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Royal Caribbean InternationalSovereign the SeasBahamasVincent Finelli

Age: 70

Occupation:Retired Professor

Number of Cruises: 53

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Sovereign of the Seas

Sailing Date: September 5th, 2005

Itinerary: NOT FOUND


Royal Caribbean International
Sovereign of the Seas
Bahamas

Vincent Finelli


We sailed on the Sovereign of the Seas in 2000 and thought she was a very nice ship, but already showing her age. When the Travel Channel aired a program on her dry dock in November 2004, where six weeks of work was done in three weeks, we decided it was time to revisit this Grand Dame of Royal Caribbean International (RCI). Being the clever people we are (or so we thought!), we combined this cruise with a trip to Savannah, GA to visit our son, daughter-in-law, and grandson over Labor day weekend. On our way back we left our car at the Port Canaveral Garage and boarded the Sovereign September 5th. Aren't we clever, we would save time and gas money, or so we thought. Later, we saw that the weather would mark the beginning and end to this cruise with two phenomena: a water spout and Hurricane Ophelia would change all of our "best laid plans."

EMBARKATION
Lately, there has been extensive dredging done to man made Port Canaveral, and right now the waters are muddy in contrast to the sparkling turquoise Bahamian waters we found at Cococay and Nassau. We entered the Port at noon, dropped our luggage off and were impressed with the changes made in the terminal. With assistance from RCI staff, we were on board by 12:15pm. Deck 4 Purser's Square, where the passenger service desks are located, is nicely redone and the ship seems rejuvenated. Cabins are not open to passengers until 1:00pm, so we carried our hand luggage with us to lunch. The newly designed Windjammer, with its many food islands, cuts down immensely on waiting and lines.

After lunch, we left our carry on bags in our suite, and noticed there was no personal safe. We called down and they assured us that there was one, but a renewed search proved fruitless. A bit befuddled, we went to see the Maitre D' Carlos Monteiro, whose efficiency was reassuring. We left with a table for two, near the window ---- how wonderful! When we re-entered Suite 1550, there was a message from Chief Purser Hector Bryan stating that a safety deposit box was available to us at the Purser's desk. The Boat Drill was at 4:30pm, and we were assigned to the Boleros Lounge. It was nice not to be standing outside in the heat. Boarding, lunch and Boat Drill were all neatly facilitated by Hotel Director Michael Prasse's well trained staff.

Later, while sitting on the balcony, Vincent saw a funnel cloud or water spout as we sailed out to sea. It reminded us of the Ohio tornadoes, we saw twenty odd years ago. Mesmerized by it, we watched from our balcony, as it moved toward our ship. The sea was dancing at its feet, and we sailed out to sea as it disappeared behind our stern. That evening the Atlantic Ocean was a bit rough, but by morning we had nice blue seas ahead. Captain Richard Brearley made some excellent tactical decisions, in view of the weather, and we had a wonderfully smooth cruise.

THE SHIP
Sovereign is the second oldest and second smallest ship in the RCI fleet: the Empress of the Seas holds that distinction. Sovereign was launched on Dec. 18, 1988 and christened by former First Lady Rosalynn Carter. This ship, at the time, was the largest cruise ship afloat, weighing 73,192 gross tons and measuring 880 ft. long and 105.8 feet wide. Her guest capacity is 2,733 (brochure 2,852) and her international crew numbers 850. Her maximum speed is 19 knots. The Sovereign's exterior is pristine after her 35 million dollar refurbishing last November. Major renovations were done in the Windjammer Market Place Buffet areas on Deck 11: new seats, carpeting and reconfiguration of the food islands have made it more spacious and wonderfully improved.

The Follies Theatre is totally redone with comfortable sofa style seating on the main deck and theatre seats up above. Also the pool area has new chaises and indoor/outdoor carpeting. The Centrum was redesigned and now has two curving staircases. Its centerpiece is the huge unique glass clock with visible gears and works. During dry dock Senior Project Manager Carlos Reyes overhauled it, ordering parts and going against the general belief that it could ever be fixed. Well, kudos to him, it is still standing there, and still working to the delight of passengers young and old!

