Number of Cruises: Many
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Splendour of the Seas
Sailing Date: January 15th, 2004
Itinerary: Western Caribbean and Panama Canal
CruiseReviews at aol.com
The Set up
Joanie and I were the seminar leaders and escorts for a group of travel professionals aboard the Splendour of the Seas 11-day Western Caribbean and Panama Canal cruise departing from Galveston, Texas.
Getting to the Ship:
Neither Joanie nor I had been to the port of Galveston before, but had sailed from the port of Houston a number of times. Envisioning the port of Galveston to be similar to the port of Houston, we scheduled ourselves for a late arrival into Houston’s International Airport and had arranged for a car rental to drive to Galveston and spend the evening before boarding the ship in the morning. We arrived on schedule, rented the car and then followed the signs to Galveston. We had booked ourselves into the Hilton Hotel on the Seawall in Galveston and had little trouble locating it. Driving through Galveston, we immediately recognized that we had made a huge error in our decision to arrive allowing minimal time to explore Galveston.
Galveston is a wonderful ocean-oriented community that offers excellent restaurants, shopping and other attractions. We choose Landry’s Restaurant for dinner and it was superb (as always.) Landry’s was an easy choice, as it was conveniently located next to our hotel, but there were easily a dozen quality restaurants we could have patronized instead. The oceanfront seawall runs the length of the area and is lined with all types of businesses that would be of interest to visitors. I was surprised to see surf shops and what looked to be ridable surf around 25th Street. Regretting our decision, I would suggest that everyone stretch their cruise a few days and spend at least two nights in Galveston at one of the hotels located in the seawall area.
The Splendour of the Seas Docked in Galveston
We were up early in the morning, but unfortunately had to spend most of the time on the Internet cleaning up last minute details before boarding the cruise. We checked out of the hotel and then made our way to the cruise ship terminal. The terminal is located on Harborside Drive that is the first off ramp heading south (frontage road) once you go over the bridge that crosses Galveston Bay. The southbound exit is clearly marked, but if you are coming north from Galveston you would exit the last frontage road before the bridge marked with a sign indicating it leads to Harborside Drive. One heads east on Harborside Drive a number of miles until one sees the ship and then the old historic port area.
HINT: There are a number of parking lots along Harborside Drive that offer covered parking for the duration of the cruise at a rate of $10 per day. They aggressively try to get you to pull into their lot and offer a free shuttle to the ship. One lot has a huge plastic dolphin at its entrance with a guy holding a sign in the shape of an arrow that shouts “CRUISE PARKING”. When you first see it, you are left with the impression that this is the official parking lot for the cruise line. Since Joanie and I had decided to drop our luggage before parking, we continued on to the cruise terminal, checked our bags and then started to head back to the lots. We stopped at the exit to the terminal and asked about parking and were directed to Parking lot “A” that was located right at the ship, the best part? The cost was only $80 for the 11 days. The only difference was that the parking lot “A” spots were not covered while the other lots did offer covered parking.
Check-in was a breeze and we were in the terminal and on the ship in less than 20-minutes. If for no other reason than to get on the ship early and without pain I would suggest that you arrive at least the day before the ship’s departure. Folks flying in the day of departure had to scramble to make it to the ship in time and were then greeted with lots of people in the same boat.
This was my first cruise on the Splendour of the Seas, but I have sailed most of her sisters in Royal Caribbean’s fleet. The Splendour is the epitome of Royal Caribbean, as she features absolutely beautiful public areas, interesting itineraries and traditional dining in a wonderful restaurant with excellent service. The passenger make-up on this cruise was different from any other Royal Caribbean cruise I have taken. There were lots of seniors and the vast majority of the passengers were from Texas.
