We just got back from our cruise on Splendor of the Seas. I am a 41-year-old woman who traveled with my two daughters, ages 8 and 10. Before we left, the girls learned about Pompeii, and saw “Roman Holiday” and the “Lizzy McGuire Movie”. So they were all pumped to see the sights of Europe -- just old enough to appreciate what they were seeing, and just young enough to think it was cool to take it all in with Mom!
Barcelona was a treat. The girls loved exploring the Sagrada Familia church and the nightlife of Las Ramblas. We stayed two nights in Barcelona prior to the cruise to ward off jet lag, and this worked really well. On Saturday we checked in for the cruise. We had completed the pre-check-in online, and when we arrived at the pier around 11 a.m., we were through the line and aboard the ship within minutes. It was wonderfully efficient! The girls and I have been on eight cruises together. This ship was lovely and very easy to get around. We got an inside cabin this time. I was afraid it might betoo small, but we were pleasantly surprised with the amount of space.
Where Is Toulon?
The next day our itinerary listed Marseille as the port of call. However, there was a last minute change, and we were told we’d be stopping in Toulon. This was great news to me as I studied in Toulon about 20 years ago. When we got off the ship, I didn’t recognize much. We walked quite a ways and could not find a taxi anywhere. We kept walking, and soon I saw a directional road sign pointing the direction for Toulon. Strange, I thought. Anyway, fast forward an hour and a half and several blisters later: It turns out we were NOT in Toulon, but in La Seyne Sur Mer, a neighboring suburb. We were running out of time, and turned back to the ship. We never did see Toulon; this was VERY disappointing -- especially when I re-read the ship's prepared information on the port, which clearly stated that we were only “steps away” from downtown Toulon. ARG!
The following day we docked in Villefranche -- a beautiful harbor, lovely homes overlooking the bay. We walked up the hill to catch the bus to Nice. The trains were closed that day due to some small accident. Anyway, it was very easy and cheap – I believe it was around 6 euros roundtrip for all of us. We had a quick visit of Nice (the bus stop is within walking distance of the beach), and then had a bite to eat along the beach. The outdoor restaurants are expensive, but with beautiful views! We got back in time to explore lovely Villefranche and had plenty of time to catch the tender back to the ship in time for dinner. FYI: As you leave the tender, you must exit through a building. You pass right by an information desk, which will provide maps and directions to either the train station or bus station.
Cashless in Pisa
The next day we arrived in Livorno. Getting off the ship was very quick, very efficient. FYI, we just brought our ship cards and copies of our passports for ID. This was all that was ever required to get on and off the ship. The girls opted out of Florence (too dull for the young crowd) so we just took a quick train ride to Pisa. When you leave the train station in Pisa, head straight out, walk through town, and take a left when you get to the old city gates (5 minute walk). You’ll see the Leaning Tower as you turn. We needed to exchange some money and the online connection the banks all used was down. We finally found an exchange place/souvenir shop near the tower that would exchange money for us. This was one really annoying thing about the ship: They only open the exchange desk at specific and VERY limited times throughout the day. So plan ahead if you intend to exchange money onboard.
We returned to the ship by 4 p.m. It became a habit for us to pass through the buffet at the Windjammer Cafe for a late “snack” before getting ready for dinner. There were always good appetizers like tacos and desserts, and the girls knew the locations of all the ice cream machines on deck! The dinners were all great, and the service was wonderful. The staff seemed to dote on us. It’s such a treat to have my daughters happily munching on mozzarella sticks while I’m dining on gourmet items, and the wine steward helps me to pair my meals with just the right wine. Heaven!
Raining in Rome
The next day was Civitavecchia/Rome -- the big day! We set our alarms and got up very early. We zipped thru the Windjammer for a quick buffet breakfast, and were off the ship in no time. We took the free shuttle to get off the pier, then walked the 100 meters to the train station. It takes about an hour to get from Civitavecchia to Rome, so be prepared. Once you arrive in Roma Termini, the metro is right there, and the signs will direct you. We zipped thru the city and saw Trevi Fountain, The Colosseum, the Forum, and the Vatican. Rome is huge, so it’s good to have a reasonable plan and time frame. We were really racing to get all of the above in. But we were glad to do it. Getting back we again took the train. It was a bit more confusing on the return. The train station itself has at least 30 tracks. It’s as large as some airports! We eventually found an information place with a timetable, and we got back to the ship just in time. We were cold and wet (it rained all day) but we quickly changed, got ready for dinner, and saw the lovely lighted view of the city of Civitavecchia from our dinner table as we pulled out of port. We were tired that night, but we still made it to the show. The shows were, in all, pretty good. The one not to be missed is Ole, Ole. They sang Los Lobos songs and danced Flamenco beautifully. They were captivating! Usually after the shows, most of the ship headed off to bed. We were no exception. This itinerary is jammed packed with fascinating ports of call.
The last port of call was Naples, and we were on a mission to see Pompeii. Because we had cut things so close in Rome, I decided to let a taxi driver take us there. It was just a 20-minute ride to the ruins. I had no idea just how large the ruins were. The audio thing that they rent at the museum is a waste. The segments do not match up with the site numbered map that they give you. I did buy a book just outside from a vendor. It was a great thing for the girls -- It had overlays on all photos. So you lift the overlay to see the site as it exists today, then drop the overlay, and it shows you how it would have looked painted and decorated centuries ago. There was a great deal of lavishness about the city. I was really surprised. Try and make it all the way over to the stadium; if you do, you get a much better perspective of the entire city. Pompeii was definitely one of the great sites we visited on this trip. It was fascinating!
That night, with nothing to do the next day, we stayed up for the much anticipated midnight buffet. It was truly beautiful. We were awed to see such a display of edible artwork.
Our last day was finally a relaxing day at sea! With so much to see and do on land, we were really looking forward to sleeping in, and just enjoying the ship. We had a late breakfast, and then the girls decided they wanted to be involved with some of the activities at the kids club. I went off to do a little packing and to read my book on deck. When I picked them up for lunch, they gushed with stories about how much fun they had -- so much so that they wanted to return after lunch. By mid-afternoon, I picked them up, we got in some Bingo (no we didn’t win the $3,000 jackpot), then we were off to fit in some rock climbing and swimming. It was too cold to really enjoy the pool, but the hot tubs were nice. The indoor pool was unfortunately (for us) adults only. That evening -- even though we’d have to be up early the next morning to get off the ship by the mandated 8 a.m. time -- we decided to stay out late. After the show, they had a Karaoke contest – some of the contestants were bad, some were good, and the last guy was so good, he got a standing ovation! After that, they had a dance contest. My girls are not shy, and even though the disco is adults only, they got special permission from the staff to go. We watched the competition; it was pretty fun, the couple we were rooting for won! We all had so much fun, we didn’t want the night to end. We didn’t want the cruise to end. But it did end, and now we’re back home, and already we’re planning our next cruise!
Party consisted of my wife and I with our 8 and 12 year old daughters, and two other couples, in 3 adjoining balcony rooms. All adults are "barely past our forties". Previous cruises include NCI Norway, Carnival Imagination (both adults only) and last 2 years on Carnival Spirit, with daughters. Comparison comments will generally relate to last 2 trips on Carnival Spirit. This was the third cruise we booked through vacationstogo.com, and have had nothing but positive results with them.
