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Jim Martin

Age: 44

Occupation:Business Owner

Number of Cruises: 8

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Splendour of the Seas

Sailing Date: November 12th, 2005

Itinerary: Transatlantic

take Transatlantic Cruises because of the days at sea, so I will not be reviewing any of the ports as my entry into them was very brief. This was my fifth cruise on RCCL and my second on the Splendour and it was a mixed bag.

The Splendour of the Seas is the fastest ship in the RCCL Fleet and one of the first built in the Vision Series. It was built in March of 1996 and is now approaching almost ten years. The overall condition of the ship is average, there are signs of its age showing in its furnishings, but the ship is kept very clean. During the crossing they were changing carpets and drapes in the Cabins and a much needed reconfiguration is scheduled for the Windjammer Café on Deck 9 when the ship enters dry-dock in April of 2006. The Windjammer Café is the Buffet Style Restaurant and in the evening it is turned into the Casual Dining venue for the ship. The Windjammer also serves the Afternoon Tea. During dry dock the hotel manager claims all of the carpets in the public areas will be changed. Other improvements were mentioned but could not be confirmed so I will not mention them.

BOARDING
RCCL has introduced an online check-in procedure which I used; we arrived at the Pier at 11:30 A.M. and had our Room Keys/Ship Charge Card in less than a minute. We could not gain access to our Cabin until 1P.M, so we sat in a public area until 1P.M. arrived. Our luggage arrived by 4 P.M. and that was a first. I have waited until after midnight on some other ships for my luggage. The Boarding procedure has really improved at RCCL and I give that a solid ten out of ten points.

FOOD AND SERVICE
RCCL in my opinion has never shined in the area of food but it has really changed since my first sailing with them since 1994. The quality of the food has really gone down hill. RCCL has introduced approximately 4-5 entries that consistently appear on the menu, just in case you don’t want the specialized entries being offered that night. While I salute this idea the items served were not fresh and in some cases almost tasteless. RCCL had to serve over 1500 people three meals a day so the food is not individually prepared, preparation was overall very good, but the fish entries were tough, either dry, overcooked, or both. One night I was served a veal dish that consisted of 90% bone. Then a few nights later another veal selection was served and it was very tasty. Our waiter was very excellent and offered suggestions, he was from Romania but living in Italy, so he liked to offer the nightly pasta selection as a side dish. I was sailing with my mom who is diabetic and she enjoyed the Sugar Free Deserts. I ate a few and they were very well prepared.

On my previous cruise on the Splendour, breakfast was served off the menu in the King and I Dining Room; however most lunches were Buffet Style in the Dining Room. RCCL has changed this and now serves three meals a day off the menu in the Dining Room. Breakfast service was erratic, orders were sometimes messed up on some days and others it was perfect. The service provided during lunch was much better; it appears to me that most waiters and waitresses on RCCL suffer from lack of sleep which explains the less than satisfactory service received at breakfast.

The Windjammer has not and will not ever be my favorite eating venue as I do not like buffets. I did try it a few times primarily for breakfast and the food was over cooked as it spent too much time in the warmers. Also, the condition of the Windjammer Café was pathetic which didn’t help the overall dining experience.

The Afternoon Tea offered in the Windjammer should be renamed the Afternoon Snack. While a few of the British Tea Standards are offered they also offer lots of sliced meats and a serving line that allows you to create a taco. On my previous Transatlantic Cruise on the Splendour a complete sit down white gloved Tea was offered in the Dining Room four times during the cruise. I asked if those were going to occur and was told that none were scheduled.

Service in the Bars was superb Bar Tenders made an attempt to call you by name and remembered your preferences. A few of the Bartenders could be quite entertaining and I spent many a night watching Andre from the Ukraine wowing me and others with his card tricks.

One thing that particularly bothered me in the Dining Room was the service provided by the Head Waiters and this was frequently mentioned by other passengers. The Head Waiter is supposed to check every table in his or her section to see if the service is satisfactory and assist the waiter/waitress if things get too hectic. On this cruise I wore a Casio Watch the first two nights as I hadn’t unpacked my more expensive Rolex until the third night. The Head Waiter would only check tables and assist the waiters with passengers that either ordered wine or had expensive watches on, finally after mentioning this to the Hotel Manager the service changed and he performed his duties as expected until the last night of the cruise when we walked around with a tip envelope slipped into his front jacket pocket. On the last night I had ordered lobster and he was supposed to remove the shell, he only did that for passengers who gave him envelopes.

CABIN AND CABIN SERVICE
As I stated earlier the cabins on the Splendour are getting a new look, our cabin had been updated in January according to my Cabin Stewart. When boarding I asked for refrigerator for my mom’s insulin and that the queen bed be turned into two twins. The requests were honored very promptly. There was some dirt in the recessed electrical 220 volt outlets, other than that the cabin was spotless. One morning my water drained slowly from my sink and I reported it to my Cabin Stewart and it promptly repaired. Midway thru the cruise the Executive Housekeeper called me and asked me about the service received from my cabin steward, this was the first time this had occurred on a RCCL Cruise. I just obtained Platinum Level in the Crown and Anchor Society which entitled me to free use of robes while on board and they had two kinds Baltic Cotton and Terry Cloth, I prefer the Baltic Cotton and asked that they be changed once again the request was handled promptly. There were quite a few Platinum and Higher Members on this cruise so when you turned in your bathrobes for a new one it could take some time. There was some obvious wear on the bathroom sink, but the ship is almost ten years old.

