Sunday, May 10, 2009

Cruise Review - Celebrity Solstice - March 2009

Sailing with a Group on the Solstice

Embarkation: A+. We arrived via bus at the terminal at 12:15. By 12:45, all 44 passengers were checked in and on the ship. Embarkation is very well run with so many open windows that there were virtually no lines. Upon entrance to the ship, we were given a glass of champagne or a mimosa.

Ship: B+. This ship is a beauty. It is elegant with subdued tones and warm, rich colors. The public areas were for the most part laid out very well. We liked the fact that the Entertainment and Promenade Decks comprised of most of the entertainment and alternate dining venues. It was convenient having all on two decks.

The theater was lovely but there are quite a few seats that are obstructed by pillars. In addition, there were just not enough seats to accommodate all of the passengers who wanted to see the early show. Why cruise lines don't make enough seats in a theater to accommodate at least half of the passengers is beyond me. During the lifeboat drill we asked the Celebrity employees how many passengers the theater held and was told 1600 with the entire back area filled with people who were standing. While that would seem to be more than half of the passengers, the reality of several hundred people standing to watch a show is not viable.

The only complaint our group had with the ship layout was the fact that there are no aft elevators. It was a very long walk for passengers who had rooms toward the back of the ship.
The Lawn Club showed signs of wear. While this looks neat on the ship, it is really wasted space. While there were a few bocce, golf and croquet tournaments on the ship, when these activities were not taking place, we didn't note anyone partaking in these sports on their own. The space could better be utilized for additional seating for the Hot Glass Show or for lounge chairs, as the pool area loungers were always packed during sea days.

Cabins: A We had an inside cabin on deck 8 - 8188. The cabin was very spacious, on a par with some balcony cabins we've experienced on other lines. The bed was in the center of the room with plenty of room to walk around. Our luggage fit under the bed easily. There were two chairs in the cabin, a small table and a desk with two small nightstands. Our only issue was that there were not enough drawers - only 5 small drawers next to the desk. The closet was also small, but we surprisingly had enough room for our hanging clothes. But the lack of drawers required we put much of our clothing in the cabinet over the bed, which was a bit difficult to reach.
The bathroom was also spacious with glass doors in the shower and plenty of storage space. The sink was a bit inconvenient as water splashed on the vanity and floor when you washed. The bar in the shower for leg shaving was a great addition, but was a bit high for the older ladies to get their foot on. We did miss a clothes line in the shower for hanging wet bathing suits - it took two days for our suits to dry hanging on hooks.

We loved the flat screen tv. But we hated the lack of channels. Besides two CNN channels and two ESPN channels, there was little else to watch besides the many ship channels. Thank goodness there were Free Movies on Demand, as that was a life saver. The interactive features were a little tricky to use. We tried accessing the internet with the keyboard in the room but the mouse was impossible to work and we ended up using the Internet Café when we needed to check e-mail.

Food: B. We ate breakfast and lunch most days in the Oceanview Café. The buffet is set up very well, with stations holding various related items. The set up eliminated long lines at the entrance to the café. There were the usual lines for cooked to order eggs in the morning and hamburgers, steaks and hot dogs in the afternoon. The waffles were excellent, as was the veggie pizza. The ice cream selections change daily and were very good. There were Asian selections daily for lunch and standard pasta and many different salads.

What I found to be missing were sandwiches. There was a station that had cold cuts and tuna, etc. with bread where you can make your own sandwiches, but I have enjoyed having pannini's and small pre-made sandwiches on other ships at the buffet.

We did eat here one night and I was very disappointed. Most of the stations were closed and what was available was again pizza, pasta, pre-cooked steaks, salads. On other lines, the buffet at night mirrored what was being served in the dining rooms, but not here.

Grand Epernay Dining Room: We ate four nights in the main dining room. We were at table 135. Our group of 44 dined together at six tables and Celebrity did a great job of assigning the tables together.

Food reviews are very subjective. Having traveled on Celebrity when the Executive Chef was Michel Roux and having found the food at that time to be superb, we were disappointed in the food on this ship. That said, we didn't starve, but were simply not as pleased as we thought we would be with the food. The first night I had the lamb shank which was very good. I am also a great fan of the cold fruit soups and they were very good. But the rest of the nights, I found myself ordering the always available steak, as nothing struck me as particularly interesting. Now trust me - we didn't starve, but we didn't think that there was anything that stood out enough for me on the menus that sounded interesting. Even the desserts were so-so.

We ate one night at Silk Harvest. The food and service were very good. The sushi was excellent with some interesting choices. They brought plenty of dishes out and all were very good.
We also ate in the Bistro on Five and thought the food was very good here as well and again, great service. One of us had a crepe and one had a paninni and the server told us we could order several items if we wanted, but we just couldn't eat that much. We had a dessert crepe that was also very good.

We ate some of the free pastries at Café Bacio and they were good as was the gelato at the Gelateria. However, once we found the free ice cream in the buffet every day, we didn't feel the need to pay for gelato anymore.

Pools and Spa: A - Mid-ship found two pools, the Family pool and Sports pool as well as a wet zone that was never turned on along with four hot tubs. At the front was the Solstice pool with two hot tubs. On sea days as usual the chairs around the pool were always filled by chair hogs that leave their items and never sit on the chair. Just once I'd like to see a cruise line with the guts to tell Pool Attendants to remove items after an hour of no one sitting on the chair. We found we enjoyed the Solstice pool - it was slightly quieter since no one under 16 was permitted and it was inside away from the wind. They do keep the room a little too cold - many were bundled under towels because the air conditioning was too cold.

My wife made an appointment for a manicure at the salon on Thursday. Even though no one was having a manicure when she arrived she still had to sit and wait 10 minutes before being taken. The girl who did the manicure was very nice; she had a pleasant conversation and a decent manicure.

Entertainment: C+ This is one area that I, as well as many of the others in our group, felt Celebrity has really cut back on. Celebrity doesn't have Headline Acts anymore. The majority of nightly shows in the Main Theater were done by the production singers and dancers. Perhaps because we live near New York City and go to Broadway Shows all the time, I am a bit jaded about these production shows at sea. They were okay, but just okay. The singers were good, but not terrific. I got tired of seeing the same faces each night. On the night in St. Martin, there was no show at all, just a movie ( Iron Man which I had already seen in theaters last summer). I wholeheartedly recommend Solstice, the Show. It was very well done - not as good as an actual Cirque show, but considering that these are the same kids that do the production show, they did a fantastic job.

The first nights show featured Oceans Four, an acapella group that sang during the week at night in various areas on the ship. Their first song was barbershop quarter and I cringed, but then they did some Frank Valli and the 4 Seasons and others and were better. The Broadway style show on the second night was okay, but again - because I go to Broadway Shows all the time, I compare to that and probably shouldn't.

The night they had a featured xylophonist, we couldn't stay more than 10 minutes. The guy was good, but not good enough for a 45 minute show - it was interminable. If Celebrity is looking to satisfy the over 70 crowd - well, this is great entertainment. If they are looking for a younger [passenger - this isn't going to cut it.

The Cruise Director himself was also a bit subdued. He had a joke each night at the theater. But he was not one of those bouncy, overly enthusiastic guys who continually tells you to applaud, applaud, applaud. His staff was pretty good - the girls that were at the golf and bocce tournaments were good as was his assistants at the Newlywed show.

I will say that the Celebrity Orchestra was great. They played in the foyer a couple of times and were terrific. I could have listened to a whole show of them only - why didn't Celebrity think of that?