On Deck 14 is the Viking Crown Lounge, with its 360 degrees of windows to the sea; forward is an antique ship's wheel and an old standing brass compass; there are nice historical touches with Viking helmet, sword and shield displays; the leather maps of the Vikings' Westward Expansion 789-1054 AD and Eastward Expansion 839-1054 AD are interesting interpretations. Looking toward aft, one can see the new rock climbing wall.

Other innovations are Johnny Rocket's and Sorrento's Pizza on Deck 12. Accessing these two can be a problem for the physically challenged. From the Windjammer there are centrally located stairs, which we saw on day one. The forward elevators only go to Deck 11. Two days later, we located a chair lift by the pool exit of the Windjammer (near the Pool Bar, starboard side), but we were told it was not functioning. Hotel Director Michael Prasse stated that we were misinformed and that it is functioning. By the time that we got the correct information, we had already walked to the aft elevators which go to Decks 12 and 14 and then walked again forward on the jogging track to access Johnny Rockets. At least we worked up an appetite for the good old American favorites: hamburgers, French fries, onion rings, etc.

For the physically challenged there are a few other areas to consider: Not all elevators go to all decks; those in the the centrum, the great brass birdcages, only service Decks 3 to 7, since this area is only four decks tall; the forward elevators are difficult to access from Decks 5 & 6 at the centrum, one must use a small set of stairs or take the Centrum Birdcage elevators and cross over on Deck 4 or Deck 7. In comparison to other ships we have known, this one has an unusual deck plan.

There is a new Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream shop, Lattitudes Coffee Shop, and a reconfigured "Shops on Board" with a nice horseshoe shaped set up. The dry dock upgrades have improved the Sovereign immensely; She now looks like the nicely preserved lady she once was. She does three and four day cruises to the Bahamas and many passengers we encountered sail her often. Thus, it seems the lady has a following!

Major structural changes include the balconies added to Deck 10 and new cabin units on Decks 1 & 2--- upgrading the crew and inside cabins. There is new carpeting everywhere, which makes it difficult for wheelchairs. The newer RCI ships are more friendly to wheelchair users by extensively using in public areas hard floors. Progressively, the Vision, the Radiance and the Voyager class ships have more tile and marble flooring than their predecessors. RCI has improved wheelchair accessibility with each new class of ships.

FOOD & SERVICE
We found the friendliness of the staff to be a major plus. Captain Brearley has a long history of sea experience and an affable personality. As Captain of one of RCI's senior ships, he shows true thoughtfulness for the comfort and safety of the passengers. The close knit staff include the capable Hotel Director Michael Prasse; Loyalty Ambassador Inga Supranaviciene, who was helpful with future cruise information and specific knowledge about the Sovereign's revamping; We also had the expert services of Chief Purser Hector Bryan. Cruise Director Chris Armas paid special attention to us as the passengers on board with the most RCI cruises. He sent us a lovely bottle of Asti Spumante ---- Vincent's favorite.

The Dining Rooms Illusions and Mirage under Maitre D' Carlos Monteiro are very well organized. Our waiter Ignatius Gomes had been our waiter five years ago, what a reunion we had. He is just as efficient as ever, and his assistant Teresa was excellent. Head Waiter Bhanu Bahuguna was kind enough to send us up a special delicious breakfast, served in our cabin. We really appreciated it.

RCI has standardized menus and offerings across the fleet. We feel the new smaller sized menus and more select varied offerings make ordering and dining easier. Lunch in the Main Dining Rooms is equal across the RCI fleet --- soup du jour, Cobb salads, individually prepared pastas, and entrees including beef, fish and chicken are all very good. Desserts are large and interesting including Creme Brulee`, fresh apple pie, hot chocolate cake, tiramisu, etc.

We especially liked the bread selections, which included tiny savory pyramids, ciabatta, French rolls and even rye and corn breads. Main courses were exactly like those on the Explorer of the Seas three weeks ago. This effort on RCI's part has produced parity in quality. Dinner with Captain Brearley on Wednesday, September 7th was very enjoyable: cordial staff members, new friends, and fine food all contributed to a wonderful evening. Captain Brearley knows how to entertain.

