January 24, 2003
We holiday in the winter as our working life is spent looking after holidaymakers in the summer! We wanted a holiday that was restful but not boring, with good weather, the options were the Mediterranean, Canaries, or America. We chose the US because we could meet up with family and shop for my very tall husband which is not restful, hence the decision to cruise for the last week, which compared with the cost of hotels was a very favourable option.
We booked our cruise at the last minute, through Page & Moy / Travelocity which was very efficient and enabled us to book flights and accommodation to suit.
We had 7 days in Miami before boarding the ship, If you have time don't bring luggage just shop when you get to the US there was far more choice of spring / summer clothing in Miami than at home in the cold rainy UK, in January. The best malls are Sawgrass Mills and the Dolphin Mall but there are many more, all offer excellent value at the current exchange rate!
We had hired a car for the land-based part of our holiday, which we left at the airport and took the shuttle bus to the port, just name your cruise line and they deliver you to the embarkation point. A porter took our bags. Embarkation was officially 2pm, we arrived at 11.45am but were immediately ushered into the embarkation hall (others had arrived before us) quickly greeted and given appropriate forms to fill in, late booking meant no previous cabin allocation had been made but as soon as they had processed the forms and checked passports we were given our stateroom number. We were directed up the gangway on to the ship and were checked on and security photos taken, then welcomed with complimentary wine or juice & given directions to our Stateroom, this was not available until 1pm, but lunch, was being served. Luggage arrived outside stateroom by 4pm. Note the ship's photographer is lying in wait at every opportunity to capture your image for sale later on, fortunately purchase is not compulsory.
We could not fault the service or the ships facilities, nothing was too much trouble for the staff, and the general appearance and upkeep of the ship was excellent. Our inside stateroom was perfectly adequate size wise if you don't intend spending much time in it. It had a 6ft wide bed with 18" either side, in front of the bed to one side was a dressing table and chair, another chair and small table opposite with a TV built in above. As you enter there are wardrobes on one side with plenty of hanging space and drawers, and opposite was the ensuite shower room which is well fitted but compact, it had a step up into it, for tall or large people this could be a problem.
There is something going on all the time if you wanted activities, lots of excursions some were expensive for what was offered. We took the trip to Chichenitza, which we enjoyed improved by excellent guides. The packed lunches left a lot to be desired and there was a serious lack of fluids provided considering the hot weather. Evening entertainment was excellent, with a good variation of music and dance to choose from. We resisted the Casino but it was popular. The Spa facilities and treatments were excellent but expensive. The cashless system works well, and you can use it to get dollars for offshore trips if necessary, we kept running out of small dollar bills for tips etc.
Dress. The first evening is casual, slacks & shirts for men, 2nd and 6th night is formal 60% of men wore tuxedo the rest suits. Women wore long dresses or cocktail dresses or pantsuits, the last formal night is the most glam and the 3rd & 5th are informal nights which means suits and cocktail /party ware for women. We enjoyed dressing up.
Disembarkation. We docked at Key West the previous day so immigration into the US was done then, at 7am very organised but too early, likewise the following day back at Miami. Luggage had to be put outside the cabin on the previous night, don't forget you will need clothes for the next day! plus a small bag for night things and wash bags etc. We had to have breakfast and be in the theatre by 8.15am, where we waited until called according to our luggage label colour to disembark. By 9.15 am dry land and luggage collected from the carousel. As our flights didn't leave until 17.00 we were grateful for the use of a hotel room for the day. We left the luggage and went back to Miami Beach to say goodbye to the lovely weather and blue seas.
Our biggest complaint is the obligatory tipping; this is the only thing, which would give concern about cruising again. We were shocked by the terrible rates of pay received by the staff for very long hours ($50 per month plus accommodation and food and tips), which probably explains the high level of eastern European and Asian staff. This is compounded by our disgust at the active encouragement of the company in promoting this antiquated immoral method of remuneration. We were asked to tip very specific sums of money for every member of staff not actually selling something, Bar Staff automatically have the 15% added to the cost of drinks, which were not cheap. In total the tips if given to all the recommended recipients came to $231, including the 15% we probably gave over $400 in gratuities I would prefer to have this included in the cost of the holiday and have properly paid staff serving me, who take pride in their work rather than have to ingratiate themselves to receive tips. Heaven help them if the ship isn't full or everyone is teetotal. Possibly being in the business and from a culture less inclined to tip except for service over and above that expected we were more aware of this, at home the minimum wage would be obligatory at the very least.
To sum up the entire cruise was all we had expected and we left feeling thoroughly spoiled, The ships organisation is excellent, considering the number of people on board everything which involved security and safety worked like clockwork it is something we would happily do again.