In room entertainment - I liked the music channels on the interactive TV., the free On Demand Movies (which I wish had a larger selection) but the regular TV. channels were awful. CNN didn't even show the weather temperatures from back home or any of the islands we went to. Cruise lines need a little more mainstream TV. Two of the passengers in our group caught norovirus and were stuck in their room for 24 and 48 hours and almost went insane from the awful TV. choices.

Service: I will break out service in three areas - room stewards, food service and Customer Service Desk.

Dining Service: B. The service in the Grand Epernay Dining room on the first two nights was chaotic. It got a bit better after night 4, when we spoke to the Maitre 'D. We were with a group of 44 people spread out over 6 tables with four different servers. Celebrity did a fantastic job of keeping the group together. We were in tables 123- 135 on deck three near a window.
Our table was 135 and our servers did not serve the other tables in our group.

Celebrity waiters tend to like to wait for their entire group of tables to be seated before taking orders. The first night, we sat for 15 minutes before our Head Waiter came over to take our orders. The other tables had already ordered. We ordered drinks from someone else, and then a woman came over to take another drink order. Why two people for drink orders? It took over 20 minutes to get our drinks (and this went on every night), until the Maitre 'D happened to be talking to us at our table and asked how the service was and we told him that we had already been waiting 15 minutes for our drink and still they hadn't come. Even HE couldn't find the guy who took our drink order. After that, we ordered from the woman server and our drinks were delivered in less than 10 minutes. If you wanted iced tea, even ANOTHER person had to take that order and we waited 15 minutes for that as well. The service was so nondescript in the dining room that I don't even remember the name of our Head Waiter. Throughout the cruise, the dining room service was slow, but did get better that last two nights of the cruise. It was not the quality of service we experienced previously on Celebrity.

I will say that the Maitre 'D was very good. We had some issues with birthdays and anniversaries that were supposed to have been delivered that didn't happen. I spoke to the Maitre 'D and he took care of making sure that these were celebrated.

We ate in Silk Harvest and Bistro on Five and the service in both of these restaurants were excellent. The quality of the service here is what brought my overall rating to a B.

Room Steward : B. Our room steward was good, not exceptional. I noticed on the first day that the bathroom floor was dirty - there was hair in the corners of the floor. The rest of the bathroom was fine, but the dirty floor was a turnoff. We had a bottle of champagne in our room, and he brought ice for the first two days, but we didn't open it and the ice never reappeared after the first two days.

What we did like was that the room steward was very unobtrusive - we rarely saw him and he did a decent job with the rest of the cleaning. I did have to ask him to bring us a dry cleaning bag - there was none in our room and we usually do use this service at least once on a cruise.

Customer Service Desk: D . Because we were leading a group, we did have to use the Customer Service Desk a few times for requests. The people at the desk were very unfriendly and condescending. I have never seen a group of people who seemed to not like the jobs they were doing. Every one of them tried to brush off my requests and it seemed that I was bothering them.

Two of our group went to the ship Dr. and were quarantined to their room for 24 and 48 hours. The ship Dr. told them they could have free room service, free pay per view movies, and free soda during the time they were quarantined. They were told differently by room service - only one free soda, they could not order what was being served in the dining rooms, etc. They called the Customer Service desk and were told that was the way it was. We tried to get answers for them and were brushed off as well. Once they got out of their quarantined status, they went to the CS desk too and were brusquely dismissed by the Customer Service person when they asked to have the auto tip removed so they could tip accordingly, since their room steward was the only one permitted in their room during the time they were quarantined. They became outraged and finally were permitted to speak to the head of Customer Service, who, when he sat down with them, told them that they WERE given incorrect information from room service the first people they spoke to in CS and that they should have been allowed to receive what was served in the dining rooms and they should have had soft drinks at no cost. They suffered unduly for 48 hours because of misinformation and the lack of assistance by Customer Service.

I will say service in other areas of the ship - the buffet, ice cream counters, etc. was very good.
We also had an event coordinator for our group who was outstanding; from the cocktail party we had to getting our group disembarked at the same time when they received varying disembarkation numbers. She was the one who did what Customer Service should have done.

Disembarkation: A+. We got up and ate breakfast in the dining room, then went back to out room and retrieved our carryon and headed to the Theater to our waiting area at 8:20. We were there merely 20 minutes when our number was called. We found our luggage immediately and headed to our bus for the transfer to the airport.

Overall rating: B++ We enjoyed the cruise very much and so did our group. We did like the ship and would recommend it. Their Customer Service Desk needs some improvement and they need to get their act together in the dining room and perhaps do a little better with Entertainment. But none of these were deal breakers or would prevent us from sailing on the Solstice again.

Cruise Review - Caribbean Princess - Sept. 2008

Wonderful Cruise to Canada/New England!

Embarkation: Ah, the joy of driving to the port! We began a wonderful sailing aboard the Caribbean Princess to Canada and New England on Sept. 28, 2008. We drove to the pier from Long Island and parked on the pier. We arrived at 12:40 PM. Parking for the week was $136. Parking is right next to the ship, a two minute walk. As Elite passengers, we checked in quickly and were on the ship by 12:55.

Cabin: We went to our cabin, a mini-suite on the Dolphin Deck, #D330. The cabin was good sized and clean. Our cabin steward was Rogelio. He was very pleasant but it was very difficult to understand his English. We requested a top sheet and foam mattress topper and he quickly brought them to us.

Being elite, we had a free mini-bar set up. We contacted room service once we arrived and asked them to swap the liquor in the mini-bar that we don't drink to wine and that was done by the time we returned from exploring the ship.

We left New York in a strange haze of fog after a morning of heavy rain. We sailed right into a fog bank that left us eerily thinking of Ghost Ship! Passengers had a wonderful time photographing the Statue of Liberty as the ship left port to the tunes of a pool side band.

Fellow Passengers: We quickly noticed that the majority of passengers on the ship were older. We are in our 50's and at times felt like youngsters. If there were 20 children on the ship, it was a lot. We always sail at this time of year, but I have never been on a ship that had so few children. The mix of passengers was delightful. We commented constantly that the crowd was quieter and we didn't hear any cussing by passengers during the entire cruise. I guess I must finally admit middle age has set in and we enjoyed the more relaxed crowd except for what we referred to at the Lobster Claw debacle at the Sailaway Seafood Buffet.

You would think that people never had eaten lobster before. People piled two and three dishes with lobster claws, resulting in the delicacy running out for latecomers. They weren't even that good - the lobster was cold and there were no nutcrackers to break them with. But that didn't stop this crowd! I felt sorry for the people who arrived a half hour after the buffet was opened -the lobster claws were gone.

Ship: The ship is in good condition. It was very clean and well kept. MUTS (Movies Under The Stars) was running and even though the weather was downright cold people were bundled under blankets happily watching movies. A few brave souls actually swam and were in the hot tubs during the cruise- my hats were off to them.

Food: As always, food is subjective. We found the buffet food was just that - mediocre buffet food. There was nothing I ate that I could say was outstanding, but I sure didn't starve.
Because it was a little cold for me, I wasn't really outside the ship that much and didn't go to the grill for any hamburgers, hot dogs or pizza.

We had Anytime Dining and usually ate in the Palm Dining room in the rear of the ship. We did not have reservations and never waited for a table. The latest we arrived for dinner was 6:15 (along with half the ship) and we were able to get a table for four every night except for the last night. That night, we shared a table with two wonderful ladies from Canada and had a delightful dinner together, again with no wait for a table. We had no standing reservations (which defeats the purpose of Anytime Dining in my opinion.)

