We just returned from a 7-day cruise on the RCI Enchantment of the Seas and wanted to post our review of the trip and itinerary. For general information, this was our eighth cruise so we are by no means experts, but we have cruised enough to be able to make general comparisons based on our personal experiences. Prior cruises have been on the Carnival Inspiration - Southern Caribbean, HAL Veendam - West Caribbean, HAL Veendam - Alaska Inside Passage, Sea Princess - West Caribbean, RCI Radiance of the Seas - Pacific Coast, Celebrity Millennium - East Caribbean and Sun Princess - Mexican Riviera.
As usual, we flew in a day early and spent the night at the Renaissance by Marriott on 17th Street near the port. We were traveling with friends from Houston and this was their first cruise. We booked the cruise through Pat, our travel agent at Cruisestar.com. We booked our own air. The hotel offered a shuttle from the airport, so it was very convenient to stay at the Renaissance. We've stayed at the Embassy Suites and AmeriSuites. I would definitely rate the Renaissance above both in terms of quality, but it's hard to beat the free breakfast at Embassy. Our friend's son works for Marriott, so we got a deal that was just to good to turn down. They gave us a room facing north towards the port and we were able to see the Golden Princess which leaves on Saturday and then again the Grand on Sunday morning. Its great being able to look out your room and see these cruise ships. We walked out over the causeway bridge and took pictures of the ships and then had a quick dinner. There are plenty of places to eat along this 17th Street corridor and even some grocery stores to buy water or soft drinks for the cruise. We always try and fly in the day before, as it is such a relaxing way to start the cruise. Honestly, its one of my favorite parts of the cruise experience.
Sunday morning, we took a hotel shuttle over to the port terminal. We got there about 11:30 a.m. Bags were dropped off to the porters and then on to check-in. The entire check-in process took 15-20 minutes and we were on the ship. No waiting; no standing in line. We had completed our registration on-line at the RCI website, so all we had to do was give a credit card imprint and pick up our Sea-Pass cruise ID cards. Once on board we dropped our carry-on in the room and headed to explore the ship. I enjoy getting as many pictures of the ship as possible before the crowds arrive. We start at the top and work our way down. Of course, once we arrived at the Windjammer, we couldn't resist our first bite at the food line. I love these first moments on the ship. Everything's new and exciting and you begin to meet the nicest people. We could tell from the start it would be a great cruise.
The muster drill started at 4:30 pm and fortunately we were on the shady side of the ship. Departure was scheduled for 5:00 pm and we joined the line of other ships leaving the port. Great views of the other ships leaving are available up on deck. We left snow on the ground in Tulsa, Oklahoma so the warm weather of Fort Lauderdale was a welcome relief. The Ship:
The Enchantment has been around for several years now and it is my opinion that the ship is beginning to show a bit of its age, mainly up on deck. The interior of the ship seemed very clean and there was an obvious effort by maintenance to keep her in good shape. We also noticed crew wiping down stair rails and door handles constantly throughout the cruise. RCI is making an effort to stop any bacteria problems on their ships. The exterior of the ship is showing some age, particularly in the fading of colors. That being said, I wouldn't hesitate to cruise this ship again. She's in great shape, with great facilities. Probably my biggest complaint in terms of facilities would be that all the deck chairs are the common plastic strip lounge chairs and those on the promenade deck (Deck 5) do not recline. I miss the padded lounge chairs found on HAL.
The public areas, including lounges, atrium area, Orpheum Theatre, and Carousel Lounge are in great shape. The "My Fair Lady" dining area is also beautiful. There are several shops but nothing extraordinary here. Throughout the ship are scattered alcoves, reading areas, lounges and bars that are very inviting. There is a very nice card room and an internet area. The internet works well and is reasonably fast, but a bit expensive. (Best option here is to hit the internet cafes in port.) The casino is fairly large and it never seemed real crowded. Hard to move about occasionally, but otherwise very nice. We're not big gamers but people seemed to enjoy it.
