Cruisers: My husband and I without children. The first time we've ever taken an adult trip that wasn't related to business. Last cruise - Thanksgiving '02 on the Voyager with our children.
We flew out of Pittsburgh Monday morning on a 9:30 am ET flight (note to self: NEVER fly out on Monday morning). Arrived at the airport at the recommended 2 hours pre-flight & spent every minute waiting in a line. Because of the lengthy lines at each checkpoint our flight was delayed about 30 minutes. We arrived at LAX at about 12:15 PT and were met at the baggage claim by an RCCL rep who directed us to a shuttle bus. We were taken to the pier at San Pedro and arrived there about 1:30 - quite a long line - but the check in was quick and we boarded about 2 pm. We checked out our stateroom (#5598 - Category F outside) which was very "cozy", but nice for two people with plenty of storage. Tiny, tiny shower - with a weird shower curtain.Our cabin attendant was Stanley - whom we met just once - but did a good job of keeping our room clean. Went to the Windjammer for the buffet - beautifully decorated with OK food. Suggestion: go to the back of the room - in the Jade area - much less crowded with some very good Pan Asian food. Explored the ship, toured the spa and prepared for the highly anticipated muster drill.
Overall impressions follow:
Food: We had 1st seating in Vincents on the 3rd deck. Our tablemates Fernando and Lindley from LA were lovely - and we had a wonderful time with them all week long. Our waiter Noriel was a very nice man, but Dorothy our assistant waiter was absolutely fabulous - very attentive and sweet. The head waiter - a woman whose name escapes me now - was the most hands on head waiter we've ever encountered on a cruise - for the first time ever I didn't mind paying the head waiter the full gratuity suggested. The food itself was so-so, about like what you'd expect from a facility that caters to many hundreds of people at a time. Good wine list and we ordered wine with each dinner. My husband and I both agreed that Voyager did a nicer job with food quality and variety. We had lunch one day in Claudes (the other dining room) - it was really very good. The remainder of the time we either ate in port or at Windjammers. Didn't try the sushi at Jades - the Sorrentos pizza on Deck 12 was good for an afternoon snack.
Entertainment: Becky Thomson was our Cruise Director ("hello, loves!"). She is simply delightful - and full of energy - she was everywhere! We saw a couple of the RCCL stage shows at the Sound of Music which were pretty decent, listened to the Salsa band in Boleros (very good!), went to the Dueling Pianos show ( my husband hated them - I thought it was a very funny show), and on the last night - also at Boleros - was the Monarch Idol - a karoke show - with 12 passenger participants. We spent a lot of time in Boleros (order the Mojito!). This is a new lounge on Deck 7 - beautifully decorated. I was amazed at the number of people who brought young children in here. Much of the entertainment except for the Salsa band was geared for adults - with a lot of off color jokes and innuendo. On Wednesday night - we went to the 50s, 60s, 70s dance party. My husband and I were picked to participate in the Twist Contest - we each won a key chain and a tee shirt - didn't get first place though - darn it I really wanted that crown! Spent a couple of evenings at the Casino - ended up $4 ahead when all was said and done.
Ports: This was my first ever trip to the West Coast - so going to CA was pretty exciting for me. We met up with a friend from home in San Diego who drove us all around - went to the Hotel Del Coronado, the naval yards and stopped at Anthony's Fish Grotto right off the RCCL pier - walked to Seaport Village and picked up a couple of things for the kids. I was amazed at the temperature - I thought it would be unbearably hot and humid - but was a comfortable 75-80 degrees. The day was overcast which apparently is a little unusual - the marine layer (we call it fog) didn't clear until about 3 pm - and then we finally saw the sun. Many other cruisers did the Zoo tour.
Catalina Island - What a beautiful place! Tenders ran continuously starting at 8 am - we got off the ship around 8:45 and walked around town - ate breakfast at Busy Bee's restaurant - scoped out a couple of shops (very expensive!). We don't scuba and didn't want to snorkle - so we rented a golf cart which we drove around the island. At $30 for the hour - I thought it was a great deal. The view from the top of the Island was magnificent. Sadly, we left our camera on the ship. Spent the afternoon back on ship at the pool, which wasn't at all crowded!
Ensenada - Booked the wine country tour which left the ship at 8:30 am. Hopped on a bus which drove about an hour up some pretty scary looking mountain roads inland. This wasn't at all scenic - but still an adventure. The winerys were OK - we visited Domeq and LA Cello - and picked up a few bottles of nice wine. Jorge was our guide - very good and quite knowledgeable about region and Mexican wine history. At $27 pp, I thought this was a great value for a shore excursion. Stopped in town on the way back to the ship - picked up more stuff for the kids and took a $4 cab ride back to the pier - arriving back on board about 2:30. The pool was a little more crowded this time - but it wasn't impossible to find a chair. The cruise staff did towel folding and ice sculpting demos at the pool.
Debarkation: Packed up the night before, left our bags out and they were promptly picked up at midnight. We had a 1:30 pm flight out - so were issued green tags. For some reason, we weren't given our final statement so we had to stop at the Guest Relations desk for it - no problems there - except we really missed the Drink Card! Ate breakfast at the Windjammer - as did hundreds of others - a little challenging finding a seat - then waited around at the pool for our tag color to be called. Once the green tag color was called we walked down to the Deck 4 Centrum and waited there for about 10 minutes before being let off the ship. As we have passports - we were able to process through Customs much quicker than those without them - the lines through Customs were very long! Picked up our bags - no problem with the help of a Dock worker (who we tipped) and walked to our bus. We weren't in a hurry so it wasn't a problem for us - but they wait until the bus is full before sending it off to the airport. Arrived at LAX around 11:00 and had no problems.
Overall assesment: This was a great cruise for my husband and me. Booked at the last minute - it was a great value for our money. The updates are nice - but since I don't know what it was like before, I can't say more than that. Elevators are a little slow - but since we were on Deck 5 we walked most everywhere. The only strong criticism I have is that the coffee is HORRIBLE! I wonder, since they now have the Seattle's Best coffee shop on board if they purposely make bad coffee - so you will feel compelled to pay $2 for a cup of decent coffee. (maybe I'm paranoid!) I wish we would have flown out on Sunday - in addition to the nightmare at the Pittsburgh airport - we were so exhausted from the travel part and the 3 hour time difference that we really didn't enjoy Monday evening as much as we could have. If you have any more questions - please feel free to email me! We can't wait til our next cruise - Thanksgiving '03 on the Mariner!