Occupation:Market Research Manager
Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Enchantment of the Seas
Sailing Date: April 12th, 2004
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
After reading various message boards for several months, and taking in every last bit of information I could find on particular ships and cruising in general, it’s time to give back. And I’ll give back to the extreme. The one thing I couldn’t get enough of, were greatly detailed reviews. They seemed few and far between, but this one will be lengthy. Ridiculously long probably. I hope that less experienced cruisers will find it insightful. The veterans will likely find it quite boring. When it comes to cruising, too much info is never enough, so off we go.
We selected the 5 night Western Caribbean cruise on Enchantment of the Seas out of Ft Lauderdale primarily for its timing. We needed something during my son’s Easter break, and this filled the bill. And while we’ve been to Key West a few times, we had not been to Cozumel or Belize, so that sealed the deal. We departed Monday, April 12 and returned Saturday, April 17.
Another thing I’ve wondered as I’ve read various reviews and comments is,
Who are these people? What are they like? Seems to me an inexperienced cruiser on a limited budget might have different impressions and opinions than a veteran cruiser with deep pockets. I think having a little background would put a reviewer’s comments in context. That said (and probably violating some board protocol), I’d describe us as a fairly typical middle class family, perhaps in the middle, or just above, of that category. That position may fluctuate depending upon how many calls we get from my daughter at college seeking “loans!”
For my wife (49) and I (48) this was only our second cruise, the first being a 3-nighter on Majesty to the Bahamas back in September to celebrate our 25th anniversary. This was the first cruise for our 16 year old son. We’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled extensively in the US—including Hawaii—the Caribbean, and a bit of Europe. We tend to be very independent, if not adventurous, preferring to make our own way, sight-seeing without a group, and at our own pace. We’re also essentially land-lubbers. Our ideal vacation to this point has been to find a condo on a stretch of beach and park for a week with a cooler and blender near by. We have a timeshare in St Thomas on Sapphire Beach. The Majesty anniversary cruise was a special case, and we enjoyed it enough to try another cruise for this year’s spring break. I also do a lot of research so as not to be surprised by anything. I knew what things might not be perfect on this cruise, but I was prepared to deal with them. An enjoyable vacation is all about expectations. On to our cruise vacation.
Arrival in Ft Lauderdale
Here’s another twist. To save some money, and because we enjoy road trips, we drove to Ft Lauderdale. Doesn’t sound so crazy until I mention that we live in Wisconsin. Like I said, we’re a bit adventurous. The idea was to enjoy a day or two lounging on the beach, and getting a little sun before we set sail. This worked out well. For our accommodation on Saturday the 10th I used Priceline for the first time ever on anything, and bid on a 3 star beach location at $65.
We got the Sheraton Yankee Clipper, which is a resort hotel right on the beach in the heart of Ft Lauderdale. So what was the catch at this price? None really, except the room location was certainly not beach front, and was in fact across the street in their “annex” (my word). Still, a perfectly good two bed room that still had an ocean view. A skywalk took us across the street to the main building and down the stairs to the pool and beach. An absolute steal of a deal I thought, and the weather was perfect to boot. A bonus was that on Easter Sunday, a sunrise service was being held on the beach just down from the hotel. A huge interfaith crowd, with a gospel choir providing the music. I’m not super religious, but this was really neat. A great brunch was had at a place called Charley’s Crab, located right on one of the waterways with great views and a bountiful buffet of both breakfast and dinner items. So a great spot all in all, but I blew it. We were two nights in Ft Lauderdale before sailing, and I was looking for a place for the second night where I could leave the car without being charged, and that had transport to the pier. Didn’t want to take a chance with Priceline considering those requirements, so we opted for a Sleep Inn near the airport that met the specs. Almost twice the cost, but seemed worth it at the time. But when I found out they wouldn’t take us to Port Everglades any sooner than 11AM (and I started to worry about leaving the car) we decided to drive to the pier ourselves and park in the garage. Cost us $12 a day, but I also started to think about what kind of hassle would be involved with getting the hotel van to pick us up, and the time that might be wasted. Remember, we needed to get back on the road as soon as we returned. Driving to the pier ourselves was a smart move at the end of the day, but it meant we could have stayed at the Sheraton both nights and the cost difference would have paid for the parking. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!
Embarkation and Accommodations
We awoke on sail day, Monday the 12th, to tremendous thunderstorms. It was making national news on the morning talk shows, and watches and warnings were everywhere. Tornados were possible. Not a great start, or so it appeared. But as the morning wore on, the storms passed through, and by 10 AM we were seeing some clearing. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before, but I mention this to remind you that the weather can change dramatically in the tropical zones at a moment’s notice, so don’t worry if things look like a wash-out. It was warming nicely, and we could see blue skies by the time we got to the pier.
Let me say here that for me, getting to the pier and going through the process of boarding the ship is the most exciting time of the trip. All of the planning and anticipation is coming to a head, and unlike boarding an airplane, the vacation starts the minute you walk down the gangway. It may sound corny, but it’s tough to beat the thrill of finally getting there and stepping foot on your ship.
Old news, even to novices, but do ignore the 2PM boarding time stated in your cruise docs. Two reasons for this. First, they do board much earlier than 2, allowing additional time to enjoy the ship and lunch. The second has to do with upgrades, but more on that in a minute. We were parked in the garage and in the Enchantment terminal (#25) about 10:45. Based on some board postings I’d read, I was prepared for a less than good experience with Port Everglades. I’d read reviews that described it as much less convenient and organized compared to Miami. Well, don’t believe everything you read. This was smooth as silk. I have no idea what those people could have been talking about. The first Royal Caribbean employee we encountered was still outside of the terminal building, politely directing us. Inside, there were more RC reps, but signage was adequate enough that they didn’t even have to be there. They checked our RC docs (not the passports and other ID), and directed us to the waiting area. The sign said boarding would begin at 11:30. The good news here is that they filled the waiting area based on everyone’s order of arrival. They ushered people into row one, then opened row 2, etc. And when it was time to board, you went through security, the obligatory arrival photo, and then the check-in counter in the order in which you arrived. Very well done I thought, and VERY important if you’re seeking an upgrade. A note about “smuggling.” Anyone who has read the posts on these boards knows I’m referring to drinks. Bringing your own, somewhat discretely, is absolutely no problem. At least it hasn’t been on my first two cruises. If caught and asked to dispose, I’d fully understand. But in one of my carry-ons I had about 12 beers, 12 sodas, a six-pack of juices for mixers, and 2 pints of rum. Yes, a bit heavy, but it sailed through security without a peep.
