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James and Lisa Wong

Age: 38

Occupation:Industrialist

Number of Cruises: First Cruise

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Legend of the Seas

Sailing Date: May 19th, 2001

Itinerary: Western Mediterranean

RCL seems to have withdrawn its currency exchange courtesy.  We found exchange rates similar to hotels (uncompetitive) and subject to commission.  

Deck 5 had an ATM that dispensed US Dollars for a charge of $2.50 per withdrawal. But it inconveniently went down the penultimate day of the cruise, making it hard to tip with US dollars. Fortunately, standard tips to room attendants and waiters could be made through a charge on the room.  But you have to sign up by the 8th day to take advantage of this tipping service.

Deck 8 Internet access area had 16 machines that only very occasionally filled up.  We never had trouble finding an open terminal, we think that was because it still cost 50 cents a minute.  Users interface via sleek LCD screens, and access was restricted to a dedicated browser that slowed down when more machines were logged on.  It had very restricted email access, particularly to AOL.  And had the annoying habit of shutting down the browser every 30 minutes.  We also had two days where the system crashed and could not be restarted until the ship docked at a port.

Deck 9’s Windjammer café remains a bit of a nightmare to get around and find seats in, especially during lunch and breakfast.  The buffet tables are poorly designed, and we got tired of the food by the fourth day.  But there is a lot of it.  We disliked the limited menu rather than the quality of the food or the service (both were good).  We also found the Windjammer very hot and stuffy during lunch and late breakfast.

The Outdoor pool was more children friendly, with a large wading pool at one end, and deep swimming pool at the other.  The Solarium pool was shallower, but less child friendly.  Cameron and I did not like the salt water fountain spraying into our eyes.  Funnily enough, we found the Solarium pool’s water temperature cooler than the outside pool.  The salt water also took a little getting used to.

Deck 10 remains the only deck to walk all the way around the huge ship.  But except for a few hours in the afternoon, the temperature at sea was generally too cool and way too windy for much walking.

We used Club Ocean a lot, and will cover the outstanding on board children’s program later.  We saw about 2 dozen children on board, and the programs were generally well attended. The Arcade Games are a bit tired, and the teenagers on board showed almost no interest.  It was the emptiest (and loudest) cabin on the ship.

Deck 11’s Viking Crown lounge was our favorite place to unwind after dinner.  We found it quieter than the other lounges and they tended to mix better drinks.  Try their Johnny Walker stingers and Stoli Sex on the Beaches.  We also enjoyed a couple of Karaoke nights and the spectacular views of the lights off of the Med coast at night.  There is also a late afternoon Cigar Aficionado club up there.  But we didn’t see any members.  Scanning the menu, I noted that they offered a very limited range of stogies, including some Cubanos, but I’ve found better valued Cigars at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong (reputedly one of the most expensive Cigar Bars in the world).

ACCOMMODATIONS AND STATEROOM SERVICE

We stayed in a Premium Deluxe Stateroom (Category D) with a balcony. Cabin 7038 is mid ship about a third of the ship from the front.  Since this was our first cruise, we didn’t know quite what to expect, and were very pleased with what we were delivered.

The room contained a king sized bed and a sofa that folded out into a double bed for Cameron.  There was a vanity, chair, glass coffee table, and plenty of storage space.  We only had stand up showers, but that suited us just fine. We were particularly impressed with the folding doors in the cabinet, since it was designed so that little fingers would NEVER be caught in a fold. The refrigerator was large enough to hold only a few cans of soda and was stocked (to be billed to our account if used) when we boarded.  The ventilation system was a little eccentric.  We could only alter the temperature but not the fan speed.  But we only noticed the fan noise when the ship was anchored, and generally felt comfortable in just a shirt.

The TV was small, and the selection of shows was erratic and of extremely meagre quality.  There was some CNN, but the movies were old, edited, and the children’s shows repeated themselves by the 9th day.  We saw A Bug’s Life and Stuart Little---run continuously for 24 hours---ad nauseum, on at least two separate days.  The best programs were the prepared travelogues, also run 24 hours continuously, of the future destinations.  Also fun were the evening game shows with passengers, and talent shows taped from the night before at either the That’s Entertainment Lounge, or the Anchor’s Away Lounge.  One channel was devoted to shopping tips---very pushy, emphasizing shops with connections to the cruise lines---and one was devoted to shore excursions.  Both were presented by crew members reading from prepared texts.  The shopping presenter had the air and heavy accent of a big top caller.  The excursions director read like it was a chore.

