CruiseMates' Readers Cruise Reviews

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Nordic Empress Western Caribbean February 14, 2004

After reading some rather negative reviews of this ship, my husband and I were a little apprehensive, but this turned out to be a fabulous cruise for us. This was our third cruise together; previous cruises included RCCL's Monarch and Celebrity's Infinity, both to the southern Caribbean.

Getting to the ship was the worst part--we were up at 2:45 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight, which went from Boston to Tampa via Detroit! This has happened to us before, so on my next cruise I'm going to try booking my own flights. With a 4 p.m. sailing we decided not to volunteer for a bump, and when we arrived at the pier around 2 p.m. there was not a line in sight and we boarded in about five minutes. One of my main concerns from various reviews was about the cleanliness. I kept looking for dirt but the ship was basically sparkling! At dinner we discussed the fact that the ship was going into drydock in April for a total overhaul, and none of us could figure out why. Well, a few of the carpet areas were showing some wear and tear, but someone had wisely chosen a beige color for them and most of it was camouflaged.

Everyone at our table, including my husband who is veerrryyy picky, said the food was great. For the most part it really was. Our waiter was extremely attentive, and one night at dessert someone ordered the Grand Marnier souffle, served in individual ramekins, which looked delicious to me. Even though I already had a dessert in front of me, I asked Fahti, apologetically, if it would be possible to bring me one of the sinful-looking souffles. He said "Of course, Madame," and in two seconds there it was. (He explained that whenever someone orders this dish he always brings an extra one because someone else always wants it too! Clever man.)

Maybe the ports were the best thing about this cruise. We love to snorkel and the Western Caribbean is it! On Grand Cayman we simply walked off the tender to a beach with access to Cheeseburger Reef (ironically right by the Burger King)and the snorkeling was awesome. Ditto for Cozumel--fabulous snorkeling right off the beach in Chankanaab Park. We saw a drum, a French angelfish, and a four-foot barracuda, as well as gorgeous purple sea fans and other lovely soft corals. We have snorkeled a lot in the Eastern/Southern Caribbean as well as the Florida Keys and this was right up there with the best. In Belize we did the Lamanai River Trip and although this was too much motoring--one hour by car, and one hour by speedboat, each way--we saw incredible wildlife -- howler monkeys (which do howl like a really big jungle cat) and toucans flying around, to name a few. Belize City puts some people off, but the physical beauty of the country is amazing, and all the Belizeans we met (our guide, the boatman, and his assistant) were extremely friendly and knowledgeable about both history and wildlife.

I'm not a good person to rate the entertainment: I enjoyed some of it but I don't watch TV and I don't like going to musicals. I'm usually up early, at 7 a.m. with a cup of coffee in the Windjammer watching the sun rise over the sea--so staying up late can be difficult. My husband and I both like to dance so I drank three cups of coffee at dinner and went to the Viking Crown Lounge for '70's music and dancing, but even by midnight things hadn't gotten going. We both really wish they'd start the dancing earlier.

Despite the lack of dancing, my husband and I had the most romantic cruise we've ever had: The magic was there! In fact, we were so smitten, both with cruising and each other, that we've booked two more cruises: the Majesty to Bermuda (no flying!) and the Veendam, back to the Western Caribbean. I know I sound like a commercial, but this was a very special cruise for us. Let's hope the next ones are too.

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