This was our first Royal Caribbean (RCI) cruise and it was one with an interesting itinerary going to Norway, Denmark, Finland, Russia and Sweden. Most of the ports we had visited before and were pleased to be going back again.
Go on RCI only if you have a drinks package, have free gratuities and are not visiting St Petersburg and are happy to be barred from more than one area on the outside decks, parts of the bars and finally some of the better seats in both the theatre and the ice rink.
Our views may well be different from more seasoned RCI travellers as we are usually cruise with P&O, Princess and Hurtigruten. I have separated the good, the not so good and our tips if you travel won Explorer in the future.
The food was excellent in the three deck dining room, the Sapphire. As we were on ‘My Time’ dining we ate on Deck 3 in the Sapphire. We never had to wait and suffer a beeper. As there seven of us dining together we were asked to reserve a time to eat and then we never had to wait for a beeper or to wait. After a couple of nights we asked to be moved from a table for six to a more spacious table for eight so the seven of us had room to breathe.
Our servers for the remainder of our time on-board were some of the best we have ever had on a cruise.
Breakfast in the Sapphire was a la carte on Deck 4 with table service or a buffet on Deck 3. We sampled both and settled on the buffet as it was generally good and had a good choice. Eating on Deck 11 in the Windjammer was as hectic as expected in a ship’s buffet. When had to eat there for breakfast a couple of times we did find a table and the food choices again were good.
Lunch when at sea was again in the Sapphire and was excellent especially the salad buffet. We did go to Johnny Rockets, the on-board American Diner, way up on the top decks for a $9.99 burger experience. Every 15 minutes or so the servers gave us a dance to songs such as YMCA. The fries, the onion rings and burgers were tasty but as with some meals were served on cold plates with the inevitable results of cold food.
It was interesting to chat with one of the entertainment staff who we knew from our Princess Cruises. She is having a great time on RCI and enjoying herself lots. She is a very energetic Nottingham lass and RCI are lucky to have her on board.
The Internet is faster – sorry orders of magnitude faster – than the connections that we are used to on the other cruise lines.
New York Strip Steak available every night, interesting it came with mashed potatoes even if I requested a baked potato. Our really helpful server always gave the table a couple of plates of extra vegetables.
Our cabin was spacious and the bed comfortable. Except for the film on Channel 41 all the films were charged. Interesting that there was an Adult Film section that was cheaper to watch than the main film channel. And no we didn’t watch either of the paid for movies or the porn!
There was no smoking in Casino which is something that Princess Cruises could do with adopting on European based cruises.
The ice show was amazing and I unexpectedly enjoyed every minute of it. I was impressed at how our lifeboat assignments (!) were used to make sure that everyone had a fair chance to see the show.
Our visit to St Petersburg
We had received emails from RCI that threatened dire consequences if private tours were booked for St Petersburg.
True to RCI’s word the first day in Russia was a nightmare. We had had to fill in a form to confirm we had a private tour and a visa and received cards telling us to report to the Sapphire restaurant on Deck 5. We tried to leave the ship at 7.45 am to meet our tour and were refused exit by a ship’s officer, stated that private tours were not allowed off until all the RCI tours had left and an hour had passed.
Up in the restaurant we sat and listened to passengers all getting agitated at being refused to leave the ship as their tours were outside waiting. By 8 am the restaurant had only standing room, by 8.15 it was heaving with passengers. Then passengers standing around the ‘E15’ sign were told they could leave – hundreds of folks filed out. We were all then queuing through immigration at the same time.
On the second day RCI tours as well as private tours were leaving early in the morning. RCI chose not to open the Windjammer buffet so everyone (EVERYONE!) were then queuing at the snack bar in the Royal Parade. This ran out of cereals and most of the pastries. I had a sausage and egg roll which I only knew was there because the guy in front of me asked for one – the staff were too busy to have a chalk board menu or to help with choices of what was available.
These two days in Russia have convinced me that RCI would never be my first choice of a cruise line.
The not so good
The port transfers were all chargeable even at ports where we had caught transfers for free when on other ships.
We only saw our cabin steward a couple of times, the longest was when he delivered a suitcase in Southampton. There was no card in the room so we had no idea of his name but he has been leaving us towel decorations most evenings and kept the room clean. Best of all he even left us Danish coins under the settee from previous occupants – very handy for our last port of call.
We missed most of the entertainment as we were eating at 7.30 and by the time we had finished eating the second show had already started.
The mandatory safety drill involved standing on Deck 4 below your allotted lifeboat number. Much shorter than the ones P&O makes us all endure but I definitely would not like to think I had to muster there in the event of an emergency rather than on the inside. I don’t recall a reminder to wear warm clothes or to bring meds but standing shivering on Deck 4 for 30 minutes before the speeches started was reminder enough to wrap up well.
Our bathroom smelt of sewage most of the cruise which was only controlled by liberal spraying of colognes.
The buffet breakfast on Deck 3 of the Sapphire had lots of choices, was much easier than the Windjammer to eat in but the hot food’s serving dishes were never closed so often the food was only lukewarm especially the scrambled eggs.
The wine quality was especially variable in the bars and restaurants as the cruise went on. There was a wide variety of different sized glasses with different sized measures served in them. If we hadn’t had a drinks package I would have been worried about just what I was paying for.
The bars are only stocked once a day so it seems and quickly run out of popular drinks like bottles of Grolsch.
We had fun listening to the the Captain on Channel 40. Every time he paused the music on the channel started again making an even more disjointed speech than usual.
There was a distinct lack of seats in the bars after dinner. We even were thrown out of a bar because we were not ‘Gold’ card holders or members of Diamond Club. There were parts of ship that were not accessible as well including prime seats in the theatre and the ice rink – definitely a first for us to have such an open display of class on a cruise ship.
If you are not a privileged RCI passenger only travel if you have free gratuities and a VIP drinks package (and perhaps free Internet)
Avoid going to St Petersburg as RCI seem to have a problem with that port.
If travelling from a UK port make an early trip to the Windjammer and pick up skimmed milk and extra tea bags.
A European plug adapter as well as the obligatory two US plug adapters would be needed. The two pin in the bathroom needs a lead of over a metre if you want to use it to charge a toothbrush!
Do eat in the Sapphire on a sea day for the salad buffet – choose the ingredients and then the salad is chopped up in a bowl before being served – truly excellent.