Christine and Richard
Age: 41 to 50
Number of Cruises: 11
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Splendour of the Seas
Sailing Date: October 3rd, 2000
Itinerary: New England / Eastern Canada
A lovely afternoon afforded the perfect chance to wander around Market Place. Faneuil Hall, North, Quincy and South Markets were interesting. Hunger set in again, and we tried the cuisine of Aura Restaurant. We began with New England clam chowder and Boston bib salad with blue cheese, followed by seared halibut over poached clams in a light cream sauce and plank-broiled striped bass on a bed of sundried tomatoes and navy beans. There was no room for dessert.
We awoke to another warm and sunny day. A morning stroll along the historic harborfront filled a void while waiting for embarkation. We located more of the restaurants we had hoped to sample – Jimmy’s, No-Name Restaurant, The Barking Crab and Anthony’s Pier 4. We can only hope for a return to Boston to sample these kitchens.
Embarkation. The transfer bus from the hotel to the pier had not arrived by 1:30 p.m. We decided, instead, to take a taxi, which turned out to be a wise choice. Others waiting with us for the same bus had to make several phone calls before the coach was sent. They did not embark until 3:00 p.m. Check-in at the Crown and Anchor Society Diamond desk took longer than it should have, as anyone was allowed to queue there.
Eventually we were on the ship and enjoying the welcome aboard buffet lunch. With plenty of time before departure, we explored the familiar public areas of the ship and were relieved to find little had changed in the three years since our last voyage upon the Splendour. We were on our way shortly after mustering. The Champagne Terrace beckoned for a relaxing few moments before we returned to the cabin to unpack.
Dinner arrangements were exactly as requested, although when we asked for a table for eight, never did we imagine only our two seats would be occupied. Our waitress, Licinia (Portugal), and assistant waiter, Habib (Tunisia), were quite amused by this arrangement but assured us there were others assigned to this table. They both were delightful and efficient throughout the journey. Tonight’s poached cod in champagne sauce was a good light way to begin our 10-day eating frenzy. Luc Lezzy entertained later in the 42nd Street Theatre with a most unusual show of bubbles and illusion.
Portland, Maine. The lighthouse welcomed us into the harbor during breakfast. We made a quick ½-mile jaunt around the Sun Deck before preparing to tender ashore. The Portland Public Market – the second largest timber-framed structure in the United States – houses many specialty produce vendors. We wished our kitchen were closer. The Portland Museum of Art was the next destination. There one viewed an exclusive exhibition of works by N.C. Wyeth (Andrew’s father). Many may recall his illustrations in Robinson Carusoe. Also, Berenice Abbott’s 1954 photo essay on U.S. Route 1 (Maine to Key West) was nostalgic. Abbott’s career began in the 1920s as an assistant in Paris to Man Ray. The neighboring Hay building, a former drug store, now houses a Starbucks coffeehouse. We chose a cozy corner there to observe street life before returning to the pier. There one was entertained by a small jazz ensemble.
Lunch in the King and I Dining Room offered an excellent broiled tilapia with a tropical fruit and ginger salsa. We enjoyed conversation with others from Richmond and St. Louis. A reunion with a former waiter, Erik (France), was an unexpected surprise.
At the Champagne Terrace, we finally made the acquaintance of a lovely couple from Louisiana with whom we had corresponded via e-mail before this holiday. There would be other opportunities to see them again in the coming days. The Captain’s welcome aboard reception followed in the Top Hat Lounge. Captain Grønhaug introduced key officers and staff.
Two other couples finally joined our dinner table tonight. We treasured their company tonight and throughout this cruise. The châteaubriand was the clear majority choice for dinner, which Christine complimented with a mushroom mille feuille and fat-free Caesar salad – Richard with pâté maison, lobster bisque and Caesar salad. Later in the theater, the Platters entertained with their memorable tunes.
