The ship, the cruise and how we came to choose it….
We had been looking for a cruise out of New York for a while and when we noticed this one advertised in the weekend newspaper at a discounted price it was too good an opportunity to turn down.
So, on the 19 October 2009 we paid our deposit and then sat back wondered about our impulsive behaviour.
Our first ever cruise was with Royal Caribbean in 2006 and it was good enough to hook us as cruisers. We have done several other cruises since but this will be the first time we have returned to RCI.
We have managed to get a “hump cabin” on deck 7, it is very central and much sought after. Category E2 which was very soon sold out not long after we booked.
- 28 November Cape Liberty Cruise Port, New Jersey
- 29 November Cruising – Sea Day
- 30 November Cruising – Sea Day
- 1 December Labadee, Haiti
- 2 December Samana, Dominican Republic.
- 3 December Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.
- 4 December Basseterre, St Kitts.
- 5 December St. John’s, Antigua.
- 6 December Philipsburg, St. Maarten.
- 7 December Cruising – Sea Day
- 8 December Cruising – Sea Day
- 9 December Cruising – Sea Day
- 10 December Cape Liberty Cruise Port, New Jersey.
Our cruise documents turned up today so it must be getting close…
A bit late but here is a brief review…..
We had been looking for a cruise out of New York for a while and when we noticed this one advertised in the weekend newspaper at a discounted price it was too good an opportunity to turn down. So, on the 19 October 2009 we paid our deposit and then sat back wondered about our impulsive behaviour.
Our first ever cruise was with Royal Caribbean in 2006 and it was good enough to hook us as cruisers. We have done several other cruises since but this will be the first time we have returned to RCI. Luckily we managed to get a “hump cabin” on deck 7 (7318); it is very central and a much sought after location. It was in Category E2 and very soon sold out not long after we booked.
Unusually for us this cruise was booked as part of a package, we normally like to arrange our own flights and transfers.
Flights were via Heathrow to Newark and we flew on a British Airways Boeing 777.
Pre cruise overnight accommodation was at the Newark Sheraton which served its purpose but sadly is a very tired looking hotel and unfortunately is quite a distance from New York itself. We were hoping to grab a quick tour of the city but due to the taxis costing around $85 each way we decided not to. For the more adventurous there was a rail link which could be taken from the airport. The hotel runs free shuttles back to the airport every half hour and we spoke to a few people that had used this method and they said that they felt very vulnerable, particularly on the return journey.
Transfer to the ship was a bit slow, we were given an allotted time for a coach but this was delayed as RCI were using the same coaches to ferry the passengers from the previous cruise back to the hotel for day room facilities and they didn’t seem to be getting off as quick as expected. Once at the cruise terminal, it was a case of joining the queue to check in. This process involved queuing along the inside of what can only be described as a long tent. Once checked in, there then followed a short coach journey to the ship as the terminal is about a ¼ of a mile from where the ship is berthed. All in all the transfer was very smooth and hassle free.
The sail away from Cape Liberty Cruise Port, Bayonne was something I will long remember, stood on deck with an icy wind blowing while watching Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty disappear in the evening sunlight was amazing. And then you turn round to see Verrazano-Narrows Bridge coming towards you……. seemingly just slipping underneath. I am sure it’s not as close as it seems but when stood on deck it looks close enough!!! Breathtaking!
Two full sea days followed, this gave us ample opportunity to explore and to get to know the ship. We always end up in the buffet to start and so that is where I will start. The Windjammer as RCI call it is on deck 11 and at the aft. There is a single entry point from the Centrum stair landing and this area can get quite busy at times. From there it forks either side of the ship where there is ample seating and serving areas on both sides. If you carry on through there is a larger serving area at the back and a large full width panoramic window looking out to the back. There is plenty of food on offer and a very reasonable selection. You can eat here all through the day should you have enough room. In the evening the rear section is has a very good selection of Asian style cooking that I can highly recommend. One grumble is that the tongs often get left in some of the dishes/warming plates and get too hot to pick up and use.
