by Annette and Irving Rudy
December 1, 2007
The ship is exquisite, with additional elegant design touches that add to the overall feeling of a luxury hotel.
Our inside stateroom was equally elegant, the service was superb, food generally equivalent to eating in a fine restaurant, and some of the entertainment and activities were first-rate.
Flights and Embarkation
We arrived at the ship terminal at about noon, and we found that a lack of signage made it confusing as to where we were supposed to drop our luggage. We found it odd that no ship's representatives were there to guide people along to the proper area. After this minor inconvenience, there was a wait of about 20 minutes in relatively short lines, inside a very modern terminal, as the check-in procedure had not yet begun. When it did begin, it was quite fast and efficient, and we were on the ship by about 1:00 pm and were able to have lunch.
Ship and Staterooms
The ship is absolutely beautiful, using high quality, very tasteful materials throughout, and every area of the ship is spotlessly clean. We will be posting photos on this website, many of which will show the elegance of the ship.
We took an inside stateroom on the Baja deck (deck 11), mid-ship near the central bank of elevators. This was convenient, since we had quick access to the piazza and three-story atrium, which is the "core" of the ship. Our stateroom was finished in rich wood veneers and wood trims, along with a wall-to-wall mirror behind the bed, and had very good lighting. There was ample room, and we never felt that we were getting in each other's way.
The bedroom itself was about 10 ft. x 11 ft., with the hallway, closet area and bathroom accounting for roughly another 50 sq. ft. There was a very well designed closet area, at least 6 feet wide with lots of room to hang clothes and store luggage. The bathroom, although compact, was well-finished, well-ventilated and functional. The relatively small shower posed no problem, although a large passenger may have a problem with its dimensions (and with the narrow width of the toilet seat!)
There was a bit of an odor coming from the toilet, and we eventually decided that it was caused by the heavily chlorinated water. We were never sure if that was the reason, and we never spoke to the steward about it, so we don't know if perhaps the toilet needed a proper cleaning.
Our stateroom steward serviced the room twice a day, and it was always left in immaculate condition (except perhaps for the toilet). We found that the steward was not overly friendly, and never asked us if everything was OK, although he took care of any small requests quickly and efficiently.
The stateroom was very soundproof, and had its own air conditioning thermostat. The comforter supplied is very thick, and without keeping the temperature down a notch, it can feel pretty hot while sleeping.
We never felt that the ship was crowded, and line-ups or long waits were never encountered, which is really amazing on a ship with 3,100 passengers and 1,200 staff.
Facilities and Entertainment
The large fitness room is very well equipped, with most equipment by Precor: about 20 new treadmills, 8 new elliptical trainers, a good selection of weight training equipment (possibly not that new) and free weights, a few stationary bikes and about 15 spinning bikes. Most equipment has individual TV screens, and headphones with disposable earpiece covers are available.
The pools are very attractive, and since we were in different ports every day, except for day one, it was always easy to find a lounge chair.
The Princess Theatre offered different shows every night. We saw one "Las-Vegas style" musical/dance show, which was well-produced. Another evening, we saw a hilarious British singing duo.
In the Explorers Lounge, we saw a great female hypnotist show one evening, and a very funny comedian another night. There was a very good classical quartet performing in the piazza regularly, which we enjoyed immensely. And a highlight for us was a Canadian band called Wavelength, who appeared at several venues, playing classic rock of the 60s and 70s. Their singing and skills on the electric guitars and drums were outstanding.
We still find the cost for Internet service on the ship highly excessive, at a rate of about $2 per minute, including service charge, for a relatively slow connection. It is a high-profit item for the ship, although we are certain that their volume would increase considerably if the rates were lower.
Near most ports, there is usually an internet café, charging in the area of $4 - $6 per hour for a true high-speed connection. We easily found such facilities in Barbados, St. Lucia and Antigua, and our favourite Internet café, by far, was Beans Bytes & Websites at 5600 Royal Dane Mall, Suite 12 in St. Thomas. It's right next to the main street facing the ocean, in the busiest tourist area of the city. It's a tourist attraction in itself, located inside a very historical building, with beautiful exposed stone walls and a very laid-back café serving food, specialty coffees and other beverages. It's worth a visit, even if only to meet the very nice people who work there. And their official Internet rate is only 10 cents a minute, with a very low minimum charge.