Food in the dining room was better but again, not outstanding. There are a lot of seafood choices for dinner and I don't enjoy seafood. The cold fruit soups were satisfactory, not up to those on Celebrity. I ended up ordering the Always Available Steak most nights, because there was just nothing that really stood out for me. However, I didn't find a dessert I didn't like! We did not indulge in any of the alternative restaurants. We've done them on other Princess ships and didn't really feel the need to do them again.

We did go to breakfast and lunch several times in the dining room and found the food much better there than at the buffet, particularly for lunch.

Service: For the most part, we found the staff to be pleasant. I did find though that at the buffets, on the first two nights the staff weren't too quick at cleaning up dirty tables. Twice we had to ask waiters to clear tables so we could sit after they had walked by them several times. The buffet area certainly doesn't have enough tables to accommodate 3,000 passengers and they should have been more diligent about cleaning them quickly when people left. We also found service spotty in the mornings for breakfast for juice. Some waitstaff would quickly ask if we wanted juice or coffee, some days no one asked and we fended for ourselves. Never once did any of the waitstaff approach us for coffee refills - we went to the coffee stations and poured our own. Princess also requires staff to speak English only in passenger areas and we found in the buffet, many of the waitstaff spoke to each other in their own languages. In fact, several times the Buffet Supervisor would come around and break up the groups of waiters and as soon as he walked away, they would congregate again and stop speaking English.

We found the staff in Passenger=s Services to be polite but not as knowledgeable as other Princess ships We've been on. We asked questions a few times about the ports and were usually directed to the Princess Patters.

One thing that I don't like that I have found to occur on every Princess ship is that if you use the card in the cabin to order fruit or room service breakfast or the bag and slip to have laundry done, they do not return a new card or bag so you can order again. It happened again on this ship. When a passenger uses one of those, they should be replenished without having to ask again.

Entertainment: In all the cruises I've been on, I can recall one Cruise Director. Not on this ship. The Cruise Director, Dan Styne was outstanding. He was funnier than many of the Comedians on the ship and had a great relationship with his Assistant Cruise Director, Sam. I actually watched their daily morning show because the two of them were so funny together. Most of the Cruise Director staff were very pleasant.

We saw several of the shows in the Princess Theater and found them to be okay. Beware though - if you are going to the early show, get there at least 45 minutes early. Why Princess makes theaters that seat 800 people when there are over 3,000 passengers is beyond me. And particularly for this crowd, it was impossible to get seats if you arrived 15 minutes before the start of the early show. We felt the best production show was Piano Man.

The comedians we saw in Explorers ran the gamut from being very good to being so-so. We enjoyed James Michael and Gary Delena. Impressionist Jason Neistadt was okay, not our favorite though. We passed on his second show where he starred with Gary Delena specifically because we didn't care for him.

One curiosity to me is Bert Stratton. On this cruise, he had the biggest crowds at nights for his sing-a-longs in Crooners. I think this was the perfect crowd for him. We found his singing awful, but he could sure get these Seniors going. They LOVED him. Many passengers said that he was the only entertainment they went to for the entire cruise.

Ports: Newport: In Newport, we got off the ship, walked left of the ship about two blocks to the Visitors Bureau and bought tickets for the Hop on Hop Off Trolley for the day. The price was $5.00 for the entire day or $1.75 one way. There were also many tours sold there in which you can save money buying tickets there vs. from the cruise ship. We went to the Cliff Walk and walked most of it.

Boston : Again, we got off the ship, walked a block to the right, then made a left and walked out of the pier and up to the Westin Hotel, a 15 minute walk. We bought tickets inside the hotel for the Old Town Trolley Tour and toured Boston that way. Just beware - if you get there too early, the buses that stop there are packed with passengers who aren't getting off and we had to wait a half hour until the company sent a bus that wasn't filled. We listened to the tour operator complain that Princess should contract with them so this doesn't happen. If you took the bus later on when ship passengers were going back, there were enough getting off so there were plenty of seats. We had lunch at stop #7 near Trinity Church . We got off the bus and went to a great restaurant called Papa Razzi on Dartmouth St. They had $9.99 lunch specials and the food was fantastic.

Bar Harbour: We booked a whale watching trip through the ship. We went out in the afternoon (it was cold, bundle up if you do it) and saw about three whales. If you think you'll see tail flapping and diving like the pictures in the brochure - forget it. They looked like giant porpoises. All we saw were the backs and the back fin, but it was a fun. In the morning, we got off the ship and walked through the lovely town. You can buy tour tickets and get Ollies Trolley at the ship pier as well here if you don't want to purchase an excursion from the ship.

St. John : the only port I didn't care for. We were here on the only day of the cruise that it rained. We chose not to do anything off the ship, we spoke to one of the woman working in the parking lot at the pier who told us that we could do a bus tour of the city on a City Owned bus. We walked to the left on Water St. , about four blocks and there was a sign offering City Tours for $17 per person. The buss arrived at 9:45 AM, we got on, it went to a camp ground for more passengers (there were none) and we had a nice tour of the City. We stopped at an old theater that had been refurbished, at the City Market, and then on to the Reversing Falls , where we spent about a half hour. We then had a tour of the rest of St. John and were dropped off by a shopping mall within walking distance of the ship that we purchased a few souvenirs at.

Halifax : Loved this port. We purchased tickets for the Hop on Hop Off bus through the ship (it was $5.00 more on the ship than doing it ourselves) and toured the City. We spent a lot of time at the Maritime Museum and saw Titanic artifacts as well as artifacts from the great explosion in 1917. You can also walk off the ship and go to the right and walk the Boardwalk that goes into town - you can buy tickets for the HOHO or the Harbor Hopper in town as well.

Disembarkation: On Sunday, I woke up at 5 AM to the ship not moving and assumed we were in port already. A look out our balcony door revealed no such thing - we were anchored under the Verazanno Narrows Bridge . I then heard the air conditioning go off. One of us went upstairs to get coffee to bring down to the room. It was there we learned that the ship has no propulsion system and half of the ship had no electricity. And to top it, there was no hot coffee - now THAT is a disaster! We both got showered and dressed (luckily our cabin had electricity) and went back up to the buffet, which was half lit. By that time, servers were giving out coffee in coffee pots and people were eating.

The Captain made an announcement that they were having problems with the propulsion system and were working on the issue. He also announced passengers could stay in their cabin as long as they wanted rather than be inconvenienced waiting in the meeting rooms.
We finally shoved off at about 8:30 AM, and it took nearly an hour to get from the Verazanno to the pier, with assistance from tug boats, which actually pushed the ship sideways into the dock. Disembarkation began at about 10:30. Many people missed flights and had to change flights and incur large change fees from the airlines.

The staff made everyone as comfortable as possible, but I was very happy we had driven to the port. Our color was called at 12:15 (and there were only half way through the colors at that point). We found our luggage immediately, proceeded quickly through Customs and were on our way. The next cruise did go out, so they fixed the problem rather quickly if it was able to go out again.

It was a very enjoyable, relaxed cruise. I'd rate it a four out of five, taking one star away for the quality of the food. We highly recommend the ship and itinerary.

Cruise Review - Explorer of the Seas - Oct. 2007

Explorer of the Seas - Bermuda

I sailed on the Explorer of the Seas to Bermuda Oct. 21, 2007.This was a five night cruise to Bermuda. I must preface my review by saying I previously sailed the Freedom of the Seas and loved that ship. I found myself making comparisons between the ships.

