the room. The Viking Crown Lounge is an excellent place to meet and our group took full advantage of it. The Viking Crown Lounge The Pool Side Stage, deck 9, midship: Every afternoon “Men of Culture” would play music by the pool. They were excellent! The Schooner Bar, deck 4, starboard, midship: I usually really enjoy Royal Caribbean’s Schooner Bars, but this one just didn’t do it for me. First of all, at the entrance to the bar were several stools that were always occupied by smokers taking a break from the adjoining casino. Being a non-smoker, I just don’t care for second hand smoke and it was difficult to enjoy the Schooner bar without inhaling it. The group that played music here every evening was very good, but sometimes too loud for folks to carry on a conversation. The bar itself is beautiful with rich woods and brass. Maybe it was just this sailing. The Schooner Bar The Casino, deck 4, midship: The Splendour offers a huge casino for the ship’s size. There is row after row of slot machines and many gaming tables and folks seemed to be winning. Several in our group gambled the entire cruise and ended up ahead of where they started. While always active, the casino didn’t seem to be over crowded, as one sees during the evening hours on some ships. The Card Room, deck 7, midship: This is easily the coolest card room on any ship that I have seen. It is large, offers tremendous views and is isolate so that one can really get into their card games. The Library, deck 7, midship: Again this is a really outstanding library offering lots of books in a beautiful setting. The Splendour of the Seas Library The Internet Café, deck 8: midship: Royal Caribbean is missing a huge revenue opportunity here. I would normally spend $300 to $400 for Internet access on an 11-day cruise. Joanie is also a very heavy user and would have probably spent as much. While the Internet Café was pleasant to look at, the desks were very functional and offered a good amount of privacy, the download rate was slower than dial-up. The $.50 per minute charge was somewhat reasonable and in line with what other lines charge. Add to the slow connection the fact that I was disconnected a number of times and I arrived at the decision to simply do my Internet chores on shore at Internet Cafes, much like I used to do before ships got automated. My total Internet bill was $19. The Internet Cafe I suspect that many folks suffered the same frustration, as the Internet Café was never busy, much less full. So here would be my suggestion to Royal Caribbean. Immediately toss the current equipment, vendor or whoever is responsible for the Internet Café and replace it with current technology. I suspect that it would self liquidate in short order and lead to a substantial profit center in the future (not to mention enabling heavy Internet users) Also, the existence of packaged rates for bulk purchases always seems to motivate me commit to the largest available program. The Loyalty Ambassador’s Office, deck 9, midship: Royal Caribbean has an excellent loyalty program for its Crown and Anchor members. Joanie and I are “Diamond” (more than ten cruises on RCI) members and the benefits are very meaningful. From discounts on board, to priority tender passes, to priority embarkation and debarkation, Royal Caribbean’s loyalty program is tops in the industry. I have attached a .pdf copy of the program so you can check it out. Be sure to join, as it costs nothing and you will immediately reap the benefits. The Pool Areas: The main pool is a great feature on the Splendour. It offers a good amount of lounge chairs. two Jacuzzis, afternoon entertainment and piped in music the rest of the day. The waiters from the main pool bar serve the pool area and one never has to wait for the opportunity to order a drink if one so desires. The Splendour of the Seas Pool Area The fully enclosed Solarium pool is open 24-hours per day (so are its 2 Jacuzzis) and is always a comfortable temperature for relaxing and swimming. While we didn’t spend much time in the Solarium, many folks made it their location of choice on sea days. The Solarium The Fitness Center: The Splendour has a sufficient fitness center with everything you will need to maintain your work out. There are treadmills, a ski machine, a step machine, high and low stationary bikes, free weights, exercise balls and bands and enough Cybex machines to exercise all major muscle groups. Additionally, occasional classes were offered (some with a $10 fee) The Cruise: Thursday, January 15th, 2003; Galveston, Texas; After boarding the Splendour of the Seas. Joanie and I realized that we had not eaten anything all day, so we decided to try one of the seafood restaurants we passed while negotiating the entrance to the cruise terminal. We disembarked and walked into the port historical district. What a great area! The main street was lined with quaint shops selling everything imaginable. There was a Tommy Bahamas store, many surf and beach shops, restaurants, souvenir shops, and other boutiques. The area went for blocks and was extremely fun to explore. We settled on a Landry’s Oyster Bar restaurant at the end of a pier where I got a good shot of the Splendour of the Seas at dock. This historic port area was certainly a bonus treat for everyone that explored it. Galveston's Historic District Back on board we participated in a somewhat non-invasive muster drill and then made our way to our cabin to prepare for the evening. We were hosting a cocktail party in the Viking Crown Lounge for our group and made it to the party in advance to make sure everything was OK. The party went great and both Joanie and I were happy with the overall group, as they were friendly and wanting to have fun. We left the party for our first dining experience in the King and I dining room. Our group occupied three different tables that were adjacent to one another (we had prepaid the group’s gratuities so that we could jump from table to table within our group’s assigned tables.) Diner and the service were excellent. Friday, January 16th, 2004; Day at Sea; This was the first of four days at sea on this itinerary and also the first of our three seminars. We met in the Conference Center and found the conference rooms very much to our liking for our seminar. They are located on Deck 3, midship and are in an exclusive area of what I would describe as a cul-de-sac. There was absolutely no interference from folks sticking their heads in to see what was going on. The seminar went well and everyone enjoyed the coffee and juice RCI provided. We broke at noon at which time Joanie and I headed for lunch with the intention of spending the afternoon in the sun by the pool. We found it too chilly so we decided to spend the afternoon working in our cabin. The seas were dead calm and the lull of engines soon had us resting with our eyes closed. After a short nap, Joanie decided to attend the Pilates class while I continued to work. The evening arrived before we knew it and we quickly dressed for the cruise’s first formal night. Meeting in the Conference Center We started off with a glass of wine in the Champagne Bar. While expensive, we found the portions generous and the appetizers a bonus and decided that this would become a pre-dinner tradition. We attended the Captain’s Welcome Aboard cocktail party in the Top Hat Lounge. While there were quite a few men in tuxedos, there were also quite a few in black suits and some in sport coats. The party was quite nice with cocktails being offered as you liked and frequent rounds made by waiters with several appetizers including shrimp, caviar and other treats. There was the usual introduction of the staff by the Captain and then it was off to dinner at our prearranged tables. Once again, we enjoyed excellent service and the food preparation was very good. Just a note, the Splendour of the Seas has done away with wine stewards and the duty of taking wine orders and serving the wine falls on the shoulders of the assistant waiter. In our case, she was a very capable lady, but serving the wine was a low priority for her. After a lingering dinner, we decided to attend the evening’s main production show staring Mr. Mark Preston. Mr. Preston was one of the original members of the Letterman, a group that was popular in the 1960s and 1970s. When he opened his act, Joanie leaned over to me and said “this guy can really sing!” and I was thinking the exact same thing. He had a great voice and a strong delivery, and we were hooked, prepared to be entertained with an exceptional performance. A couple was making their way down the packed showroom to the front of the showroom, when Mr. Preston stopped to admonish the couple for being late for his performance. He even went so far to mock the restarting of his performance so that he could bring the couple up to date. I, and everyone with me, found this action unnecessary and downright rude. Further he lost the momentum he had originally commanded. I noticed the couple get up and walk out at the first opportunity without being further harassed, which is the result I am sure Mr. Preston was not looking for. He regained momentum as his act progressed, until he started to reminisce about his days with the Letterman. He showed himself being interviewed as he accepted his induction into the “Group Hall of Fame” on the side screens while he supposedly was dressing for a new number. From that point forward the act took on the cheesy persona of a huckster trying to sell some CDs. Too bad, the guy can really sing, and with better choreography, he could really be a great entertainer. Saturday. January 16th, 2004; Cozumel, Mexico; This itinerary allows for much more port time than the usual 7-day Western Caribbean cruise. While we arrived in Cozumel at 7am, Joanie and I slept in late, had breakfast and then made our way ashore to access the Internet at the communications center locater at the foot of the International pier. Both she and I had a good amount of work to do so we spent an hour or so online before deciding to walk into downtown Cozumel from the International Pier. This is really a nice walk of about 2 to 2 ½ miles right along the coastline. It took us about an hour to get into the downtown area where we enjoyed shopping in the unusually light crowds due to there being only 5 ships in port (this is another huge advantage of this particular itinerary.) After a quick beverage at Poncho’s Back Yard, we decided to make the walk back to the International Pier. It was uneventful other than the deluge that caught us hiding under some foliage on the beach waiting for the downpour to lighten so we could continue back to the ship. Once back onboard, we spent the afternoon by the pool in very pleasant weather with sunny skies and moderate temperatures. Cozumel's International Pier We had arranged to meet our group for no-host cocktails in the Viking Crown Lounge, which we did. After a lively interchange about the day’s events in Cozumel, we moved on for another excellent dinner in the King and I Restaurant. The evening promised a session with Tom Cotter, very funny comedian that Joanie and I had missed on the first evening, but saw on the televised repeat of the show. The guy was hilarious. On this evening he was to perform and “adult comedy” session. We left the dining room in just a nick of time to get a seat at the rear of the Top Hat Lounge. Wanting badly to be entertained, Tom Cotter started off with some excellent material but then crossed our “not funny” line when the drug jokes started, basically sending the message that doing marijuana, cocaine and crack is somehow funny. Joanie and I left the lounge and went to bed. Sunday, January 18th, 2004; Belize City, Belize; Joanie and I had arranged to meet with one of the group members to go ashore and rent a taxi to tour Belize’s sights. After a leisurely breakfast, we arrived on deck one just as the “open tender” call was made. We quickly boarded a tender and in short order were zipping our way into Belize City. Due to the distance the cruise ships must anchor from Belize City, only high-speed tenders are used for the 15 to 20 minute commute. They are equipped with 3 200 hp outboard motors and run like a cigarette speedboat. The tender ride alone is worth the visit to Belize City. After arriving at the cruise port we immediately went outside the facility and found a gentleman to take us on a city tour and out to the rain forest. We had little interest in going to the zoo or other major tourist attractions, but rather wanted to experience the culture of Belize. Buying Belizian "Cashew Wine" Right from the Source We really lucked out with our selection in drivers. Andrew Baird (AndrewBaird119 @yahoo.com) is a degreed college graduate currently studying tourism at the University of Belize. He hopes to start his own tour company, put up his own web site and run the best tours in Belize. From what we experienced, he will probably do just that. Our day was excellent and we made it back to the cruise terminal with plenty of time for shopping before taking the next tender back to the ship for an afternoon in the sun by the pool. This evening’s show was scheduled before dinner, so Joanie and I patronized the Champagne Bar and then made our way to the show in the 42nd Street Theater. This was a production of the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers entitled “Starstruck.” What a great performance! Everything about the production was superb and both Joanie and I (along with just about everyone else) left feeling wonderful. The vocals were to die for and the costumes, choreography and performances flawless. You will love this show. Dinner saw another fabulous meal with the entire dining staff singing “Oh Solo Mia” before presenting dessert. It is amazing the camaraderie one shares with fellow diners and the dining crew on this ship. We were starting to feel like old friends and family coming together for a family meal each night. Monday, January 19th, 2004; Day at Sea; We woke up to a beautiful morning, spent some time designing and printing flyers for the evening’s group photo and then made our way to the pool to spend the morning in the sunshine that beckoned us from its first light. While it was a bit windy, we selected two chairs close to the Jacuzzi and that promised full sunshine all day. After a quick serving of fruit, juice and yogurt we were laying in the warm sunshine. After a lunch of vegetables and salad, I spent the afternoon in our cabin working on the computer. Another wonderful dinner in the King and I Restaurant was followed by a session of Karaoke in the Viking Crown Lounge. It always amazes me that it seems on the fifth day everyone starts relaxing and enjoying their cruise persona. Tuesday, January 20th; Panama Canal, Panama; We woke up with the ship dead in the water while we waited for our turn to enter the Gatun Locks, which raise ships from the Caribbean Sea some 85 feet to Gatun Lake where a transit of the lake can be made to the Pacific Ocean side of the canal. Negotiating the locks is a timely and tedious process and the Splendour of the Seas had a difficult time entering the first lock. There were two large tugs and both stern and bow thrusters pushing her into place. Once in the lock and with the “mules” attached to her hull, Splendour of the Seas preceded her slow trip through the locks. Once through the third lock, Splendour of the Seas tendered the passengers that had signed up for shore excursions to their awaiting boats and motor coaches for their excursions. HINT: If you do not take one of the ship’s shore excursions in Panama, you must stay on the ship while she waits her turn to reverse her trip through the Gatun locks making her way back to the Caribbean Sea. If you want to see some of Panama, I would strongly suggest signing up for a shore excursion. Following the Island Princess Through the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal Once clear of the locks, Splendour of the Seas made her way to Cristobal Pier, Panama, arriving at a little after 4 pm. Our departure time was 7 pm leaving under three hours to visit the city. This fact, coupled with the fact that the Island Princess was also in port made it very difficult to entertain a visit, as one needed to negotiate for a taxi to take you into town. All in all, if you did not take a shore excursion you were basically stuck on the ship and then in the cruise terminal at Cristobal Pier. Not that there wasn’t tons of shopping in the cruise terminal complex, as there was. In fact, there was entertainment, bars, a restaurant, shops, boutiques and well over a hundred separate flea market stalls selling local crafts of all descriptions. One of the most impressive mini-markets was put on by the Darien Indians that came from Panama's remote jungles bringing their exquisitely weaved baskets, dishes and other products. The Darien Indians are very interesting indeed, as the men and women still go around practically nude with the women wearing a brief to cover themselves (they are still topless however) and the men wear a simple loincloth. They are heavily tattooed and also dye certain parts of themselves red, yellow and other colors. We found an Internet Café on the premises and spent most of the time on-line catching up on business. Panama's Darien Indians We were back on board for a quick shower, and a glass of wine in the Champagne Bar before heading to another wonderful dinner in the King and I Restaurant. By now everyone in our group had fallen into our new routine and it was starting to feel like home away from home. This is certainly one of the major benefits of orthodox dining. Joanie and I continued on to the Viking Crown Lounge for a nightcap. Wednesday, January 21st, 2004; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica; We arrived early in Puerto Limon and I was anxious to experience this new port (to me) I had heard everything from “You will love it” to “Don’t get off the ship, as it is too dangerous.” Having spent time on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, I know Costa Ricans to be a peaceful and wonderful people and their culture rich in tradition and respect for their environment. We disembarked and proceeded to negotiate for a small van to take us on a tour of the area. There was a tent set up within the port itself and people negotiating on behalf of the taxis and vans that were there. We were about to conclude a deal when the negotiator introduced the idea that we would have to have a “guide” with us, as the driver did not speak English. I explained that at least two of us in the group spoke Spanish, but he did not rescind his statement. Since we were only in line to pay, we decided to walk away and go outside the port area and start all over. This proved to be an excellent strategy, as we were able to negotiate a larger air-conditioned van, more hours for less money. As a bonus, our driver was a wonderful gentleman who showed us his Costa Rica. As I suspected, the Caribbean side of Costa Rica shares the same values as the Pacific side and is a wonderful place to visit. In fact, I made a mental note to come back and visit it on a surf trip sometime in the future. Costa Rica's Tortuguero Canal We left Puerto Limon and went north to the beginning of the canal structure that runs parallel to the shoreline for over two hundred kilometers from just north of Puerto Limon all the way to the Nicaraguan border. The Tortuguero Canals are unique as they link several rivers and offer a very unique environment for flora and fauna. We boarded small boats equipped with an outboard and slowly made our way up the canal system stopping whenever our guide saw birds or other wildlife he thought we might be interested in. His deckhand, Jeremy (his 4-year old son) would then proceed to show everyone the bird or animal that we just saw on a plastic sheet that had pictures and the names of the wildlife. Jeremy, alone was worth the cost of the trip (which by the way, was paid for by our driver as part of the fare) We continued up river seeing many different and unusual birds. At one juncture, our guide saw a two-toed sloth hanging in a tree over the water and slowly approached it to within a couple of feet. He managed to move a branch to arouse the sloth, who slowly started climbing away, but not after we all got several photos. Several miles up the river we stopped to purchase some gasoline and also took a break from the boat to get some bottled water. After cruising full speed up the channel for another few miles we returned to the marina and bid our guide and Jeremy adios. Costa Rica's Playa Bonita Our next stop was scenic Playa Bonita. This is a beautiful deep sand beach with a broad expanse of crystal clear water and white sandy beach. It is well worth the effort to get here from the port if one wants to relax on a sunny beach for the day. There is a small restaurant and gift shop right there and plenty of room for everyone. We continued to visit some of the hotels in the area as well as some of the sights in Puerto Limon before setting out to visit a banana plantation for a tour of the operation. While interesting, I would have rather spent the day at Playa Bonita. We had our driver drop us off at an Internet Café where we spent a good amount of time cleaning up e-mail before walking back to the ship through town. We tried to make some telephone calls from the communication center in the port area without luck and spent time shopping at the craft market inside the port. Actually, the prices were better here than at any of the other markets we had visited, so we ended up buying a few more items. By now we had fallen into our routine. Cocktails in the Champagne Bar followed by a wonderful dinner in the King and I Restaurant, which tended to result in our group being the last to leave the restaurant. Our servers were very accommodating to our conversations, which sometimes went beyond the period of time they should have.. Thursday January 22nd, 2004; Day at Sea; Today was the second of our three seminars so Joanie and I were up early, Royal Caribbean did an excellent job providing coffee, juice, rolls and an excellent meeting area. I would highly recommend the Splendour of the Seas as a small meeting venue, as the Conference Center offers everything to hold successful conferences. Spending the afternoon in the sun and following our usual evening tradition, we slept early and long. Friday, January 23rd, 2004; Grand Cayman Island; We arrived in Grand Cayman right on time, anchored up and immediately started the tender process. Joanie and I needed an Internet Cafe in the worse way, so we took the first open tender into Georgetown. There is a communication center close to the tender wharf, so we purchased prepaid telephone cards and began to clean up the backlog of calls. Access to the Internet was down so we continued our search for Internet Cafes. About three blocks into the city, we came across a Thai Restaurant that offer ADSL access for only $3.50 for 15 minutes. This turned out to be the best deal we could find. The computers were quite fast and offered traditional keyboards making operating on the Internet familiar and efficient. After a good amount of time, we had completed all of our e-mail and work and decided to do some shopping and just wander around Georgetown. The day was somewhat cloudy and we decided to spend the afternoon working in our cabin, so we headed for the tender wharf and the next tender back to the ship. Grand Cayman's Tender Wharf Saturday, January 24th, 2004; Day at Sea; We awoke to a wonderful sunny morning and after working all day the day before decided to take advantage of the wonderful weather and head for the pool to secure some lounge chairs for the day. We settled into some chairs, ordered a latte from the pool bar and enjoyed the sunshine and warm temperature for the day. Sunny days at sea is what cruising is all about! Joanie and I dressed early for our last formal night, went to the Champagne Bar where we had become fast friends with the beautiful and wonderful bar hostess, Revelyn Bongar from the Philippines. We met Revelyn on the first evening and looked forward to seeing her every evening. If you like a pre-dinner glass of wine or martini, there is no better place on the Splendour of the Seas than the Champagne Bar and no better server than Revelyn, as she is just wonderful. When you meet her in the Champagne Bar be sure to tell her that you heard about how wonderful she is from Tom and Joanie. This evening’s second seating show was before dinner and featured and entertainer named Sal Richards. After a glass of wine, we made our way to the 42nd Street Theater where we thoroughly enjoyed Sal’s performance. Great impressions, great singing and some of the best one-liners and jokes I have heard recently. Sal is a great entertainer and you will have the time of your life if he is on the Splendour of the Seas when you sail. After the show, we made our way to the King and I Restaurant where we had yet another wonderful dining experience that led to our group closing the restaurant. Sunday, January 25th, 2004; Day at Sea; Our third seminar of the cruise took place in the Conference Center today from 9 am until 12 pm. The seminars went superbly and by now our entire group had bonded into friendships. It is amazing to me how a cruise group can forge such strong friendships in such a short period of time. The day was cloudy and cool so Joanie and I spent the afternoon packing, working and generally tying up loose ends. One last visit to the Champagne Bar and one final dinner with the group in the King and I Restaurant and we said goodbye to our new-found friends on the ship and in our group. We put our bags out before turning in. Monday, January 26th, 2004, Galveston, Texas; Joanie and I were up early and were in the very first group to disembark (because of our Diamond Loyalty status.) We were in our car and heading for Houston International for a flight to Ft. Lauderdale for the inaugural of the QM2. Summary: It has been over two years since I have cruise with Royal Caribbean and I am happy to report that the experience is just as good as it always has been. Overall the ship, the service, the food, the entertainment and the itinerary is just an excellent experience. The Splendour of the Seas is in great shape and this particular itinerary is awesome and I would recommend this cruise to anyone that wants to combine the deep Western Caribbean with the Panama Canal. You will love it!

