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Age: 47

Occupation:Technical Writer/Trainer

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Enchantment of the Seas

Sailing Date: July 5th, 2004

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

First, the bottom line: the cruise was fantastic! One of the most fun vacations I’ve ever had. This was a first time cruise for myself and my husband, another couple and their single male friend. The three of them were celebrating their 40th birthdays, and my husband was celebrating his 50th (and I’m somewhere in between!) We’re an active, fun-loving group of professionals from Denver who wanted to cruise in order to meet people, see new destinations and enjoy the luxury and conveniences cruising has to offer.

PRE-CRUISE IN FORT LAUDERDALE

Since the cruise departed on a Monday, my husband and I went to FL two days before embarkation. To economize a little, we stayed in a motel a bit off the beaten path called the Wish You Were Here Inn. It’s a smaller, older place, but it’s just a block away from the beach and right on the Intracoastal Waterway. Certainly not luxury, but clean and pleasant, with a helpful staff. I’d certainly recommend it if you’re not up for paying $100+ per night at the more well-known locations.

This was my first time in FL and I thought the area was pretty nice. The public beach is quite extensive and has the usual mix of loud beach shops and bars, as well as nicer restaurants and patios. We didn’t have time to stroll around the Las Olas area, but driving by left me with a good impression. The homes and boats along the Intracoastal Waterway are spectacular; a good way to see them would be to take the Water Bus.

My husband a scuba diver, so we booked a dive trip on Sunday. I went along to snorkel. Pro Dive is the big dive shop in town with its own boat. It was full of divers on this trip, but they have the whole procedure down pat, I would say. They got about 25 divers in and out of two locations very efficiently; one was on a wreck, the other on the reef. Unfortunately, the seas were very choppy and the boat rocked quite a bit. A few of the divers lost their lunch over the side and didn’t have a great afternoon. I enjoyed the roller coaster ride myself and snorkeled on the last stop. It was shallow enough to see the reef and a number of fish, but I wouldn’t describe it as spectacular. My husband enjoyed his dives quite a bit.

For dinner, we decided to try the 15th Street Fisheries, which turned out to be an excellent choice. It has a very pleasant location overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. Their menu has some unusual items on it including kangaroo and alligator! I stuck with a more tried-and-true selection, crab-stuffed flounder, which was outstanding! With cocktails and a bottle of wine, the dinner was about $100.00, but well worth the price given the quality of the food and the ambience.

A word about the taxi drivers in FL. I’d recommend that you make sure they know where they’re going before you get in… on our ride to the dive shop, our driver had no idea where the address was and we had to call on his cell phone to get directions; no big deal really. That evening, when we called for a cab, it turns out it was same driver from the morning! We assumed that any driver would know how to get to a restaurant as famous as the 15th Street Fisheries. He looked at us blankly as we pulled away. No clue, no map, didn’t offer to call anyone. I dug out of my purse a map from the Water Bus which gave a vague idea of which direction to go. He finally called someone and spoke in Creole, but afterwards didn’t indicate he’d been able to figure where we were going. We drove around for a half hour until I realized I’d phoned the restaurant on my cell phone earlier and still had the number. We finally made it, but I was a little shocked at the cabbie’s helplessness and lack of map! We also had a cabbie who was very talkative; I asked if he was from Haiti (which all our cabbies were). Oh boy, did I open the proverbial can of worms! For the rest of the ride, we were treated to an angry tirade, mostly unintelligible, on the political situation in both Haiti and the U.S. Remind me to stick to comments on the hot weather next time!

EMBARKATION/DAY 1

On Monday morning, I woke up early, already too excited for my own good – we were finally going to see and board Enchantment! I hurried my husband along, who kept asking if they were going to let us on the ship this early! We got a cab around 10:00, but we had an important mission first; get beer and champagne for our departure toast! The cabbie knew right where to take us: Crown Liquors, off A1A, near the pier entrance. My husband ran in while I stayed in the cab (this is when I made the mistake of asking the driver if he was from Haiti, which elicited a tirade for the rest of the ride!) We finally entered the pier area and at last I could see her – there was Enchantment! So huge, very white and gleaming. We pulled up to the curb and gave our luggage to the porters. I did mention to my husband that perhaps we’d like to take at least one of the big bags with us instead of chancing that it might not show up until late (I hadn’t really packed anything of importance in my carry on). The porter told me that it wasn’t allowed to take your big bags with you (although I’d read otherwise on these boards). It was just as well – we were pretty loaded down with carry-ons as it was.

