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Kim Clayton

Age: 43

Occupation:Banker

Number of Cruises: 3

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Splendour of the Seas

Sailing Date: February 9th, 2006

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

A note to fellow winter travellers-we found out why you can obtain bargain fairs during this time period! Read on for an explanation.

This was my second cruise out of Galveston on Royal Caribbean ship. The first was on Rhapsody of the Seas with my husband and two sons, ages 10 and 12, in July of 2003 and was a wonderful experience for all.

This cruise on Splendour started great. Boarding the ship went very smoothly, although my traveling companion and I were a little irritated that although the vans that shuttle you from the parking lot to the pier specified "no luggage carried on" there were several individuals allowed to board the vans with all of their luggage. The correct procedure was to drive to the pier, drop off your luggage, then drive to the parking lot, pay a $45 or $60 fee (depending on whether you wanted covered parking or not) and catch the van back to the ship.

We boraded the ship about 3:00 for a 6:00 departure. The cruise line specified that you should not board before 2:00, but we talked with several passengers who boarded about 11:30 and took advantage of a lunch buffet in the Windjammer. Our room was ready when we boarded, and our luggage was delivered about 3:30.

We had an interior cabin on Deck 8 with two twin beds and also two bunks which could be pulled down to accommodate 4 in the cabin. The bathroom is basically an airplane bathroom with a shower--not very roomy, but adequate. the only issue we had with the cabin was that there was no alarm clock and with an interior cabin, was pitch black dark with all the lights off, no matter what the time of day or night. I would recommend bringing a lighted clock. There was a hair dryer provided in the cabin, but no toiletries. Drawer space and closet space were adequate for two passengers.

We had the early seating in the dining room, The King and I, and my traveling companion and I shared a table for 10 with 8 others, all couples from the greater Houston area ranging in age from 40's to 60's. Most of the diners at teh first seating were in that general age range. There were a few families, but due to the time of year, not that many young children on board. The age group of the second seating at 8:30 appeared a bit younger--more of the 20's-30's crowd. I saw less tables available for 2 and 4 passengers than I had seen on the Rhapsody. Food was great, but not excellent, on all 4 nights. Our service was wonderful--our waiter and assistant were very attentive and we saw our headwaiter at least twice during every dinner. One night, he even cut up my chicken for me! One cute note--the first night one of our table mates ordered "nothing" for dessert and received a plate with "nothing" written in icing. We had one formal night and three casual nights. On formal night, the attire ranged from long dresses and tuxedos to open collared shirts and khakis for the men and casual pants outifts for the women. It doesn't appear the formal attire is required, but it is fun to dress up at least once.

We chose to eat breakfast and lunch in the Windjammer, which has a buffet of some sort going most of the day and evening. Lots of selection and everything appeared fresh. One day, we ate lunch in the Solarium, which had a selection of burgers, pizza, and hot dogs. One complaint--although you are not charged for water, iced tea, and lemonade, you cannot readily find these beverages anywhere except in the Windjammer and the dining room. You are charged for bottled water, and there are signs stating that you cannot refill the bottles for health reasons. Also, you can buy a soda package for $4 a day for children and $6 a day for adults that offers you unlimited sodas. They give you a cup, but also put a sticker on your Sea Pass that all the bars will accept if you don't want to carry around your cup.

Now-on to why you can get a good deal during the winter. The weather was not good for our 4 day sailing. We left Thursday evening in about 65 degree weather and wind. Our Compass--the schedule that shows the daily activates--told us the weather our Friday at sea would be sunny and 85, so we dressed accordingly--and had to go back to the cabin and change into sweaters and jeans as it was about 65 degrees and windy due to the speed of the boat. It was sunny, and some brave souls braved the poolside, but my deck chair and drink both blew over, so I only lasted about an hour. Those that tried to walk on Deck 10 were almost blown off when heading into the wind! The indoor pool at the Solarium was very crowded and cold--the hot tubs were pleasant, but not what I would call hot--most people chose the hot tubs over the pool.

Indoor activates were therefore very popular--there is a good sized casino, art auctions, daily Bingo (beware--they charge $35 per session for 5 or 6 games), of course bars--our favorite was the Schooner Bar where there was live entertainment in the evenings from a friendly guitar player who always remembered our names.

The shows were adequate but not excellent--I felt the entertainment on the Rhapsody was superior. We had a comedian the first night, a musical review the second night, what I would call a "lounge singer" the third night, and an acrobatic group the last night.