EMBARKATION: We drove to the Cape Liberty port and embarkation was a breeze. We arrived at the pier building at 12:30 PM, dropped our luggage and continued past the terminal to the long term parking. Parking was $80 for a 5 night cruise, payable in cash or by Visa or Master Card.

We walked back to the terminal after parking and showed our i.d. and Seapass printout for access to the inside and given a bus number. We were in cabin 1343 and proceeded to the line for deck 10. We were immediately greeted by an agent, the check in process took five minutes. We were directed around the corner to have our picture taken for our Seapass card, took an embarkation photo and by the time we were finished, our bus number was called. We got on the bus and were on the ship within 15 minutes.

Since it was a little before 1:00 PM and too early to get to our room, we went to the Windjammer Cafe for lunch. It was fairly crowded and we shared a table with two others. Food was okay - nothing spectacular, but plenty of choices. I felt we had more choices on FOS than Explorer and the quality of food was a bit better as well. We then proceeded to our dining room to try and have our dinner changed from late to early seating. We were quickly accommodated and then proceeded to our room.

CABIN: We had inside cabin 1343 on deck. 10. It was a very short walk from the aft elevators and in a great location. The room was small, but there was plenty of storage space. The beds were pushed together, which left absolutely no room to get out of the side of the bed to use the bathroom. We found our cabin attendant (Amanda, who provided outstanding service throughout the cruise) and she moved the beds and also cleaned out the mini-bar in the fridge for us. With the beds moved apart, there was plenty of room to walk in between the beds. The carpets and couch were a bit worn in our cabin, but not filthy. The quilt on the bed when the beds were doubled had a few holes in it. With the beds split, the bedding was fine. no holes or worn spots. I was concerned about noise in our room because we were directly under the Windjammer. There was nothing to fear. The only noise we heard was on the second night at about 11 PM and sounded like something being dragged across the room. Other than that, it was very quiet.

We did notice during the cruise bags of cut up carpet in the hallways during the day. It seemed that some of the cabins were having their carpets replaced, but not ours.

FOOD & DINING SERVICE: We were assigned to Columbus Dining Room, table 524 early seating. We were not happy with the service by our head waiter. We and our table mates arrived promptly, yet our waiter did not take any orders until all three of his tables were seated. Then he was able to serve all three tables at the same time rather than one at a time, making service easier for him. That was a big issue, since neither of the other tables was ever on time. The first night, we sat without him taking our order for nearly a half hour. The second night, he had begun taking our order after we sat for 15 minutes when the next table came in . He stopped taking our order to put the napkins on the laps of the late guests.

Those at our table were very unhappy with this situation. We weren't served an appetizer until 40 minutes after we were seated. On the third night, the only show was at 7:45 and we knew we would not make the show if we ate in the dining room. We decided to eat in the Windjammer, but did go to the dining room to tell our waiter so he would not hold up the dinner for our table mates. The waiter was no where to be found, but we approached the Maitre D and told him of our situation.

He was very apologetic and asked us to please eat in the dining room and he would ensure we would be out in time to get to the show. We opted to not take a chance and the head waiter assured us he would take care of the problem. He did take care of it - our table mates told us later on that dinner was served promptly and they were out of the dining room in a little over an hour after sitting down. We did go back to the dining room after that and found that the service had improved and the waiter was no longer waiting for all three tables to start taking orders and serving.

The food was good, but not the best I've ever had. Steaks and filet mignon were outstanding and cooked to order. Some of the fish dishes were excellent but people did complain that the same fish (cod) served the first night was terrific, but terrible on the third night. I love the cold fruit soups and found all of them good. The desserts were not as tasty as the desserts on FOS. Lobster was on Wednesday night and very good. We had lunch in the dining room on Monday and I did enjoy that - I felt the food quality was much better than the Windjammer and should have eaten there more.

Food at the Windjammer was disappointing. The selection was not as big as was available on FOS, the food was over salted and some of it was bland. On many other ships, tablecloths are on the tables in the Cafe at dinner - not on this ship. There were also not as many sugar free desserts.

We did have breakfast in the dining room one morning and it was delightful. Food was cooked perfectly. We ate a few times in Cafe Promenade. Pizza was available, as were sandwiches and some desserts. I prefer the larger ships that have both Sorrento' s Pizza and Cafe Promenade. There were more food varieties and more tables. On sea days, it was hard to get a table.
We ate at Portofino's the last night Service was excellent, food was good.

THE SHIP: The ship is a smaller version of FOS. The ship was in good condition for a seven year old ship. Not a lot of signs of wear and tear. Missing are the H20 water park and the Flow Rider. The Solarium pool was very enjoyable. The other pools were a bit more crowded, but to my astonishment, it was never difficult to find a chair on sea days near either pool. Whether it was because it was cool out and not as many people used the pools, or if this cruise didn't have chair hogs, I don't know, but it was delightful to be able to find a seat after lunch.

The Promenade is lovely, but the shops are really a waste. I haven't been on a ship in which I saw so few people shopping. The high end jewelry store was pretty empty most of the time. The Logo shop had a lot of items, but very few kids sizes. The Liquor Shop was the busiest shop. Since many of the passengers had driven to the ship and didn't have the issue of getting liquor home on an airplane, I believe that drove a lot of business to that store.
There are a lot of places you can go to on the ship and not feel crowded. The 19th Hole on deck 14 was a great spot to watch the Rock Climbing and Basketball activities. There is also an inline skate park (that I didn't notice anyone using) and it also overlooks the mini-golf. The golf course could use new turf. The Crow's Nest, Dizzy's, Viking Crown Lounge, Cloud Nine and Sevens Hearts are on this deck.

We didn't use the gym or the spa but did walk the track every day. Get there early, that was the most popular spot on the ship by 9 AM.

ACTIVITIES & SHOWS: I didn't feel there were enough activities on this ship, particularly on sea days. There was the usual Bingo, Aerobics Classes, Trivia. However, many times the venues were so small and because there was not more activities going on, it was SRO. At a towel folding class in the Schooner bar, there were so many people you couldn't see what the staff was doing.
We missed the show the first night with comedian Rick Starr and magician Peter Gross but heard from people we asked the show was good and did get to see it on the t.v. in our room later on. We only saw one Production Show (Wild, Cool & Swingin')with the Singers and Dancers and it was awful. We left after 20 minutes. We weren't the only ones - everyone we spoke to that night and the next day did not like the show either. We heard better singers at Family Karaoke (seriously - I was sorry that was only one hour).

The third night, the featured singer was John Christie, who was very good. Reminded me very much of Peter Allen. We skipped the productions show the next night and the ship was rocking too hard for us to stay for the show the last night.

Do not miss the Ice Show or Quest. Our cruise director was Dave Chapman. He was pretty good but it was his last cruise on the ship. He is very quick and has a great sense of humor.

BERMUDA: If you love the beach, Bermuda is the place for you. Elbow or Horseshoe Beaches are must see's. If you are not a beach lover (like me), there is not a lot to do. This was my second time to Bermuda and I had already done the Botanical Gardens and Caves. While I usually like doing a catamaran excursion, I didn't bother this time because I was concerned it might be too cool to swim.This time, we opted to buy a one day bus pass on the ship.