We were located on deck two, aft in cabin 2592, while the rest of our group was located on the same deck, but all the way forward. The cabins on the Splendour are quite adequate. We had a picture window, while many in our group that were forward had portholes. There is a king size bed (converts into two twins) with nightstands on either side. There are also nightlights on each side with separate controls. A large mirror beside the bed makes the area seem larger than it is and is also very handy when getting dressed. The sitting area of the cabin is very comfortable with a good-sized sofa on one side and the entertainment/storage area adjacent to it. A color television offers numerous channels including CNN and first run movies (they are posted in the daily Compass) The desk is quite large enough for a computer and printer and there are two separate 110v outlets (as well as two 220v) The two mirrored side cabinets open towards the large mirror over the desk so that folks can use them to see their hair and other views generally hidden from sight. There is a telephone and air conditioning control on the left-hand wall that is easily accessible. There is a safe hidden from view on one of the three shelves mounted above the television set.
Across from the desk is a floor to ceiling mirror that is perfect for that last-minute check before you commit yourself to the hallway and public rooms that lie beyond. There is ample storage in the large closet that is clearly divided into two sections, one to accommodate full length dresses and the other offering two levels to accommodate suits, shirts and blouses. All in all, there is quite adequate storage in the room for an 11-dayh cruise.
The bathroom is a typical cruise ship bathroom with a tight circular shower, toilet and sink. There is a 3-shelf medicine cabinet and additional storage in the bathroom to handle all of the necessary toiletries for the 11-daqy cruise. HINT: The only amenity provided on the Splendour of the Seas is an all-purpose soap dispenser in the shower. I would suggest bringing your own bar of soap, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion (if you use it)
The King and I Restaurant, decks 4 and 5, aft: This is the main dining venue on the Spendour of the Seas serving a formal breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Breakfast and lunch are generally open seating while dinner is served in two seatings, main and late. Main seating sits for dinner at 6 pm, while late sits at 8:30. On almost every evening, there is a pre-dinner show for late seating passengers so that everyone is done with dinner and a show (no pun intended) by around 11 pm.
The King and I Restaurant
The restaurant features a full dinner menu with appetizers, soup, salad, pasta entrée and traditional deserts. Our servers, Fernando Cunha from Portugal, Carmelita Beirre from St. Vincent and Kelly Batistelle from Brazil had become more like family by the end of the cruise than employees of Royal Caribbean. You will love the service and the cultural interchange.
Everyone found the quality of the food and the presentation extremely good. Every meal I had left me quite satisfied and wanting for nothing. Our waiters made it quite clear, that they would correct any element of the dining experience that was not up to par, but no one took them up on it, as the meals were simply wonderful..
The Windjammer Café, deck 9, forward: The Windjammer is the Splendour’s buffet venue and is open for breakfast, lunch, afternoon snacks and dinner. I loved the Windjammer as there was always fresh fruit, yogurt, juice and other healthy choices in ample quantity to make even the most demanding health nut happy. Lunch continued the healthy offerings with fresh steamed vegetables daily along with an excellent salad bar. Here Royal Caribbean stands out as exceptional, in my opinion.
The Windjammer Cafe
There are also traditional breakfast offerings such as eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, cereals (hot and cold) and several other choices. An omelet and fresh egg station was featured daily and offered a specialty meat selection as well. Lunch always saw many different selections. On the main buffet there was always a fish and meat selection, as well as a specialty carved meat, potatoes, soup, bread and other selections. A specialty buffet line was also offered daily. Asian fare, Indian cuisine, Thai noodle dishes and so were offered on some days. While crowded during peak hours, the Windjammer was a comfortable place to enjoy a casual meal. While we didn’t dine in the Windjammer for dinner, we heard that it was a pleasant experience.
The grill next to the Solarium Bar also served lunch and snacks all day long. Hamburgers, pizza, hot dogs and chicken sandwiches were a favorite with many of the passengers. In the afternoon, cookies and other treats were made available for those that wanted them. One of the favorites with everyone was the unlimited ice cream cones that were available by the main pool bar. Offering two different flavors every day and a blended selection, as well every afternoon saw numerous people walking around licking their ice cream cones. Coffee, iced tea, milk and water were available all day long at the same area and juice in the morning, replaced by lemonade in the afternoon were always available in the Windjammer Café.