Embarkation was nothing like I expected – I had visions of walking right on the ship, according to some posters’ experiences! We arrived at 11:00. It was mobbed and we had to wait over an hour until we boarded. Flyers from RCCL were handed out explaining that no one could access their cabins until 1:00 pm at the earliest. We were ushered into a specific area to sit. At least it gave me a chance to check out some of our fellow passengers. Quite a mix of people; neatly dressed families, older folks, those with lots of tattoos and dirty muscle shirts… everyone checking out each other! Soon, some chair areas were asked to proceed to the next checkpoint. A kind of funny scene developed between two of the staff members (not sure if they were RCCL or port people); they were intensely arguing over which area got to go in line next! We were finally asked to proceed to the x-ray machines, but had to stand in line for about 15 minutes, which is hard with lots of carry-ons. Got through x-ray and stood in line for the embarkation photo. Got into another line for check-in. Our check-in took awhile because of my Canadian husband (those darn foreigners are always causing trouble, LOL!) I thought this was strange: RCCL insisted that they had to hold onto his U.S. Residence (“green”) card until the end of the trip. They gave him a receipt and a photocopy. I finally surmised the U.S. government doesn’t want to take the chance that he would sell it while out of the country. Your government – always looking out for you!

Our check-in agent was a riot. He asked me my citizenship and where I lived, then he asked the same thing of my husband. My husband gave him the same address as mine, explaining, “well, we’re married, you know” (we have different last names). Our agent leaned forward, and said in a low voice, with a straight face, “well, for all I know, you may be lovers for the last 20 years, or you may have just met him last week and he asked you to sail away from your spouses on a romantic cruise…” That alleviated the tension regarding the green card! Then one more line to scan our Sea Pass cards and up the gangplank…

Finally, we were ON THE SHIP! I felt like dropping to my knees and kissing the carpet when we set foot on board! I felt like a kid with a free pass to a candy store – where to go first? We did check out our cabin area, but the fire doors were closed and no access allowed. We decided to try Windjammer for lunch. It was very crowded, but we were able to snag a table. We dropped our bags there and went up one at a time to the buffet tables. I thought it was a very nice selection of hot and cold foods; I took way too much to eat and vowed to be less wasteful on my next visit!

The cabin (2106, outside small stateroom) was ready for us when we descended. It’s a bit of a shock how small it is when you first enter, although the size of the windows was good. Eventually, I was impressed with the layout – lots of nooks and crannies to store things. I unloaded the carry-ons and we went exploring. We had very good first impressions of the ship. Very clean, shiny and so many different venues; bars, lounges, seating areas, etc. We ended up back in the pool area. It was absolutely time for a boat drink! I had a pina colada and my husband had a beer. We toasted to finally being on board and to the start of a great adventure.

The muster drill was interesting, and hot being on the sunny side of the ship. I left my life vest unfastened as we went outside; oh, no, that’s not allowed! A crew member got me all buckled up. One young man started to faint and had to be taken inside. Luckily, it was over quickly and we got back into the air conditioning. We bumped into our three other friends coming in from the opposite side and agreed to meet near the pool with champagne in hand for our departure. We got some seats in the shade and enjoyed watching the land slide further and further away while sipping cold bubbly. Ahhhh, we were cruising now!

We attended the early show since we had late seating in the dining room and finally got to see our famous cruise director, Matt Baker! He was everything they said he was – goofy, talented, enthusiastic… After a mediocre song-and-dance number, a comedian was introduced, Phil (I forget his last name!). He had a great routine, very funny. I was happy to hear that he would be giving a late-night, adult-oriented performance the next night.

