This was my first cruise and last aboard the Empress of the Seas. Being new to cruising, I purposely chose Empress for convenience. She was small, near my home, and inexpensive. But after sailing four nights aboard her, I have decided she is not the right ship for me. However, with that said, I love cruising and plan to sail Royal Caribbean again within the next year.
My boyfriend and I arrived at 3:30 for departure. We easily sailed through all the necessary lines and was onboard the ship in 20 minutes. Once there, we were asked to purchase the Wine and Dine package, which we did. Then off to our cabin which I heard would be small.and it was. However, we made use of all the drawers, nooks and crannies available to us and had room to walk around. But boy was the shower small. Thank heavens I am not overweight or else I would have had a huge amount of difficulty getting clean. Warning: if anyone is overweight reading this, do not book the Empress simply for the showers. The other issue with the cabin was the smell. Empress had a strange scent. I noticed immediately upon boarding but the cabin was, frankly, unpleasant to the nose. I had read from a previous review that people should bring air freshener aboard as a bathroom courtesy. I went one step further and brought along a Glade plug-in and my boyfriend and I were very happy for it. There is a lot of food served on this ship and conversely a lot of bathroom breaks. I wish everyone would bring air freshener for this reason because believe me, those hallways got rather rank. The last issue with the cabin is this; two twin beds do not equal a queen. There will always be a gap between the beds.
Dinner in Carmen, the main dining hall, was very pleasant. I enjoyed the large windows looking out over the ocean as we traveled. The food selection was fine and the taste good. I cannot compare this is other ships or sailings because, as I said, this was my first cruise. I enjoyed the service offered by the headwaiter, waiter and assistant waiter and I have no complaints with them. The food service in Windjammer was markedly less impressive; basic cafeteria food but a very nice view. My main complaint about the Windjammer is that it is on the upper deck and waves are highly noticeable. Anyone fearing sea-sickness should be cautious when eating in Windjammer. Breakfast at the Windjammer is very nice but how wrong can you go wrong with scrambled eggs and bacon? The midnight chocolate buffet was truly impressive.
The main complaint I have about dining upon the Empress was concerning the Wine and Dine card. We purchased the card hoping it would be easy to order five bottles of wine during or dinners at sea. The first two times we ordered the wine, our waiter seemed slightly confused about what we were talking about and kept asking for our Seapass card. We continued to mention that we had the Wine and Dine card and after some difficulty we got our order. This worked ok until we tried to order wine in the Windjammer and so confused the attendant that we simply gave up. On the last night of the cruise, we asked to be seated at a different table (do to a time constraint not bad service) and had to explain everything over again. Does Royal Caribbean even train crew abroad their ships about this card? They should not stress the sell of this card if none of the crew knows anything about it.
Concerning formal night. Golf shirts should not be allowed! Granted this is not Cunard Line or the QE2 but give me a break. Men who want to wear tuxedos great, men who want to wear suits fine, but guys slouching around in golf shirts and tees definitely not in the main dining room on formal night. It should be an insult to the women who dress in their finest and it belittles the very notion of cruising. But Royal Caribbean should do something more unique on formal nights to encourage folks to dress better. Having a photo taken with the captain just is not enough. Have a formal ball or a genuine formal entertainment event. Allow people to get dressed-up for a reason other than dinner.
The gym was very nice and usually not crowed. Like my boyfriend said, I am not on a cruise to work out. I however did work out and found the gym suitable. I really do not understand why Royal Caribbean charges ten dollars for yoga or spinning. This should simply be part of the cruising event. Hell, I would lead a class in yoga for free. And what is the deal with the rock-climbing wall? Royal Caribbean uses this in every commercial and advertisement they have yet you are only allowed various times each day to use it. Have an attendant there half the day even if nobody uses it. But I can vouch that somebody will be scaling the wall if it was open more.
The spa was nice but nothing spectacular. Empress does not have a lot of space so I will not complain about the spa. I had a massage as did my boyfriend and it was very pleasant (but when are they not?). Concerning space, the cigar bar was a joke. Just do everyone a favor and call it the "cigar hallway" because that is what it is. In order to enter Boleros you have two choices. One was the cigar bar, which consisted of nothing more than a few tables placed in a hallway where people could fire-up a stogie. Occasionally people would pass through and complain about the smoke. Well, they could have used the cigar free hallway on the other end of Boleros, or Royal Caribbean could actually dedicate a closed space for cigar smokers (which have increased over the past few years). I would recommend the library, which was never used by anyone other than the "friends of Bill W" (whatever or whoever that is about I never found out).
Now it may seem that this was a bad cruise but it was not. I enjoyed the cruise overall but was a little disappointed in Empress. Royal Caribbean did a great job with the wait staff especially about drink orders. Pretty much everywhere you went, a crew/staff member would ask you if you wanted something from the bar. If you said yes, they would retrieve it; if you said no, they would place a napkin upside down on your table and leave you alone. I guess this is a sign to other crewmembers to leave you alone and it works beautifully. Kudos with this technique.
Most of my grievances are petty. Everyone was professional and the journey was wonderful and something to cherish. On my second day aboard, I purchased a seven-day cruise aboard the Navigator for next year so you can tell the cruise was not too terrible. As stated before, my issue was with the smaller, older Empress of the Seas. Here is hoping the larger ships are more to my liking.