Joanie and I used room service frequently for coffee in the morning and had exceptional service. Of course, we tipped early and often.
The Entertainment Venues
The 42nd Street Theater, deck 4, forward: The Splendour of the Sea’s main entertainment showroom is an excellent venue for the production shows that are presented almost every evening. Excellent sight lines and acoustics add to the enjoyment of the performances. In order to get a front row seat, however you must arrive early. Late arriving passengers will find it difficult to find seats easily, as once the lights are dimmed, the terraced nature of the showroom makes it uncomfortable to negotiate your way to a seat. HINT: If you plan to attend a show, make sure you allow 5 to 10 minutes in advance of the start of the show to find seats and get settled in.
42nd Street Theater
The Top Hat Lounge, deck 5, forward: This is one deck above the 42nd Street showroom and is used for many of the shows (especially the comedians) Once again I would recommend arriving early as the seats in the rear of the lounge are subject to the noise at the bar in the rear of the room. While a part of the lounge, the bar area seems to be favored by those that would rather talk during the performance than enjoy it. On one occasion, a group of people were talking and laughing so loudly that it prompted folks to “shhhhh” them until they left. The Top Hat Lounge is an intimate venue allowing you to feel personally involved with the performance.
Top Hat Lounge
The Champagne Terrace, deck 4, midship: Every evening before and after dinner a group plays dance music in front of the Champagne Bar. Couples enjoy the slow dance tunes (especially on formal night.) The music produced by the group is excellent and the surroundings are beautiful. Joanie and I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out here.
Revelyn Bongar in the Champagne Bar.
One of the Best Waitresses Joanie and I have ever Experienced.
The Viking Crown Lounge, deck 11 aft: This is Royal Caribbean’s signature lounge that resides on every Royal Caribbean ship. It is a great bar, a disco, scene of the ship’s karaoke nights and an all around fun place to be. At the rear of the Viking Crown Lounge is an area designated for cigar smokers and it was heavily used during this cruise, however the scent nor the smoke never made it to the public bar side of the room. The Viking Crown Lounge is an excellent place to meet and our group took full advantage of it.
The Viking Crown Lounge
The Pool Side Stage, deck 9, midship: Every afternoon “Men of Culture” would play music by the pool. They were excellent!
The Schooner Bar, deck 4, starboard, midship: I usually really enjoy Royal Caribbean’s Schooner Bars, but this one just didn’t do it for me. First of all, at the entrance to the bar were several stools that were always occupied by smokers taking a break from the adjoining casino. Being a non-smoker, I just don’t care for second hand smoke and it was difficult to enjoy the Schooner bar without inhaling it. The group that played music here every evening was very good, but sometimes too loud for folks to carry on a conversation. The bar itself is beautiful with rich woods and brass. Maybe it was just this sailing.
The Schooner Bar
The Casino, deck 4, midship: The Splendour offers a huge casino for the ship’s size. There is row after row of slot machines and many gaming tables and folks seemed to be winning. Several in our group gambled the entire cruise and ended up ahead of where they started. While always active, the casino didn’t seem to be over crowded, as one sees during the evening hours on some ships.
The Card Room, deck 7, midship: This is easily the coolest card room on any ship that I have seen. It is large, offers tremendous views and is isolate so that one can really get into their card games.
The Library, deck 7, midship: Again this is a really outstanding library offering lots of books in a beautiful setting.
The Splendour of the Seas Library
The Internet Café, deck 8: midship: Royal Caribbean is missing a huge revenue opportunity here. I would normally spend $300 to $400 for Internet access on an 11-day cruise. Joanie is also a very heavy user and would have probably spent as much. While the Internet Café was pleasant to look at, the desks were very functional and offered a good amount of privacy, the download rate was slower than dial-up. The $.50 per minute charge was somewhat reasonable and in line with what other lines charge. Add to the slow connection the fact that I was disconnected a number of times and I arrived at the decision to simply do my Internet chores on shore at Internet Cafes, much like I used to do before ships got automated. My total Internet bill was $19.