We flew from Rochester, NY to Tampa the day before, out of respect for winter weather in the Northeast. As one of our companions graciously provided overnight accommodations from her Marriott miles, we stayed at a Marriott Residence Inn. The Marriott properties close to the Cruise Port were booked so we ended up about 20-30 minutes from the port and airport. The Residence Inn was a great place to stay, we just hung around the pool, and that night ordered dinner delivered from Dine-One-One which offers selections from numerous area restaurants. The only downside was that taxi and limo/shuttle service in the Tampa area is relatively expensive and options are limited.
Embarkation: We arrivedat the Tampa cruise port about 1:15 and waited about 15 minutes for the rest of our party to arrive. Due to the height of the causeway bridge, the largest cruise ships cannot get in, and the port is smaller and way less hectic than Miami. The various employees we encountered seemed significantly more pleasant and helpful as well. We had completed our RCI pre-boarding forms online and boarding proceeded very quickly, probably 20 minutes or less. We went directly to our balcony room on deck 7 to dump our carry-ons, then went to the Windjammer for some lunch. It was OK, but here was not much that the kids liked. The last piece of luggage arrived shortly before dinner.
Ship: The Splendour is obviously not brand new, but seemed well cared for. Less glitzy than Carnival , which is not a bad thing. I thought it had kind of an understated elegance. I liked the smaller size, as it didn't feel like a mile long hike to get from one end of the ship to the other. The pools, while not large, never seemed to get overly crowded, and I liked the "baby" section on the end of one as one could sit in it against the edge with a book when the sun got a bit overpowering. The solarium pool looked ok the couple of times I went in there, and very peaceful. It's nice they have a pool area that's adults only for those that can indulge. The solarium glass roof retracts, but was never open when I was there. The chaise lounges were definitely a step up from Carnival in quality. Clothes pins and those little black binder clips came in handy to keep towels in place. Other than the last day, it wasn't too hard to find at least a few chairs together to use. As usual, there were many chair hogs who would deposit something on the chair and disappear for hours. The ship policy said things would be removed after 2 hours but I never saw this actually happen. On the last day, there were articles left on some chairs next to us for at least 5 hours without anyone showing up. I was so, so sorely tempted to take all the stuff and just throw it overboard, but I managed to resist the urge.
The kids missed the water slide from the Carnival Spirit. I did the rock wall climb twice. I was a little surprised as I had been expecting more of a beginner's or kid's wall, but it has varying of routes, maybe 5 different degrees of difficulty. I had never climbed before, and it took me 2 tries to get to the top on the easiest route. The secret seems to be don't look up or down, just focus on where your hands have to go next. The one female instructor/spotter (Sarah?) appeared to be the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and could have a future as a drill instructor, as she's very motivating! The wall was generally open 3-4 hours a day, and it takes time for even a small group to go through. Other than the last day however, there did not seem to be a lot of people waiting. I played the golf putting course a few times including with my 12 year old. The bumps made it challenging. Again did not observe any long lines of people waiting.
Minor ship design notes: the raised doorsills had little diagonal risers to them so you were less likely to trip on them. It constantly bugged me on the Spirit that the handrails in the hallways had flat butt end caps on them, so if you weren't paying attention walking with your hand on the rail you'd frequently whack your fingers into the next rail (ok, more frequently in the wee morning hours). The Splendour, to contrast, had rounded wood caps on the end of each rail. I did find it strange on the Splendour, that there were no rest rooms adjacent to the dining room, the theater, or the casino. You had to go up or down one flight of stairs in each case. We never encountered a significant wait for elevators. The kids camp program seemed ok. Not as good as Carnival's in terms of the activities or counselors, but certainly acceptable. We were able to give permission for our 8 year old to sign herself in and out which was convenient. The unattended Library was open all hours, and was comfortably furnished. They only carried hardcovers, no paperbacks, so I didn't check out any books. I had bought a number of used paperbacks at home before we left and managed to get through 5 of them on the flight down and on the cruise. As anyone with kids can appreciate, reading 5 novels in a week is a rare pleasure. Since the books were all reasonably priced, I would just leave them out in the common areas when finished with a note that they were free to a good home. They all seemed to disappear pretty quickly.
Room: Highlight for us was probably the balcony. We liked having the sliding glass door, as opposed to the spring-loaded French door on Carnival. The balcony chairs were a step up from Carnival. I missed having a light on the balcony as I would sometimes use it to read late at night without disturbing anyone in the room. The privacy on the balcony was also not what we were used to, as the gaps on the edges of the side dividers made it risky to venture forth in one's underwear (or maybe less). Our two daughters had to share a fold-down couch which was not very large nor comfortable. We definitely missed the third bed that pulled down from the ceiling that we had on Carnival. This may have been available in other rooms based on some conversations I overheard. The bathroom was average, with the exception of the shower, which was pretty cramped. I had a hard time shaving my face, couldn't imagine trying to do one's legs in there. I liked the design touch of a small trough around the outside of the shower which drained away any water that escaped the curtain. The water pressure was strong, to the point that the water could splash out of the sink onto one's clothing, which of course I discovered on the first formal night. We were able to find enough storage space for the four of us (four large suitcases, a suit carrier, and 4 carry-ons), but it was tight, as expected. I thought there could have been more space designed into the cabin, for example, there was wasted space below the shelf under the sink in the bathroom, and there was a coffee table that took up a fair amount of floor space and constantly had to be moved, that could have had some storage space incorporated underneath. The ice bucket that comes with the room is pretty small and as I drink a lot of ice water, I asked our room steward, Carolina if I could get another one. She brought another plastic one which was standard size, and did a great job of keeping both of them filled, and her overall service for the week was excellent.
Food: Most days, we only had breakfast and dinner. Breakfast buffet in the Windjammer was just so-so. The scrambled eggs, which I thought was a meal impossible to ruin, were pretty bad, mealy and watery. Bacon was crispy, which is how I like it, sausages and omelets, etc just ok. The coffee stations seemed to run out fairly regularly, and the kids were disappointed there was no chocolate milk at any of the meals. My wife and older daughter usually ordered room service breakfast which they found quite good, and the service was invariably prompt. I felt bad that I didn't realize the first couple of times that there was no gratuity included for the person delivering.
We did have the lunch buffet once and it was alright. They don't seem to keep the food real hot at the buffet stations. I did like that all the stations were serve yourself, as opposed to some of the cafeteria style serving lines on Carnival. The burger grill by the Solarium was again just OK. The pizza there was nothing to write home about. Coming from upstate New York, where it seems there's a pizza parlor for every 15 residents, I was disappointed that I never once saw pepperoni or sausage on the offerings. Also missed the 24 hour availability on Carnival. The "Ice Cream" stations were limited to frozen yogurt, unless you wanted to spring for $2.89 a serving for Ben and Jerry's. Again, was not offered 24 hours.
Dinners were consistently excellent. We had been assigned a great table at the early seating, a table for eight just as you walked in on the lower level right next to the windows. The décor was classy, and the service outstanding. I have never been on a cruise where the headwaiter was as visible and involved as on the Splendour. He was constantly checking on how things were going, and if we needed anything extra would chase it down. The rest of our wait staff was great also. No one at our table ever had a complaint about a meal. I would usually combine two entrees for a Surf and Turf offering and they were all excellent. I liked that they would offer to put the second main entrée on the same plate, with just one set of sides. I am always impressed on these cruises as to how good the vegetables and other side dishes are, especially considering the volumes they have to produce in a limited time frame. There were two formal nights, which is two too many in my mind, but I was in the minority in out party. There seemed to be ample opportunities for photos, without having to stand in lines too long.
