Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Splendour of the Seas
Sailing Date: April 16th, 2005
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
My Previous experience cruising was on the Mariner of the seas last year with my Wife. This time we brought our three kids (ages 3,3,4) with us. Actually, it was a large party which consisted of my mother-in-law, my mother and father, my sister, my step-brothers, and my aunt and uncle a total of 21. This cruise was bound to be 'different' compared to my previous experience.
The ships in contrast are quite different themselves. The Mariner is brand new and has the newer amenities offered by RCCL. The splendor is a little older and somewhat smaller, but has just as much to offer in activities and entertainment, minus the ice show of course.
Leaving from Tampa was a breeze and we were able to board around 1pm. This might have been a benefit of the smaller ship, less people to get off and on. The Splendor has the luxury and beauty throughout which I appreciate and immediately noticed. My room was an ocean view stateroom. It had drop-down bunks to accommodate the kids. The room was slightly smaller, but was manageable. The bathroom, was similar in size to the mariner's, but as I've heard is smaller than most other cruise lines. Storage after unpacking was a big challenge for this many people, drawer space is limited, and there are only a few hangers.
Dining was wonderful, the menus appeared to be exactly the same as the mariners. The food quality was an 8 out of 10, baked Alaska is a must have, as it was authentically made (where on the Mariner it was ice cream with cake underneath). The Waitress was wonderful, and extremely friendly despite cleaning up after my twin 3 year olds each night. The assistant was around less than I would have liked. Others in our large party had a different waitress and found that her personality was left back at the dock. My wife and I had drinks most nights, during the show usually, and found that they were excellent in quality, beating any local restaurants in alcohol content. I don't recommend the soda package it is over priced, you can buy 3 sodas a day and still spend less money. There's always alternative drinks as well, Iced tea at dinner and lemonade in the windjammer to quench the sweet drink cravings. The entertainment was very good, I felt it was diverse and fresh each night. The bars and lounges were good hang outs although, for the late night crowd, the night club was pretty quiet. The pool party is alot of fun as well. If you don't want to splurge for the balcony rooms, don't. If you want to get away and just relax peacefully, head down to the deck were the muster stations are, there is hardly anyone out there, then just grab a lounge chair, a book and enjoy. Or during the daytime, go on up to the viking lounge and sit, its pretty empty there before 5 or 6pm. The pool's are all saltwater. And this can be chilly water depending on the time of year.
The Ports of call were grand cayman, costa maya, belize, and cozumel. Grand caymen is a very nice place the people are very friendly and the shopkeepers are not pushy or pesty. The island is still recovering from Ivan. I definitely recommend the stingray city and Island tour, its reasonably priced and quite interesting, absolutly perfect for the kids. We got a well guided tour through the town. Then a short ferry ride to a floating observatory, we saw many stingrays and fish, the kids were enthralled. After that we headed over to the sea turtle farm, this was interesting and we all got to hold a small turtle. Costa Maya, well its costa maya, it is a small development project on top of a fishing village. A few shops at the pier, if your looking for deals or like haggling with the locals, this is the place. We did the all-terrain truck and beach tour. All-terrain was slightly exaggerated here, it was just a bumpy ride on a dirt road in the back of a truck. The guided tour wasn't bad, learning about the area the wildlife and people. For those with kids 5 and under this portion of the trip can be tough, it was a little hot and the hour of bumping around soon leads to complaints. The destination is a strip of beach were you can swim and kayak for about 2 hours. The kids enjoyed this, although there were many tiny jelly-fish in the water. Next was belize, The heat was unbelievable, attributed to the lack a wind. Belize is a small set of the usual tourist island shops encompassed by a 20 foot barb-wire fence, which is slightly intimidating, so venturing beyond the shops was less than welcoming, especially with kids. We didn't have any excursions here. The rest of our party did though, the Cave tubing. The cave tubing has bee raved about in other reviews, but this is not the case. It was described to me as boot camp-like, the tour guides constantly yelling to "move-it". you have to hump it up a hill after walking 45 mins through the jungle carrying the tube. Then at the top of the hill (no breaks allowed) you have to jump or repel off a 10-foot cliff. That was the easy part. The tour continues on the tube into the cave. Nothing leisurely here though, the group had to paddle their butts off to keep up and often hit the bottom as it was only 6 inches deep. At one point a couple my mother and mother-in-law got separated from the group, and got left behind. thankfully a tour group was behind them and found them and helped them out. no one of any age or physical condition enjoyed the trip. The problem was apparently that the water level in the river was very low as they were getting into the dry season. Cozumel, I enjoy Cozumel, shops, bars and things to do are plentiful here. We had an excision booked but we didn't go because the water was teaming with jelly fish apparently it's seasonal and they drift where ever. The cruise was a wonderful escape otherwise.
Advice for people with kids. When you cruise, there isn't alot for the kids to stay entertained on the ship "getting into things" will happen. Take advantage of the kids programs, My kids loved it, they had a lot of fun, it also made it easier for my wife an I to relax, and see the shows. The sleeping arrangements work OK. if you get the bunks and you have small ones, I recommend resetting the room so the two twin beds on the floor to the center and make a double. We did this so if one did fall out of bed they would only fall onto the mattress below or one of us. Consequently, no one ever fell out of bed. When dining, in the dining room bring a pen or crayons for coloring. And do as we had to, instruct the waiter to not bring the small ones drinks in water glasses, as this is an accident waiting.
Advice for traveling as a large group:
There are advantages and disadvantages to traveling in a group. The main thing to remember is not everyone wants to do the same thing, everyone will not be happy all the time, even on a cruise, and there is nothing you can do if people get on the ship with issues from home. Don't let it spoil your trip.
Finally I rate this cruise overall a 7 out of 10. I recommend this cruise line and this ship.