The ship docked in King's Wharf. On a previous cruise, we docked in St. George and Hamilton. I prefer King's Wharf. There is not much to do in Hamilton besides expensive shopping. Souvenir shopping on the Wharf was much better. We got off the ship and walked to the high speed ferry to Hamilton. After walking around Hamilton a bit, we walked to the bus terminal and went to St. George to the Perfume Factory. While we were told we could get a tour, there were only two women in the shop and both were busy with customers, so a tour was out of the question (but I did get my Frangiapani perfume).

We took the bus back to Hamilton and decided instead of taking the ferry back to the Wharf, we would take the bus. What didn't appear to be too far on the map ended up being over an hour's ride by bus. Take my advice - use the ferry to go back.

On day two we decided to explore the Wharf and to my delight, I found a Snorkel Park that was not there when I last visited 5 year ago. It is located next to the Dolphin Swim. It is free to get in, you can rent a chair and umbrella for $10 each (or $25.00 for two chairs and two umbrellas) and enjoy a small beach right next to the pier. There is a restaurant and rentals of snorkel equipment and other items. It was wonderful and if I were to ever go back, I'd just spend my time there.

Disembarkation: We were out of our room and sitting at Bolero's by 7:20 AM. Disembarkation did not begin until 9:20. Apparently, it took longer than usual for the ship to be cleared. We had lavender tags and were the third group called off. After a slight back up on the stairs, we were off the ship within 15 minutes and lined up to get a bus. We waited for the second bus and were quickly inside the terminal. For the first time ever, I found my bags immediately - the bags were right where they were supposed to be, and even next to each other. It was a quick trip through Customs and we were in our car five minutes later.

This is a good family cruise - there were quite a few kids on the ship who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. Most of the passengers were from the tri-state area and I didn't see any boorish or poor behavior, with the exception of some people who felt the need to jump on the elevators in front of people waiting in wheelchairs. It was a real pleasure to be able to drive to a cruise instead of the stress of flying.

I did like the Freedom of the Seas a bit better than this ship, but for an older ship, she is in good shape and provides a nice experience. The quality of the production shows was not good, but the shows featuring other performers were good. For a five day getaway, this is a good choice.

Cruise Review - Crown Princess - Nov. 2006

Crown Princess - Southern Caribbean

Embarkation: We arrived at the San Juan port at 2:25 on Nov. 4. Embarkation was a disaster. The line was out of the building, out to the street. We were told that due to problems with Customs when the ship arrived in the morning, embarkation had not yet begun. People stood in the blazing sun with no cover over them. No water or drinks were provided. There was an empty soda machine. To top it, people that arrived via cab were dropped at the front and allowed to cut the line, until one passenger went to the Security Guards and complained. Then people who arrived were told to drop their luggage and go to the end of the line. Once we got into the pier building (which was not air conditioned and had no fans so it was also terribly hot) the process went smoother - we were lined up in rowed seating and rows were called in order to embark. You went to the deck you were assigned to and check in took 3 minutes if your had express check in. Then it was another 10 or so minutes to get through security. The entire process took 1 hour and 10 minutes. However, our disembarkation was quick, so I would think the problems on Nov. 4 were due to this being the first cruise out of San Juan and hopefully, it will not happen again.

Cabin: We had a balcony room on the Baja deck. We loved the cabin. The room was the largest of any ship we've been on. The balcony was comfortable for two chairs and a table. The bed was super comfortable - better than my bed at home. We had asked for a foam mattress topper, which we weren't given but didn't need at all. The bathroom was small as any cruise ship bathroom - I quickly learned to shave my legs before I got in, cause you can't do it while in there. The water was hot and plentiful and the water pressure was good. The room and bathroom were spotless. The t.v. channel changer didn't work so well - we had to bang it to put the t.v. on and it came back on a few times after we turned it off and there was no sleep timer. It took awhile to get the safe thing down - we found that if you closed it gently and didn't bang it closed, we had no problems closing it. Our room steward was Alfredo and he was terrific - he would get ice if we asked quickly and extra towels and brought us a top sheet quickly, as the duvet was too warm for us.

The ship: The ship is just beautiful. The ship is classy looking with beautiful wood, plenty of places to sit, and gorgeous marble tiling. We thought too many elevators were reserved for embarkation - if you didn't have a suitcase, you couldn't find an elevator to move around the ship. I was with my 75 and 77 year old parents, who just could not walk the stairs to see other areas of the ship. And I heard that some people had problems with the employees on the elevators being very impolite when they asked if they could take one of the reserved elevators, although I personally did not experience that. It seemed that some of the employees were stressed during embarkation. We did find a kind English girl who allowed my parents to get on one of the reserved elevators at about 5:30, saying that there were already 2700 people on board the ship and she didn't understand why they were still reserving so many elevators at that point.

We had ordered gifts to be delivered to all of our clients who were traveling with us. One couple who had their room upgraded never received theirs and it took three trips over three days to passenger services before it was rectified. We also asked for robes on our cruise personalizer for all clients - no one got them unless they asked for them during the cruise from the room steward. The couple who had their room moved also received a delivery of flowers to their room for someone named Tammy for her birthday. They called passenger services to report the error and no one ever came for them and they felt that passenger services didn't really care. They went down to the passenger services desk as well and then went to the table where the flower service was located to try and ensure Tammy got her flowers. Even the flower desk didn't know who Tammy was or where the flowers needed to be delivered. We do hope Tammy got the flowers that someone paid for.

Several of the people we traveled with asked about church services on Sunday. There were none. Passenger services told them that unless that had a volunteer on board who would hold the service, they had no religious services. These cruisers said this was the first cruise line that had no services onboard.

Entertainment- we felt the shows started out good and kind of went downhill as the cruise went on. We saw the Motown Review the first night and enjoyed it. We arrived at the theater at 8:00 and had no problem getting seats. The place didn't really start filling up until 8:15 or so. The next few nights, we went to the Explorers Lounge for the comedy shows. Get there early - we had a tougher time getting seats there than at the Princess theater. We found you needed to get there at least a half hour or more before the shows.

The first nights, we enjoyed the comedians - Tony Daro was excellent the second night and Rodney Johnson the third. After that, we felt the comedians went downhill. One night the comedian showed a boring 10 minute video or himself with various Hollywood celebrities before he even came on. On Friday night, we went to the half filled Princess Theater for the final show. That was the first time I saw the cruise director, Omar, in person (saw plenty of him each morning on the Princess channel in the room.)

The last night, the show was terrible. The house lights were left on when the comedian performed and as soon as the lights went out, half of the audience left - had the lights been extinguished, I am sure we would have seen the audience walk out during his show. We left when the lights went down as well and went to one of the lounges.

We enjoyed the singers in the bars and we really enjoyed the theatrics in the Piazza during the day and night. There was a great a capella group, a funny juggler, a funny Italian comedian, a piano player. Don't pass these up - if you are in the area, stop and see what is going on. On the last formal night, there were more people watching the entertainment in the Piazza than almost anywhere else. We made a Dance Heads video one day - the grandkids are still laughing about their Grandma in a cartoon bikini!

We did some dance lessons with Lisa, the Deputy Cruise Director who was always out on the ship - she was lovely.

We felt that the formal portrait process was set up in areas during formal night that really were inconvenient to passengers trying to get around the Piazza. They were set up in between some of the elevator banks and in front of the restaurants.

We had a few winners in the Casino in our group as well. On the third night of the cruise, two people sitting next to each other at two slot machines each won $250 within minutes of each other. Someone won at the slots on the second to last night and one player of Let It Ride won all his money back on the last night of the cruise.

