Splendour of the Seas Docked in Quebec City
One of today's newest and most interesting cruise itineraries visits Northern New England and the Canadian Maritime provinces. Typically departing from the ports of New York or Boston, you encounter some of the loveliest scenery and most friendly, beautiful cities anywhere. It is a great change from the standard Caribbean or Bermuda cruises.
We recently traveled on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line's Splendour of the Seas Fall Foliage Itinerary. This ten-night round trip from Boston includes ports of call in Bar Harbor, Halifax, Sydney, Quebec City, Corner Brook, and Saint John, as well as a cruise through Saguenay Fjord. (Note: The Fall 2000 cruises will substitute Portland, Maine for Corner Brook.)
EmbarkationGetting onto the ship was a breeze. Our taxi was directed to a spot on the curb where porters placed our bags on massive pallets for loading onto the ship. There were no lines and we were on the ship in less than ten minutes. However, once on board, we were given no assistance in finding our cabin. We really love when ships have white-gloved stewards escort us to our cabin but, alas, only a few lines seem to offer this service today. Once we found our cabin, we noticed that the door was locked, so we began another search to locate the keys. Other passengers had earlier discovered the location of the steward distributing keys so we followed their instructions to get ours. Some simple signs could have been used to alert everyone to the necessary arrangements.
Our cabin was a superior inside stateroom located amidships on deck 7. It was fairly spacious, with two single beds (which could be pushed together), two nightstands, desk, vanity, and a sitting area. A couch in the sitting area was long enough to become our five-year-old son's bed, making the upper berth unnecessary. Our cabin steward, Michael, kept the room in terrific shape. It was serviced twice a day and there was always a new pillow arrangement with the main bed pillows and the smaller throw pillows from the couch.
We had plenty of space to store all of our clothing. The desk area included three large drawers, several smaller ones, and numerous shelves and nooks. The nightstands had two drawers each. There was also a nice sized closet with hangers galore. A small safe was also provided. Bathroom storage was ample and included a mirrored, 3-shelved cabinet above the sink and one large shelf below the sink. Canned soda and bottled water were provided in the cabin and replenished throughout the cruise.
One piece of advice if you plan to travel this ship and itinerary during October -- Unless you need a lot of space, save your money and do not book a room with a balcony. It is usually too cold to go outdoors, and the Captain even prohibited passengers from cracking the balcony doors on several nights due to high winds.
The ShipThe ship itself is quite lovely, especially if you are a fan of the mega-liners. The Splendour of the Seas is about 70,000 GRT and carries about 1,900 passengers. The focal point is the Centrum, an atrium that spans seven decks. Despite her size, it is easy to find one's way around the ship.
We will not go into great detail about the ship's common areas as these have been covered in earlier reviews on this web site. Also, because of the cold climate at this time of year, we did not have much opportunity to use the outdoor decks (including the 18-hole miniature golf course). A quick overview of the common areas follows.
Splendour of the Seas has one main dining room and one main show lounge, both of which are non-smoking. Smoking is permitted in the smaller lounges just off the lowest level of the Centrum. There are two larger lounges, the Top Hat on deck 5 and the Viking Crown on deck 11. The casino is a bit small for the ship, as is the health club. There is a nice variety of shops on board, but they are awkwardly placed in the main passageway between the Top Hat Lounge and the dining room. Near the top of the ship is the Solarium, which houses a pool that can be covered during inclement weather. There are also two informal eating spots, the Windjammer Café (described later) and the Solarium Snack Bar (which serves pizza, hot dogs, and hamburgers). One flight up are the children's and teens' centers. Three youth counselors offered homework tutoring and science experiments in addition to fun and games.
The ship was full on our trip. The only places with excessive crowds were the 42nd Street Theatre during the main seating shows, the Top Hat Lounge during the Captain's welcome aboard party, and the Windjammer Café during breakfast and lunch.
The Splendour of the Seas was a good ship for this itinerary. There were large windows in the Windjammer Café and many of the lounges, which were perfect for viewing the scenery. However, these areas tended to become crowded very quickly, forcing many passengers to the cold and windy outside decks. A ship with an enclosed promenade would have been preferable. On a positive note, it was nice to have the indoor pool, although it was understandably closed during rough seas.
