CruiseMates' Readers Cruise Reviews

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Nordic Empress by Steven Kirson April, 2001

This was our first cruise, we are late 30's traveling w/ another couple but w/o our children. Made our own flight arrangements from Atlanta to San Juan, using frequent flyer miles. This was done over 6 months in advance and there were no problems or complications. Although the San Juan airport was rather slow to get the checked backage out to us, it really wasnt more than about 10-15 minutes, and once we had our bags and golf clubs it was quickly into a cab and an easy ride to the Royal Caribbean pier. When we got out of the cab a pier worker w/ cart and ID said he worked for the crusie line and took all of our bags, which we had tagged, and for a $5 tip the bags did indeed show up at our staterooms without delay. Boarding was smooth, and our stateroom, #7100, was certainly as roomy as we would need.

I would warn folks about #7032, where our travelling companions were, which was much smaller yet was listed as the same category--it should not have been. Our view was obscured by the lifeboats, but there was still plenty of island and water and sky to be seen each morning when we awoke and wanted to see what was going on. The ship was fine--it was not a megasize ship, but there is still plenty or room, especially considering that there are no days at sea in this 4 night cruise to St. Thomas, St. Maarten and St. Croix. We had expected to be able to golf on St. Thomas, but found out that the course was in terrible shape and that the cruise line did not offer golf at Mahogany Run until that situation was corrected. Our wives went to the spa by maybe 4 in the afternoon after boarding (we didnt leave until 6 pm) but found out that many services were already all booked for the cruise. We had no problem signing up for golf on St. Croix, but found the starter to be very disorganized when we got to the course and no one seemed to be in charge or to know what to do. unusual, since they host cruise ship golfers on the island just for the day every day of the week. And Carambola was in sore need of some work--a beautiful layout but crab grass tufts everywhere and no irrigation so the fairways were like concrete and you couldnt even get a divot if you tried. And the greens were inconsistent from hole to hole.

Shopping was the order of the day on St. Thomas and St. Maarten, and since we had been to St. Maarten before, on a non-cruise trip, we were not put off by all of the barkers at the store fronts trying to pull us in as we strolled down the shopping main streets. Buy any fine jewelry you may care to buy at Trident Jewelers on Front Street in Philipsburg on St. Maarten, as for Varsha, the owner, or Jay, her adult son--they are legitimate, have outstanding values on first quality and treat you fairly and like a valued client. We have been very pleased by the stateside appraisals of their work.

The ship's food was fair to adequate in the Carmen dining room. Some dishes surprise, but the strip steaks we all agreed were the same quality as Sizzler or Bonanza. Thre were usually a couple of dishes that would be okay, and anyone who expected top gourmet quality on a ship that was cooking for 900 people at a single sitting twice a night is kiding themselves. Think wedding reception quality in a big-hotel ballroom that isnt the Ritz Carlton. But that was fine, and our waiter, Gustavo at table 62 was very funny and personable and learned our preferences. Desserts were for the most part skippable. We had lunches in the Windjammer(cafeteria) casual dining room, and about half of our breakfasts there as well, and the overall quality there was also fair, but it was mostly convenient, and the breakfast quality was probably "good". All liquor and soft drinks required a charge to your SuperCharge account, which was tedious, but at the pool deck on the water fountain there was also iced tea always available, so that was a nice, convenient alternative. The hamburger/hot dog/french fry bar stayed open till 4pm, and on a couple of late shore days, like after golf, we used that and it was satisfactory. No lobster night was a let down, and no lobster in the lobster bisque was truly bizarre. There was an afternoon frozen yogurt bar at poolside, which was fun, but the only night that we bothered to stay up until midnight did not have a midnight buffet (we wanted to see what it would be) but instead had leftover dreadful little appetizer-finger sandwiches from the "captain's cocktail party" that evening. You wouldnt miss a thing to skip that party unless a glass of complimentary rum punch or a tom collins thrilled you.

The show in the main lounge on the final evening was a decently produced song and dance tribute to swing and the big band era, but the level of production values would have gotten tedious had we gone to the shows every night. The elevators looked like they might have had some backups and lines at times, but we mostly would just take the stairs to go up or down an average of two floors depending on where we were going and so had no problems. One of the two pools was out of service, so at times the one remaining pool was kind of crowded. The fitness room seemed to have enough treadmills and equipment for the demand, and the times we walked deck laps in the morning before breakfast were pleasant and not too crowded. While we dressed in black tie for formal night, we were in the minority, as most were in suits. Dinner was exceedingly casual, and unlike the information provided by the cruise line, there WAS a dressy casual (sport jacket) evening on board. We had not brought sport coats, and no one else did, either so it didnt matter. We skipped the night clubs and casinos, because those seemed to be smoke filled environements which we tend to avoid, but we did enjoy the art auction one evening, and surprisingly took advantage of some of the closed circuit movies broadcast on the TV's in the staterooms.

All in all, I would say this was a casual and easy going intro to cruises, though I might be tempted for my next cruise to see what another line regarded as a bit classier, such as Holland America, was like for comparison.

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