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H. Michael Ball

Age: 41 to 50

Occupation:Letter Carrier, (USPS)

Number of Cruises: 3 to 5

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Enchantment of the Seas

Sailing Date: February 18th, 2001

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

This was the third cruise for my wife and I, having sailed on The Crown Princess (Feb. 1999) and the Regal Princess (Feb. 2000) Both were 10 day cruises to the Mexican Riviera. These are sister ships with space ratios of 44. We enjoyed most aspects of what Princess had to offer, but realized that a good comparison could only be accomplished with experience aboard other lines. A Florida travel agent gave us a good offer for a balcony suite aboard The Enchantment - an offer too good to pass up so we jumped at it.

Both The Regal and Crown have standard in/out room size of 190 sq. feet. We had tried the inside and outside/window but had never booked with a veranda. Our Enchantment suite would be on Deck 8, Bridge Deck, with a size of 245 sq. feet. What's more, the price per day would be similar to an outside window cabin aboard Princess.... but would the service and facilities be as good? Only one way to find out.... take the plunge and try RCI.

Getting There:

My wife and I are both letter carriers from Portland, Oregon. We had to work 2/17, (the day before departure.) No way out of it. We would have liked to depart a few days early, stayed in Ft. Lauderdale.... get over any jet lag, and be ready for the cruise. Our only option was to try and make the best of it. We managed to get off early, get home and do all the last minute packing.

The flight was red eye on Delta Airlines from Portland to Atlanta on a Boeing 767. Then Atlanta to Ft. Lauderdale on an L 1011. All went well... no delays and we managed to doze throughout the flights.

Embarkation:

We did not book our flight through RCI and had to take a taxi to the port facilities... no big deal, it's about five minutes from the airport, but the taxi driver was concerned that it was too early and that the port authorities would not allow entrance during the disembarkation from the previous cruise. No problem - the guards waived us through to the front of the terminal. By then it was 9:00 am. We entered the building on the south side and sat with about twenty other people in an undersized waiting area. Note: RCI representatives were not present in the front of the terminal. My wife went out front to have a cigarette... she ended up directing new arrivals to the waiting area. They were lost and disoriented. The waiting area is at the south end of the terminal building.

We waited from 9:00 am until 11:45 am. The barrier was opened and we proceeded to a short line of waiting passengers. RCI has a number system of some sort.... you take your number and go to the respective line - this was not used on our early embarkation. The process was quick and smooth. The attendant helping us seemed too secretarial and unfriendly. It might have had something to do with my dropping our paperwork onto her keyboard and making a mess of things. My apology and explanation of a red eye flight and lack of sleep did not bring a smile to her face... oh well, not on board yet. Done and off to the picture line. RCI does not use picture ID as does Princess. These were the standard photos which they try to sell during the cruise. RCI uses a credit card, (called supercharge.) This will purchase anything aboard ship, acts as your key to the stateroom and will open your personal room safe.

Finally, up an enclosed, inclined walkway similar to what you'd find at an airport terminal. It was steep enough to be a problem to the older passengers. To the top... and then.... aboard the ship - king's X ! ! 11:20 AM and we had made it. We were aboard The Enchantment of the Seas ! One enters mid ship at The Atrium - similar to The Crown and Regal but more modernistic, bright and colorful.

We had the entire ship to ourselves for a number of hours. Did our customary exploring. Nice to finally be on a ship with a complete promenade deck.

Quarters:

I did my homework and had studied the deck plans on the internet. We declined an escort to our room and took a mid ship elevator to deck 8, Bridge Deck. Note: Enchantment has elevators and stairwells mid ship and forward... none to aft. At muster station drill, (mandatory,) I had a group of people follow me aft, thinking that I knew what I was doing. They followed me around to the other side of our deck and forward to the lifts mid ship. Herd mentality, I suppose.

The suite was everything we had envisioned.... 245 sq. feet with a fold out couch and two matching chairs, ample storage space and a veranda large enough for two chairs, a table and one deck chair. The retainer was of green tinted glass. The bathroom was adequate with a bathtub. Note: RCI does not furnish a hair dryer. Don't forget to bring one along. Our suite was aft and to starboard. Note: when taking the Eastern Caribbean cruise to St. Martin and St. Thomas, it is best to book on the port side - much better view of your destinations.

We met our steward and I tipped him - yes, I tipped him at the beginning of the cruise. This was a new technique I learned from my friends Tom and Mary Milano. The staff aboard ship enjoys attention and recognition. I tipped him $50 in a envelope with a note stating that this was a down payment on what I knew would be exceptional service. I also asked him if, at the end of the cruise, we might be allowed to stay in our suite until our color code was announced. He said no problem, and while other passengers had to wait in public areas, we sat in our cabin and watched TV. On the last night of the cruise I tipped him another $20.

