Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Review--Conquest--October 15, 2006

Conquest--October 15-22, 2006

This was my eighth CCL cruise, fourth on Conquest, and fourth (total) solo. I was looking forward to this cruise as this was a Cruise Critic group cruise and I really wanted to meet many of the people who have been active on the C-C boards. The Saints & Sinners-II were a great group of people. Also having recently cruised the Conquest I will be skipping some of the shows and activities one would normally do on a cruise.

Day one-Embarkation-Checked web cam around 6:30 a.m. and saw the Conquest arrive in Galveston which is always a good sign for a smooth embarkation. I left beautiful Bosque county shortly afterward and arrived at EZ Cruise parking about 11:30 a.m. I usually walk, but used the shuttle this morning as it had been storming/raining. Arrived at terminal one just before noon. The lines were longer than normal for that time-IMHO, but ran very smoothly. No problems with check-in or security and I was on board just about 12:30. I did make note of the size of the carry on bags many were bringing aboard. Some were almost as large as the duffle I checked.

A Reuben sandwich hit the spot while waiting for the cabin areas to be opened. They had been allowing access to cabins at 1:00 but I think they are trying to push the time back as it was closer to 1:30 and the handouts now stated access at 2:00 p.m. I’m guessing they will gradually move the time back. Will not be easy for those hauling on those oversize carry on bags.

I always get my first funship special at lobby bar and did so again. Began meeting S&S-II people which was easy to do as most were wearing the S&S-II t-shirts. It will not be difficult to find someone to enjoy a drink with on this cruise. The first official meet was after muster drill at the Sky bar and I got to meet a large number of the S&S-II group. This will be a different experience from sailing with the primarily Texas folks I am used to sailing with out of Galveston. I have already met people from Pittsburgh, Boston, New York, and Canada. All very nice and folks we do not see in Bosque county.

We saw a lot of dolphins as we sailed away from Galveston harbor. The sea is rough as we have a front to sail through. The ship is really rocking. Especially compared to my most recent cruises.

The late dinner S&S group is seated in the same general area on level two of the Monet dining room. I am used to the 8:30 setting and this was the 8:00, but I’ll adjust. Dinner was good, but only standard CCL fare. Not near as good as Rhapsody or even the Ecstasy-IMHO. I had the same opinion in August. The shrimp cocktail appetizer was good, but the steak was only fair. In lieu of desert I had the cheese selection. New from even two months ago, the menu now reflects the alternative selections. i.e.- the items available every night. That’s good especially for inexperienced cruisers. Having had very little sleep the past two nights I skipped the S&S function and the Welcome Show and called it a evening.

Day Two-at sea. Slept very well. The ship is still rockin’ and rollin’ today. You certainly are getting your moneys worth as far as the ride goes. An “E’ ticket for sure.

I had my traditional first morning on board breakfast in the dining room. Tomato juice, grapefruit sections, eggs benedict, side of french toast, bacon, and milk. During breakfast I was able to visit with Zoltan, a waiter I have become friends with from previous cruises. Met in deck-3 lobby for the group S&S-II photo and later lunch in the dining room. Good day to visit with folks and also catch up on sleep. A nice late afternoon nap was wonderful. This is formal night. Attended the Captains reception which was extremely well/over attended. Retreat to bar in Henri’s disco and yes you could order a specialty drink. The bartender initially balked, but persistence (and later tips) won him over to very excellent service. I’ve met the crew so the frequent drinks in the overflow of Henri’s was a fine deal for me. Met someone who attended my high school-small world. Dinner was much better than previous night. The Pumpkin soup, Lobster and Tiramisu were very good. Spent some time in the Impressions Bar and Degas Lounge after dinner and enjoyed the drinks, entertainment and people watching very much.

Day Three-at sea. Slept very well. Sea is much calmer than yesterday, but still not calm. Enjoyed breakfast in the dining room. Casual morning and also had lunch in dining room. The Chicken Parmesan was very good. The return guest party held today was excellent, the best ever of the four I have attended on the Conquest. Dinner was good especially the starters: Escargot, Hearts of palm, and French onion soup. We had to detour to Grand Cayman to debark an ill passenger, the lights of 7-mile beach and Georgetown were visible during dinner. Tonight is mardi gras night and many in the S&S-II group fully participated.