We booked an Inside Cabin Guarantee and were given 2585 right next to our friends in 2587 on Deck 2. We had originally booked a specific room higher up on the ship, but when prices began to tumble we re-booked the guarantee. Thanks to RCI for being willing to re-book even after we had already paid full fare and received our cruise documents. This alone, ensures I will be a repeat customer. We knew the risk when we booked the guarantee, but the price was unbelievable and we got lucky with rooms next to each other and in the middle of the ship. Even though we were on one of the lower decks, we loved the location. Especially when coming back from exhausting days on the islands. It was only one deck up to our rooms. We've had a mini-suite (1), balcony cabin (1), and outside cabins (2), but prefer an inside cabin for cost and convenience. We actually sleep better in an inside cabin and since we spend so little time in there, we probably will keep booking them. This was probably the smallest inside cabin we've had, but there was plenty of storage, a nice bathroom and room-safe. The safe requires a credit card rather than a numeric code, which is a bit of inconvenience. Why require a credit card when it is exactly the kind of item you would want locked up in the safe. We prefer the numeric keypad like the safes on Princess. There is only one electrical outlet in the room and also one in the bathroom. The hairdryer is not in the bathroom, but at the small desk in the cabin and my wife said it wasn't much of a hair dryer. Soap, shampoo and conditioner are provided. Excellent storage space everywhere. Our cabin steward was friendly and did a good job, but he did not seem as warm as prior cabin stewards. I was very disappointed that he did not turn down the room on the first night of the cruise. I know this is no big deal, but we enjoy coming back to the room at night finding it all turn downed. This is the first time we've seen this service cut out on the first night. I don't know if he was assigned to luggage duty or he just didn't want to do it. I didn't hear from any other cruisers on this and would be curious if it was only our steward or the entire ship.
We felt like the on-board entertainment was good. The Enchantment has two theaters, the Orpheum Theater and the Carousel Lounge. Our Cruise Director was Ken Rush and he did a great job. He left the ship after our cruise for some months off, so I don't know when he will be back with RCI. The first night out, we had a comedian, Jimmy Carroll. He was fine, but not a showstopper. Day 2 the entertainer was an impressionist/singer Fred Travelena. He was very good. Day 3 - RCI Singers and Dancers presented Sweet Dreams, Day 4 - Zoltan, the magician. He was your typical magician and we enjoyed the show. Day 5 - RCI entertainers presented Flashback. Day 6 - singer Glenn Smith, probably the best show of the cruise and Day 7 - juggler Billy Prudhomme. He was fair. The RCI entertainers were very good. We were especially impressed with the singers. Strong voices. We've seen better productions, but we enjoyed these very much. A nice surprise on this ship was that on the second sea day, they offered a tour of the stage facilities and we got to meet several of the cast, including production support people. They demonstrated some of the special effects of the shows and gave us a tour back stage. This was interesting and the first time we've seen it offered on a cruise. Tours of the galley were not offered on this ship. I'm guessing they've terminated this practice on most ships although we were able to do it on the Sun Princess last September.
We ate all of our breakfast and lunch meals in the Windjammer or at the grill, so I can't tell you about breakfast and lunch in the dining room. We enjoyed the Windjammer and even ate two of our evening meals there because we were late getting back on ship and only wanted to go to one formal night. Food in the Windjammer is excellent in my opinion. I'm sure most wouldn't classify it as fine dining, but then again, I would take a good cheeseburger over steak and pizza over lobster any day. At breakfast they served scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and various breakfast potatoes. There is also a cereal bar, lots of fruit and yogurt, an omelet bar out front and also, pancakes, waffles and French toast with strawberries or blueberries. It was pretty much the same breakfast fare every morning, but we thought it was the best breakfast food we've seen on a ship. At lunch they served several meat dishes, salad bar, breads, etc. Sandwiches are made forward where the breakfast omelets are made. Desserts are served where the pancakes are served at breakfast. We thought this food was only fair. Decent pizza, burgers and hotdogs are available out by the pool grill. For dinner, we were scheduled for the Main Seating and asked for a large table. However, the other couple assigned to our table never showed up. I'm guessing they cancelled their cruise. Food in the dining room was good to excellent. We didn't feel it measured up to the food on Princess or Celebrity, but it was good nonetheless. The real strength in the dining room was their service. We had a great waiter, Antonio from Portugal and a wonderful assistant waiter, Julieta from the Philippines. They were simply the best we've ever had. Friendly, helpful and very efficient. In fact, as I observed the dining room, I would say this is the best-managed staff we have ever seen. All seem to enjoy their work. Lot's of smiles and plenty of help. My wife asked once for strawberries and Antonio brought them to her every night. We all enjoyed the crab cakes on the third night of the cruise and they brought them again for us on the last night of the cruise, even though they weren't on the menu. Food was plentiful, warm and presented well. Desserts were weak, but the cold soups were great. You know your service was great when you wish you could bring them home with your. RCI offers drink cards on their ships, but we thought they were overpriced. We don't drink alcohol, but paid $20 for a soda card on a 10-day Princess cruise. A 7-day soda card on this cruise was $35.00. We thought that was steep.
