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Pamela Philips

Age: 40

Occupation:special education teaching assistant

Number of Cruises: 3

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Legend of the Seas

Sailing Date: November 3rd, 2001

Itinerary: post-Sept. 11th, Spain, France, Italy

We booked RCCL's November 3-10, 2001 Legend of the Seas eastern Mediterranean cruise, sailing from Barcelona to Florence/Pisa, Rome, Santorini, Ephesus and Athens, primarily because of the exotic eastern Mediterranean locations. We, however, fully understood the change in itinerary to exclude both Greece and Turkey. At the time we felt very fortunate that our cruise, unlike so many others, had not been canceled. Now, though, we wish we could have been spared the experience, instead getting a full refund so that we could have booked on a more reputable and customer friendly cruise line.

Arranging our own airfare, we took advantage of RCCL's offer of airport transfers, etc. to and from the ship, paying almost $300 for the two of us to RCCL. For a hotel in Athens, we paid RCCL an additional $200. Total cost of the trip was over $4,000 for the two of us. Because of RCCL's change in the ship's itinerary, it was confirmed by RCCL representatives on the day of our departure from New York that all of the transfer and hotel monies would be promptly refunded in the form of an onboard credit to my ship account. No monies, however, were refunded, and the only assistance we were offered by the purser's staff was being told to contact customer service WHEN WE RETURNED HOME, a long-distance call to Florida, not even a toll-free number. Even worse, we learned on the ship that airport transfers were being sold to people who hadn't purchased them in advance like we had for only $16 each!!! What was the additional $280 for which we had been charged?

Activities onboard were few and far between, which was particularly bothersome on our full day at sea. I got to play bingo, shuffleboard and ate what I could when available because that's all there was to do. No classes, contests, activities, shows, etc. which are usually scheduled so abundantly that you can't get to half of them because there just isn't time.

As for talent, it was sorely lacking when there was entertainment provided. Five of the seven nights we had lounge singers. The only real show was a talent show put on by the crew . . . literally . . . the assistant chef, housekeepers, bartenders, stateroom attendants, etc. It was so bad that you felt awful for the poor employees who were forced to perform. The assistant chef played the piano beautifully but unfortunately could not sing on key. Then there was the contest to see who could make a bed fastest and best. If I hadn't stayed up to see this 11 p.m. train wreck, I would have never believed it. Another poor stateroom attendant had to spin plates on his fingers and balance something on his head, but he could never get that second plate going. Luckily, the compassionate and captive audience applauded his efforts. But it was horribly painful to watch.

As for the food, it was pretty good in the main dining room. Perfectly prepared oatmeal served with warm milk, raisins and brown sugar for breakfast, rich eggs benedict and soft, thick slices of French toast. Lunch wasn't quite as appetizing, perhaps because there was a different chef during the day. The pasta was consistently overcooked, and most of the other selections were equally tasteless. The food served in the evening, including the pasta, was exceptionally better. The selection early in the week was great as well: venison, escargot, shrimp, lobster bisque. But it got much cheesier as the week began to wind down: chicken with vegetables, pasta with vegetables, peppers stuffed with cheese and vegetables. Guess there were lots of veggies left over.

Informal dining in the Windjammer Cafe was completely horrendous. I didn't expect the same quality as in the main dining room, but on Celebrity's Horizon last year, the cafeteria style buffet was so good that we never did have breakfast or lunch anywhere else. On the Legend of the Seas, however, the bread, pastries and rolls were very stale, fruit was often unripe (pineapple was sour, oranges had a bite to them and weren't sweet at all, watermelon was tasteless, plums were hard as rocks). The warm food was either over- or under-cooked, including the bacon, sausage, potatoes, oatmeal, pasta, eggs, etc. I must admit that the pancakes were a little dry, but they weren't awful.