Day Four-Montego Bay Jamaica. I was up early and had breakfast in the dining room. Most of the S&S-II group had planned to go to Sunset Beach, an all-inclusive resort near the pier. We were docked on time and since I was around early I went to Sunset Beach prior to rest of the group. Good place for swimming, and drinks & food were included in admission. Being solo it was nice to be a part of a larger group at a spot like Sunset Beach, it was fun, but I really think Doctors Cave Beach is a better choice for a beach day in MoBay. Dinner was very good and this was Bitter&Blanc night for desert. Having had too much sun I retired early. Seas calm during the night.

Day Five-Grand Cayman. Early breakfast in dining room. While most are busy getting off for their excursions I enjoy a couple of steams in the spa. Very nice and helping with the sunburn. Took a tender into Georgetown to purchase some liquor from Pirates Grotto and a hat from the recently opened Margaritavile. I returned to the ship in time for lunch, some Rueben sandwiches. This afternoon was a cocktail party for the S&S-II group was was quite fun. Dinner was good, especially the crab cake. Watched a movie on the TV and retread early.

Day Six-Cozumel, Mexico. Breakfast again in the dining room. We arrived in Cozumel about 9:00 a.m.. The fantastic news is that we were able to dock at the Langosta pier. I believe this is the first time that the Conquest has docked since last year and it sure beats tendering. Off to town to see Nelly at Mayan Pearl. She has a bracelet to repair for DW and another for me to pick up. I went to see Martin and got a haircut, then to the internet store to check e-mail and fantasy picks for the upcoming weekend. Next stop is Havana Club, which I believe now is going by the name Havana Blue. Since moving to their new location they emphasize jazz and blues and less of the salsa. Still great mojitos. Lunch at Panchos Backyard (thanks D&S) the chicken fajitas were great. Returned to Maya Pearl to pick up jewelry and some afternoon shopping before returning to the ship. Now that we are docked I get to enjoy one of my favorite Cozumel traditions: watching the inebriated and late pax rush to the ship at the end of the day. The Langosta pier is not as conducive to the viewing as the Puerto Maya pier, but close. The Norwegian Sun docked across the way added to the atmosphere. I was not disappointed. There were a lot returning with the “staggers & jags” and a few flashers for good measure. We sailed away about 6:00 p.m.

Dinner was again good. Best: Coquille St. Jacque and special halloween deserts decorated with ghosts, bats, pumpkins, etc. Something new for me was the halloween show after dinner. Ghost stories, games and a costume contest. Very interesting.

Day Seven-at Sea. Final dining room breakfast. I think everyone waited until last day as the dining room was packed for the first time for breakfast. A little business with the purser as Sail & Sign account on the TV doesn’t reflect an OBC although the pursers account does. They are very helpful at the pursers desk. Liquor was delivered to the cabins this morning. Lunch in the dining room, but still room for some BLT’s from room service in late afternoon. The final S&S-II cocktail reception was 4:30-5:30 and again fun. Final dinner was the best of the week. I had both the pork chop and Neptune Platter. Of course the Grand Marnier Soufflé is great and tonight was exceptional.

Debarkation. Room service breakfast as a wake up call. Nice little refund check from CCL in my mailbox this morning as well. Also I elected to do self-assist as usual, but decided to let the gangways clear before leaving the cabin about 7:30. It went smooth all the way to customs. They had four lines for pax and three lines for crew. I’ve never seen that before, not sure what was up. They were in uniform without any bags. After getting through customs I WALKED over to EZ Cruise and was on the way. Stopped for gas ($1.92) and was across the bridge by 8:25.

Cabin: I had cabin 7345 which is a 1A, but a great inside midship location on deck 7. Perfect for a single or solo cruiser and large enough for three with the drop down bunk. The room is square, (most are rectangular) I like the additional room at the entry between the bathroom and closets. More room than many 4A’s-6A’s. Some of my new C-C friends have the two 1A’s on deck two which actually have picture windows. There are some 1A deals on Conquest if you know where to look. Cabin was very clean, much cleaner than our cabin on Conquest two months ago. This was one of the cruise were I rarely saw the cabin steward. Some have different styles. The cabin was always well kept and my requests via sticky note was always fulfilled.