Halifax, Nova Scotia. Halifax was cool and clear; spray from welcoming fire barges scattered wildly in the wind. A panoramic view of the city below and the historic town clock keeping excellent time nearby rewarded our long uphill walk to the Citadel. The historic properties on the harbor house many boutiques and restaurants. We settled in at Salty’s for lunch. From our second-floor window, we observed passersby on the waterfront while steamed mussels whetted our appetites for the subsequent dishes of pan-seared haddock and maple-sauced salmon. Richard gave in to a crème caramel; Christine kept him company with a steaming cappuccino. Our waiter, Rob, was a friendly and knowledgeable server, but his tales of magnificent harbor sunsets were very tall, as the view was to the east.
The boardwalk was inviting, and we strolled along past more restaurants, shops and the Maritime Museum before reaching the cruise pier terminal. The arts and crafts vendors there tempted passengers. As a bagpiper bid us adieu, the Splendour set sail from this most friendly port.
We made our usual visit to the Centrum to enjoy live music and pre-dinner conversation. For dinner, almost everyone opted for scampi, and no one regretted that choice. In fact, some even indulged in second helpings. Tonight’s review in the theater was a lively tribute to American music.
Sydney, Nova Scotia. An overcast, rainy day greeted us in Sydney. We went as far as a local handicraft show on the pier before deciding against venturing further. A collapsible wooden basket and some goat milk soaps made their way back home with us. The King and I Dining Room then lured us to lunch. A crisp spring salad and a roasted vegetable napoleon on a bed of couscous and tomato coulis were Christine’s picks, while Richard enjoyed two servings of spaghetti and meatballs with his salad. Our waitress, Sophie (Québec) offered some Québec restaurant suggestions.
Later, Cape Breton music and dance were featured in the Top Hat Lounge. Jenny Rollins, the fiddler, was charming. We had a late afternoon tea in the Windjammer before returning to the cabin to find fruit baskets and an invitation from the Hotel Manager, Jimmy Spencer, to a Crown and Anchor Society Diamond Members’ reception to be held on the last formal evening.
The comedy of Mike Shane and Larry Allen highlighted the pre-dinner show. Having sailed with them previously, we were pleased with their new material. We both made a light dinner selection – poached flounder with shrimp and garlic sauce. However, Richard needed an extra dose of omegas tonight and added herring salad and Bergen fish soup. Then we both indulged in dessert – baba au rhum. Afterward, the Champagne Terrace was a nice place to stop for a nightcap.
St. Lawrence Seaway. We prepared for a cold, windy day at sea. A good part of the morning was used to catch up on reading. Richard had piles of material from home, while Christine checked out from the library “The Good Man of Nanking – The Diaries of John Rabe,” by John E. Woods. When hunger roared, we headed to the dining room, where Christine lunched on salad and tortellini, while Richard opted for soup, salad and Salsbury steak. A life enrichment lecture on the Bay of Fundy followed, which was full of interesting information on the unusual tidal action of the North Atlantic region. We returned briefly to the cabin, where we intercepted a call from another internet acquaintance. She asked whether we would like to meet for conversation in the Schooner Bar. It was a delight finally to meet face-to-face. We had a nice chat while being drawn into a game of team trivia.
There was just enough time for tea in the Windjammer before preparing for the Crown and Anchor Society cocktail. Our friends from Louisiana joined us at the reception. Here Captain Grønhaug previewed future Royal Caribbean ventures. We found astounding the projected addition of eight ships to the fleet – so closely behind Voyager of the Seas and Explorer of the Seas. Dinner followed, where everyone decided to try the roast duck in raspberry sauce; all were content with that selection. Many also enjoyed the cream of oxtail soup. We ended the evening in the 42nd Street Theatre, where Donna Theodore did a wonderful tribute to Judy Garland.