Cuisine:

My Fair Lady - Formal Dining, Decks 4 and 5 aft - The service was excellent. The food was, well, okay.... and just okay. It was well prepared and served warm but lacked anything which one could call 'special'. With Princess we had a much greater selection with appetizers, soups, salads, pasta dishes, (every night,) and desserts. With RCI we had appetizers, one salad with no selection, the main entree and dessert.... that's it! The area is spacious with a main floor and surrounding balcony. As with our cabin steward, I tipped our waiter $50 on the first night with a similar note. I asked him to suggest entrees if my selections were for items that he knew to be sub standard. He said no problem. The next night I tipped the asst. waiter $30 with a similar note. The last night of dining I again tipped the waiter and his assistant - $20 and $10, respectively. The headwaiter received $10, (for what I don't know.) He would come around and chat with a gracious smile... he separated our crustaceans from their shells on several occasions... no flambe on this cruise.

We booked second sitting, thinking that this would give us ample time to prepare for dinner after shore excursions. Problem is, on days in port, the second sitting has an early entertainment show, starting at 7:00 PM, instead of 10:30 PM. It makes for a rush to refresh and dress with little time to observe the departure from a port.

My wife, Pat, suffered seasickness on days one and two. She was unable to attend dinner. The seas were 15 feet with gale force side winds of 40 mph. The sky was overcast and with the howling wind, it was almost comical to watch the sun worshipers in their deck chairs, grasping their clothes and towels as they flapped wildly in the air. The UV rays went through the overcast and severely burned many passengers.

Windjammer Cafe - Buffet, deck 9, forward - This seemed an unusual set up... having the buffet so far forward. Aboard The Crown and Regal Princess the casino is in this location . Rough seas can be felt most severely in this area. So here we had hordes of people trying to balance food trays with beverages in a pitching sea. I must say that I never had to wait in line and there were always open tables with a fantastic view of the surroundings. Again, the food was just okay and nothing to write home about. We saw much more fruit on Princess... tons of fruit. It was actually hard to find fruit on the Enchantment. They really, really need to work on this.

Burger/Pizza Bar - Dogs and burgers and pizza slices, deck 9 aft. Located at the port side adjacent to the solarium pool. Ample seating. Beverage machine.

Entertainment:

The Orpheum Showroom, decks 5 & 6. A beautiful theatre; well laid out. Spacious and inviting. The shows were professional and well rehearsed. My wife liked the dancers aboard Princess more... they seemed more energetic and vital. This RCI dance troupe was well choreographed but used much more extremity gestures verses full body movement... as if they were saving their energies for something else. The Coasters offered entertainment on night 5 with such songs as Charlie Brown, Yakity Yak, etc. A juggler, comedians and the like.

Sun Deck, deck 9, forward from the main pool. Customary Caribbean sounds by a group called Mega 4. Not quite our style but well appreciated by many passengers.

Casino Royale, deck 5, mid ship. Numerous slot machines. Ample gaming tables. Roulette. Craps. Caribbean Poker. Black jack minimum is $5, one table only. The rest are $10. Smoking area.

Bars / Lounges:

The Schooner Bar, deck 6. We spent many hours here, meeting new people and chatting with the Jamaican bartenders. One entire side of the bar is glass, giving a great view. Relaxing piano music. Chips and dips from 5:30 PM.

The Carousel Lounge, deck 6, aft. Live music and bar, bingo and The Captain's Party. We went here for the bingo one day. We tried to go to the Captain's Party but were both too seasick to make it through the reception line. Went back to our suite and ordered room service.

The Viking Crown Lounge, deck 11, mid ship . It offers a spectacular 360-degree view of the ocean. It is an observatory during the day and a disco at night. We checked it out on day one but never went back. I swear, it looks like a big UFO parked on top of the ship. Our little joke was how RCI rented that space to the aliens for human abductions.

Pool Areas:

Main pool, Sun Deck, deck 9. Open to all ages. Dual hot tubs. Crowded with deck chairs and sun worshippers. Note: RCI seems to have the same deck chair problem we experienced on Princess: people reserving chairs with their towels and personal affects early in the morning and returning hours later to sun bath. RCI had numerous signs around the deck - no reserving of deck chairs. This went unheeded by the guests. This is surely a problem on most cruise lines and I don't know if there is a good solution to the problem... perhaps more staff to confiscate the left items and take them to a massive lost and found... then you would have guests lodging complaints that they were only gone ten minutes to get their coppertone from the cabin. I don't know... sunbathing seems to be a hassle while at sea.

The Solarium Pool, Sun Deck, deck 9, aft . As Tom Milano put it, 'If someone led you blindfolded into the Solarium pool area and then removed the blindfold, you very well might think you were in a Roman Garden in ancient times.' Limited to ages 16 and older. Dual hot tubs and shower stalls. The glassed roof slides open.

Excursions :

Note: Make sure to book your excursions as soon as you get on board. With Princess you can book ahead of time; well before the cruise date. Not so with RCI. Their excursions are numerous, varied and well organized but as with the two excursions we took, they can fill up rather quickly and you are left with second and third options.