Then off to dinner, the experience I was really waiting for. So much has been written on these boards about the food, the table mates, the staff… What would it really be like? The My Fair Lady dining room is quite an elegant venue. It’s very large, encompassing a main floor and balcony seating on the floor above, with a grand staircase connecting the two. A pianist and a violinist play in the background during meals. I’m glad to report that as the cruise progressed, our evening meal became our favorite part of the day! The food was pretty good overall. I liked being able to choose more than one appetizer and the entrees I selected were all decent. I wouldn’t rate the food as the best I’ve ever had, but when the kitchen is cranking out about 1,000 meals AT THE SAME TIME, it’s as good as it gets! My two beef entrees were cooked to order, nothing was horribly dry or badly seasoned (maybe a little bland overall) and the presentation was very nice. I also enjoyed the lobster tail/shrimp dinner and had a so-so pasta dish one night. I believe my travel companions would agree with me.

The best part of the dining room was our table mates and waiter. We’re VERY outgoing, so we hoped we would get lively table mates which is why we chose an eight-seat table. We got what we hoped for. Our table mates showed up a little late (which didn’t delay our food). They were two very attractive, well dressed women; one in her 40s and the other, older. One would assume they were mother and daughter, but they were just friends who like to travel together. We hit it off immediately and went on to spend our late evenings together at the lounge or casino. We also got the BEST waiter in the place. Bantic (we used his last name because his first name had way too many consonants and not enough vowels to even begin to pronounce) was from Croatia, a young guy who seemed very serious at first, but quickly warmed up to our table of crazy folks. He performed magic tricks with cards or making objects like sugar and cream disappear from his fist! He always had something funny to say and I think he hung out more with us than his other customers… Later in the cruise, I was chatting with a woman during an excursion. I asked her about her dining room experience and she complained that she was way in the back and had quiet table mates. She wished she were at the table near hers that was always laughing loudly and had their waiter doing tricks… guess whose table it was?!

DAY 2 – KEY WEST

We woke early to find we were pulling into Key West, a city which I knew from over 20 years ago when my father lived there for awhile. We took our time having breakfast, then left the ship, avoiding the aggressive ship’s photographer insisting that everyone have their picture taken on the pier. We rented some old coaster bikes in order to pedal over to the seaside condo where my dad used to live. Oh boy, I was not prepared for the heat and humidity. Key West is totally flat, so biking shouldn’t have been so difficult, but when the heat saps your strength like that, it’s a chore. It took about 45 minutes or so to get to the place, over by Smathers Beach. I enjoyed seeing that Key West hasn’t changed that much in the time since I’d been there. We returned to the main tourist area and met our friends in Sloppy Joe’s. By then, I thought I was going to pass out from heat stroke; my face was the color of a tomato. They quickly sat me down inside and got some cold water. I revived pretty quickly, and regretted I’d worn a new outfit instead of my old gym shorts and tank top! I was soaked through, to say the least. My girlfriend and I went shopping while the boys drank some more – that’s Key West for you! We had to be back on the ship so early (1:30) which did not leave as much time as I would have liked. Oh well, next time…

Our group signed up for a wine tasting seminar that afternoon on the recommendation of our waiter. We all like wine very much and my husband and I have toured wineries and know something about the subject. There were about 75-100 participants in the dining rooms with a nice spread of cheese, fruit and bread to go with the wine. I got a look at the bottles of wine they were going to use and was immediately very disappointed. These were very low quality, cheap wines, which would all retail for under $10 at home. The lecture was very rudimentary; anyone who’d ever toured a winery would know these basic facts. There was also a major problem with how they served the wine; they reused the same wine glass for all the whites and another for all the reds. I couldn’t stomach some of the wines and didn’t finish them. Real wine connoisseurs never use the same glass, even if you finish the wine – it would contaminate the next wine. The charge was $9.95 for the seminar, so it wasn’t a fortune, but nevertheless, I expected to learn something new or taste something different.