Alcoholic drinks and soda, as expected, were expensive and weak. One scam by the bar service was a bar card which they offered for a set price ($35, I think) for about 10 drinks during the course of the cruise. The catch was that neither beer nor wine was included, only mixed drinks. Still not a bad deal, except for the fact that white Russians were not included because they were "rich and creamy" mixed drinks and martinis weren't included because . . . well, we never did learn why they were excluded. What it came down to was that you couldn't use the bar card for most drinks that you'd want to order.

What surprised me the most about the whole experience was that the Legend of the Seas usually carries over 2,000 passengers. Only about 860 of us made the journey, and you'd think that RCCL would want to make those of us who did show up happy campers. No such luck. On the contrary, RCCL obviously skimped and saved every penny that it could to make our cruise experience a cheap, low-rent one.

As outlined above, there were no professional performers or musical productions on the ship. The food was edible, but nothing to write home about, including the Grand Buffet which was adequate but nowhere near the splendor and artistry of the display on other ships. In fact, that was the only midnight buffet, highly unusual for a cruise. And the activities were so few and far between that you felt as though you were in a retirement home.

Finally, the excursions were so overpriced that you could tell RCCL was trying to recoup some of its losses by further ripping off its paying guests. For example, a short excursion "on your own" which provided only travel by bus to and from Rome cost almost $100 per person. We opted to go on our own, paying $10 round trip for the train to Rome, and walked on foot from the Vatican to the Coliseum, seeing everything in between. Our train got to Rome in a little over an hour whereas it took the tour bus about 2-1/2 hours to get there. You tell me who got the better deal. Even worse was the guided tour of Rome -- a whopping $340 per person.

Adding insult and incredible inconvenience to the entire situation was the fact that many excursions during the week were canceled after 10 p.m. the night before (hours after the shore excursion desk had closed). Opening at 7 a.m., the shore excursion desk was incapable of transferring us to other excursions because they were already full or leaving between 7:15-7:30 a.m. for the day. And so many people had been displaced that it took hours to get through the line. Ridiculous!

Being forced to venture out on our own to Pompeii and Herculaneum, RCCL's travel advisor Jasmine told us to take the train to Pompeii, continued on to Herculaneum and then to Sorrento, easily returning to the ship thereafter. Following her directions, we visited Pompeii first, got back on the train and ended up in Sorrento. Assuming we'd missed the Herculaneum stop between Pompeii and Sorrento, we checked at the train station only to find that Herculaneum was the first stop; it was BEFORE not AFTER Pompeii, as we'd been told by RCCL's tour "expert." By the time we'd backtracked to Herculaneum, the last bus to the site had left and it was impossible for us to go. Thanks to this misinformation and other incorrect and misleading information from RCCL staff, like being told that we could walk all over Malta to sightsee since the island was so small, a large dent was chipped out of our vacation. Especially considering our extremely brief time allowance in Malta (a mere 4-1/2 hours), we were lucky to have learned by that time that RCCL has no clue what it's talking about and opted to hire a cab to take us all over the island, a rather LARGE land mass.

Grumbling abounded all over the ship, something I have never seen on any vacation I've ever taken. Visiting Europe was indeed a wonderful experience, but I would never recommend that anyone do so on Royal Caribbean. Big thumbs down.

THE SAGA CONTINUES . . .

As outlined above, my friend and I were not only subjected to a poor quality cruise experience last fall but also forced to endure a three-month struggle to get money refunded from RCCL for their change in the itinerary. RCCL promised that all monies would be refunded as an on-board credit (which was not the case throughout the sailing). And even after we returned, RCCL insisted that they had credited the $322, making us provide them with a copy of our shipboard account to prove that NO monies were refunded on board and that we indeed paid several hundreds of dollars for our expenses. Finally, just before Christmas 2001, RCCL refunded the money to my credit card without ever calling or writing to me even once, without apologizing in any way for the delay and without acknowledging that I'd been wronged in even a minor way.