The balcony was the best part of the room.  There was a table and two chairs outside.  We could just take drinks and sandwiches out and watch the scenery in the cool Med air.  The views were spectacular from about 70 feet up.  

Our cabin attendant was mediocre.  He hung around outside a lot, and frequently forgot to deliver requested items (we didn’t get a life jacket for Cameron until the third day) and the next day’s agendas (called the Compass).  He did keep the room fairly clean though.  

Laundry was very expensive.  We did three loads costing around $200.  However it was worth it because you go through a lot of clothes on a 12-night cruise and we had decided beforehand not to bring so much luggage knowing that we’d have more to bring back.

DINING SERVICE

WINDJAMMER CAFÉ

  The service was not up to the standard of the other parts of the ship.  It was always crowded during lunch and breakfast.  It was a buffet so we served ourselves but the waiters were friendly and generally helpful to kids.  The breakfast was the same everyday - typical hotel fare, pancakes, omelettes, sausages, etc.  The milk was UHT, and the coffee truly awful.  The only working cappuccino machine on board was in the Solarium.  It pumped out some liquid powder stuff which we had to pay for.  But it was still better than what was served in the restaurants.  

There was also an extremely pushy sommelier always trying to sell over priced bottles or glasses of very low quality wine for lunch and dinner. We only had lunch here once. Otherwise, we were on shore, or ate at the outdoor BBQ.  Dinners were rather emptier.  We ate here if we missed our dinner seating (Main at 6:15) maybe four or five times.  The prepared food was mediocre with a poor variety of vegetables so we usually had the fresh pasta cooked while you wait or carved meat. The best night was Chinese night.  But the turnout was generally thin during dinners, and later on in the cruise, they brought in the on board B act to liven things up a bit.

SOLARIUM GRILL

Best kids food (for kids of all ages) on board but only open 10-7.  Pizzas, burgers, hot dogs, great fries, and ice cream with a dozen toppings. All free. All tasty.  But be prepared to stand in line for up to 10 minutes.

ROMEO AND JULIET DINING ROOM

What a room of contrasts! The food is pretty lame but we knew this going in.  Fortunately, the appetizers, soups, and desserts saved the meal occasionally.  We had good crispy spring rolls, always an interesting chilled soup (peach ginger came to mind), and a memorable flour-less chocolate cake and chocolate marquise. The service was excellent.  Our waiter, Bhaharat, was from Nepal.  Probably the only merchant marine from his landlocked and mountainous country.  He was tirelessly friendly, accommodating, and gave good recommendations from the meager menu.  Substitutions were made quickly with no fuss. We just mentioned once that we liked a little chamomile tea to finish a meal, and the next day it was there.  The service made dining fun, despite the low quality fools. RCL also did a good job matching our dinner companions.  We were paired with a Philadelphia family with an 8 year old daughter.  Our son kind of liked being her “doll”, and she liked him so much that she would often play with him in Club Ocean, too.

SPA FACILITIES

This is a busy concession.  I booked my three massages as soon as I got on board, and was told that all treatments were booked by the second day.  The masseur, Eric, was professional, thorough, good and a good value.  Some of our friends on board also spoke highly of the hydro therapy bath treatment, but we could not get a booking. Highly recommended.

CLUB OCEAN

This was one of the best parts of our vacation.  Eight specially recruited youth counsellors arrange programs for kids aged 3 to 12.  The counselors are so experienced dealing with kids that our friends referred to Club Ocean as “camp”.  Each counselor is a college grad, some had advanced degrees, and all were trained at dealing with kids.  They all seem to come from Montreal, but I guess that’s another story.  I felt they were more qualified to deal (and have fun) with Cameron than some of his school’s teachers.  Cameron visibly grew up and matured, blossoming during the trip.  We actually worried about how to take him down from his “high”. Activities ranged from visiting the ship, to art, to building a volcano, preparing for an end of cruise show, singing, dancing, story time, reading, games…and just plain baby sitting.  Cameron loved the activities so much that he frequently left last and regretfully.  Children collected coupons for each activity they attended (up to 2 per day).  These could be accumulated and traded at the end of the cruise for cool kids stuff like stuffed toys, CD cases, gym bags, sunglasses, key chains, etc.  Cameron came back with so much stuff that we had to buy another tote just to carry his things. We rarely saw more than ten kids up there at a time, and there were always two to three counsellors present.  Unless they were on excursions, counselors enjoyed their jobs so much that they would “hang out” at Club Ocean even off shift. Parents could theoretically leave their kids from 9am to 1am.  They ask you to collect the kids from 12 to 2 and then 5 to 7.  But will hold on to and amuse the kids during the “breaks” if you ask them to. During our Florence Excursion, we left Cameron there all day.  Lisa missed him more than he missed us.  Most of the activities were free, but the occasional in port afternoon, and evenings from 10-1, are babysitting days charged at $4 per hour. Parents can also hire in room babysitters from the Purser’s desk for in room sittings at $10 per hour.  Our Florence excursion left at 7:45, so we had a babysitter from 7:30 to 9:00.  She looked after Cameron very well but unfortunately, she was a housekeeper and did not speak English very well.  She didn’t understand our instructions to drop him off at the play area, and ended up staying with him the entire day, including while he was in the Club Ocean. We cannot speak highly enough of Michael “Monkey Breath”, Kristin “Curly”, Jasmine  “Jazzy”, Alex “Dimples” and the rest of the youth staff.  Thank you.  RCL, you are fantastic!  This was the reason we chose this cruise line and our expectations were exceeded by the reality. Just a note, however, that this is the ship most requested by RCL employees because the Legend traverses the globe and rarely repeats an itinerary.  So the staff quality may not be entirely consistent with that on other RCL ships.

ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES

Activities were geared towards the older set, so we rarely participated.  We watched some game shows.  That was fun.  But never found anything attractive enough to sit through at the That’s Entertainment lounge. The Champagne lounge singers came in two groups.  One bad (B), one great (A). Other activities are as described in the Dombrowski’s comments. Lisa and my favorite sport was “taunting Stoney”, our long suffering and very helpful future cruise adviser.  We loved this cruise so much that we kept trying to book cruises for next year.  But being the first cruise of the season, he could never get confirmation for cruises for next year, and we could not get the on board discount or credit.  So we kept bothering him about updates.  Major bummer.

THE VOYAGE AND PORTS OF CALL

This was our first cruise, so we booked a lot of shore excursions.  We tried to stay in Barcelona on the night before departure, but the entire town was sold out.  It turned out when we arrived that there were a total of 9 cruises starting on the same day!  We recognized the European Costa Line, Norwegian Cruise Lines, RCL Grandeur, and the Celebrity Millennium in port.  We opted instead to visit Barcelona post cruise, instead of pre cruise.  This was a small mistake.  After the cruise, we just wanted to go home. So we probably did not enjoy Barcelona as much as we could have.

BARCELONA, SPAIN: Embarkation

Arrived from London around 10:00 (which meant leaving London around 6:00, and getting up around 4:30).  The pickup was very efficient. After immigration control, we followed the RCL rep and hung around for about 1 hour while they waited for another two planes and collected our luggage.  We thought they were a little rough with the baggage. Since we had a little time to kill, they took us (about 120 passengers) on a bus tour of Barcelona. They even let us get off at the Olympic stadium to take some pictures. Because there were so many ships in port, the Legend was docked at a construction port at the extreme end of the port.  RCL did the best it could under the circumstances.  We were allowed on board at noon.  There was a huge tent with free lemonade and water set up to check in the passengers.  And while the lines looked long, it only took about 15 minutes to get checked in. That’s because RCL looked like it had 25 check in terminals. Lunch was ready in the Windjammer and the pizza place at the Solarium.  Our room stewart introduced himself around 6PM.  Our luggage arrived about 8PM.

CANNES, FRANCE (casual)

Tendered to dock.  Shared beach front with Millennium and NCL.  Attended last day of the Cannes film festival.  Small carnivals on the beach were a treat for Cameron. A note on tendering:  RCL tendered at three ports (Cannes, Dubrovnik and Messina) using four of its larger motorized life rafts.  Service was provided continuously and we rarely had to wait more than a few minutes during which time RCL often provided cool drinks.

LIVORNO (FLORENCE), ITALY (casual)

