Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Splendour of the Seas
Sailing Date: March 29th, 2004
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Sorry this is so long, but I love reading the reviews on this site and don’t see a lot of postings recently, so … here goes.
Our family of five sailed on Splendour of the Seas on March 29-April 3, a five-night cruise with stops in Cozumel and Costa Maya. My wife and I had been on cruises before and thought our kids (ages 15, 12 and 10) would enjoy taking one someday. We planned well in advance for the trip, choosing Galveston because we could drive there and the Splendour because its five-day cruise fit into the kids’ spring break week from school.
The port of Galveston was easy to find and accessible (on a Saturday). The area is a little bit dumpy, but there seemed to be some nice restaurants in the area … and if it becomes a common sailing port, I’m sure they’ll fix it up. Parking was close, the shuttle service was great (45 bucks to park for five days) … At any rate, we wanted to be among the first people on board … we got there about noon. So embarkation was quick, we got on, and started exploring – and eating!
Our cabins were on floor 2. My son and I had an inside cabin, and my wife and the girls were in an outside, with a Pullman. They were small, but comfortable, and we chose them because we didn’t plan on spending much time in the rooms; and they were the least expensive on the ship. We knew going in that the bathrooms would be tiny. Big deal.
Our cabin steward, Javier, was outstanding. Yes, they don’t turn down your bed on the first night because they are loading luggage, but it wasn’t a big problem. We can turn them down ourselves. And get chocolate elsewhere. Javier made towel animals for the kids, which really delighted them. Being in the lowest berth, and having a steward like that, is a real feather in Royal Caribbean’s hat. A slight aside … the in-room movies were excellent. We don’t watch many up-to-date movies, and on the rare occasions were in the rooms during the trip, we got to see such 2003 classics as Return of the King, School of Rock, Master and Commander: Far Side of the Seas, and Freaky Friday. It would have been nice if the ship had a movie theater to show those flicks during the day; on a previous cruise, our ship did have a theater to show such movies.
The Windjammer was our first stop for the buffet. Of course, this is the highlight of any Royal Caribbean cruise … lots of food, plates the size of cafeteria trays. Our kids also enjoyed the endless supply of ice-cream cones by the outdoor pool, and the snack bar in the Solarium pool where you could get burgers, pizza and – best of all – French fries. We showed them the lay of the land so they would never go hungry! You can also buy drink cards so your kids can get pop/juice, but our kids were happy (we think) getting lemonade or water at poolside between meals. They had milk and juice at dinner. Another aside – we took a water purifying pitcher to keep in our rooms, and our steward delivered a pitcher of ice water at all times. We encouraged everyone to stay hydrated for when we started getting too much sun. As for my wife and I, we each got one drink a day, at the nightly show, so we didn’t spend too much money on booze. (When in Mexico, however, we drank quite a bit of beer, whenever we could get a can for a buck. We also brought two bottles of liquor on board ship in Cozumel, and they didn’t say a word … it was in our carry on bag. So, I guess you can do that.)
There’s a rock-climbing wall that was fun for the kids. They open it for a few hours every day, and limit the number of times you can do it, so it wasn’t dominated by any one group. There are different skill levels, so it’s pretty easy for any kid who puts in a little effort. I guess there used to be an 18-hole mini-golf course there. When they put the rock-climbing wall in, they cut it to 12 holes. It was not very well planned out, and all based on luck. I’m not saying that you have to make it PGA quality, but it could have been better thought out. Usually the golf course was crowded, although if you played it once you usually lost your affection for it. The four shuffleboard courts were usually busy. We were disappointed there was no basketball court. Our kids love to play, and the last cruise we went on had a nice court, with lots of games and contests. I guess there isn’t enough room for a sports court on this ship, but maybe they can replace the dumpy golf greens and put in a basket or two.
One thing we like about Royal Caribbean is the pre-dinner (or post-dinner) shows in the 42nd Street Theater. On this cruise, they had two song-and-dance shows by a fairly talented group of players, two comedians and a juggling duo. None could be described as spectacular, but they were all worth seeing. The theater, as advertised, was wonderful for sight lines. The cruise director, Alan Melhuis, was a big jolly guy who was pretty good. We didn’t have much interaction with him, but everyone seemed to like him. We had the 8:30 seating for dinner at the King and I, which was fine. Our table was right next to a serving station … but also right next to a window. Some people were bothered by the location, but we weren’t. The dinner selections were always pretty good … but, as other posters have said, there is no lobster. And the prime rib (which some has said was kind of tough) was served on a Friday night … and during Lent we, as Catholics, stay away from meat on Fridays … so it would have been nice if we’d had lobster that night! (Sorry, I suppose that wasn’t exactly in the religious spirit, eh?)
