Thursday, December 14, 2006

Review--Splendour of the Seas--December 9, 2006

Splendour of the Seas--December 9-14, 2006

Second part of a b2b cruise. Grand Princess/Splendour of the Seas from Galveston, Texas 12/2 - 12/14. Our first time on Splendour, third RCCL cruise.

Day 1-Embarkation- This was the smoothest embarkation I have ever experienced. We disembarked the Grand Princess almost 11:00 a.m. which was late, but as planned as we would prefer to wait on the Grand than in a waiting room at the terminal. We zipped through customs and our porter took our bags all the way to Terminal 2 to be checked in with RCCL. We just finished when our neighbors and DD pulled into the terminal drop off. We unloaded those bags and then dropped the car at EZ Cruise and walked back to terminal. It was about noon and we proceeded to security and check in. That was no problem as there were no lines at either. We had our choice of agents, got our sail/room/seapass card and was on the ship in minutes. First stop the windjammer for lunch. Our cabins were ready at 1:00 and we dropped off our carry on bags and set about to explore the ship. We enjoyed music and the cocktails in the beautiful Centrum (atrium). We attended the Welcome Show with comedian Greg Otto. The cruise director is Simeon Baker. We have late seating dinner in the King and I dining room. Dinner was good, I had prime rib. We retired after dinner. Seas started getting rougher as we went south.

Day 2-at sea- The seas are choppy and the weather is overcast and windy. Similar to what we just came through last week, but a bit better. I met friends in the dinning room for breakfast. Eggs Benedict were very good. Also check out the windjammer and breakfast looked good in there. DW had room service. They opened the solarium to kids from noon to 2:00 pm because of the bad weather. We set on deck with friends and also had Windjammer lunch there as well. DW and DD went to solarium pool, but they soon closed that because of high seas. Although the pool attendants repeatedly monitored the situation, one by one parents took small children into the hot tub. Finally other adults gave up. The attendants were very busy trying to keep water off the floor as the pool waves were very high and over the sides. Tonight is formal night and the Captains reception was this evening although we didn’t attend choosing to watch the Cowboy game on Latin-American ESPN. We did attend dinner. I had Shrimp cocktail, escargot, sea bass, and Grand mariner SoufflĂ© for desert. There were a lot of people missing from dinner. The weather has gotten worse. The feature show was comedian John Joseph. There were few who attended due to weather, but it was an excellent show. Very funny, one of the best I have seen on a cruise ship.

Day 3-Cozumel- The morning is cloudy and misting rain. We docked about 7:00 am at the International Pier, but not many rushed ashore and several tours were canceled. Breakfast in dining room and off the ship about 9:00 am. Very easy debarkation since there was no rush to shore. We rented a car for five of us and first stop was Dzul Ha for snorkeling. It was overcast, but we made the effort and it was quite good. You can snorkel from shore and there is no cost. While we were there several of the tours brought their groups to this area. There was a wide variety of fish. It would have been ideal if it had been better weather. We proceeded to Paradise Beach for a rest and a couple of drinks. Not crowded at all. We then drove around to the east side of the island and stopped at Playa Bonita which has always been one of our favorite places in Cozumel. The waves and surf were very high on this side of the island. We ordered guacamole and shrimp cocktails which were quite good. We went to San Miguel for some shopping and visited the usual haunts: Havana Blue for a mojito, Mayan Pearl, Cinco Soles, Viva Mexico, and some cafe & Mariachis time on the square. We returned the car and returned to the ship about 4:00. I napped through one of my favorite pastimes, watching the late arrivals, but it must have gone smooth as we sailed away on time before 7:00 pm. Diner in the Dining room. There were many more people than last night. The feature entertainer was Claude Eric a vocalist who was good.

Day 4-Costa Maya- This is the best day so far, but still overcast. We docked about 7:00 a.m. and we have a short stay here. It was interesting watching the Disney Magic dock next to us. A nice ship. DD wants to take a Disney cruise. After a dining room breakfast we went into Costa Maya and took a van to Mahaual. We made the El Faro our HQ for the day. We rented a skiff to take four of us out snorkeling ($15 pp). The water was murky due to recent rains and high waves. Better snorkeling yesterday in Cozumel. We had lunch & drinks and three had a massage while there. A beautiful day on the beach. We returned to the ship about 2:15 for a 3:00 departure. After refreshing and a snack I did my favorite thing, watching late comers arrive back. We actually left two people confirmed to me by the dock master who knew I was keeping a count given to me by the Splendour security. Poor Robert and friend. I rested until the evening show, Los Pampa Gauchos which was very good. Dinner was good, prime rib and lobster for me. I saw our waitress, Nevin, carry the biggest tray of food orders I have ever seen. Soon afterward she was gone and another waiter finished our desert orders. Quest and the Gala buffet was tonight, but I chose to retire after dinner.