Food - we found the food to be only okay. We polled over 40 passengers while on the ship - only a handful enjoyed the food, the rest thought it was only okay or poor. Many of those who cruised on Princess before said that the food is much better on other ships and that the food was the worst on the Crown that they have encountered.

On the first night, we ate at the buffet which featured shrimp, lobster claws and crab legs. It was fine. They did have excellent calamari!! The second night, we ate in the DaVinci dining room (as well at dinner Tuesday and Thursday). We arrived at 6:00 and there was no wait, we immediately were seated. The menus in the dining room are heavy on fish, which is a problem for people like me who just don't like fish. I had filet mignon and it was fine - it was a little well done - it seemed the filet was cut in half in order to cook it better and it looked like liver but tasted delicious. Two people had salmon and didn't care for it - they thought it tasted too fishy. I happen to love the cold fruit soups on cruises and ordered them each time we dined at the restaurants - they were okay, but very thin. Dessert was great and the appetizers were good.
When we ate there on Tuesday, there were three fish meals on the menu, which totally turned me off - I had the steak that is available at all times, which was good.

Some of the items that our fellow travelers mentioned they liked on the dining room menus were the Fettucini Alfredo, some of the soups, and the steaks. After that, we decided to try the Cafe Caribe buffets - more on that later. I did eat there again on the last formal night because my parents wanted lobster, which they enjoyed. I again had steak that night. We also had breakfast there, which was the only place you could get oatmeal! We did enjoy breakfast - the eggs were cooked as you asked and hot, the pancakes were fresher and you got real toast that you didn't have to wait 10 minutes for to go through the one toaster in the buffet.

The third night we ate in Sabatini's and the food was delicious. Our server was Joseph and he loved my Dad - kept calling him Mr. Calabria, as he was born in Italy. There was so much food, I skipped soup and just asked for a taste of the macaroni and ravioli, which were delicious. Two people at our table ordered the fish soup they had and did not enjoy it - they felt the soup tasted more like a fish sauce then a soup. The rest of the food was magnificent, especially dessert.

We had our lunches and the remainder of our dinners in either the Horizon Cafe or Cafe Caribe (For dinner). I enjoyed the pannini and specialty sandwiches for lunch, the salads and fruit. One day, there was an Asian theme to the food, which I also enjoyed. But the rest of the meals, the menu was heavy on Caribbean flavoring and food choices, which many people aren't crazy about. By the end of the cruise, the group of 14 we were with finally figured out that there was a real lack of American food - plain meat and potatoes. Someone longed for turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes - you could get turkey scollopini and coconut mashed potatoes. We felt the Caribbean menu just went too far and would have preferred more American food. I found the hamburgers and pizza at the grill more to my taste. Many people we asked felt the same way.

As many people have mentioned, the set up of the buffet is not the best. For instance, for breakfast, the single toaster that took a long time to toast a piece of bread was right in the middle of the hot food. It would have been better to put that on a back counter along with the ketchup, jellies and jams, etc. You had to go back in through people who were getting food to get to sauces, etc. On the last night, I saw that there was horseradish sauce at the entrance to the buffet, so I figured they must have beef somewhere and I was right - it was in the middle of the buffet. This was a slight inconvenience they should look to correct as it doesn't take a rocket scientist to arrange the food in a more efficient manner. The prime rib served was very good in the buffets.

Ports: First stop was Barbados. We did the 4 WD and Monkey Encounter. When we were ready to go, the last guy that got on our open truck told us he worked for the cruise ship (he was a deejay) and that Princess sends a ship employee on all excursions. That was a first for me on any cruise line and I think it was a good thing. The Monkey Encounter was awesome - monkeys ran right through and around your legs. It was a great encounter. There were other animals and the most tortoises I have ever seen. It was quite comical to see them lumber down the path in single file when the food was brought out. We then were taken on a tour to the East side of the island to see where the locals surf. Our driver took us to a high mountain top and drove partially down a dirt road. We asked her if she was taking us down what seemed like dirt on a cliff and she said she was indeed, this was the 4 WD part of the tour. I tried to tape it - all you can see as the truck went down the path is the camera being jostled and people screaming bloody murder. I really thought the truck was going to tip over, but we arrived safely on the other side. We spent a half hour on the beach (but were told not to go in the water) at a small souvenir table and small restaurant.

Next stop was St. Lucia. We took the Best of St. Lucia by Land and Sea excursion. We had a lovely catamaran cruise to the Pitons and a swim of about an hour. We were accosted by several Island residents on canoes trying to sell us souvenirs off the canoes which was annoying. They were pretty persistent. We then were taken to a bus to drive to the volcano. Unfortunately, the bus drops you off near the mud baths and they then tell you to walk down a steep hill to a souvenirs stand. This was impossible for several elderly and handicapped people on our tour, but the tour guide kindly got a bus to come and pick us up and take us down. We then went to a plantation for lunch and a tour of the plantation. Food was very spicy. In fact, we were offered what we were told was Creole Chicken and my Dad swore it wasn't really chicken. He found the cook later and she told us it was the native chickens on the islands, which taste and look slightly different than the fat chickens we are used to in the U.S. Then we got on the bus and took it back to the ship. That was a long drive and took nearly an hour to get back to the ship. I would recommend a catamAran cruise only on this island, but we spoke to others who did the cat cruise only and they felt they only got a short amount of time in the water.

Next stop was Antigua. Some of us were too tired to do any excursions and went into town for some shopping and then we went back to the ship. That was the first time I actually had time to go swimming on the ship.

Next stop was St. Maarten. Several of the guys did the Bubba Bottom fishing tour - almost all of them caught fish. I stayed on the ship to enjoy swimming again and when they came back, we took the ferry to Phillipsburg to shop. We found that of all the Islands, St. Maarten was the cheapest. Forget about St. Thomas - the shops were twice as much at they were in St. Maarten. Absolute vodka was $6.99 a bottle and a carton of cigarettes was $10 and change here. We don't smoke or drink, but you could not beat those prices anywhere on any of the other islands.

Last stop was St. Thomas. We took one of the open air taxi's at the dock into town in the a.m. I am not certain what the deal is with those - they would not take any money from us until we got outside the gates. They then stopped and collected $4.00 from each passenger. Make SURE you tell them you want to be let out near the P.O. - we spoke to people who were on the prior cruise and they didn't know to do that and were let off in a part of town that wasn't near the major shopping area. We stopped at a few stores and found the prices to be more than twice what we paid for items in St. Maarten. We took a regular cab back to the ship (make sure you tell the driver back to Crown Bay). In the afternoon, we did a ship excursion to St. John to swim at Trunk Bay. The beach was magnificent and the fish were plentiful. We had eight with us and we all felt that was our favorite excursion off the ship. We were also the last excursion back to the ship - the ship was waiting for us to leave. But it was the fastest we got an elevator coming back to the ship that day!

Several of our group of 14 took cabs at each port to various beaches rather than do excursions through the ship. Their excursions probably cost half of what ours were going through the ship. They asked cabs to pick them up at certain times from the beaches, and the drivers did it on all islands. They were able to rent chairs and canopies or umbrellas at each beach. They did have a problem trying to get to St. John though - the cab they took from the ship wouldn't take them to the dock for the ferry to St. Johns - it dropped them in town and they had to get another cab to the dock. They then missed a ferry and had to wait another hour for the next one. By the time they got to a beach in St. John, they didn't have a lot of time to spend. That time they said they wished they had done the St. John's excursion with us.

