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Carol Knepp

Age: 54

Occupation:Executive Director of a Non Profit Organization

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean

Ship: Splendour of the Seas

Sailing Date: March 17th, 2003

Itinerary: Western Caribbean

A Review from a Newby

Perhaps this tour review doesn’t carry a lot of credibility with veteran travelers, as it was my first experience with a cruise ship. However, I am a seasoned traveler, used to very nice hotels and accommodations, and am rather spoiled by amenities provided when traveling. I often travel with my husband on his expense account and he is in the oil business—need I say more?

I ventured out on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Splendour of the Seas, destined for the Panama Canal from Galveston. Trust me when I say from the start that I was nervous and apprehensive, insisting that cruising was not for me. I get island fever, I am used to wide open spaces, I get bored easily, I really like camping on my vacations and traveling with my dog (a large lab retriever).

At the start of the cruise, on the first night, there was a moment of near panic when, as a young 50ish woman traveling only with female companions, I sat and watched my fellow cruise passengers stream past me on their way to the theater following dinner. Oh, God, they were all in their 70s and 80s. This was destined to be a two-week nightmare.

I’m here to tell you I was wrong on so many counts. By the end of this cruise I was definitely addicted.

Here’s why.

Our arrival (a tale of flying suitcases):

When arriving in Galveston we were at the ship an hour after the time that people could begin boarding. It honestly took us only 15 minutes to unload, park (that was my job), fill out the forms and board the ship. We had our ship card and everything in the blink of an eye. Even with tightened security we cleared the door and were headed up to our room. By the time we arrived in our room, our luggage was already there.
I especially liked the way we could complete embarkation forms online ahead of time and the way they provided our luggage tags in advance.

Keep in mind that there were three women staying in one stateroom on the 7th floor. We had a balcony and the room was quite nice. Although utilitarian, we had two beds, a sofa, dresser/vanity, and closet space sufficient for all three of us (and one of us, ahem, is a dedicated clotheshorse). Once we figured out where everything went, our personal housekeeper removed our suitcases with the promise that we would see them at the end of the cruise. He was always most helpful and actually brought us enough additional hangers that we had leftovers. The closet held all of our clothes, including 6 formal gowns.

We remained in the room for awhile, but the setting in Galveston wasn’t the most appealing for this group of eager travelers. We had heard over the announcements that there was food upstairs in the poolside area. That was worth checking out. I had already decided to meet as many people as possible and this was an excellent place to start. We purchased a drink card, at a reasonable price, that allowed us to order drinks all over the ship. While sitting at the bar we met people from four countries. The bartender became a favorite person and we later found him in the Schooner Lounge.

St. Patrick Day’s Boogie:

Now, we were about to discover how very talented and versatile the Ship’s Cruise director and staff were. They were phenomenal. The cruise director’s name was Gordon Whatman and I think he had made a wise career change when we explored music and opera in his 30s. He and his cruise caused me to have some of my biggest laughs in years. For the sailing party they were trying to teach us all how to do some sort of St. Patrick Day’s Boogie. That in itself was worth a lot of money just in the laughter alone.

There are many ways to go about having a cruise. Since this was my first I wanted to explore activities that were fun, energetic and engaging. There were people on the cruise who chose ballroom dancing, bingo, casino only, or even nothing but lounging around on the deck and in their rooms. Their reviews will be very different from mine.

The ship is large, but not the largest in The Royal Caribbean fleet. It is 867’ long, and can carry 2,076 passengers and a crew of 723. Its maximum speed is 24 knots. There are 11 decks on this ship, two pools, a whole lot of rooms and a lot of amenities.

You can improve your bridge skills in the card room, or you can play any number of games in the card room. I did a few. It was a quiet space. There is a library—it was a nice place to snooze. I found the Internet room the best way to stay in contact with home. Almost any place food was served music and alcohol could be found. On the Promenade Deck a very nice trio performed each evening. The Champagne Terrace was a nice place to sit and visit with new friends, listen to easy music and prepare for later events. Or you could go into the Schooner Bar and listen to a man play the piano and sing (like Elton John). This bar was dripping with elegance and it always seemed appropriate to me to be a place to sip port or scotch. The Promenade Deck was the location of the Casino and the 42nd Street Theatre. The Cruise Director and his staff provided new, different entertainment each evening. You know how people all over the world will say, “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute and it will change”; well that was the approach to entertainment on this ship. One night it was a magician, another an incredible pianist, and yet another it was Broadway musicals. The comedian was hysterical, the violinist was awesome, and the major productions were loaded with talent. The same can be said for each performer in the various bars.

There was a man who selected the music for the disco in the Viking Lounge who knew exactly what he was doing. While each of the crew members were beyond capable and talented, the special gift of each one I met was that they were personable and made people they met feel unique and part of a family. While the Viking Lounge provided an excellent vantage point for days spent at sea or going through the locks in Panama, by night it was alive with festive people looking for a great time. The Village People (on 70’s Disco Fever night) performance was absolutely one of the best I had ever seen. Karaoke performances in the Viking were amazing.

Ok, so, you understand now that the ship’s crew was entertaining.

The food was quite good, although not excellent. I was disappointed in the pasta each night we tried it, so I gave up. That’s probably one reason I lost 6 pounds. But also, it was in part because you could select Ship Shape meals, and in part they provided you with ample opportunities to walk off all that you sampled. The equipment in the ship shape center was always available at no cost. I never had to wait for equipment. I even watched dolphins one day while walking on the treadmill. The jogging track on the compass deck was always dotted with people. They offered aerobics classes, thematic dance classes by the pool, and fitness seminars. The food approached excellent, but let’s face it, how much can you honestly eat on a ship that is at sea for 12 days? And the sweetest thing was the “ship shape dollars” that the crew paid you for exercising. What a deal?!

Complaints, I only had a few:

Room service failed us every single time. It became a joke. One of us in the group drank tea, two of us drank coffee. First we tried ordering food, carefully explaining that there were three adults in the room, that we needed three cups, coffee for two and tea for one. We would be so detailed. It never, ever came right. The food was a joke. So finally each morning we knew that one of us would need to run upstairs to the Windjammer Café to supplement what didn’t come with the tray.

Excursions: I dearly loved my excursions—ask anyone. However, the organization of the start when we were using tenders was long, frustrating and often delayed. One of my excursions left quite late and was gone a longer time than planned and there was no food available. I got back late enough that there was only an hour until dinner. I basically inhaled the meal that night.

Returning after excursions or shopping almost always found us in a very long line while everyone was going through tedious security. I’ll cut the crew some slack on this, we had been at war a few days and efforts were being made to reduce concern, provide security, and make everyone feel safe. And since I was a “newby” I didn’t know if this was normal.

Leaving the ship was no where near as fast or smooth as getting on the ship. Yet, it also wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It was an average departure.

I will go on more cruises, but I want all of the same people to join me. We made friends with people from all over the country, Canada from Vancouver to Newfoundland. We met an incredible woman traveling the world alone (I could do that on a cruise ship like this). We met a man who was a collection of walking contradictions and was built like a football player yet he sang like Elvis in Karaoke. I will have fond memories of two couples honeymooning, who found each other and should be friends for life. They were precious. I fell in love on this ship: the night sky, the ocean, the adventures, the people, the entire experience.

How much you enjoy this elegant ship and all the joys it has to offer depends upon what your dreams and expectations are.

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