My wife took a couple of the Pilates exercise classes and was pleased with the workout. I enjoyed my massage treatment. A bit expensive, but she did a great job and there was no hard sale or pushing products. I appreciated that. After using the spa facilities on the RCI Radiance of the Seas and the Celebrity Millennium, these facilities looked a little second rate. Treatment rooms were nice but very small. There is a sauna and steam room in the men's changing room and the area was never crowded. The steam never really warmed up enough but I enjoyed it nonetheless. They also have lockers, towels and showers in the changing area. I usually prefer early mornings in the whirlpool on a top deck, but on the Enchantment these pools are inset so they do not get as much of the cool morning air. The Solarium area is nice with two warm whirlpools and a cool salt-water pool. This area is covered in the morning and evening but the glass ceiling is pulled back during the day. This is a nice relaxing area, but you'll need to come early. RCI has a problem with chair savers. I noticed many chairs with towels and books after 8:30 am that would sit otherwise empty for hours.
We're probably not the best to offer opinions on ports because we tend to avoid the ship excursions and do mostly things on our own.
San Juan: We were here last February and pretty much did the same thing. We walked up to El Moro and then back down to the Cathedral and into Old Town for shopping and picture taking. We love San Juan. The ships docks right near Old Town so it's easy to get to many places without a catching a cab or booking an excursion. El Moro is beautiful and worth the walk. Be sure and be up on deck for the cruise into the harbor. You get some great views. I was able to take some very nice pictures in the evening at the harbor.
St. Maarten/St. Martin: This may take a while - We hadn't been back to St. Maarten since 1997 and we were anxious to see more of the island. So this time we rented a jeep so that we could drive around the entire island. We did not make a reservation, but when you walk off the pier there is a car rental area with several kiosks and individuals offering cars. We got a quote of $45 from one of the individuals but being the cautious person that I am, I went to see what kind of deal I could get at Hertz. They said their jeep rate was $120, but they would give it to me for $60. I felt the extra $15 was worth it for the piece of mind dealing with Hertz. I am a Hertz Gold Club member and rent from them a lot in the States. They gave us a nice 2003 automatic jeep, took the top off and showed me where the jack and spare were. Off we went. We drove first to Dawn Beach. We had been there before, but it was a bit windy. So on we drove to Orient Beach. Because we had rented a car we beat most of the traffic there and were able to choose our chairs and umbrellas. We had a great spot. I think two chairs and an umbrella cost $15, plus that gives you the use of their restrooms and changing rooms. We felt it was well worth it. Bear in mind, this beach is on the French side and there is some nudity here. Still it is a beautiful beach and the water was perfect.
After a couple of hours at Orient, we hit the road to explore the French side of the island. We should have suspected we were in for trouble when we came across another jeep with a flat. We stopped to help but they told us that the wheels had lug locks and the rental agency hadn't given them a key. They had to wait until the rental agency came to change the tire. They had already been waiting over an hour. When I asked which agency they rented from, they said Hertz. I should have known then that we were in trouble. That's right, 30 minutes down the road we heard a loud bang and sure enough, one of our tires had blown out. We were in the middle of nowhere, but fortunately a friendly local came by with a cell phone and called Hertz for us. They said it would be 5 - 10 minutes. About 45 minutes later the local came by again and was surprised we were still there. So were we. He called Hertz again and only after telling them that we would abandon the vehicle did they agree to come right away. In the meantime, the first jeep drove by and stopped to share a bit with our misery. They had waited well over an hour and a half. Over thirty minutes later the Hertz service rep showed up. They put a new tire on and I insisted that we would not leave until he gave me the lug key. I didn't want to be stuck again. He resisted but finally relented. So off we went. I knew we had lost almost two hours of our day, but felt fairly confident that Hertz would make up for it. I imagined that they would offer to discount the rental a little more because they sent us off without the ability to change our tire. We dropped our wives off in Phillipsburg and my friend and I went to turn the in jeep. We were running short on time and didn't want to get stuck in traffic. Then came the shock. Not only did this Hertz franchisee not want to give me an additional discount, but also he insisted on charging me an additional $135 for the tire. (A new tire, which blew out by the way on the inside wall of the tire.) I won't belabor the point here, but suffice it to say that we had some useless discussion, including a futile discussion with the office manager and since I had already signed the charge slip, he put the charge through. Obviously, I've taken this up with Amex and Hertz. The International Hertz customer relations desk was very sympathetic and could not believe what happened. Amex has stopped the charge and I'm confident we will get this worked out. I like Hertz and will continue to rent from them. I will not however rent again from the Hertz franchisee in St. Maarten. If this had happened to me after renting from an individual, I could understand it, but I did not expect to get shaken down by a Hertz franchisee.