We left Galveston in chilly weather, and our second day – the Day at Sea – was also on the cool side. We got a lot of rain in the afternoon. Still, it was a lot of fun. The kids checked out the teen nightclub, and our 15-year-old son spent a lot of time there and met some friends. The girls (12 and 10) hung with mom and dad. We kept busy all day doing fun things. The only bugaboo was the workout center, which only has three “running’’ treadmills. Since there were a lot of teenagers on board – many of whom appeared to be training for the track season – the running treadmills were hard to get on. But you don’t exactly go on cruises to exercise like a maniac, do you? Another aside – because of spring break week, there were probably more than the usual amount of children on board. That didn’t bother us, having three of them ourselves … but others might have been a bit annoyed. The solarium pool is supposed to be for adults only (over 16) … in that area, they had the snack bar, so there were a lot of kids loading up on food. For the most part the solarium pool wasn’t very busy, but there were some parents who brought younger children in there. No pool police were available to suggest they get the little rug rats out of there. At the outdoor pool, it was hard to find a deck chair some days, but the early bird gets the worm. The hot tubs at the outdoor pool were always full of kids who sat in them forever, and I’m guessing that bugged some people, too.
The Day at Sea ended with the captain’s dinner and formal wear. Naturally, we scarfed a few rum punches at the cocktail reception. The formal dinner was really nothing special (again, no lobster?) … and they had their snazzy midnight buffet with ice carvings and food carvings, etc. Fun, but you have to wonder why they do that when there’s a 7 a.m. docking the next day? They should do it before the last Day at Sea, when people can sleep in.
The ship docked in Cozumel early Wednesday morning, one of seven ships that was docked there on this day. We got up early to beat the crowds and took a cab to Chankanaab National Park, camped out under a grass hut and rented snorkeling gear. Chankanaab’s coral reef has been trashed over the years; it’s protected now by ropes, but it might have been too late. It’s a good place to snorkel and learn to snorkel, but there aren’t a ton of fish. But it was fun to relax in the sun, walk around, see the iguanas, etc. There are a lot of expensive things to do there (swim with dolphins, etc.), but we just wanted to feel the sand between our toes and swim. Our kids are water maniacs and, coming from a winter climate, we really enjoyed it. We returned to the ship about 2:30 to get a quick snack, then took a cab into town (we were at the International Pier, which is about three miles from town). Immediately after we got dropped off, there was a monsoon that left two feet of water on some streets. We took refuge in a church, and talked to some children and nuns and got a feel for the local life. After the rain slowed, we did some window shopping, then got back to the ship for the 7 p.m. show and dinner.
The ship sailed for Costa Maya, and docked early the next morning. I’ve seen a lot of postings saying Royal Caribbean should dump Costa Maya as a port. At the end of the dock is a shopping mall, and the beaches are either private or too rocky to explore. Although Royal Caribbean used to advise against it, most people who didn’t take a tour headed into the little town of Majahual, a cute little town with a beach, some bars and a lot of shops … and not many clean bathrooms, ha! (A lot of people booked excursions on the ship. We are the type of family who usually get off and find something similar, yet less expensive … but if you are a first-time cruiser, booking on the ship is the easy way to go.) We did some swimming, hiking and shopping. Again, we just loved being out in the hot weather. I can see why people wouldn’t think Costa Maya is that exciting, but for me, getting a Cuban cigar and six-pack of beer was just hunky dory. The girls got their hair braided (we saw a wide range of prices for this throughout the cruise … some people paid 100 bucks to have it done, others were as low as 20 bucks). Anyway, the ship left at 3 p.m. (missing three people, I was told) to begin the trip back to Galveston.
The Day at Sea was nice and toasty, at least until we got closer to Texas. People were happy to crash out by the deck. There were also lots of programs (Bingo, towel-folding, art auctions, etc.) going on. I haven’t said anything about the casino yet, because we didn’t set foot in it the whole trip. I guess the casinos are kind of fun, but we’re not gambling folks. Likewise, because we were with the kids, we didn’t spend much time in the bars and lounges, so I can’t comment on how much fun they were. But there didn’t seem to be many complaints from people on the ship. The kids ate breakfasts and lunches in the Windjammer, but my wife and I usually went to the King and I to be seated so we could meet people and chat with them. That is one of the most enjoyable parts of the cruise for us. The waiters and assistant waiters all seemed to be helpful. We had nothing but good experience. At dinner, we never saw our headwaiter until the last night, when he stopped by … probably to make sure we hadn’t forgotten him come tip time.
We tipped the suggested amount to everyone, even gave a little more to the room steward. As you can tell, we don’t spend much money … outside of the hair braiding, we only bought a couple of jewelry items where we bargained like maniacs. The crew was wonderful, though. We had great conversations with people working at the purser’s desk and in the shopping area. In our opinions, that’s where Royal Caribbean stands out.
Debarkation in Galveston was hassle free. We were the last folks off, but we camped out on the top deck, ate at the Windjammer and got some fairly good weather … we got out of Galveston and were on the road home by 10:30.
All in all, the trip was exactly as we expected … a wonderful late-winter getaway and a great family trip. I’d suggest it to any family, and we have. We will definitely cruise again, and we like the idea of Galveston, since we can drive there … however, we think next time we might try one of the big ships (Voyageur class) and go for seven days, so we might have to drive to Florida for that.
It’s not the cheapest vacation in the world, but it’s pretty close to the best!