Entertainment: I did not attend any of the ship shows, (I'm just not really that into them), but the rest of our party saw most of them. Reports indicated they were fair to good. According to every single woman in our party, the cruise director, - Rico - was HOT, and by the way, very competent. We ended up sharing a cab with him (and his naturally HOT friend) on the way to the beach in Costa Maya and he came across as very friendly. He seemed to enjoy his job and did well at it. We liked the casino, with the exception of all the mirrored walls. I would guess it was an effort to make the casino seem larger, but I found it confusing as it always looked like there was another part to the room., It probably doesn't help that I have a terrible sense of direction. Almost all the tables seemed to be $5 minimum, which is unusual these days. There were a couple of Caribbean Stud and 3-card poker tables, but no Let It Ride. Dealers were generally friendly and helpful. A few liked to deal high speed, which I don't care for. There were no automatic shufflers (thank you) and the blackjack tables seemed to be using about 6-7 decks. There was one sit-down BJ table that used one deck, but the payout rules were a little different so I didn't try it. I ended up a few hundred dollars ahead which of course made me like the place a little more ;) My wife played the slots and thought the selection and payouts were limited There was a nice bar adjacent to the casino called Schooners, that had a Piano player/singer who did requests every night. I thought the volume was a little loud, but maybe I'm just getting old. I visited the disco a couple of time after the casino closed which was generally about 1:30. Very nice spot, with 360 degrees of windows at the top of the ship.
I was pleased to discover that a variety of beer in glass bottles was available throughout the Splendour, including not only Corona, but Red Stripe, Amstel Light, and a few others as well. Didn't do much for my vow to try and watch calories however. . .. We purchased pop cards (soda cards to non upstate-NYers) for the kids - about $35 ea including tip. They probably saved a few dollars but not a huge amount. My daughters just don't seem to drink that much soda on cruises for some reason. Unlike Carnival, pop is not included free at Dinner, so the cards helped there.
Excursions: Our general plan - or lack thereof - was to book excursions at each port as we arrived and pretty much play it by ear. The ship excursions always involve a premium price, and more importantly to me, usually involve large crowds and standing in line, two things I will go to almost any extent to avoid on vacation. As we're always happy snorkeling or beaching it we can always find somewhere to go. There's not a lot of risk involved as long as you plan plenty of contingency time to get back to the ship on time. I must say this trip reinforced my inclination to avoid tender ports whenever possible.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman (9-5): The ship newsletter had indicated that until 10:30, passengers would need to get tickets ahead of time by the pursers desk, and recommended that you get there early for tickets . Turned out that 10:30 was just an "estimate" and it probably wasn't until after 11:30 that you could get on without a ticket. We did go back to the purser's area for tickets and were able to depart a little after 11:00
Based on the favorable reviews I had seen on Captain Marvin's snorkel and stingray trip we planned to try them first for a family trip. Their office turned out to be a 5-6 block walk from our dock and naturally we missed their last boat that could have gotten us back on time by about 15 minutes. We then walked back to the dock and hooked up with Capt Harvey's boat. There were only about ten people on booked on the trip. On the short bus ride to the boat, it was easy to observe that there was still extensive amounts of damage from the August hurricanes, and this was on the leeward side from where they struck! The boat was a bit older, and the overall approach was pretty casual. There was no discussion of where the life jackets were located, and they did not close the rail openings for the gangways after we left the dock, so we had to keep a close eye on our daughters. There was a self-serve cooler on the front deck with some soda, water, small cups and ice. Captain Harvey claims to be the first person to start feeding the stingrays on the sandbar years ago. Both he and his first mate, a woman who had just moved from Boston to Grand Cayman late last year, were very helpful and friendly. They ended up having to resolve a dispute with some of the passengers, as a few had to be back early, while a couple of others claimed they were promised a snorkel stop in addition to the Stingray City excursion when they booked. The captain managed to make arrangements with another boat at the stingray sandbar to take back the couple that had the early departure time, so everything worked out. I had observed before that even though these boats are in competition for passengers, they usually cooperate in these types of situations which is nice. The Stingray City area was pretty crowded when we arrived, so the boat had to anchor in water 7-10 feet deep, then we swam maybe 20 feet to the sandbar. The water was clear and warm with nice soft sand on the bottom. The stingrays ranged up to about 4 feet across and would generally congregate around whoever had food. My 8 year old was pretty scared of them, but stayed in the water most of the time. The 12 year old was a little nervous at first but ended up having a wonderful time. This is definitely a worthwhile experience.
As we were able to transfer our early-departing fellow passengers to the other boat, we also made a short stop at a nearby reef for some snorkeling. It was pretty good, nothing outstanding, and the whole family was able to participate. Capt. Harvey set the sail for the return trip, and came up on the front deck with his guitar and sang and told stories about the islands most of the way back. It was a nice relaxing conclusion to the afternoon, and we got back in plenty of time for the tender back to the ship. The line at the dock was not too long. I noticed that on the Princess dock next to us they had waiters circulating with trays of cold drinks for the people waiting which is a nice touch (hint, hint to RC).
The other 2 couples in our group had taken a taxi to seven mile beach and enjoyed a relaxing day there in front of one of the hotels.
Costa Maya (10 - 6): The Splendour was the only ship in port this day, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves which was nice. The port area is new and clean, with numerous shops, a pool and manmade beach area. There was a shuttle service from the ship to the port, but most people were walking. We took a taxi van to the fishing village of Majuhual (also known as "downtown") for I think $4 per person. It was very hot, and the a/c in the taxi was pretty feeble. Thankfully it was a fairly short ride. I had heard you could walk it on a path from the port, but with the heat and various paraphernalia we were carrying, I don't think it would have been much fun. We also saw a number of people riding bikes on the road we took, and it looked like they were eating a lot of dust. Majuhual is basically a dirt/sand road, along the beach, with bar/restaurants and various vendors along each side. Very casual and laid back, although the vendors can be somewhat aggressive, but never threateningly so. Our friend tried to take a picture of the street, and a young man jumped into the picture and then proceeded to chase our friend down the street, claiming he was owed $10 for taking his picture! Our friend told the young man he owed us $10 for ruining his picture and just kept walking.
We ended up at a restaurant right on the beach, just before Tapas. It's called El Faro, but I'm not sure the name is displayed anywhere. It has a thatched roof, with yellow umbrellas over the beach tables. The restrooms were clean (although there was no seat on the toilet in the ladies room). The service and food were good and the prices very reasonable. Six adults and two children spent the day there for about $60 with a fair number of drinks, and a little bit of food. One word of caution, when you're in the water watch where you put your feet -there are a number of spiny black sea urchins, including in the sea grass. The water is very shallow, and stays no more than chest deep out to a reef which is probably 150-200 yards from shore. The water past the reef was pretty rough the day we were there, so we did not try any snorkeling trips, even though they were available for $20-35. One of our party did try a 30 minute massage for $20 and thought it was well worth it. We walked up and down the road and bought a few souvenirs, but nothing substantial. Overall a very pleasant, relaxing day. We would definitely return here given the chance.