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Mar 17, 2003

Western Caribbean

A Review from a Newby Perhaps this tour review doesn’t carry a lot of credibility with veteran travelers, as it was my first experience with a cruise ship. However, I am a seasoned traveler, used to very nice hotels and accommodations, and am rather spoiled by amenities provided when traveling. I often travel with my husband on his expense account and he is in the oil business—need I say more? I ventured out on a Royal Caribbean

cruise ship, Splendour of the Seas, destined for the Panama Canal from Galveston. Trust me when I say from the start that I was nervous and apprehensive, insisting that cruising was not for me. I get island fever, I am used to wide open spaces, I get bored easily, I really like camping on my vacations and traveling with my dog (a large lab retriever). At the start of the cruise, on the first night, there was a moment of near panic when, as a young 50ish woman traveling only with female companions, I sat and watched my fellow cruise passengers stream past me on their way to the theater following dinner. Oh, God, they were all in their 70s and 80s. This was destined to be a two-week nightmare. I’m here to tell you I was wrong on so many counts. By the end of this cruise I was definitely addicted. Here’s why. Our arrival (a tale of flying suitcases): When arriving in Galveston we were at the ship an hour after the time that people could begin boarding. It honestly took us only 15 minutes to unload, park (that was my job), fill out the forms and board the ship. We had our ship card and everything in the blink of an eye. Even with tightened security we cleared the door and were headed up to our room. By the time we arrived in our room, our luggage was already there. I especially liked the way we could complete embarkation forms online ahead of time and the way they provided our luggage tags in advance. Keep in mind that there were three women staying in one stateroom on the 7th floor. We had a balcony and the room was quite nice. Although utilitarian, we had two beds, a sofa, dresser/vanity, and closet space sufficient for all three of us (and one of us, ahem, is a dedicated clotheshorse). Once we figured out where everything went, our personal housekeeper removed our suitcases with the promise that we would see them at the end of the cruise. He was always most helpful and actually brought us enough additional hangers that we had leftovers. The closet held all of our clothes, including 6 formal gowns. We remained in the room for awhile, but the setting in Galveston wasn’t the most appealing for this group of eager travelers. We had heard over the announcements that there was food upstairs in the poolside area. That was worth checking out. I had already decided to meet as many people as possible and this was an excellent place to start. We purchased a drink card, at a reasonable price, that allowed us to order drinks all over the ship. While sitting at the bar we met people from four countries. The bartender became a favorite person and we later found him in the Schooner Lounge. St. Patrick Day’s Boogie: Now, we were about to discover how very talented and versatile the Ship’s Cruise director and staff were. They were phenomenal. The cruise director’s name was Gordon Whatman and I think he had made a wise career change when we explored music and opera in his 30s. He and his cruise caused me to have some of my biggest laughs in years. For the sailing party they were trying to teach us all how to do some sort of St. Patrick Day’s Boogie. That in itself was worth a lot of money just in the laughter alone. There are many ways to go about having a cruise. Since this was my first I wanted to explore activities that were fun, energetic and engaging. There were people on the cruise who chose ballroom dancing, bingo, casino only, or even nothing but lounging around on the deck and in their rooms. Their reviews will be very different from mine. The ship is large, but not the largest in The Royal Caribbean fleet. It is 867’ long, and can carry 2,076 passengers and a crew of 723. Its maximum speed is 24 knots. There are 11 decks on this ship, two pools, a whole lot of rooms and a lot of amenities. You can improve your bridge skills in the card room, or you can play any number of games in the card room. I did a few. It was a quiet space. There is a library—it was a nice place to snooze. I found the Internet room the best way to stay in contact with home. Almost any place food was served music and alcohol could be found. On the Promenade Deck a very nice trio performed each evening. The Champagne Terrace was a nice place to sit and visit with new friends, listen to easy music and prepare for later events. Or you could go into the Schooner Bar and listen to a man play the piano and sing (like Elton John). This bar was dripping with elegance and it always seemed appropriate to me to be a place to sip port or scotch. The Promenade Deck was the location of the Casino and the 42nd Street Theatre. The Cruise Director and his staff provided new, different entertainment each evening. You know how people all over the world will say, “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute and it will change”; well that was the approach to entertainment on this ship. One night it was a magician, another an incredible pianist, and yet another it was Broadway musicals. The comedian was hysterical, the violinist was awesome, and the major productions were loaded with talent. The same can be said for each performer in the various bars. There was a man who selected the music for the disco in the Viking Lounge who knew exactly what he was doing. While each of the crew members were beyond capable and talented, the special gift of each one I met was that they were personable and made people they met feel unique and part of a family. While the Viking Lounge provided an excellent vantage point for days spent at sea or going through the locks in Panama, by night it was alive with festive people looking for a great time. The Village People (on 70’s Disco Fever night) performance was absolutely one of the best I had ever seen. Karaoke performances in the Viking were amazing. Ok, so, you understand now that the ship’s crew was entertaining. The food was quite good, although not excellent. I was disappointed in the pasta each night we tried it, so I gave up. That’s probably one reason I lost 6 pounds. But also, it was in part because you could select Ship Shape meals, and in part they provided you with ample opportunities to walk off all that you sampled. The equipment in the ship shape center was always available at no cost. I never had to wait for equipment. I even watched dolphins one day while walking on the treadmill. The jogging track on the compass deck was always dotted with people. They offered aerobics classes, thematic dance classes by the pool, and fitness seminars. The food approached excellent, but let’s face it, how much can you honestly eat on a ship that is at sea for 12 days? And the sweetest thing was the “ship shape dollars” that the crew paid you for exercising. What a deal?! Complaints, I only had a few: Room service failed us every single time. It became a joke. One of us in the group drank tea, two of us drank coffee. First we tried ordering food, carefully explaining that there were three adults in the room, that we needed three cups, coffee for two and tea for one. We would be so detailed. It never, ever came right. The food was a joke. So finally each morning we knew that one of us would need to run upstairs to the Windjammer Café to supplement what didn’t come with the tray. Excursions: I dearly loved my excursions—ask anyone. However, the organization of the start when we were using tenders was long, frustrating and often delayed. One of my excursions left quite late and was gone a longer time than planned and there was no food available. I got back late enough that there was only an hour until dinner. I basically inhaled the meal that night. Returning after excursions or shopping almost always found us in a very long line while everyone was going through tedious security. I’ll cut the crew some slack on this, we had been at war a few days and efforts were being made to reduce concern, provide security, and make everyone feel safe. And since I was a “newby” I didn’t know if this was normal. Leaving the ship was no where near as fast or smooth as getting on the ship. Yet, it also wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It was an average departure. I will go on more cruises, but I want all of the same people to join me. We made friends with people from all over the country, Canada from Vancouver to Newfoundland. We met an incredible woman traveling the world alone (I could do that on a cruise ship like this). We met a man who was a collection of walking contradictions and was built like a football player yet he sang like Elvis in Karaoke. I will have fond memories of two couples honeymooning, who found each other and should be friends for life. They were precious. I fell in love on this ship: the night sky, the ocean, the adventures, the people, the entire experience. How much you enjoy this elegant ship and all the joys it has to offer depends upon what your dreams and expectations are.

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Jan 3, 2003

Western Caribbean

I'd be dishonest if I said my overall impression of our 10 day cruise on the Royal Caribbean's Splendour of the Seas was anything but one of disappointment. When we arrived at the port for check-in Galveston, TX we were informed by the check-in associate that the itinerary had been changed from the one we purchased and that rather than porting in Montego Bay, we would be sailing to Ocho Rios, Jamaica instead. This change didn't bother

my husband or myself because we had planned to take the two hour bus ride from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios to see Dunn's River Falls and Discovery Cove, so the shore excursion was reduced in price because we didn't have to pay for or spend two hours driving. However, the change to the itinerary was the theme to the entire cruise...the change to Ocho Rios meant that we couldn't port at a cruise ship port, so we ported at what the locals called the 'packing dock' (which was an industrial loading dock on the outskirts of the city), we were unable to port in Grand Cayman (the captain told us it was due to weather), so we sat "dead" in the water for the day rather than continuing to cruise and arrive at our next destination ahead of schedule. In Cozumel, we had to tender in to shore because there was no room available in port. (Normally the cruise line will inform you at booking if a tender is required) so getting on and off the tender took about and hour each way, and cut down on the length of time we could spend in the city. Our last port was Key West, and we found that the cruise line staff was very dis-organized about informing 'Non-American' citizens of the customs requirements. We didn't receive any information in our room the night before letting us know what had to be done, or where we should go to see a Customs Officer. Due the lack of organization it took our ship 3 hours before it was cleared, and our 5 hour stop was reduced to only 2 hours in town. Many people were very upset about the delay in clearing customs and captain addressed the guests to explain that if we stayed in Key West longer than originally scheduled we would not arrive in Galveston to depart on time. The next morning I woke up early around 4am and when I walked up to the pool deck was surprised to see that we were again "dead" in the water. We had arrived back to Texas 3 hours early. The food was good the first 3 days, but after that we began to feel like we were eating the same thing over and over and over. I should note that our Waiter and Waiter's Assistant were very friendly and helpful. We really felt like they went above and beyond to ensure we enjoyed our meals. Our rooms were small (much smaller than our cruise on Celebrity Century) and the carpet was almost worn out, decor was out dated, and I felt as though I was staying at a 1980's theme hotel, not a 5 star luxury cruise ship. We met a lot of very nice people, and found that there was a mix of all age groups. We booked this cruise through a Travel Agent who didn't explain to us that RCI is a partner company to Celebrity Cruises, but RCI is marketed to the price conscious traveler. We sailed on the Celebrity Century the year before, and my advice to anyone who is shopping for a cruise would be this- you get what you pay for, and although the RCI cruise may be less expensive; the service, quality of food, accommodations, and overall vacation experience on the Celebrity Cruise make it worth the extra money.

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Sep 15, 2002

Europe

Although we have sailed on a Windjammer sailing ship in the Caribbean, this was our first trip on a cruise ship. Barcelona My wife and I arrived in Barcelona the day before sailing and stayed at the Hotel Splendid. We traveled by taxi to the hotel ($25 US). I recommend this hotel. It has contemporary decorating, modern rooms and it is impeccably clean and neat. The breakfast included with our room rate ($130/night) was very nice.

We chose the hotel because it is located just a short walk from Las Ramblas. If you’re traveling to Barcelona to board a cruise ship, spend a pre-cruise day there. It will help you overcome jet lag and it would be a shame not to spend some time in this wonderful city. We spent Saturday walking Las Rambles. We went inside the Christopher Columbus monument and took the elevator (about $1.50 each) to the observation level. The monument is located at the foot of Las Ramblas and near the port where the Splendour would be docked on Sunday. The observation level offers some very nice views. On our walk back up Las Ramblas to our hotel, we stopped for drinks at a café and had pizza and mejillones con ajo (mussels with garlic sauce) which were superb. If you’re unsure how to conquer the jet lag issue after traveling from the U.S. to Europe, here’s what works great for me. Find something to do on the day of your arrival that will keep you active until the early evening. Resist the temptation to take a quick nap when you arrive at your hotel. Avoid boat rides or bus tours – you’ll likely doze off. After a day of reasonable activity, enjoy dinner and then retire early. Arrange for a wake-up call in the morning. You should be plenty tired and have no trouble falling asleep. If you sleep until morning, you’ll be rested, ready for breakfast and in synch with the local time. After our breakfast on Sunday, we walked to several of the Gaudi buildings including the Sagrada Familia Cathedral. By early afternoon we were back at our hotel and took a taxi to the Splendour of the Seas. Splendour of the Seas Embarkation was fast. All our documents were filled out in advance, and there was no line to board. After our photo ID cards were given to us, we were on board within a very few minutes. Our room, an inside cabin, was comfortable and clean. The champagne I’d ordered in advance was waiting for us. The ship overall was more spacious than I imagined and quite beautiful. We ate at the Windjammer café once for dinner. The food was good, but it felt a little like going to a cafeteria. However, for breakfast I preferred the windjammer. I didn’t have to wait to be seated or wait for my coffee. And I enjoyed the choices we had. Although the choices were the same each day, I didn’t have to repeat the same meal. One day I choose eggs and sausage, the next day I took salmon and cheese. I was wondering how dinner in the formal dining room would play out. I was one of those who didn’t want to dress up for a formal dinner on vacation. Just days before our trip, I decided to pack a dark business suit just in case we decide to dine there. On our first night, we got to the King and I dining room a little late (we were having drinks on deck when the ship got under way). We were a little disappointed when we first saw our table mates – two ladies who looked to be a lot older than we are. Our first impressions were wrong. Our table included three couples, ourselves and two others, all around the same age. The two ladies were the mother and friend of one of the couples. And they were spry, fun people who helped make our dinners a lot of fun. All of us at the table got along great and I’m happy I had such great table mates. The dinners were usually good to very good and sometimes excellent. Our waiter was terrific and accommodated everyone’s requests including key lime pie on nights it wasn’t offered. On formal night about half of the men opted for tuxedos including the other two men at our table, but I didn’t feel out of place with my dark suit. Almost no one was without at least a sport coat or tie although I saw a couple of (rebellious) young men in tee shirts. The women were all well dressed as well. What about my aversion to formal nights? I was wrong again. I enjoyed the more upscale experience in the dining room, especially on formal nights and when dinner was over, it was easy to change clothes and head to the casino in more casual clothing. The evenings had a more sophisticated feeling to them partly because we were not in the Caribbean where beach wear is the norm and partly because our trip was in September and there were very few children or younger adults on board. Villefranche - Nice We tendered ashore in Villefranche. The view of the Mediterranean town from the ship is picturesque. Nice is just a few minutes away by bus and it is a nice city to visit. I visited Nice in the past and spent a few weeks there for work, so we opted to simply explore Villefranche on foot. We spent all morning walking and taking photos. At lunch, we ate an avocado salad and pizza at a café. It was like being in a watercolor painting. We sat on a cobblestone street looking down at the colored stucco buildings and the sea. Aboard ship, it was the only time an outside cabin would have been nice. Livorno (Pisa, Florence) I’m an independent traveler and loathe bus tours. Instead of the 2-hour drive to and from Florence, we used public transportation to visit Pisa. We took an RCI-provided bus to the city center, a public bus to the train station and a train to Pisa. I bought the tickets from an ATM-like ticket machine. If you’re like me, negotiating a language you don’t speak, navigating the public transportation in a foreign city and the logistics of buying tickets is part of the adventure of travel. When I get to where I want to go, I stay as long as I want and don’t have to worry about when the tour guide says to meet back at the souvenir shop. If that doesn’t appeal to you take the regular tour (you won’t get lost!) We enjoyed our afternoon in Pisa and spent our time walking, looking and picture taking. And that big tower in Pisa – it’s slightly off kilter. We surely missed some sights in Florence, which is a beautiful city, but I’ll go there next time. Citavecchia (Rome) The ship docks at Citavecchia, an hour train ride away from Rome. There are a lot of things to see in Rome. Don’t try to do too much. You could easily spend the entire day at the Vatican alone. We’ve visited Rome before and wanted to see some things we didn’t have time for on our last visit. Rome is really a great city to see on your own. An RCI coach took us to the train station in Citavecchia. I bought a train ticket that included use of the subway in Rome. There is a stop (San Pietro) near the Vatican. It’s a walk of about two blocks to get to the center of Vatican City. I bought a subway map and used that to navigate Rome. You can also stay on the train and get off at Termini – the main terminal where you can find subways as well. You can easily take the subway to the Colliseum, Forum or the Vatican from Termini. We took the subway from near the Vatican to the Spanish steps. We followed a walking tour that took us to the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. We bought a sandwich from a street vendor near the Spanish steps and stopped for gelato near the Trevi fountain. At the end of our afternoon, we walked to the nearest subway station and rode back to Termini where we caught the train back to Citaveccia. The ride back was a slow crawl. There had been some kind of mechanical problem on the train line and our train crept most of the way back. Luckily, we still made it back to the ship with time to spare. Naples We took the trip offered by the ship to see Capri, Pompeii and Sorrento. It’s a bit pricey ($175 each) and I know I said I like to travel on my own, but our casual pace wouldn’t have allowed us to see the things we saw in Naples. The tour left at around 7 AM. I’m not a morning person, and on my own, I would never have gotten out at 7 AM. We were bussed to a hydrofoil boat for the ride to the island of Capri. I’ve never been to Capri and didn’t know anything about it. Now that I’ve been there, I can say it is absolutely beautiful. Included in our tour was the funicular from the boat dock up to the area where we got some beautiful views of the azure blue sea. Our time on Capri was all too brief. Soon, our tour took us down the funicular, back on the hydrofoil to Sorrento. Our tour included lunch in Sorrento, and some shopping time. Our lunch was at a café called La Lanterna and started with a spectacular pasta dish and some wine. The main course resembled a TV dinner of turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes. The pasta was great and would have been enough. Best to pass on the turkey. We did however get to have a nice dessert before we were turned loose for a little shopping time (photo time for me). The afternoon part of our tour was a visit to Pompeii. Our guide, Pepe did a terrific job of getting us in and around Pompeii while explaining what we were seeing. Pompeii is unforgettable and not to be missed. On our motorcoach ride back to the ship, I could see that I was not the only one fatigued by a good long day of activity. The tour was great but tiring. And I always have problems with the “meet back her at 1 PM” part of the trip. I spend my time looking at my watch and not enjoying myself. But I’m glad we went on this trip and I’m glad we didn’t go on others. One was enough for me. Malta The ship docks in Malta at noon so you have an afternoon to see this island. No public transport needed here. We were able to walk right from the ship to the pedestrian zones in Malta and walk the main shopping area, see a botanical garden and stop at a café for beer. Malta is an unusual place. All the buildings are made of the same stone that makes up the island giving it a curious yellow cast. The culture is a mix of Mediterranean and Arab, a result of being an island crossroad. One of our table mates took the bus tour and was not so impressed with her excursion. I think our self paced walking tour was perfect for us. At Sea Now that we’re at sea, I can talk about those inside cabins on the Splendour of the Seas. At the ports of Barcelona, Citavecchia, Livorno, and Naples we were at pretty unsightly container docks. One afternoon we ate in the Windjammer and sat so that we could have a view of the port. The view of cranes, dumpsters, forklifts, etc. prompted us to move to the seaside of the ship while we ate. If we’d had an outside cabin, I guess we’d have the same view. At night, while sailing we saw – nothing but blackness. While I hope to have an outside cabin with a beautiful view on my next cruise, we didn’t feel like we missed anything being on the inside The shows on Splendour were good for the most part. While not everything appeals to everyone, we enjoyed the entertainment and I especially liked how comfortable the seats were in the theater. Big, cushy seats, drinkholders, cocktail service, it felt like first class! Since this was our first cruise, I was pretty impressed by the theater. You’d never know you were on a ship. One of our favorite things to do in the evening was visit the Viking Crown Lounge in the late evening. We had a good time drinking and dancing. Our overall impression of Splendour of the Seas was very positive. I found it to be a beautiful ship with attractive public areas. The Centrum has such an open feel to it that it feels like a big hotel. The traffic pattern in the Windjammer is a little clumsy, and yes, they make you walk through the casino to get to the theater. Other observations by a first-timer: Outside the bank of elevators there was a little 3-D model of the ship that showed us where everything was. That was neat. Not until the last day did we find our way around without referring to this 3-D map. Barcelona (Disembarkation) We arrived in Barcelona to a beautiful sunrise. We had a noon flight out of Barcelona, so we didn’t have to be off the ship as early as others. This was the only time during the cruise that it felt like there were indeed 2000 passengers on board. With everyone out of their room, the public areas were congested as we waited for our “color” to be called so we could disembark. The RCI transfer to the airport is $19 per person, but one of the workers at the excursion desk assured us that there would be “tons” of taxis waiting to take us to the airport. He was right, there were, and it only cost about $20 to get there. I highly recommend RCI and the Splendour of the Seas. I enjoyed the itinerary and suggest that if you are thinking about going on this trip, get out there, and enjoy it!

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Nov 27, 2000

Circle Caribbean

[email protected] Before we tell you our cruise experience, we would like to relate what Tom Ogg, of cruisereview.com told us when he asked us to be contributing editors. We asked him what was expected of us and his answer surprised us. He said, "I want you to have your own page, to write as much or as little as you want, about whatever you want. But most important, I want you and Mary to have fun and enjoy what your doing."