Day 5-at Sea- Smoother seas overnight, but interesting news. It seems during the night we have returned to Cancun to debark an ailing crew member at 6:30 am. Yes it was Nevin, our waitress. A good late breakfast in the dining room. The Captains morning update indicated that we are now nine hours behind schedule with expected arrival in Galveston about 4:00 pm tomorrow. Children have taken over the ship. They are in the Solarium ALL the time not just the designated times. Tried the crapes which are located in the Solarium. They are very good. I relaxed all afternoon and watched a movie in the cabin. The fruit plate and cheese plate from room service was better than earlier in the week. Tonight was the debut of the new production show, Dancin’ Through the Movies. This was the first time we have seen the dancers. The new troupe came aboard when we did. I guess that's why we didn’t have movies in the theater as they were rehearsing for the debut show. It was a good show, some bugs to work out, but best (only) show of the cruise. We of course had a new waiter for dinner. I had prime rib and Mahi Mahi. After dinner DD and I spent some time in the internet cafe. They are not charging because of the ship being late, but it had been hard to get in because of the lines to use the computers.

Day 6-at Sea- Our extra sea day! They have scheduled shows and activities and we got a new abbreviated Cruise Compass. Breakfast in the dining room and some time on the internet took the morning. Interesting seeing the all the oil derricks in the Gulf, usually always dark when we go by them. The Captain kept us informed and did say we would meet our goal of docking by 4:00 pm. As we approached Galveston we entered a huge fog bank and we slowed to a crawl. It was interesting and the ship was frequently blasting its fog horn. I thought we’d never make it by 4:00pm, but after about half an hour through the fog the buildings of Galveston were in view. We were home.

Debarkation-I expected a mass rush to deck four and indeed people began camping out down there at 1:30pm. We got separated from our friends as we were several decks apart and agreed to meet only later if possible we do have separate vehicles). We docked about 3:40 and they began unloading baggage soon afterward. I knew the “self/easy-off” pax would be intermingled with the color tag pax, but not as bad as I had expected. The Centrum was packed with people. The first people began leaving the ship right at 4:00. We were observing from the upper decks and thought should we attempt to leave or wait. We developed a game plan and decided to go for it. We retrieved our bags from deck 8, took the rear elevators down and used the outer deck to get to the departure area. We avoided the Centrum and they allowed us to merge onto the gangway. It was orderly considering. We went through customs without any problems and wheeled our luggage to the EZ Cruise shuttle. We got on the bus and as luck would have it they went to Lot #2 first. We were actually at our vehicle by 4:50 pm. I consider it amazing.

Cabin: We have the large interior cabin (8519) on deck 8. We could have upgraded to O/V, but wanted the larger cabin since there were the three of us. A full size couch is in the cabin. In fact it is larger than the BA balcony cabin we had last week on the Grand. We do have the new RCCL bedding. It is nice, very similar to the Carnival bedding system. You can hear deck noise from the lido deck above, especially when the band plays, but it is a great location and the noise is not that bad. There is a video-in and audio-in on the TV. No refrigerator on the I/S cabins even in the larger premium ones. Our cabin steward, Rogie, was very good. He kept the ice chest full and fulfilled some special requests.

Food: Dining room food is good to very good. The service is good, but far below Princess. The best feature of the dining room is the nice piano music during dinner. The room service menu on RCCL is much better than Princess or Carnival with a wider selection and variety; however, service can be hit or miss. One thing I could not believe was the lack of silver for some courses, specifically escargot and shrimp cocktails. The headwaiter said they only had the proper silver in the “elegant” restaurants. I believe she was referring to the premium restaurants, but that indicates to me that the main dining room is not an “elegant” venue. Perhaps so as I saw shorts worn for dinner on some occasions. I must say that the waiters were very accommodating with our selections and offered second entrees or deserts without question.