Ship: The Conquest is a great ship and she still seems very well maintained and clean. All of the public rooms are beautiful. Read up on French impressionist artists before boarding. The Conquest also has a new Cruise Director, Mark Price, very good, but different without Todd.

Food: The food is good, deserts better, wait staff the best. Always plenty to eat and the wait staff is very good in the dining rooms and lido deck buffets.

Cruise Critic: I’ve already mentioned what a great group of people the Saints & Sinners-II people are and have been on the cruise. What a fun group. Do I think their presence has influenced the cruise: Yes. From my experience having sailed the Conquest four times the most noticeable difference was the return guests party. The Conquest staff went all-out IMHO with extra wait staff and as many refills of drinks as one could possibly want. Very smart move by the CD and staff. Most of the S&S-II group are loyal CCL guests and should be rewarded. I didn’t participate in all the S&S-II activities, especially the late night or some meetings at the port drinking establishments, but I don’t recover from the drink as I once could. The private cocktail parties were brilliant, especially the extra one scheduled. What a bargain. Numerous drinks for that $11.00 (That’s my Scots nature--always appreciate a value) I may have to reevaluate my no flying to a cruise rule and look at S&S-III. I also met two groups of people who read C-C for information yet never post nor are active. Just found that interesting.

Great Cruise, great people, good cabin, good food, I am a happy cruiser!!

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Review--Rhapsody of the Seas--September 24, 2006

Rhapsody of the Seas September 24-October 1, 2006

This will be written with some comparisons to the Conquest and Ecstasy which we have sailed within the past few weeks. This was our second time on the Rhapsody which is DW’s favorite ship.

Day One--Sunday--Embarkation Oversleeping and one accident on Houston Freeways delayed usual arrival by an hour+, but seemed to work out overall. Usually I’m one of those people who think they need to be at the check-in by 11:30. The delay put us there about 12:30 which IMHO was actually better. The early arrivers where on board yet we were ahead of the published 1:00 pm boarding so it went very smooth. No lines in Security, Check-in, Security photos, or Windjammer. From street to buffet in 15 minutes. I think a 12:30 arrival is ideal for the future.

The Windjammer buffet is very good, much better than Ecstasy and Conquest, my recent sailings. I really appreciate the drinks (lemonade, tea, water) being available on trays. You do not have to fix your own (find the glasses. find the ice, find the dispenser) as on the previously mentioned ships. Explored the ship and some sail away drinks this afternoon. BTW-you will save about $1 in taxes if you purchase drinks after we leave Galveston.

Our C-C group had prearranged to wear mardi gras beads so it was easy to find our new friends following muster drill. Nice to meet some folks before our official meet on Monday. I did wear my new C-C T-shirt under my Caribbean shirt, but it was still noticed by a few, mostly crew!

The Welcome Aboard Show was good. The CD is Dan Whitney and he is one of the best-IMHO. We had an excellent draw on the dinning room table. Round six-top table center location of DR just below staircase. Very nice people at out table including Cruise Critic fans. We turned in after dinner. During the night we passed through a thunderstorm and the thunder and lightning was both interesting and entertaining.

Day Two--Monday--at Sea I enjoyed a dining room breakfast and DW ordered room service breakfast for the balcony. Very nice to have options. Our Meet & Mingle was at 12:30 and was well attended. RCL provided canapés, a gift (note pad) for everyone, and a raffle prize. A bit rainy a lot of the day, but it was interesting. Saw a very large waterspout from aft balcony. The weather cleared in the afternoon and everyone was enjoying the usual ship board activities. This is formal night. The Captains reception was held in the Lounge and Champagne was distributed by the waiters. The Captain, Anders Ingebrigtsen, spoke about the changes and new deployment for Rhapsody next year. Formal dinner was very good. I had shrimp cocktail, escargot, beef, & Grand Mariner soufflé for desert. The production show after dinner was very good as well, Piano Man, featuring the RCL Singers & Dancers.