When you visit our page to read a review, please keep that thought in mind. You will find our reviews differ from the norm. We tell of our cruise experience but we also share some thoughts and the things we do that have made our sixties and seventies, the best years of our life. Not only have they been the best years of our life but each year continues to get better. We just returned from our 20th cruise (‘Honeymoon‘) aboard the Splendour of the Seas. As we have explained in other reviews, Mary and I refer to our bookings as cruises when we write a review, but when we discuss our cruises, we refer to them as ‘Honeymoons.' We do so because we can't think of a more romantic, intimate way of spending quality time with the one you love than when on a cruise. This was a very special cruise for us because we had a dual celebration. We celebrated Mary's 7....th birthday and my 35th anniversary. If you're confused by my saying, my 35th anniversary and not our 35th anniversary, I will explain later in our review. As you read this review, please remember our perspective which might be very different from yours. The very reasons we book a certain cruise line and a specific ship, might be the very reasons that you would not choose them for your booking. You can tell if we have similar likes and dislikes by reading our opening remarks at the top of our Home Page. While we share our cruise experience with you, remember, we are expressing our opinion, that doesn't make it right or it doesn't make it wrong, it's just our opinion. This was the last cruise for the ‘Splendour of the Seas' in North America. In 2001, RCCL will extend their operations by repositioning the ‘Splendour' to cruise a new itinerary in South America. A PRE CRUISE MUST: We Diet and Exercise Before a Cruise. It has been our experience that we gain approximately four lbs. on a 7-day cruise. Five or six weeks before our cruise date we start a strict diet and exercise program. Our goal is to lose the four lbs. we anticipate gaining. This allows us to eat whatever we want, without feeling an ounce of guilt. Try it, it will make your cruise more enjoyable. THINGS WE DO: Island Night Dinner, Fashion Week, Dancing: http://www.cruisereviews.com/CruiseExperience.htm EMBARKATION: We drove from our home in New Smyrna Beach, Florida to Miami, the home port of the ‘Splendour.' Porters took our luggage and I parked our car in the garage across from the terminal. The new Royal Caribbean terminal is very modern and very beautiful. The check in went smoothly. We walked into the terminal at 12:20 and we were in our cabin at 12:40. CABIN: Our booking was for an inside cabin, ROS. We got a five-category upgrade to an inside cabin on the seventh deck, cabin 7533. It was well appointed. As we have said in previous reviews, we only book an inside cabin if the back wall is mirrored. A mirror makes a cabin appear larger, brighter and less confining. If your thinking of booking an inside, check the cabin pictures in the cruise line brochure to see if it has a mirrored back wall. We think you will be surprised at the difference it makes. Our cabin was very comfortable and very quiet. It had twin beds that the steward made into a king. It also had a full sized sofa and a coffee table. Instead of a mini bar they had an assortment of soda and bottled water in the desk area. The desk area was spacious and well organized. The closet and drawer space was more than adequate. Our cruise was for eleven days and Mary packed enough clothes for fourteen days and we still had plenty of space. They allocated the bathroom space very nicely. We had room for all the necessities. The shower controls were the best we have seen. I only scalded myself twice. RC doesn't supply a hair dryer so remember to bring your own. Our cabin steward Aris was from Indonesia. He was the cutest little guy. He was 32, married with two children and looked sixteen. I had no doubt he was going to do the usual good job cabin attendants do. I took him aside and handed him an envelope with the full tip for an eleven-day cruise and told him he could expect more at the end of our cruise. I asked if on disembarkation day we could stay in our cabin until they called our color. He gave me a big smile and said, "That be fine." There is a very funny aside to all this. On disembarkation day we had breakfast and returned to our cabin and watched CNN. From eight until nine we were totally absorbed watching the election happenings in Florida, when I suddenly realized we hadn't heard any announcements. I checked the switch on the announcement control and set it a notch higher. We waited another fifteen minutes and still no announcements. I went into the hall to look for Aris. I found Aris and asked him if they were calling colors and he said yes. I said how come we haven't heard them in our cabin. He said, with complete innocense, "They no longer go into cabins." I rushed back to the cabin and got Mary and we hurried down the hallway to the nearest elevator. We took the elevator to the fourth deck and as we were about to sit in the Champagne lounge, they called our color. If I hadn't asked Aris about the announcements, we might still be in our cabin waiting for our color to be called. So much for my advance planning. But although Aris fell asleep at the switch in this situation, he more than made up for it. He did something beyond the call of duty that helped me provide Mary with a very special birthday surprise. I'll tell you about that a little latter in the review. GENERAL APPEARANCE OF THE SPLENDOUR: All the RC ships we have sailed have a special elegance about them. The ‘Splendour' is no exception. The designers of the public areas do a superb job of blending a combination of materials that have a beautiful visual effect. They do all the areas of a particular location with a thoroughness you don't often see. As much thought has been given ceiling areas as is given to the walls and floors. Then they further enhance these beautiful settings with a variety of exquisite furnishings. RC had a crew of display people come aboard in Miami, to decorate the Splendour for Xmas. They evidently did this before because they had special designated pieces for all the different areas. Although we sail every year the week after Thanksgiving, we have never been on a ship decorated for Xmas. After going to our cabin to freshen up, we made a tour of the ship. This already magnificent vessel looked like a winter wonderland. We counted sixteen designers Xmas trees, and hundreds of beautiful red & white poinsettias. The decorators draped the railings with very attractive garlands with large red bows. These beautiful garlands encircled the railings of the decks from the base of the Centrum to the eleventh deck. The Xmas trees at the entrance to the King & I dining room was very unusual. From a distance they were elegant looking like all the others but when we got closer we took notice to the ornaments and we bust out laughing. Some ornaments adorning the tree were loaves of Italian bread, heads of cabbage, onions, rounds of Provolone cheese and strands of Garlic among other things. Amazingly, it made a stunning display. We hope you can see it clearly in the accompanying picture. By the way, doesn't Mary look beautiful. The Centrum, the focal point of the ship, is a circular area that encompasses seven decks, five that have railings from which you can look down at the base desk. It has a gorgeous mobile unit as its centerpiece that extends from the base to the full height of the seven decks. The base deck of the Centrum is where the very attractive Champagne Lounge is found. It is also where a combo plays every evening before and after dinner. Two large sitting areas of settees' and cocktail tables are on either side of the cascading stairway. This was a very popular place for people to gather before dinner. Some listening to music, others having before dinner drinks, and a few brave souls dancing on the marble walkway. It was a fun place to be. We took special delight watching the outside elevators as they whizzed up and down delivering their passengers to their destinations. RC makes it easy to remember what day it is, by imprinting the day of the week on the carpet in the elevators. A really great idea. A couple of times we called for an elevator, not to go anyplace, we just wanted see what day it was......We will be describing other areas of the ship, but first we would like to make a suggestion concerning table assignments. CHECKING TABLE ASSIGNMENT: Make it a point to check your table assignment when the Maitre`di is available. We can't stress enough the importance of doing this. If you want to have your table arrangement changed, this is the time to do it. If you wait till dinner time, it is probably too late. If at dinner the first night you find that you want to change your table, make sure you let the Maitre`di know and he will try to accommodate you. I think one of the worst things that can happen to anyone on a cruise is to be seated with a group of people that you know you have nothing in common. It makes for a long cruise. Check your table assignment. THE KING & I DINING ROOM: The king & I dinning room is a two-tier dining room. We entered on the upper level and walked down a magnificent marble stairway onto the main floor. We felt like Yul Brenner and Deborah Kerr walking onto the set of the movie, ‘The King & I.' It looked like a photo you might see in a travel brochure for Siam. The setting was absolutely beautiful and looked authentic. Highlighting the room was exquisite sculptures of jeweled dragons and serpents. We were assigned a table for two near the captain's table. The captain's table was a large circular table for ten. Behind it on the wall was an 8' x 10' wall piece, with every inch of it covered with brightly colored gems. On either side were two huge jeweled serpents, slithering up the wall. The whole setting was something out of the movies. . Our waiter was Miguel from Hungary. I did my customary thing. Before I left home, I prepared three envelopes with the suggested tip for the waiter, assistant waiter and cabin steward. I handed Miguel the envelope after he served us our appetizer. I told him we wanted him to have this now and we would have something additional for him at the end of the cruise. He resisted at first but then put it in his pocket and thanked us profusely. I did the same with Charlie our assistant waiter and he reacted in the same way. I find that waiters and assistants are very appreciative knowing that they are going to be well-taken care of. It isn't infrequent that they have guests that skip eating in the main dining on the last night, to avoid having to tip. Our wine steward was Harris from Colombia. A very tall handsome fellow who handled himself in a very professional manner. It was a pleasure to have him come to our table. Our bar steward was Anil from Guatemala. Normally the bar steward isn't tipped because a gratuity is added to the price of the drink. When he first came to our table, I told him I had something special for him. I placed in his hand a $2 bill which I had folded into a small square, with the $2 showing on top. I told him this is a special good luck piece and from this moment on he was going to have lots of good things happen to him. It was the first $2 bill he had ever seen and he made a big thing about it. From that moment on Anil couldn't do enough for me. My usual routine is to have a bottle of O'Douls with my dinner and I occasionally have a second. Anil saw to it that my bottle of O'Douls was on the table when we arrived for dinner and he magically appeared whenever my glass needed refilling. This continued throughout the cruise. I did the $2 thing with Miguel, Charlie and Harris and needless to say, we had exceptional service throughout the cruise. Again, we experienced the magic of the $2 bill. FOOD: We found the menu very limited and the food not very appealing. The first night when we finished dinner, I called Miguel over to the table. I told him I respected his opinion and from now on, I wanted him to tell me if we were going to be unhappy with the entrees we were ordering. It worked very well. If we ordered something that he knew wasn't up to par, he would say, "Why don't you try something else." Another way we worked around the weak menu was, we would have Miguel bring us a plate of the pasta of the night and place it on the table between us. We both love pasta. If we didn't like the entree, we ate the pasta. Surprisingly, the desserts and pastries were very good. In our humble opinion, we think RC could do themselves a world of good if they would pay a little more attention to their kitchen. The decor of their ships and the attentiveness of their crews are second to none. If they improved the food operation, they would have a package that would be hard to beat. (Another area we think needs attention is the music in the lounges.) We are former owners of an upscale restaurant and have always liked a quiet, professionally run dining room. We were surprised at how much we enjoyed the nightly shenanigans of the dining room crew of the ‘Enchantment' on our October cruise. Every night after dinner, the crew put on some kind of show and we really enjoyed it and looked forward to it. This was not so on the Splendour. Of the eleven nights, the dining room staff only performed twice and with little enthusiasm. It brings home the fact that every ship of the same line has its own distinct personality because each crew has their own way of doing things......Now to the important business of marriage maintenance. MARRIAGE MAINTENANCE FOR MARY'S BIRTHDAY: I wanted to do something special for Mary's 7....th birthday. Surprising someone you love is not always easy. It's always nice when your spouse hears you speak words of love, but it is much nicer and more appreciated when you put your pen to paper and write her a love note. I believe Mary has saved every note I have ever written her and I must admit I have done the same. Mary is very sentimental and loves to receive a note of endearment or an occasional bouquet of flowers. I remembered a quote that said, "A marriage may be made in heaven, but the maintenance must be done on earth." I looked at Mary's birthday as a great opportunity to do some major maintenance. I decided I would write three love notes and give them to her at different times during the cruise. First, how I gave Mary the first note and a bit later, how I enlisted Aris our cabin steward, in helping me surprise Mary with a nightly rose. After reading the last paragraph, some men must be thinking, ‘WHAT A WIMP.'Hold your thought for a moment until I explain. I think you should know that I have been a Mr. MACHO MAN most of my life. It has only been in my latter years that I learned that being a little Wimpy pays huge dividends. I began doing a lot more of those Wimpy things when I realized Mary gave Wimpy a lot more reason to smile than Mr. Macho Man. My mother didn't raise no dumb...dumb. I said "Goodbye....Mr. Macho man.....Hello Wimpy." Now back to the serious stuff. I wrote the three notes on beautiful embossed cards that my daughter sent from Turkey. I hid them among our cruise documents waiting for just the right moment. I chose the second night at dinner to give Mary the first note. I had Miguel place the note under Mary's dessert dish without her knowing. When we finished dessert and Miguel picked up her plate, she noticed the envelope. She said what is this? I said I don't know why don't you open it. She opened it and read it and she just melted. She had tears in her eyes. She held my hand and thanked me for being so thoughtful and whispered some words of love, I'm not at liberty to tell you. Talk about special moments. This was another treasured addition to our ever growing collection of memories. THE 42nd THEATER: This is a beautifully appointed showroom. It amazes me that a room this size could be constructed without any columns. The seating is very comfortable and there is not a restricted view in the room. Regardless what time we arrived in the showroom we never had a problem getting a good seat. The next time you're on an RC ship, make sure to take notice of the stage curtain. The curtains are not only functional but absolutely stunning and are the centerpiece of the decor of the showroom......now lets give you an idea what the entertainment was like. ENTERTAINMENT: Three production shows were presented.‘The Beat Goes On,' ‘Star Struck,' and our favorite, the ‘Swinging Singing Years.‘ The cast was a group of very talented performers. Four lead singers and each were excellent. All the shows were above average but our favorite was the ‘Swinging Singing Years,' which was a take off of the Big Band days. They played and sang the great old classics of Glenn Miller, Tommy & Jimmy Dorsey, Harry James, Les Brown and etc. Very enjoyable, very entertaining. Norm Crosby: The stand-outs of the single acts were Norm Crosby and Glen Smith. Norm Crosby was as funny as ever. He looked great and his delivery was his usual collection of convoluted statements. You know the kind he's noted for, like, "I remember when my wife was stagnant." It may be old material but it's still funny stuff. Glen Smith: Glen Smith amazed us. We had never heard of him and weren't at all thrilled about going to see his show. He wasn't on stage five minutes when we knew we were watching a fabulous entertainer. He was one of the best piano players we have ever seen and his dialogue with the audience was second to none. Recently, they voted him the Best of Las Vegas. He can best be described as very Hep and upbeat Liberace. Remember his name, Glen Smith. If ever you have an opportunity to see him perform, don't miss him, he is very special. TOP HAT LOUNGE: After the show we went to the Top Hat lounge to have a dance or two before going back to our cabin. Like all the lounges we have seen on RC ships, it was done in very good taste. The room could easily accommodate three or four hundred people. We were surprised to see very few guests there but the reason soon became apparent. The music wasn't very good. This was mainly because of the make-up of the combo, which consisted of three guitars and a drummer. We found most of the combo's in other venues also had some very unusual combinations. For example; on consecutive nights in the Centrum the make-up of the combo was, a trumpet and drums, a trumpet and piano and a piano and drums. Not only did we find it difficult to dance to this kind of music but we also found it wasn't very pleasant to listen too. We hadn't had but a few dances when I told Mary I was a little tired and would like to go back to our room. I wasn't really tired but I was anxious to see Mary's reaction when she walked into our cabin and saw the surprise I had planned for her. MORE MARRIAGE MAINTENANCE: Besides the notes I had written Mary, I wanted to give her flowers. We cruise on our Birthdays, Anniversary, and Valentines Day, so it isn't unusual for me to give Mary a bouquet of flowers. Nevertheless, this time I though I would do something different. I thought it would be romantic, if each night when we returned to our cabin, Mary would find a Rose on her pillow. The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea, but how to do it was a problem. I couldn't speak to the flower man because the flower cart was not open till 5:30. The only answer was to ask my pal Aris, our cabin attendant, if he would help me. Earlier in the evening I went into the hall and found Aris and I asked him if he knew of a way that I could carry out my plan. He had a big smile on his face and he said, "Me do." I asked him if he was sure he could do it and again he said, "Me do." When we returned to our room that evening, I opened the cabin door and lying there as pretty as could be, was a long stemmed red rose on Mary's pillow. When she saw it, she picked it up and smelled it, and then gave me a big hug and a kiss. A wise man once said, "It's wise to ply a wife with compliments and expressions of tender care." I held Mary tightly, and told her, "Of the many achievements in my life, without a doubt the greatest was when I persuaded you to marry me." Needless to say, it was another one off those very special, irreplaceable moments.....marriage maintenance at it's highest level. As it often happens, even in the most romantic moments something humorous occurs. When I spoke to Aris about putting a rose on the pillow, I told him to do it every night and to make sure each rose was a different color. I told him to make sure the flower man put the stem of the rose in a vial with water and put a vase with water on Mary's night table. This way she can put each rose in the vase and by the end of the cruise she will have a full bouquet. Aris was so excited about being my partner in this romantic escapade, he forgot to tell the flower man about the vial or the vase. You guessed it, by the time Mary finished her shower her beautiful red rose was laying limply on the pillow, in desperate need of water. We made an attempt to resurrect it, but it was too late. But all was not lost. The next morning I told Aris what happened and he said, "Me very sorry." I felt bad for Aris. Here this poor little guy, needing every bit of his energy to take care of his fourteen cabins, and I had him running back and forth to the flower man. And he tells me he's sorry! I told him not to worry, these things happened. Aris more than made up for his lapse of memory and for the remainder of the cruise he followed instructions to a tee. Each evening when we returned to our cabin Mary found a beautiful rose on her pillow and Wimpy just looked at her and smiled. We had many memorable nights to add to our growing memories. Since I have mentioned collecting memories again, we thought you might like to know what inspired us to collect memories. Two articles we read convinced us that collecting memories in our latter years was a very worthwhile endeavor. We first came across an article by John Powell who said, "Things we do today are tomorrow's memories. Some memories happen but others memories must be planned. It's important to plan things because they keep on playing as memories in ones mind and heart forever." He finished by saying, "Half of what we are is determined by the memories we have." Then shortly after, we read about the renowned traveler, Niebuhr, who became blind in his old age. But having traveled all over the world, and viewing the most beautiful and loveliest scenes, he had stored in his memory countless pictures of landscapes, mountain scenery, and valleys of rare beauty. Then, as he reclined in his easy chair, his face would often brighten into a rich glow, as if some inner light was shining through. He was remembering once more, some splendid scene he had looked upon in his travels. The author wrote that the chamber walls of his memory were hung all over with the pictures which filled his darkened years with joy and beauty.....These thoughts inspired us to plan and do things that we could add to our collection of memories, memories that would be with us forever. At the very top of our long list of memories, are the many wonderful romantic moments Mary & I have shared during our twenty cruises......Enough sentimentality, were going to take you on a tour of the Windjammer and the pool areas. WINDJAMMER LUNCH ROOM: The RC Windjammer lunch rooms, are the only ships restaurants we know of that are located at the forward section of the ship. The Windjammer is located directly over the bridge and with its walls of glass affords a panoramic view of the ocean. It's a very attractive room but the way it is set-up lead too much confusion. When you entered, two serving lines took you past the hot entrees and then there was a series of individual stations of various food items. People were coming and going in all different directions, zigging and zagging all over the place. The coffee and drink station is set by a very busy walkway that is no more than two feet wide. People were bumping into each other with drinks and cups of hot coffee in their hands. Doesn't make much sense, does it? It was very confusing. Finding an empty table also was very difficult. If we were asked to rate the food from 1- 10, we would rate it a five. It's a very beautiful room, but after having lunch and experiencing this mass confusion, we decided we would better off having lunch in the main dining room. That is exactly what we did. POOL AREAS: Main Pool: It seems the cold snap we were having in Florida followed us to the Caribbean. We experienced bad weather throughout this cruise. During our previous 19 cruises we only had three or four days of bad weather, whereas on this cruise it rained or was overcast on eight of the eleven days. We still had a wonderful cruise but we had to change some plans we had made. The Splendour has two pool areas. The Main pool and the Solarium pool. The main pool is where all the action takes place. This is the place that people gather to enjoy the water and soak up the sun, especially those coming from the colder climates. The inclement weather didn't seem to dampen their spirit. During the week the entertainment staff did the usual cruise thing. They kept everyone amused by staging a series of events such as, men's most hairy chests contest, best legs contest, heavyweights belly flop contest and the popular horse racing and etc. Everyone seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. There were ample lounges throughout the pool and upper deck area. A very fine Calypso band supplied the music. If you like action, the main pool is the place to be, but if you like it peaceful and quiet, the Solarium pool is the place for you. Mary & I opted for the solarium. Solarium Pool: When we walked into the Solarium area and looked at the surroundings, we felt like Caesar and Cleopatra surveying one of his Roman gardens. A very beautiful, picturesque area, copied after the Roman gardens of ancient times. In the center was a large rectangle pool with two Jacuzzi at one end. At the other end were the Solarium bar and a food counter that served Hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza. When we placed our order they gave us a number and told us they would bring our order to us. A very nice touch. A moveable glass paneled ceiling covered the entire area. Though we had many days of inclement weather, it was never over crowded and we never had a problem finding lounges. It is one of our favorite areas when we cruise Royal Caribbean. THE VARIOUS LOUNGES: The Top Hat Lounge. We mentioned this lounge and the lack of good dance music, but would like to give you another illustration why many people were disappointed with the music. The production show, ‘The Swinging Singing Years' was a roaring success. The audience reacted to every song that was sung, every note that was played. They were stomping their feet and swaying to the rhythm and some even got out of their seats and danced in the isles. When they sung the final song and the show came to a close, the audience jumped to their feet, and applauded wildly. The cast did a couple of encores and received the same appreciative reaction. That night when we read the ship's bulletin, we were delighted to read that next evening the Splendour's big band was going to play dance music in the Top Hat lounge. Finally, we were going to have a chance to do a little hold me tight dancing, you know, that old WW#2 slide and glide. We went to the lounge and the band sounded great. The floor quickly filled with couples, and you could see they were really enjoying themselves. When the song was finished, the couples were eagerly waiting for another romantic, hold me tight, ballad. Much to everyone's surprise, the next number was a Bolero and the floor cleared. No one dancing. The next number was an Argentine Tango, one couple giving an exhibition. The next number a Salsa, nobody dancing. This is the way it continued for the remainder of the evening. After seeing the way the audience reacted to the previous nights big band salute, the band leader didn't have to be a rocket scientist to know the kind of music the people wanted hear. It was obvious the band was more interested in practicing the music they would be playing on their South American itinerary. We were disappointed but we didn't let it dampen our spirits. The Schooner Bar: The Schooner is a very attractive lounge with a very attentive serving staff. We went to the Schooner Bar the first night and I did the $2 thing. A cute little Indonesian server, whose name was Revelynn took our drink order. I ordered Mary an old fashion and I had my usual O'Douls and then I did the $2 thing. Revelynn was very impressed and thanked me profusely. The next evening, we stopped by the Schooner, to have a drink before the show. No sooner had we been served our drinks, when we realized we had miscalculated the time. Not wanting to carry our drinks to the other end of the ship, we got up and left, leaving the near full drinks on the table. We rushed to the showroom and found two seats in the back of the showroom by the disability rail. Ten minutes later as we were watching the show, I felt a tap on my shoulder and there was Revelynn with our drinks. She left her station and walked the full length of the ship, looking for us to bring us our unfinished drinks. What a thoughtful thing to do. I'm sure the magic of the $2 bill played a part. The Viking Crown Lounge: The Viking Crown lounge is the signature room of the RC Fleet and is the highest point of the ship. During the day it's an observatory and at night a full-blown disco. A very well appointed room that appeals to the younger set. We visited this lounge a few times during the day but never at night. PORTS OF CALL: Because of the weather, we were only able to make the ports of Aruba & Curacao. We are just as happy staying on board and enjoying the ambience of the ship. Our only disappointment was not going ashore at Ocho Rios. We had a big day planned for Ocho Rios but we had to cancel our plans. It was a very nasty day. When I knew we were going to be in Ocho Rios on Mary's birthday, I planned on taking her to the fabulous Sandals Dunns River Resort. This is a premier resort and I wanted this to be the place we would have our dual celebration. I had called and asked them if they would take day guests. The reservations clerk told me they would allow day guests for $50 per person. This included everything, the use of their facilities and food. They don't take reservations for day guests on the phone. I was told to go the resort and tell the guard at the gate we're day guests. Unfortunately because of the weather we couldn't go. But we will have another opportunity when we go to the Western Caribbean on our March 25th cruise aboard Celebrity's Millennium. We will give you a full report of Sandals Dunn River Resort when we return. Aruba: We had heard some very nice reports about Eagle beach and we decided to give it a try. The beach portion was very nice but the water area was filled with rocks. If we didn't have aqua socks, we wouldn't have gone in the water. (Aqua socks are a must if you go to the beach. You can get a nasty cut stepping on a piece of coral.) The water was very cloudy, not at all like the clear, sparkling Caribbean water we are used too. We stayed for an hour and returned to the ship. Curacao: They did not schedule the Splendour to depart Curacao till 12:30 at night. We went ashore in the morning and we found it wasn't very different from most Caribbean ports. A large shopping maul and the usual street stands. We bought some T-shirts and some trinkets and headed back to the ship. We had given some thought to having dinner in town but after going ashore in the morning we decided we would be better off having dinner on the ship.........I think it's time to tell you about my 35th anniversary. MY 35TH ANNIVERSARY : December second is a very important day in our life. Not only is it Mary's birthday, it is also my 35th anniversary as a recovering alcoholic. Thirty five years ago, just before Christmas, I entered the A.A. program a broken man. Through the wonderful, God-given program of A.A., I have had the most wonderful life imaginable. Mary & I have been married 32 years and we both was married 20 plus years previously. One of the many blessings God has given me, is that during our thirty-two years of married life, Mary has never seen me take a drink. This is the first time in my 35 years of sobriety that I have broken my anonymity. I do so with the hope I might be of help to someone who is having a similar problem. It would be my pleasure to answer any questions about A.A., and how it works.....I would like to share with you a thought that has carried me through many dark hours. I printed it on a card and have carried it with me for all these years. YESTERDAY...TODAY...TOMORROW YESTERDAY There are two days in every week about which we should not worry, two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension. One of these days is yesterday with its mistakes and cares, its faults and blunders, its aches and pains; yesterday has passed forever beyond our control. All the money in the world cannot bring back yesterday. We cannot undo a single act performed; we cannot erase a single word we said....YESTERDAY is gone. TOMORROW: The other day we should not worry about is tomorrow with its possible adversities, its burdens, its large promise and poor performance. Tomorrow is also beyond our immediate control. Tomorrow's sun will rise, either in splendor or behind a mask of clouds....but it will rise. Until it does, we have no stake in TOMORROW for it is not yet born. TODAY This leaves only one day....TODAY. Any man can fight the battle of just one day. It is only when you add the burdens of those two awful eternities....yesterday and tomorrow, that drives men mad....it is the remorse or bitterness for something which happened yesterday and the dread of what tomorrow may bring. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow has not come, let us live our life, one day at a time. SOME LOOSE ENDS AND RANDOM THOUGHTS: During subsequent dinners, I gave Mary the two additional notes of endearment and a special card the night of her birthday . She had written a lovely note for my anniversary and gave it to me at the end of dinner. My fervent wish, is that I, in some small way, resemble the man she speaks so eloquently of, in her note. I read recently, the latest research suggests we need twelve hugs a day to maintain good health and that hugs cure depression, reduce stress, have no unpleasant side effects and improve the bodies immune system..... .I didn't realize when I hugged Mary, I was providing her with a health benefit. I can tell you without a shred of doubt, ‘Hug Therapy' works. Can't resist telling you this: Mary & evening dresses seem to be the perfect match. The night of the Captains formal party, she looked absolutely stunning. At dinner, one of the waitress's from the other side of the dining room, came to our table and told Mary, "I saw you as you walked in and just had to come over and tell you how beautiful you look." If this wasn't enough of a compliment, on the second formal night another waitress from the other side of the dining room, came to our table and told Mary, she was the prettiest woman in the room. What a lucky guy, Whimpy sitting with the prettiest woman in the room. Something Leo Buscaglia wrote, that we both like. Love makes us more comfortable with and accepting of each other's imperfections. Love isn't appalled when we stand in the bathroom in sagging underwear, loudly gargling with our hair pointing in all directions. It doesn't care that we've acquired a new set of wrinkles on our face, that our skin is flabbier than it used to be, that we have developed a more substantial midriff. When we love, we see through such inconsequential things. We concentrate on internal beauty that is unaffected by time or age. It is not that love is blind, it is, rather, that love sees what is essential. Aris continued making his nightly trek to the flower man to get a rose to place on Mary's pillow. I really appreciated him going the extra mile, literally and figuratively, and I gave him a very generous tip. For those of you, who are much younger than us, remember that things were very different in our time. In our time, we got married first and then lived together and we thought fast food was what you ate during lent. In our day GRASS was mowed, COKE was a cold drink and POT was something you cooked in, and AIDS were helpers in the principal's office. If we say some things that sound strange, we hope you understand that we have a different mind set and are speaking from our experience. If your going to the Caribbean beaches, make sure you buy aqua socks. Article we saw in a medical journal: Our need to be touched is never ending. Our ability to become emotionally involved with others and to be vulnerable to them is directly related to our experiences of having been stroked, caressed, and cuddled as children. Our need for touch continues throughout our lifetime. In fact, our body chemistry changes when we are physically close to another person. When a person is touched, the amount of hemoglobin in the blood....which carries oxygen and helps prevent disease and speed recovery from illness....increases significantly. In one animal study, rabbits that were held close and stroked often developed less hardening of the arteries than unstroked, unhugged rabbits! We didn't realize our ‘Honeymoon' activities were increasing the hemoglobin in our blood. If our doctor ever tells us our hemoglobin is low, we'll know what to do. Make sure to take $2 bills with you on your next cruise. Use them wisely, and they become a magic potion that will do wonders for you. A Great Present to Buy Your Sons-in-law: After they had said their vows on their wedding day, Sarah's father took the new groom aside and handed him a small gift. He said, "Within this gift is all you really need to know to have a happy marriage." Within the box lay a large gold watch. With great care he picked it up. Upon close examination he saw etched across the face of the watch a prudent reminder he would see whenever he checked the time of day.....words that, if heeded, held the secret to a successful marriage. They were, "Say something nice to Sarah." I'm thinking of buying myself a large watch for our anniversary, with a reminder etched across its face, "Say something nice to Mary," with an appropriate gift label addressed to myself, "To Tom from Whimpy." How Taking a Cruise Can Strengthen a Marriage: One day last week Mary & I was watching the Oprah TV show, and we heard a renowned expert in the field of marital relations make a statement that got our attention. He said, "The number one cause of couples losing the sense of intimacy and love, that they enjoyed in the first years of their marriage, is the mother allotting all her time to her children and their activities and not making time for her husband." He said, "The demands on mothers in today's society are at an all time high. Many wives are working Mom's. Not only do they work, they also have to do the house work, the cooking, the shopping, get the kids off to school, take them to extra school activities, attend PTA meetings, help the children with homework, and many more things too numerous to mention. BUT, and it's a very BIG BUT, it is absolutely essential that she and her husband find a way to have private time together, away from the children. Otherwise, over a period of time their marriage will slowly but surely disintegrate." He said, "I know it isn't easy for a wife to turn the switch on and off. One moment being an all-encompassing mother and then the next moment, the sultry, passionate lover, her husband wants her to be. BUT, again the BIG BUT, it is an absolute necessity that you have some private time, so you and your spouse can rekindle the fire of your love." Mary & I have a suggestion we think you should give some serious thought. What better way to rediscover each other, than you and your spouse spending seven romantic days on a cruise ship, alone, without the children. Just imagine, no kids, no cooking, no shopping, no taxiing, no dog to walk, no cat to let out, no phone, no beeper, no commitments, just you and your loved one alone. Being on a cruise, on one of these magnificent floating resorts is without a doubt, a wonderful and ideal way for a husband and wife to rekindle the fire of their love. Seven full days of being with your loved one, in the most romantic, intimate setting imaginable. A chance to be alone, totally alone with your spouse. You probably can't remember the last time that happened. Well it can happen, but you have to make it happen. One way you can jump start your search for private time, is to take a cruise. It's a wonderful way to rediscover the reasons you married each other. CONCLUSION: We had a glorious time. Some things weren't quite what we would have liked them to be, but that's all-right, nothing is ever a 100%. While the unpleasantries are happening they are in the fore front of our mind, but they soon disappear from our thoughts, when we realize how fortunate we are to be able to do the things we do. We owe a debt of gratitude to Tom & Joanie Ogg of Cruise Reviews, for giving us an opportunity to have so much fun. Knowing we will be sharing our experience with you, adds immeasurably to our cruise enjoyment. When we're on a cruise, it seems our senses rise to a higher level. We have a deeper appreciation for what we see and for the things we do. We find ourselves looking at everything more intently, knowing we will soon be telling you about it. At our age, it's wonderful to feel so alive and vital. Without a doubt, we're addicted to cruising. Other than being together, Mary & I, can't think of anything we would rather do. We are very excited about our cruising plans for the coming year. We are booked on RCCL's new ship the ‘Explorer of the Seas' for February 10th, Celebrity's new ship, the ‘Millennium' for March 25th, RCCL's ‘Voyager of the Seas' for May 13th and Celebrity's new ship the ‘Summit' for November 23rd. If any reader is booked on any of these cruisers, we would like to hear from you. We welcome any questions or comments you might have, especially those from first time cruisers. May your next cruise be your best. Our warmest regards, Tom & Mary Milano [email protected]

