Splendour of the Seas Mediterranean Cruise October 1997
This is a review of a 12-day (round-trip) cruise on the Splendour of the Seas, beginning in Barcelona on October 5, 1997. In addition to Barcelona, ports of call and shore excursion destinations were Marseilles, Livorno, Florence, Naples, Capri, Sorrento, Venice(overnight), Messina and Taormina, (Sicily), Civitavecchia, Rome, Villefranche, Nice, Cannes, and Monte Carlo, with three "sea" days. This review is only about the cruise itself, and not the ports of call.
Flight:We flew from Vancouver, Canada, over the pole to London, and then changed planes for a direct flight to Barcelona. Although our overnight flight and the time change left us somewhat zonked, we did have two nights in Barcelona (See Barcelona Revisted for a run-down on those two days!) before the cruise, and we were fully refreshed by the time we got on board.
Boarding and Cabin Key:Boarding the Splendour was a breeze - everybody seemed well-organized, and we were on board by 1:30 without any difficulty whatsoever. Our bags arrived outside of our cabin about two hours after we got on board. Our cruise card/charge card was given to us as we boarded the ship, and our room keys (the plastic cards with holes in them) were waiting for us in our room. Obviously, they leave the door of your cabin ajar so you can get in in the first instance. It was necessary to carry the two cards around all the time, but that is probably a better system than the single card used on some of the new Princess ships where the charge card is also your room key. Where you have a single card, if you lose the card and it is found by some unscrupulous person, he or she will know your cabin number, and have access to it.
The Cabin:We were in a category D cabin on the starboard (right) side of the ship, towards the stern. Our cabin had a balcony with two chairs and a small round table, with only minimum privacy from the balconies on either side. We were only one deck below the main outside deck, so when we hung over our balcony to look at things, there were people above hanging over looking down on us. That wasn't a big deal, however. Our cabin had two single beds, which had been pushed together to make one queen-size bed. There was room in our cabin to have a full length sofa, and you could fall asleep on that while reading a book. Closet space was well provided, and there were various nooks and crannies for putting things (including a couple of cupboards alongside the main mirror which we did not even notice for a couple of days).
The Balcony:We really enjoyed the use of our balcony when sailing into or out of a port - there is nothing like being able to stand in your bathrobe and see all the excitement, without getting organized to go up on deck. The balcony was reasonably protected from the wind, which can be quite a problem if the balcony is not designed properly. Even with the best balcony, it is rarely possible to sit outside when the ship is moving, and expect to get a suntan.
Sunset in the Mediterranean
Noise:Our cabin was quite soundproof, except for a connecting door to the next door cabin, where we could often hear the couple next door having a few arguments. If you book early and have a choice of cabins, it would be wise to ask your travel agent not to book you into a cabin that has a connecting door to another stateroom.
Cabin Facilities:Our suitcases fit under the bed without any problem. Facilities included the usual TV and telephone, but also included a fridge - which is not always standard. One thing we had expected to find were bathrobes, as we had had those on our previous RCI cruise on the Legend of the Seas, and we were quite surprised to find them missing on this cruise. I asked our cabin steward if we could have some bathrobes, and he said that they were only given out to passengers who had cruised "a number of times on RCCL". He must have taken pity on us, because a day or two later, the bathrobes appeared magically in our cabin. Our stateroom was tastefully decorated, and had its own individual air conditioning control which seemed to work quite well. The lighting was well done, and the cabin was generally very satisfactory. The cabin had standard 110/220 volt outlets. The bathroom was small, but well laid out. We have certainly had smaller bathrooms on ships. No hair dryer was provided, but shampoo and conditioner were provided in paper containers.
Phone Calls and E-mail:International telephone calls could be made from your cabin, although at the alarming cost of $15.50 U.S. per minute. Most of the crew, and some passengers, saved their long distance calls until they arrived in a port, in order to keep the cost down. Our experience in Italy, however, was that the long distance cost was still some two-thirds of the cost of doing it on the ship, and it was definitely a lot of hassle trying to get Italian telephones to work. The telephone in the cabin had a standard telephone outlet, and presumably one could plug one's laptop into that outlet, and send out e-mails at the cost noted above.
Cabin Steward:Our cabin was well looked after by our cabin steward, and we hardly ever saw him (which is the sign of a good cabin steward). There are no self-service laundries on the Splendour of the Seas, but we found the drycleaning and laundry service provided by the ship to be efficient, and not overly expensive.