CABIN
Suite #1550 is wheelchair accessible. When entering, on the left is the huge bathroom with safety rails all around and a 5'x5' shower. The single sink has a mirrored medicine chest with ample shelves for toiletries. There is a TV console and refrigerator, but alas, no private safe. There is a very high and comfortable king size bed with new linens and draperies. When entering on the right, there is a mirrored triple armoire with many wooden hangers, a large desk/vanity with lighted mirrors and many drawers. There are two comfortable chairs and a small glass coffee table. The far wall is slanted glass panels floor to ceiling and a sliding door to the balcony (these balconies were added to Deck 10 suites in dry dock). Here are two chairs, a table and our Cabin Steward St. Elmore Lyttle kindly added a chaise lounge for Vincent. St. Elmore and his two assistants Franklyn Carmone and Merle Mendez made us feel right at home. The colors were similar to other older RCI ships: blue, maroon, gold, etc.

ENTERTAINMENT
Cruise Director Chris Armas is young, handsome, has terrific manners and his pleasant voice over the intercom system warmly informs passengers and entices them to join in many activities like Quest treasure hunts and a Bar-B-Que on Cococay, RCI's private Bahamian Island. Entertainment in the Follies included comedians Jeffrey Jena and Rick Corso, both were good. The RCI Singers and Dancers were enthusiastic. There was great music at various venues and parties hosted by the crew: dancing, swimming, jogging, rock wall climbing, and much else to keep the passengers busy. Though the newest RCI ships offer even more entertainment opportunities, these older and smaller ships have a charm given to them by the close knit friendly crews.

PORTS OF CALL
Sept. 5, 2005 Port Canaveral. The Kennedy Space Center is the major attraction here.

Sept. 6, 2005 Cococay, Bahamas Arrive 8:00am Depart 6:30pm
There is a great Beach Party, Bar-B-Que, water sports and cash only shopping here.

Sept. 7, 2005 Nassau, Bahamas Arrive Midnight Depart 12:30am next day.
We visited Paradise Island with Atlantis and its famous Aquarium.

Sept. 8, 2005 At Sea

Sept. 9, 2005 Ft. Lauderdale.

DEBARKATION
We sailed out of Port Canaveral within sight of a weather phenomenon, the water spout. We came full circle when Captain Brearley announced Thursday evening that we would not return to Cape Canaveral Friday morning. Because another weather phenomenon Hurricane Ophelia was off shore, we would instead go south and dock in Ft. Lauderdale. Thus, we disembarked in Ft. Lauderdale, just fifteen minutes from our home town Boca Raton. The passengers were bussed back to Port Canaveral (3 hours away); we waved good-bye to Glades Road as we passed, and good-bye to our "best laid plans." We must admit that Captain Brearley made a good decision to avoid rough seas and bring the Sovereign safely into Ft. Lauderdale. On board we had a last pleasant night (no rocking and rolling on high seas) and what could have been a logistical problem of moving almost 3,000 passengers in many directions was simply and easily executed. The crew worked all night and arranged flight tickets for many and in the morning a caravan of fifty busses left for Port Canaveral, like clock work. We were on the first bus to arrive in Port Canaveral. We got off and the RCI port crew was loading passengers onto the same busses and sending the new passengers to Ft. Lauderdale to begin their cruise on the Sovereign. Congratulations RCI you took good care of us all.

CONCLUSION
Even though we had a wonderful cruise on the refurbished Sovereign and the officers and staff, beginning with the Captain all the way down to waiters, offered us the best possible reception and courtesy, this older ship could not offer us the same quality cruising we have been accustomed on newer RCI ships. Of course this is understandable, since the newer ships have much more to offer in respect to facilities, conveniences and public areas than the Sovereign. However, this ship is ideal for those people who do not have sufficient time for longer cruises or who may want to try a short cruise just to get the flavor of sailing before attempting longer ones. Definitely, these short cruises offer great vacation value, which include good food, great service, beach days, entertainment, etc. We may be back, but for now we are looking forward to cruising on newer ships, such as the Carnival Glory on Oct. 1st, the Star Princess on Oct. 23rd, Navigator of the Seas on Dec. 3rd, Costa Magica on Jan. 8th, 2006 and the Freedom of the Seas in Sept. 24th, 2006, and possibly some other cruise in between the last two. Happy Cruising!

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