Day Three--Tuesday--at Sea/Key West This is a great day in that you have a sea day and a port day in one. We began with room service breakfast on the balcony. DW spent most of the day in the Solarium swimming and relaxing in a more quiet environment. than the main pool. I entered the Texas Hold’em Tournament, but didn’t get too far. Congrats to C-C member Wes who made the final table. They served southern style pork chops & potatoes with onions in the Windjammer. Very good, reminded me of my younger days. We watched the port activity as we approached Key West. The Enchantment of the Seas leaves port as we arrive. Pretty cool as the two ships pass each other. Key West: We headed straight for Henrietta’s Bakery located on Petronia Street in the Bahamian district. About a six block walk and as we got there they just flipped the closed sign. They opened for us and we even got to met Henrietta. Their business has really changed since being featured on the Food Network. They ship a USPS truck full of bakery items out daily. She said she ships more items to Texas than anywhere else. We made our selections and headed back to the Green Parrot which we passed along the way. This is the real deal Key West bar established in 1890. Few tourists and it was full of very interesting locals. My first beer and beginning of our Key West pub crawl. Next to Kelly’s Caribbean Bar which has perhaps the best happy hour on the island. We spent the balance of happy here enjoying the Key Lime margaritas. Kelly’s is in the original Pan-Am airlines headquarters and has very old Key West roots. The bar is made/cut out from an old Pan-Am clipper wing. Cool place. Next we walked to the Key West bight or boardwalk. We stopped at the Conch Republic Seafood Company, but found our favorite place on the seaport to be the Schooner Wharf. Excellent live music and very good mango mojitos. From the Schooner Wharf to Sloppy Joe's for a final nightcap. Enjoying our pub crawl we turned in and didn’t make the sail away midnight buffet & entertainment, but heard it was very good.

Day Four--Wednesday--at Sea Room service breakfast works very well so we did it once again. Some swimming in the Solarium pool in the morning. We purchased tickets to the Cocktail Seminar at Sea which was at 12:15. This was very entertaining and they do their best to get you buzzed in the early afternoon. They passed out samples of most of the drinks including: Apple martinis, Cosmopolitans, Bahama Mamas, Yellow Birds, & BBC’s. If you wanted extras you could get it. Lunch in Windjammer which I have found has a very good lunch selections. I had the roast beef and cajun chicken. The feature show this evening was Kenny James a great singer/entertainer. Dinner was again very good. Maryland Crab cake, New England clam chowder, and Pork chop was my selections. Had to have two deserts: Baked Alaska & Bananas Foster. Quest was tonight, but left that to the newbies.

Day Five--Thursday--Grand Cayman We have decided to stay on board ship so we are on island time (relaxed) today. Room Service breakfast on the balcony, then swimming in the pools. Nice when there are few people on board. By midday we started getting rain so people began coming back to the ship earlier than norm. Again a good lunch in the Windjammer. My selections: Corned beef and cabbage, pork cutlets, potatoes, salad. The weather really started getting bad later in the day which made the solarium busier than normal so we opened the balcony door and enjoyed the thunder, lightning, and rain. After the dry summer in Texas, it was nice to just see the rain. The late afternoon was much better & the aft balcony gave a great sail away view of Grand Cayman, improved by Bahama mama’s from room service. Tonight is the second formal night. The Crown & Anchor get together was this evening (we skipped) and the production show was Pure Country. Lobster was the choice for most at dinner and yes a second lobster was available to those who wished. Also later was the Gala Buffet at midnight. Didn’t make it after the lobsters, but heard it was great.

Day Six--Friday--Cozumel Very impressive entry into the Strait of Cozumel with the Conquest, Rhapsody, & Mariner coming in side by side. GOOD NEWS for everyone. We docked at Punta Langosta. We were the first ship to do so. The Mariner docked at the International pier and I’m guessing that the Rhapsody will dock there on the weeks that the Mariner is not here and at Punta Langosta on the other weeks. Bottom line: Looks like that the Rhapsody will always be docked and not tendering every other week. Hopefully this will be true for the Splendour as well when she starts her Cozumel sailings from galveston. We have been to Cozumel more than 30 times over a period of 25 years so usually never make specific plans and ‘play it by ear’ depending on mood and weather. Today we went to see Nelly at Mayan Pearl as DW needed some items. While DW had some items custom made I spent an hour in the internet store (next door to my Coz barber). We walked down to the Havana Club for a couple of mojitos, then some shopping on the way back. We thought we’d visit some of the oldest establishments so spent some time at Casa Denis and then La Mission. We returned to the ship around 3:30 and spent the rest of the afternoon on the balcony which luckily over looked Cozumel. We could follow the action in town where they had a parade on the Malecon (& in boats on the water) as well as the action at Senor Frogs. Great view and comfort as we had room service snacks as well. Really love the big balcony on this cruise. Dinner was again great. A highlight this evening was watching the lights of the Conquest and the moon above her as she sailed along our port side.