Safe:There was a safe in our cabin, which could be locked using any card that has a magnetic stripe on the back of it. A lot of people simply elected to use their cruise charge card for locking their safe, but this is probably not a good idea because if you lose your cruise card and cabin key, somebody could access your cabin AND your safe. As has been recommended many times elsewhere by others, it is probably most efficient to use an unimportant card of your own that has a magnetic stripe, as the device to open and lock the safe. One thing we did find out is that if you use your cabin card to lock the safe, only the card that actually locked the safe will open it again. In other words, your spouse's duplicate card will not open the safe. Similarly, husband and wife with the same regular credit card will have the same problem. Although the cards appear to be otherwise identical, there is obviously something on the magnetic stripe that shows they are not exactly the same card.
Closet Space:Although our closet had plenty of built-in wooden clothes hangers, we were still happy that we had brought many of our own clothes on our own lightweight wire coat hangers. A 12-day cruise with changes of clothes for dinner most nights, requires a large wardrobe unless you are prepared to get things laundered on a regular basis.
Formal/Casual Nights:On our 12-day cruise, we had seven casual nights, two formal nights, and three "casually elegant" nights (coat and tie for the men). On one of the casual nights you could wear country and western attire, and on another you could wear "50's and 60's attire or costume". Even on casual nights, shorts were not permitted in the dining room. During the day, shorts may be worn to lunch or breakfast, but not swim wear, and bare feet were not allowed.
Lifeboat Drill:We had the lifeboat drill before we even left port, and the people in charge did a roll call, so you really needed to be there. I have no idea what punishment they meted out to those who didn't show for lifeboat drill.
Food:We found the food on board to be no better but no worse than on any of the other cruises we have taken in recent years, including a number of different lines. We did have a young but excellent Portuguese waiter, and also a young Filipino lady as assistant waiter, who was also great fun. The two-story "King and I" dining room was quite magnificent in its decor, and terrific views were available to those who sat by the windows, if it wasn't already dark. We were at second seating, and we did notice that those at first seating seemed to miss a lot of the "sailaway" fun, as their dinner time invariably seemed to fall during the time that the ship was leaving. We never made it to breakfast or lunch in the main dining room, but friends reported that the service and food was excellent. We mostly ate in the casual Windjammer cafe (buffet style), and the food was generally satisfactory. At the solarium pool, you could order hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m.!
Alternative Dining:In the evenings, the Windjammer Cafe is converted into an alternate dining room, with waiter service for the main course, but buffet-style for salads or dessert. There are generally a choice of four entrees, including pasta, fish, chicken or steak. Although the daily program kept announcing that there was "limited seating" in the Windjammer Cafe for dinner, there was certainly lots of room whenever we looked in there. The Windjammer tables had tablecloths for the evening meal, and the whole thing looked quite presentable, but there was no dress code. Obviously, those who do not like dressing up for formal night will enjoy this alternative dining experience.
Room service:Room service was quite extensive. In the morning, between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., in addition to the usual Continental type breakfast, you could also get an omelette or scrambled eggs, with bacon or sausages. Sandwiches were available 24-hours a day. During the formal lunch time, 12:00 to 2:00 p.m., you could order anything from the lunch menu to be delivered to your cabin. Similarly, during formal dining hours of 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., you could order anything from the dinner menu for your cabin. So that you know what you can order for the lunch and dinner meals, the entire menus for the whole cruise are printed in the "Directory of Services" which is in a book in your room. So if you are curious as to what you are going to eat that night, you can always find out yourself without having to track down a dinner menu ahead of time. One small aggravation about room service is that you are obligated to tip the steward who brings you room service. This is okay if you think about it ahead of time, but if you are woken up in the morning by the steward bringing your breakfast that you pre-ordered the night before, it's a pain in the you-know-what to have to open up your safe, and get out some cash and tip the steward. We heard of one couple who complained when room service didn't show up one day, and they were told by the person in charge of room service that the reason their order didn't show up is that they had failed to tip the day before. We found it hard to believe that the ship would do that.
Wine:The ship seemed to have a reasonable wine list, and we were always quite pleased with what we could order. We did have to wait, on many occasions, for the wine steward, and we much prefer those cruise lines that allow the wines to be ordered from your waiter, rather than a specific wine steward.
Menu:Here is an abbreviated menu from one night on the ship, which was called "The Italian Dinner". Appetizers included melon cocktail, shrimp and calamari, thinly sliced tenderloin of beef, and corn meal polenta. The soups were vegetable minestrone, clear beef consommé, and chilled zucchini. The salad was lettuce with crisp bacon, porcini mushrooms, and provolone cheese. Fettucini was the pasta. The entrees were pan fried coho trout filet, sautéed scampi, veal scaloppini, baked Cornish game hen, and grilled sirloin of beef. Vegetables included a choice of mushroom saffron rice, spinach, mixed vegetables, boiled potatoes, baked potatoes and rice pilaf. Desserts included tiramisu, cannoli, Italian cassata, pistachio ice cream, passion fruit sorbet and a cheese plate. There was an alternative "shipshape" menu, which featured low calorie items, some of which were on the main menu. There was a vegetarian dish of the day, and on the Italian dinner night it was grilled eggplant baked with marinara sauce, and soy mozzarella cheese, served with linguini.