Livorno is a bit of an armpit, and it takes at least an hour to get to Pisa and 90 minutes to get to Florence.  Excursions began about 7:45.  We were on the Accademia and Art Excursion because we wanted to see the piazza featured in the movie Hannibal. We fell in love with Italy on the bus ride inwards.  The bus stopped at a gas station for a comfort break, and the coffee served (at about $0.75 for a cup of espresso) was the best we had up to that point.  AT A TRUCKSTOP! Florence was a pedestrian city.  So lots of walking.  Unfortunately, the zimmer framers and wheel chair aristocrats slowed down the tour group and complained endlessly about the amount of walking. Really, people, read about the excursion before you sign on!  The brochure clearly stated that this was a tour requiring extensive walking including walking up and down stairs. Unfortunately, being Monday, the academia was closed, so we didn’t get to photograph the scene from Hannibal.  We saw the Medici Palace and Duomo instead. They took us for a mediocre lunch near the Ponte Vecchio, then for a tour of the Santa Croce, and finally to the Piazza de Michelangelo for the Panoramic shot of the City.  White and green marble everywhere.  It was awesome but a little overwhelming. Our tour guide, Maurizio, was funny and snide, and not shy about pointing out the controversies in the city---such as the terrible modern architecture, and overly conservative building designs.  He turned out to be the best guide of our trip. Our major gripe was that we were supposed to have 90 minutes of free time in the City.  But because we spent so much time waiting around for people, we only had about 40 minutes of free time.  Not enough to shop, and barely enough to have coffee and (divine) gelato.  Also we should definitely have bypassed the very mediocre lunch included with the tour in favor of time to browse the jewelry shops lining the Ponte Vecchio. We now know that we could have eaten better food more quickly almost anywhere else.

NAPLES, ITALY (casual)

This was the only real sea terminal on the entire trip, with a walk in terminal building with one or two shops inside.  The city is close enough to walk into, although the heat may discourage the less determined. We were totally disappointed that none of the European port terminals had the glitz or glamour of many of the Pacific ports, such as the Ocean Terminal in Hong Kong. We boarded a Panoramic Tour of Naples, which meant touring inside an air conditioned bus all the way.  This was fortunate because we had Cameron with us.  It stopped twice to let us off for coffee and ice cream (gelato) all included in the price of the tour.  After Neapolitan treats like that, we will forever compare coffee or gelato to the ones we had in Naples. Naples itself is like San Francisco in the 80’s, alternatively brilliant and cruddy---sat right next to each other.  But the beach and Marina and weather are so conducive to manana that we suspect that the city has remained this way for hundreds of years. Cameron began to dub this the ice cream cruise, since he had ice cream 3 times in one day! Our dinner companions went on an excursion to Pompeii and really enjoyed it so we will probably try that next time.

VENICE, ITALY (two days)

Cruised into port late because of a small storm from the previous day.  We hardly noticed the storm on board. This city was the reason why we booked a balcony.  The ship came in on a canal right in from of Saint Mark’s square.  There is nothing like a cruise ship going by a famous tourist spot to draw out the applause and waves. We did so much in Venice that we will have to write about it elsewhere.  We really loved this place. The port was a long way away from the center and required a 40 minute boat ride to get to the Shiavoni.  They also charged $4 per person each way unless you were booked on an excursion.  Our first Excursion (to the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica) was cancelled because of our late arrival so we decided to see it ourselves.  We also paid Lira300,000 for a 60 minute gondola ride during which our son took his afternoon nap.  Well worth the expense! We also took the art tour to see San Rocco.  Breathtaking.  We saw a very politically incorrect tomb in the church which is not shown in any other Venice guide.  It used black and white marble to great effect in a tomb beside that of the great Canove.  You can e-mail us about it, or see it for yourself.  Really outrageous! This was the only over-night port we visited and we took the opportunity to go into Venice for a lovely romantic dinner (after giving Cameron dinner at the Windjammer and leaving him in Club Ocean which he preferred) and evening sightseeing.  We encountered a slight hitch when we had to rush for the last boat back to the ship but needn’t have worried because we learned from others that it would have been possible albeit expensive to hire a water taxi or even regular taxi back. Tip:  In St. Mark’s square, we sat at a table, and when no service came, I went to buy ice cream and coffee at the counter.  The coffee at the counter cost L1500 (about $0.75).  Then a waiter came out to our table and started to complain that we couldn’t sit down unless we ordered something from him, so we asked for another coffee.  When the bill came, the coffee cost L10,500!  Almost 7 times as much! So sit at you’re wallet’s peril! Tip:  We also found withdrawing cash from ATM’s extremely convenient.  Even in Dubrovnik.  This meant we didn’t have to carry around huge amounts of cash, and got really decent exchange rates. Resist paying in US dollars, since it is always more expensive.

DUBROVNIK, CROATIA (casual)

Tender Port.  Beautiful medieval stone sea fortress.  Many signs of bomb damage in the back alleys, but the main street is quite modern.  Leave the old town for better deals on lace and local embroidery.  The food is so-so, and no one else in the world uses their currency.  So don’t go overboard at the cash machine.  We used the local grocery store to stock up on provisions.