Belize City (7 - 5): The tender situation again seemed to be not well communicated. My friend and I went down to the loading area some time after they were to have started open boarding and they were still just taking those that had booked ship excursions. We got lucky somehow, as we had taken the elevators that come out right at the boarding area, and one of the crewman let us on the second tender that came after we got there. It's a long, usually high speed tender trip to the dock. The cruise lines subcontract to a number of independents, so there is quite a varied flotilla between the ship and the cruise dock. The two of us had been considering the cave tubing, and we quickly found a representative from X-Stream tours who had been highly recommended on several cruise boards. The representative was friendly and knowledgeable. We would have had just enough time to make the cave tubing, but once he explained that between the 40 minute bus ride, the 20-30 minute walk thru the jungle, and the tubing itself we realized we were looking at a 5-6 hour commitment. It was a very hot day again, and visions of the broiling van ride on Costa Maya kept dancing thru my head. Neither my friend nor I had a strong preference either way, and we ended up deciding to just spend the day checking out the port for a little while, and then enjoying the ship minus the usual crowds. As there were only two sea days on the itinerary, this option had some attraction. We heard later that day that one of the cave tubing excursions - never heard which one - had 3 flat tires on the ride to the jungle walk, and after a combined 3 hours in delays, just bussed everyone back to town. So maybe our indecision was a sign from God. We heard mixed reviews from people that had taken the ship's cave tubing trip, some thought it was just OK, others loved it. I also heard from one woman later, that the snorkeling on the ships trip had been outstanding. The reefs off Belize are quite a ways from shore (hence the long tender rides). We spent a couple of hours exploring the port area, did a little bit of shopping, a little drinking, a little shopping, a little more drinking... In other words, shopping guy style ;) The shops right in the port area were nice, clean and low key., I commented as we were first looking around that it was a welcome change from some of the high pressure vendors in Costa Maya. But once we left the cruise port area and went into town, omigod what a difference. The vendors and "tour guides" - some of whom appeared less than savory - were extremely aggressive. Prices were very flexible, but we didn't stay too long or venture too far. Particularly if you were by yourself, I'd recommend staying in the cruise port area, or taking a reputable excursion. The ship's premium might be worth it here.
We had a nice time at two of the bars at the cruise port - The Wet Lizard (or Wet the Lizard I'm not quite sure), and the Iguana Bar. The local beer is good and cheap, and there were some appealing drink specials as well. (To the guy at the Iguana bar who bought a round of 3 beers, and then took the change from a $5 bill - there's a reason some people hate Americans). The rest of our party was leaving the ship on a tender just as the two of us were coming back. We all ended up meeting up midday back on the ship, and enjoyed hanging around the pool etc. with not too many people around. I took the opportunity to make my second assault on the rock wall without many spectators around to laugh at me!
Cozumel (7 - 11):
Our dock in Cozumel was not the one right in town, I don't recall the name of it (there was a "1/2 Senor Frog's" there), but it was maybe a 5-10 minute taxi ride into the main town area. Based on reviews that Dzul Ha was the best snorkeling spot and was accessible from shore, my wife and I decided to take our daughters there for the day. The cab ride was only a few dollars. It was nice little spot, there are a couple of small man-made beaches behind the breakwall with tables, stools and a few chaise lounges.
Vests, fins, etc can be rented right there for reasonable prices.. As I was getting ready to go in, one of the waiters asked me not to put on suntan lotion as it is harmful to the reef/fish. First time I had heard of that, fortunately my back was already pretty tan by then as I had done few visits to a tanning salon in the month before we left.
The (3-4) stairs into the water are along the wall, so you can it to help keep your balance. Bare feet are ok for getting in, I put my fins in after walking out to about waist deep. Fish are visible almost immediately, but the real reef is about 40 yards out. I'm not a strong swimmer and made it 3-4 times without a problem, including with my 8 and 12 yr old daughters. The reef is extensive, and you will tend to drift a bit so pay attention to where you are. We saw a myriad of small to medium fish, not many large ones though. I followed two tips I saw on a message board. The first was to use baby shampoo as a defogger, instead of saliva. This worked great, my mask stayed crystal clear for the entire time I had the mask on each time. The second tip was to bring a small bottle of mouthwash get rid of the salt taste, supposedly by pouring it on the snorkel mouthpiece while in the water. I didn't seem to have enough hands to do this, but did utilize it on shore to get rid of the salt taste in my mouth.
There is a open air patio with a thatch roof for shade with some couches etc underneath, and clean restrooms across the street.
Our daughters had some food there, and the total bill for the day was very reasonable. It was wonderful not having to rush back to the ship. We had a great time and would recommend this spot highly. The waiters did mention it was usually more crowded than it was on this day.
We went back to the ship for dinner, then back out to the for some souvenir shopping in the port area. Mostly the same goods in the different shops and prices were negotiable. When we couldn't find the right size of a light jacket for our older daughter, the sales person went from shop to shop to find the right one. Unfortunately we discovered after we set sail the next day that the zipper was defective. As usual, caveat emptor. The other members of our party had a Mexican dinner on shore and sampled the nightlife. Good times were reported.
Speaking of sampling the nightlife, one passenger apparently indulged in a few to many samples. The next day, I was in line at the pursers desk behind the person reporting him as missing. Known widely throughout the ship as " that dancing man", he had not been seen since the ship left Cozumel the previous night. The desk attendant insisted he had gotten back on the ship based on the computerized tracking of the ship IDs as you leave and re-enter the ship. All during dinner that night, he was being paged to call the purser's office, and people started wondering if he had fallen overboard or suffered some other mishap on ship.
Debarkation: We had a flight late in the afternoon, but were still off the ship by 9:15. We spent maybe 20 minutes in line before getting to customs. Customs itself was a breeze, only took a few minutes, and found all our bags with no problem. We found a shuttle service right at the cruise port that was significantly cheaper than the service we used to get there. I don't recall the name, but they had a small kiosk right by the exit.
We were at the Tampa airport by 10:30. We tried to change to an earlier flight but they were all booked. AirTran would not take our luggage until 4 hours before flight time, so we spent a couple of ours dragging 8 pieces of luggage around. The automated ticket kiosks for Airtran were out of order when we returned and the counter attendants seemed at a loss as to what to do. For starters, maybe take down the sign directing people to get in line there? I was disappointed that there was no wireless internet access in the airport unless you paid for it at the adjoining Marriott. While we were hanging around, who did we run into but the missing "dancing man"! Turns out he lost track of time at Carlos and Charlie's and missed the ship. He said it cost him about $2,000 extra to get back, between the 1 way air ticket, getting money wired to the American Embassy, etc. And that was with spending the night on the streets. The cruise agent in Cozumel emailed the ship, but apparently it was never received. It was reportedly the dreaded "computer glitch" that caused the ship's computer to show him getting back on board. Oh well, all's well that ends well.
Summary: Overall had a great time, loved the ship, the staff and the dinners, while the Windjammer buffets could stand some enhancement. Would definitely do another Royal Caribbean cruise again, but would give Carnival a slight preference. Will do everything in my power to avoid tender ports in the future.
RCCL Splendour is a beautiful ship with excellent food and wonderful service. Unlike the review of the week by Tokathy, we have very little to complain about. We purposely choose a large interior room..it is there for sleeping, showering and changing only, life awaits beyond the stateroom. We are 51 and 52 and until now, have always considered Celebrity our first choice. This year, however we did back to back cruises (Western on Splendour then Eastern on Celebrity Millenium)and overall would have to say that the Splendour won out quite easily. We know the ship well, as we did 12 night Panama last year on it. This year took along my mother and seveal older siblings, all first-time cruisers. They loved it. Yes, both the Splendour pools were a bit chilly, but we swam in both and they were fine once you're in...we can bath at home or use hot tubs if we want warm.