A note about luggage. Strictly a matter of personal preference, but we are a “carry-on only" family. This can get dicey on airplanes where there is a limit, but you absolutely do not have to check your luggage with RC as long as it fits through the X-ray machine. If you can lug it, you can take it yourself. This saves the worry of when and if it shows up in your cabin, and allows you to disembark at your leisure. No checked luggage, no color coded tags. Get off when you want, which in our case was first. I think this is another hidden fact about cruising. We managed fine with 3 overhead bin-sized wheelies, two mid-sized duffles and 2 back packs. Strongly recommended if you can pull it off. Tough with small children, as they can’t serve as Sherpas like my strapping 16 year old son!
On the subject of upgrades I was an absolute neophyte. I see some discussion on the boards, but very little detail about the hows, wheres and whens. So I’ll tell you how it worked for us, with no guarantee that it would work the same way at another port (or even this one). At the check-in counter, you go through a process very similar to boarding an airplane. It was here I made my first inquiry about upgrading our cabin. We had booked an inside cabin on the 8th deck, (8033). Just before leaving home, I looked up this sailing on the RC web site and saw that there were still some window and balcony cabins available. Much like an airline with available first class seats, I figured RC would rather get SOME money for them, rather than leave them empty. I also figured that there may have been some Category X bookings (where you book at lower cost without knowing your cabin assignment) RC would prefer to fill with inside cabins. Happy to give ours up for something nicer! I’m about to commit another breach of protocol (perhaps) by talking about costs. It’s discussed very little on the boards, and maybe there’s a rule about it somewhere. I think its valuable info to have for comparison purposes, and to give folks an idea of what is possible for what costs. I also know that costs of exactly the same type cabin on the same cruise can vary greatly depending on when, and with whom, you book. I know I may have received a better deal than some, and have no disdain for those who may have done better than I. We paid just under $1200 for 3 of us in the inside cabin on 8—a Category K room. When asking the agent at check-in about upgrading, she completed the process for checking us into our assigned cabin, and then directed me to the Pier Coordinator which had its own section in the check-in area. There was no line there, which I believe was a very good thing. I got the impression the available cabins go out first come, first served. My minimal Crown and Anchor membership (only 2 cruises) may have helped the cause, but as I was among the first to inquire, I’ll never really know. It sure does feel like whatever the case, GET THERE EARLY if you want a shot at upgrading. I did not expect to get anything for free, but again, board discussion never really made that clear in my mind. I went in prepared to pay up to $500 additional for a window cabin. I asked, and they had none, but was offered a Junior Suite (Category C). Two beds (or Queen), sofa bed (rather than a bunk/Pullman), nice-sized sitting area, refrigerator, a bathtub, and of course the ultimate Holy Grail—a balcony. Can’t be in my league I thought. The cost? An additional $600. Sold!! So the grand total for us was $1800 for a cabin just about as big as a standard-sized hotel room. The only comparison I have is the early booking rate in the brochure which says $1189 per person for this cabin. And even if a travel agent could do better, I doubt it would get down to $600 each. This seemed like one heckuva deal to me. The cabin was 8078, the last aft balcony cabin on the port side. Great for privacy and low noise, but more walking required than if we were further forward. That’s NOT a complaint—just an observation, and quite good for working off the additional calorie intake!
So new Sea Passes were issued, and it’s on to get your picture taken for ship ID purposes. A very painless process. Then it’s down the gangway, and after months of preparation and anticipation, we were on the Enchantment of the Seas.
For those of you still with me, the details will continue. I’ve seen very little written about Enchantment compared to other ships, and will try to fill that void now. You board the ship on Deck 4, with the Centrum spanning 4 decks high above you. This seemed more elegant than what I remember about Majesty, with the colors here primarily gold, silver and white compared to the multi hues of the Centrum on Majesty. The Enchantment felt more up-scale. A minor disappointment was the lack of a welcome drink which was provided on Majesty.
Those with younger children were immediately met by reps from Adventure Ocean with info about the programs, but mainly to get the kids “tagged.” Those under a certain age (9 or 10?) must wear a color-coded wristband for the duration of the cruise. For security reasons I imagine, and it certainly helps with locating “lost parents” of which we did have one incident during the trip. Deck 4 is the location of the Champagne Terrace, located mid-ship. This is a very open lounge area, with a small bar, lots of seating and windows galore. There was a piano player, some form of strings and a singer that were performing individually or collectively for what seemed like 24/7. It was not really an imposition I guess, but you could hear this music from almost any level in the middle of the ship while waiting for elevators, or using another area (like the Internet Café). The whole scene reminded me of the old Saturday Live bit with Bill Murray playing the lounge singer. This guy was better of course, but I was pretty sure he’d be singing “Feelings” at any moment. Forward are cabins, and aft is the lower level of the My Fair Lady dining room. No other public areas on this deck. Nothing but cabins below on decks 2 and 3, so I’ll continue the tour working our way up.
