Greg and Glenda Watkins
Number of Cruises: 6
Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean
Ship: Splendour of the Seas
Sailing Date: November 11, 2002
Itinerary: Panama Canal
Nov 11 – 22, 2002
Splendour of the Seas
Galveston – Cozumel, Mexico – Puerto Limon, Costa Rica – Panama Canal – Montego Bay, Jamaica – Georgetown, Grand Cayman – Galveston
Monday, Nov 11
We left Austin at 10 a.m. and arrived in Galveston at 3 p.m. (stopped and did some last minute shopping at the Galleria in Houston). The loading period of the Splendour was listed at 1 – 5 p.m. and leaving at 6 p.m. I was surprised to find no cars in the unloading area in front of the terminal bldg. It took only 1 minute to unload the baggage, and then drive about a ¼ of mile to the parking area. Hint: you must have cash to pay for the parking, which was $80 for 11 days. There were plenty of spaces even with two ships leaving together this day. We sat on the shuttle about 15 minutes before proceeding to the terminal again. The x-ray of our carry on luggage was very fast. Then we entered the new terminal area for check in. It was big, clean, effective, and cool. We stood in line maybe 15 minutes. There were plenty of agents on hand for check-in. I would say that this was the easiest check in of any of my six cruises. Hint: Fill out your embarkation form over the web and the agent will not have to enter all of the info while you stand around waiting. We came on board and found our room with no problem. Luggage showed up around 6 p.m. The first action was to get some seasick pills for my wife in case she needed them. You can get them only at the purser’s desk, five pills no charge. Went to Windjammer and ate some lunch. Food was okay. We bought our excursions over the web a few weeks before, and the pre-paid tickets showed in our room about the same time as our luggage. Glad we did, as the line at the excursion desk was very long already. Ok, after all the reading about the drink cards on RCI, I decided to give it a try. We went up to the Viking Crown lounge before dinner and asked for a drink card. They said that they did not have any, and that we would have to go to the Schooner bar to get one. So we ordered a couple of beers instead. Do not know if they were telling the truth or not, but we had no problems with getting the card later and using it anywhere. We were the second seating, which was at 8:45 p.m. for the first two days. I had baked Cod, and Glenda had the Chicken Cordon Bleu, both were very good. Just about everyone else at our table ordered steak, which is always available. The entertainment show was at 10:30 p.m. today and tomorrow. Afterwards, the schedule changed to Show at 7:15 p.m. and dinner at 8:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov 12
(Day at Sea)
We ate breakfast at the Windjammer as we heard that breakfast and lunch were going to be buffet style in the main restaurant also. This lasted two days until I guess the complaints from guests made them switch back to the traditional style of eating with waiters. The waiters explained that Europeans preferred buffet style. We met a couple that had been on the Splendour for its Atlantic crossing, and were staying on for this cruise, and the next one also. They really enjoyed the crossing, the ship, and crew. The weather was overcast with occasional rain, so we spent our day at the Solarium. The water was cool, but refreshing. We rushed over to the shopping talk in the theatre where we heard a very detailed description of Cozumel shopping. We went back to the Solarium for lunch. I think most people agreed that the hamburgers were not very good here. However the hot dogs and pizza were good. We went to the Windjammer for some more lunch and had Chicken Fajitas. It was funny that the flour tortillas had run out, so we asked the serving staff for more. Since this was their first time to make Tex-Mex, they did not know what a tortilla was. But they were so helpful to try and understand. We finally got the tortillas and had a nice lunch poolside. At 3 p.m. we tried the Shuffleboard competition, but were eliminated in the 1st round. We played some miniature golf, and then did the walk a mile event. We dropped by the Internet café and checked some email. The setup was fantastic, very modern and user friendly. The charge was 50 cents a minute. The Captain’s reception was before dinner, and was very nice with a band and big dance floor. There were lots of people dancing too. I have to give RCI credit. Their ships are more dancer friendly than others that I have been on. Dinner was very good again with Filet Mignon and Duck. However our table was near the Captain’s table, so our service was spotty since the waiters were taking extra care of the Captain. The show tonight was Marty Allen and his wife, and it was very, very good. We decided to stay up late and see the “Village People” at the disco in the Viking Crown lounge. The audience was a little too old however to really get into the act. When we returned to our room we had a message that our excursion had been canceled due to lack of participation. We had signed up for the Reef Snorkeling. We were disappointed since I had heard that Cozumel had great snorkeling. However, I believe that the fact that we had a much older passenger base than I had expected contributed to the lack of participation. The oldest average age on a cruise until this one was a Holland America cruise in Alaska. I would say that the average age on the Splendour was around 65 – 68. The fact that this was an 11-day cruise probably appealed to an older crowd.