Ship: The ship itself is beautiful. 'Twas well decorated for Christmas. More decorations than on the Grand in fact. The Centrum, King & I Dining Room, and the 42nd Street Theater are especially beautiful. Housekeeping may be a bit off. I noticed recent rings/watermarks on tables, dirty tables, etc. i.e.--they pick up your glass, etc. but don't wipe the table. There is a Concierge lounge. I loved the 3-D schematic ships in each Centrum lobby. Great maps and details of the ship. They didn’t have enough hand sanitizers IMHO and people didn’t seem to use them either.

Cruise: We would have enjoyed the cruise much more if we had not just come from the Grand Princess. You could not help but compare the two and the Grand is an exquisite ship. We vowed not to compare in front of DD and our friends, we hate to be “one of those” people. I did get a bug by day 3.5 and limited some of my activities. BUT overall I thought this was a wonderful cruise and a great value. It was great to have the family and neighbors together.
A great small ship, a great value and a great cruise.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Review--Grand Princess--December 2, 2006

Grand Princess December 2-9, 2006

First part of a b2b cruise. Grand Princess/Splendour of the Seas from Galveston, Texas 12/2 - 12/14. Elite Princess members, but only second time on Grand Princess.

Day 1-Embarkation- Woke early and checked Galveston Harbor Cam web site. The Grand is already docked, which is a good thing. You want to see your ship before beginning the drive. I didn’t think of the significance of it at the time, but there were no other ships docked. Left Bosque county and arrived in Galveston in good time approximately 4+ hours. Lots of traffic in Galveston and streets blocked due to Dickens on the Strand. We dropped our bags off at the pier and returned to EZ Cruise parking. Big problems due to the very late arrival of the Ecstasy. There were no parking places in Lot 1 (I usually walk since I have already dropped bags) and was forced to park in Lot 2. The process took over an hour just to park and then longer to shuttle to the pier. Of course it wasn’t EZ Cruise parking fault that the Ecstasy was so late nor the added delays due to Dickens on the Strand. We joked that at least our bags are on the way.

Once we arrive at the pier there was some delay in getting through security, but once we approached the check-in area everything got much better. We were able to skip to the VIP line and were checked in very quickly. It was about 1:20 so about 2 hours from parking to actually boarding ship, twice the normal time. We were in time for the luncheon in the DiVinci dining room which was very nice. Finally we could begin to relax and enjoy the cruise. Table service is so nice. after lunch we saw old & new friends right away which is nice that early on board. We then went to our cabin and noticed that yes our bags had beat us there. Took bags into room and began setting up for the week. We have cabin L-255. A balcony cabin on Lido deck. Good location as there is a lot going on on Lido deck. Primarily the pool, MUTS, and Horizon Court. Traded out bar setup (Elite perk) for preferred items. A fruit bowl, cookies, and chocolate cover strawberries were delivered to the room. A quick tour of the ship and it’s time for muster drill which is done very well on Princess ships. Our muster station was the Painted Dessert restaurant. After muster our Cruise Critic group met at the Oasis bar for sail away. A very nice group of people. As mentioned Dickens on the Strand was going on so we could see the colorful costumes and the tall sailing ship Elissa was manned all the way up it’s masts. A few words of encouragement was shouted to the crew of the Elissa, Hold Fast, being my favorite. Of course the dolphins escorted us out of Galveston harbor. Since it was very cool everyone went indoors. We met friends in the Wheelhouse for cocktails. The Wheelhouse being a beautiful bar is one of my favorites. The Oklahoma-Nebraska football game is on MUTS and I saw the decisive drive before going to dinner. Oklahoma looks very good. We didn’t set at our table, but at a table with friends. Dinner was very good. Following dinner we skipped the welcome show and retired for the evening.

Day 2-at sea- The weather was very foggy and overcast and it had rained during the night so it was slow going for pool & outdoor activities. I had breakfast, Eggs Benedict, in the dining room and it was very good. They have a different specialty item each morning and I want to try each during the week. I visited the internet cafe and the connections were good considering we are at sea. We met a lot of our C-C group for the trivia contest midmorning. It was fun and more fun visiting with friends. We did lunch in the dining room (Sea Bass) and explored more of the ship. DW went to a movie in the Princess Theater. The weather improved as the day went along. They delivered a large plate of canapés, one of the Elite perks. They were very good, but too much for us so we shared with friends. The Dallas Cowboy-NY Giants football game was on MUTS this afternoon. Lots of Cowboy fans in Cowboy colors watching from the Lido and Sun decks. We watched the second half and it was quite fun. The view of the sun going down, the football game on the big screen, friend & drinks, a super way to enjoy the evening! The best sports bar at sea for sure. Tonight is formal night and we attended the Captains reception which is held in the atrium area. We sat in our assigned table this evening. The waiter and assistant Matre'd had been waiting for us as they acknowledged the special diet (vegetarian) for DW. The Matre'd stating he would make a special vegetarian minestrone soup for DW on Italian night (he is Italian, he can probably handle it) Another example of the personalized service. We attended the production show which was Curtains Up a salute to broadway shows. It was good and they did Oklahoma as the finale which is a personal favorite of mine. Too tired for the Disco through the Decades so we retired.