The wait staff are marvelous and the food in the King and I dining room was easily as good as on Celebrity. Waiter was immensely better on Splendour than Millenium (unusal for Celebrity). Unfortunately, our waiter onCeleb preferred the lovely 20-something ladies at the other table and sometimes neglected us. We did use the climbing wall and my husband really missed it on the second cruise. Even I, a grandmother of 3, easily did the red and green climbs and challenged the blue (intermediate) one. John and Erkan were wonderful staff at the wall. The final day was a horrible windy one and everyone came to cash in their 'shipshape bucks'. Unfortunately the locked cabinet holding the prize material is on the jogging deck attached to the climbing wall. Several extremely uncouth and rude women gave the guys a very hard time, shoved a handful of bucks in their faces and shouted "40 bucks" and since it was too windy to count out the papers, they walked away with T-shirts, backpacks etc, that they didn't deserve. Shame. Later they were overheard bragging about their conquest. Celebrity's buffet is definitely better but even though some of the dishes in the Windjammer (Splendour) buffet were not the best, we just pass them by anyway, for a nice lunch salad with a fresh carved slice of beef, ham, turkey etc. We also took our breakfasts there and enjoyed the healthy choices. Grand Cayman - not one of our favorite ports. Booked my family on a stingray city charter. Shouldn't have bothered, too windy, too wavy, and rather scarey. Pay attention if the ship cancels their excursion. We did it last year and it was a great experience, not so this year. My husband and I chose to walk the short distance from the tender pier to Don Foster's Dive Shop. Great staff, cheap rentals and lockers. Belize - did the cave-river tubing again, but the river was much deeper and swifter this year. Dock area is growing. Costa Maya - one of our favorite ports. Just very relaxing after two days of busy and somewhat difficult excursions. Enjoyed the 'mall' area at the port, pool, free shows in the amphithreatre, shopping etc, then as last year, took the bus $3, to Mahahual village for the day on the beach. bought about 15 freshly made tortillas with a bowl of freshly chopped salsa and another guacamole for $3 from a rustic, traditional Mexican vendor. Yummy.For those too tired to walk the long pier back to the ship there is a free trolly. Cozumel - maybe been there too many times, shopped out, done Chankanaab park (good). Main street to downtown area was under consruction and a major nuisance. booked Tulum Mayan excursion. Beautiful and unique oceanside site, but not nearly as vast or impressive as the Uxmal ruins. I usually book my own excursions but did this one through the ship. Excursions remain rather expensive this way. Overall, a wonderful and memorable week. I want to be careful, as a more seasoned cruiser, to not become so critical and cynical of any ship. To get away from the cold and snow, have great food that I don't have to cook or clean up, enjoy entertainment, meet and enjoy new friendships, see new sights, spend time together as a couple, be treated like somebody special...life doesn't get any better.
We are a couple ages 55 & 61 from New Jersey; we have cruised more than a dozen times with various lines such as Princess, Disney, Norwegian, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean. This was our second RCI cruise; the first was about 10 years ago. I chose this cruise because of its full-day stop in Belize, as we had never been there; I read on the cruise boards about the river cave tubing and wanted to give it a try.
Special news on Royal Caribbean's Crown & Anchor & Celebrity's Captain's Club: It appears that the two clubs merged as of the first of the year, so we were automatically listed as "Diamond" level for this trip, since we have many cruises with Celebrity. That gave us a few nice perks, like 20 minutes free Internet each, a free fancy drink with souvenir glass each, matching Bingo play, free wine-tasting coupons (they cost others $9.95 each), lots of casino coupons, early debarkation tags, VIP tender passes, a travel tote bag, etc.
We flew in a day ahead, as we didn't want to gamble with Mother Nature's passion for January snowstorms in New Jersey.We stayed at the Tampa Airport Westshore Hilton and took its $5 per person shuttle van to the port. (The shuttle from the airport to the hotel was free.) Embarkation was a breeze; we arrived around noon, were second in line and were on the ship within 15 minutes. They did not have staff escort you to your cabin like some lines do, which is fine with us.
The Suite Life
The ship was built in 1996 and is beautiful, clean, easy to navigate and very well maintained. Our cabin (Owner's Suite #8000) was wonderful...the bathroom was bigger than some cabins we have had in the past! It had a Jacuzzi tub and glass shower, double sinks, toilet and a bidet. We booked the cruise back in May and the prices for suites were very reasonable at that time. We probably spend more time in our cabin than the average cruiser, so we went for the suite.
The cruise line had a chilled bottle of wine waiting for us upon arrival and would deliver a tray of goodies in the afternoon; we never seemed to be in the cabin when they were delivered to see who was bringing them. I was surprised that we did not have a butler (other cruise lines have butlers for the suite passengers), but our cabin attendant (his first name was Lukman) was wonderful. The concierge called us once to say hello and tell us to call if we needed anything...I guess if we needed restaurant reservations a concierge would come in handy; he could also book shore excursions, but we booked our own privately before we left home, and were very glad we did.
The ship's Sting Ray City tour in Grand Cayman was cancelled because of rough water. We booked ours with Captain Marvin; it was not cancelled and was fine. The water was a little rough, but in Sting Ray City you only stand in water up to your waist, so it was no big deal that a wave came by every few seconds. There was a woman videographer on Captain Marvin's boat who got into scuba gear and took photos of us from underwater while we snorkeled and interacted with the sting rays. She worked for a company called "VIP." We ordered the DVD version ($45 for VHS, $55 for DVD); we received it in the mail a few days after we got home and it is wonderful. It was sad to see how damaged Grand Cayman is from the hurricane. The port area is operating and most stores are open, but outside the port area it's very bad. We have been to Grand Cayman many times and were shocked to see the damage. The Westin Hotel looks like the only one open. Roofs are missing from many buildings and trees are down everywhere.
In Belize, the ship's cave tubing excursion was cancelled due to high rough water, as they had heavy rains in Belize the day and night before we arrived. The excursion we booked online with X-treme still went on, since the water receded enough by 10 a.m. to make it a go. In RCI's defense, their tour planners had to make the call the night before as to cancel or not, giving everyone enough time to make other plans. The cave tubing was great; my only complaint is that they took around 30 people and there were only 3 guides. Things were not as organized as they should have been, so we were basically "winging it" most of the time. We couldn't hear their instructions as the group spread out on the way down the river. The extra rain the day before rushed down from the mountains into the river, so it was more like cave "white water" tubing. we could only do one cave instead of the usual three because the water was so high in the other two caves that there was limited head clearance. (There were no bats in the caves -- I checked it out with my miner's hat light.) The hike to the cave tubing starting point through the jungle was about 40-45 minutes (carrying your tube and life vest). The jungle canopy gave you shade and made it comfortable. The only problem I ran into was some fire ants got my one ankle...ouch!
I thought Costa Maya was a waste, but that's my fault. I never did any research into what was available there. We didn't go into the town via bus, or check out any beaches away from the port area. The beach to the right (as you walked on the dock toward shore) was closed, and to the left was very crowded (Grand Princess was docked with us). We found an umbrella and chairs on the beach near a square pool right on the shore/rocks and spent an hour or so there. There was no swimming because the beach was all giant coral/rocks and rough waves, and the square pool near us had green slime on the bottom and was ice cold. The other, nicer pool was in the center of the mall-type restaurant/shopping area; I felt that if I swam there I would be the entertainment for the masses, so we passed. We shopped a little then just went back on board.
In Cozumel, we took a cab to Paradise Beach ($12 each way). We have already done a few of the ruins and tried Chankanaab Park on our last visit. Paradise Beach came recommended by some cruise board folks so we figured we'd try it. It was nice...it was free and they had nice beach lounge chairs (similar to those on the ship), nice umbrellas and clean rest rooms all free to use. They just expected you to buy a beverage or a bite to eat, which was fine; sodas were only $2, nachos $6. (They were never pushy; the waiters just strolled around carrying a menu.) There was snorkel equipment for rent and a nice bar. Also, you could pay $5 and get a wrist band good for all non-motorized water sport items (floating trampoline, kayaks, rafts, etc.) but the water was a little rough and a bit cold, so I just got my feet wet. We did get a quick rain shower and the afternoon was very cloudy, so we took a cab back to the ship. I shopped in the stores by the dock a little, and after extensive bargaining I got a nice gold bracelet with Australian opals in it.
