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John Burns

Age: 36 to 45

Occupation:NOT FOUND

Number of Cruises: First Cruise

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Nordic Empress

Sailing Date: NOT FOUND

Itinerary: San Juan/St Thomas/St Maarten/St Croix/San Juan

My wife and I were first time cruisers on the Nordic Empress, sailing on 10/19/98 from San Juan. We elected to use the air/sea program, since we could not find a cheaper airfare. We flew from Harrisburg, PA on Delta to Atlanta, then on to San Juan. The outbound flight RCCL chose was fine (we arrived in San Juan around 2 P.M.), but our return flight did not leave San Juan until almost 5P.M., and we did not arrive home until after 1 A.M. The perils of allowing the cruise line set upYour flights, I guess.

Embarkation went well...the longest wait was in the duty free shop before boarding (we purchased sodas for in the cabin). We were so excited to see the ship and to be boarding! The ship was beautiful and clean, though it is showing signs of aging. Although the ship was recently in dry dock, they did not apparently refurbish the furnishings or carpeting. Still, everything was well-maintained.

We had booked an inside cabin amidships on Deck 4 (the A Deck in the brochure). Since we already knew that the cabins would be small, we were neither surprised or disappointed when we entered our cabin for the first time. Although snug, there was a place for everything. The bathroom was small, but I had no problem with the shower (and at 5'11" and 210 lbs, this was a relief!!!). Our cabin steward, George (though he introduced himself as Giorgio), was great: he always had a smile on his face or a cheerful word for you. He acquired a wee friend during this cruise (a boy of about 4-6 years old named Manuel) who followed George about and helped with the upkeep of his cabins. George was extremely helpful...I locked my wife and I out of the room twice!!! Although our cabin was comfortable, I found there to be a bit too much noise to sleep (which an inside cabin is GREAT for...perpetual nighttime!!), so both my wife and I used spongy earplugs each night.

The food, though not exotic by any means, was tasty and prepared well. Be advised that the size of a serving is not extremely large, so if you need to exercise your "food muscle", be ready to ask for additional portions. Our dining room attendant was Murat, a fine young man from Turkey, who provided the highest caliber of service. My wife and I took the time to learn a little more about him, and by the end of the cruise, he was quite a friend. His assistant, Tarkan, was also fromTurkey, and he performed his duties well, though his was a bit more shy, perhaps because his grasp of English was not as good as Murat's. (It's times like that you wish you could speak their native tongue...they are truly enjoyable people). We did eat a few meals (breakfasts or lunches) in the Windjammer, and the food was ok. Watch out for the fruit salad...the melon balls in it were generally frozen, each time I had it.)

Our itinerary called for us to sail from San Juan to St Thomas, St Maarten/St Martin, and St Croix before returning to San Juan. We did not get to stop in St Maarten/St Martin, as we caught the fringes of tropical depression (now Hurricane Mitch?) which made tendering to the island impossible. So, we had an impromptu day-at-sea, which really put our cruise director, Helen Kennedy, and her staff to the test. By Wednesday evening, everyone, including the cruise staff, was beat!! It rained again the following afternoon, but we did have a good morning in St Croix, and Tuesday in St Thomas was pretty good also, so all was not lost (just another reason to come on another cruise, as I reminded my wife). To compensate for the loss of one port, the captain (Lachtiardis?) opened the bar for one hour for free screwdrivers or Bloody Marys, and offered tours of the ship's bridge. (Since we missed him at the Captain's reception, my wife was veryhappy to get a picture taken with him on the bridge!)

Not being late night people, I can't comment much about the night clubs/lounges and the activities there. The shows in the Strike Up the Band lounge were ok. As previously noted, this troup of Wave Revue Singers and Dancers were not very polished, but since the ship was being tossed pretty well (7-15 foot seas 3 out of 4 nights), we were amazed they remained on their feet at all. The comedian, Greg Otto, was the highlight of the cruise's shows...I will alwaysremember what SPAM stands for now! The Latin singer, Fito Gueron, was so-so... I likened him to a poor-man's Tom Jones.

We did use the casino a little, but the table games were a bit too expensive for our tastes ($5 minimum bets). This also held true for bingo, where playing six cards per session cost $35!

We did partake of the spa, each of us receiving a half-body massage with Selka, a pleasantyoung woman from Croatia. However, I don't think we will get one again...the sales pitch youreceive for the natural products is laughable...I read the ingredients in one of the products...trust me, you can find it at your local pharmacy!!!

Though it wasn't perfect, we enjoyed our first cruise experience and will definitely look forward to going again. Bermuda aboard this lovely ship would be nice, but I think we will first choose to sail the Caribbean again,...say in spring, when the seas should be calmer.

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