Dining Rooms and Bar Service
The food was usually delicious, and very plentiful. A 3-course lunch was sometimes much more than we could handle, with dishes like chicken cacciatore, potato and chicken curry, filet of sole, Greek salad, fresh salmon salad, or potato and spinach latkes (pancakes). The 5-course suppers highlighted main dishes such as: orange roughy (a very nice fish) with asparagus, jumbo shrimp with lobster sauce, halibut with orange sauce, Italian-style veal chop, Chilean sea bass, huge scampi with marinara sauce (ultra-delicious!), huge crab legs (already out of the shell), lobster tail and giant tiger prawns, or freshwater barramundi with curry and garam masala sauce. Superb desserts included a grand marnier parfait with coconut (served as an ice cream cake with a nice fruit sauce), baked Alaska, or mango/banana strudel.
We found that asking the waiters what they recommend usually produced the best meal, since they know the trends of what people like, as the same menus are repeated every one or two weeks.
We never ate in the specialty restaurants, although this ship has done a wonderful design job on Sabatini's, the Italian restaurant. It is pure elegance, with the most beautiful furnishings, dishes and table settings, and probably worth the $20 per person cover charge just for the experience of eating there.
Wine and liquor prices were very reasonable, with a good selection of wines from $22 to $32 per bottle. Too many of the white wines were from California, but we did find a good Caliterra Chardonnay from Chile ($27), and a very good Rosemount Estates Chardonnay from Australia ($29). A very good Mexican Beer, Dos Equis, was $4.25, and a selection of martinis were $6.50 to $7.50.
We found the tipping policy unclear for liquor ordered at bars and lounges. Although a 15% gratuity is always added automatically to such purchases, there is always a line to add an extra gratuity. One waiter explained that the 15% goes into a pool shared by all bar staff, whereas the "extra" tip goes directly to your server. We started giving small "extra" cash tips to bar personnel, who reacted very positively to this gesture.
There were, however, some very unrefined people who seem to be incapable of adjusting to the elegant surroundings and following the rules of the ship, and who prefer to bring their bad habits from home. Some examples: a woman placing her bare feet on a ledge behind a row of seats in the very plush Princess Theatre, during an evening performance, with her feet barely six inches from the heads of the people in front of her; two different groups of people resting their bare feet on the very nice upholstered chairs of the International Café, in an area meant for eating meals and enjoying fine coffees; a man diving into the Neptune Pool, when huge signs forbid diving in the relatively small and shallow pools; two different men yelling in rage at people who were blocking their view of the champagne waterfall event during the second formal evening, with one man jostling a passenger to make his point.
Unfortunately, no staff intervened on their own in any of these instances, except at the International Café, when a passenger mentioned it to a supervisor, who then promptly (although seemingly reluctantly) asked the offending parties to remove their bare feet from the furniture.
Ports of Call
When the ship returned to San Juan, we spent about three hours sightseeing before heading to the airport. There is a very convenient free tramway service that takes visitors around the city to all of the various points of interest. We found San Juan to be an especially beautiful and interesting city.
Areas for Improvement
Smoking is still permitted in various areas of the ship, including the promenade deck, which is a shame, since many people like to walk or jog there.
We were pleased to learn that Royal Caribbean is experimenting with non-smoking cruises, and it makes a lot of sense, considering that 75% of the population in most industrialized countries no longer smoke. It's also a great hazard, judging by the serous fire caused by a cigarette onboard the Star Princess in March, 2006.
On the Crown Princess, passengers are still free to smoke in their staterooms, in their beds and on their balconies (where that fire had started). The only solution is to restrict smoking to fully enclosed and ventilated "safe areas" only for smokers, and let's hope the cruise lines finally see the light of this growing trend, very soon.