The Internet Cafe
I suspect that many folks suffered the same frustration, as the Internet Café was never busy, much less full. So here would be my suggestion to Royal Caribbean. Immediately toss the current equipment, vendor or whoever is responsible for the Internet Café and replace it with current technology. I suspect that it would self liquidate in short order and lead to a substantial profit center in the future (not to mention enabling heavy Internet users) Also, the existence of packaged rates for bulk purchases always seems to motivate me commit to the largest available program.
The Loyalty Ambassador’s Office, deck 9, midship: Royal Caribbean has an excellent loyalty program for its Crown and Anchor members. Joanie and I are “Diamond” (more than ten cruises on RCI) members and the benefits are very meaningful. From discounts on board, to priority tender passes, to priority embarkation and debarkation, Royal Caribbean’s loyalty program is tops in the industry. I have attached a .pdf copy of the program so you can check it out. Be sure to join, as it costs nothing and you will immediately reap the benefits.
The Pool Areas: The main pool is a great feature on the Splendour. It offers a good amount of lounge chairs. two Jacuzzis, afternoon entertainment and piped in music the rest of the day. The waiters from the main pool bar serve the pool area and one never has to wait for the opportunity to order a drink if one so desires.
The Splendour of the Seas Pool Area
The fully enclosed Solarium pool is open 24-hours per day (so are its 2 Jacuzzis) and is always a comfortable temperature for relaxing and swimming. While we didn’t spend much time in the Solarium, many folks made it their location of choice on sea days.
The Fitness Center: The Splendour has a sufficient fitness center with everything you will need to maintain your work out. There are treadmills, a ski machine, a step machine, high and low stationary bikes, free weights, exercise balls and bands and enough Cybex machines to exercise all major muscle groups. Additionally, occasional classes were offered (some with a $10 fee)
Thursday, January 15th, 2003; Galveston, Texas; After boarding the Splendour of the Seas. Joanie and I realized that we had not eaten anything all day, so we decided to try one of the seafood restaurants we passed while negotiating the entrance to the cruise terminal. We disembarked and walked into the port historical district. What a great area! The main street was lined with quaint shops selling everything imaginable. There was a Tommy Bahamas store, many surf and beach shops, restaurants, souvenir shops, and other boutiques. The area went for blocks and was extremely fun to explore. We settled on a Landry’s Oyster Bar restaurant at the end of a pier where I got a good shot of the Splendour of the Seas at dock. This historic port area was certainly a bonus treat for everyone that explored it.
Galveston's Historic District
Back on board we participated in a somewhat non-invasive muster drill and then made our way to our cabin to prepare for the evening. We were hosting a cocktail party in the Viking Crown Lounge for our group and made it to the party in advance to make sure everything was OK. The party went great and both Joanie and I were happy with the overall group, as they were friendly and wanting to have fun. We left the party for our first dining experience in the King and I dining room. Our group occupied three different tables that were adjacent to one another (we had prepaid the group’s gratuities so that we could jump from table to table within our group’s assigned tables.) Diner and the service were excellent.
Friday, January 16th, 2004; Day at Sea; This was the first of four days at sea on this itinerary and also the first of our three seminars. We met in the Conference Center and found the conference rooms very much to our liking for our seminar. They are located on Deck 3, midship and are in an exclusive area of what I would describe as a cul-de-sac. There was absolutely no interference from folks sticking their heads in to see what was going on. The seminar went well and everyone enjoyed the coffee and juice RCI provided. We broke at noon at which time Joanie and I headed for lunch with the intention of spending the afternoon in the sun by the pool. We found it too chilly so we decided to spend the afternoon working in our cabin. The seas were dead calm and the lull of engines soon had us resting with our eyes closed. After a short nap, Joanie decided to attend the Pilates class while I continued to work. The evening arrived before we knew it and we quickly dressed for the cruise’s first formal night.
