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Cruise Ship Review
Royal Caribbean International

Nordic Empress

by John Iglehart

Nordic Empress Mini Southern Caribbean Cruise November 1997

The flight down to San Juan on American Airlines was fine, after being delayed for a bit due to mechanical problems with our plane (comforting, huh). As a result, we arrived in San Juan about an hour late, which wasn't really a big deal. We were met at the airport and taken to the bus loading area.

Upon arriving at the ship, we went into the terminal and found quite a large line. It went fairly quickly, and watching the Century pull in right next to us made the time go faster too. The SuperCharge account was set-up before boarding, right when you checked in. I thought this was a smart idea and saved you from standing in line again on the ship. The nice lady checking us in said that since we are Diamond Crown & Anchor Society members, the next time we cruise with Royal Caribbean, we are to walk to the head of the line and alert them of our Diamond Status, and we will be checked in immediately. I like that idea! Our cabin keys were handed to us in envelopes before boarding the ship with extra keys waiting in the room.

Last year we were escorted to our cabin, but since we boarded the ship fairly late, around 3:30 pm, I think that service had been halted for the day. We were given directions, but didn't need them as we were more than familiar with this beautiful vessel. My parents had their own cabin, and I was lucky to have my own. Both inside cabins were small, but I knew that already. It was spacious for just me though. There was plenty of storage room and the predominant color in both cabins was pink. Let me tell you, it was mighty dark! Waking up in the morning provided an experience, as my mom served as the wake up call. The phone went flying onto the desk more than once.

It was a busy day for ship watching, with the Zenith, Radisson Diamond, Century, Sensation, and of course, our Nordic Empress dominating over the waterfront of Old San Juan.

In regards to food on the ship, most of our meals were eaten in the dining room. We ate breakfast once in the Windjammer Cafe, but the food was barely luke warm, so I chose to eat all remaining meals in the dining room. It was more enjoyable to be served by my waiters anyway. Dinners were a treat for sure. The food, in my opinion, was excellent, with a variety of selections available to suit most everyone. Our tablemates loved everything as well, and my informal poll of other passengers echoed these same sentiments. No lobster as we all know so much about, but the filet mignon that was served was as tender and flavorful as could be.

Thanksgiving Dinner produced an entirely separate menu, in addition to the themed International Dinner menu of the night. Turkey with all the fixings was available, as well as Pumpkin Pie and Apple Pie a la mode for dessert. My mom had Prime Rib that she said was to die for, and I opted for turkey and mashed potatoes, which I enjoyed immensely. One of my tablemates asked the headwaiter if Strawberry Shortcake was going to be served at all, or if it was available. The waiter said he would check with the kitchen. A few nights later, he returned to our table with an ENTIRE cake, adorned beautifully with strawberries on top. Extremely impressive in my opinion. The chefs certainly went above and beyond for her. Nice job.

The Gala Buffet and the Caribbean night Buffet on deck are the only two buffets I managed to attend, and both were nicely done. Ordering seconds was never a problem, as well as my picky requests for most items to be plain. Overall, I have no complaints about the food. I was certainly pleased with everything that was presented over the four days.


Continuing with our dining room experience, the service we received also scores an A in my book. Our waiter was very attentive, personable, eager to please, humorous, and had one heck of a memory. He learned my routine quite quickly. The Assistant Waiter strongly resembled Mr. Bean, making for several jokes and laughs throughout the cruise. He was great as well, anticipating our needs, and remembering who had coffee after dinner. Surrounding waiters were just as friendly, treating us like we were seated in their own sections. The Head Waiter was also friendly. Service all around the ship was very gracious and our Crown and Anchor Society Member Stickers elicited many "Welcome Backs," which was kind of special in its own way. Again, no complaints with the service or any of the staff members. They certainly add so much to the cruising experience.

The entertainment was mostly a repeat from the same cruise which I look last March, with the exception of one Wave Revue Presentation. The second night we were treated to "It Takes Two," which looked at famous television and movie pairs from past and present, with the help of impersonations and actual footage displayed on three movie screens. The show was fabulous, with the singers and dancers displaying their talents to their fullest. It was a creative and pleasing trip down memory lane. Our other Wave Revue Production was "Feel the Beat," an extremely upbeat, fast-paced extravaganza. Also during our sailing, we enjoyed Harriet Anne's Puppet Fantasy, which was the same as in March, except for a few twists. Los Pampos Gauchos also performed for the crowd, and were a big hit. Ironically, the woman from Los Pampos Gauchos also does the Puppet Fantasy. The kids loved that as you can imagine. We had Al Romas (?), a hilarious comedian, and also the Illusion and Magic of La Raf. Both were enjoyable.