Day Seven--Saturday--at Sea Room service breakfast again this morning. Swimming and relaxing in the solarium pool area is the agenda of the day. Lunch in Windjammer again good-my selections salad, seafood etouffee, pork tenderloin (jerk style) was very good. A visit to Mary Ann, the C&A and future cruise representative. We booked two more cruises on Rhapsody. A few Yellow Birds in the afternoon to use the 2for1 coupons in the C&A booklet made for a fun day.

About 3:00 p.m. I returned to the cabin and went on the balcony to watch the Conquest which was following on our port side. Suddenly the Conquest made a extreme 90˚turn to starboard. The first thing that came to mind was a “man overboard”. About 15 minutes passed and the Conquest started north again, this time on our starboard side but now several miles behind. I mentioned this to DW and some friends and of course as we found out the next day, they did have a tragedy on the Conquest at that time.

The farewell production show was good and the International Parade between dinners was excellent. The final dinner was as usual very good. My selections: Shrimp cocktail, Onion soup, Chicken Marsala, & Tiramisu for desert. No Conquest along side tonight as she is still catching up from the delay.

Debarkation--Sunday We did the self and it went fairly well. There was a hold up because of people trying to take too many bags and having to ride the elevators in the terminal. You must have one free hand to use the escalator. We were off the island by 8:00 a.m..

Ship I do think that the Rhapsody does deserve its reputation as the friendliest ship on the seas. The staff and crew are very good. The ship itself does show some wear and needs the upcoming dry dock. Yes there was vibration, but usually only when approaching a port. It may have more noticeable to others, but we are used to sailing and some vibration is part of the cruise. The passageways are narrow on Rhapsody so be careful.

Cabin We had originally booked this while onboard the Rhapsody last year, but later upgraded, so we were fortunate to get cabin 7152 an aft corner wrap balcony. The room is standard size, but the balcony is very large. There are no public aft stairs so it is a long walk to the elevator/stairs mid ship. There is some noise from the Lounge below, but we normally sleep with the TV on so it didn’t bother us that much. It did give me a start during what I assume was the finale on the first night-I did jump out of bed!! One good advantage is no passageway noise. No traffic and no cabin doors near us. Fair tradeoff IMHO. The cabin needs updating and It will be in February so we’ll have the new bedding, etc. on our Rhapsody cruises next year. Did we enjoy this cabin? Yes very much.

Food The room service breakfast has more selections than most cruise lines, so it is a great option especially if you can eat on the balcony. Many of the dining room dinner items are available from room service or the Windjammer from 6:30-9:30 daily. A great option for those who can not make the dining room.

Lunch is the same menu each day with one special item that does change daily. You can order a banana split for desert at lunch. All the bread selections are very good on board. The buffet is also very good and much better than other lines. There are ice creme and yogurt machines in the Windjammer.

Overall we both thought the food was much better on Rhapsody than the two RCL ships; however, the deserts on Conquest & Ecstasy are better than the Rhapsody.

Needs Improvement The water jets at the entry steps of the pool in the Solarium never worked. Smoking was much worse on this cruise than previous RoS cruise. The Schooner Bar should be nonsmoking as you have to walk through it to get to the various other venues. This will be moot when she goes to Asia, but that is a while yet. Missed our breakfast order one morning, but I can see how that happened--the corner aft cabins don’t open on the main passage ways, but on an out set. It was just missed. The good thing is that the Room Service manager sent us some chocolate strawberries later that day. Wow I was impressed. Also the self-debarkation should be limited to one bag per person.

Final We really enjoyed the cruise and met some very nice people including a good C-C group. We still haven’t done everything on board there is to do, so I know we had an entertaining and enjoyable time. Another great cruise!