Meeting in the Conference Center
We started off with a glass of wine in the Champagne Bar. While expensive, we found the portions generous and the appetizers a bonus and decided that this would become a pre-dinner tradition. We attended the Captain’s Welcome Aboard cocktail party in the Top Hat Lounge. While there were quite a few men in tuxedos, there were also quite a few in black suits and some in sport coats. The party was quite nice with cocktails being offered as you liked and frequent rounds made by waiters with several appetizers including shrimp, caviar and other treats. There was the usual introduction of the staff by the Captain and then it was off to dinner at our prearranged tables. Once again, we enjoyed excellent service and the food preparation was very good. Just a note, the Splendour of the Seas has done away with wine stewards and the duty of taking wine orders and serving the wine falls on the shoulders of the assistant waiter. In our case, she was a very capable lady, but serving the wine was a low priority for her.
After a lingering dinner, we decided to attend the evening’s main production show staring Mr. Mark Preston. Mr. Preston was one of the original members of the Letterman, a group that was popular in the 1960s and 1970s. When he opened his act, Joanie leaned over to me and said “this guy can really sing!” and I was thinking the exact same thing. He had a great voice and a strong delivery, and we were hooked, prepared to be entertained with an exceptional performance. A couple was making their way down the packed showroom to the front of the showroom, when Mr. Preston stopped to admonish the couple for being late for his performance. He even went so far to mock the restarting of his performance so that he could bring the couple up to date. I, and everyone with me, found this action unnecessary and downright rude. Further he lost the momentum he had originally commanded. I noticed the couple get up and walk out at the first opportunity without being further harassed, which is the result I am sure Mr. Preston was not looking for.
He regained momentum as his act progressed, until he started to reminisce about his days with the Letterman. He showed himself being interviewed as he accepted his induction into the “Group Hall of Fame” on the side screens while he supposedly was dressing for a new number. From that point forward the act took on the cheesy persona of a huckster trying to sell some CDs. Too bad, the guy can really sing, and with better choreography, he could really be a great entertainer.
Saturday. January 16th, 2004; Cozumel, Mexico; This itinerary allows for much more port time than the usual 7-day Western Caribbean cruise. While we arrived in Cozumel at 7am, Joanie and I slept in late, had breakfast and then made our way ashore to access the Internet at the communications center locater at the foot of the International pier. Both she and I had a good amount of work to do so we spent an hour or so online before deciding to walk into downtown Cozumel from the International Pier. This is really a nice walk of about 2 to 2 ½ miles right along the coastline. It took us about an hour to get into the downtown area where we enjoyed shopping in the unusually light crowds due to there being only 5 ships in port (this is another huge advantage of this particular itinerary.) After a quick beverage at Poncho’s Back Yard, we decided to make the walk back to the International Pier. It was uneventful other than the deluge that caught us hiding under some foliage on the beach waiting for the downpour to lighten so we could continue back to the ship. Once back onboard, we spent the afternoon by the pool in very pleasant weather with sunny skies and moderate temperatures.
Cozumel's International Pier
We had arranged to meet our group for no-host cocktails in the Viking Crown Lounge, which we did. After a lively interchange about the day’s events in Cozumel, we moved on for another excellent dinner in the King and I Restaurant. The evening promised a session with Tom Cotter, very funny comedian that Joanie and I had missed on the first evening, but saw on the televised repeat of the show. The guy was hilarious. On this evening he was to perform and “adult comedy” session. We left the dining room in just a nick of time to get a seat at the rear of the Top Hat Lounge. Wanting badly to be entertained, Tom Cotter started off with some excellent material but then crossed our “not funny” line when the drug jokes started, basically sending the message that doing marijuana, cocaine and crack is somehow funny.
Joanie and I left the lounge and went to bed.