Saturday was our day in Cozumel--our only port. Attend the shopping talk on Friday--it was very worthwhile for maps and directions, but lasted an amazing 1 and 1/2 hours, with a lot of advertising included. We did not stay for the entire talk. Thankfully, the weather in Cozumel was about 80 degrees and partly cloudy, and we were able to take our planned shore excursion of a clear kayak and snorkeling, booked through RCCL. What they did not tell us--the beaches in Cozumel are pretty well gone--wiped out by Hurricane Wilma. Our excursion went to Playa Uva, which has a lot of damage, and you could tell the small beach area was man made. Beach shoes are a must--you have to literally climb over rocks to get into the water, and most people on this excursion were disappointed, as the snorkeling is not good--very few fish. also, the docks were damaged and are being rebuilt, so you have to tender in, which is time consuming. The first tenders are very crowded, but if you wait until after 9:30, there is no line. Try to come back by about 3:30, because after that the lines get long. The last tender is at 5:30 and the ship sailed about 6:30.

The shopping areas in Cozumel don't appear to have been affected by the hurricanes--there were three ships in port the day we were there and shopping was very crowded. Bargaining is okay in most of the small shops, but beware of bargains in jewelery. My friend was going to buy a tanzanite pendant for a great price but decided to look elsewhere--and then discovered that what she was looking at was imitation. Stick to the shops suggested by the cruise line for serious jewelery purchases.

We made an obligatory stop at Carlos and Charlies for a drink before getting back on the ship--lots of fun but women travelling alone need to watch out for the locals--we were approached several times even though we were both wearing wedding rings!

Our worst weather occurred Sunday morning beginning at 3:30 a.m.--very high winds of close to 50 mph and 15-20 ft. seas. The bad weather lasted through lunchtime Sunday--about 8 hours--and many on the boat were seasick, including myself and my travelling companion. Note--we borrowed seasick patches from one of our dinner table mates--these worked great, but made us very sleepy. Also, you need to put them on 4 hours in advance of when you need them. A clerk in the gift shop, who was having a run on Dramamine, blamed the captain for the rough trip, saying that he runs the boat too fast and is not willing to go around storms in order to keep on schedule--I suppose this is a problem on a 4 day cruise--not a lot of extra time built in. Due to the weather and rough seas, all outdoor activities were cancelled and both pools were drained. The best place on the ship to ride out bad weather--as low as you can get and as near to the center of the boat as you can get. For me, this meant a couch on Deck 4 overlooking the Centrum for about 4 hours--so I got to see an entire art auction and a cooking demonstration. My traveling companion spent the time in the Casino, which she enjoyed but I did not--very smoky and crowded. After a two hour nap around 2:00, the seas had calmed down, and dinner and the show were enjoyable. this is the night that you pass out all of your tips to your waiters and cabin steward--I would suggest using the prepaid voucher program--the vouchers are delivered to your cabin and you put them in their respective envelopes. We spoke to some people the last day that did not use the vouchers and then had run out of cash to use for tips.

I also had a massage in the spa that evening. Book early, because on a 4 day cruise, everything fills up quickly. The spa was very nice--prices for a massage or a facial were comparable to what I would pay in Houston. Our bags needed to be outside by 10:30p.m. that evening, but I don't think luggage was actually picked up until after midnight.

Monday morning back in Galveston: there is no room service the last morning, and everyone must vacate cabins by 7:00--so there is a big run on breakfast between 7 and 7:30. Luckily, our waiter the last night told us to get to breakfast--either in the dining room or the Windjammer before 7:00. He was right--we went at 6:45 to the Windjammer and had no trouble getting a table. Be prepared to sit awhile--we were one of the first groups to disembark, and that was about 8:00. You must then retrieve your luggage and go through customs. This took about another hour. Another problem with the van service to the parking lots--I left my traveling companion with the luggage and rode the van to retrieve my car and pick her and the luggage up back at the pier--but there were many people getting on the vans with all of their luggage. Also, the van ride decided to take a very long route around the Strand when the parking lot was just across the street--once we actually got to the van lot 20 minutes later, it was a a short 2 minute drive back to the pier to collect my travelling companion and luggage.

All in all, not the best cruise I have taken and I would probably not choose to take another cruise in the winter months. It is a good weekend getaway, though, and would have been pleasant if we had better weather. However, my traveling companion, a first time cruiser from Colorado, was very impressed and would take this cruise again.

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