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Oct 3, 2000

New England / Eastern Canada

Boston, Massachusetts. A 40-minute fog delay offered a bird’s eye view of Providence, Rhode Island. But once on the ground at Logan, the weather improved dramatically, and we were treated to brilliant sun and clear skies for the duration of our stay. The Seaport Hotel was convenient to the airport and port facilities. However, the “Big Dig” separates it from Boston’s more interesting sights. We became quick friends with taxi drivers and

immediately set out for the Imperial Seafood Restaurant in Chinatown. The eight precious casserole and a platter of mandarin crispy shrimp were delicious. A lovely afternoon afforded the perfect chance to wander around Market Place. Faneuil Hall, North, Quincy and South Markets were interesting. Hunger set in again, and we tried the cuisine of Aura Restaurant. We began with New England clam chowder and Boston bib salad with blue cheese, followed by seared halibut over poached clams in a light cream sauce and plank-broiled striped bass on a bed of sundried tomatoes and navy beans. There was no room for dessert. We awoke to another warm and sunny day. A morning stroll along the historic harborfront filled a void while waiting for embarkation. We located more of the restaurants we had hoped to sample – Jimmy’s, No-Name Restaurant, The Barking Crab and Anthony’s Pier 4. We can only hope for a return to Boston to sample these kitchens. Embarkation. The transfer bus from the hotel to the pier had not arrived by 1:30 p.m. We decided, instead, to take a taxi, which turned out to be a wise choice. Others waiting with us for the same bus had to make several phone calls before the coach was sent. They did not embark until 3:00 p.m. Check-in at the Crown and Anchor Society Diamond desk took longer than it should have, as anyone was allowed to queue there. Eventually we were on the ship and enjoying the welcome aboard buffet lunch. With plenty of time before departure, we explored the familiar public areas of the ship and were relieved to find little had changed in the three years since our last voyage upon the Splendour. We were on our way shortly after mustering. The Champagne Terrace beckoned for a relaxing few moments before we returned to the cabin to unpack. Dinner arrangements were exactly as requested, although when we asked for a table for eight, never did we imagine only our two seats would be occupied. Our waitress, Licinia (Portugal), and assistant waiter, Habib (Tunisia), were quite amused by this arrangement but assured us there were others assigned to this table. They both were delightful and efficient throughout the journey. Tonight’s poached cod in champagne sauce was a good light way to begin our 10-day eating frenzy. Luc Lezzy entertained later in the 42nd Street Theatre with a most unusual show of bubbles and illusion. Portland, Maine. The lighthouse welcomed us into the harbor during breakfast. We made a quick ½-mile jaunt around the Sun Deck before preparing to tender ashore. The Portland Public Market – the second largest timber-framed structure in the United States – houses many specialty produce vendors. We wished our kitchen were closer. The Portland Museum of Art was the next destination. There one viewed an exclusive exhibition of works by N.C. Wyeth (Andrew’s father). Many may recall his illustrations in Robinson Carusoe. Also, Berenice Abbott’s 1954 photo essay on U.S. Route 1 (Maine to Key West) was nostalgic. Abbott’s career began in the 1920s as an assistant in Paris to Man Ray. The neighboring Hay building, a former drug store, now houses a Starbucks coffeehouse. We chose a cozy corner there to observe street life before returning to the pier. There one was entertained by a small jazz ensemble. Lunch in the King and I Dining Room offered an excellent broiled tilapia with a tropical fruit and ginger salsa. We enjoyed conversation with others from Richmond and St. Louis. A reunion with a former waiter, Erik (France), was an unexpected surprise. At the Champagne Terrace, we finally made the acquaintance of a lovely couple from Louisiana with whom we had corresponded via e-mail before this holiday. There would be other opportunities to see them again in the coming days. The Captain’s welcome aboard reception followed in the Top Hat Lounge. Captain Grønhaug introduced key officers and staff. Two other couples finally joined our dinner table tonight. We treasured their company tonight and throughout this cruise. The châteaubriand was the clear majority choice for dinner, which Christine complimented with a mushroom mille feuille and fat-free Caesar salad – Richard with pâté maison, lobster bisque and Caesar salad. Later in the theater, the Platters entertained with their memorable tunes. Halifax, Nova Scotia. Halifax was cool and clear; spray from welcoming fire barges scattered wildly in the wind. A panoramic view of the city below and the historic town clock keeping excellent time nearby rewarded our long uphill walk to the Citadel. The historic properties on the harbor house many boutiques and restaurants. We settled in at Salty’s for lunch. From our second-floor window, we observed passersby on the waterfront while steamed mussels whetted our appetites for the subsequent dishes of pan-seared haddock and maple-sauced salmon. Richard gave in to a crème caramel; Christine kept him company with a steaming cappuccino. Our waiter, Rob, was a friendly and knowledgeable server, but his tales of magnificent harbor sunsets were very tall, as the view was to the east. The boardwalk was inviting, and we strolled along past more restaurants, shops and the Maritime Museum before reaching the cruise pier terminal. The arts and crafts vendors there tempted passengers. As a bagpiper bid us adieu, the Splendour set sail from this most friendly port. We made our usual visit to the Centrum to enjoy live music and pre-dinner conversation. For dinner, almost everyone opted for scampi, and no one regretted that choice. In fact, some even indulged in second helpings. Tonight’s review in the theater was a lively tribute to American music. Sydney, Nova Scotia. An overcast, rainy day greeted us in Sydney. We went as far as a local handicraft show on the pier before deciding against venturing further. A collapsible wooden basket and some goat milk soaps made their way back home with us. The King and I Dining Room then lured us to lunch. A crisp spring salad and a roasted vegetable napoleon on a bed of couscous and tomato coulis were Christine’s picks, while Richard enjoyed two servings of spaghetti and meatballs with his salad. Our waitress, Sophie (Québec) offered some Québec restaurant suggestions. Later, Cape Breton music and dance were featured in the Top Hat Lounge. Jenny Rollins, the fiddler, was charming. We had a late afternoon tea in the Windjammer before returning to the cabin to find fruit baskets and an invitation from the Hotel Manager, Jimmy Spencer, to a Crown and Anchor Society Diamond Members’ reception to be held on the last formal evening. The comedy of Mike Shane and Larry Allen highlighted the pre-dinner show. Having sailed with them previously, we were pleased with their new material. We both made a light dinner selection – poached flounder with shrimp and garlic sauce. However, Richard needed an extra dose of omegas tonight and added herring salad and Bergen fish soup. Then we both indulged in dessert – baba au rhum. Afterward, the Champagne Terrace was a nice place to stop for a nightcap. St. Lawrence Seaway. We prepared for a cold, windy day at sea. A good part of the morning was used to catch up on reading. Richard had piles of material from home, while Christine checked out from the library “The Good Man of Nanking – The Diaries of John Rabe,” by John E. Woods. When hunger roared, we headed to the dining room, where Christine lunched on salad and tortellini, while Richard opted for soup, salad and Salsbury steak. A life enrichment lecture on the Bay of Fundy followed, which was full of interesting information on the unusual tidal action of the North Atlantic region. We returned briefly to the cabin, where we intercepted a call from another internet acquaintance. She asked whether we would like to meet for conversation in the Schooner Bar. It was a delight finally to meet face-to-face. We had a nice chat while being drawn into a game of team trivia. There was just enough time for tea in the Windjammer before preparing for the Crown and Anchor Society cocktail. Our friends from Louisiana joined us at the reception. Here Captain Grønhaug previewed future Royal Caribbean ventures. We found astounding the projected addition of eight ships to the fleet – so closely behind Voyager of the Seas and Explorer of the Seas. Dinner followed, where everyone decided to try the roast duck in raspberry sauce; all were content with that selection. Many also enjoyed the cream of oxtail soup. We ended the evening in the 42nd Street Theatre, where Donna Theodore did a wonderful tribute to Judy Garland. Québec City, Québec. Arrival was promptly at 7:00 a.m. It was unfortunate friends from Montréal would be unable to make the trip to Québec today to join us. We began our visit with a stroll through Vieux Port up to the ramparts, from where one could see the Splendour and Maasdam at the pier below. We meandered through the narrow cobbled streets of Vieux Québec and Haute Ville to the impressive Hotel Château Frontenac. Continuing along the Terrasse Dufferin, we came to the Promenade des Governeurs and its 310 plus stairs. The walkway – extending over rocky cliffs, high above the St. Lawrence – was thoughtfully designed with stairways leading to level boardwalks, more stairs, etc. The views along the promenade and from Cap Diamant at the top were truly breathtaking. The autumn colors here were the best of any port of call. The search for a restaurant followed. We checked one establishment after the other off our list, as they were either closed for lunch on Sundays or open for brunch only. What a disappointment, as we had looked forward for a long time to a special Québecois dining experience. Opting instead for steamed mussels provençal and pommes frites at Le Diable ô Anges, we nonetheless enjoyed our meal. Window shopping along rue Petit-Champlain on the way back to the pier was a pleasant diversion. We watched the sun set over Québec from the Viking Crown Lounge and later, as we dined on racks of lamb, the evening illumination from our table in the King and I Dining Room. An after-dinner stroll on deck offered one last view of this fascinating city Saguenay River / St. Lawrence Seaway. Clear, sunny skies and vibrant foliage welcomed us to the frigid waters of the Saguenay River. During the five-hour passage, a naturalist aboard provided interesting, educational commentary. Midway, one was awed by an enormous white wooden Madonna, with a stirring rendition of Ave Maria filling the air. Return to the St. Lawrence brought sightings of a seal, a minke whale and a few belugas. A soaring loon made its presence known, soon followed by a pair of fin whales. Lunch in the dining room was uneventful. However, totally unexpected during open seating, Christine was asked by the assistant waiter whether she would like her chamomile tea with lunch or after. Dumbfounded at such keen attention to detail by a new server, she soon discovered Habib giving instructions from the sidelines. We later adjourned to the Windjammer for another tea, where one could take advantage of the panoramic view and occasional sightings of whales, porpoises and seals. While enjoying the live entertainment in the Centrum before dinner, a fellow passenger from first seating dropped by with recommendations for dinner. An unexciting written menu surprised us all with fabulous presentations and flavors. Most tried and thoroughly enjoyed the pumpkin soup. Christine followed with salad and grilled grouper; Richard preferred crab cakes, salad and the melt-in-one’s-mouth braised short ribs. Craig Dahn on piano in the 42nd Street Theatre was exceptional. A Liberace protègé, Craig dressed the part, right down to a baby grand piano diamond pinky ring – a gift from the master himself. His performance of a popular piece by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was a huge hit with the audience. The Gala midnight buffet followed. We dropped by for photos but had to pass on the food. At Sea. The seas turned rough as we entered the Atlantic Ocean – too bumpy for breakfast in the Windjammer. The dining room was our alternative for a modest repast of fruit, yogurt and muffins. We spent the morning reading before returning to the King and I Dining Room for lunch. We were seated with three couples from California and enjoyed talking with them today and several other times during the final days of the cruise. The afternoon show – an act on wheels – was cancelled due to high seas. We enjoyed the warmth of the Solarium instead before a quick tea in the Windjammer and preparations for the Crown and Anchor Society Diamond Members’ cocktail. The reception was elegant – champagne flowed, and the grilled shrimp were scrumptious. This was a wonderful opportunity to get to know some of the officers, staff and fellow Diamond members. We particularly took pleasure in chatting with Catherine and Carlos. Members were given souvenir menus. Dinner followed, and again, we were alone at our table for eight. The high seas were not agreeing with our fellow tablemates. Christine’s entrecte was superb, and Richard savored his chicken Kiev. We spent a few moments in the Centrum before heading to the Top Hat Lounge for the Big Band Masquerade Ball. Some of the homemade masks were quite creative. St. John, New Brunswick. A weather-related late arrival in St. John meant a rescheduling of all shore excursions – an added bonus, as we would now be able to have lunch ashore. We took a leisurely breakfast in the dining room before heading into town for a stroll. On the pier, the town crier greeted us. Ladies were presented with a rose, while the gentlemen were given a commemorative hatpin. We enjoyed the sights in and around Market Square. After writing a few postcards, we decided to have lunch at Grannan’s. The oysters on the half shell were just what we had been seeking. The accompanying bowls of thick seafood chowder were loaded with lobster. An afternoon excursion took us to the Old Public Market (its wooden rafters resembling an inverted ship’s hull), Reversing Falls (the tide was nearing its low point, with the river flowing downstream; it would be another six hours before high tide, when the river would reverse its course and flow upstream), Irving Nature Park (where our enthusiastic naturalist guide, Ron, pointed out a rare pelegrine falcon) and a final stop at the Inn on the Cove for tea and scones. Richard claimed they were the best scones he had ever eaten, and he had lived six years in Great Britain. We took time to pack our formal wear before dinner. Tonight was the feast for which most had been waiting. Richard went all out with escargots, onion soup, salad, broiled Australian lobster tail, filet mignon Madagascar and soufflé Grand Marnier. A salad and filet were enough for Christine. It was nice to experience Bobby Arvon again – the voice of television’s Happy Days – performing in the theater. We had last sailed with him in 1993. We were still amazed by his energy. Bar Harbor, Maine. Bar Harbor was awash in sparkling sunlight as we anchored off the shore. The inviting Bar Harbor Inn was the focal point as we tendered into the pier. The one-mile coastal walk offered a chance to view the sea and the beautiful homes dotting its shores. The village is geared mainly toward tourism – with souvenir shops, art galleries and restaurants. Christine picked up some notecards for gratuities and gift giving. We had expected to have lunch at Gaylyn’s, but it was closed until evening. Instead, we lunched on delicious baked lobster at the Quarterdeck before returning to the ship to complete our packing. We allowed plenty of time for one last leisurely tea in the Windjammer, an afternoon break that will be missed on return home. Fellow passengers joined us in the Centrum before dinner. We said goodbye to Reinson (India); he had been a superb bar server. The farewell review was pre-dinner and featured Big Band / Swing. This was perhaps the best show of the cruise. The international dinner brought prime rib to Richard’s plate; Christine chose mahi mahi in ginger and leek sauce. Strawberries Romanoff was an outstanding dessert. Regretfully, tonight one had to bid farewell to new acquaintances and excellent servers. Later, we were joined in the Champagne Terrace by our friends from Louisiana for a send-off toast. It would be great to see – or sail with – this wonderful couple again. Debarkation. An early rise – 5:00 a.m. – for Customs clearance. Breakfast in the Windjammer followed. Debarkation began shortly thereafter and at one’s leisure. However, the tide went out during the process, and the gangway had to be repositioned to another deck. This process extremely interrupted passenger debarkation, so much so that passengers were directed from the aft elevator area on Promenade Deck, through the Centrum, Schooner Bar, Casino, back along the outside deck to the King and I Dining Room. Here passengers reentered the ship and headed down two flights of stairs to Deck 2 and the gangway. Finally inside the terminal, baggage was claimed, buses were boarded, and all were soon on their way to respective destinations. Observations. Royal Caribbean took every occasion to make their guests feel genuinely welcomed. Officers, staff and crew were gracious and helpful at all times. Even the many mobility-impaired travelers were provided gentle and caring attention to their special needs. This impacted well on guests. Not a single passenger was encountered who was not completely satisfied. Also positive, there was no debarkation talk; information was provided on the closed-circuit cabin televisions. The words gratuity and excellent were not uttered. Royal Caribbean’s unspoken confidence and trust that its guests would respond in kind to the crewmembers who had made this voyage very special impressed us. Finally, discontinuing the clichéd farewell skit on the final evening and providing guests with the Big Band / Swing review was a totally class act. The Cruise Director, Renée George, is to be congratulated and thanked for the sophistication she brings to the Royal Caribbean cruise experience.

