7 Night Western Caribbean Cruise October 6,1996
(Editorial Note: Jim McNulty begins with a few comments about the Sovereign of the Seas cruise of September 28, 1996. This cruise is reviewed in full by John Harley elsewhere in the SeaLetter.)
This was our third cruise on the Sovereign, and I was happy with everything except the entertainment, which I thought was poor. The Broadway revue show was the worst. Carl Waxman was a good comedian, but the rest of the shows were mediocre. The star performer was a guy called Bowzer who is a TV legend from the 60's, apparently. How he gets paid to do that I'll never know. His backing group, the Stingrays, is better entertainment than he is. Other than that, everything was to RCCL's usual high standard. The star of the cruise was undoubtedly Captain Johnny Flavelin, who is a completely new breed of Captain. He is young and exhuberant and a perfect host. He was constantly introduced as "Heeeere's Johnny!"
In any event, we were travelling as a group of five couples, and with the addition of John & Eleanor Harley, we were able to pretty much make our own entertainment. The piano player in the Schooner Bar was Bobby Hamilton and his eyes made like a slot machine when he saw our group approaching, as we turned most evenings there into a singalong and the place got much busier as passing people joined in.
The next week, we stayed overnight in Miami and joined the Majesty of the Seas for the back-to-back segment of our trip. The usual slick boarding arrangement was running, and on this leg we had only one of our first week's couples, plus another couple who came out for that cruise only. This was our first experience of the Majesty.
We encountered an immediate problem in that we got cruise cards placing the three couples at different dining room tables. I went down to see the Maitre D' and asked for this to be changed, explaining that we had all travelled from Scotland together to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversaries. He dealt with the problem there and then. He did this by placing us at a table for eight with a charming couple from Israel. Later that evening he called at the table to make sure everything had worked out. He then sent the head wine steward over with a complimentary bottle of Moet. He is a very professional individual and he invariably greeted us as we entered the dining room each evening. On the third night, he came over and invited us to dine with the Staff Captain the following evening. We did so, and had a great evening. Morten Skretting is great company, and was very patient as we tracked his life history and how he got into that occupation. I'm sure he was exhausted after the constant questioning of three detectives for three hours, but he didn't show it!
Celebrating with the Staff Captain
I liked the layout of the Majesty much better than the Sovereign. The most noticeable difference is that the ship is four years newer, and this shows in the decor and general fittings. The most effective difference is that the Windjammer is better laid out, with lots of it enclosed by glass, including a top floor where you can eat looking right out over the bow at the sea ahead. Food in the Windjammer was always less impressive than in the dining room, but we really only used it for snacks at lunchtime or for the free soda and ice cream bars.
The entertainment was better, especially the crew performers. The guest entertainers were all good, particularly the juggler, who seemed to be low down the list of "stars" but had an amazing act. There was Eric Raven, a magician who tried hard but who was affected by failures in microphones, visibility of some of the wires, etc. used in his act and finally by falling off the front of the stage as he stepped forward to speak to the audience. There was a comedian called Don Ware who was very, very funny. He has a droll style which involves audience participation a lot and this mostly worked well. Example:
The guest entertainer was Toni Tillman and he was superb, especially his Sammy Davis Jr. tribute. Unfortunately he left the ship at the next port and was replaced by . . . Bowser & the Stingrays. I don't know if they had improved -- I learned my lesson the first week.
The ports of call were more frequent than on the Sovereign and getting off the ship every day became a chore. I missed the long days at sea where it was easier to relax. Jamaica is really just for the Dunns River Falls. We had hired a taxi driver and he spent the rest of the day showing us various sites of abject poverty. We did finally manage to see Labadee (Haiti), though. We had previously been prevented from landing there by local troubles, which occurred on two previous cruises, and even on the first week of this cruise. Cayman and Cozumel were really shopping expeditions for us as we didn't fancy any of the excursions apart from the one to the ruins and it looked far too long for comfort in that heat. We also missed the convenience of the Crown & Anchor clubs ashore, which we had visited at San Juan and St. Thomas. These are a great place to take a mid-shore visit break and have a cool drink in comfort. RCCL would do well to open one in every port of call.
It's fair to say that our group was a hit as soon as we appeared in the kilts, just as on the previous week. (There is a section of videotape shot by John Harley as we walked into the dining room on the first formal night. As the five couples march in, the soundtrack features a female American voice saying, "Ohhh myyy God!"). The Majesty was no different, and after formal dinners we were met with a queue of woman wanting photographs taken with us in the full Highland dress. The ship's photographers eventually took over this task and I suspect they made a fair bit of profit from the resultant prints. Speaking of which, I was amazed at the quality of the photos on board. Taking that number of photos and printing them overnight on board ship can't be easy.
We had an early flight to catch from Miami to Washington, DC for the last week of our vacation, and worried that we might not get to the airport in time for our noon check-in. This had not escaped RCCL's attention and we were issued white coded tags marked 'Early Disembarkation'. We were allowed to leave the ship before any colour tags were called, and were on the dockside collecting baggage at 10am. This led to a problem which might well affect other cruisers. One of our party could not find a suitcase in the White section of baggage. We waited until all the other baggage was offloaded and carried out a further search of both the White section, and of the section of bags from which the labels had accidentally fallen. We still could not find it. By 11am we were panicking about the flight and started to search the remaining bags of all colour codes. We located his bag in the Yellow tagged section. It had the white tag hanging down but right on top was an old yellow-coloured Lufthansa sticker from a previous trip! We were very lucky to find it among the assorted bags of 2500 passengers and the moral of this story is: REMOVE ALL BUT CURRENT BAGGAGE TAGS EVERY TIME YOU TRAVEL!
Overall then, we liked the Majesty much better than the Sovereign. The staff had the extra edge which made everything much more enjoyable. The exception was our waiter, who was Bosnian, and who regularly reminded us of how his people were suffering (he has lived in Malta since he was nine months old). The Maitre D' was excellent, as was Raj, the head wine steward (don't miss his Wine tasting talk). Our favourite person was our assistantt waiter Christian Vacarro, an 18 year-old Italian on only his second week with RCCL. He endeared himself to all of us and I'm sure has a promising future with RCCL. As usual, our relative appreciation was reflected in the balance of amounts contained in each person's envelope.
Dislikes were minor, but included the too-constant annoyance of announcements. If people want to play Bingo, attend art auctions, etc., then surely they can read the Cruise Compass and make do with just one reminder prior to the actual event. I still find the cabins unbearably small, despite hardly spending any time there. Part of that may be due to my habit of telling the steward to make the beds up as doubles and just leaving them as beds during the day, as we never use the place other than for an occasional afternoon snooze.
Overall, we had another great time with RCCL and are not inclined to experiment with any other cruise line. This was the vacation of a lifetime for us, and I shudder when I work out how much we spent on it, but I can't bring myself to regret doing it!
Happy Silver Anniversary to the McNultys!
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please