Sunday, January 18th, 2004; Belize City, Belize; Joanie and I had arranged to meet with one of the group members to go ashore and rent a taxi to tour Belize’s sights. After a leisurely breakfast, we arrived on deck one just as the “open tender” call was made. We quickly boarded a tender and in short order were zipping our way into Belize City. Due to the distance the cruise ships must anchor from Belize City, only high-speed tenders are used for the 15 to 20 minute commute. They are equipped with 3 200 hp outboard motors and run like a cigarette speedboat. The tender ride alone is worth the visit to Belize City. After arriving at the cruise port we immediately went outside the facility and found a gentleman to take us on a city tour and out to the rain forest. We had little interest in going to the zoo or other major tourist attractions, but rather wanted to experience the culture of Belize.
Buying Belizian "Cashew Wine" Right from the Source
We really lucked out with our selection in drivers. Andrew Baird (AndrewBaird119 @yahoo.com) is a degreed college graduate currently studying tourism at the University of Belize. He hopes to start his own tour company, put up his own web site and run the best tours in Belize. From what we experienced, he will probably do just that. Our day was excellent and we made it back to the cruise terminal with plenty of time for shopping before taking the next tender back to the ship for an afternoon in the sun by the pool.
This evening’s show was scheduled before dinner, so Joanie and I patronized the Champagne Bar and then made our way to the show in the 42nd Street Theater. This was a production of the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers entitled “Starstruck.” What a great performance! Everything about the production was superb and both Joanie and I (along with just about everyone else) left feeling wonderful. The vocals were to die for and the costumes, choreography and performances flawless. You will love this show.
Dinner saw another fabulous meal with the entire dining staff singing “Oh Solo Mia” before presenting dessert. It is amazing the camaraderie one shares with fellow diners and the dining crew on this ship. We were starting to feel like old friends and family coming together for a family meal each night.
Monday, January 19th, 2004; Day at Sea; We woke up to a beautiful morning, spent some time designing and printing flyers for the evening’s group photo and then made our way to the pool to spend the morning in the sunshine that beckoned us from its first light. While it was a bit windy, we selected two chairs close to the Jacuzzi and that promised full sunshine all day. After a quick serving of fruit, juice and yogurt we were laying in the warm sunshine. After a lunch of vegetables and salad, I spent the afternoon in our cabin working on the computer.
Another wonderful dinner in the King and I Restaurant was followed by a session of Karaoke in the Viking Crown Lounge. It always amazes me that it seems on the fifth day everyone starts relaxing and enjoying their cruise persona.
Tuesday, January 20th; Panama Canal, Panama; We woke up with the ship dead in the water while we waited for our turn to enter the Gatun Locks, which raise ships from the Caribbean Sea some 85 feet to Gatun Lake where a transit of the lake can be made to the Pacific Ocean side of the canal. Negotiating the locks is a timely and tedious process and the Splendour of the Seas had a difficult time entering the first lock. There were two large tugs and both stern and bow thrusters pushing her into place. Once in the lock and with the “mules” attached to her hull, Splendour of the Seas preceded her slow trip through the locks. Once through the third lock, Splendour of the Seas tendered the passengers that had signed up for shore excursions to their awaiting boats and motor coaches for their excursions. HINT: If you do not take one of the ship’s shore excursions in Panama, you must stay on the ship while she waits her turn to reverse her trip through the Gatun locks making her way back to the Caribbean Sea. If you want to see some of Panama, I would strongly suggest signing up for a shore excursion.
Following the Island Princess Through the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal
Once clear of the locks, Splendour of the Seas made her way to Cristobal Pier, Panama, arriving at a little after 4 pm. Our departure time was 7 pm leaving under three hours to visit the city. This fact, coupled with the fact that the Island Princess was also in port made it very difficult to entertain a visit, as one needed to negotiate for a taxi to take you into town. All in all, if you did not take a shore excursion you were basically stuck on the ship and then in the cruise terminal at Cristobal Pier. Not that there wasn’t tons of shopping in the cruise terminal complex, as there was. In fact, there was entertainment, bars, a restaurant, shops, boutiques and well over a hundred separate flea market stalls selling local crafts of all descriptions. One of the most impressive mini-markets was put on by the Darien Indians that came from Panama's remote jungles bringing their exquisitely weaved baskets, dishes and other products. The Darien Indians are very interesting indeed, as the men and women still go around practically nude with the women wearing a brief to cover themselves (they are still topless however) and the men wear a simple loincloth. They are heavily tattooed and also dye certain parts of themselves red, yellow and other colors. We found an Internet Café on the premises and spent most of the time on-line catching up on business.