Day 3-Costa Maya- Eggs Florentine was the feature breakfast in the dining room and it was good. The morning is cloudy with scattered occasional rain. While most were debarking in Costa Maya, we enjoyed the morning at the spa pool. There had to be a thermostat problem as the pool was extremely warm/hot. Much hotter than the hot tubs. It was very refreshing as rain drops created steam. It was one giant sauna although you couldn’t stay in the pool long because of the heat. We went to shore about noon and met up with friends at El Faro in Mahahual. Spent the afternoon enjoying mojitos and good company. Mojito Monday was quite fun. Some excitement when a thunderstorm came through, but it cleared following a 15 minute rain. DW enjoyed a beach massage at the set up next to El Faro. We went down to check out Pez Quatro and from there took a cab back to the dock area. One last dip in the large pool and swim up bar located at the Costa Maya pier. The ship sailed at 6:00 p.m. Tonight is Italian night in the dining room. The eggplant parmesan was excellent. DW missed dinner as she was resting from the big day. The waiters took her the special vegetarian minestrone soup they had prepared for her. It was very good. Very thoughtful of the wait staff. The internet wasn’t working due to cloud cover so back to the cabin. Mojito Monday had caught up with me so I retired early.

Day 4-Roatan- It rained very early but cleared by 8:00 a.m. The featured breakfast was a special French Toast. We met our group of C-C friends for our own personal tour about 9:30 and hired a van for the day for $20 pp. We went first to the West End where the girls shopped and the guys went ot the Spotted Ray, a restaurant/bar which is built out over the water. Interesting place with birds, good views, and good local beer. We then went to Fosters Beach Club located in the West End. From there you could swim, snorkel, or eat & drink enjoying the beautiful view and beach. We were originally going to make another stop since we had our own van, but stayed at Fosters since it had everything you need. We did arrived back in time for late afternoon tea which was quite good. I had expected some small sandwiches along with the usual scones and sweets, but the small sandwiches were both larger and more variety than expected. What a great place for a snack in addition to the tea & sweets. Susan Howard (actress from Dallas) sat at the adjoining table. After tea we then watched sail away from the balcony cabin as well as the sunset and moon rise. Very pretty out this evening. Time for a movie on the TV before dinner. It was Caribbean night in the dining room, one of the weaker menus so I had the New York strip steak which was very good. The Caribbean Party on the rear decks was very nice. Don’t miss it.

Day 5-Belize- The day started cloudy. Huevos Rancheros was the breakfast in the dining room and very good. Belize is a tender port, but we caught a tender, without any problem, about 8:30. Interesting to watch the albatross circle over Belize City harbor. Snorkel Trip: I booked a snorkel trip with Ecological Tours with friends. We went out on a Wet and Wild boat for about a 45 minute trip to the barrier reef. The weather was beautiful. We stopped first at the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve and Coral Gardens which is a protected underwater national park. There was a large variety of fish and coral. We had a full 45 minutes of snorkel time which was about right. Next stop was the Shark Ray Alley. There were numerous stingrays and nurse sharks. Also a barracuda. We spent about 30 minutes here. Next stop was Caye Caulker. We only had an hour here so we quickly went to the split for Bilikins beers at the Lazy Lizard. Also had to sample the Lizard juice. This is a very beautiful spot and a hidden treasure on Caye Caulker. The trip got back to Belize City about 3:30. Time for a last minute beer at the Iguana at the pier with the “little man” We arrived back on ship about 4:30. Time for a hot tub and swim in the spa area pool. DW spent the day on the ship and enjoyed three movie, one in the theater, the others on cabin TV. We enjoyed watching the ship maneuver through the straights following the buoys. There was the lights of other cruise ships ahead and behind us. A lovely evening on the balcony. This was the second formal night. First they delivered fancy chocolate covered strawberries to the cabin. Dinner was very good. Escargot was the appetizer and I had the New York strip steak again with lobster.