CRUISE STAFF AND ENTERTAINMENT
The Cruise Staff on this cruise was excellent; they seemed happy and performed their duties enthusiastically. I climbed the Rock Climbing Wall four times on the cruise and enjoyed that experience and the staff who did it. I participated in the Ship Shape Program which offers you a Ship Shape Dollar for each activity you participate in and at the end of the cruise you turn the dollars in for Ship Shape Merchandise.

Shows were offered in the 42nd Street Theatre and the quality varied. Ole Ole was onboard and it was very well done and two other performances were offered in the Ships Multi Storied Lobby. One night they had a singer on which was not to my liking so we exited the show early. There were Piano Players in the Lounges that did their jobs well and a Piano Player in the Dining Room most nights; however because of the size of the Dining Room it was hard to hear him/her at times. The sound system in the Dining Room needs some attention as it was hard to hear even the recorded music selections when the waiters sang for us.

I also appreciate the effort made by the Cruise Director to minimize announcements. We had the midday bridge announcement from the Captain, the afternoon Bingo Announcement, and an announcement regarding the show times. The Ballroom Dance Instructor was fabulous and I learned the Fox Trot.

THE QUEST FOR MORE REVENUE
We did not participate in any Shore Excursions as I went for rest and relaxation. Park West handles the onboard Art Auctions. I use the term art very generously, as the items are marketed as very collectable and great investments, in my humble opinion they aren’t. What bothered me the most about the art auctions was how pushy the people were from Park West were.

One day I couldn’t get a reading from my blood pressure device so I went to the Medical Clinic and asked the nurse on duty to take the reading, she informed there would be a $35 dollar charge, and I passed. Then one night I needed a heating pad for my mom and was informed by a Purser there would be a $30 dollar charge to just open the clinic. I paid it only to find out there were passengers in the Clinic and the nurse there was there for the night. Another passenger I knew visited the doctor and was charged $105 for the 5 minute consultation and the doctor sold him cough syrup for $25.

Gold by the Inch has moved from the shopping venue on Deck 5 to right in front of the doors as you exit Deck 9 for the pool which I found rather aggressive. The items in the shops was mostly overpriced and logo merchandise. There was some nice porcelain figurines by Llardo offered and an Italian Figurine Maker.

Salon Services were overpriced and the quality delivered was second rate. A lady I became friends with paid $95 to have her nails done and the polish wore off within days. The “so called” specials just brought the pricing from super over priced to very over priced.

CROWN AND ANCHOR SOCIETY
This was my first cruise as a Platinum Member and I enjoyed the robes, complimentary 15 minutes of internet time given, complimentary wine tasting, and free bars drinks. I had heard that Platinum and Diamond Level Members were given a Special Lunch; it was replaced with a cocktail party. I inquired about this and the Loyalty Ambassador told me there were many back to back cruisers on this cruise and they thought another lunch would be too repetitive, maybe so but the previous cruise only had one day at sea we had nine. I think a cocktail party would have been in order for the previous cruise and luncheon on the crossing if repetition was a concern.

DISEMBARKATION
The worse part about a cruise is getting on and getting off. While the Embarkation process was smooth the disembarkation process was a total mess. There were an insufficient number of porters and I spent almost an hour in line clearing customs and I was in the third disembarkation group. The cruise ship terminal in Galveston has been enlarged which helps but what is needed is more porters and more Customs Inspectors. What RCCL can do about getting more customs inspectors is a mystery to me. If more porters are hired by the agent in Galveston and there are no more Customs and Immigration Inspectors added all that will be accomplished is a delay in the long line. I urge everyone who experienced this to write the local Member of Congress for Galveston, their Member of Congress, and their state’s US Senator, and the two US Senators from Texas. However, long lines in US Customs and Immigration are the norm these days.

FINAL THOUGHTS
RCCL offers a great value on Transatlantic Crossings and with the introduction of the Voyager of the Seas to Europe means that almost every class of RCCL ship will now be making the crossing twice a year. RCCL needs to improve the food quality, do something about staff that solicits gratuities in the manner that I experienced with the Head Waiter. I will be taking the Splendour again in April for the Eastbound Transatlantic so while this wasn’t a superior cruise it wasn’t totally bad either. I realize the challenges facing the cruise business with increased fuel costs but revenue per cabin is up by 20 percent on the basic fares too. I think it’s time to STOP the nickel and dimming in the Medical Clinic. Also, I would suggest that RCCL look at the pricing offered by contractors in the Spas and Shops. I think they might try working to get their needed returns using lower prices and more volumes. A lot of people thought the prices charged were robbery and left a bad taste.

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