On Deck 5 aft is the upper level of My Fair Lady (more on the dining room later). Moving forward, you pass by the Centrum and the elevator bank—glass enclosed through the Centrum, as well as the regular kind. Just beyond the elevators are the Purser’s and Explorations desks, and beyond that is Casino Royale. We’re not big gamblers, but I always “contribute” when I get the chance. The video poker and slots seemed really tight, and I probably didn’t drop 50 bucks in there the whole cruise. Continuing forward is the main level of the Orpheum Theatre. The shows are held here, as well as some of the games. Amazingly enough, you can’t get here without walking through the casino.
On Deck 6 aft is the Carousel Lounge, which is sort of “night-clubbish” in appearance. A bar, a band stand, dance floor and lots of cocktail table seating.
Obviously, there was some dancing here, some games, and the Captain’s Reception. Going forward, if you veer off to the port (left) side you’ll come to the Fascinating Rhythm Lounge. Totally unused this cruise as far as I could see. Maybe a shopping talk. And the one time we walked through it, I noticed it had no bar. Perhaps just a lounge in the truest sense of the word. Directly across on the starboard side is the Schooner Bar. A dead ringer for the one on Majesty, and probably for all the ships in the fleet. This had a piano bar in it, with the “Piano Man” going at it every night from Happy Hour on. He seemed to be drawing good crowds—never an empty seat at the piano. And when folks knew the words they sang along, which was clearly welcomed by the guy. We enjoyed this location for a happy hour or two, and a good spot to watch the sunset from inside if the ship is going in the right direction. In between these two lounges is the Conference Center. Never appeared to be accessible, which was fine as I had no conferences planned for the cruise. Continuing forward on Deck 6 you come to the Centrum balcony once again (Feelings, nothing more than feelings . . . . ), and just beyond is the Photo Gallery where you can see the ugly, bedraggled snap of you taken after a long day of travel. Just past the gallery are the shops. About the same variety as on Majesty, but this seemed more congested to me. On Majesty, the shops surrounded the Centrum, and felt more open and mall-like. Here, they seemed closer together, strung along winding narrow passageways. But of course the liquor, sunglasses, clothing and souvenirs are all still available and your Sea Pass is more than welcome! Finally on Deck 6 furthest forward is the upper level of the Orpheum Theatre. Note that you can get here without walking through the casino, but not without walking through the shops. Don’t you just love a good marketing floorplan?!?! This theatre by the way looked very much like the Chorus Line Lounge on Majesty.
Deck 7 is mainly cabins, with a Card Room (port) and a Library (starboard) on either side of the Centrum area. Never made it to either of these spots, so nothing to report. I did notice they were both enclosed areas (with doors).
Deck 8 is also mainly cabins with the Internet Café (port) and the Crown and Anchor Study (starboard) on either side of the Centrum. These are both open areas, which is fine for the internet area, but problematic for the C&A Study.
The internet had more stations than Majesty, and I did break down once to check e-mail at 50 cents a minute. Got in and out for 5 bucks. The C&A Study also serves as the Cigar Lounge, which is odd considering the aroma (I call it stink) is available for any passer-by to “enjoy.” It is very nice in appearance, but my two cents says it should be enclosed.
Deck 9 is where we spent a whole lot of time. Let’s start forward and work aft. The Windjammer Café is at the front, and is a slightly different configuration than on Majesty. On Enchantment, the Windjammer seating is mostly inside and on the same level as the buffet lines. On Majesty there is lots of seating on the level above, mostly outdoor. The Enchantment seating arrangement is in the shape of an upside down U as you face forward. Windows all around, and the front provides exceptional views. The extended sides of the U make up buffet lines on each side. In the center of the U is the waffle, pancake, French toast, biscuits and gravy area for breakfast, desserts in this area for lunch and dinner. Looks like it’s time to start commenting on the food. We are not food connoisseurs, but know and enjoy a good meal when we see one. We are not regular patrons at 5-star establishments and maybe that tells the tale, but in our opinion there was absolutely nothing wrong with any meal, at any location, on this ship. Breakfast was the best. All the unhealthy food you’re not supposed to have too much of, available for you to take in unlimited quantities! I went back and forth between waffles with strawberries and eggs (there is an omelet station), but every day included bacon, sausage and hash browns—the good crispy kind you get at fast food outlets. And if I felt like going over the edge, I’d throw in a donut and a cinnamon roll. Needless to say, I missed a few lunches due to the size of breakfast. Lunches in the Windjammer were good too, but not the type of selections I would normally have for lunch. The items were more like dinner including a carved meat of the day, ribs, fried chicken, baked fish, stir fry, lots of various potatoes and veggies. There was also a sandwich bar that had pre-made wraps that looked good, as well as a guy making huge subs and cutting them into individual portions. You might have been able to get a made-to-order sandwich there, but I’m not sure. Didn’t ask. And no review would be complete without commenting on the coffee. No winner there, but we all know that. But I refused to give in to buying any Seattle’s Best in case the lousy coffee was another marketing ploy to get us to spend more money on the good stuff. So, ½ to ¾ of a cup, add hot water, throw in double the amount of sugar you’re used to and voila! It works, and it won’t kill you. Interestingly, there is a Seattle’s Best sign on the Windjammer coffee urns.