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Panama Canal

Nov 11 – 22, 2002 Splendour of the Seas Galveston – Cozumel, Mexico – Puerto Limon, Costa Rica – Panama Canal – Montego Bay, Jamaica – Georgetown, Grand Cayman – Galveston Monday, Nov 11 We left Austin at 10 a.m. and arrived in Galveston at 3 p.m. (stopped and did some last minute shopping at the Galleria in Houston). The loading period of the Splendour was listed at 1 – 5 p.m. and leaving at 6 p.m. I was surprised to find

no cars in the unloading area in front of the terminal bldg. It took only 1 minute to unload the baggage, and then drive about a ¼ of mile to the parking area. Hint: you must have cash to pay for the parking, which was $80 for 11 days. There were plenty of spaces even with two ships leaving together this day. We sat on the shuttle about 15 minutes before proceeding to the terminal again. The x-ray of our carry on luggage was very fast. Then we entered the new terminal area for check in. It was big, clean, effective, and cool. We stood in line maybe 15 minutes. There were plenty of agents on hand for check-in. I would say that this was the easiest check in of any of my six cruises. Hint: Fill out your embarkation form over the web and the agent will not have to enter all of the info while you stand around waiting. We came on board and found our room with no problem. Luggage showed up around 6 p.m. The first action was to get some seasick pills for my wife in case she needed them. You can get them only at the purser’s desk, five pills no charge. Went to Windjammer and ate some lunch. Food was okay. We bought our excursions over the web a few weeks before, and the pre-paid tickets showed in our room about the same time as our luggage. Glad we did, as the line at the excursion desk was very long already. Ok, after all the reading about the drink cards on RCI, I decided to give it a try. We went up to the Viking Crown lounge before dinner and asked for a drink card. They said that they did not have any, and that we would have to go to the Schooner bar to get one. So we ordered a couple of beers instead. Do not know if they were telling the truth or not, but we had no problems with getting the card later and using it anywhere. We were the second seating, which was at 8:45 p.m. for the first two days. I had baked Cod, and Glenda had the Chicken Cordon Bleu, both were very good. Just about everyone else at our table ordered steak, which is always available. The entertainment show was at 10:30 p.m. today and tomorrow. Afterwards, the schedule changed to Show at 7:15 p.m. and dinner at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov 12 (Day at Sea) We ate breakfast at the Windjammer as we heard that breakfast and lunch were going to be buffet style in the main restaurant also. This lasted two days until I guess the complaints from guests made them switch back to the traditional style of eating with waiters. The waiters explained that Europeans preferred buffet style. We met a couple that had been on the Splendour for its Atlantic crossing, and were staying on for this cruise, and the next one also. They really enjoyed the crossing, the ship, and crew. The weather was overcast with occasional rain, so we spent our day at the Solarium. The water was cool, but refreshing. We rushed over to the shopping talk in the theatre where we heard a very detailed description of Cozumel shopping. We went back to the Solarium for lunch. I think most people agreed that the hamburgers were not very good here. However the hot dogs and pizza were good. We went to the Windjammer for some more lunch and had Chicken Fajitas. It was funny that the flour tortillas had run out, so we asked the serving staff for more. Since this was their first time to make Tex-Mex, they did not know what a tortilla was. But they were so helpful to try and understand. We finally got the tortillas and had a nice lunch poolside. At 3 p.m. we tried the Shuffleboard competition, but were eliminated in the 1st round. We played some miniature golf, and then did the walk a mile event. We dropped by the Internet café and checked some email. The setup was fantastic, very modern and user friendly. The charge was 50 cents a minute. The Captain’s reception was before dinner, and was very nice with a band and big dance floor. There were lots of people dancing too. I have to give RCI credit. Their ships are more dancer friendly than others that I have been on. Dinner was very good again with Filet Mignon and Duck. However our table was near the Captain’s table, so our service was spotty since the waiters were taking extra care of the Captain. The show tonight was Marty Allen and his wife, and it was very, very good. We decided to stay up late and see the “Village People” at the disco in the Viking Crown lounge. The audience was a little too old however to really get into the act. When we returned to our room we had a message that our excursion had been canceled due to lack of participation. We had signed up for the Reef Snorkeling. We were disappointed since I had heard that Cozumel had great snorkeling. However, I believe that the fact that we had a much older passenger base than I had expected contributed to the lack of participation. The oldest average age on a cruise until this one was a Holland America cruise in Alaska. I would say that the average age on the Splendour was around 65 – 68. The fact that this was an 11-day cruise probably appealed to an older crowd. Wednesday, Nov 13 (Cozumel) We decided to just shop and stroll around the town instead of booking a new excursion. As things turned out, most excursions were canceled due to problems with docking vs. tendering and bad weather. Per the captain, we were supposed to dock in Cozumel, but a Celebrity ship was already there when we arrived. So we had to tender with little warning, plus due to the currents and wind, we could not anchor. So the crew spent all day hovering the ship in place with its engines. The first two tenders left at 9:30 a.m. Here is what I have heard from several persons and the crew. When the tenders came up to the pier, they discovered that the pier and tender were significantly different heights. After trying to work something out, and running into each other, one tender got caught in a rope and broke the propeller guard. Finally around 11:00 a.m. a system was devised for the tenders and the people put ashore. Meanwhile the rest of us waited until some Cozumel tenders could be procured at late notice. By 11:15 am, we were on shore. Hurray. It stayed cloudy and windy all day, but little rain (thank goodness). There were 7 or 8 cruise ships at Cozumel that day, but it did not seem that crowded on shore. We ate at Poncho’s on the Patio, which has a wonderful outside seating area with music and garden. We shopped most of the day, but prices were not as good as Laredo in my opinion. We caught the 4 p.m. tender and barely had time to change and go to our Cruise Critic party. The party was held in the back area of the Viking Crown lounge, which is the area reserved for smoking cigars. I was disappointed that we had to sit in a smoking area for the whole party. It would have been nice to have half the area for smoking and the other half for non-smoking. The party was a minor affair, but it was interesting to meet the people behind the screen names. For dinner we changed tables to sit with two couples from Houston, one being a Texas Aggie like myself. Warren and Gilda were about our age and very similar to us. This really made the cruise even more special. Warren mentioned that their private scuba dive had been called off due to rough weather. We were now 6 people total at a 10-person table. Concerning the first vs. second seating, the first seating was the overall choice for most people as there was a waiting list to change. The second seating had over a hundred seats empty, so it was easy to change. However, people were scattered all over the dining room with many tables less than half full. The next night another two couples joined us since they had been by themselves at a 10-person table. We noticed this happening all around us as people switched tables to be with a larger group. The crew was very helpful in taking care of all requests. Thursday, Nov 14 (Day at Sea) Not much to report except that Glenda, my wife, won the gold metal for Ring Tossing! Surprised me. We continued to walk a mile each day on the ship. This was just a nice lazy day at sea to relax and enjoy. We got to learn more about Warren and Gilda and their wonderful French canal trip in Burgundy wine country. Friday, Nov 15 (Puerto Limon, Costa Rica) We arrived two hours late in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. This caused the cancellation of several excursions, including all but one of the Rainforest Aerial Tram excursions. Lucky we had the tickets for the only Rainforest Aerial Tram that was running. We started on our excursion around 12:30 p.m. Due to leaving late and having to get back to the ship, we were not served a lunch as planned. Later, we asked the excursion desk about this, and they refunded $40 each for the shorten trip and missing meal. Excellent service and concern on their part, I must say. We rode in a very nice air-conditioned modern bus. It takes about 1.5 hours to reach the rainforest area, but the scenery was beautiful and the guide very good. Once you arrive at the rainforest, you have a chance for a rest room break, and then you can take either a shuttle or tractor pulled wagon to the tramway, about ½ mile. You walked about 100 feet and then board the tram. It holds 5 visitors and one guide. We thought the rainforest was simply amazing, but let me warn you. During the visit, we did not see much in the way of wildlife, just one bird and a few butterflies. Be expecting to see a fantastic plant and tree show, but do not expect much in the way of birds or other animals. We definitely will want to come back to Costa Rice and do this again. The tram ride was almost an hour. There is also a nice gift shop and snack bar when you return. We arrived back at the ship around 6:30 p.m. (Last tour to return). Comment about Green Train. People who had their excursions canceled were advised that there were plenty of seats on the Green Train. The people that I talked to were not too happy with the experience. The train was very slow, jerky, and not air-conditioned. The rails were in very bad shape. From the pictures that I have seen, the views were similar to the views that we had on the bus. So if you like a slow train, and have friends to talk and enjoy the views with, then you should be ok on the Green Train. Saturday, Nov 16 (Panama Canal) We started going thru the locks on schedule at around 7:00 a.m. Warren and Gilda invited us to their balcony cabin to watch the action. Seeing the Panama Canal was well worth the trip and cost. It took about 3.5 hours to go thru the locks and anchor in the lake. Since many persons had been confused about the schedule and options of the Panama Canal, the ship’s crew director made a special program played on the TV the day before. Here is what I understood. No one would be allowed off of the ship while anchored in the lake except persons with an excursion ticket. All others had to stay on board until the ship returned out of the locks, and docked at Colon. Person who was on an excursion would return to the ship when it docked. So under those conditions, we bought some tickets for the Kayak and Eco tour. Now just about everyone else had bought an excursion to get off the ship, so there were MANY people waiting to be tendered. The crew had us report to the 42nd theater and wait. As a tour was called, you would go up to the front of the theatre, get a numbered sticker, and sit in another waiting area. Later, your number was called and you proceeded to the tender station. Pretty good plan, but badly executed. It took us two hours of waiting before we were called and left the ship. Glad we waited. The tour was very nice. We stopped at the observation deck of the Gatun locks and watch ships enter and leave for a while. We then had a tour of the old US military base, which is now part of Panama. We were issued life vests and a 2-person kayak. The guides were excellent, and there was a chase boat, which followed us in case one of us overturned. The chase boat also would take pictures of you if you gave them your camera. It was relaxing and very nice. We arrived at the Colon pier, but the ship was not there yet. It showed up an hour later. The shopping area here is nice, and is more like a flea market with lots of native items. I loved the $1 Panama beer and $1 pizza here. There is a business center here where you can call home, and use the Internet for $4.50 for 30 minutes. Sunday, Nov 17 (Day at Sea) Nothing to report. Monday, Nov 18 (Montego Bay, Jamaica) We docked on time for the 1st time. Hurrah. We left for Dunn’s Falls on our excursion at 7:00 a.m. We had some people go in a nice large modern bus, but we unfortunately wound up in a 20-person mini-bus. The problem was the 2-hour ride to the falls and back on a very rough small road. If you have back problems, this 4-hour bus ride is a killer. However I would do it again after seeing the falls. You have a choice of climbing the falls on rocks in the water, or stay dry by using steps next to the shoreline. We were prepared to get wet, so up we went in a daisy chain holding hands. Hint: one thing to remember is to bring some cash, as you will need some tipping money for the guides at the end, and to buy the famous “I survived Dunn’s Falls” tee shirts on the way out. We were able to run to the bus and change clothes and return for just a few minutes to buy some items. The vendors are very pushy here, so be prepared to just keep walking. Later we found out that we could get them cheaper at the dock shops near the ship. It came a huge rainstorm about this time, so everyone was soaked by the time they had made it back to the ship. I was very upset to find out that the pay phones in Jamaica (and Grand Cayman) would NOT accept a US calling card number. You had to buy their calling card. Tuesday, Nov 19 (Georgetown, Grand Cayman) Early in the morning, an announcement was made that all water related activities had been canceled by the tour operators due to bad weather. The previous day no ships had been able to anchor and visit due to a storm. At least we were able to tender to the shore. Warren and Gilda called their dive shop and the owner said that it was useless to try and scuba since the water was so stirred up. So we got together and spent the day shopping and looking around. We bought tickets at the pier for a mini-bus tour of the island stopping at the Hell post office, turtle farm, and rum cake factory outlet. Cost was $15 per person and lasted 1.5 hours. We were able to get into the turtle farm for $4.50 instead of $6 by mentioning the driver’s name. Reaching in and grabbing a small sea turtle was interesting and made a nice picture opportunity. Back in town, we wander down to the Hard Rock café and made the nicest discover on my trip. Hard Rock café served Tennent’s beer on draft! I was in heaven as this is one of my favorite beers from Scotland, and is hard to find in the states. The food and beer was great, and Warren and Gilda such good company, it made this last stop so special. And this was also the island where Glenda found the best shopping for jewelry. Guess we will have to go back and visit the stingrays some other time. Wednesday and Thursday, Nov 20 – 21 (Days at Sea) Nothing much to report, except lots of relaxing, reading, swimming, etc. This is a great way to end a vacation. Plenty of time to pack. Friday, Nov 22 (Galveston) We docked in Galveston right on schedule. Colored tags were issued to everyone the night before, and we were called by colors to the theatre to visit US Immigration. Then you wait to be called off the ship. We departed the ship at 10:00, found our luggage easily, went thru customs (no waiting), and went outside. Glenda stayed with the bags as I jumped onto a shuttle to the parking lot. There were a few cars in line after returning to the terminal bldg to pick up the luggage, but nothing that bad. We were out of there by 10:30 a.m. All in all I was very pleased with the departure system. General Comments about the cruise and ship: Food – Yes, some of the food was only fair, but there were good items also. I believe that this is just a learning experience that will be solved on future cruises. The reason I say this is one couple at our table was always upset over the food. They mentioned that they had only 2 months before cruised on the Rhapsody of the Seas out of Galveston and that the food was excellent. Since the two ships get their food in Galveston from the same suppliers, then it is only a matter of time before the chef changes his style of cooking from European to Texas on the Splendour. The biggest complaint was that some of the steaks were too tough to cut or eat. Hint: You can always get good meals if you follow this simple rule: If you get something that is not to your liking or expectations, ASK the waiter to bring something else. They are more than willing to do whatever it takes to make you happy. Most people that complained about their food would not let the waiter do anything about it. They were happier to be mad and have something to complain about than getting something good to eat. What a terrible attitude. Shore Excursions - This was probably the oldest crowd out of our 6 cruises. That put the more active shore excursions at risk for lack of participation. The most popular excursions were bus tours of the ports as I found out from the excursion desk. Being the first cruise on this itinerary and some bad weather, there were problems with late arrivals at port and canceled excursions. We were always told up front what was going on and our options. The crew took great lengths to do the best that was possible under the circumstances, and so I am happy with their effort. However, that “Green Train” in Costa Rica still has some people fuming, so think twice before signing up for it. Be prepared to wait a while to get to the tenders at the Panama Canal, as everyone is trying to get off at the same time. Ship – A very beautiful ship. We loved the décor and lounges. This crowd love to dance with the dance band, and that was very enjoyable. The casino was the largest that we had seen on a ship this size. I had no problems with the drink card anywhere on the ship. The solarium was nice to hang around in as the weather turned cooler nearer to Galveston.

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Nov 30, -0001

Panama Canal

The Splendour of the seas was a great cruise for our family. Over break all my relatives wanted to go on vacation together to the Panama canal and we choose a great ship.

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Nov 30, -0001

Trans-Atlantic

Rosaly G. Splendour of the Seas (Royal Caribbean) Trans-Atlantic (4/00) This, our 28th cruise, was a really pleasant surprise. I balked at going on a Royal Caribbean ship as I recalled the miniscule cabins on the Nordic Prince and the Song of Norway. However, although we had an inside cabin, it was quite adequate. Plenty of storage space and very good bathroom. The shower was comfortable and the fixtures were all state of the art

and quite efficient. The ship is magnificent. Beautifully decorated (not glitzy) and the atrium is a sight to behold with waterfalls, etc. There is music being played (piano) almost constantly and the only thing I objected to was the constant Art Auctions - What a ridiculous display - can you imagine someone paying $11,500 for a picture there? I wonder if they use shills?? The dining room is two tiered and really lovely as you can see out on all sides. The waiters and assistants were cheerful and helpful and the maitre d' was so charming and attentive that I must admit it is the first time I felt the necessity to tip him. Of course they have the waiters give the "begging for a good review" on the next to last night which bothers me and he seemed embarrassed to do it. There is music also in the dining room, either a pianist or a violin and accordion - sometimes a little too loud but it may depend where you sit. They do the usual baked Alaska, and Italian night songs, and patriotic night but it is all in good fun. We embarked in Miami after a night at the Best Western Marina Park Hotel which turned out to just lovely. and the best part was, we could see the ships coming into port the next a.m. Also, it was across the road from the Bayside Market which turned out to be a great park. They had upscale stores there and also lots of eating places and we could sit on a bench and watch musical events and boats in the basin and it was just delightful. We taxied to the pier in the morning and that was easy - but the ship itself damaged two pieces of my luggage which they fixed but I think they will have to replace one of them. The shows on this ship were exceptionally good. I had seen two of the acts years before but they were great. Benny something an his wife Shirley Harmer - he is a very funny comedian and she sings well. Also an Italian tenor (Renato) who we saw years ago but very entertaining. The WAVE REVIEW of singers and dancers in production numbers were absolutely sensational. Also, several other good acts. The food was adequate, but although presented nicely and of course the descriptions on the menu made you expect better - it was not 4 star by any means. The beef was good - and they served rack of lamb (a little tough) and we had lobster l/2 one night but you could have seconds. They charge extra if you order espresso at the table which I think is pretty chintzy. They have a nice cafeteria style room (Windjammer) open all the time for ice-cream and snacks. The pools are nice. One has a retractable roof and was warm but although the weather was lovely, it was quite windy - so much so in fact that the captain announced it was holding us back and we were late arriving in the Canaries. There is no movie theatre on board - you have to watch in your cabin and I don't like that. Once there was a James Bond picture shown in one of the theatres. Also there is no laundramat which is certainly a nuisance. There is an Internet room on board which I used daily but the price is 50c per minute and I had the feeling that they had it slow down as they charged for many more minutes than I felt I used. There is an excellent library on board too. Our ports were St. Thomas, Tenerife (Canary), Funchal (Madeira), Malaga and finally Barcelona. The embarkation and debarkations were comfortable. We took a ship's 4 hour tour of Barcelona which was wonderful. I had booked our hotel (St. Moritz) through the internet and saved a bundle - but they dropped us off there with our luggage at the end of the tour. The hotel was wonderful and centrally located. I fell in love with Barcelona - It is probably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. very clean, friendly and the architecture is great. There is a Turistic Bus for which we bought a l day ticket and you can ride it all over town and get on and off when you please. We spent all of Saturday on it, except when we walked Las Ramblas and stopped for a meal. The meals at the places we picked were very good and inexpensive. You get the menu of the day which is about 4 courses and delicious. Now we are home and exhausted from the jetlag. Delta is to be commended for on time flights and they have more legroom and fed us all the time. If there are any questions, I will be glad to answer them. Rosaly G.; [email protected]

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Nov 30, -0001

PANAMA CANAL

This was our 3rd cruise with R.C.I. We have always felt that their cruises represented a great value, considering all that is available to you and how little we had to pay. We have been shopping around on the Internet for the last 2 cruises and found a great deal every time. We ended up paying $1629 /person (Canadian) for the cruise and port taxes. These tickets were regularly priced at $4000+/person before they came on sale in June 98.

A word to the wise: know your cruise market and keep up to date with it. I can’t rely on our travel agent to find such bargains for us. He is not a cruise specialist and he just doesn’t have the time to do that. I firmly believe one is never served better than by himself in those cases. He’ll sometimes call me to see what’s on sale when one of his customers wants to go on a cruise. (Editors Note: You should always seek out a specialist when you want excellent service. Sorry your agent hasn't become a cruise specialist as if he had, you wouldn't be facing this issue.) What can one say about a standard inside cabin? They are small but efficient. There is room to store everything, your beds are comfortable, and the bathroom is ridiculously small. The shower’s size would be fine if it were installed in a day care facility but for a very full grown adult, that is inadequate. No wonder almost every stand-up comic you see on these ships makes fun of the shower. I have to agree with them. My solution: I use the men’s sauna’s shower facilities. These showers are bigger than the whole bathroom back in your cabin. I bring my shaving kit and after a relaxing steam bath, a shower and a shave, I’m a new man. That leaves the cabin’s bathroom available for my wife. She doesn’t seem to mind the cramped space in there. Our cabin attendant was very sweet. She kept our beds made, the bathroom was impeccably clean but she didn’t dust the wooden moldings and the small wooden bookcase once in the 14 days we were on board. I tested that by making a mark with my finger in the dust the day we boarded the ship and it was still there when we got off. Oh I know I could have asked her to dust, but that was not the point. I wanted to see how regularly that chore was performed and I couldn’t assess it properly. Public areas are all glassed-in and the furnishings are very comfortable throughout the ship. We did find the breakfast selections at the Windjammer Café to be repeated daily and that was a disappointment to us. A little variety in there would have helped a lot. So would, come to think of it, a few smiles on the part of the staff working in there. Service in the dining room was OK but our bus boy was notoriously inept at his job and the waiter tried to make up for it, so the section manager wouldn’t notice it too much. There was only so much he could do and service suffered tremendously. Overall that team was the worst we had to date. We had to specify to our inept bus boy that coffee was nice when it was still warm and that tea is usually made with boiling water. Speaking of water, we had to demand some at each and every meal. I heard of conserving water but that was ridiculous. Trying to place a standing order for ice water at each and every meal didn’t register with either the waiter of his dense sidekick. Bar service throughout the ship was courteous and efficient. We got to know a few waiters who worked in our favorite watering holes. One of them even remembered us from our previous cruise on the Splendour of the Seas. How about that to make you feel special? We couldn’t get over it. Entertainment gets big two thumbs up from us. We enjoy live performers and unless they really stink, we have a favorable prejudice towards them. Let me assure you stinky shows do not board RCI’s ships. Neither of us cares much for Las Vegas-style reviews with tap dancing, glitter and feathers, so we stayed away from these shows. There is always is plenty other stuff to do on the ship anyway. Dining was a bit of a disappointment at times on that cruise. RCI has apparently dropped the "theme" for each evening (French, British, Caribbean, oriental, etc.). We also thought the quality of the food had gone down a bit also. Although the large majority of the meals we ate in the dining room were consistently good, few meals could be described as awesome, although beef Wellington, lobster and salmon dishes were consistently exceptional. Some disappointing dishes were presented to us. We returned linguine that had been kept warm too long and had become one solid mass. Four overdone steaks had to be returned to the kitchen; we do not eat shoe leather. The salad dressing choices was much smaller than before and quite repetitive. Also, who needs puréed zucchini in Fettuccine Alfredo? If you’re trying to lose weight, stay away from a dish typically made with butter, heavy cream and Parmesan cheese. Adding puréed zucchini to it does nothing for the dish. day transiting the Panama Canal. Aruba is a beautiful island and I don’t mind going there. Clean beaches, great snorkeling, friendly people, safe surroundings, and great nightlife: I love Aruba. Transiting the Panama Canal was a blast. The only way to see the jungle is from a cruise ship. Punta Arenas (Costa Rica) was a waste of time. It is nothing more than a fishing village with nothing to see nearby, no beach that could be recommended as safe, no shopping, except for a souvenir market at the end of the dock. That place was quite a departure from the ports of call we had visited before with RCI and Norwegian Cruise Line. Anytime you want to do anything in Costa Rica, you have to board a luxury motor coach and drive 1, 2 or 3 hours, depending on what you want to see. I have a deep-seated aversion to travelling by bus, so we didn’t book any shore excursion. I even wondered what prompted RCI to stop there in the first place. I won’t soon visit Punta Arenas again and if a future cruise stops there, I’m not even getting off the ship. Acapulco was very nice with beaches, snorkeling, shopping, and all the trappings of a real city: a nice change from Costa Rica. Cabo San Lucas was another low point, but not as bad as Costa Rica. Tendering was efficient. The town is clean and the people are friendly. No one tries to sell you anything on the street and haggling in the tourist trap souvenir market is always fun. Try offering $1 when they ask for $15 and enjoy the lively bantering that ensues. You’ll end up spending $8 and you will still have been overcharged. We went snorkeling in 74 degrees Fahrenheit water (23 degrees Celsius in Canada) with 3-foot waves (1 meter in Canada). The water was cloudy, we saw very few fishes but we did get a chance to see a 4-foot barracuda chasing prey around. We got out of that water fast. The tour operator also told me that great white sharks had been seen in recent days near where we were snorkeling. All in all, there were 9 days at sea and these were the best for us. We relaxed, participated in activities on a regular basis, enjoyed ourselves, drank reasonably, ate almost reasonably and brought back very nice memories from that trip, although I am sorry to say they aren’t our best yet. We hope to sail on the Vision of the Seas for our next trip. We’ll see what develops by then.

