Just to let you know up front, this was my first time to cruise so my remarks will come from that point of view. We booked a 12 day cruise on the Splendour of the Seas out of Galveston for December 22-January 03. Ports of call were in this order: Cozumel, Mexico; Belize City, Belize; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Panama Canal, Panama; Puerto Limon, Costa Rica; Roatan, Honduras and Costa Maya, Mexico.
Pre-cruise experiences: We chose to drive down to Galveston a day early and stay in the Harbor House hotel right on the harbor. Since we booked online 9 months in advance, the prices were very reasonable--about $89 per room. The rooms were very pleasant, large and cool with a nice breeze when you opened the windows. The room lighting was dim due to no overhead lighting, only lamps in various places. Parking is right next to the hotel and you pay $8 for overnight. They will also allow you to park for the duration of your cruise, but we chose not to since there is no security. In the morning a cereal/rolls/coffee/juice type breakfast is complimentary, but we chose to eat at the Phoenix bakery instead.
They are within walking distance from the hotel/pier and they have breakfast offerings of omelets, quiche, oatmeal, fresh fruit plates, huge cinnamon rolls, scrambled eggs, scones, fresh fruit juices, etc-all at reasonable prices. Dinner the night before the cruise was also right there at the harbor at Fisherman's Wharf. Earlier in the summer, we had dinner there and it was packed. The waiting line was about an hour and the patio was a fun place to eat. We chose to eat out on the patio again and it was a little chilly. Service was slow which was unusual because there weren't that many customers. The food was delicious. We had oysters on the half-shell, crab and lobster bisque served in a bread bowl (yummy!!) and grilled fish. After breakfast, we toured the "world's largest military surplus store", Col. Bubby's, for an hour and then checked out of the Harbor House. Drove over to the pier, unloaded the luggage and my husband went to leave the car in the "official" pier parking lot. We had downloaded a $10 coupon so the total parking fee for 12 days was $75. I'm pretty sure it has to be paid in cash. Husband was back in 15 minutes and off we went. Check-in seemed easy to us. We passed a number of people in line because we had a suite. We started the boarding process by 11:30 and were on board by 12 noon.
Our stateroom: We booked the Royal Family Suite (category AA) and were in cabin 8532. This stateroom is right next to the Crown and Anchor study on deck 8. It is also right under the pool deck and many times at night, I could hear thuds, scrapes, and people jogging. If you're a light sleeper, I would not recommend this stateroom. On the floor plan on the RCI website, a large walk-in closet is shown on the right just before the small bedroom. This does not exist. The carpet was faded and the upholstery and drapes looked older. There was a crack in the lower portion of the sliding glass window off the master bedroom. However, the stateroom attendant kept the room neat and clean, so we were not bothered by these aspects. Here's a description--Master bedroom: sleeping for two, smaller TV with cabinets above and below it, lighted vanity area with chair, one large closet and one smaller one, bathroom with tub, sliding doors made out of wood framing with inset opaque glass panels which separate it from the living room and entry hall, large glass sliding doors leading onto the balcony. Smaller bedroom: two twin beds and one Pullman bed in the ceiling, two mid-size closets and lighted vanity area with chair. The door to the smaller bedroom is solid and locks, so it's great for sleepers who want complete darkness. Smaller bath: right across from the 2nd bedroom and has a shower. Entry hall: two small closets and a cabinet with a mirror above it. Living area: one couch which sleeps two, glass coffee table, two cushioned chairs, two end tables on either side of the sofa with storage areas in each, lighted vanity area with center mirror, glass-fronted shelving on either side and cabinets below (the refrigerator is in one of these cabinets), large TV with cabinets above and below it (the safe is located in the cabinet above the TV), sliding glass doors leading onto balcony and large window which does not open but faces the ocean.
Splendour of the Seas staff: I can honestly say that I never encountered anyone on the entire ship who was not friendly, helpful and courteous. Our stateroom attendant, Oleg from Lithuania, was prompt in meeting our requests for extra pillows, blankets, mattress pads, copies of the daily Compass, wastebaskets, etc. Our daughters raced back to the cabin each night to see what kind of towel animal he had left for them. He was a very personable young man. Our head waiter, Kelley from Brazil, was present from the first day and smoothed out many situations at other tables in a very professional manner. She paid special attention to our two daughters and always asked us how our day was. The waiter, Adrian from Romania, was always prompt, made many excellent suggestions and tried hard to please. Robert from Lithuania was the assistant waiter and had us smiling all the time.
The ship itself: I did notice some stains on upholstery and a crack in our balcony window but in general, the condition of the ship is good. You would frequently see staff cleaning windows, handrails of stairways, etc. I never found any area to be unduly messy or uncared for.
Onboard entertainments: My family doesn't drink or gamble and we are not really interested in the late night shows, but the Splendour has all of these and most guests seemed very pleased. I can comment about the destination lectures since I went to 3 out of 4 of them. A very knowledgeable biology professor from Colorado was the speaker and we enjoyed his programs on the Panama Canal, the rain forest and the coral reefs. Another entertainment that most people seemed to be enjoying was the food. There was always food to be eaten somewhere at any hour of the day and I found it to be very tasty. Presentation in the dining room was attractive and I found myself ordering two entrees and sometimes 3 desserts!!
Ports of call: This is the area where most of my frustration and disappointments happened. It was probably due to my inexperience that my expectations were not met in some instances.