PassengersWe had expected to see many fellow New Englanders on this cruise. However, we met just a few people from the Northeastern U.S. Our tablemates hailed from Hawaii, and there were large groups traveling from Louisiana, California, and Bermuda. Almost all of the passengers we spoke with were friendly and were having a wonderful time.
There was a fairly older crowd on this cruise than on our previous cruises to the Caribbean and Bermuda. The time of year and length of cruise usually would exclude most honeymooners and families with small children. However, we met quite a few families and there were about 20 children and teens on the ship. Nearly all of the passengers had cruised before.
CuisineFood was very good overall. Service was excellent during dinner. Portions are not huge, but if you order an appetizer, soup, salad and dessert your appetite will be fully satisfied. Neil tended to skip soup most days and substituted extra appetizers, which was never a problem. Neil's beef tenderloin dinner one night was outstanding and he was promptly given a second portion when requested. Lisa typically ordered soup, salad, and a fish entrée, and found them all to be very good. In addition to the regular menu, sirloin, chicken breast, and salmon were always available. There was a choice of desserts each evening, including one or two sugar-free versions of popular selections.
Due to the desires of the passengers, main seating was held at 5:45 rather than 6:15 and late seating was at 8:15 instead of 8:45. The change was made because many more passengers wanted main seating than could be accommodated, so the dining staff moved the time ahead to satisfy the needs of those bumped to the late seating. The King and I Dining Room is a stunning, bi-level dining room on decks 4 and 5. Large glass windows on both sides afford a nice view of the passing scenery. There was always a variety of music being played during dinner by either a pianist, string quartet, or both. It was a very lovely dining experience that we thoroughly enjoyed.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets were always offered in the Windjammer Café on deck 9 forward. During peak times there could be a crush to find a table. Not many people wanted to eat outside due to the cold weather and windy conditions. We often had breakfast and lunch in the main dining room to guarantee a seat and to enjoy waiter service. Some waiters were better than others were but generally everything was adequate.
It seems that midnight buffets are becoming a thing of the past on RCCL. Outside of the gala buffet offered on the last formal night, there were only simple finger foods available in lounges and the casino for late night noshing. We have always enjoyed buffets as a fun adventure and as an opportunity to meet other passengers for conversation. Other lines often make the buffet a special event on a cruise. The galley raid, chocoholic buffet and other themes on NCL come to mind.
EntertainmentRCCL appears to be making an effort to appeal to the varied tastes of their passengers. Live performances on our cruise ranged from western-themed shows to jugglers to 1940s revues. Guest appearances were made by classical pianist Brooks Aehron and comedian Norm Crosby. And, the 42nd Street Theatre was the setting for the Academy Award-winning movie, "Shakespeare in Love."
Except for Brooks Aehron and Norm Crosby, the stage performances were pretty fair. Mr. Aehron was terrific. He played a variety of classical tunes, from Beethoven to Liszt, and interacted well with the audience. Mr. Crosby had the audience roaring in laughter with his delivery of one-liners.
RecreationThere were many activities in which to participate. Many passengers, teens to seniors, participated in ShipShape activities and earned "dollars" redeemable for ship merchandise. These daily activities included aerobics, ring tosses, golf putting, and line dancing. The most popular activity was "Sit to Be Fit," in which cruise staff member Hector led a large group of men and ladies in a seated exercise program.
Because the World Series was being played that week, evening activities were not limited to the shows and casino. However, the ship did not pick up the broadcast signal for the first game of the Series. The next day, some passengers spotted the Captain walking through one of the lounges and told him of their disappointment in missing the game. That night, Game Two could be seen in the Schooner Bar.
Ports of CallWithout a doubt, the highlights of this cruise were the interesting ports we visited. Our first stop was Bar Harbor, Maine. We were blessed by a warm and clear day. This was the only port that we needed to use the ship's tenders. Passengers were requested to pick up tender tickets in the Centrum prior to getting aboard a tender. This worked well and lines moved very quickly. We decided to take a tour to Acadia National Park. The three-hour tour took us to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, offering a breathtaking view of the harbor and surrounding islands. There were numerous artists sitting on the slopes around us making paintings and sketches of the scenery. We then spent some time walking around downtown Bar Harbor, and sampled lobster rolls at a restaurant recommended by the tour guide.
The next stop on our trip was the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Our lovely weather had been replaced by driving rain and wind as the fringes of a tropical storm approached. Despite this "liquid sunshine," it was easy to see that Halifax was quite a lovely city. There is a museum of immigration right by the ship terminal and it is an easy walk into town from the pier. Shuttle buses are available for a nominal fee.