The dining room service at dinner (late seating, upper level, table 17) was consistently good (our waiter was Adrian, the assistant was Brazilio). We had a great group at our round table of eight -- a perfect table size for easy conversation. The waiter would bring out extra dinners in the center of the table for us to try. The nightly dinner selections were OK. The service was smooth even when some of us ordered four courses and others only two. I did miss having fresh-baked breadsticks (not offered) and not having the basket of bread on the table. Instead, the assistant waiter would come around with a tray/basket of bread to choose from, and he would place your selection on your bread plate.
At dinner later in the week they again had nothing my other half would eat (he won't touch lamb, pork or fish). They always offered chicken breast or steak, but he already had resorted to that earlier in the week, so before anyone else arrived at our table I asked our waiter if he could have a filet mignon. The waiter seemed nervous and said he would have to check with the headwaiter. Then the headwaiter came over and said he would check and see. And he came back and said it would be okay. So he did get it, but they made you feel like you were really putting them out. In the past on Celebrity when we asked for something special, like shrimp cocktails every night, there was never a problem.
We ate in the main (King & I) dining room for breakfast twice and lunch twice, and I was surprised that the service was poor three of the four times. The servers seemed frazzled and understaffed. The lunch menu was the same all week, with one or two additions. I enjoyed a few of the lunch selections, but wished the menu had more variety.
The food at the breakfast and lunch buffets was not as good as it could have been (except for the lamb chops one day, which were quite good). The food was rarely hot and included some very strange combinations and selections. I was looking forward to those flakey croissants at breakfast that I grew to love on Celebrity, but theirs were terrible. After a few days I would have killed for a glass of orange juice at breakfast that wasn't watered down. The Windjammer Café's coffee machine was often empty, and the decaf and iced tea were very strong. The pizza in the solarium pool was pretty good, with lots of cheese. We never tried the hamburgers or hot dogs.
Public Areas & Entertainment
The water in the indoor Solarium pool was cold, and the outdoor pool was even colder. While we were relaxing on chairs in the solarium the first sea day, we watched many people put their feet in the water, saw their shocked expression and watched them turn around and leave. We didn't use the rock climbing wall or the miniature golf course, but many folks did. They held art auctions in the atrium area, but we passed on them. I lost a little money in the casino (tight slots). The comedy shows (Yakov Smirnoff Monday night, Tom Parks Thursday night and Chuck Gunter Friday night) were good ... at times I laughed so hard I was crying! The Jump Jive & Swing show (Sunday night) was fair. We didn't go to the Tuesday night show, which had a female singer (Elaine Lesley), or the Wednesday night production show (Make Mine Broadway), so can't comment on those. The pool area musical group was just average, with the exception of one singer who sounded like a bad Karaoke contestant.
We did not attend the Bingo sessions, but they pushed them constantly. Some folks complained about the price to play. In the hot tub one afternoon, we met the lucky couple that won the Caribbean Cruise for two. That was a great Bingo prize and they couldn't have been happier. The last night, the Bingo jackpot was over $5,000 and we heard that two people split it.
One improvement they could make was the luggage delivery system (or lack of it). Although we got our luggage within an hour of boarding (I'm sure the tags marked "Suite" made the difference), other luggage stood everywhere on carts outside the passenger elevator areas, blocking access to the elevators and stairs for almost the entire afternoon. Some folks didn't get their luggage until after 6:30 that night.
We attended the Meet & Mingle on Sunday night as scheduled (we had received an email before we left home with the date, time and location), but the ship's staff had not been aware of the event so they had nothing ready for us. We still enjoyed chatting with everyone we met on the cruise boards, and it was fun to match the names with the faces. To make up for it, the ship's staff planned another M&M later in the week and delivered invitations to our cabins. They had soft drinks and snacks and gave away a few prizes. Since we were traveling alone, it was nice to compare cruise notes with people around the ship that we had met at the M&M.
We had a 2 p.m. flight home, so we hung around on the ship and were the last ones off at 10:10 a.m.
All in all we had a good time and met many nice people, but I enjoy a few things about Celebrity better. Still, if I saw an extra-special itinerary on one of the larger RCI ships, I'd give them another try.
Celebrity Horizon, Caribbean. Celebrity Mercury, California Coast.
Prior to Cruise, stay in Barcelona.
We stayed at Hotel Splendid at 2 Muntaner in Barcelona. This price, including tax, for a triple (we had 3 adults) was about 160 Euros. The location and proximity to the cruise terminal was great. It was a very clean, modern, hotel with a helpful, friendly staff. It is very close to the La Rambla shopping district. The staff will be able to call a cab for you to get you to the correct cruise terminal. It is about a 15-20 euro fare to the port, and about 20 euros for the fare to the airport. We got a van which was about 30 euros, but was roomy, and we had a lot of luggage.
Flawless. They had assigned us to a 10:00 pm dinner seating, which we thought was too late. It was no problem changing to an earlier time.
This was our first balcony stateroom. We had plenty of room for 3 adults and ample storage. The shower did not have a partition, and water was allowed on the floor. This was different from Celebrity. Decor wasnice, but Celebrity had an edge here also. The pull out sofa was arranged so that when it was folded out, there was no room for a person to walk between the two beds. Bathrobes were not provided on Splendour like they were on Celebrity. They provided them when we asked. Iced water is not typically provided in the room on Splendour as it is on Mercury and Horizon. High quality chocolates, plentiful on Celebrity, was noticeably absent on Splendour. Stateroom attendant was good, but lacked the polish we enjoyed on Celebrity.
We thought the food on Splendour was at least equivalent to what we found on Horizon and Mercury, if not better. However, we did not enjoy the coffee on Splendour.
Although Splendour is a beautiful ship with a dazzling open atrium, the decor fell short of what we saw on Celebrity's ships.
The discos seemed a little more lively on Splendour at night. We thought average age on Splendour may be a little younger. The Entertainment was very good, and perhaps a little better than what we saw on Celebrity.
Offered dental whitening, which I did and regret. Around $200, and results didn't really last. Also, got a great deep-tissue massage, but staff will try to get you to purchase expensive products.
This was an amazing itinerary. None of us had visited the Mediterranean before, and the scenery was beautiful. There is so much to see and do, it is impossible to see everything there is to offer on this cruise. Each port reviewed below:
We did not book an excursion from this port. We took a mini-train tour of the Cathedral. There were beautiful views from here. However, our initial impression of Marseilles was that is was "nasty." The water around the port itself was filled with garbage, etc. We found the shops to be closed when we ventured up the street (it was Sunday). We found garbage, grafitti, a large homeless population in the city. I am hoping what we saw was not a true representation of Marseilles.
Very clean, beautiful smaller city. We did not book an excursion, but took a short walk to the train station, and took a train to Nice. We took a cab to the beach area and main shopping district. Nice was beautiful. We enjoyed bruschetta and capuccino, Onion soup at the street cafes. There was an open antique market, which was a lot of fun. We could have gone to Monaco, which was hosting the Gran Prix when we were there. Also, Cannes was a short train ride away, and was hosting the Cannes Film Festival while we were there.