Cozumel-We toured the Museo de Cozumel (our 2nd time), shopped at Cinco Soles and other places and ate lunch at El Capi Navegante (which is a great place for seafood). After lunch, we located Sally who runs the mini-golf and had a great time playing 9 of the 18 holes. I made a hole-in-one right at first and never repeated it again!
Belize City, Belize-We had arranged to river tube with Reggie and had a good time. He really takes care of each passenger! The path through the forest was a bit daunting for my older mother but she made it! The caves are actually one long cave, not a series of separate caves as I had imagined. Since it was Christmas Day, none of the restaurants Reggie usually uses were open, so we returned to the pier about 3 o'clock and were starving. The kids didn't want to stay and shop so I left Belize without even a postcard to show I had been there! If I could do it over again, I would have brought sandwiches from the ship just in case and then we could have shopped a little.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman-This was probably the most disappointing port of call of them all. The itinerary was listed as 1:00-5:00 (a change by RCI in October from the itinerary that we originally booked in March which resulted in less time ashore). I had arranged for an independent excursion with Captain Marvin for Stingray City for 1:45, but because of the tendering situation, we didn't make it on time and missed it completely. The line for tender tickets stretched from the Centrum all the way back into the King and I dining room. Many passengers didn't even get onto the island until it was almost time to come back at 4:30. I was told the line to return to the ship was about a half mile long and some passengers were late for the 6:00 main seating for dinner. It was a sad situation!! I had a hard time listening to those RCI commercials on ship where they show all the stingrays after that. I guess the only answer would have been to go ahead and pay the extra money to book a RCI excursion. Those folks got off first.
Panama Canal, Panama-We got up at 5:30 am and got good seats right up front in the Windjammer. It turned out to be a good decision because it started to rain as we entered the locks. It is not a good place to be able to hear the comments about the canal however. I had read somewhere that a calm descends on the ship as it passes through the locks. That person must not have been in the Windjammer! People talking and dishes clanking made it really hard to hear what was being broadcast. After the Splendour cleared the last lock, we had about an hour before we left by tender for our RCI excursion "canal locks by ferry". A nice air-conditioned bus took us to Gamboa. The RCI website says that the passengers will be taken to Balboa and transit back up through the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks but we actually did the reverse and thus got to experience being lowered inside a lock. We had a great tour guide named Velma. The bus was stopped 3 times by police checking licenses and permits until Velma made a phone call on her cell. After that, we were not stopped again. This caused us to arrive later at Gamboa than planned and affected our position in the canal. We had to get behind a big freighter and wait for it to be maneuvered into position by a tugboat every time we went through a lock. Our tour got back to the pier at 6:00 pm and we had a little time to shop. If you have any time to shop, check out this place! They have really unusual gift items. We got tagua nuts that had been carved into iguanas and frogs. Molas are a very popular item. They have men's shirts with the molas embroidered on the shoulder areas which another passenger got and we wished we had.
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica-We had originally planned to check out the red tent government taxis and vans (which are green tents now) and take an excursion to the Tortuguero canals or the banana plantation, but we ended up just staying in port all day. We shopped among the venders at the end of the pier and bought pillowcases with molas, lots of beautiful wooden boxes in animal shapes, and all 5 of us had manicures or pedicures (including my husband!!) The cost was $12-$15 per person. A few blocks away in town is a grocery store called Mas x Menos (More for Less) and we picked up some personal items for a fraction of the cost back home. My husband and I had a delicious lunch of steamed lobster, broiled fish, and shrimp soup with 2 Cokes and 2 bottled waters for $30. The restaurant was owned by an Oriental couple and was called M & M.
Roatan, Honduras-Another disappointment! The itinerary said we would be there from 12:00-7:00 pm. However, a Carnival ship was already at the pier and we waited out in the bay until it left. We didn't get off the ship until 3 pm and by 6 pm it was dark. The captain had said we could remain ashore until 7:30 but there is not much you can do after dark. Roatan does not have street lights like the U.S. and most of the activities need daylight. We tried to squeeze a horseback ride in the hills and a swim at the beach at Foster's resort in these 3 hours of daylight. Because we were late, we ended up with a horseback ride down the sandy road to the West End and 45 minutes to swim at Foster's.
Costa Maya-This port of call got cancelled entirely due to weather conditions. We had planned to shop, relax and eat some local food or rent a golf cart and let our girls "drive" us into Mahajual. We ended up coming home with fewer souvenirs and more money (not something we really wanted to do). We also encountered dense fog returning to Galveston and the ship had to blow the horn from about 2:30 am to 5:30 am. I was really tired by the time we disembarked!
Disembarkation-I have never been through disembarkation before, but it seemed very smooth to me. We had our bags out in the hall around 11:00 pm the night before and we ready for breakfast in the Windjammer by 7:30. We left our carry-on luggage in the stateroom and returned for it by 8:00. Oleg was already cleaning our stateroom for the next guests. We waited in the Crown & Anchor study and played a card game with friends until our color was called. Immigration was quick and not too long after, we left the ship. Our luggage was easy to spot because most of the luggage was already claimed. Getting a porter was a little harder but we were on our way home by 10:30 am.
Over all, we did enjoy the cruise but have realized that a ship is not the best guarantee to get you where you want to go if ports of call are an important factor to your vacation enjoyment. As someone else has said before: "Book the ship, not the itinerary". The itinerary can and probably will change.