MESSINA, SICILY, ITALY (casual)

Suggestion to RCL: there was a sea day between Dubrovnik and Messina (both of which could have been seen in half days).  The ship had to slow down to below 10 knots to stretch out our journey. Instead of that second sea day, we would have preferred an extra day in Florence, Rome or even Naples. Messina is a boring port and we unfortunately missed the deadline for the Taormina excursion. Fortunately, it is an easy city to wander around and we found wonderfully inexpensive coffee, ice cream, and grocery stores.  Although we didn’t take the horse drawn carriage ride, we recommend it since walking in 90 degree sunshine for two hours at a time carrying a complaining three year oldwas not our idea of a good time.

CIVITAVECCHIA (ROME), ITALY (casual)

Rome is 90 minutes away by bus.  The Port is truly an armpit, with nothing to offer, but Rome is absolutely tremendous.  We took the light taste of Rome excursion which included over three hours on our own and experienced more than we could write about in under 100 pages.  Again, some of the people on this tour didn’t read the brochure description and complained about being left “in a foreign city without assistance.”  It was exactly what we wanted and we will definitely return to explore further on our own.  For those wanting more extensive guidance, there were many other excursions available including a $340 per person mini-bus tour of all the major sites (including the Sistine chapel).  It was advertised as “exclusive”, but we counted 17 “exclusive” mini buses ;-)

Rome is a popular cruise/tour destination and there seemed to be hundreds of tour buses in town.  We learned on the bus ride in that our guided portion was scheduled for the afternoon so we had the orning free.  Unfortunately, restaurants in Rome (and generally in the rest of the Med) don’t start serving until about 1:00 which was when we were supposed to meet our guide.  As such, we settled for panini sandwiches and pizza in a cafe.  This was not a major disappointment since we loved all the food we had in Italy but we had bigger expectations. We had originally planned on leaving Cameron on board the ship because we knew he wouldn’t enjoy walking around museums and ruins but decided to take him with us when he developed an ear infection the day before.  It was one of the best decisions we made because he thoroughly enjoyed all the great fountains.  He fell asleep in Lisa’s arms while we were waiting with the group in St. Peter’s Square and he and Lisa stayed there to enjoy the breezy atmosphere while I went into the Basilica where I truly sensed the presence of God.

We were next bused to the Colosseum where our guide was to lead us on a walking tour.  Due to the heat and because we were exhausted from carrying Cameron all day, we opted to ditch the guide and go for coffee and gelatos which were served in the many cafes surrounding the ruins.  As the hour progressed, we noticed a lot of the other tour passengers were following suit. Needless to say, it will not take tossing three coins into the Trevi for us to return to Rome.  As an aside: after seeing hotel prices, we speculated that the coin tossing tradition  began when visitors offered deposits to the Gods to keep hotel room prices low!

Tip: Pay for the 90 minute horse drawn carriage ride around the city (around L300,000).  The horse man will pick you up and set you down anywhere.  We started at the Trevi fountain and ended at the Spanish Steps.  We glimpsed the Colosseum (from afar), the Vatican, Piazza de Venezia, the Pantheon (stopped for five minutes so we could walk in), P. de Navoli, and many other sites during the tour.

MARSEILLES, FRANCE (casual)

We had scheduled an afternoon excursion to Aix on Provence but instead decided to explore the port city on our own.  From dock (which had a few wonderful concession stands for last minute souvenir shopping), we took a F100 taxi ride into the Vieux Port (old port), where we took a mini tour train around the city lasting about 60 minutes for F60, followed by bouillabaisse at the Hotel Miramar. Although the train tour was designed primarily for French speakers (Marseilles is an important French tourist destinations…  their National Anthem is named the Marseilles), there was an English translation, and we saw the true city.  Wonderful day

BARCELONA, SPAIN: Disembarkation

An orderly affair.  But we should have taken a private taxi to Le Meridien as the bus transfer was comfortable but slow.  We sat around in lounges from 8:00 with our carry-on luggage waiting finally until 9:45 to leave.

Tip:  We heard from a trip mate that they paid Le Meridien $400 a night through RCL for a small room with a queen sized bed.  We went through American Express and got a large suite (with study) for three nights at $280 a night. Loved Barcelona and highly recommend El Congrejo Loco at the Port Olimpico and visiting the Ciutadella Park. We would come back here, too. BTW, this is one of the best airports for food and shopping in Europe. Barcelona, Rome and Venice are among the three most expensive cities to visit. Expect New York City prices.

SUMMARY

We’d do it again.  In fact, we’d do the same cruise again on the same ship!  The only thing that we would do differently next time will be to book “on your own” excursions or sightsee entirely by ourselves. We also highly recommend this trip to parents of young children.  Please write to us if you have any questions, especially about the great children’s programs.

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