Day 6-Cozumel-Again the day started out cloudy. The Lumberjack breakfast was featured in the dining room. There were six ships in port for only three berths and we were fortunate in two ways. We docked at Punta Langosta which is walking distance of town. Very fortunate. We have no excursions planned since we will be back in Cozumel on Tuesday. We went to town about 10:00 a.m. and DW bought jewelry at Mayan Pearl for Christmas gifts. I got a haircut at Antonio’s while she shopped. We went down to Havana Blue for mojitos and ran into Towmater who was doing the same. The best mojitos in the Caribbean IMHO. DW said the raspberry mojito was also good. Went to a cafe on the square for some guacamole and people watching which is also fun. The sky seemed threatening and it was windy, but it never rained. It made for a cool comfortable day. We did some more shopping and returned to the ship about 4:00 pm. I had arranged with our cabin stewart for ice buckets for a sail away DosXX party. We met on deck 7 above the gangway to watch the late comers and drunks board. We had a great time razzing the pax of the Voyager of the Seas which docked next to us. The Princess security and officers at first didn’t know hat to think about our group, but as time got later they actually would give us the count of missing pax. We were able to greet the final two by name as they were calling those names over the PA. Great fun. Thanks C-C group for making it so. Always my favorite thing to do in Cozumel. The lights of the six ships looked great sailing out of the strait of Cozumel heading north. Dinner tonight was good. DW had another specialty vegetarian dish made for her: stuffed peppers and stuffed zucchini. I had the crab legs and Chicken Kiev. This was also French onion soup night. We went to Princess Theater for the Cinematastic show.

Day 7-at Sea-Very rough seas overnight and into the morning. All the outer decks are closed. Very few at breakfast this morning, Eggs Benedict again featured. Spent some time in internet cafe before weather closed down the connections. We were invited to the Captains Luncheon as we are frequent cruisers. We were fortunate enough to sit with the captain this time. The food & desert was fantastic. The captain said we experienced some 20’ swells during the night. We went to afternoon tea at 4:00 and play some trivia and games following. The seas were calmer the further north we went, but still rough. Dinner was good. I had prime rib. The Baked Alaska parade has returned and it was a good dessert. We returned to the cabin to pack which took the rest of the evening. Got the bags into the hallway just before midnight.

Debarkation-We had breakfast in the dining room. The feature was scrambled eggs with asparagus. We usually do the self disembark, but since we are taking the Splendour of the Seas out today we decided to take our time. Good thing we weren’t in a hurry as our color/deck wasn’t called until almost 11:00 a.m. We spent time in the Vista lounge waiting. It went very smooth once we were called and they did keep our Sign&Sail Cards. We found our bag, went through customs, and the porter took our bags all the way to Terminal 2 for us. We actually met our DD and neighbors as they pulled into the terminal. So we are ready for the second leg of our b2b.

Ship: The ship is very nice and was decorated for Christmas. We took advantage of the spa area much more this time as our cabin was just below. No new bedding as yet, but I understand that is coming. All the public rooms were well maintained and very clean.

Cabin: smaller than Carnival and not does not have a couch. Smaller closets and bath area storage than RCL and Carnival. The cabin is quite adequate though. There was the bar set up and other Elite perks. Edward our Stateroom Steward was super.

Food: Very good food in the dining room. The best we have had in a long time. The wait service is the best of any cruise line I have experienced. Our waiter, Constantine, was excellent. All the staff are very good. They do all the proper and little things that should be done. The white gloves worn by the staff on formal night for example. Also if you don’t drink coffee, they remove the cup & saucer, not turn the cup over as on some cruise lines. The little things make a big difference when it comes to service. I must say that I appreciate enforcement of the rules when it comes to attire, i.e. not hats in dining room at any time, no sandals, no jeans, etc. I found myself upgrading, wearing pants for breakfast or lunch on port days although you can wear shorts if you wish. In addition to the hand sanitizers found everywhere they gave you additional as you entered the dining rooms. It was said that, "the Grand pax have the cleanest hands in the Caribbean".

Cruise: We had a great time on this cruise. The Grand wasn’t one of DW’s favorites until this cruise, but this one won her over. Everything is so well done and the crew is outstanding. It’s a shame that the Grand isn’t returning next year. The Captain would not confirm any rumors about the Emerald or any other Princess ship coming to the new Houston Cruise Ship Terminal in 2008. We loved the ports of call on this sailing. We also had a wonderful time with the friends, both old and new, we met on board.

This cruise goes down as one of the very best we have ever experienced
and probably the best ever.