After wine tasting, a little nap by the pool seemed appealing. The pool area was quite crowded. My husband and I were disappointed by the size of the pool and the number of people in it, and we never actually went in it at any time during our trip. It’s far too small for the number of people on the ship. And I really don’t get the popularity of the hot tubs during this hot humid weather, yet they always seemed to be in use! Luckily, we don’t sunbathe, so we easily found lounge chairs in the shade on an upper deck. It seems to me that there are plenty of chairs available, both in the sun and in the shade, if you’re willing to step away from the immediate pool area. I’m not sure why it’s so vital to lounge right on the edge of the pool!

It was formal night for us; I truly enjoy the chance to get dressed up and I have to say, “we looked mah-velous!” I was very impressed with the fashions of all the other passengers – everyone looked great! I was a little put off by the photography crews. There were very long lines at a number of different stations and the photographer is very demanding about exactly how you stand. We were pleased with one of the photos and bought it, the only photo we did buy during the trip.

After dinner, we attended the late night comedy show – hilarious! This comedian has recently opened for Seinfeld on tour and has been on Leno and Letterman. Yes, it was pretty adult material and we loved it. I was almost surprised that something this risqué would be available on the ship.

DAY 3 – COZUMEL/TULUM

Spending the day in Cozumel drinking heavily with the kids did not appeal at all to me and my husband (do people really come all this way just to go to Carlos & Charlies?? To each his own, I suppose…) I'd always wanted to see the Mayan ruins in Tulum - it's so picturesque with such a gorgeous location right on the ocean. I knew it was going to be hot, but I was hoping the ocean breezes would mitigate the heat and humidity, which is true, but only right on the coast - a few steps away canceled them right out. Be prepared for HOT! I mean, life-sucking, soaked-through, why-didn’t-we-go-to-Alaska-HOT! As long as you're mentally prepared (as well as equipped with hats, water and sunscreen), you can enjoy it! Really!

Being adventurous types, as well as economical, we decided to travel to Tulum on our own. We did have a great trip and no problems getting there and back on time. We took a taxi to the ferry downtown, took the ferry to Playa, and took a second class bus to Tulum which was very comfortable and punctual. I’ve posted a more detailed account in the portreviews.com under Cozumel.

After another great dinner, our group went to see the Beatlemaniacs show. I have to say I’m a bit skeptical about “tribute groups” and such, but what do you know, I really enjoyed the show! It was a great production with costume changes, set decoration and excellent musical ability. It’s a real sing-along type show and everyone got up to dance a number of time. My favorite number was “A Day In the Life” which mimicked the real song almost exactly. Lots of fun for everyone!

DAY 4 – BELIZE

Since my husband is a scuba diver, there was no doubt that we would get a scuba trip for him in Belize, one of the world’s best dive destinations. I tried (but failed) to get certified before our trip, so I could only snorkel. We contacted a couple of dive shops in Belize City before our trip, but they wouldn’t commit to a dive/snorkel trip for us because they couldn’t get enough participants. My husband finally signed up on the ship’s dive excursion, but they only took divers, and I couldn’t go along. I debated about what to, whether to chance going into town and seeing if I could find a snorkel trip or not. At 8:00 am, I ran up to the excursions desk and asked for whatever snorkel trip they had space. 15 minutes later, I was in the Orpheum Theatre with a huge crowd waiting for their group’s number to be called. This was one crowd control aspect that could have been improved. Hundreds of people had to wait in one long line to get their group’s number and the line snaked all through the casino. I’m surprised they didn’t ask people on certain excursions to gather at different locations. Oh well. About a half hour later, I was on a small boat with 20 others speeding towards Shark Ray Alley. This excursion was the highlight of my trip! Fantastic snorkeling, excellent scenery, relaxing afternoon in Ambergris Caye. Belize is the best! Check out further details on portreviews.com under Belize – San Pedro.

Our group attended the “Love and Marriage Game” show, Enchantment’s version of the “Newlywed Game.” Hokey, but funny. The couple married for “50 years, two days and nine hours,” according to the wife, won the game. There was some rumor about the outcome being rigged, but who knows. It’s a popular show on the ship.