Wednesday, Nov 13
We decided to just shop and stroll around the town instead of booking a new excursion. As things turned out, most excursions were canceled due to problems with docking vs. tendering and bad weather. Per the captain, we were supposed to dock in Cozumel, but a Celebrity ship was already there when we arrived. So we had to tender with little warning, plus due to the currents and wind, we could not anchor. So the crew spent all day hovering the ship in place with its engines. The first two tenders left at 9:30 a.m. Here is what I have heard from several persons and the crew. When the tenders came up to the pier, they discovered that the pier and tender were significantly different heights. After trying to work something out, and running into each other, one tender got caught in a rope and broke the propeller guard. Finally around 11:00 a.m. a system was devised for the tenders and the people put ashore. Meanwhile the rest of us waited until some Cozumel tenders could be procured at late notice. By 11:15 am, we were on shore. Hurray.
It stayed cloudy and windy all day, but little rain (thank goodness). There were 7 or 8 cruise ships at Cozumel that day, but it did not seem that crowded on shore. We ate at Poncho’s on the Patio, which has a wonderful outside seating area with music and garden. We shopped most of the day, but prices were not as good as Laredo in my opinion. We caught the 4 p.m. tender and barely had time to change and go to our Cruise Critic party. The party was held in the back area of the Viking Crown lounge, which is the area reserved for smoking cigars. I was disappointed that we had to sit in a smoking area for the whole party. It would have been nice to have half the area for smoking and the other half for non-smoking. The party was a minor affair, but it was interesting to meet the people behind the screen names.
For dinner we changed tables to sit with two couples from Houston, one being a Texas Aggie like myself. Warren and Gilda were about our age and very similar to us. This really made the cruise even more special. Warren mentioned that their private scuba dive had been called off due to rough weather. We were now 6 people total at a 10-person table.
Concerning the first vs. second seating,
the first seating was the overall choice for most people as there was a waiting
list to change. The second seating had over a hundred seats empty, so it was
easy to change. However, people were scattered all over the dining room with
many tables less than half full. The next night another two couples joined us
since they had been by themselves at a 10-person table. We noticed this
happening all around us as people switched tables to be with a larger group. The
crew was very helpful in taking care of all requests.
Thursday, Nov 14
(Day at Sea)
Not much to report except that Glenda, my wife, won the gold metal for Ring Tossing! Surprised me. We continued to walk a mile each day on the ship. This was just a nice lazy day at sea to relax and enjoy. We got to learn more about Warren and Gilda and their wonderful French canal trip in Burgundy wine country.