Heading aft on Deck 9 from the Windjammer is the main pool. Salt water, about 5 feet deep, very nice, and plenty of chairs, including a fair portion of the fabric kind with a little built-in pillow. The rest were of the plastic strap variety. Shade could be found on the section of the deck covered by the sun deck above. The 4 hot tubs were situated around and near the pool unlike Majesty where they were set pretty far away on either end of the pool. The hot tubs were a popular spot, but I could live without getting in one. The one time I tried, I found one uncrowded but as I approached, the pool attendant was clearing it of people. I asked if he was closing it down, and he said no. It was just full of unattended children under 12 and he was enforcing the rules. I gave him a hearty “You da man!” and soaked alone for a while until I was discovered by others. At the aft end of the pool is the pool bar, probably the busiest on the ship. Continue aft, and on both sides you see protected areas where ping-pong tables were set up, and just beyond there is the door to the Solarium on the port side, and the entrance to the Ship Shape Center (gym) on the starboard side. The Solarium is the indoor pool with a retractable roof. The roof wasn’t open very often to my knowledge, but even if it was you couldn’t get much sun in there unless the angle was just right. Good for a windy or bad weather day though. It seems the Solarium became the de facto hangout for the teenage set, especially in the evenings. Definitely not in an obtrusive way by any means. The few times I went in there to escape the noise and swim a few laps were very pleasant. Probably a good time to comment on kids and teens in general, and many were aboard. It was Easter break after all, and we expected nothing less. The good news is I found no evidence of the horror stories we’ve all read on the board about out of control kids. Younger children would shriek and laugh in the pool as expected, and the teens would gather in little packs around pool chairs or in the Solarium and gossip about each other. Since the hot dog, hamburger, pizza and French fry stand was in there, it made perfect sense that they would gather there. Lots of kids seemed to know each other, or got to know each other quickly, and all appeared very well behaved. I heard lots of Yes Sirs and No Ma’ams when encountering adults not their parents, and was pleasantly surprised considering all I’d read. Kudos to these kids AND their parents for being great cruise companions. No review on the gym as I was too busy eating sausage, bacon , potatoes, ribs and cheesecake to ever get in there.
Deck 10 is the Sun Deck and jogging track. Tons more chairs, and actually a better spot for sunning in my opinion to escape the frenetic pool activity. The Adventure Ocean Club for kids is forward on this deck, as well as the Fantaseas Lounge for teens. The V-deck (video games) is also here. The activities for kids seemed well organized and well attended. The teens however were another story. We knew we were taking a chance bringing my son (16) along without a friend, but had convinced him there would be others in his shoes, and the teen activities would serve as good ice-breakers. Wrong. The teens tended to do their own thing as I’ve often read here, and the programs for 15-17 year olds were poorly attended. I think the planned activities would have served the teens well, but I imagine they were all just too cool to be bothered. Credit to my son for trying to seek things out, but to use his words, activities were “lame.” But he managed to scrounge up a ping-pong match with a same aged opponent, frequented the Solarium snack bar on his own, climbed the rock wall (Deck 10 aft), enjoyed general exploration of the ship and totally loved the food. He had a good time, but will definitely bring a friend on the next cruise. Also on this deck are shuffle board courts and nine little putting greens, each being different with various undulations and faux sand traps.
You finally reach the top of the ship at Deck 11 in the Viking Crown Lounge. Unlike Majesty, the VC on Enchantment is the adult disco. On Majesty it was a more intimate lounge that reminded me of a roof-top hotel bar. Here, it’s much bigger with a dance floor, lots of seating, and a second level that juts out over about half of the lower level. The elevators open up right on the dance floor. Pretty neat.
It’s time to move on to ports, activities and excursions.
Day 1 – Ft Lauderdale
I’ve already mentioned the check-in and boarding process. Lunch was available in the Windjammer and included carved steamship round among other goodies.
The cabin was not quite ready upon boarding, but we were able to drop our stuff off with no problem. This is when we first met our cabin attendant Ashley (male) from Jamaica I think. The room was set for 2, and we advised him we were three. Also asked for the queen bed to be converted into twins. Perhaps an odd request, but no romance this trip with our son along so we might as well have our own space! We peeked to see the sofa bed wasn’t made up yet, but had no fears. There was already ice in the bucket so I proceeded to unpack my collapsible cooler, filled it with my smuggled goods and poured the ice over top. The cooler leaks a bit, so I put it in the bathtub for the moment. Saw Ashley on the way out to tell him we already needed more ice, and not to worry if he saw a foreign object in the tub. We came back less than an hour later to find the beds separated, the sofa bed made up, the third life jacket laid out for the muster drill, the ice bucket re-filled AND my cooler in the tub also filled to the top with ice!
Knew right away we had a winner here. Ashley had already earned gratuities above the average. The muster drill was painless, and over and done in less than 20 minutes. Sail away was slightly late (5:15) due to waiting for RC booked flights to arrive (remember the thunderstorms?), and as you would expect, the calypso and steel drum band was playing away poolside and foo-foo frozen drinks were available in abundance. Yes, we gave in, bought 2 and toasted the beginning of a great vacation.
We opted for second seating dinner, which is another matter of personal preference, but highly recommended. We like it as it allows for a more relaxed approach to dinner, lounging by the pool until the last bit of sun fades, a pre-dinner drink in one of the lounges or on your balcony and plenty of time to clean up after the day’s activities. It’s not for everyone, especially if you have smaller children who will be dining with you. And if you think you’ll be hungry while waiting to eat that late, think again. A couple of pieces of cheese pizza from the Solarium snack bar make for a good appetizer. Second seating required we attend the 7:00 Welcome Aboard Show (9:00 for first seating guests) if we were so inclined. We were. The show was in the Orpheum Theatre, and this was our first glimpse of the infamous Cruise Director, Matt Baker. He was all he was made out to be on the various board posts. Apparently, he’s only recently back from his 2 month break and is clearly refreshed and revitalized. Now the cynic in me says that he’s just an outgoing, corny, over-the-top guy that sometimes reaches too far. But that’s probably in the official job description, so he’s a perfect fit. The Cruise Director we had on the Majesty was good, but didn’t have nearly the amount of energy Matt does. He told a few stale jokes to get things started, then introduced Billy Prudhomme, a comic juggler. He was pretty entertaining, and his dialect and verbiage reminded me of Nathan Lane. He used an audience “volunteer” for one of the juggling bits which was quite funny. A word of caution though. This is a family show, but I’ve have to rate it at least a PG-13, keeping in mind a PG-13 by today’s standard might be a bit harsh for some folks. No Howard Stern-like material, but some bathroom humor and a little sexual innuendo. Not a big deal, but you might want to be prepared if you’re easily offended or have small ones. Overall, a good starting show.