Panama's Darien Indians
We were back on board for a quick shower, and a glass of wine in the Champagne Bar before heading to another wonderful dinner in the King and I Restaurant. By now everyone in our group had fallen into our new routine and it was starting to feel like home away from home. This is certainly one of the major benefits of orthodox dining.
Joanie and I continued on to the Viking Crown Lounge for a nightcap.
Wednesday, January 21st, 2004; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica; We arrived early in Puerto Limon and I was anxious to experience this new port (to me) I had heard everything from “You will love it” to “Don’t get off the ship, as it is too dangerous.” Having spent time on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, I know Costa Ricans to be a peaceful and wonderful people and their culture rich in tradition and respect for their environment.
We disembarked and proceeded to negotiate for a small van to take us on a tour of the area. There was a tent set up within the port itself and people negotiating on behalf of the taxis and vans that were there. We were about to conclude a deal when the negotiator introduced the idea that we would have to have a “guide” with us, as the driver did not speak English. I explained that at least two of us in the group spoke Spanish, but he did not rescind his statement. Since we were only in line to pay, we decided to walk away and go outside the port area and start all over.
This proved to be an excellent strategy, as we were able to negotiate a larger air-conditioned van, more hours for less money. As a bonus, our driver was a wonderful gentleman who showed us his Costa Rica. As I suspected, the Caribbean side of Costa Rica shares the same values as the Pacific side and is a wonderful place to visit. In fact, I made a mental note to come back and visit it on a surf trip sometime in the future.
Costa Rica's Tortuguero Canal
We left Puerto Limon and went north to the beginning of the canal structure that runs parallel to the shoreline for over two hundred kilometers from just north of Puerto Limon all the way to the Nicaraguan border. The Tortuguero Canals are unique as they link several rivers and offer a very unique environment for flora and fauna. We boarded small boats equipped with an outboard and slowly made our way up the canal system stopping whenever our guide saw birds or other wildlife he thought we might be interested in. His deckhand, Jeremy (his 4-year old son) would then proceed to show everyone the bird or animal that we just saw on a plastic sheet that had pictures and the names of the wildlife. Jeremy, alone was worth the cost of the trip (which by the way, was paid for by our driver as part of the fare) We continued up river seeing many different and unusual birds. At one juncture, our guide saw a two-toed sloth hanging in a tree over the water and slowly approached it to within a couple of feet. He managed to move a branch to arouse the sloth, who slowly started climbing away, but not after we all got several photos. Several miles up the river we stopped to purchase some gasoline and also took a break from the boat to get some bottled water. After cruising full speed up the channel for another few miles we returned to the marina and bid our guide and Jeremy adios.
Costa Rica's Playa Bonita
Our next stop was scenic Playa Bonita. This is a beautiful deep sand beach with a broad expanse of crystal clear water and white sandy beach. It is well worth the effort to get here from the port if one wants to relax on a sunny beach for the day. There is a small restaurant and gift shop right there and plenty of room for everyone. We continued to visit some of the hotels in the area as well as some of the sights in Puerto Limon before setting out to visit a banana plantation for a tour of the operation. While interesting, I would have rather spent the day at Playa Bonita. We had our driver drop us off at an Internet Café where we spent a good amount of time cleaning up e-mail before walking back to the ship through town. We tried to make some telephone calls from the communication center in the port area without luck and spent time shopping at the craft market inside the port. Actually, the prices were better here than at any of the other markets we had visited, so we ended up buying a few more items.