Friday, Nov 15
(Puerto Limon, Costa Rica)
We arrived two hours late in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. This caused the cancellation of several excursions, including all but one of the Rainforest Aerial Tram excursions. Lucky we had the tickets for the only Rainforest Aerial Tram that was running. We started on our excursion around 12:30 p.m. Due to leaving late and having to get back to the ship, we were not served a lunch as planned. Later, we asked the excursion desk about this, and they refunded $40 each for the shorten trip and missing meal. Excellent service and concern on their part, I must say. We rode in a very nice air-conditioned modern bus. It takes about 1.5 hours to reach the rainforest area, but the scenery was beautiful and the guide very good. Once you arrive at the rainforest, you have a chance for a rest room break, and then you can take either a shuttle or tractor pulled wagon to the tramway, about ½ mile. You walked about 100 feet and then board the tram. It holds 5 visitors and one guide. We thought the rainforest was simply amazing, but let me warn you. During the visit, we did not see much in the way of wildlife, just one bird and a few butterflies. Be expecting to see a fantastic plant and tree show, but do not expect much in the way of birds or other animals. We definitely will want to come back to Costa Rice and do this again. The tram ride was almost an hour. There is also a nice gift shop and snack bar when you return. We arrived back at the ship around 6:30 p.m. (Last tour to return).
Comment about Green Train. People
who had their excursions canceled were advised that there were plenty of seats
on the Green Train. The people that I talked to were not too happy with the
experience. The train was very slow, jerky, and not air-conditioned. The rails
were in very bad shape. From the pictures that I have seen, the views were
similar to the views that we had on the bus. So if you like a slow train, and
have friends to talk and enjoy the views with, then you should be ok on the
Saturday, Nov 16
We started going thru the locks on schedule at around 7:00 a.m. Warren and Gilda invited us to their balcony cabin to watch the action. Seeing the Panama Canal was well worth the trip and cost. It took about 3.5 hours to go thru the locks and anchor in the lake. Since many persons had been confused about the schedule and options of the Panama Canal, the ship’s crew director made a special program played on the TV the day before. Here is what I understood. No one would be allowed off of the ship while anchored in the lake except persons with an excursion ticket. All others had to stay on board until the ship returned out of the locks, and docked at Colon. Person who was on an excursion would return to the ship when it docked. So under those conditions, we bought some tickets for the Kayak and Eco tour. Now just about everyone else had bought an excursion to get off the ship, so there were MANY people waiting to be tendered. The crew had us report to the 42nd theater and wait. As a tour was called, you would go up to the front of the theatre, get a numbered sticker, and sit in another waiting area. Later, your number was called and you proceeded to the tender station. Pretty good plan, but badly executed. It took us two hours of waiting before we were called and left the ship. Glad we waited. The tour was very nice. We stopped at the observation deck of the Gatun locks and watch ships enter and leave for a while. We then had a tour of the old US military base, which is now part of Panama. We were issued life vests and a 2-person kayak. The guides were excellent, and there was a chase boat, which followed us in case one of us overturned. The chase boat also would take pictures of you if you gave them your camera. It was relaxing and very nice. We arrived at the Colon pier, but the ship was not there yet. It showed up an hour later. The shopping area here is nice, and is more like a flea market with lots of native items. I loved the $1 Panama beer and $1 pizza here. There is a business center here where you can call home, and use the Internet for $4.50 for 30 minutes.
Sunday, Nov 17
(Day at Sea)
Nothing to report.
Monday, Nov 18
(Montego Bay, Jamaica)
We docked on time for the 1st time. Hurrah. We left for Dunn’s Falls on our excursion at 7:00 a.m. We had some people go in a nice large modern bus, but we unfortunately wound up in a 20-person mini-bus. The problem was the 2-hour ride to the falls and back on a very rough small road. If you have back problems, this 4-hour bus ride is a killer. However I would do it again after seeing the falls. You have a choice of climbing the falls on rocks in the water, or stay dry by using steps next to the shoreline. We were prepared to get wet, so up we went in a daisy chain holding hands. Hint: one thing to remember is to bring some cash, as you will need some tipping money for the guides at the end, and to buy the famous “I survived Dunn’s Falls” tee shirts on the way out. We were able to run to the bus and change clothes and return for just a few minutes to buy some items. The vendors are very pushy here, so be prepared to just keep walking. Later we found out that we could get them cheaper at the dock shops near the ship. It came a huge rainstorm about this time, so everyone was soaked by the time they had made it back to the ship. I was very upset to find out that the pay phones in Jamaica (and Grand Cayman) would NOT accept a US calling card number. You had to buy their calling card.