It was finally time to go lose a little money in the casino. My husband and I like blackjack, but we did not have good luck on those tables. Our single friend knew how to play craps and had won hundreds on the previous night. Since the table wasn’t too crowded, I got a lesson from him and started to play a little myself. Lo and behold, it was a good night for beginners! I won quite a bit, covering our blackjack losses and initial stake, and more! Nothing like walking up to the cashier’s booth with two fistfuls of chips and getting lots of good ol’ American money in return! I may have even covered our bar tab! We also took a stroll, for the first time, through the Schooner Bar and the Carousel Lounge at the end. The piano player (Nat?) had a lively audience singing along with him.

The famous Midnight Buffet was held this night. For those who eat at the late seating and had just finished eating, it’s not worth standing in line. We didn’t even go in to see it, although reports were that it was fabulous. We were all pretty pooped, so we decided to call it a night.

DAY 5 – AT SEA

As much as I loved our ports of call, I was really looking forward to the day at sea. I felt like I had hardly taken advantage of all that the ship offers and had an ambitious agenda planned. Yeah, right! My husband and I had a late breakfast in the Windjammer, then went back to the cabin to plan our day. Don’t ever lay down to look at the Cruise Compass… we slept for another two hours! We needed it though, right?

One note about our room steward (name withheld for apparent reasons). Now all during the trip, we didn’t see much of him, but the room was always cleaned and we got our famous towel animals in the evening. He also filled our small cooler with ice every day after being asked to do so on the first day. There wasn’t much more I needed than that. Today, after reading the hand-outs about disembarkation, I still wasn’t 100% sure about exactly when we had to be out of our cabin in the morning. I tracked down our steward in the hallway and asked my question. It immediately was obvious he had been drinking given the stench and the rambling answer I got. He insisted that if we wanted to stay in our cabin until we left, “no problem, mon, because I am the man!” I felt very sorry for him; I’d probably be an alcoholic too, if I had to clean up people’s crap all day, every day, without a day off in months. We had no reason to reduce our tip, or to report him either. He did his job.

That afternoon, my girlfriend wanted to play bingo for the big jackpot (over $8,000) but the rest of us wanted to play the classic shipboard game, shuffleboard. It’s a lot more fun with a few beers in your hands, of course. We had quite a good time. I joined my friend for the last bingo round for all the money. I’d never played bingo and it was an interested experience. The Orpheum Theatre was packed, upstairs and down. The host, “Bingo Allie” is quite terminally perky! As the game progressed and anyone could win on the next number, the tension was incredibly thick. Finally, a young man yelled “Bingo” and he and his young wife came up on stage to have their card verified. They did win the money, then announced that the wife was expecting. I thought that was a nice way to end the game. Our group also used the card room later to have a cocktail and play cards before dinner. How civilized and elegant is that?

It was hard to believe it was our last night for dinner in the dining room. We took lots of pictures of group with our friend, Bantic and all the others we had come to know. All the waiters did a performance, standing on the grand staircase, singing “Hey, Look Me Over!” Too funny. We toasted with a round of after-dinner drinks that our friendly dining room bartender always had on hand after every dinner (but we’d never purchased before). We lingered for quite a while, reluctant to say good-bye to our favorite part of the cruise.

Our group went to the lounge for Karaoke because my friend insisted he had to sing “Kung-Fu Fighting” or a Barry White song in public before he died! Luckily, he’s going to live for quite a while longer. We watched others perform and had to get out of there before long. Yikes, what a little alcohol and a teleprompter can produce! Matt Baker was at the bar with a few officers, including the ship’s Captain (who’s name is not Ole Olafson, but somehow we ended up calling him that...) It turns out it was Matt’s birthday and everyone in the lounge sang happy birthday to him. It was also Matt’s last cruise before a well-deserved vacation. I’m so glad we got to see him before he left! Then off to the casino again to the craps table. Another good night for the beginner! I like craps not only because I’ve had good luck, but because everyone at the table is rooting for the same thing. If you’re the shooter and you’re having a good run, everyone loves you, even though you’re not really responsible for what numbers are coming up!