We had previously seen the My Fair Lady dining room during our afternoon exploration while finding our assigned table. Wanted to look like we knew what we were doing when we got there! But to see it in the evening, full of diners and staff, and with the piano and violin music in background, is another story altogether. A much better atmosphere than the dining rooms on Majesty. Very classy with subdued lighting, and the balcony seating with the large staircase flowing to the lower level gives the whole thing a sort of Titanic feeling to it (before the third reel). Our waiter was Archie from the Philippines, and the assistant waiter was Anton from Bulgaria. Service was over the top as it has been for so many others I’ve read about here. Things ran like clockwork, and while the actions are likely quite scripted, we didn’t really get that feeling. Really felt like we were the only people they were waiting on each night. The table arrangement was a slight disappointment. I originally requested a table for 6, but got to thinking that it might be tough to get a good mix with only 3 remaining spots. I changed it to 10 with the idea that not only we, but my son, might meet some people to enjoy the cruise with. Well, the request for 10 apparently didn’t get through and we were still at a 6 person table, and the other 3 spots were vacant for the entire cruise. Whether they were never assigned, or the folks were just Windjammer patrons, we’ll never know. My son was relieved not to have to eat with “strangers” (typical 16 year old rookie cruiser I guess) but I was counting on this as a way for him to make a friend or two. Life went on just fine. It’s here that I’ll say that I remain completely baffled by the negative comments on the food on RC ships. We had no problem with the food on Majesty, but REALLY had no problem with the Enchantment choices. Maybe it’s my Applebee’s mentality, and I’ll grant you the dining is not 5-star French cuisine, but we thought it was excellent. Didn’t see the dreaded “Ranch Steak” on any menu, unless it was the strip listed each evening under the alternative choices. No matter—the main selections were all we could handle. I should have asked for a copy of each night’s menu to help my memory, but I’ll do the best I can without. 4 or 5 appetizers were available each night, always including a couple of soups. Usually just one salad option, but always a little different than the night before. I’m not a salad eater, so when my wife had hers, I had a second different soup. Tomato bisque, chicken consommé, lobster bisque, minestrone and the most interesting favorite, a cold banana soup topped with croutons. The list goes on. The first night I had prime rib, requested medium rare and delivered that way. Perfection. I can’t recall the exact dessert that night, but I guarantee you it was something chocolate and decadent. Dinner went on until about 10:15, after which we proceeded to the Viking Crown for 70’s night. How could a forty-something resist?!?! This is where Matt Baker put in his appearance as Austin Powers in full regalia including the ruffled shirt and bucked teeth. I’ll overlook the fact that the Austin Powers movies take place in what I perceive to be the mid to late 60’s. But Matt needs a place to do his shtick, and this is as good a place as any I guess. The RC singers and dancers did a tribute to Abba (somehow I suffered through), followed by an appearance by RC’s version of the Village People. All good fun, but our favorite part was all the music that took us back to our days of polyester and platforms. OK—I admit it—I was a Disco Duck. But I’ll tell you this. The Viking Crown is never more crowded than on 70’s night. In fact, we never went back for any longer than to see the place was virtually empty every night after that.
End of Day 1—WHEW!!
Day 2 – Key West
More weather woes this morning. Awoke at about 4:30 AM to serious thunder and lightening. Visions of Gilligan and the Skipper dancing in my head. But the good news was, the seas remained fairly calm, so no worries with the hope that this storm would also blow over for our day in Key West. At 7:30 AM, still stormy, but land was in sight. Always a good sign. I enjoy watching the ship pull in and tie up, but as the rain was blowing sideways, I took refuge in the Viking Crown. A good 360 view, if not as close as you’d like. This is where I had my first (and only) encounter with what I have no choice but to call a “Cruise Idiot.” Sounds real snobbish on my part, but sometimes you just have to wonder about some people. He seemed a bit younger than I, and joined me near my perch in the VC. Docking was scheduled for 7, so clearly we were behind. He says, “Any word on what’s going on? Anybody gonna tell us anything?” “What do you mean?” I ask. “We were supposed to dock at 7. What’s the story?!?!” As the Viking Crown as floor to ceiling windows, the lightening was still flashing and the guy didn’t appear to be blind, I was baffled. I said that while I may be going out on a limb here, my bet would be we’ve been held up by the rather severe weather. “You think so?” was his ingenious reply. With lightening still striking, and the rain falling in no set pattern, I felt it was a good guess. I suppose he went straight to the purser looking for a free cruise. And to set the record straight, we did find out later than there are “holding patterns” for ships, just as there are for airplanes. As much as I would have enjoyed meeting Mary Ann and Ginger that day, the delayed (SAFE) arrival suited me fine. Several of the RC booked excursions were cancelled. And low and behold, the weather did start to clear. A bit overcast most of the day, but no rain, and even full sun by departure. This is a short stop, with all aboard at just 1:30PM. We’d seen Key West before so no real loss for us. Did a little strolling and shopping, had the infamous chocolate-covered frozen Key Lime pie on a stick (GET ONE!), and had the obligatory drink at Sloppy Joe’s. A good day, with the rest of it spent at the pool upon re-boarding.
It was formal night, and these next few things are directed more toward the novices. I’m sure you’ve read it, but a tux is absolutely NOT required. Most men are in dark suits; ladies in their “little black dresses.” There were some tuxes and long dresses, but very much a minority. I’ve quickly learned to not be excited by the approach of the ship’s photographer, but do go for the formal portraits this night. It’s totally no obligation, and really looks good with poses around the Centrum and the staircases. The fake backgrounds I can do without. And if you’re like us, when else will you get a picture of your teenager wearing a coat and tie?!?! Additional copies for the grandparents on the home scanner and printer came out great.