Québec City, Québec. Arrival was promptly at 7:00 a.m. It was unfortunate friends from Montréal would be unable to make the trip to Québec today to join us. We began our visit with a stroll through Vieux Port up to the ramparts, from where one could see the Splendour and Maasdam at the pier below. We meandered through the narrow cobbled streets of Vieux Québec and Haute Ville to the impressive Hotel Château Frontenac. Continuing along the Terrasse Dufferin, we came to the Promenade des Governeurs and its 310 plus stairs. The walkway – extending over rocky cliffs, high above the St. Lawrence – was thoughtfully designed with stairways leading to level boardwalks, more stairs, etc. The views along the promenade and from Cap Diamant at the top were truly breathtaking. The autumn colors here were the best of any port of call.
The search for a restaurant followed. We checked one establishment after the other off our list, as they were either closed for lunch on Sundays or open for brunch only. What a disappointment, as we had looked forward for a long time to a special Québecois dining experience. Opting instead for steamed mussels provençal and pommes frites at Le Diable ô Anges, we nonetheless enjoyed our meal. Window shopping along rue Petit-Champlain on the way back to the pier was a pleasant diversion.
We watched the sun set over Québec from the Viking Crown Lounge and later, as we dined on racks of lamb, the evening illumination from our table in the King and I Dining Room. An after-dinner stroll on deck offered one last view of this fascinating city
Saguenay River / St. Lawrence Seaway. Clear, sunny skies and vibrant foliage welcomed us to the frigid waters of the Saguenay River. During the five-hour passage, a naturalist aboard provided interesting, educational commentary. Midway, one was awed by an enormous white wooden Madonna, with a stirring rendition of Ave Maria filling the air. Return to the St. Lawrence brought sightings of a seal, a minke whale and a few belugas. A soaring loon made its presence known, soon followed by a pair of fin whales.
Lunch in the dining room was uneventful. However, totally unexpected during open seating, Christine was asked by the assistant waiter whether she would like her chamomile tea with lunch or after. Dumbfounded at such keen attention to detail by a new server, she soon discovered Habib giving instructions from the sidelines. We later adjourned to the Windjammer for another tea, where one could take advantage of the panoramic view and occasional sightings of whales, porpoises and seals.
While enjoying the live entertainment in the Centrum before dinner, a fellow passenger from first seating dropped by with recommendations for dinner. An unexciting written menu surprised us all with fabulous presentations and flavors. Most tried and thoroughly enjoyed the pumpkin soup. Christine followed with salad and grilled grouper; Richard preferred crab cakes, salad and the melt-in-one’s-mouth braised short ribs.
Craig Dahn on piano in the 42nd Street Theatre was exceptional. A Liberace protègé, Craig dressed the part, right down to a baby grand piano diamond pinky ring – a gift from the master himself. His performance of a popular piece by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was a huge hit with the audience. The Gala midnight buffet followed. We dropped by for photos but had to pass on the food.
At Sea. The seas turned rough as we entered the Atlantic Ocean – too bumpy for breakfast in the Windjammer. The dining room was our alternative for a modest repast of fruit, yogurt and muffins. We spent the morning reading before returning to the King and I Dining Room for lunch. We were seated with three couples from California and enjoyed talking with them today and several other times during the final days of the cruise. The afternoon show – an act on wheels – was cancelled due to high seas. We enjoyed the warmth of the Solarium instead before a quick tea in the Windjammer and preparations for the Crown and Anchor Society Diamond Members’ cocktail.
The reception was elegant – champagne flowed, and the grilled shrimp were scrumptious. This was a wonderful opportunity to get to know some of the officers, staff and fellow Diamond members. We particularly took pleasure in chatting with Catherine and Carlos. Members were given souvenir menus. Dinner followed, and again, we were alone at our table for eight. The high seas were not agreeing with our fellow tablemates. Christine’s entrecte was superb, and Richard savored his chicken Kiev. We spent a few moments in the Centrum before heading to the Top Hat Lounge for the Big Band Masquerade Ball. Some of the homemade masks were quite creative.