We had selected a ship-arranged bus trip to the small fishing village of Peggy's Cove. During the trip there, our kilt-attired guide gave us an introduction to the history of Halifax and the surrounding area. As we approached Peggy's Cove, he instructed us to keep our eyes closed to maximize the visual impact. After passing through several miles of pine and hardwood-lined forests, the stark beauty of Peggy's Cove was quite a contrast. Lichen-covered rocks and a rugged landscape resembled a moonscape. The cove itself is rather small. There are a few gift shops and a restaurant, as well as a lighthouse that doubles as a post office. We went into the lighthouse to mail a few postcards and wandered around in the rain taking photos. Our trip back to the ship was spent admiring the many coves and tiny islands that dot the Nova Scotia coastline.
The tropical storm that had been pushing up the East Coast had now reached its full fury as we departed for our next port of call. The high winds and seas made for a bit of a wild ride but the majority of the passengers seemed to take the motion well. We were scheduled to visit Sydney, Nova Scotia, but the rough ocean instead had us head to Quebec City, Quebec early. One bonus of this change in itinerary was that we would travel down the St. Lawrence River during daylight. Then, our Captain managed to get us into Quebec City in the evening, so we ended up spending an entire night and the next day in port for an added bonus.
Quebec City, Quebec is both a large modern city and a small walled city hundreds of years old. It is the cradle of French culture in the New World. The old city is a mix of quaint shops, churches, restaurants, and historical sites. The famous battle site, "The Plains of Abraham" is now a beautiful park. There were numerous artists and street musicians all over the old city. A modern museum of civilization is right across from the cruise terminal. A giant sand timer is outside the museum and the last grains of sand are due to drop out as the year 1999 draws to a close. Quebec City is beautiful and one can easily spend days exploring the surrounding area. We opted to take an "Old and New City Tour," which we enjoyed, but the city can easily be explored on one's own.
We left late in the evening and headed back down the St. Lawrence for a trip the next day up the Saguenay River. The river trip was a quiet opportunity to take in the indescribably beautiful scenery. The Saguenay is the largest of Eastern Canada's fjords and is home to belugas, minkes, and other whales. We had a nature lecturer on board that helped to point out sights along the way and alert us to the numerous whales that kept popping up their heads around the ship. People would excitedly point out spouts as large pods of whales came to the surface. The most numerous sightings were where the St. Lawrence and the Saguenay Rivers met.
Our next port of call was Corner Brook, Newfoundland. As we approached, passengers congregated by the windows to get a glimpse of the snow-capped mountains. Several brave souls, including Neil, ventured to the outside decks to listen to a musical welcome from a Sea Scout marching band. Corner Brook is a small, industrial city on the western coast of Newfoundland. Several shore excursions were offered, including a trip up the mountains to play in the snow, but we decided to walk around on our own. It was a Saturday afternoon, and many residents were running typical weekend errands.
Our final port of call was Saint John, New Brunswick. Recently, the city completed a restoration of its downtown waterfront, and the results are remarkable. The two main areas are Market Square and the Old City Market. Today's Market Square building contains offices and restaurants, but devotes a section to the area's history. The Old City Market, which is connected to Market Square via covered walkway, houses hundreds of vendor stands at which one can buy anything from produce to fish to crafts. Also available is seaweed gum, a local delicacy. Saint John is a beautiful city that, in many ways, reminded us of Boston. There are plenty of other places to visit in or near Saint John, including the Reversing Falls Rapids, but we decided to see them on our next visit.
SummaryOverall, this was one of the best cruise experiences we have ever had. The ports of call were clean and friendly, and were definitely the high points of the trip. For the most part, the cruise staff were attentive and interacted well with the passengers. The food and entertainment were satisfactory, but not extraordinary. One negative aspect was the huge number of passengers, as common areas were very crowded and we hardly saw the same people twice. Also, missing a port of call was disappointing, but not too surprising given the variable climate in North Atlantic at this time of year. But, we had a wonderful time and highly recommend this cruise to anyone who would like to enjoy the beauty of New England and eastern Canada.
Photos by Neil & Lisa Plotnick
Neil and Lisa live in Massachusetts with their young son. They have been on eleven cruises since 1990. They may be reached for questions or comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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