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Melissa

Age: 35

Occupation:Teacher

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Empress of the Seas

Sailing Date: October 10th, 2005

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

This was my second cruise in 10 years and my husband's first. Our honeymoon was memorable.

To begin with, I researched our vacation for 3 months and decided on RC and Empress based on the great reviews it received due to its 2004 remodeling and the fact that a huge ship would have been too busy for us.

I had been worried about EMBARKATION, but it was literally, a breeze. From FLL to the pier it was approx. 10 minutes. and $16.00 for a taxi ride.

We boarded at about 2:45pm and found our CABIN to be quite, small, but I was prepared for that. Size/space doesn't matter because you're out and about most of the day, anyhow. We grew accustomed to the small space. Although I can't say that we would have had it not been for the oceanview. It made our quarters quite comfy. If you feel you can't do without natural lighting don't bother with inner cabins, because the artificial lighting will become irritating.

The BEDS aren't the most comfortable, but we slept fine. The BATHROOM is tiny. It's really meant to be used by one person at a time or someone in the shower with another person at the sink, etc.

DRAWER SPACE is limited, but you have two closets with approx. 15 hangers. Within the closet you'll find a DIGITAL SAFE large enough to hold a camera, passport, jewelry and other small valuables. There was always a movie on TV and if you miss any of the ships shows, they are televised several times throughout the day.

FOOD was pretty good with breakfast being average. The breakfast served in the Carmen dining room is the same served at the Windjammer cafe, except you don't have the longer wait at the cafe. As for the SEATING ARRANGEMENTS, it was early and we sat with six other people, much to my husband's dismay. I wish I would have asked the Maitre'D to seat us by ourselves, but it's something that I never got around to doing. Keep in mind that couple seating is very limited. The restaurant Portofino, however beautiful it was, always seemed to be empty.

My husband and I weren't expecting 4 star cuisine. But, we weren't disappointed either. There was something for everyone and the desserts were delicious. There was a midnight chocolate buffet that was unbelievable with chocolate fountains and carvings.

Needless to say there was always food. DAYS AT SEA, were o.k. The on-board shopping is limited, however they have a section where everything is $10.00. The items varied. I purchased a shawl, a stainless steel bracelet/necklace combo, and sunscreen. I visited the shops several times out of boredom. The display tables changed every day, so people kept coming back. The POOL was always crowded when we were at sea, but there were always activities or contests and our cruise director, Keith, was genuinely entertaining. The shows were fabulous with a mix of b'way and comedy. We didn't visit the CASINO due to the heavy smoke. That was big problem for us. When you exit the Carmen dining room, you pass the casino and it is quite unbearable and this is coming from a former smoker.

SERVICE was great. These people work so hard and always with a smile.

We didn't sign up for any island TOURS/EXCURSIONS. They seemed a bit overpriced and the lines that form, once we dock, are tremendous.

Our ITINERARY began with Labadee, Haiti.

We got there by boat tender and it was a quiet, peaceful day. There was a small market to buy locally made goods, a folkloric dance and a barbecue. St. Maarten was nice. We found the liquor to be cheaper there than St. Thomas, though we only bought two bottles. There are some good deals to be had if you're buying jewelry as you don't pay tax and pay 15 to 30% below what you'd pay in the States. We didn't purchase anything major, but a couple we dined with bought 3 diamond rings and were gushing about the pricing.

If you go to the beach, be prepared to pay $5.00 for each chair. We initially thought it was a local trying to get over, but soon learned that he was a hotel employee, as we witnessed him charging others the same fee. Beware! If you purchase any merchandise from a vendor walking the beach, more will come your way and insist that you buy their wares. We became frustrated, but just smiled and said "No Thank You". What can you do? That's how they earn a living. Otherwise, it was a pleasurable experience - our favorite island so far.

St. Kitt had nothing going on. According to a local, the day we docked marked their first day of tourism. Apparently, it is still in development. Though there wasn't much to do, we met some really interesting natives and bought a few pieces of hematite jewelry in the local market. St. Thomas was our last port to visit before heading home via San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was just as busy as St. Maarten, but not as charming. Of course you can buy liquor here. When we boarded the ship with our liquor, they didn't tag it and hold it for us as they did with our previous purchase. They allowed us to bring it to our cabin. And we noticed many people buying liters of soda - we guessed to make their own drinks on the last night. If you don't already know, U.S. customs allows you to purchase a specific number of bottles of liquor duty-free. I don't remember, but we came home with 8 bottles. We could bring back 2 bottles extra pp if it was a product of St. Thomas.

DISEMBARKATION was considerably longer than expected. It was approximately 1.5 hrs. That is one area where they need improvement.

Overall, it was a positive experience for us and we look forward to cruising again with RC. My only wish is that they'd stay at a port for two days. There's so much to do that one day is just not enough.

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