Disembrkation: Disembarkation was fine. We were red 4 and our color was called at 9:15. Finding your bags in the terminal was a problem - they just put the bags in color order, not numbers, so you do have to hunt through all of the color to find your bag, but this is not any different than any other ship we've been on. We took a porter (who also helped find bags) and he took the Customs Forms for us - all we had to do was show our i.d.

We took the Princess transfers to the airport. We were on a bus quickly, but had a bus driver was was very loud and continually beeped the horn trying to amuse us.Cabs ar plentiful and lined up in the road outside the pier if you'd prefer a cab.

I rated the cruise 7 out of a 10. I loved the ship, the ports and excursions. The food and entertainment wasn't a deal breaker for me, I would not hesitate to recommend Princess to others. In fact, we have another Princess cruise booked for March of 2008.

Cruise Review - Freedom of the Seas - Sept. 2007

Freedom of the Seas - Western Caribbean - Sept. 2007

Pre-cruise: We flew in one day before the cruise and stayed at the Hyatt Regency Miami. Rented a car through Dollar and parked it onsite at the hotel ($27 charge for parking). On a direct flight from NYC to Miami, American Airlines sent one piece of luggage to San Juan. We were very thankful we had the car as we were able to go back to the airport when the flight from San Juan arrived and pick up the luggage. Had we not had the car, I am not certain we would have had the luggage before getting on the ship.

Despite reading mediocre reviews of the Hyatt online, we found the hotel very nice, the staff very professional. We returned our car to Dollar near the airport the next day and took their free shuttle to the pier.

Embarkation: We arrived at the pier at 12:30, hoping to avoid the initial crowd of people embarking, but there had been a security breach on the prior cruise and the entire pier had been shut down for about 2 hours. When we arrived, the line to get on the ship was long and people were still getting off the ship. It took 1 hour and 10 minutes from the time we arrived but once the lines started moving, they moved.

Cabin: We were in balcony "hump" room 8346. Our traveling companions were next door in 8348. We asked our room attendant, Ericka, if she could open the divider between the balconies. She could not locate a key, but my husband was able to jiggle the lock and opened it. Each balcony had a small table and two chairs. We were at the rear of the hump with a view of the back of the ship. The room was very spacious. There was a king sized bed with extremely comfortable bedding (we slept like babies!) and a sofa with table. There was a desk with flat screen TV. There were six drawers in the desk for clothing. The end mirrors on both sides of the desk mirror opened with more storage. There were four shelves in the large closet, plenty of hangers and a safe. Our luggage fit under the bed.

The bathroom was the usual small cruise ship bathroom, but the shower had doors instead of the shower curtain that blows away when you are showering. We had plenty of hot water and great shower pressure. Soap bars and a dispenser of shampoo (supposedly with conditioner) are mounted in the shower. Bring your own shampoo and conditioner - the shampoo was awful and we had to wait until we got onto one of the islands to buy a bottle of conditioner, as they do not sell any in the ship stores. The room was very clean at all times, but you may have to request extra towels. When we arrived, there were four bath towels and two beach towels in our room, but that was the last time we saw four bath towels - the rest of the week, we only had two bath towels (and two beach towels). The refrigerator was stocked with a mini-bar. We asked Ericka to remove everything from the mini-bar so we weren't tempted to use anything - the charges for a candy bar were $3.00 or more. She did with no problem.

A note on the refrigerator - there is no freezer section in it. One of the people we were traveling with used insulin and needed to keep ice packs frozen to take his insulin on the islands. There was no facility to freeze the packs. He went to the purser's desk to inquire, he was told to call room service to have them frozen. When he called room service, the girl who answered said she had never heard of this and would ask her supervisor. They called back and said they cannot freeze the packs. He took the packs down to the Medical Office and the doctor was very accommodating. However, the medical office is only open certain hours that were not always conducive to when we got off the ship. Our friend again went to the front desk one day later to advise them that room service would not freeze the packs for him. They apologized and told him he should have been properly told to call housekeeping. When he did, they quickly sent our room steward to take the packs and she returned them frozen every morning. (But the people at the purser's desk also told a passenger to go to the Medical Office to get a pair of cuff links for his tuxedo. When the poor doctor had no idea what the man why they sent him there for cuff links, passenger flew into a tirade at the poor doctor instead of going back to the front desk.)

Food: We were assigned to early dining in Isaacs Dining room at table 478 with Reimos from the Philippines as our waiter and Dube from South Africa as our Assistant Waiter. They were delightful, efficient and polite. Up until this cruise, our favorite food of all cruise lines we have been on was Celebrity. The food on this ship finally held up to our experience with Celebrity. (We sailed RCCL four years ago on the Sovereign of the Seas and did not like the food). There was nothing we had in either our dining room or Windjammers that we did not like. Desserts were especially wonderful in both venues and there were plenty of sugar free desserts for those who cannot eat sweets. Formal nights were Monday and Thursday. Lobster was on the menu Thursday night. We ate one night at Chops and one at Portofino. Service was excellent at both restaurants, but we enjoyed Chops more than Portofino. Portofino was good but we expected an experience similar to that of Princess' Sabatini's and were disappointed that is was not the same. The desserts in Portofinos were outstanding - try the dessert sampler. In Chops, our group of four had filet mignon and it was cooked to perfection and soft as butter.

We availed ourselves to Sorrentos a few times. Pizza was very good, and there are antipasto and salads to try as well, plus those delicious desserts. We enjoyed sitting at the Cafe Promenade and watching people. Plain coffee in the Cafe is free, specialty coffees have a charge. There are pastries and small sandwiches available that are free. We did not eat at Johnny Rockets, as we found the hamburgers in the Windjammer fine with no extra charges. We also did not try Ben & Jerry's - there was a limited menu of ice cream flavors and we found the ice cream machine on Deck 11 to be just fine to satisfy our ice cream itch.

I had one issue with RCCL in the food department that they really need to address - the lack of hand sanitizers. The only hand sanitizers we saw are at the entrance to the Windjammer - one on each side near the wall. The sanitizers are hand wipes and there is a garbage can under them to throw out the wipe. However, of the few people that used the sanitizers, if you stopped to wipe your hands and throw out the wipe in the can, you started blocking the people that were coming in behind you. If you take the wipe into the Windjammer and wipe your hands as you walk - there is no garbage can to throw them in. There should be more sanitizers and they should be the gel type so there is no need to throw anything out - it is more environmental friendly as well. The sanitizers should be at every spot that dishes are picked up, as they are on other cruise ships. Twice we sat near the entrance and counted how many people used a sanitizer and by our counts, only 3 out of 10 people used the wipes when walking in. I blame the location, since a few times I walked past them and had to go back. This is a noro-virus outbreak waiting to happen.

The ship: What can I say - the ship is magnificent. Whoever invented the Flow Rider is a genius. I could have spent all my free time watching people try boogie boarding and stand up surfing. It was fabulous and one of the coolest spots on the ship on a day at sea with a beautiful breeze going. People started out not doing too well and by the end of the week, those same people were doing tricks. A lot of bathing suits were lost (ladies - do what RCCL recommends and wear a t-shirt over your suit!). Everyone had a chance and the staff that manned the Flow Rider was great, especially with the kids. We tried mini-golf a few times, but it was just too backed up with people during the times we tried. The Rock Climbing wall was interesting, but open only limited hours. There was also a basketball court.