This evening was also the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Reception held in the Carousel Lounge. Not mentioned on the board much, but if you’ve never done this, you should. It’s sort of a throwback to the long-gone classier cruising days. It’s literally a reception/receiving line, where one of the cruise director staff gets your name, and then introduces/announces you to the Captain. Photos taken of course. (We bought it.). Captain was quite conversational, asking where we were from, and when recognizing the area, proceeded to rattle off a few of the towns he‘d been to in the area. How he does that for several hundred passengers, I don’t know. You’re then seated by spiffily dressed, white-gloved waiters, and offered complimentary cocktails—always a plus! Champagne, Bicardi Cocktail, Tom Collins or Fruit Punch for the kiddies. Seconds available. There’s an orchestra playing, set up on the bandstand like Lawrence Welk or Guy Lombardo, and dancing—the old-fashioned kind—is welcomed. Reminded me of watching New Year’s Eve on TV before the days of Dick Clark. The Captain and his first officers all dress up in their white waist coats, and after hearing some stats about the ship, each is introduced. All in all, a real nice pre-formal dinner event I think.
At dinner, passengers followed the attire for the evening, but there were some exceptions. I wish RC would enforce the dress code (at least the coat and tie), but I guess that’s asking too much of a paying passenger. The biggest problem was my son saying, “THAT guy’s not wearing a tie!” He was lucky we let him wear khakis. My selection tonight was a tenderloin (filet), delivered medium-rare as requested, and once again excellent. The left-over wine from the night before was waiting for us at the table when we got there. Can’t recall the exact dessert, but once again, rich and high calorie.
After dinner, we took in the Battle of the Sexes, also in the Carousel Lounge. This was a Family Feud style game with the men against the women. Got there late, so I don’t know how they divided things up. The “families” seemed to be just about anyone who wanted to play, and I’m not sure how the people who actually went up to answer were picked. Had a podium with buzzers and electronic scoreboard just like the real thing. Very high turn-out, but mostly the younger set. Late teens to late twenties I’d say. Not a deterrent, and their level of energy made it fun. One of the young men disputed a ruling, and I was surprised (pleasantly?) to hear one of the staff say if whining was his thing, there was a spot for him in the Adventure Ocean Club. OUCH!! After this, I went to the “Sweet Dreams” production show (Orpheum Theatre) put on by the RC singers and dancers. A bit too artsy--and almost ballet-like--for me, so I left after the first number. Time to close another long day anyway.
Day 3 – Cozumel
Was greeted in Cozumel by full sun and warm temps. But the wind was whipping pretty good, and once again several excursions were cancelled. No problems with docking at the International Pier, and watched every last bit of the process from our balcony. As adventurous types, we booked no excursions through RC, preferring to do things on our own. The plan called for a snorkel stop at Dzul-Ha, lounging, eating and drinking at Paradise Beach, wrapping up with some shopping in town and at the pier. All went off without a hitch. With beautiful weather, it was a lot more crowded getting off the ship. So we snaked through the line starting at the 2nd deck and winding down the staircase. Anxious to get going, but no big deal really. To make your way to taxis, you’re herded past some shops (I can assure you, good marketing exists beyond US shores) to the taxi queue. This was a zoo! There was a line with a few “dispatchers,” but I’m not sure how official it all was. Taxi rates to many spots posted, so no issues with costs. The line moved OK, but they were trying to match up group size with taxi size. Larger groups to the vans, smaller like us to a standard-sized vehicle. But neither the line, nor the order of arrival of the taxis, had any order to them. Easily solved by setting up lines based on party size, if anyone at the Cozumel port is reading this board. Made our way to Dzul-Ha for 12 bucks, and without incident. No charge for this location. The beach here is small, rocky and very primitive, with rock/stone stairs to walk down into the water. There are lounge chairs and tables with umbrellas. There’s a little shack that serves as a nice bar, where we chose to stick with bottled and canned drinks, just to be sure. Dzul-Ha was promoted as the best land-based snorkeling on the island, and in our view it was nothing to write home about. Other spots around the Caribbean may have unduly influenced us, and with the wind, things were stirred up. But even on a calm day, I’m not convinced there would have been a good show. If you’ve never snorkeled before, this would still be the place on Cozumel, and you’re sure to enjoy it. The off-shore boat trips to the reefs would probably be excellent (but cancelled that day due to wind). Was concerned about “hailing” a cab to get to Paradise, but the barkeep helped us out, and it was no problem. 6 more bucks in fare, and we were at Paradise. If you’ve read about it here, or on the Cozumel board, we can tell you all that’s written is true. The entrance is landscaped, manicured beautifully, and lined with palm trees. Under the big pavilion is the bar with several tables, which leads to the pristine, white sand beach. The wind continued its assault, and the advertised beach toys of the “iceberg” and water trampoline had been hauled to shore for safety’s sake. Kayaks were available. Plenty of chairs and umbrellas, although as a late arrival (1 PM) I think we got the last of the chairs, and opted for palm tree shade instead of an umbrella. I don’t think any were left. There are very clean changing rooms and an outdoor shower to wash off sand and salt. The restrooms were also spotless, although there was a plumbing problem that day. You get nervous when you hear that, but it was nothing more pressing than having the workers occasionally having to manually fill the toilet tanks with water. We couldn’t tell any difference. Probably more hassle for the women than the men. As of this day, April 14, all this was still free. I say it that way because I can’t believe the “No Charge” policy can remain in effect much longer. The place is just too nice, and the service is just too great. So to do our part—and we would have anyway—we ordered up a bucket ‘o beers, and had some wraps and burgers. About 50 bucks altogether for the 3 of us. If you go, patronize the restaurant and bar, and help keep access free.