By now we had fallen into our routine. Cocktails in the Champagne Bar followed by a wonderful dinner in the King and I Restaurant, which tended to result in our group being the last to leave the restaurant. Our servers were very accommodating to our conversations, which sometimes went beyond the period of time they should have..
Thursday January 22nd, 2004; Day at Sea; Today was the second of our three seminars so Joanie and I were up early, Royal Caribbean did an excellent job providing coffee, juice, rolls and an excellent meeting area. I would highly recommend the Splendour of the Seas as a small meeting venue, as the Conference Center offers everything to hold successful conferences. Spending the afternoon in the sun and following our usual evening tradition, we slept early and long.
Friday, January 23rd, 2004; Grand Cayman Island; We arrived in Grand Cayman right on time, anchored up and immediately started the tender process. Joanie and I needed an Internet Cafe in the worse way, so we took the first open tender into Georgetown. There is a communication center close to the tender wharf, so we purchased prepaid telephone cards and began to clean up the backlog of calls. Access to the Internet was down so we continued our search for Internet Cafes. About three blocks into the city, we came across a Thai Restaurant that offer ADSL access for only $3.50 for 15 minutes. This turned out to be the best deal we could find. The computers were quite fast and offered traditional keyboards making operating on the Internet familiar and efficient. After a good amount of time, we had completed all of our e-mail and work and decided to do some shopping and just wander around Georgetown. The day was somewhat cloudy and we decided to spend the afternoon working in our cabin, so we headed for the tender wharf and the next tender back to the ship.
Grand Cayman's Tender Wharf
Saturday, January 24th, 2004; Day at Sea; We awoke to a wonderful sunny morning and after working all day the day before decided to take advantage of the wonderful weather and head for the pool to secure some lounge chairs for the day. We settled into some chairs, ordered a latte from the pool bar and enjoyed the sunshine and warm temperature for the day. Sunny days at sea is what cruising is all about!
Joanie and I dressed early for our last formal night, went to the Champagne Bar where we had become fast friends with the beautiful and wonderful bar hostess, Revelyn Bongar from the Philippines. We met Revelyn on the first evening and looked forward to seeing her every evening. If you like a pre-dinner glass of wine or martini, there is no better place on the Splendour of the Seas than the Champagne Bar and no better server than Revelyn, as she is just wonderful. When you meet her in the Champagne Bar be sure to tell her that you heard about how wonderful she is from Tom and Joanie.
This evening’s second seating show was before dinner and featured and entertainer named Sal Richards. After a glass of wine, we made our way to the 42nd Street Theater where we thoroughly enjoyed Sal’s performance. Great impressions, great singing and some of the best one-liners and jokes I have heard recently. Sal is a great entertainer and you will have the time of your life if he is on the Splendour of the Seas when you sail. After the show, we made our way to the King and I Restaurant where we had yet another wonderful dining experience that led to our group closing the restaurant.
Sunday, January 25th, 2004; Day at Sea; Our third seminar of the cruise took place in the Conference Center today from 9 am until 12 pm. The seminars went superbly and by now our entire group had bonded into friendships. It is amazing to me how a cruise group can forge such strong friendships in such a short period of time. The day was cloudy and cool so Joanie and I spent the afternoon packing, working and generally tying up loose ends. One last visit to the Champagne Bar and one final dinner with the group in the King and I Restaurant and we said goodbye to our new-found friends on the ship and in our group. We put our bags out before turning in.
Monday, January 26th, 2004, Galveston, Texas; Joanie and I were up early and were in the very first group to disembark (because of our Diamond Loyalty status.) We were in our car and heading for Houston International for a flight to Ft. Lauderdale for the inaugural of the QM2.
Summary: It has been over two years since I have cruise with Royal Caribbean and I am happy to report that the experience is just as good as it always has been. Overall the ship, the service, the food, the entertainment and the itinerary is just an excellent experience. The Splendour of the Seas is in great shape and this particular itinerary is awesome and I would recommend this cruise to anyone that wants to combine the deep Western Caribbean with the Panama Canal. You will love it!