Regardless of our difficulty with the jeep rental, we would rent again and truly enjoyed our tour of this island. We stopped at a French bakery in Marigot and would have liked to spend more time there. This is a beautiful island and we are very grateful for the help of a friendly local.
St. Thomas: We did what we always do in St. Thomas. We took a cab to Red Hook and the ferry to St. John. Then a cab ride to Trunk Bay. We love this beach. Bear in mind that the St. Johns cab drivers do not leave until they have a full load. Sometimes you have to work them pretty hard to get them to leave and not wait for another fare. After a few hours at the beach it was back to Cruz Bay for the ferry into Charlotte Amalie. My recollection is the cab to Red Hook was $8. This was a posted fare. The ferry to St. John was $3. The cab to Trunk was $4 and the ferry to Charlotte Amalie was $7. The entrance fee into Trunk Bay was $5. They have changing rooms, restrooms and showers. At Charlotte Amalie our wives were able to shop. There is a great David Yurman shop here. Prices seemed reasonable.
Nassau: We did our own walking tour here. We walked through town and up to Queen Victoria's Steps. This is a beautiful place and up at the top there is an old fort from which you can get great views of Nassau and Paradise Island. After shopping in town, we took a cab over to Atlantis. This was our first time on-site and I must say it is very impressive. They had security at every door leading out to their facilities and without a guest wristband, nobody got through those doors. We walked around the shops, casino and marina. Don't miss the marina here. There were some beautiful yachts. We walked from the Marina to the water taxi for the ride back to the ship. This was a convenient and different way to get back and you get a little tour description on the ride back.
Disembarkation was a breeze. We waited out on the promenade deck until our color was called. It was an easy walk off the ship and after locating our luggage we stepped out and caught a cab back to the airport. I think all will agree that the worst part of cruising is the air travel, and we were prepared for the worst. Fortunately, we were able to check-in at American using their self-serve kiosks. Since we had taken the taxi we missed most of the busload crowd and the lines moved very fast. From the time the taxi dropped us off, if was less than fifteen minutes and we had checked our bags and received our boarding passes. What a relief. Then it was simply waiting for our flight. It has never been this easy. We were grateful.
This was a wonderful trip. The weather was warm, some days a little too warm. We never encountered rough seas. In fact, on our first sea day we were in the Atlantic and it was smooth as glass; no whitecaps at all. The ports were nice, the beaches beautiful and the ocean water perfect. All in all, this was an enjoyable trip.
1. Cruising with friends is always a great experience. And based on the current pricing, I can't think of any better way to travel, especially to the Caribbean. 2. RCI did a great job. The Enchantment was nice and we wouldn't hesitate to cruise RCI or the Enchantment again. Food was good, entertainment good and service was great. 3. RCI is a bit more casual than Princess, Celebrity or HAL. We saw jeans in the dining room and many were not dressed up on Formal Night. We dressed up, but I much prefer the casual look and we remain casual on all other nights. Shorts were not allowed and individuals were directed to remove their hats. Even on formal nights you are comfortable in the theatre and other public area on the ship dressed casual. For me, this is a good thing. 4. We love the Caribbean. East is nice for beaches and shopping. West is fun for excursions and Mexico. Both sides are easy for doing your own thing and saving money from excursion fares. Cruise prices are so reasonable. 5. Things have greatly improved at Fort Lauderdale. Even the air travel was perfect.
1. Like Princess, RCI now has the practice of leaving two pool towels in your room and they are no longer provided on the deck. That means you have to remember to bring your towel up on deck and you're limited to one, unless you ask your room steward for more. Since I like at least two towels, and then maybe an extra for the spa facilities, I missed being able to grab fresh towels up on deck. They do have towels in the spa changing rooms, but those are not supposed to be taken out on deck. Not a big deal, but please bring back the pool towels on deck. Has everyone done away with these? 2. Spa prices are still way too high. 3. And of course, our experience with the St. Maarten Hertz office. I'm optimistic Hertz will make good on this, but it was unnecessary and cost us some valuable island time. Live and learn.
And finally, for what its worth, some comparisons (based on our own impressions): RCI is a great cruising value. Very friendly people on staff, beautiful ships and incredible service. Princess and Celebrity provide a better dining experience, but the service on RCI was much better. Friendlier and more efficient. Entertainment was better than what we've seen on Princess or Celebrity. In my opinion the friendliest people cruise HAL, Princess and RCI. Based on our experiences, I would still rate these lines: 1) HAL 2) Princess 3) RCI 4) Celebrity and 5) Carnival. Right now I am looking for a good value 10-day cruise in the Caribbean for next February. Maybe the HAL Rotterdam. . . .
I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.