Viking Crown Lounge:The Viking Crown lounge on the topmost deck seemed to be overlooked by many people. At night, it is the home of the disco, and that's perhaps why people don't think of it as a general lounge. In fact, there is all kinds of space behind the disco area at the back of the lounge, and it is a great place to watch a sailaway, as you could see both sides of the ship, and over the back of the ship across the top of the solarium. In the back part of the lounge, there is also a piano bar (that is, a piano surrounded by a ledge on which the piano bar patrons placed their drinks), although we never saw it in use. Some parts of the back of the Viking Crown lounge are sometimes closed for private parties put on by travel agents and others. The front of the Viking Crown lounge has a terrific view to the front of the ship, and you can see all the action in and around the outdoor swimming pool. The Viking Crown lounge can be accessed by regular stairways, or by the glass enclosed external elevators which come up through the atrium.
Atrium:The atrium (called the "Centrum") is the focal point of the ship, and I won't attempt to describe it. If you haven't been on a large ship before, the central atrium will absolutely surprise you. The atrium area is the best place to find somebody else on the ship, as you can sit on any level and see four or five other levels at the same time.
Artwork:The artwork on the ship was extensive, but not overwhelming. What was overwhelming, in a negative sense, was the artwork displayed for sale. No doubt some people are interested in buying art on board, but it seemed to me that a majority of passengers didn't. There were numerous announcements about various art "auctions", and the artwork often seemed to be displayed in a messy way, and was in the way when you were getting between various public rooms on the ship.
Swimming Pools:The main pool has a hot tub on either side, and there are two levels of deck chairs around the pool, some of which are under cover if you have bad weather, or want to get out of the sun. The main pool was deserted on some days although we had sunshine, because there were strong winds. At this time the solarium became a favorite destination with its covered pool. The solarium area is also well heated, so you could lie around in your swimsuit on a deck chair, even if it was raining or cold outside. The solarium has two hot tubs in addition to the pool.
Children's Facilities:There appeared to be few children on board, and I am unable to comment on any children's activities. I did notice a modest video arcade room for teenagers, and a playroom for younger children. According to the plan of the ship, there is a teenage night club called "Club Optix", on Deck 10, forward.
Health Facilities:The gymnasium is adjacent to the solarium, and although it seemed filled with lots of equipment and lots of people, I did not evaluate it as that might have meant I would have had to exercise. (grin)
Smoking:Although smoking was allowed on one side of the restaurant when we were on board, Royal Caribbean has now banned smoking in all restaurants on board, including buffet areas. Smoking is also banned in the main show lounges, and only available on one side of the other lounges and bars. Cigars and pipes were only allowed at the end of the Viking Crown lounge after 8:45 in the evening.
Library:The library was large in size, comfortable, and seemed to have a good selection of books (over 2,000). As with most ship's libraries, the room itself is open all the time, but you can only take out books when a member of the staff is on duty. This was often quite inconvenient.
Shopping on board:The retail shopping area of the ship is called "Boutiques of the Centrum", and, as the name indicates, the stores are around the Centrum area. The stores were the Marco Polo (crystal, porcelain and giftware), Facets (fine jewellery and watches), Regalia (fashion cruise wear and accessories), Aromatiques (perfumes and cosmetics), Cruisin' (souvenirs and logo products), and the Harbour Shop (liquor, cigarettes, candies and toiletries). I am disappointed to report that there was no hardware store on board.
Casino:The casino was busy and noisy, which apparently is what the casino designers want. I read an article recently where a casino manager stated that noisy machines are more attractive to patrons, and that it is best to have slightly less machines and tables than could actually be used, in order to create a "busy" look to the casino, which in turn attracts even more patrons. The casino had over 160 slot machines, as well as 5 blackjack tables, 1 roulette table, 1 craps table, and 3 Caribbean stud poker tables. As with almost all ships, the payback percentages on the slot machines are not stated, and it remains my suspicion that the paybacks on ship's casinos are way less than they would be in, say, Las Vegas.
Shore ExcursionsAs stated in the beginning of this article, the shore excursions will not be discussed in this review. I will state, however, that the organization of the shore excursions was excellent, with multiple choices, newer buses, well-informed guides, and friendly shore excursion staff. Although the price of shore excursions comes as a bit of shock, I really didn't think that the cruise line was trying to make a big profit out of the excursions. When we did our own shore excursions, you really didn't save a lot of money, and it was not always comfortable having three people in the back of a taxi.