There did not appear to be much to see in Livorno itself, however we did not have time to explore it. We booked an excursion for Florence and Pisa. The drive through the Tuscan country side was great. AFter a brief stop in Pisa, we went on to Florence. This is a beautiful city. The tour took us to the Ufizi museum (important works by Boticelli, etc.) and the Accademia Gallery (Michelanglo's David) and fantastic panoramic views of Florence from Michelangelo square. This was a long tour. Our guide, Giovanni, was great.
Quaint port city. Good place to enjoy a gelato. Not really a great place to shop for souveneirs, but fun to walk through. WE didn't spend much time here, since we took a panoramic bus tour of Rome. Wow. Rome was amazing to see. We had a brief stop in Vatican City, and we lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Pope.
Again, we didn't have much time to tour Naples, which appeared to be a nice city. (around the cruise terminal not very attractive, but a short walk from shopping areas). We booked a tour of the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento. This was a highlight of the trip. The bus takes you past Mt. Vesuvius (sp?), Europe's only active volcano (?). There is no way to describe driving along the Amalfi coast. So beautiful. Don't sit on the right side of the bus and look down, if you get queasy easily. Very steep. We drove through Positono (see "Under the Tuscan Sun), Sorrento and Amalfi. Great shopping in these towns. Fantastic views, don't miss this. The Isle of Capri is near here, and has the Grotto A Zuro. Next trip.
Great City! Fun, colorful architecture, thanks to Gaudi. La Rambla is a bustling shopping district with great shops, street performers and lots of fun stuff to see. We walked down La Ramblas to Port Vell, had lunch, watched the boats and saw the views of the city from here. We took a taxi to Port Guell. Definitely, do not miss this. Great public park with fun architecture and panoramic views of Barcelona. Crowded with tourists, of course, but worth it. Interestingly, Phillipe, the crown Prince of Spain's wedding was televised from Madrid on the day we spent there.
Food in Barcelona:
Great cappucinos. Try the tortillas in the small cafes. They are sort of like potato quiches, and very good. Good pastries and gelato.
Our cruise departed May 15. This is before high season and less crowded. Lines to museums can be very long in the summer months. Day time temperatures were perfect and around 70. Evenings on the ship, and even some days, were chilly.
Great ship, great cruise (especially for the price if you book early) and itinerary. However, this is a lot of territory to cover in a short time period, so it is very busy, and there isn't enough time to spend in each place!
We just returned from our 5-night cruise to Cozumel and Costa Maya. Overall it was the best cruise out of the 5 that we have taken.
Embarkation: Beyond excellent! Less than 20 minutes from parking our car all the way through boarding the ship. (The ship was docked in Port Galveston, TX)
Stateroom: Beautiful! We had a balcony oceanview room. View was awesome, carpet was spotless, bed was always neat, bathroom larger than average and very clean. Stateroom attendants were courteous and kept up our room in just minutes a day.
Public areas: Casino was very colorful and great fun - roulette, blackjack, craps, poker, and slots. Casino staff was very friendly as were most of the ship's crew members. Swimming pools were a bit smaller than I'm used to, but this is because Splendour has 2 pools. The Solarium pool is more beautiful in person than in pictures. Climbing wall and Mini-Golf course were in good condition and there were always people there enjoying themselves. Centrum was very bright, very tall, and had exquisite decor and furniture. Gym was small but adequate
Dining: 24-hour room service menu is very limited, but keep in mindthat you can order any dining room meals during dinner hours. Room service food was OK. Buffets were good, but lacked the variety available on other RCCL ships. Dining in the King and I was great...this is a beautiful 2-floor dining room with huge windows all around. Our wait staff was very talented and friendly. They made the cruise even more enjoyable. Dining room food was well presented and very tasty, though not the greatest I've had on a cruise.
Bar service: Bar service on this ship was very good. I was amazed at how fast the bartenders got to me in the more crowded areas such as the pool deck and lounges.
Entertainment: Thumbs up - best yet! The Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers were flawless. Great voices, skillful dancing and acting. Mostly Broadway acts, but they did an excellent job at it. Juggling/hoola hoop duo was superb. I saw a few mistakes but who cares. Comedian and violinist were also very entertaining. 3-4 different bands on board the ship kept public areas very energetic.
Ports: COZUMEL was fun but there were just too many tourists there. A total of 10 large cruise ships were docked, so that was no surprise. Car rentals, dune buggies, horses, and ATVs were pretty much all booked out. There were plenty of bikes and scooters available though if you wanted to do some independent sightseeing. We hired a cabby to show us around for 2 hours. That was only $45 total. COSTA MAYA was more serene and one could easily find a place to relax on any of the beaches - even right off the pier. Nearby towns offered quiet beaches and cultural towns. Remember they are not impoverished, just very cultural. Locals are overly friendly. My only worry is that this port will soon become a hotspot for tourism, and the beaches will eventually become overcrowded. For now, it's a one-of-a-kind destination.
The Crowd: This was the youngest crowd yet. We are used to going on cruises where 60% or more of the passengers were over 50. On Splendour, there was mostly younger couples and there were quite a bunch of teens and kids too (spring break?) - none of these kids were too rowdy. Cruises are more fun with younger people since the entertainment is geared more for a younger crowd. Nothing against older folks though, there were many fun and active older folks onboard as well.
Debarkation: Debarking was on par with other ships. However, Port Galveston is a mess as soon as you leave the terminal building. This is not Royal Caribbean's fault, it's just that the port has no crowd or traffic control regardless of what means you are taking to get back to your car or an airport. You are better off walking back to your car instead of waiting to board a shuttle bus, but there are no sidewalks! My advice, just be patient. No use getting all worked up after such a fun cruise.
My husband and I (ages 29 & 28) cruised on the Splendour out of Galveston March 25, 2004 with my parents who will both turn 60 this year. To give you an idea of where our opinions come from, I'll give a brief background. We are both middle-income families. My parents are retired and travel mostly by fifth wheel and cook their own meals. We on the other hand, enjoy finer vacations with nice hotels (Hilton Garden Inn types) and restaurants. This was our third cruise and my parent's first cruise. We were on the four-night cruise visiting only Cozumel with two full days at sea. We all had a marvelous time and enjoyed the ship, service, and food. My husband and I cruised the Rhapsody out of Galveston in Nov. 2003 and found the Splendour to be a much nicer ship. They are sisters and therefore quite similar. However, we found the Splendour to have better décor and appear more upscale. Both were comfortable and offered a nice cruise vacation, but we would pick the Splendour over Rhapsody every time.