The band "Ringo" performed in the High Society Lounge, providing dance music along with some contemporary hits. The Carousel Pub featured a Latin Singer, who was extremely popular with the MANY Puerto Ricans found on our sailing. Karaoke, the 50's/60's sockhop, Novel Quest, 70's night in the disco, and the Newlywed/Not so Newlywed Game basically round out the major activities on board. The traditional shipboard activities were also found around the ship and pool, along with the ShipShape program, which sported new shirt designs finally! The entertainment was varied, plentiful, and appropriately catered to all nationalities on board.

St. Thomas found us docked in a totally different location than most of us are used to. Confused the heck out of all of us! We were docked all the way to the left of downtown, behind the hills, out of view of the main bay. This was fairly disappointing as we were used to the convenience of the Havensight Docking Facility. Cabs were necessary for anything that was to be done. We were docked with the Zenith, and over at Havensight was the Century, Legend of the Seas, and Sensation. A busy day! I toured the Century in the morning, much to my delight, and the afternoon found us on the Kon-Tiki party boat tour. Certainly lived up to its name! Rum Punch flowed freely and it showed. The crew egged everyone on, too. The Kon Tiki also lands directly on Honeymoon Beach for an hour of relaxing and swimming. This beach was palm-lined and deserted. Paradise! The real party began on the trip back, when the limbo contest was done, along with the Macarena and a large Conga line. Everyone got into it. I have a feeling I am on the Sensation's Video Diary quite a bit! All in all it was a fun tour, but it lasted a lot longer than it says in your shore excursion book. We boarded at 12:45 pm and got off at 5:15 pm, completely missing the Captain's Cocktail Party.

We woke to a clear sunny day in St. Maarten, but with 4 other ships bobbing in the gentle seas around us, it was going to be another packed day ashore. The Century and Sensation followed us from St. Thomas, while the Costa Romantica and Ryndam made their first appearances of the trip. Today we headed over to Orient Beach, which included our taxi driver getting pulled over by the island police on the way there. Neat. So we boiled in the car for about 15 minutes while they bickered. Orient Beach was just perfect, and we stayed till about 12:45. We remained on the "clothed" section of the beach, but a few nudees wandered over now and then. The breeze was heavenly, and chairs with umbrellas were available for rent for $5.00. It was crowded, but not overly so that it made things uncomfortable. Arriving back in town, we ate lunch at Ric's Place, a nice sportsbar to the left of the courthouse when you arrive in town. Who can beat good food on a beachfront setting? Sandwiches and salads made up most of the menu, with prices being quite reasonable. A full bar is available.

Thanksgiving Day we docked in St. Croix, this time all by ourselves. We chose the biking tour, which took up all of the morning, and ended right about noon, depending on how quick you rode back to town. Nice, quality mountain bikes with helmets and a bottle of water were provided for us. Our ride took us 6 miles up the coast, making stops at a Great House and eventually at a rocky, lava-formed beach. The tour guides were extremely informative, providing us with a multitude of facts about the island's history, flora, fauna, social life, living conditions, religions, and about anything else you could ever want to know. Quite an enriching trip. The terrain for riding is moderately hilly. It wasn't an easy ride, and with the added heat, I was beat at the end. This excursion is physically challenging and not for everyone. I highly recommend it, but keep your limits in mind. Safety was the first priority.

The weather was again perfect, and we sailed away after three blasts of the ships horn, and children screaming and running after us on the pier. Another fond memory from this island was during our tour, you could hear all the choruses singing in the churches. We stopped at the largest church on the island, but could not go in. What a neat experience to hear the islanders singing for the Thanksgiving Holiday.

I hated to leave Friday morning when we returned to San Juan. Disembarkation is done by flight numbers which are announced over the PA. Our flight was at 2:15 pm, and we were called off the ship at 8:45 am. That left five lovely hours in the airport for me to sleep. The rest of the trip back home went smoothly.

RCI and the Nordic Empress certainly gave us a splendid vacation. She is certainly a special ship with a caring and enthusiastic crew. I would not hesitate to sail on her again. This ship if full of memories for me, and it was a joy to spend time on her again. San Juan definitely has a majestic lady right in their backyard! Bon Voyage to all those who will be sailing on her in the future.

Exterior Photo of Nordic Empress by John Iglehart

This was John Iglehart's fifth cruise on the Nordic Empress and 14th cruise overall. It's addicting folks! John is a junior at Denison University and can be reached for questions or comment at: johnnyi@aol.com.

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