In fact, two RCCL representatives who did respond to this issue through my travel agent attempted only to turn the tables and blame myself and my friend for the entire situation. Frannie, the first RCCL rep, dismissed everything by saying that we were unhappy only because we were used to Celebrity Cruises. NO! I'm used to companies that do business properly, treat customers with honesty and some respect and don't try to keep their money through fraud and deceit.

The second rep, Julian Romero, wrote that he understands that my travel agent's client (i.e., ME!) is "very demanding." When did it become demanding and too much to ask for your own money to be returned to you when a vendor did not give you the product which had been paid for in full -- in this case, a post-cruise stay in Athens, Greece?

Furthermore, I still maintain that both my friend and I are entitled to at least a formal apology for this fiasco and a completely complimentary cruise, especially in light of subsequent broken promises and outright lies by RCCL. Because everyone who sailed on November 3rd automatically received 50% off a future cruise, anything less than this would be insufficient and an insult.

THE REFUND

As stated above, $322 was finally given back at the end of December 2001. RCCL didn't feel it was necessary to consider the interest I'd been paying on the money since their removal of the Greek and Turkish ports of call three months earlier in September. Foolishly thinking that this issue had been put to rest, I was shocked to see that RCCL had, without authorization, charged back the $322 to my credit card in late January 2002.

Frannie's explanation at RCCL was that I'd been credited twice and they were merely taking back the duplicated refund. Again I had to forward copies of my credit card invoices to disprove her lies and still await resolution of the matter. In the meantime, I have disputed the charge with my bank, which assures me that RCCL cannot legally tap into my account just because they have my account number, but in the meantime my available credit is being compromised. And RCCL, as usual, could care less!

LAST CHANCE CRUISE

Since she said that there was no way for her to give us a completely free, 100% off cruise, Frannie offered to us a second 50% off cruise with RCCL. When my travel agent called her back to accept this offer, she reneged on the deal and the comment was made that we were dissatisfied merely due to our own high expectations. Then she promised to give $300 certificates to both my friend and me, saying that these were being mailed directly to me. Although it was over a month ago that she "put them in the mail," I still have received nothing from RCCL.

Understandably enraged by this intentional deceit, we still decided to give RCCL a second chance by booking the original 50% off cruise (that, again, everyone on board the November 3rd sailing received) for the March 30-April 6 sailing of the Explorer of the Seas in the Caribbean. Immediately after the new year, I reserved a stateroom on this cruise online; listed cruise price was $1,498 ($1,159 for the cruise and $339 for airfare). Because a hold is only valid for 24 hours, I contacted my travel agent right away; she contacted Frannie that same day.

Frannie said that she would arrange for the 50% discount off this spring cruise for the both of us and expressly stated that we did not need to put a deposit on the reservation at this time, that she had to take care of it first and that we should wait to hear from her before doing anything. The next week, however, I noticed on RCCL's web site that our reserved stateroom was listed as being available. Plus, the price of the cruise had increased over $200 each. Frannie once again said that there was nothing to worry about, that we should hold it again online so that no one else took it and that our price would be the original price at which we held it the first time ($1,498 less 50%) because she was "handling the matter." This happened several times thereafter with the same result, each time the price going up, and it was then that Julian Romero was official brought into the situation. He, however, gave us a different story and said he would work on getting us the original price for the cruise but couldn't promise anything EVEN THOUGH WE HAD BEEN READY, WILLING AND ABLE TO PUT DOWN A FULL DEPOSIT ON JANUARY 3, 2002!!! For some reason, he could assure us of at least the quoted price of the second held reservation?

This situation has gone from incredibly inconvenient and frustrating to infuriating and totally ridiculous. A decision still has not been made. No deposit has been requested or accepted, and RCCL representatives continue to assure us that the stateroom and airfare are still being held for us. Please excuse me if I'm not feeling comfortable with and trusting of RCCL because of yet another damaging and potentially empty promise.

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