While the common areas on the Splendour were well kept,the wear and tear was obvious in our deck 2 inside cabin. The décor was out dated and the sofa and desk chair both had obvious stains. Most likely from someone carelessly sitting down in a wet bathing suit, but stains non-the-less. The size of the cabin was standard for an inside, so it was compact, but offered enough closet and storage space. There was plenty of room for two adults who are fond of each other. We did peak in the cabins on higher decks and found the décor, especially for outside cabins, to be more up to date and appealing. The décor in the King and I dinning room was spectacular! This room appeared like it belonged on a new ship. New chairs, carpets, etc. and the Siamese décor was done very well. The service was mid level. Good but not great, but of course, this is determined strictly by the personnel assigned to you and should not be considered the norm. The food was enjoyable as well. My husband and I eat out a lot and found the meals to be well presented and tasty. My parents, who are more conservative and cook at home a majority of the time, were very impressed with the food. My mother is borderline diabetic and found something in every course she could eat. She took advantage of the Ship Shape offerings and the sugar-free desserts with each meal and always had compliments. The production shows the first three nights were well performed, just too provocative for our taste. I would have been terribly embarrassed if I had brought children with me. We would have not been able to watch the entire shows. My mother is usually the one who is too "uptight," but even I, at 28, was offended.too many thrusts and obviously sexual over tones. The last two shows were fabulous though and we all enjoyed them. The jugglers and Big Band/Swing Show were remarkable. The talent these people possess is amazing. Embarkation and debarkation went smoothly. We drove to the port and parked in the Dolphin lot on the right before you get to the ship (lots of signs-can't miss it). They charge the same rate as the Cruise Terminal, but your entire group travels to the ship together with the luggage. It cost $45 for the four-night cruise. You could pay additional if you desired covered parking. We arrived at the Dolphin lot around 11:30 AM and were to the terminal and checked in by 11:45. They wouldn't allow boarding to begin until noon, so we sat down at a table and pulled out our cards. We hadn't gotten started very well when boarding began. We packed up and got right on the ship. We went to our stateroom to drop off our carry-on bags and headed to the buffet. This was actually the best welcome aboard buffet we had experienced. It didn't take us long to navigate the ship and feel comfortable with our surroundings. We then went up top and played a round of mini-golf. We were glad we played when we did. The course is bumpy and would have been near impossible with the ship moving. Besides, the rest of the trip the course was crowded with people. Disembarkation went just as smoothly. Since we drove and stayed in low category cabins, we were almost last getting off the ship. We set up in the card room and played games for the two hours instead of sitting around bored. Once our color was called, we went through customs easily and made it back to our waiting vehicle in a very short amount of time. Everything was simple and straightforward. In short, if you aren't accustomed to luxury liner cruising, you will enjoy this ship. I can only imagine how enjoyable a Mediterranean cruise on her would be.
We drove to Galveston the day before sailing. Rode the ferry a few times. We had supper at Joe's Crab Shack. Super food, great atmosphere. We stayed at the Harbor View Inn onFerry Rd. $59.00--ocean view
DAY 1--While laying in bed at 5:30 a.m., we heard the horn blow. We jumped up and looked out the window, to see the Splendour coming around the east side of the island. We got dressed and ran down to the ferry landing to watck her come in to the port of Galveston. We returned to our room and packed and headed to the terminal to see the ship up close. She is bigger than the ships I've been on before. Afterbreakfast at the pancake house, we decided to go see what time we could board. At the Dolphin lot, they said to park and they would take is then. We were at the terminal at 11:00. Check in was a breeze. At 11:45, we were on board. Our luggage was already in our cabin when we arrived. We unpacked, and went to explore thie ship. We found our table in the dining roomand took pics while the ship was still empty.At 4:00, we were meeting with our buddies we had met on line. (We wore matching shirts that I painted, so they could find us.) We skipped dinner in the dining room due to sailing at 6:00. We ate in the windjammer and had no complaints about the food. Found the casino, where we spent too much money. For the rest of the evening, we just explored the ship, and met some of the staff.
DAY 2--We awoke at 6:00 to the sound of the ship's horn blowing. It was very foggy for most of the morning. It cleared out about 10.00. We had lunch in the dining room. We didn't like the selections, so we had burgers. Once again, the fog rolled in. We spent the day sitting by the deck. This was formal night , so we had our hair fixed. We went to the dining room for dinner. When we got there we were told that our table was not ours, even though the number matched the table # on our cards. The waiter agreed that this was not our table. I showed him my card and he said we had a problem. He would have to find us a table. I told him not to worry about it and we left. We did not return to the dining room for the remainder of the cruise. (The food in the windjammer and solarium was fine.) We took formal pics and then changed clothes. As we were about to leave the cabin, the head waiter called and asked us to come back to the dining room and she would find us a table. I explained that we had already changed and that we would eat elsewhere.She insisted that we come back the next night, but we chose not to. After dinner, we watched the broadway show, "Starstruck". We enjoyed the show. On this night, we discovered the Centrum band. We watched and listened to them play from above. Karoke was halarious!!!! Got our first towel buddy on this night.
DAY 3--Arrived in Cozumel about 7:00. Had breakfast, then off to our excursion. We did the glass bottom boat. The weather was great. The colors were bright underwater.We saw beautiful coral and many different kinds of sea life. Then we were off to town for some shopping. Upon our return to the ship, we decided to take a dip in the pool while it was empty. We sailed at 7 p.m. After dinner, we went to the Centrum to listen to the band. I had no idea that we would become "the groupies" of this cruise. Jon, Trevor and Mark are great people, both on and off the stage. They visited with us when they would take a break. They kept us entertained with music and comedy. They all have a great sence of humor.
DAY 4--Arrived in Costa Maya at 7 a.m. Had b-f, then on shore. We did the Chacchoben ruins excursion. We rode an air conditioned, charter bus for an hour to get there. The ruins are awesome. Even my 18 year old son liked them. Our guide, Luis, helped with the excavations, so we got some good info, and great pics. After the bus ride back, we shopped and headed back to the ship. We used this time to take pics of the staff that we had become friends with. Dinner and back to the Centrum.
DAY 5-- This was an interesting day. The seas were rough and I was sick. Took 2 Bonine and got to feeling better. Many people were sick on this day. The staff was putting out bags for those that really got sick. My lesson for the day---if you feel sick, sit as close to center of the ship as possible. You can't feel the movement as bad there. We sat next to the pool. At about 8:30 p.m., we were in the Centrum and BRAVO, BRAVO, BRAVO came over the PA. One of the engines had caught fire. We drifted for almost 3 hours. There was no panick. The back-up generators came on and all activities continued as though nothing was happening. The captain and cruise director kept us informed about everything . I must say, this situation was handeled very well. We were told that we would arrive in Galveston late and all flights would be taken care of. We spent some time in the Viking Crown Lounge with some friends(cruisers and staff) and had a blast. We finally turned in at 2:30. We arrived in galveston around 9:30. Immagration was quick, but it seemed to take forever for the port authorities to clear the ship for debarkment. Once done, we were off the ship to our waiting luggage and shuttle bus. At 12:20 we were on our way home.
The low points......that I fixed without a problem I was upset that the dining room didn't have a table for us, so we ate elsewhere. I paid to get my hair fixed and didn't like it, so I took it down. When I got sea sick, I found a more comfortable area and stayed there. When the fire started, we continued to have a blast !!!
The high points......That we loved The ship is beautiful. "Sunshine" is a bartender at the pool bar. He will take care of you. Helped make this a special trip for my son. They became friends quickly. He will never be forgotten. "Harlequin" is the Centrum band. Unfortunately, they leave the ship at the end of next week. I hate that all of you won't get to meet them. They will never be forgotten either. Warren is the cruise director. He is busy, but takes the time to be sure you are having a good time. Venice is a waitress in the Centrum. We told her the first night what we wanted to drink, and she never forgot it. If we said we wanted something different, she would make suggestions that always pleased us.
Although we had a few low points, I easily fixed them. I am pleased to say that we had more high ones. For that reason, I will not let the little things keep me from sailing RCCL again. We had a fabulous cruise.
I hope you find peace of mind knowing that we were taken care of at all times. May this review find you packing and ready to enjoy "THE SPLENDOUR OF THE SEAS" !!! HAPPY SAILING TO YOU ALL !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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.
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 theview.
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.
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.
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.
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 as 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 fora drive to cruise departure.
Finally, we used a travel agent for this trip. She is well informed, answered all our questions and made the booking and payment process very smooth. It's the only way to go on vacation, thanks Vicki and Cari!