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Nov 30, -0001

Bahamas

David Ellard's 50th Birthday Trip February 2nd to March 9th, 1998 (35 days) David and Pam's holiday schedule: February 2 Intercontinental Hotel, Miami, Florida February 3 Intercontinental Hotel, Miami, Florida February 4 Board SPLENDOR OF THE SEAS February 5 At Sea February 6 Cozumel, Mexico February 7 Georgetown, Grand Cayman February 8 Ocho Rios, Jamaica February 9 At Sea February 10 Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas,

USVI February 11 San Juan, Puerto Rico February 12 Labadee, Haiti February 13 At Sea February 14 Intercontinental Hotel, Miami, Florida February 15 Intercontinental Hotel, Miami, Florida February 16 Board SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS February 17 Nassau, Bahamas February 18 Cococay, Bahamas February 19 Key West, Florida February 20 Intercontinental Hotel, Miami, Florida February 21 Board GRANDEUR OF THE SEAS February 22 At Sea February 23 Labadee, Haiti February 24 San Juan, Puerto Rico February 25 Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, USVI February 26 At Sea February 27 Cococay, Bahamas February 28 Intercontinental Hotel, Miami, Florida March 1 Board ENCHANTMENT OF THE SEAS March 2 Key West, Florida March 3 Cozumel, Mexico March 4 At Sea March 5 Ocho Rios, Jamaica March 6 Georgetown, Grand Cayman March 7 At Sea March 8 Intercontinental Hotel, Miami, Florida March 9 Return to Seattle Monday, February 2, 1998 Tom Schultz picked us up early in the morning from our condo and took us to Sea-Tac Airport for our flight to Miami. The flight to Atlanta, Georgia was smooth where we changed planes for a direct flight to Miami. This flight was very rough with severe turbulence and lightning flashes as we got closer to Miami in the dark. We were the last plane to land just before a storm with 100-mile per hour winds came. At the airport, the heavy rain and wind destroyed some smaller planes that were not tied down securely. After getting our luggage, we exited the airport and loaded our luggage into the rear of a Super Shuttle Express mini-van to take us to the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Miami. After 30 minutes of waiting and escalating heated confrontations from all of the people sitting inside the van waiting for the driver to get underway, the driver started up the engine. We all believed he was finally taking us to the hotel. Instead, he purposely backed up against the front of another van to prevent all 7 of us from opening the rear doors to remove the luggage. This maneuver by the driver was the end of my patience with him. Having noticed the keys were still in the ignition earlier, I got in the van and moved it forward myself. The van could hold 2 more passengers and he was attempting to fill it completely. But, due to the storm, all incoming flights had been cancelled and he did not know this. I wrote down his name and van number to call the Super Shuttle Express Company later. Finally found a taxi to take us to the hotel. Enroute, the roads were heavily flooded and the taxi had to drive up on the sidewalks to get around blown down palm trees and other debris lying across the road. After arriving at the hotel and getting our room, the local news stations were calling this the Storm of 98, the worst one of the year. What a way to start our trip. Tuesday, February 3, 1998 Both of us were exhausted from the traveling and experiences of yesterday. Slept in and woke up to clouds, wind, rain, and a very cold room. We called the front desk to ask for heat. All they have is air conditioning, not even a portable heater. We have a nice view from our room of the cruise ship terminal and the ocean. Pam found her pills and a bottle of cologne had spilled inside her carry-on case. Fortunately, none of her pills got damaged. Still have jet lag and motion feelings from the severe bouncing flight last night. It is too cold and windy to walk to the Bay Side Mall. Feels like it is about 40 degrees. While Pam stayed in the room, I went down to the lobby, got some coffee, and people watched while reading a book and the newspapers. Saved the newspaper headlines of the storm to take home. Had dinner at the Palm Court inside the lobby, a very expensive place to eat, that was not worth the price. Noticed a lot of security people in the hotel. Not many people speak English. Many foreigners are here from all over the world. It seems everyone has a cell phone. Called the Super Shuttle Express to inform them of our experience. I hope they fire him. Weather report said the seas were running over 30 feet offshore. Filled out the cruise ship luggage tags and the forms needed for tomorrow's boarding of SPLENDOR of the SEAS cruise ship. Wednesday, February 4, 1998 Finished a book and started another one. Not sure if the cruise ship will leave port due to the many delayed flights carrying the cruise ship passengers not arriving and also the high seas off shore. Waited in the lobby after checking out and people watched. Amazing and interesting to see the variety of people and clothing styles. We could not board the ship until mid-afternoon. Our cabin number is 6009 on deck 6. Immediately upon boarding the ship and going to our cabin, we went to check our dining room table assignment location and type. We also filled out the tour selection forms before they filled up. The ship left port at 5:00 pm after doing the mandatory life drill muster. We had the early sitting for dinner at 6:15 pm. The others at our table seem to be somewhat compatible with us. Flowers and a food tray arrived in our cabin. The seas are not as rough as I thought perhaps due to the ship design and stabilizers. Went to the entertainment show after dinner and then played slots. Hundreds of Canadians are onboard. Outside temperature is only about 60 degrees. Wish it were 80 instead. This is a very beautiful ship with many areas to explore and view. Many different nationalities, languages, and many very old people are onboard. Watching people eat as much as they can and even take food with them to their cabin. Thursday, February 5, 1998 Woke up before sunrise and went up to the pool deck where coffee is available and to read my book. Not many people up this early. Wanted Pam to sleep in. After having lunch in the Solarium, laid in the sun while Pam rested in the cabin. The temperature is much warmer than yesterday. Purchased a cruise ship photo album. All of the 3 other couples at our dining room table did not show up. They were all seasick. Tonight is a formal night. The Captain's Welcoming and Cocktail Party was held just before dinner. Had our picture taken with the Captain and told him of our 4 back-to-back cruises we were doing. Played slots after dinner. Sailed by Cuba today about 15 miles offshore. Passengers appear to be an older group probably because of this being a 10-day cruise. Some are in wheel chairs. Can tell some passengers have never worn a tie or suit jacket before in their life. Friday, February 6, 1998 Arrived at Cozumel, Mexico this morning with high waves and wind making the docking take much longer than normal. Took Pam breakfast for her to eat in bed. Many of the tours that were water related were cancelled due to big waves and the wind. For something to do, signed up for a Swedish massage. It was not a pleasant experience bordering upon painful. For the first time ever, saw an albatross bird flying near the ship with huge wingspans. We did not know that Cozumel was an island offshore of the mainland town of Playa Del Carmen. This area is not very pretty but has a rich history from the Incas and Aztec nations. Laid in the sun, what little there was due to the heavy cloud cover. But, at least it is very warm and I am starting to get tanner everyday. Later, another RCCL cruise ship came into port, the MAJESTY of the SEAS. We will be back to Cozumel later in our trip on another cruise ship, so we did not go ashore. Met a couple from England while having lunch in the Solarium Cafe. They had never been to Miami or on a cruise before. They asked us about our experiences and recommendations. The Winter Olympics have started. Saturday, February 7, 1998 Woke up to very little wind and warm weather. Schedule to arrive at Georgetown, Grand Cayman, but had to turn the ship around in the bay and leave. This area is shallow and the prop wash stirred up huge clouds of sand. Winds and seas were far to heavy for the ship to attempt to dock. All tours were cancelled. The locals were upset that the ship did not dock. Laid in the sun for a while slowly working on my tan. Ate a small lunch in the Solarium Cafe, feeling bloated. Bought photos of the ship for the album. Winds increased and so did the waves. People are getting seasick more and more. With the ship's bow headed into the wind and waves, with over a 45-knot breeze across the deck, walking outside is difficult in either direction. They had to drain the swimming pools because of the ship's motion splashing the water out of the pools. When they say 20 foot waves, this means 20 feet up and another 20 feet down into the bottom trough of the wave. Watched a movie in our cabin called "Out to Sea". Late in the day, the ship's course was changed which made a much smoother ride. Sunday, February 8, 1998 Arrived at Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Woke up not feeling well and sneezing. Frustrating even after the care taken to avoid contact with door handles and other efforts. The normal dock the ship ties up to had been damaged due to the heavy seas from the latest storm, so the ship had to go to the commercial docks, which were very run down. Upon walking down the ramp to the dock, a cruise ship employee cautioned everyone to remove his or her jewelry and strap purses across the chest. Took a cab to view the Dunns Falls and then to the Taj Mahal Shopping Mall. This shopping mall was tacky, had guards at the gates, and all of the shops were run by people from India. Poverty and junk all over the outside grounds and people living under trees. We started to feel very uncomfortable and went back to the ship promptly. Laid in the sun while Pam took a nap in the afternoon. The ship left port at 5:00 pm heading to St. Thomas, 674 miles away. We moved our clocks ahead 1-hour today. Now that we are at sea, believe sneezing was caused by allergies to something on the island. After dinner, played slots for a short while. Lost my $20 quickly. Just not my night. Monday, February 9, 1998 At sea all day and night. Filled out post cards to mail. Did my daily fast walk of 10 laps around the bridge deck for some exercise. Each lap is 1/3rd mile. Tonight is a formal dinner and the Repeaters Party. One couple has done 38 cruises with RCCL. Finished a book and looking for another to start. A plate of fresh fruit and assorted chocolates arrived in our cabin provided by the cruise line. Tuesday, February 10, 1998 Arrived at St. Thomas at 7:00 am. Most of the blue tarps on the roofs seen the last time we were here have been removed. The roofs had been blown off in a series of hurricanes. Took the gondola tram up to the top of the mountain. A great view from there. Mailed post cards to family and friends. After lunch, did my laps around the bridge deck and then laid in the sun to work on my tan. After showering, I walked over to the marina next door to get a closer look at some of the yachts. Took pictures of a huge Lurrsen mega-yacht, 2 large Broward yachts, and a Feadship yacht. Have seen photos of these in the magazines, but never in real life. The magazine photos do not fully represent how large and beautiful they are. The old deserted Marriott Hotel is still partially standing. Plans are in progress for re-developing the marina and tearing down the building. Went to the Show after dinner. Wrote a letter to the Environmental Officer onboard the ship. When in Ocho Rios, had seen one of the tour boats pumping oil overboard into the water. I also questioned the practice of anchoring causing damage to the coral and underwater sea life. Went up to the Viking Lounge that is at the topmost portion of the ship just before dinner to enjoy the view and have a glass of wine. Three more cruise ships came in today with probably 5000 more people going ashore. The old Frenchman's Reef Hotel we stayed at on one of our earlier trips now has been converted to a Marriott. Wednesday, February 11, 1998 Arrived at San Juan, Puerto Rico at 7:30 in the morning to overcast skies. Big seas last night caused by high winds made the ship's motion very noticeable. Brought Pam breakfast to the cabin after I ate a light meal of fruit. Got off of the ship and walked around downtown Old San Juan. Went to the private RCCL club for a break and to cool off. It is hot and humid downtown with rainsqualls blowing through rapidly. Walked to get a closer look at another Lurrsen mega-yacht tied up to the Customs Dock. It was 160 feet long and called "Coral Island". The ship left port at 3:00 pm. Got a call from the Environmental Officer. He said they would contact the tour boat operator about the oil spillage. He also said the ships now have a system using GPS interfaced with the props and thrusters that automatically adjust to keep the ship in one exact position instead of anchoring. I was pleased to hear this. Did my daily laps after lunch while Pam took a nap. After dinner, I went to play the slot machines alone for a while. The movie "Contact" was playing on our cabin TV. Fell asleep before it ended. Rain and sun most of the day. The rain was so warm, most people that were laying around the pool did not move. The water and the air temperature is the same at 88 degrees. The ship has left the Caribbean Sea and has entered the Atlantic Ocean. Only one couple from our dining table offered to give us their address. Thursday, February 12, 1998 Arrived at Labadee, Haiti, RCCL's own private island. Did my laps again. Ordered roses for Pam for dinner tomorrow night, our Wedding Anniversary. Went onshore via the ship tender and walked in the surf. Had a BBQ lunch onshore. Got dehydrated today. Not drinking enough water. Sure lots of fat people onboard. They seem to be constantly eating. At dinner later, a fish bone got stuck in my throat and I rushed out to the Promenade Deck just in case. Was able to cough it up. Went to see Frank Gorshwin, the evening's entertainment. He was the one who played the Fiddler in the Batman movie. It was sad to see how bad he was. Should retire. My tan is getting good. Finished another book. Glad the ship has an extensive library onboard. The shops are no longer operated by the cruise line anymore and are poorly run. Played slots and broke even. With the ship going in the same direction as the wind, it was a very calm and pretty night. Friday, February 13, 1998 Our 27th Wedding Anniversary is today. The winds are calm and the seas are at the stern. This is the last night of our cruise on this ship. We have to pack and put our luggage outside our cabin door tonight. Being the last day, true to form, most all of the passengers are going to make this day as full as possible, even if it kills them. Before daylight, they were starting to fill up the chairs around the pool. They are going to go home tomorrow with a tan (more like sunburned), eat, and drink as much liquor as possible. The shops were full of passengers buying last minute souvenirs, clothing, liquor, jewelry, and other items. Did my laps after lunch. We will be at sea all day and all night long and will arrive back in Miami early tomorrow. Roses arrived at our table for Pam. She was very surprised. One couple at our dining room table are not very pleasant. Think they are jealous. El Nina causing odd weather patterns. Our friends Dan and Leslie should have arrived in Miami today to go on the next cruise with us. For Christmas, I bought them the cruise. Saturday, February, 14, 1998 For some reason, was up many times last night. Did not sleep well. Hundreds and hundreds of people are in their traveling clothes and show weariness from last nights activities. All waiting for their turn to be called to leave the ship. Heard one woman complaining to her husband he spent more in the casino then on her. Got off of the ship and took a cab to the Intercontinental Hotel by 10:30 am. Went to see Dan and Leslie. After having lunch at the hotel pool bar, Dan and I took a cab to the Marriott Biscayne Hotel and Marina to see the Miami Boat Show. Should have stayed away. The four of us walked to the Bay Side Mall. Bought a new hat. Went to Perricone's Italian Restaurant with Dan and Leslie. Got to be the best ever Italian meal we have ever had. Ugly weather in the forecast.

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Nov 30, -0001

11-day Circle the Caribbean

We had to request twice to have our cabin thermostat turned down (colder), but it was taken care of immediately and effectively. We were very impressed with the service on this ship. Room stewards/stewardesses (even those not assigned to our room), dining room waiter, assistant waiter, assistant headwaiter, wine steward, bartenders, Purser's staff, and Cruise Director's staff were all extremely professional, courteous, and friendly. All

seemed genuinely glad that we had chosen their ship for our vacation, and acted like it. We only had two real disappointments on our cruise. One was food quality, which my wife said did not even come close to measuring up to that on her previous RCI cruises. The food itself was "just OK," and the variety was sorely lacking. We don't care for veal or lamb, which was served several times. The menu was, frankly, somewhat boring. I did have two filet mignons that were exceptionally good, but overall, both the dining room and the Windjammer had boring menus. Our real disappointment, however, was the entertainment. On an 11-night cruise, we expected an older crowd, and were not surprised that the average passenger seemed to be about 70 years of age. However, we were extremely disappointed to discover that the entertainment was aimed at that age group. The female soloist sang songs from the 30s and 40s. The solo and duet comedians were in the same age range as the average passenger, and their jokes were even older. I have never seen as many people get up to leave a shipboard performance as I did on this cruise, often as early as three minutes into the performance. My wife and I usually stay out of courtesy, but we just couldn't on this cruise. For the most part, the entertainment was HORRID! Two exceptions: the ventriloquist (from the Soap sitcom) and "El Gaucho" were superb, and we enjoyed them thoroughly (We also noticed that no one left their performances). Lots and lots of geriatric passengers nodded off during the other shows. We thought this was sad...to pay so much for such lousy entertainment. Oh, well.....they didn't take up too many topside pool chairs, although we did start calling the Solarium the "sanatarium." Mostly nice people, though. My wife and I are Texans in our mid-50s, and our table for 8 included another couple our age from San Jose, CA, a couple in their late 20s from New York City, and a couple in their 70s from Cincinnati. We were very lucky to have hit it off well, and really had a good time at meals in the dining room. Thoroughly enjoyable! Special kudos must go to the assistant headwaiter and Derick. Both went out of their way to assist us, and neither seemed motivated by a tip (although both received them from us). Very class act! The cruise director didn't impress us that much, but his staff really did! They were about the best I've seen, and my wife agreed. She had met one young man (Matt) on the Grandeur, and was pleasantly surprised to see him on the Splendour. John, from New York, and Kate, from England, were super! I think that, all in all, this was about the best "long" vacation I've ever taken. We had a pretty good idea what to expect, and our expectations were either met or exceeded. We would repeat the cruise in a heartbeat! One recommendation, however: Stay an extra day in Aruba and bypass Ocho Rios.

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Nov 30, -0001

Circle the Caribbean - 10 day

Since this site was so helpful in determining whether we were making a good decision by cruising (YES) and assisting with selecting the right ship (WE DID) we are anxious to help others in their cruise evaluations. First and Foremost this was the best vacation of our lives! We’re hooked on cruising and have intentions of cruising at least every couple of years; in fact we’re now discussing taking one for our upcoming honeymoon

in January 2001. My fiancée, Susan, for years, was very apprehensive about taking a cruise for numerous reasons that I will discuss in due course. Suffice it to say her fears for the most part were unfounded and she is now a vocal advocate of cruising. A little background on us so that you have some perspective. We are both in our mid to late 30’s and University graduates. I work as a sales & marketing manager for a software company and she’s a successful realtor. I’m extremely high energy, love to do things and see stuff, and require constant entertaining. Conversely, I can easily get absorbed for hours in a good horror fiction or thriller novel. I think I read 2 books on our 10-day adventure. Susan in a sun worshipper and is content to bake herself and simply relax all day long. She also loves to sleep to the late hours of the morning. We’re not souvenir collectors, are both very practical, and live far below our means. We’re not frugal but are very conscious of value (quality + price). She drinks very little, and I love a good party. We both have an appreciation for the finer things in life and are both good mixers. OK, enough about us. Our intent is too discuss the ports minimally but focus on the ship and shipboard experience. Again, it was an exceptional vacation and we’d do it again in a heartbeat. Check in at the port took at least an hour because of waiting in multiple lines, therefore be prepared. We noticed that many passengers were bringing cases of soft drinks with them – great idea given that they were $1.50 plus gratuity on board, except at meals when they are free. Don’t bother bringing hard liquor because it’s dirt cheap to purchase it at the duty free on board. For example: 26 oz bottle of Bacardi Rum $8.00 US. Drinks, however, are expensive to purchase on board: Beer $3, Hard Liquor $4, cocktails $4 - $7 plus gratuity. Consequently, here’s my #1 suggestion: bring a large insulated cup and mix or buy mix at the ports, buy liquor from the onboard duty free and mix your drinks in your room (there’s always ice) and you’re laughing. We had a standard inside stateroom on the B Deck (N2023). The stateroom was comfortable, attractive and functional. Sue complained of a constant urine odor in the washroom but I didn’t notice. Given that the only time you really spend in your room is to sleep, change and shower we don’t see the necessity of spending extra money getting a room with a porthole or a balcony. We just don’t think it would add that much, if any more pleasure to the trip relative to the substantial extra cost. Rooms are pretty soundproof. On days when we had high seas (up to 20 ft) the room creaked, but not enough to disturb our sleep. If you’re a very light sleeper this may be a concern. There’s a safe in the room and we had no concerns about our valuables. We rarely if ever saw our cabin steward and the room was always immaculate and fresh ice available. I called for ice once and it took half an hour to get but that was the exception. One of Sue’s reservations about cruising was the potential of getting seasick. They offer free seasick pills on board and Sue also brought sea bands. We had high seas for a couple of days (up to 20 ft) and you could feel the ship swell. Although she was a little uncomfortable at times, she never got sick and we speculate the sea bands helped. We did however meet and hear of many people who did get ill including shipboard staff. My advice, if you’re susceptible take precautions. I think the seas we experienced were unusually high for a couple of days so I wouldn’t be concerned. Again, Sue has no hesitation to go on another cruise. There are more activities then you could ever participate in. Given the variety and plethora of things to do, if you don’t have a good time on this cruise it’s entirely your fault and you should probably consider psychotherapy, as you must be seriously depressed. The nightly entertainment is fantastic, fun and professional. Every night the cruise director’s staff hosts a game show in the Tophat Lounge that was a lot of fun. The production shows in the spectacular theatre featuring the Wave Revue dancers and singers were also very entertaining and worthwhile. We’ve experienced Broadway musicals, plays and Las Vegas shows and the onboard productions are very enjoyable. Unless you’re standards are exceptionally and implausibly high you should be very pleased with the evening shows. After the production shows ended (11:45 P.M. for our sitting) we typically visited the Viking Crown Lounge which is a disco and danced the night away. Great music and great fun. The food on board is abundant, delicious and overall above average. We are both in decent shape, are not overweight and we both gained about 5 lbs. Warning – the temptation to over indulge given the abundance and easy accessibility of good food is extraordinary and you do need to exercise self-control. If you’re conscious of your waistline I’d lose a few lbs. before cruising so you don’t need to worry as much while on board. There is a great gym and walking/running track and I’d suggest you use it. The Splendour of the Seas is a spectacular vessel with the look and feel of a 5 star hotel. You’re definitely living in the proverbial lap of luxury. We both think the ports of call are secondary to the onboard experience. However, I am a scuba diver and the diving in Cozumel was spectacular – I’d highly recommend it. The crowd was a real mix, but definitely slanted to an older set (45+). We made numerous acquaintances in a variety of age ranges (25 – 60) and from a variety of countries. In fact we made such good friends with one of our dining companions that we visited with them for a week this summer. We really lucked out with our dining room table assignments. The disco was usually quite full so there was enough young energy to make for a really great time. I think that’s enough. It was an incredible experience, we have no regrets many very fond memories and great pictures.

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Nov 30, -0001

Transatlantic

take Transatlantic Cruises because of the days at sea, so I will not be reviewing any of the ports as my entry into them was very brief. This was my fifth cruise on RCCL and my second on the Splendour and it was a mixed bag. The Splendour of the Seas is the fastest ship in the RCCL Fleet and one of the first built in the Vision Series. It was built in March of 1996 and is now approaching almost ten years. The overall condition of the ship is average,