My husband and I returned to our cabin to finish packing. We didn’t get our suitcases out into the hallway until around 2:00 am, but that didn’t appear to be a problem – at least they were gone in the morning!

DISEMBARKATION

I awoke before 6:00 and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I watch the ship slide into the Ft. Lauderdale port in the sunrise. Post-cruise depression was already setting in! My husband and I had breakfast in the dining room for the first time (we actually forgot you could do that until the last day!) It was very nice and I’d wished we’d done it sooner. We returned to the cabin to get our carry-ons around 8:30 and said good-bye to our steward (still smelling boozy!) Our waiting point was supposed to be the Solarium on the ninth deck, five decks above the gangplank. I didn’t want to lug everything all the way up there and wait in that hot pool area, so we easily found seats on Deck 5 in the Centrum, overlooking the departure area. We just waited until our color was called, in the second group. A lot more line-waiting ensued. Of course, my dear foreigner husband had to wait in a longer line through US Immigration than his American-born wife! For some reason, I was not allowed to wait immediately outside the desks, and couldn’t wait at the foot of the escalator and couldn’t wait anywhere except in the chaos of the huge baggage room where hundreds of people are trying to locate their bags at the same time, all lined up in enormous groups according to their color. I was able to snag our three suitcases before my husband caught up to me. We hailed a porter and went out to get a taxi to the airport. That process was not fun! There is no taxi queue and it’s a free-for-all trying to hail a taxi, especially if you’re at the far end of the curb. People cut in front of us left and right. We almost got into a shoving match trying to get into a cab after about 15 minutes of being polite! That is a problem that the Port of Ft. Lauderdale has to remedy! Off to the airport to catch an 11:50 flight. A lot of other cruise ships and vacationers were departing on a Saturday morning and the line through security was endless. A man came around calling for passengers on our flight about an hour before departure; we were able to go to the front of the line and get right through! The flight home was uneventful and our trip was over. Boo hoo!

THINGS I LOVED

Dinner in the dining room and our waiter and tablemates
Every crew member on the ship was friendly and helpful.
The public areas of the ship – very appealing and clean
The ship itself – the most beautiful in all the ports when compared to the other ships docked there!
Our itinerary was terrific
Learning to play craps!

THINGS I LIKED

The food, the selection
The cabin, although small, was clean and functional
All the passengers that I met casually around the ship and in port – very friendly and nice to talk to
Despite all the warnings, no problems with children! I hardly saw any at all, except for a very cute “show” the Ocean Adventure tots did in the dining room one night dressed up as pirates, singing about “We want sugar! Give us your desserts!”

THINGS THAT COULD BE IMPROVED

The chaos of all excursion participants gathering together in the same location
The high-pressure photographers trying to take official cruise pictures all the time
The wine-tasting seminar
Having more than one server at the Solarium café (hot dogs & hamburger place) – two times we used it, it took a lot longer than necessary
The pool is way too small (fresh water would be nice too, although impractical)

HOW CAN PEOPLE BE THIS STUPID?

Not to realize that if you throw a cigarette butt over the glass partition into the wind, it’s going to come right back onto the deck, one time onto my friend’s bare leg. It’s a good thing we got an abject apology from the young man, because tempers were flaring…
The amount of food wasted in the Windjammer was atrocious, judging by the abandoned plates still heaped with food left on the tables. No one will ever be denied something to eat, but try to eat most of what you take!

BEST KEPT SECRET ON ENCHANTMENT

If you want a quiet place for a cocktail before dinner to watch the sunset and the sea, go to the Viking Crown Lounge. We had the place to ourselves and enjoyed it immensely.

WHAT I’D DO DIFFERENTLY ON MY NEXT CRUISE

NOT GO TO THE CARIBBEAN IN THE SUMMER – too hot and humid!
Get a balcony cabin.
Bring more “play” clothes for excursions, less dressy clothes for casual dinners.
Not bring books – I never even looked at them and they were heavy in my carry-on

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