Sint Maartin: We opted to do our own thing - shop in Philipsburg and find a beach by taxi. The shopping was fun and we found some good deals. The natives were friendly and spoke fluent English. This southern half of the island is governed by the Dutch and has an Amsterdam flavor to it... sort of anything goes and very laid back. After shopping we went back to the ship, (parked with four others at the new dock,) refreshed and took a taxi to Dawn Beach. Dawn Beach is smaller but closer than Orient Beach. We had problems getting a taxi back. We took one vehicle which turned out not to be a taxi at all.... just a local trying to make a few extra dollars. He dropped us short of the new dock facility so as not to get in trouble with the port authority.

St. Thomas: We took the Atlantis submarine excursion. Cost was appx. $75 PP and well worth it. This is real sub - electric driven. You dive as deep as 85 feet. The water is clear and the bottom sand is white... plenty of light and visibility. We saw numerous reef sharks, barracuda, lobster, yellow fin jacks, sea turtles; you name it. The dive lasts appx. one hour but seems longer. I filmed with a camcorder and found that I couldn't put it down. Well narrated. The shopping in St. Thomas was not what I expected. Seemed like every other store was for jewelry. This is U.S. territory with post offices, zip codes and many regulations which I don't think you would find on St. Maartin nor The Bahamas.

Nassau: Sting Ray City - swimming with the rays. Like the Atlantis Sub, this excursion filled up quickly. Make sure to get in reservations right away. Cost is appx. $50 PP. We took a boat out to Blue Lagoon Island. The facility had a bar, souvenir building, and ample bathrooms. Plenty of snorkels and masks. No foot fins allowed. At first I thought we would just be viewing the rays.... then I managed to touch one, then another and another. The staff handed out portions of squid as food and the rays responded very well - eating right out of our hands. Pat and I were the last to leave the lagoon. We took an underwater camera and got some great shots of these beautiful creatures. There are appx. 15 rays within the enclosure, along with numerous schools of small fish. Idea: bring pressure cans of cheese whiz - the fish will gather to feed on it. We shopped downtown but found it limiting. Absolutely no kahlua to be found. Again, many jewelry stores and your usual gift shops.

Ft. Lauderdale: We stayed an extra day at The Embassy Suites on 17th Street. At the end of this review I will add that experience. We had some problems with the staff but I'm sure that much of it was due to being accustomed to the pampering one receives on a cruise. Not so in a land based hotel.

Enchantment of the Seas offers seven day cruises from Port Everglades, Ft. Lauderdale, leaving on Sundays. She alternates between eastern and western excursions.

And Finally:

There is a youth center. Many, many children on board. Most were behaved but children will be children. On one occasion, we entered an elevator to find a group of teen-age girls. They asked us where we wanted to go and pushed the buttons for others. They were bored and were trying to amuse themselves.

I must mention that this is a cruise originating on the east coast. We are western folk and use to manners and hospitality. We found many of our fellow passengers to be rude and without any sort of etiquette.

Would we sail on RCI again? Yes, the price is right and, other than the food, the cruise was a marvelous experience.

To read about our experiences at The Embassy Suites in Ft. Lauderdale, scroll down below my signature.

Happy sailing,
H. Michael Ball, heberb@hevanet.com

The Stay at Embassy Suites and a Minor Fiasco at the Airport:

Staying at Embassy Suites was a real letdown after being pampered on the cruise ship. The facility was beautiful and our suite was spacious, (almost like being in a barn after staying in the ship suite,) but the staff seemed unfriendly and apathetic. Is this normal behavior on the East Coast? I don't know.

Upon arrival I wanted a cup of coffee. We noticed a coffee station in the atrium but the attendant bluntly told me that it was closed. She turned away from me and began mumbling as if perturbed by my inquiry. I went to the room to make my own..... all that was there was decaf. We ended up at their bar and had two mochas at $3.50 a pop! I later called the desk and requested regular coffee - housekeeping sent me four more bags of decaf! At this point I developed an attitude and poured out my frustration to the poor receptionist at the front desk. They sent us free room service of coffee and what seemed like a weeks supply of coffee and condiments for the room. Fact is, I shouldn't have had to go through that experience.... not at $200 per night.

We ate at The Outback Steakhouse which was next door..... best meal of the entire vacation - shrimp, lobster, steaks; in a friendly and efficient atmosphere.

Next day we planned for lunch in the embassy atrium restaurant. We stood and waited to be seated... and waited..... and waited.... finally, a waitress called us over while she bussed at the buffet line..... told us to just have a seat.. hmmm..... So we sit down and the first thing we notice is that Pat's table spoon is filthy. geeeeze, forget it, let's check out and eat at the airport.

Get to the airport at about 12:30 pm to find that Delta had canceled our flight due to mechanical problems on the L-1011. Arranged a flight on American which didn't leave until 7:50 pm. Delta gave us a $12 voucher for the restaurant.... their way of saying 'we're sorry'. Needless to say, we had hours and hours of sitting at the airport... reading and people watching. The AA planes were old and small, (727's,) but they do have more leg room - just like they preach on their TV adds.

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