Another taxi back to town ($18 and plentiful at Paradise), and we started spending our money on fridge magnets, Christmas ornaments, ash trays and all those other trinkets so important to buy at these ports. A final 6 bucks back to the ship, and our Cozumel day was complete.
Tonight’s pre-dinner show was The Beatlemaniacs. Four guys with the looks and costumes of the Fab Four. Enjoyed Happy Hour at the Schooner bar before the show. This was a good show. No mistaking for the real thing, but they played (live) the hits from the various stages, dressing the part as they looked in Ed Sullivan days, Sgt Peppers and the final (freaky) look with Let It Be. Everybody sang along, and we twisted and shouted as well. Tonight was lobster (and shrimp) night. I was polite, and figured I’d worry about seconds later if I felt it was appropriate. Then I saw the table next to us have double portions delivered right from the git-go, and I knew I’d made a mistake. Still and all, it leaves me with a feeling of taking advantage, which I know is allowed, but feel will somehow come back to haunt us with increased pricing. However . . . . . when asked by the waiter if all was well, I said tongue-in-cheek I probably should have ordered a second tail. No sooner asked than delivered. Guess I’ll just pay the increase!
The late entertainment tonight for us was the Love and Marriage game show—the take-off on the Newlywed Game. It was held in the Orpheum Theatre. We not only attended this on our Majesty cruise, but were picked to play, and won! You can become no more famous than when having intimate questions and answers replayed on cruise TV for a couple days. We were even stopped in the airport on the way home. For this, Matt Baker did a much better job of hosting and entertaining than our Majesty CD. The players were selected based on length of marriage, but then had to do something wacky and be judged by audience applause. Not much new here—most annoying relative, weirdest habit, strangest place for whoopee, etc. With Matt’s accent, he was able to pull off a convenient mispronunciation when asking for the husband’s favorite “condiment,” and he sort of slurred the word. Most folks saw it coming, and only one contestant fell for it. Still funny though. One husband shyly admitted his favorite brand. And if you haven’t figured this out, you probably shouldn’t go to the show. And of course, we’re just about in “R” range with this one, so govern yourself accordingly when considering kids’ attendance, although there were some there.
After this was the Dancing Under the Stars party at the pool. Lots of calypso music, limbo dancing, conga lines and waiters spinning trays and juggling liquor bottles. A standard barbeque buffet was available poolside at midnight. Another action-packed day comes to an end.
Day 4 – Belize
This is a tender port, and with the interesting weather we’d had thus far, we were prepared for cancellation. But the gods were in our favor, and it was game on.
The harbor must be extremely shallow for quite a distance out. The tender ride—fairly comfortable 70-person skiffs—was about 20 minutes. About the length of the ride from St Thomas to St John if you’ve ever done that, but at top speeds so the distance must be further. All excursions were on that day, so we took our time getting off as those folks get priority. Here’s another caution on timing. The clocks on the ship had been set back to central daylight time back at Cozumel, and were assured there was no time difference on shore at Belize. WRONG!! Because it’s an hour earlier on shore, no one was late for anything, but be advised. We could have taken even more time to get there. When the clocks change again in the fall, Belize will be the same as central standard time.
As mentioned, we booked no excursions through RC. But there was a lot of good press about X-Stream Cave Tubing on these boards, so we’d booked that in advance ourselves via the web a few weeks ahead of departing. $60 a head vs $99 for a similar trip through RC. And an additional cave to boot. This was the highlight of the trip. We were met at the tender dock (as opposed to the Tourism Center courtyard as directed in our e-mail confirmation), by Richard paid our balance in cash (20% deposit on the web via CC) and off we went. We were hooked up with Emmanuel who would serve as our driver and guide all day. There were only 9 of us, all from Enchantment, which made for a very manageable group. The drive through the Belize countryside to the caves was about an hour. Not much to see. More lush than Cozumel, with mountains (where we were headed) in the distance. Emmanuel provided some commentary along the way, which was mildly interesting. You get to the park where he provides you with a truck tire tube and a life jacket (required). We took old garden sneakers with us with the intent of disposing of them immediately upon completion of the tour. Didn’t throw them away as the locals took them to have available as spares. I don’t like renting bowling shoes, so I’m definitely not sure about using someone else’s wet cave shoes! The walk was about 45 minutes along the river to the cave entrance. Emmanuel pointed out lots of trees and plants that are used locally for medicinal or nutritional purposes. Also a dry cave that we stepped into far enough to look up and see bats resting peacefully and hanging from the ceiling. Interestingly, Emmanuel was in and out as fast as the rest of us! You plop down into your tube into a lagoon-looking area, and proceed to float down river into the first cave. And it’s a serious cave. Pitch black, but you also have a miner’s light on your head. Lie back, let the light point to the ceiling, and enjoy all the various formations. There’s some minor “rapids” along the way to gently move you along. And then there’s another cave—also long and winding—that ends with a little rapids area while still in the cave. Neat stuff. The guide gets out of his tube, and stands there to be sure you catch the flow and head the right way. Very safe, but we had a very nervous lady in our group. I felt bad that she was too worried to enjoy it, but at the end said she’d do it all again! At the second cave we saw other groups “putting in.” That proves the point about the cave we got to see up stream that they obviously did not, and the groups size was 30-50 easy. Clearly cruise ship excursions to be avoided like the plague. That said, if you’re worried about timing and don’t mind the extra cost for less of a tour, go for it. Included for us at the end of the trip was a bottle of water and a mess of fruit cut fresh by Emmanuel. There was also a snack shack there (you can’t really call it a restaurant) where you could buy other drinks, alcohol or not, and food if you wanted it. The lunch available—which you order before you start the walk if you want it—consists of a quarter (maybe a half) of barbequed chicken, rice, beans, a small salad, a slice of fried plantain and a nice hunk of toasted garlic bread. Definitely a feast. And the cost for all this? $5 US!! Buy it even if you’re not hungry and take it with you! Back to the Belize tourism village and the tender dock with enough time to buy more trinkets, and have a drink at the Wet Lizard. Remember the time difference when planning your return. Last tenders are set on ship time. We kept watches with each time on them.