Tuesday, Nov 19
(Georgetown, Grand Cayman)
Early in the morning, an announcement was made that all water related activities had been canceled by the tour operators due to bad weather. The previous day no ships had been able to anchor and visit due to a storm. At least we were able to tender to the shore. Warren and Gilda called their dive shop and the owner said that it was useless to try and scuba since the water was so stirred up. So we got together and spent the day shopping and looking around. We bought tickets at the pier for a mini-bus tour of the island stopping at the Hell post office, turtle farm, and rum cake factory outlet. Cost was $15 per person and lasted 1.5 hours. We were able to get into the turtle farm for $4.50 instead of $6 by mentioning the driver’s name. Reaching in and grabbing a small sea turtle was interesting and made a nice picture opportunity. Back in town, we wander down to the Hard Rock café and made the nicest discover on my trip. Hard Rock café served Tennent’s beer on draft! I was in heaven as this is one of my favorite beers from Scotland, and is hard to find in the states. The food and beer was great, and Warren and Gilda such good company, it made this last stop so special. And this was also the island where Glenda found the best shopping for jewelry. Guess we will have to go back and visit the stingrays some other time.
Wednesday and Thursday, Nov 20 – 21
(Days at Sea)
Nothing much to report, except lots of relaxing, reading, swimming, etc. This is a great way to end a vacation. Plenty of time to pack.
Friday, Nov 22
We docked in Galveston right on schedule. Colored tags were issued to everyone the night before, and we were called by colors to the theatre to visit US Immigration. Then you wait to be called off the ship. We departed the ship at 10:00, found our luggage easily, went thru customs (no waiting), and went outside. Glenda stayed with the bags as I jumped onto a shuttle to the parking lot. There were a few cars in line after returning to the terminal bldg to pick up the luggage, but nothing that bad. We were out of there by 10:30 a.m. All in all I was very pleased with the departure system.
General Comments about the cruise and ship:
Food – Yes, some of the food was only fair, but there were good items also. I believe that this is just a learning experience that will be solved on future cruises. The reason I say this is one couple at our table was always upset over the food. They mentioned that they had only 2 months before cruised on the Rhapsody of the Seas out of Galveston and that the food was excellent. Since the two ships get their food in Galveston from the same suppliers, then it is only a matter of time before the chef changes his style of cooking from European to Texas on the Splendour. The biggest complaint was that some of the steaks were too tough to cut or eat. Hint: You can always get good meals if you follow this simple rule: If you get something that is not to your liking or expectations, ASK the waiter to bring something else. They are more than willing to do whatever it takes to make you happy. Most people that complained about their food would not let the waiter do anything about it. They were happier to be mad and have something to complain about than getting something good to eat. What a terrible attitude.
Shore Excursions - This was probably the oldest crowd out of our 6 cruises. That put the more active shore excursions at risk for lack of participation. The most popular excursions were bus tours of the ports as I found out from the excursion desk. Being the first cruise on this itinerary and some bad weather, there were problems with late arrivals at port and canceled excursions. We were always told up front what was going on and our options. The crew took great lengths to do the best that was possible under the circumstances, and so I am happy with their effort. However, that “Green Train” in Costa Rica still has some people fuming, so think twice before signing up for it. Be prepared to wait a while to get to the tenders at the Panama Canal, as everyone is trying to get off at the same time.
Ship – A very beautiful ship. We loved the décor and lounges. This crowd love to dance with the dance band, and that was very enjoyable. The casino was the largest that we had seen on a ship this size. I had no problems with the drink card anywhere on the ship. The solarium was nice to hang around in as the weather turned cooler nearer to Galveston.