Pools - there are three different pool areas. The first is the H2O Zone for kids. Kids (and grown ups) loved it. The second area is the Sports Pool and has some hot tubs. That is where the contests are held. There are two pools in that area. Finally, the third pool area is the adults only Solarium, with two hot tubs that jut out the side of the ship. I do have to say the staff controlled the area and made sure there were no children swimming in the pool. On sea days, the pools were mobbed.

The Promenade was very striking - it felt more like walking though a Mall than being on a cruise ship. Many parties and events were held here at night, such as a Dance Party and a Circus. They were delightful to watch, but it gets too crowded. Not for the claustrophobic. If you don't like being in crowds there are many other spots to watch these events from - on decks 6, 7 and 8 you can watch from the forward section of the ship and on the aft side, there are chairs in the library and Internet Cafe that overlook the Promenade as well as several "balconies" near the elevators that one or two people can stand in and watch.

In my opinion, some of the stores in the Promenade were wasted. The Logo shop sold limited items - I was looking for tee shirts appropriate for 10 and 11 year olds and there was a very limited selection. The stores that carried sundries also were limited - I needed a bottle of hair conditioner and they didn't carry any. There is a shop that sells RCCL branded sports clothing that hardly anyone was in. Not many men availed themselves to "A Clean Shave". There was what appeared to be a book store next to the Cafe Promenade that I never saw open.

In speaking to a few passengers what I realized is missing on the ship is an appropriate sized venue for passengers that like to dance. The bars and clubs were terribly small. For example, there were many Latin Americans on our cruise and Boleros had wonderful Latin music with a too small dance floor. People were dancing in the walkways on Deck 5 because there was insufficient room in Boleros - which is too bad because that was the place we enjoyed most watching people dance. The Crypt seemed to be the most crowded spot and is a must see, even if you don't like to club. It was very unique.

Entertainment: Becky Thomson was the Cruise Director and what a Cruise Director she was! I am not one that particularly pays attention to Cruise Directors, but she was absolutely fabulous. I have never seen anyone so energetic. The Bingo Dingo was also excellent as were many of the other staff. We went to a few shows -our favorite was Spectrum, a group that did a Motown show. They had the audience up on their feet - they were outstanding. We also saw "Once Upon a Time" - I thought it was very creative and the sets were terrific for a cruise ship. The Illusionist (Phillip Kaiser) was good, but there was too much singing and dancing during his show - it was distracting. We also went to the Comedy Show featuring Phil Tag, he was okay with the usual cruise ship jokes.

Do NOT miss the Ice Show! It was wonderful and the Oxana and Adam were fantastic - what she can do with hoola hoops! Watch your Cruise Compass for the day and time tickets are distributed and get down to the Promenade at least a half hour before the stated time. Once they start distributing, the line moves quickly, but the tickets were sold out the day they were listed, so don't wait thinking you can get a ticket he next day. We also made it to Quest - get there early, it is fun adult only entertainment.

Ports of call: With the exception of Labadee, we had sailed all the islands before (Grand Cayman, Jamaica and Cozumel). Labadee was the best private island I've been to on a cruise. It was set up very well. There were plenty of lounge chairs available and plenty of staff available to help drag those chairs wherever you wanted them. We started at Barefoot Beach for snorkeling and then moved to Dragons Breath for more shade later in the day. We did go to the Haitian Market and while I expected it to be high pressure sales, I was not prepared to be overwhelmed. I would have been more apt to buy more but having sellers chase you down hammering prices in your ear was just too much. Tenders in both Labadee and Grand Cayman were very well organized. It was quite a difference from our experience on Sovereign of the Seas four years ago. The tenders were large and there were never long lines to get on. Jamaica was the only island we booked an excursion on. We were there 7 years ago and I found the island to be frightening. At that time, we walked to the Taj Mahal Mall and it was guarded by men armed with machine guns and we had been accosted by locals walking. It was very different this time around - a new shopping center has been set up outside the pier gates and we were not accosted by locals. We even had a pleasant walk to the Taj Mahal.

We booked the Inner Tubing excursion in Jamaica. We were picked up by bus and taken to the River. It was a lot of fun - the beginning of the river has some white water "rapids" that were fun to negotiate. The excursion did stop mid way and we were taken out of the river to be shown pictures we could purchase (and a Red Stripe too). We were there about 15 minutes - too long. We then went down the rest of the river - which was pretty dirty at the end of it. The excursion also advertised time on the beach at the end - we were given a drink of rum punch and taken back to the ship, no beach time. The only issue we had was we were required to wear life preservers that were absolutely filthy. They were kept on the dirt and smelled awful. By the time we got to the bottom of the river I had a rash from my neck to the bottom of my chest that itched unbearably and last until after we got home from the cruise. I had to buy Benedryl tablets and lotion and use them throughout the rest of the cruise.

In Grand Cayman, we walked outside the gate and found buses giving tours of the Western part of Grand Cayman for $20 per person that we took advantage of. We hopped on and went to Hell and around some beaches before being dropped into town to shop.

In Cozumel, we planned to take a cab to Paradise Beach ($12 for the cab plus entrance to the beach). However, we found a girl who was offering full use of the El Cid resort right next to the ship pier for $35 - all you can eat and drink. We decided to do that and had a wonderful time. There was a beach to snorkel at (and a strong current), two pools and a hot tub. There was a beachside restaurant that had a buffet lunch and the servers were very generous with the liquor - we drank Pina Coladas all day. It was wonderfully relaxing and very convenient.

The weather was perfect throughout the cruise until the last night on the way back to Miami from Cozumel. There was some thunder and lightening and at about 1:30 AM, I woke up and realized I was rolling off the bed. I stood up and realized we were "tipped" - the starboard size of the ship was raised. We had items on the bathroom vanity that rolled off onto the floor and I could hear passengers in the hallway shouting. The ship stayed that way for a good 5 - 7 minutes before finally evening out. Our Captain came on the loudspeakers at 2 AM to announce that we had hit a wind squall of 60 - 70 knot winds on the starboard side and the ship tilted 5 degrees until he could steer into the wind to even it out. While I was ready for awhile to grab the lifejackets, it was really such a small tilt that many passengers slept through it and were only awakened by the Captains announcements.

Staff: In my experience, we did not encounter any rude staff at all on this ship. Throughout the ship we were greeted by staff that we met in hallways and public areas. From our waiters to the deck hands, we had a great experience. We did have two issues with being given incorrect information at the Customer Service Desk - but it was always delivered with a smile.

Disembarkation: We had beige tags that were the second color called. We waited until the second call before going down to the disembarkation point. The line was long and not moving. We were on line about 25 minutes before they opened a second line to go through Customs. Once that happened, we wee off the ship fairly quickly. For the first time in all my cruising, we had no problem finding our luggage! RCCL has a wonderful system in Miami in which there are belts similar to the luggage belts in the airport that luggage is placed on to go around. We waited 10 minutes and found our bags. Every cruise port should consider using this system, it was very easy!

We bought RCCL transfers from the port to the airport and were quickly loaded on to the buses by our porter and were at the airport within a half hour.

We loved this ship and the cruise. I highly recommend this ship for families cruising with kids. It offers plenty for kids to do and is great for an age group that has outgrown Disney. We purposely chose this cruise for a time when the kids went back to school yet there were a lot of kids on the ship anyway. Except for some issues with the kids not having a clue about elevator etiquette, we witnessed few problems with any of the kids on board, from the small kids to teens. There is so much for them to do. I questioned parents and kids who were using the kids programs and all the kids said they loved the RCCL program. Parents said they hardly saw the kids and that the kids couldn't wait to go to the programs every day.

If you'd like to see pictures - we have them!