there are signs of its age showing in its furnishings, but the ship is kept very clean. During the crossing they were changing carpets and drapes in the Cabins and a much needed reconfiguration is scheduled for the Windjammer Café on Deck 9 when the ship enters dry-dock in April of 2006. The Windjammer Café is the Buffet Style Restaurant and in the evening it is turned into the Casual Dining venue for the ship. The Windjammer also serves the Afternoon Tea. During dry dock the hotel manager claims all of the carpets in the public areas will be changed. Other improvements were mentioned but could not be confirmed so I will not mention them. BOARDING RCCL has introduced an online check-in procedure which I used; we arrived at the Pier at 11:30 A.M. and had our Room Keys/Ship Charge Card in less than a minute. We could not gain access to our Cabin until 1P.M, so we sat in a public area until 1P.M. arrived. Our luggage arrived by 4 P.M. and that was a first. I have waited until after midnight on some other ships for my luggage. The Boarding procedure has really improved at RCCL and I give that a solid ten out of ten points. FOOD AND SERVICE RCCL in my opinion has never shined in the area of food but it has really changed since my first sailing with them since 1994. The quality of the food has really gone down hill. RCCL has introduced approximately 4-5 entries that consistently appear on the menu, just in case you don’t want the specialized entries being offered that night. While I salute this idea the items served were not fresh and in some cases almost tasteless. RCCL had to serve over 1500 people three meals a day so the food is not individually prepared, preparation was overall very good, but the fish entries were tough, either dry, overcooked, or both. One night I was served a veal dish that consisted of 90% bone. Then a few nights later another veal selection was served and it was very tasty. Our waiter was very excellent and offered suggestions, he was from Romania but living in Italy, so he liked to offer the nightly pasta selection as a side dish. I was sailing with my mom who is diabetic and she enjoyed the Sugar Free Deserts. I ate a few and they were very well prepared. On my previous cruise on the Splendour, breakfast was served off the menu in the King and I Dining Room; however most lunches were Buffet Style in the Dining Room. RCCL has changed this and now serves three meals a day off the menu in the Dining Room. Breakfast service was erratic, orders were sometimes messed up on some days and others it was perfect. The service provided during lunch was much better; it appears to me that most waiters and waitresses on RCCL suffer from lack of sleep which explains the less than satisfactory service received at breakfast. The Windjammer has not and will not ever be my favorite eating venue as I do not like buffets. I did try it a few times primarily for breakfast and the food was over cooked as it spent too much time in the warmers. Also, the condition of the Windjammer Café was pathetic which didn’t help the overall dining experience. The Afternoon Tea offered in the Windjammer should be renamed the Afternoon Snack. While a few of the British Tea Standards are offered they also offer lots of sliced meats and a serving line that allows you to create a taco. On my previous Transatlantic Cruise on the Splendour a complete sit down white gloved Tea was offered in the Dining Room four times during the cruise. I asked if those were going to occur and was told that none were scheduled. Service in the Bars was superb Bar Tenders made an attempt to call you by name and remembered your preferences. A few of the Bartenders could be quite entertaining and I spent many a night watching Andre from the Ukraine wowing me and others with his card tricks. One thing that particularly bothered me in the Dining Room was the service provided by the Head Waiters and this was frequently mentioned by other passengers. The Head Waiter is supposed to check every table in his or her section to see if the service is satisfactory and assist the waiter/waitress if things get too hectic. On this cruise I wore a Casio Watch the first two nights as I hadn’t unpacked my more expensive Rolex until the third night. The Head Waiter would only check tables and assist the waiters with passengers that either ordered wine or had expensive watches on, finally after mentioning this to the Hotel Manager the service changed and he performed his duties as expected until the last night of the cruise when we walked around with a tip envelope slipped into his front jacket pocket. On the last night I had ordered lobster and he was supposed to remove the shell, he only did that for passengers who gave him envelopes. CABIN AND CABIN SERVICE As I stated earlier the cabins on the Splendour are getting a new look, our cabin had been updated in January according to my Cabin Stewart. When boarding I asked for refrigerator for my mom’s insulin and that the queen bed be turned into two twins. The requests were honored very promptly. There was some dirt in the recessed electrical 220 volt outlets, other than that the cabin was spotless. One morning my water drained slowly from my sink and I reported it to my Cabin Stewart and it promptly repaired. Midway thru the cruise the Executive Housekeeper called me and asked me about the service received from my cabin steward, this was the first time this had occurred on a RCCL Cruise. I just obtained Platinum Level in the Crown and Anchor Society which entitled me to free use of robes while on board and they had two kinds Baltic Cotton and Terry Cloth, I prefer the Baltic Cotton and asked that they be changed once again the request was handled promptly. There were quite a few Platinum and Higher Members on this cruise so when you turned in your bathrobes for a new one it could take some time. There was some obvious wear on the bathroom sink, but the ship is almost ten years old. CRUISE STAFF AND ENTERTAINMENT The Cruise Staff on this cruise was excellent; they seemed happy and performed their duties enthusiastically. I climbed the Rock Climbing Wall four times on the cruise and enjoyed that experience and the staff who did it. I participated in the Ship Shape Program which offers you a Ship Shape Dollar for each activity you participate in and at the end of the cruise you turn the dollars in for Ship Shape Merchandise. Shows were offered in the 42nd Street Theatre and the quality varied. Ole Ole was onboard and it was very well done and two other performances were offered in the Ships Multi Storied Lobby. One night they had a singer on which was not to my liking so we exited the show early. There were Piano Players in the Lounges that did their jobs well and a Piano Player in the Dining Room most nights; however because of the size of the Dining Room it was hard to hear him/her at times. The sound system in the Dining Room needs some attention as it was hard to hear even the recorded music selections when the waiters sang for us. I also appreciate the effort made by the Cruise Director to minimize announcements. We had the midday bridge announcement from the Captain, the afternoon Bingo Announcement, and an announcement regarding the show times. The Ballroom Dance Instructor was fabulous and I learned the Fox Trot. THE QUEST FOR MORE REVENUE We did not participate in any Shore Excursions as I went for rest and relaxation. Park West handles the onboard Art Auctions. I use the term art very generously, as the items are marketed as very collectable and great investments, in my humble opinion they aren’t. What bothered me the most about the art auctions was how pushy the people were from Park West were. One day I couldn’t get a reading from my blood pressure device so I went to the Medical Clinic and asked the nurse on duty to take the reading, she informed there would be a $35 dollar charge, and I passed. Then one night I needed a heating pad for my mom and was informed by a Purser there would be a $30 dollar charge to just open the clinic. I paid it only to find out there were passengers in the Clinic and the nurse there was there for the night. Another passenger I knew visited the doctor and was charged $105 for the 5 minute consultation and the doctor sold him cough syrup for $25. Gold by the Inch has moved from the shopping venue on Deck 5 to right in front of the doors as you exit Deck 9 for the pool which I found rather aggressive. The items in the shops was mostly overpriced and logo merchandise. There was some nice porcelain figurines by Llardo offered and an Italian Figurine Maker. Salon Services were overpriced and the quality delivered was second rate. A lady I became friends with paid $95 to have her nails done and the polish wore off within days. The “so called” specials just brought the pricing from super over priced to very over priced. CROWN AND ANCHOR SOCIETY This was my first cruise as a Platinum Member and I enjoyed the robes, complimentary 15 minutes of internet time given, complimentary wine tasting, and free bars drinks. I had heard that Platinum and Diamond Level Members were given a Special Lunch; it was replaced with a cocktail party. I inquired about this and the Loyalty Ambassador told me there were many back to back cruisers on this cruise and they thought another lunch would be too repetitive, maybe so but the previous cruise only had one day at sea we had nine. I think a cocktail party would have been in order for the previous cruise and luncheon on the crossing if repetition was a concern. DISEMBARKATION The worse part about a cruise is getting on and getting off. While the Embarkation process was smooth the disembarkation process was a total mess. There were an insufficient number of porters and I spent almost an hour in line clearing customs and I was in the third disembarkation group. The cruise ship terminal in Galveston has been enlarged which helps but what is needed is more porters and more Customs Inspectors. What RCCL can do about getting more customs inspectors is a mystery to me. If more porters are hired by the agent in Galveston and there are no more Customs and Immigration Inspectors added all that will be accomplished is a delay in the long line. I urge everyone who experienced this to write the local Member of Congress for Galveston, their Member of Congress, and their state’s US Senator, and the two US Senators from Texas. However, long lines in US Customs and Immigration are the norm these days. FINAL THOUGHTS RCCL offers a great value on Transatlantic Crossings and with the introduction of the Voyager of the Seas to Europe means that almost every class of RCCL ship will now be making the crossing twice a year. RCCL needs to improve the food quality, do something about staff that solicits gratuities in the manner that I experienced with the Head Waiter. I will be taking the Splendour again in April for the Eastbound Transatlantic so while this wasn’t a superior cruise it wasn’t totally bad either. I realize the challenges facing the cruise business with increased fuel costs but revenue per cabin is up by 20 percent on the basic fares too. I think it’s time to STOP the nickel and dimming in the Medical Clinic. Also, I would suggest that RCCL look at the pricing offered by contractors in the Spas and Shops. I think they might try working to get their needed returns using lower prices and more volumes. A lot of people thought the prices charged were robbery and left a bad taste.

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Nov 30, -0001

Scandinavia & Russia

Paul Jaffe Splendour of the Seas (Royal Caribbean) Scandinavia & Russia (7/98) The following is a review of our cruise on Royal Caribbean's Splendour of the Seas on the Scandinavia & Russia 12-day itinerary. The ship sailed from Harwich, England on July 24, 1998 and returned to Harwich on August 5. Ports of call were Oslo (Norway); Stockholm (Sweden); Helsinki (Finland); St. Petersburg (Russia); Tallinn (Estonia); and, Copenhagen