Night time entertainment:There was the usual cruise ship nighttime entertainment in the main lounge (the 42nd Street Theater) featuring dancers, singers, comedians and others. As my wife and I are not fans of this kind of entertainment, we mostly didn't attend, and it would be unfair for me to rate any of the shows. Bingo was played daily. The disco featured 50's, 60's, and 70's nights, usually starting about 11:00, and more modern disco started after midnight. On a few evenings only, there were other alternatives, including trivia games. In my view, Royal Caribbean is generally not as energetic as Princess Cruise lines in providing informal entertainment, but to be fair to Royal Caribbean, the type of cruise we were on, with exhausting shore excursions, probably didn't encourage the cruise staff to provide alternate entertainment. The ship had karaoke one night, but a lot more passenger singing took place in the Schooner bar, where the resident piano player would let any passenger sing a solo, if he or she wanted. The Schooner bar was definitely the gathering point for the serious drinkers and partyers on board. Most of the other bars were quite restrained in comparison.
Day time entertainment:Our 12-day cruise only had three sea days, so there was not a lot of day time entertainment. The mini golf course on the top deck was open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with an hour closure for lunch. It cost $5.00 to play a round, unless you wanted to buy a $30.00 membership with unlimited golf. There were various day time seminars, including travel talks by the guest European port lecturer, Don Robertson. Mr. Robertson did a great job in discussing upcoming ports of call, and his talks were repeated continuously on one of the TV channels.
Cocktail parties:We had the two traditional captain's cocktail parties, a welcome one and a farewell one. Because of our busy port itinerary, the welcome cocktail party did not take place until the fourth day. Tip: if you don't care for the traditional drinks which they bring around on a tray at the cocktail parties (which usually include martinis, Manhattans and champagne), sit at the bar where you can order the drink of your choice, at no charge while the cocktail party lasts. Separate cocktail parties were held for first and second sitting diners. A single, private party was held for repeat passengers on Royal Caribbean (the "Crown & Anchor Society"). According to the captain, about 40% of the passengers on the ship were repeat passengers, of which about 500 showed up for the cocktail party in the Top Hat Theater. The other cocktail parties were also in the Top Hat Theater, rather than in the central atrium area where most cruise ships seems to have the cocktail parties.
The Royal Suite:Although this is not exactly useful information for the majority of cruisers, I can tell you that the Royal Suite on the ship, the most expensive cabin and right next door to the bridge, was absolutely mind-boggling. We were lucky enough to attend a cocktail party in that cabin. The Royal Suite has a kitchen, dining room, living room, giant balcony, a huge bedroom, two bathrooms, a private butler AND a grand piano. When you lie in bed, you can push a remote control and the TV floats up from out of a marble cabinet. When I became envious of the facilities, my wife pointed out that we could probably go on six different cruises for the cost of being in the Royal Suite.
Disembarkation:Unlike many ships we have been on, disembarkation was a breeze. A lot of the credit for this must go to the Spanish authorities where we disembarked at Barcelona, who were not interested in looking at our passports, and cleared the ship for disembarking by 8:30 a.m.. This was in severe contrast to a recent cruise we did on Carnival, where the port officials in Miami did not allow anybody off the ship until 10:30, and personally needed to speak to every non-American on board. As usual, your bags had to be outside your cabin by midnight of the previous night, and our bags were easy to find in a large, brightly lit customs shed. One thing I hadn't seen before was that passengers on certain TWA and Delta direct flights to the U.S., were allowed to have their bags sealed in special security bags by the ship's staff, with the result that the bags went directly from outside the cabin and onto the aircraft. This certainly relieves a lot of hassle getting off the ship, but I suspect it makes one nervous while waiting for the bags to finally show up on the conveyor bag at the destination airport.
Statistics:Saving the most boring part for last, the Splendour of the Seas was built in France, and had its maiden voyage on March 31, 1996. It is 69,130 tons, 867 feet long, and 105 feet wide. The draft of the ship is 24 feet. The cruising speed is 24 knots. There are 11 passenger decks, and 9 passenger elevators. The ship has 2 stabilizers, and 2 bow thrusters. At 2 persons per cabin, the ship can hold 1804 passengers, but can hold a maximum of 2,074 passengers if all additional berths are taken. There are 762 crew members.
Summary:We would rate the cruise itself at 7 out of 10, with the ports being a 9 out of 10. Our major complaints would be excessive vibration on the ship (we were towards the stern of the ship, but certainly not directly above the propellers). The vibration was most noticeable when we were required to travel long distances over night, and the ship was going at full speed. We never could find out whether this was a problem that could be rectified, or whether it was inherent in the ship. As mentioned earlier, we found the art auction to be very intrusive. We also thought the cruise staff could do a better job of informal entertainment, even on the busy port days. On the positive side, the food was more than adequate, the ship is extremely attractive, and none of the facilities were overcrowded, despite the ship carrying a full load of passengers.
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