Tonight was Caribbean night in the dining room, and I had some form of roasted lamb. Once again, no complaints at all. Dinner was followed by attendance at The Quest game held in the Carousel Lunge. Have read many stories, but had never seen this up close and personal. It’s a scavenger hunt that takes place only within the room, and requires finding and bringing up to Matt things as varied as the day Cruise Compass to an EMPTIED ladies purse. Envision all the contents flung across the dance floor to be the first in. It quickly gets R rated when the men are asked to come forward wearing a bra on their head. Don’t know whether that was more enjoyable, or watching you ladies do that thing you do where you can remove that thing while removing nothing else. A riot either way. The ladies are asked to come up with TWO pairs of men’s pants. I think I could have lived without knowing what percentage of the men on the cruise are “boxers or briefs!” Men had to put on lipstick and slip on ladies shoes. And it goes on. Again, mind your P’s and Q’s with young ones, although there were some there, and there was even one young man 12 or 13 that participated. Basically harmless stuff, but a personal call for sure.
The next event was the viewing of the grand chocolate buffet in the My Fair Lady dining room. Yes—just VIEWING. What’s up with that? Well, it’s so incredible, and so artistic, and so filled with chocolate sculptures and other stuff, that they open for pictures only for an hour before everyone starts tearing it up to get their money’s worth. It was like the Rose Parade of buffets. Just about every decoration on it was made of something edible—usually chocolate. Once again exhausted, we just couldn’t hang on till eating time at 12:30 AM, so off to bed.
Day 5 – At Sea
As suspected this was a windy day, and the one where we get to talk about chair hogs. I have to be careful here. Depending on the definition, I may be one myself. I was also driven by other offenders which prompts the thought, “then why not me?” Today, I had my coffee in a pool chair, and placed the second towel on the one next to me. My wife arrived, and we left our personal coffee mugs and shoes there and went to breakfast. A sacrilege I know, but it was still early, and plenty of chairs were still available. I just don’t know how this can be enforced. Once things get more crowded, how does anyone know if you’re at the bar, in the pool, or elsewhere? With all the trouble we have in the world (and on cruises), chair hogging is WAAYY down on my list of concerns. Ironically, as it got more crowded, we felt better off on the upper deck and relinquished our “prime” spot early on. The wind was tough, even for a sail day according to some of the crew. Hard to get any protection, but with the sunning blazing, it was still warm, and the tanning (and burning) process was uninterrupted.
Due to the various weather issues along the way, much of the port day, pool side activities were postponed until today. This ended up being a good thing, as they were more highly attended and participation was greater. A lesson for RC perhaps? The belly flop contest was good fun--to watch. Winner by applause was a rather big guy, who quite frankly I think was beaten by a lesser statured guy with a great dive/flop. Horse racing—people with horse cut-outs moving along a track by rolls of dice—was also held today, as well as an ice carving demo. There was also a crew parade around the pool with various staff marching through, and waving little flags of their home country. And my son and I played a little bingo today. All standard stuff, but always a good time.
Dinner tonight was a pretty straight-forward NY strip steak—NOT the ranch steak!! Once again, nothing but kudos all around. The two previous nights included some performance or another by the wait staff, and tonight was no exception. The third night we had the ever-present Baked Alaska on the head dance, a performance of That’s Amore on Italian night, and tonight’s farewell song was a rendition of Hey Look us Over (Give us your tips!!). OK—a bit cynical, but that is after all what these guys and gals are working toward. And earning every penny in my opinion. I decided not to worry about conserving gratuity cash, and the night before, before anyone else thought about it and got in a long line at the Purser’s Desk, added the gratuities to our Sea Pass account. They give you little coupons for each staff member that are valued at the standard amount as recommended by RC. Feel free to add more—we certainly did. The final dinner feels a lot like a high school graduation, with everyone hugging and kissing good-bye to each other and their servers. Phone numbers and e-mails being exchanged, and more flash bulbs popping than on any other night. I think a new metric for RC should be the number of photo flashes on the final night. By that measure, an overwhelming number of passengers thoroughly enjoyed this cruise. Afterwards, folks were wandering all over, taking final looks and pictures, probably hoping for a mechanical failure to keep us at sea even longer. But alas it was not to be.
Day 6 – Arrival in Ft Lauderdale and
Can it be over already?!?!?! (By now you’re thinking, I hope so!) To be honest, there was a little part of my body saying, Thank God! But seriously, you hate to see it end. In summary, everything was great, the ship is gorgeous, the staff everywhere yet invisible, and you start to think about when you can next do this all again. We pulled in at about 6:30 AM, but were not cleared until almost 8:30. No problem, as we enjoyed one last leisurely breakfast in the Windjammer. Getting off—and getting on your way like we needed to--is where the carry-on luggage approach really pays off. First note, unless you are directly requested or physically removed, stay in your cabin if you like until the ship clears to avoid all the milling around that goes on in the public areas. If you’re fortunate enough to have a nice suite like we did, you won’t want to leave it. We sat on the balcony and watched the ship get loaded up for the next cruise. Now THAT’s depressing! When the first color is called, with carry-on you have none, so off you go. Immigration was a breeze, and customs had no interested in checking out our fridge magnets. From first announcement to being on the road on our way back to Wisconsin, about 20-30 minutes total.
Pick a cruise. Go on it. Enjoy. Repeat.
And while I’m sure I’ve overstayed my welcome with this lengthy diatribe, I hope it helps some of you, and in some small way pays back for all the help and info we’ve received on this site. Questions unanswered (can there be any?!?!) gladly welcomed. Happy cruising everyone!