(Denmark). Both St. Petersburg and Copenhagen were overnight stops, staying aboard ship. Whenever we take a cruise, and this was our 15th, we try to arrive at the port of embarkation at least one day prior to sailing. This helps eliminate any anxiety about making connections and also gives us an opportunity to catch up on any jet-lag. It also allows us to enjoy still another destination. We’ve been to the UK a number of times over the years, so we decided this time to go to Belgium, a country we had never visited before. We decided to fly into Brussels direct from the US. We live in Orange County (CA). We flew from nearby John Wayne Airport to Chicago where we connected to a non-stop flight to Brussels. We had allocated a little more than two days to be in Belgium. It was highly recommended to us that we pass over Brussels, a nice place but otherwise a commercial and governmental city like many others, and instead spend our limited time in Brugge. Brugge (usually rhymes with "rouge", but as we found out, not always) is a small, popular town of medieval origin, located about 70 miles north of Brussels in Belgium's Flemish countryside. It's less than 10 miles to the shore of the North Sea. The climate in July is usually quite cool and comfortable. From Brussels airport, a shuttle train runs every 15 minutes to each of the city's three railroad stations. At the "Midi" station, we connected to a train to Brugge, a journey of about an hour. Most European trains are comfortable, clean and operate at high speed. The train to Brugge was no exception. Brugge Arriving in Brugge, we took a taxi to the Hotel Acacia, a small, clean, centrally located place that we discovered on the Internet. It's a part of the Best Western chain and reservations can be easily made using a "800" toll-free number. The Acacia isn't a five-star hotel, but we weren't necessarily looking for that, so we had no complaints. The hotel isn't air conditioned (few medium-priced hotels in northern Europe are), so even though it wasn't very warm we experienced a lot of street noise through the open windows. There are a lot of motorbikes and noisy diesel-powered vehicles in Europe. Also, some people wind down their night of partying at 4 AM on the street beneath your open window. We heard all of it. Brugge is small, and a visitor can walk everywhere. Like Stockholm and even St. Petersburg, Brugge is often referred to as the "Venice of the North" because there are several canals similar to it's more famous namesake in Italy. Brugge is also is a quite old city, and most of the buildings we saw were very well maintained. One of the more unique things about the place is that as nice as it is, you can see most of it in one or two days and move on. Also, it isn't overrun by tourists, especially as you would find elsewhere in Europe in the middle of the summer. We would highly recommend a short visit. We were surprised that everywhere we went in Belgium and in Scandinavia too (but not in Russia) graffiti was everywhere. Not unlike what we find in L.A., not particularly artful, and very surprising when found in places where you feel people have high standards and the cities are uniformly clean. An explanation given us by a tour guide that we had in Copenhagen was that these cities all have relatively small police forces and they just can't be bothered chasing after the graffiti vandals. Eurostar The day prior to embarkation of the Splendour, we left Belgium for England. We took the train from Brugge back to Brussels and connected to the Eurostar "Chunnel" train to London, where we spent the night. Taking this high-speed train, rocketing across the farmland of Belgium and France and then under the sea is a terrific experience. The elapsed time from Brussels-Midi station to Waterloo Station in London is 2hrs. 49min. The door-to-door from the center of both cities is probably comparable to going by air, but it's so much less hassle, so much less in and out when taking the train. Besides, traveling at speeds of 186 mph over land is something to experience. The speed is comparable to the French TGV trains (the TGV and the Eurostar trains are almost identical), and quicker than the Japanese Shinkansen Bullet Train. On a mid-afternoon train on a Thursday, our train was more than three-quarters empty. Evidently, the private company that runs the operation has a long way to go before the Eurostar will become a paying proposition. We've been to London many times in the past. It remains one of our favorite cities. In fact, on two prior European cruises that we took, we routed ourselves through London just to be there for a few days. This time we chose Belgium for our short extra excursion, but London is still a great place to stay while on vacation and prior to a cruise. Connections Harwich (pronounced Haa-Rich) is located about 70 miles northeast of London, and there are several ways to get there including BritRail from Liverpool Street station. The train station in Harwich is directly next door to the cruise terminal. We opted however to take the Royal Caribbean chartered bus, a $55 (each way), 2 hrs.10 min. journey from the Victoria Coach Station in downtown London. RCI also offers the same service for the same price to and from London's Heathrow Airport. The ride from Heathrow takes 3 hours. The $55 fare is truly exorbitant compared to the cost of a public bus on the same route, but overall it's handy and simple to arrange, and it would be especially worthwhile for people having a tough time going it alone in strange places. A 3-hour bus ride can be onerous under the best of conditions. Even though we had been in Europe for several days already, we can imagine how tough this must have been for people just stepping off a transatlantic airplane ride. Nevertheless, the gleaming, white Splendour waited at the end of the journey, so somehow you get through it. London in itself is not usually used as a port for cruise ships, so whether you use any of the typical English ports of embarkation such as Dover or Southampton or Harwich, you somehow still have to get to the ship. All the more reason for considering staying an extra day or two at both ends of the cruise to catch up. The Ship We've been on the Legend of the Seas in the past, so we were familiar with what to expect from the literally identical Splendour. We enjoyed both ships. Since both of these ships, and RCI in particular, typify the state-of-the-art these days in mid-range cruising, we were not disappointed. The ship and the service were fine. I don't plan to devote a lot of the content of this review about the ship itself since a lot of that has been written by others and is a highly subjective topic anyway. Rather, I plan to devote most of the review to the itinerary, one which is much less commonplace than, say, anywhere in the Caribbean. In that light, I hope the reader finds this report useful and will be encouraged to try it for themselves. This sailing of the Splendour was a sellout and carried 1,936 passengers with more than 1,200 from the U.S. An additional 350 were from the U.K. and the nationality of the balance of the people onboard was spread over 28 other countries. When you check in, RCI now puts a small sticker up in the corner on your cruise card which indicates how often you have sailed with them. A Crown & Anchor Society member with 2 or 3 prior sailings gets a gold sticker. More than that, you get a platinum sticker. The gold sticker is worth a 5% discount for some non-discounted shipboard purchases. The platinum sticker is worth 10%. This was the only "giveaway" we discovered. In every other case, RCI, just like their competition, finds new and novel ways to extract ever more money from their customers. It wasn’t always that way. The Captain The Captain of the vessel is a man named Johnny Faevelen. Unlike cruise ship captains we have encountered in the past, this fellow is quite young for his profession, probably in his mid-40's. Very urbane, very witty in his announcements, and he represents his employer very well. He is Norwegian, drives a Harley that he keeps on board, and speaks English almost without accent. At the farewell show, he was out front in a song and dance routine with all the other entertainers. Other captains we remember from the past made their ship announcements in accents that were either unintelligible and/or sounding as if they were Pronouncements from God. This guy was very cool, really good in his interface with the passengers and everyone we spoke to looked forward to his daily announcements. At Sea The first full day is spent at sea. This is good because it allows the cruiser to become familiar with the ship and what it has to offer. It's also an opportunity to wind down, recover further from jet lag, etc. The in-cabin TV was excellent with several newer movies running all the time and CNN and/or British Sky-TV available throughout the cruise. There was also a daily facsimile summary of the NY Times directed towards American passengers and a similar sheet towards the British people on-board. Dressing Up The second night...the end of the first full day at sea...is formal dress for dinner. Formal attire is also suggested for the dinner a couple of days later. There is a third formal night just before the end of the cruise. A couple of semi-formal nights, and all the remainder are casual dress. We enjoy dressing up. I bought a tux some years ago, and other than an occasional wedding, the only opportunity I have to use it are on our cruises. Thus, I look forward to the occasion. Although it is optional for men to wear either a tux or a dark suit on the formal night, once again we did our eyeball survey of the number of men going for the tux. We guessed it to be about 75%. For what it may be worth to know, we sat at a table for ten, and all the men wore a tux. Shore Excursions RCI offers a lengthy assortment of shore excursions. You are given an opportunity to look these over and choose and pay for whatever you want to do approximately 7 weeks prior to sailing. You can always try to buy shore excursions while already on board the ship, but this raises uncertainties about whether the packages you want will still be available. We bought all of our excursions well in advance. Unlike Caribbean cruises, most people we spoke to were using shore excursions almost exclusively. Nevertheless, taxis queues were present at the pier everywhere we went, except in Russia. Currency There is a comprehensive currency exchange service operating aboard ship. RCI sells foreign money and then will buy it back when no longer needed. No doubt this is a profit center. The currency of all countries along the itinerary can be exchanged, with the exception of Russian rubles and Estonian kroon. Taking either of these currencies outside each respective country is illegal. As we later found out, the only use we had for rubles in Russia was to get into some public toilets. We noticed an ATM machine installed on Deck 5 of the Splendour. It was not yet in operation, however. The logos of all the usual ATM services as well as Visa and Master Card were on the machine. We’re not sure how it’s going to work. Most certainly, this too will be intended as a moneymaker for the cruise line and not necessarily put there just a convenience for their passengers. Traveling in Russia The St. Petersburg tours were extensive and varied, and it had been highly recommended to us that if we were ever to take advantage of what the cruise line offers that we do it in Russia. There are a couple of very good reasons for this. First, no visa is required by the Russian authorities if you tour with a group. A visa costs $40 per person and must be obtained well in advance of arrival. Thus, any apparent savings by going it alone is significantly minimized. The other reason is that as all the newspapers report, there is a certain amount of lawlessness in Russia these days. This is supposedly most evident to tourists going off the beaten path, so to speak. The shore excursion preview channel on the cabin TV goes on for a bit concerning do's and don'ts while in St. Petersburg. Especially mentioned is avoiding carrying large purses; the recommendation to leave jewelry behind in the cabin safe; the necessity of hiding money on your body rather than in your pocket; the dangers of going off by oneself; the fact that few Russians speak English; the hazards of riding in taxis, etc. We felt we didn't need this kind of grief intruding on what was to be for us a long anticipated and not inexpensive vacation. We didn't need this potential for aggravation. We had never been to Russia before, so anything the cruise line would show us would be fine and we weren't in need of refining it further and trying to see anything beyond that. So, we signed up for four half-day tours in St. Petersburg We also opted for a 1/2 day tour in Oslo, and a full day tour on our second day in Denmark. (More on these tours below.) This cost $636 for the two of us for our package of a limited number of shore excursions. In Stockholm, Helsinki and Tallinn, we decided to take advantage of the shuttle service offered by RCI to the center of town. We did some advanced research, and we went it alone. This decision turned out to be extremely attractive alternatives for us. Advantages of Cruising We take cruises on a regular basis and sometimes have felt that we might be missing something by the brief and cursory visits to the various ports that, by necessity, a cruise allows. Also, the question always comes up as to whether all the obvious logistical advantages of cruising are really that important? After this particular cruise was over, we came once again to the realization that: a) the advantages of sleeping in the same bed every night are considerable and b) for our tastes anyway, we'd rather visit a half-dozen places that we might never see again than go to one or two places and examine them in the greater depth that only a land tour would allow. Further, traveling in Europe these days is very expensive. We really have come to believe that a cruise is a true bargain by comparison. There are also "ancillary aggravations" that an American has to deal with in Europe. For example, everybody smokes, and there is no such thing as a smoke-free section in a restaurant. It bothers me to have to pay $1.50 or more for an 8 oz. glass of water with dinner. You want another, they add another $1.50 to your bill. It bothers me to sit down to a $50 (cheap!) dinner and have to pay extra for bread and butter with my meal. It bothers me that you don’t get ice unless you ask for it (one cube) and if you say "a lot of ice", well, you'll get two cubes. I acknowledge that these are the unique and somewhat quaint things that make Europe "charming" and which are therefore broadening to the traveler. In my case however, a lot of this stuff tends to gets old in a hurry. That’s why when you get aboard a ship like the Splendour, you just know you’re going to get what you’re used to, that with which you’re familiar. In other words, when you order a glass of ice tea aboard ship, it isn’t going to be carbonated (as it is on shore). We have friends who recently took a fully conducted bus tour of Northern Europe. Their vacation was as long as ours and in fact they spent more money overall to take it. Among many other places, they visited Amsterdam and they visited Paris. I asked if they spent any time in Belgium (since we were planning to be there) and they said only the time it took for the bus to drive through it; they never stopped. Oslo Our first stop on the beginning of the third day of the cruise was in Oslo. We arrived in the early morning, but our time in port was somewhat limited, with departure scheduled for 3 PM. Oslo, while quite large geographically, has less than 500,000 inhabitants and is small as European capitals go. We were there on a Sunday and for the most part, the city was closed up if not deserted. The weather when we were there was superb, and the cleanliness and tidiness of the city was impressive. We opted for the "City Highlights" 3-1/2 hour tour. No regrets there. We were conducted to the Vigeland Sculpture Park, Norway's top tourist attraction. Very worthwhile. We also stopped briefly at the Holmenkollen ski jump built for the 1956 Winter Olympics. We drove through the Oslo suburbs to get there, passing expensive hillside homes along the way. From the top of the hill, we had a nice panorama of the city below. Finally, we stopped at the Oslo city hall, an art museum in itself. Several levels of the building have murals depicting life and history in Norway Oslo has rebuilt their waterfront in recent years, and they call it Aker Brygge. This area is located just behind the city hall building, and is reminiscent to us of Pier 39 on the San Francisco waterfront. There were a few shops and cafes open, but for the most part everything was closed up, just like the rest of the city on Sunday. Norway offers the tourist hand-knit ski sweaters, hand-made felt boots and slippers, some glassware and porcelain. The one unique and inexpensive thing to take back is a troll. Trolls are found everywhere in shops in Norway. We bought one to take home as a conversation piece. A nice sized troll costs about $20. The same size troll costs more than twice as much in the gift shop aboard ship. From Aker Brygge, it was just a short walk back to the ship. There was a nearby museum dedicated to the Norwegian resistance to the Nazis during World War II, but there wasn't sufficient time to get over to see it. Sailing away from Oslo, the Splendour retraced its course from early that morning, through the Oslo Fjord, reaching the open sea about 3 hours later. This fjord is a narrow passageway with small fishing villages on either side. It reminded us of traveling through the San Juan Islands on the Washington State Ferry. Speed The classification of RCI ships that includes the Splendour and the Legend are built for speed. This gives the line more flexibility in setting itineraries. The run from Oslo to Stockholm is a good example of this. From the data screen on the cabin TV, we could see that for the most part we were tripping right along at 24 Kt. Most cruise ships operate at about 17 Kt. Traveling at this rate of speed requires the use of all five engines pushing out a total of 77,000 horsepower. The captain had forewarned us on several occasions that we would feel vibration at these speeds, and indeed we did. He said that this is normal, so even though the seas were pretty quiet, the vibration was always there when we were going fast, especially close to the stern. Like most modern cruise ships of the size of the Splendour, we felt virtually no motion through out the 12 days of cruising, except for the last day. Heading back to Harwich we encountered 15 ft. seas and gale force winds in the North Sea. However, the motion of the ship wasn't all that much and we never heard anyone talk of seasickness. Because a combination of low tide and high wind produced shallow water in the Oresund strait between Copenhagen and Malmo, the ship had to detour around Zeeland Island to the west which added an extra 120 NM to our journey. Having to make up this wasted time, it was necessary to maintain a 24 Kt. speed all the way to Stockholm. Stockholm We arrived in Stockholm on time at 9 AM. We were scheduled to depart was at 5 PM. The temperature was in the low 70's and the sky was cloudless, at least for most of the day. It was a beautiful day to be in Sweden. We wanted to try to capture the flavor of the city outside of the confines of a shore excursion tour bus. We took the $8 (R/T) shuttle bus that RCI operates into town. It leaves the ship every 15 minutes, is of 15-minute duration, and drops you off in front of the Ahlens Department Store in the center of things. We walked to the Stockholm City Hall. An interesting building with a beautiful park adjacent, located on the estuary of Lake Malaran. This is the place where the Nobel Peace Prizes are presented each December. We would have had to wait an hour for a tour to commence, so instead we walked over a bridge to Gamla Stan, Stockholm's Old Town. Narrow streets, small shops and cafes, historic buildings. We decided to take a self-guided tour ($10) of the Royal Palace. While there, the changing of the guard ceremony was going on which we watched and videotaped for a while. It was impressive to see. There weren't very many tourists in evidence considering that this was the middle of the summer. Most of the local people we met in stores spoke English well enough, and the younger people speak it almost without accent. Everyone we met was very friendly, and we found this to be true of all of Scandinavia. Language was never a problem for us anywhere, except in Russia. Stockholm is quite a bit larger than Oslo, but the streets of both cities were absolutely spotless. We found ourselves wondering why this is so, not only when compared to cities of comparable size in the US but also in other parts of Europe as well. From Gamla Stan, we walked over a bridge back to the mainland and proceeded up Drottningatan, a street many blocks long which has been turned into a pedestrian mall. This was a great street for people watching, especially the handsome Swedes of all ages. We stopped at a sidewalk cafe for lunch and eventually found ourselves back at the Ahlens Department Store. We browsed the store briefly, but nothing jumped out of us that we couldn't have found at home, probably for a similar price. We didn't make an in-depth study of it, but it seemed prices in Sweden were relatively high if US dollars were to be used. Currency Conversion Currency conversion was necessary if you wanted to buy anything for cash, although all the usual credit cards were accepted wherever we went. ATM's were commonplace, and we had no problems obtaining Krona from our checking account back home. Using a credit card to buy souvenirs and an ATM card to withdraw walking-around cash is the most economical and convenient way to travel in any foreign country these days. We were back on the ship in plenty of time, and we sailed for Helsinki promptly at 5 PM. Stockholm is located at the top of the delta of a large lake. It took us more than 4 hours to cruise from the city to the open sea, passing literally thousands of islands, both moderately sized and tiny, most all of which were seemed to be uninhabited. Throughout most of the cruise, it didn’t really get dark until well past 10 PM. We enjoyed watching the sun go down through the very tall dining room windows of the Splendour while having dinner. This was very nice. The ship has electrically operated remote control shades that are adjusted to keep the sun out of the eyes of the diners. Helsinki We arrived in Helsinki on a cold, rainy and blustery day. The visibility was no more than a mile or two and the air temperature remained in the 50s all day long. We took the shuttle bus ($8 R/T) into the center of town. In eight days in Europe thus far, this was our first rainy day, although it tapered off in the afternoon. It would also turn out to be our last rainy day although we had short showery periods here and there. Also, the weather was uniformly cool along our route, with temperatures getting up into the 70s only on one or two occasions. Our days at sea were much too cool to do anything on the outside, especially with the breeze while under way. Although the pool water temperature was maintained in the low 80s, few adult people took advantage of it. Helsinki is an interesting city, very clean like the others, and about the same size as Oslo. We spent the day in the center of town, visited a church and a square, walked a lot in the rain, and bought a number of things to take home. As elsewhere, the people were friendly and handsome. We found most things (including clothes items in a major department store) to be a bit expensive compared to what we are used to paying at home. The central city market square is just a couple of blocks down from the shuttle stop, and flower and produce sellers usually set up in the morning, and crafts vendors in the afternoon. However, because of the rain, there were very few occupied booths in place and we spent little time there. It probably would be a good place to visit on a better day. We were told that it might be worthwhile to buy some Russian things, such as the Matryoshka stacking dolls, in Finland rather than wait to get it in Russia itself the next day. We found a store in the central part of Helsinki, on Senate Square, selling Russian artifacts. The items they offered and the prices they were asking weren't particularly tempting to us. We decided to wait. It was good that we did. VAT Most countries in Europe have a Value Added Tax (VAT) of about 20% on purchases, money which can be reimbursed to tourists under some circumstances when leaving the country. A minimum purchase at a particular store is necessary before the VAT refund kicks in, and in Finland we spent enough to be able to benefit from the refund policy. For a couple of hours prior to sailaway on the Splendour, a person located near the shore excursion desk took care of the paperwork and gave you a cash rebate on the spot. This was not an RCI operation. The person was employed by a private company that took a few percentage points off the top of the refund to pay for their service. From our standpoint, it was worthwhile and convenient. You can get a refund on purchases made in a EU country by having paperwork stamped in another EU country when you are heading home. You mail the paperwork back to the store where you bought the goods. There was a prominent VAT refund desk in Terminal 3 at Heathrow, and they took care of the VAT refund on a purchase on some lace material we bought in Brugge. It was a speedy process. Packing On a number of occasions, we used the laundry and dry cleaning valet service that the Splendour provides. We found the prices and the quality of service comparable to a good quality dry cleaner back home. This proved to be an advantage in packing. We didn't have to take as much along with us; we got it cleaned along the way. Also, we've gotten in the habit of packing all our things in large roll-around duffel bags that we bought at Price Costco for $29.95 each. They weigh next to nothing and store flat at home. My wife uses large plastic bags and crumpled tissue paper in the arms of jackets to pack all our clothes. It's a technique she picked up from Martha Stewart on TV. Everything...all 88 lbs. of it...came out wrinkle-free except for my tuxedo jacket which required some touching up by the Splendour dry cleaning service (for $2.25). St. Petersburg In anticipation of our visit to St. Petersburg, before going ashore we stripped ourselves of our jewelry and any pickpocket-able items. I wore a money belt in which I carried several hundred dollars in cash and a Visa card. I carried the cameras and the stuff we eventually bought in a backpack. Our dinner companions said they pretty much did the same thing. As mentioned, we were scheduled on two RCI shore excursions on each of the two days we were to be in port, a total of four excursions with brief return trips to the ship for lunch. Our first glimpse of Russia was memorable. Since we had an inside cabin, our first look was up on deck in the morning. I saw on one side of our ship the docked Royal Princess. On the other side, the NCL Norwegian Dream. It almost looked like we were in Ft. Lauderdale. Down below on the pier, a small brass band was playing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco". It was stirring to know that we were finally in a land that not so long ago was referred to as the Evil Empire. Despite this beginning, it was quickly evident that Russia is still a paranoid and troubled society. Every passenger’s passport was checked by two uniformed officers, first going out and then when returning to the Splendour. Ship’s Security Ship’s security seemed to be an ill-defined science. Other than the Russian passport checks, elsewhere a glance at the passenger’s cruise card is all it takes when you reboard the Splendour. There is a airport-type metal detector portal that you must pass through, but this was used only sporadically. Even when used, people were walking through carrying cameras, purses and other metallic materials, so the alarm sound is going off continually as they pass though. No one seems to notice or care, and you just keep on walking. There is also an airport-type conveyor belt that takes all hand-held items and passes them through an x-ray machine, but I could never figure out for what purpose. For example, in Oslo and on the second day in Copenhagen the x-ray machine was in use. In all other ports, including the two days we were in Russia, it wasn’t operating. Go figure. Being in Russia The weather in Russia was great, with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-70s. Our morning excursion was a city highlights tour. In the afternoon, we were bused out of town about 15 miles to Tsarskoye Selo, also known as Catherine’s (Summer) Palace. The place was later re-named by the Soviets for the famous Russian poet Pushkin, who had lived nearby. The Soviets didn’t want to do anything to dignify the monarchy, even though it was a national treasure. Visiting St. Petersburg was an exciting experience. First of all, we are really here! Really not knowing what to expect, we made some quick observations: Most of the people, certainly the younger ones, look like "regular folks", especially when you see them rushing for the Metro at the end of the working day. It’s hard to imagine that there were so many decades of "us against them." Very sad to contemplate, actually. And, it’s evident that these highly civilized people who have contributed so much are struggling to have a better life, against political and economic issues that are no fault of their own. For their sake, as well as our own, I guess, we should hope they make it. The buildings are magnificent to see, but very shabby when viewed from the outside, and you don’t have to be right on top of the buildings to see this. Not as bad as, say, Mexico City, but somewhat worse than what you see in Athens or Istanbul or Caracas downtown. Certainly nothing like the Scandinavian capitals we had just visited. The harsh weather and the severe air pollution in the city takes its toll, but fresh paint seems to be a luxury that no one can afford. Our tour guide told us that many of the apartments were quite nice on the interior despite the exterior appearance. There may be slums here in the same sense that you would see them in Latin American countries, but we didn’t see any. Nevertheless, there are poor people in abundance, with old beggars near the tour bus parks. However, the younger people seem moving on in an upwardly striving mode. The streets are in great disrepair, even worse than parts of Manhattan. The weather, of course, takes its toll, and coupled with the lack of public money to fix potholes, etc., it makes for a rough ride going down the street in a bus. Despite this, the streets were very clean. As tourists on a shore excursion, we were pretty much sheltered from the city at large. Security people were in evidence at the major tourist attractions, some even wearing bulletproof vests. How much of this is window dressing and how much is indicative of a relatively lawless society at large, we cannot say. We never had an opportunity to mingle with anyone but street vendors in controlled areas, so we have no way of knowing. There were groups of young men hanging around here and there, but they could have very well been pedestrians. The streets are filled with old, rusted out Russian cars called Ladas that look like Fiat 128 sedans from the ‘70s. There are also new and good looking Mercedes E-type sedans, which according to our guide are operated by suddenly rich "New Russians", whom most of the Russian people fear as their Mafia. The argument goes that nobody could make that much money in so short a time unless they were criminals. Probably true. As people start to make a little money, many other brands of cars are brought in as used vehicles. The import duty on used cars is 100%. People are free to travel, but few have the money to do it. People are now free to leave the country permanently, but only if they have the funds to do it and also have to have a destination country willing to receive them. Prior to getting off the tour bus at one of our stops, at the very ornate Church on Spilled Blood, our tour guide warned us to be on guard for Gypsy pickpockets who were supposedly working the crowd. We saw a couple of people whom we might consider to be homeless, begging for money, some young women with infants strapped on their back, and I suppose these were the Gypsies. Never having seen a Gypsy before, we can’t say with certainty. But they didn’t bother us, or at least were no more intrusive than what we’re used to back home. Shopping in Russia It seems there were endless opportunities to shop from street vendors. They are everywhere. Not having a visa, we were unable to head off by ourselves to look for hidden treasures, even if we wanted to do that. We were just wanting to buy some souvenirs for ourselves and family back home, and the street vendors have these kinds of things available in abundance. We’ve shopped the Caribbean, New York City, the Middle East and Hong Kong. The Russian street vendors were mostly young people, very friendly and polite, especially those who had stalls. Those walking around the sidewalks where the buses stopped were more aggressive, but not impolite nor terribly intrusive. St. Petersburg is a long way from Cairo or Istanbul or Mexico. Like Tijuana, you stop at 3 or 4 stalls, and you’ve shopped the whole town. Everybody sells the same thing, and at the end of the day, their prices are all the same. There seemed to be about a 15% bargaining window on all prices initially quoted, especially if you were buying a few of the same thing which gives the buyer more leverage. Matryoshka Dolls The big item is the Matryoshka nesting doll. These come in different qualities and sizes, and prices range from next to nothing on up to a couple of hundred dollars and more. Most of the dolls we saw were about seven to ten stacks deep, were attractive and of pretty good quality to our untrained eye, and could be bought for less than $15 each. You put one of these dolls on a shelf at home, and you can be virtually certain that none of your house guests will ever have seen one before. Take some more home, a low cost and easily packed gift, and your family will love you for it. They are really unusual. Towards the end of the day, when the buses are leaving, 7-piece Matryoshka dolls could be bought 4 for $10. Even the shop on the Splendour was selling dolls for less than $20 each (but no nicer than the $2.50 versions on shore), but they did this only after we sailed away from St. Petersburg. Some method to this, evidently, and nothing to do with customer service.. Other Things to Buy in Russia The ubiquitous lacquer boxes vary in price mostly by size, and cost anywhere from $10-$50. Sure, you can buy absolutely perfect lacquer boxes, true works of art, for many hundreds of dollars. None of the street vendors sell this kind of quality, and we had no means to find them anywhere else even if we wanted to do that. The boxes we saw were attractive and would look well on a tabletop in anybody’s home. You can buy on the street a military garrison cap festooned with two dozen military pins for $5. Steel flasks, watches, hats and other Red Army memorabilia are sold everywhere. Tee-shirts that are novel in the sense that you won’t see them anywhere else cost $5. Shawls and scarves, souvenir books, topaz jewelry, lacquered wooden eggs and spoons...that covers most of what you’ll see. We had read some comments from other travelers on how to pay for all of this. Some said crisp US bills of large denominations, others said crisp US bills of small denominations, etc. In fact, it doesn’t matter. No one seemed to care about the nature of the money, although it’s evident the Russians prefer cash transactions with American money. They make change for you from a large wad of bills they pull out of their pocket. Is the change counterfeit? I looked at a $10 bill we received in change, and it seemed OK to me. Bottom line is we never had a problem with the change. Some of the street vendors have a little homemade, unofficial-looking Visa / Master Card sign hanging in their booth. Even though they apparently will take credit cards, it’s evident that cash works better and allows the buyer to get the best deal on whatever he’s buying. The only time we used a credit card in Russia was to buy a $25 coffee-table book with an American Express card at the Hermitage Museum gift shop. No problem. The official exchange is 6 "new" (devalued) rubles to the dollar. It’s also officially against the law to use foreign money on the street. However, all the street vendors quote prices in dollars. There is no reason to exchange money. If you buy a substantial amount of goods from a vendor, just ask for a few rubles in free change that could be used in the public toilets. In the Tsarskoye Selo and the Peteroff museum gift shops, the little price signs are in rubles, but they will take dollars there as well. These museum shops sell the same things as the people in the street but they are less inclined to bargain. Also, their prices are a little bit higher. It must be the overhead cost of the rent. We ended up taking home fourteen nesting dolls. (We had brought along an empty backpack just for this purpose.) They proved to be delightful and well-received gifts for everyone at home, both young and old. Tsarskoye Selo and Peterhof Our second tour on the first day was to Tsarskoye Selo, also known as Catherine Summer Palace. It’s located about 15 miles out into the countryside. On the following day, we visited Peterhof, or Petrodvorets, the summer home of Peter the Great, also located outside St. Petersburg. Both were devastated by the Germans during the War, and both are in a state of restoration. Peterhof seems to be further along and besides has nicer looking grounds with many beautiful fountains. We preferred it a little better. The palaces have ornate gardens and grassy areas, but if you look closely and you’ll see that even though the lawn is mowed short, half of it is mowed weeds. You would never see such a thing at, say, Versailles, although in principal these palaces were built at the same time for the same purpose. It’s kind of sad, really. There are six or eight-piece uniformed bands playing all kinds of music wherever you go, all for dollar tips. In fact, they play very well, and you start thinking that these people could possibly be members of an orchestra or from the conservatory supplementing their income. In this instance too, it was very sad to witness such a thing. Our final tour on the second day was the Hermitage Museum, a must see for any visitor to St. Petersburg. You can spend days, weeks, or even months there, but we had a 2-1/2 hour quick overview, and for us at least it was enough. Overnight in Russia We elected to stay on board the Splendour the evening we overnighted in Russia. A movie was shown in the 42nd Street Theater, one of only two shown during the entire cruise other than what was shown on the small screen cabin TV. Two evening tours were offered: the Kirov Ballet (a presentation of highlights), and a folklorio show. We spoke to people who had attended one show or the other, and all were satisfied. In both cases, the audience was confined to cruise passengers, from either the Splendour or the nearby NCL Norwegian Dream. Thus, further evidence of the plan to keep visitors at arm’s length from the general population. Tallinn The next day after leaving St. Petersburg, we stopped in Tallinn, Estonia. It’s a small city, about the size of Oslo, with medieval origins. We didn’t expect much, but were very pleasantly surprised. It was really a delightful place. In many ways it looked better and less run-down than St. Petersburg. Tallinn suffered badly throughout its history, especially from the Germans in World War II and from the Russians immediately thereafter. Until 1991, Estonia had been annexed by the Soviet Union along with the other Baltic states, Lithuania and Latvia. Tallinn (rhymes with pollen) is located about 30 minutes from the port city of Muuga where the Splendour docked, and RCI provides free bus transportation into the city. There is a compact old town in the city center, with narrow, twisting cobblestone streets, ideal for walking. We "did" Tallinn to our satisfaction in about 3 hours. As compared to St. Petersburg, the port at Muuga seemed much better put together, and with better access roads. We later learned that part of the Soviet submarine fleet was based here during the Cold War, and thus the port area was built-up to support this activity. We were told that a rusting, mothballed fleet of submarines is nearby, but we didn’t see this. Tallinn seems to be just in the early stages of courting tourists, with few stores and other businesses in place that cater to travelers. There were some street vendors selling local crafts. It also seemed that most tourists come by cruise ship from other locations in Scandinavia, probably from Helsinki, just a short ferryboat ride away across the Gulf of Finland. Judging by bilingual signs, there probably are some German visitors as well. In our walking about, most of the people we saw were from the Splendour. At 3 PM we set sail for Copenhagen, our last port of call, where we were scheduled to arrive at 7 PM the following day. We were to stay overnight in Copenhagen and then depart for Harwich at 6 PM the day after. Ship’s Food The food on the Splendour was ample and good, but nothing particularly special. To us, it was ordinary and not as imaginative as what we remembered from the Legend two years ago, and not as good as what we experienced on the Dawn Princess 6 months ago. Having said that, the waiter begged for an excellent rating on the last day out, not only for himself but for the chef as well! He said that a less than excellent rating for the chef would reflect badly on himself. We gave the waiter an excellent report because he deserved it. We downrated the cuisine as unimaginative, because overall that’s how we felt about it. The other four couples at our table, all high-time cruisers, felt the same way as we did. I can argue with passion my belief that cruise comment cards are a scam perpetrated on passengers by the cruise lines. In short, I feel they serve no purpose and I believe they are never read. The reason I feel they are used at all is that management believes that if you give the customers a venue for complaining, they will feel they had a better time than if they thought nobody cared. We’ve been cruising regularly for more than 20 years. I can’t think of a single change that cruise lines have made over the years that has been for their customer’s direct benefit. In every case, changes have been made to reduce costs and/or charge passengers for something that in the past was free. Shallow Water Just southeast of Copenhagen, we had to traverse the same shallow water strait, west of Malmo in Sweden, that caused us to make a wide detour earlier in the trip. The captain carefully explained that we had a small window of time when we could pass through the strait, and that we would have only 2-1/2 feet (yes!) of water under the keel of the Splendour. The swimming pool was drained as well as the ballast tanks so that the ship could ride higher in the water. We picked up our pilot and proceeded ahead at what seemed to be a walking pace, between marker buoys only about 300 feet apart. It took us more than an hour to get through this area. A long suspension bridge combined with a long underwater tunnel is under construction in this strait which, when completed, will provide a direct land link between Denmark and Sweden. Supposedly excavation from the tunnel is adding to the problem of the shallow water. Copenhagen The Splendour docked at the south end of the Langelinjie Dock. This pier is a popular spot for families, strollers and skaters on in-line rollerblades on the relatively warm summer evening that we arrived in Copenhagen. The entire length of the pier has it’s landward side lined with shops, mostly of the kind that would attract cruise shoppers at the last minute. It is not unlike the Havensite Mall in St. Thomas. It was just a five minute walk from the gangway towards the stern of the Splendour to the little waterfront park that honors Hans Christian Andersen. At the waters edge is one of Copenhagen’s most famous attractions, the Little Mermaid statue. Tivoli Gardens The thing to do the first night we were in Copenhagen is to visit Tivoli Gardens. Along with 1,500 of our fellow passengers, we bought $16 shuttle tickets from the shore excursion desk which included admission to the park and roundtrip bus transportation from the ship. The last shuttle back to the ship was at 12:30 AM. There was a very small fireworks display that lasted only about 2 minutes around 11:30 PM, and the park emptied very quickly after that. We were very pleasantly surprised by Tivoli. It was a beautiful night to be out and about, and the park was crowded. Tivoli is nothing like an American theme park. Rather it’s more like a carnival at a state fair, except this park has been in operation for almost 150 years. There are medium-thrill rides, bandstands with first-rate free entertainment, and many classy-looking restaurants with indoor or outdoor seating. Some shooting galleries, bumper car rides and stuff like that. Lot’s of trees and beautiful flower gardens. Relatively few fast food places and also relatively few groups of teenagers roaming about as you would be more likely to see in the US. I think the main reason is that Tivoli has been here for such a long time. It’s far from being a novelty to local residents. Copenhagen is a lot like all the other cities we visited in Scandinavia in the friendliness of the people, the cleanliness of the streets, and the interesting and unique things each has to offer the visitor. Perhaps because Copenhagen was our last stop on the cruise, we felt that it was just a little nicer than all the rest. We felt that Copenhagen would be a good place to re-visit and perhaps spend a little more time than a cruise would allow. To the Countryside The following day we had opted for an all-day tour to the countryside to visit two castles. Our ride began with a brief city tour with a photo-op stop at the Little Mermaid statue and then at the nearby Gefion Fountain. Then we drove for about 45 minutes north of the city to the small village of Hillerod, the location of the Fredericksborg Castle. We toured the grounds and the rooms and found it nice but somewhat subdued when compared to all the ostentatious opulence of the palaces we had seen in Russia. From here we were taken to a hotel located on the shore, just a mile or so north of the village of Elsinor. We were treated to a very sumptuous smorgasbord. I personally found this to be excellent because I enjoy smoked fish and pickled herring and other Scandinavian delights that we found in abundance. On the other hand, my wife and some others we had spoken to don’t care for "fishy-tasting fish" so they had less of a selection. Nevertheless, they found a good choice in sliced meat and cheeses. From the hotel, we were driven a short distance to the Kronborg Castle at Elsinor, presumably the place Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote Hamlet. The castle was impressive to see, but we could view it only from the outside. On the way back to Copenhagen, we passed many expensive waterfront homes on the north side of the city. Finally, we were dropped off for an hour by Holmen’s Canal in Nyhavn in the center of town. This is a restored area with boutiques and cafes lining both sides of the canal, and it is the scene invariably pictured in any travel brochures describing Copenhagen. The bus was waiting at the appointed hour and we were taken back to the ship. This particular tour wasn’t cheap ($118 per person) but considering it took all day, including an excellent lunch, it wasn’t that inconsistent with other shore excursions offered on this cruise. We sailed for Harwich soon thereafter, heading north, passing Elsinor and Kronborg Castle once again. Another full day at sea, and we were back at Harwich the following morning. Why Cruise? A cruise like this (as compared to a Caribbean cruise) is "port-intensive", which means you make a lot of potentially interesting stops and there are opportunities to see as many of the sights as possible in the short time allowed in each city. In our opinion, there is infinitely more to see and do, say, in Copenhagen than in the Cayman Islands. Cayman and a few other Caribbean islands are nice, but this is Europe. Truly comparing apples to oranges. We find this kind of touring is where a cruise vacation shines. You hang up your clothes in the closet only once, and you expend no time nor energy checking in and out of hotels nor getting to and from train stations and airports. Even though we had 3 full days at sea, the main purpose of this itinerary is much less for the rest and relaxation and more for sightseeing. Nevertheless, there were these sea days available which we found to be ample time to enjoy what the ship has to offer, just relax with a book, or whatever else is needed to unwind a little bit when on vacation. When we traveled earlier in the trip from Brugge to London, while it was interesting with the Eurostar and all that, it took most of the day, cost a lot of money, and we really didn’t accomplish a thing except going from point A to point B. We also expended a lot of energy dragging baggage carts, going up and down train station escalators with bags, eating fast food on the fly, etc. With a cruise you have none of that. The ship moves while you sleep. That night when we took the bus back to the ship from Tivoli, it was after midnight and we had had a long day. In the distance from the bus, we could see the ship lit up like a Christmas tree. We got off the bus, flashed our cruise card to the security guard at the gangway, and two minutes later we were in our cabin getting ready for bed and the next day. Alternatively, we could have had a nightcap at the favorite bar we discovered on one of the upper decks, we could have danced a little in the disco, we could have walked on the promenade deck, and finally crashed whenever we chose to with almost no unnecessary energy expended beyond simply having a good time. We’ve experienced this late-arrival feeling in other places in the past, and in our view it’s at moments like this that a cruise really is so worthwhile. If I can add to any of the observations I made in this review, please do not hesitate to send me an email. Paul Jaffe [email protected]

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