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Mervyn Hancock

Age: 57

Occupation:Travel writer

Number of Cruises: 8

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Legend of the Seas

Sailing Date: May 21st, 2005

Itinerary: UK

The Americans have launched one of their ships into the Mediterranean to capture some of the growing cruise trade, but MERVYN HANCOCK found some unpleasant surprises aboard the Legend of the Seas

Take a spectacularly large and luxurious American ship, fill it with mainly British passengers, launch it into the Mediterranean from Southampton, and you should have the formula for a perfect two weeks cruising without the hassle of flying.

But although my two weeks aboard Royal Caribbean International’s Legend of the Seas was an enjoyable break, I found many aspects of the voyage both disappointing and not particularly good value for money.

And with thousands more people booked on the same ship for the same itinerary for the rest of this year, the Miami-based company will have to pull its socks up to avoid a stream of complaints.

My wife and I were lucky enough to be able to treat ourselves to a Junior Suite onboard the vessel which can accommodate over 1,800 guests, and we had our own veranda which included two sun loungers, chairs and a table.

But the majority of our fellow passengers were scrambling for deck space and somewhere to sit for two initial days at sea, around two large pools which were dominated by hoards of children.

You could find peace and quiet in the comfortable bars and lounges, but unfortunately the first of a series of unexpected surprises awaited you – extortionate prices for drinks, ranging from over £3 for a pint of beer, and £5 to £7 for a cocktail.

That sent people scurrying to the onboard shop to purchase bottles to enjoy in the privacy of their cabins – a ploy which RCI had probably expected, and remedied by charging £6-50 corkage for every bottle taken out.

Further shocks awaited the unwary in the two magnificent dining rooms – the wine list started with mediocre non-vintages at £13-50p and then soared into the realms of unaffordability. The company added a stomping 15 per cent tip onto every drink served onboard, and wanted £5-50 corkage if you took your own bottle into dinner.

In fact it seemed that someone was hiding around every corner to extract cash from the unwary. The 24-hour room service was excellent, but provided by crew members who expected a handout for each and every visit.

That was all on top of the £150 per cabin tip that was expected from passengers at the end of the voyage!

The first port of call in Portugal showed up another flaw in the company’s organizational skills. Passengers had to be tendered ashore in the ship’s lifeboats – a procedure which took over three hours, and resulted in those passengers (many elderly, disabled and families with children) being left in a queue ashore, in hot sunshine, for over an hour to make the return journey. The Captain did apologize and order additional, shore-based vessels for the next ports of call.

But even with our feet on terra firma the quest for our cash didn’t end. We were told that shops were a 20-minute bus ride away from the port, and RCI had provided a shuttle service. In fact the ride lasted just over four minutes at a cost of £4 each – rather more expensive than fares on the late lamented Concorde.

The itinerary – a journey of almost 5,000 miles, which took us to Italy, Corsica, the South of France, Spain and Portugal was excellent. The onboard facilities, which included a Roman-style spa area with steam room, sauna, and a large pool with an innovative glass cover for inclement weather, were faultless.

The Legend of the Seas even has a climbing wall, 18-hole miniature golf course, and a magnificent theatre with excellent entertainment to keep guests happy.

Which is just as well – for one of the main disappointments of the holiday was the standard of the food being served in the main Romeo and Juliet Dining Room.

“Sumptuous food, sumptuous food, wherefore art thou,” seemed to be the cry from hungry guests. The three course main meal left many diners guessing at what they had eaten! The expected treats were on the limited choice menu, but the sea bass served to our table for six was merely warm and dry, jacket potatoes were overcooked at every meal, and the US version of Steak Diane turned out to be an ordinary steak, followed some minutes later by a jug of sauce, delivered by an apologetic waiter who explained that the chef had forgotten it.

The vegetables on every dish were hard and inedible, and on the night of the Asian Duck few passengers were able to extract the tough meat from the bones, and most portions were returned to the kitchens.

One chap on my table opted for the alternative steak choice 12 times during the 14 day voyage, while the rest of us pondered on the reasons for such sparse and dubious fare.

The mainly Eastern European crew were helpful and pleasant, but again there was an obvious lack of experience in the dining room. Plates were whipped away as each diner completed his or her meal, leaving the slow eater to eat alone. It also took at least 45 minutes from sitting down for the first course to arrive at the table. Each night the menu was delivered with a warning from the waiter to avoid particular dishes which were “not up to standard.”

Believe it or not both my wife and I enjoyed the cruise, despite the moans and groans. Our cabin, with a Queen-sized bed, bathroom with tub and shower, double settee, two chairs, table, and large balcony, was comfortable and kept spotlessly clean.

The breakfasts (full English) delivered daily to the cabin were excellent and piping hot. Guests forced to breakfast in the dining room though, described the experience as chaotic!

We carried on supplies of snacks and drinks from our stop in Gibraltar, where a bottle of whisky cost just over £4, and organised our own cocktail parties in our cabin – saving us and our guests about £700 throughout the voyage! Mean or sensible I care not to think about, but enjoyable none the less.

More and more of us are cruising these days as it becomes affordable, but Royal Caribbean International will find the Mediterranean uncomfortable unless it improves. It was not just me who felt that the Legend of the Seas might not be up to the standards expected by the American cruisers, and that it had been sent to England with a reduced level of standards, because the Brits will put up with almost anything.

We won’t!!

Mervyn Hancock paid £3,300 for himself and his wife to take a 14 night cruise on the Legend of the Seas in a Junior Suite on Deck Eight. The price included a private limousine from Frome to Southampton return, all food and facilities onboard. Guests are advised to leave £150 in gratuities, but most reduced this amount. The company encourages passengers to pay this amount up front – most didn’t! A 15 per cent service charge is added to all beverages, and shore excursions come as an extra. Inside cabins on lower decks start at £950 per passenger.

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