St. John, New Brunswick. A weather-related late arrival in St. John meant a rescheduling of all shore excursions – an added bonus, as we would now be able to have lunch ashore. We took a leisurely breakfast in the dining room before heading into town for a stroll. On the pier, the town crier greeted us. Ladies were presented with a rose, while the gentlemen were given a commemorative hatpin. We enjoyed the sights in and around Market Square. After writing a few postcards, we decided to have lunch at Grannan’s. The oysters on the half shell were just what we had been seeking. The accompanying bowls of thick seafood chowder were loaded with lobster.
An afternoon excursion took us to the Old Public Market (its wooden rafters resembling an inverted ship’s hull), Reversing Falls (the tide was nearing its low point, with the river flowing downstream; it would be another six hours before high tide, when the river would reverse its course and flow upstream), Irving Nature Park (where our enthusiastic naturalist guide, Ron, pointed out a rare pelegrine falcon) and a final stop at the Inn on the Cove for tea and scones. Richard claimed they were the best scones he had ever eaten, and he had lived six years in Great Britain.
We took time to pack our formal wear before dinner. Tonight was the feast for which most had been waiting. Richard went all out with escargots, onion soup, salad, broiled Australian lobster tail, filet mignon Madagascar and soufflé Grand Marnier. A salad and filet were enough for Christine. It was nice to experience Bobby Arvon again – the voice of television’s Happy Days – performing in the theater. We had last sailed with him in 1993. We were still amazed by his energy.
Bar Harbor, Maine. Bar Harbor was awash in sparkling sunlight as we anchored off the shore. The inviting Bar Harbor Inn was the focal point as we tendered into the pier. The one-mile coastal walk offered a chance to view the sea and the beautiful homes dotting its shores. The village is geared mainly toward tourism – with souvenir shops, art galleries and restaurants. Christine picked up some notecards for gratuities and gift giving. We had expected to have lunch at Gaylyn’s, but it was closed until evening. Instead, we lunched on delicious baked lobster at the Quarterdeck before returning to the ship to complete our packing.
We allowed plenty of time for one last leisurely tea in the Windjammer, an afternoon break that will be missed on return home. Fellow passengers joined us in the Centrum before dinner. We said goodbye to Reinson (India); he had been a superb bar server. The farewell review was pre-dinner and featured Big Band / Swing. This was perhaps the best show of the cruise.
The international dinner brought prime rib to Richard’s plate; Christine chose mahi mahi in ginger and leek sauce. Strawberries Romanoff was an outstanding dessert. Regretfully, tonight one had to bid farewell to new acquaintances and excellent servers. Later, we were joined in the Champagne Terrace by our friends from Louisiana for a send-off toast. It would be great to see – or sail with – this wonderful couple again.
Debarkation. An early rise – 5:00 a.m. – for Customs clearance. Breakfast in the Windjammer followed. Debarkation began shortly thereafter and at one’s leisure. However, the tide went out during the process, and the gangway had to be repositioned to another deck. This process extremely interrupted passenger debarkation, so much so that passengers were directed from the aft elevator area on Promenade Deck, through the Centrum, Schooner Bar, Casino, back along the outside deck to the King and I Dining Room. Here passengers reentered the ship and headed down two flights of stairs to Deck 2 and the gangway. Finally inside the terminal, baggage was claimed, buses were boarded, and all were soon on their way to respective destinations.
Observations. Royal Caribbean took every occasion to make their guests feel genuinely welcomed. Officers, staff and crew were gracious and helpful at all times. Even the many mobility-impaired travelers were provided gentle and caring attention to their special needs. This impacted well on guests. Not a single passenger was encountered who was not completely satisfied.
Also positive, there was no debarkation talk; information was provided on the closed-circuit cabin televisions. The words gratuity and excellent were not uttered. Royal Caribbean’s unspoken confidence and trust that its guests would respond in kind to the crewmembers who had made this voyage very special impressed us.
Finally, discontinuing the clichéd farewell skit on the final evening and providing guests with the Big Band / Swing review was a totally class act. The Cruise Director, Renée George, is to be congratulated and thanked for the sophistication she brings to the Royal Caribbean cruise experience.