Deck 11 also is where you find the swimming pools and Portofino’s which is RCI’s Italian style speciality restaurant. There is a $20 surcharge if you wish to dine there. They suggest you allow 2½ hours plus for your dining experience there but we felt very rushed. There did not seem to be any time between courses, we did in fact complain about this later but nothing ever came back with regard to any response or acknowledgment.
If you go up to deck 12 there is a 1950’s American style diner called Johnny Rockets. It is the only place on the ship where there is actually tables set up for eating alfresco. We gave this a go once but were not too impressed. There is also a surcharge for the privilege of eating here as well.
Sea day 1 also saw us queuing for tickets for the first ice show which is held in Studio B, this is done by going down to the entrance and collecting a ticket for your desired show. I have never seen queues like on a ship but once it started moving it seem to go really quickly.
The main dining room is on 3 levels, decks 3, 4 and 5. We had selected anytime dining and the area set aside for this was on deck 5. We like to eat at around 7-30 to 8-00 and found it almost impossible to ever get a table for that time, usually having to settle for a later time. First sitting started at 6-00 while the second sitting started at 8-30 and we would probably have been better off selecting the second sitting. The service was of a very good standard and we found ourselves on almost every night with the same waiters. This was not something that I had expected to happen and was a real plus point as we enjoy building up a relationship with the waiters.
One grumble was the lack of seating in the public areas on the ship. Whereas there were plenty of bars, they did not seem big enough to cope with demand at busy times. The Maharaja’s lounge on deck 5 was more often or not being used for diamond member events and was off limit for the other passengers. The Schooner bar was very popular but sadly we never heard the piano played once the whole cruise. This area was used for quizzes etc and became very, very crowded. The only bar we did find to be not so crowded was Dizzy’s Jazz lounge (formally Viking Crown Lounge) on deck 14. This became the spot for our pre diner drink but sadly we only discovered it towards the end of the cruise. The downside of this bar is that it is next to a bar called the 19th hole which is a designated bar for smokers, there is only a glass screen separating the 2 bars and if you are sat close to this screen then you may as well be sat the other side of it because it does nothing to stop the smoke drifting through.
Down the centre of the ship on deck 5, you will find the Royal Promenade which houses a selection of shops, restaurants, entertainment venues and bars. There is an English style pub called The Crown & Kettle which we never used as this was the sort of thing we cruise to get away from. It did however seem to please the American’s on board. The sports bar only ever seemed to show US style sports which given that we were sailing from the USA could only be expected. I would have been nice to see how the Ashes series was going in Australia.
The Cafe Promenade on deck 5 was one of only 2 areas where you make yourself a tea or coffee, unless you used room service. We found this to be a little inconvenient at times because of often involved a good walk across the ship to get a cuppa. If the Windjammer was closed as was the case at certain times of the day then this was the only place you could go to get a brew.
The Royal Promenade was a major walk way and we often found the RCI would clutter this area up with little stalls from time to time. They even have a bridge come gantry in the middle which was used for the Captain to address the passengers on the Captain’s Gala night. I for one cannot understand the logic of having this function here.
One option we found to get from one end of the ship would be to drop down to deck 4 and walk through the Casino. The down side of this was that smoking is permitted in the Casino and as we are not smokers we found it a bit unpleasant to walk through at busy times.
We watched a couple of shows the Palace theatre but due to the fact we could eat at an appropriate time we sadly missed much of the shows. The ones we did see were a comedian and an Elton John tribute act. Although nothing spectacular they were still entertaining to watch.
We also enjoy the chance to bask in the sunshine but do not like all the hustle and bustle that goes on by the pool during the day. One place we found which seemed to meet our requirements was at the aft on deck 12 next to the Adventure Beach children’s water area. It could be a little noisy at times with the kids enjoying themselves on the water slide but we found this more preferable than the resident Calypso band seemly playing the same set list every day. The other areas away from the pool were often very breezy, especially on one of the 5 sea days on the cruise.
We found the ship photographers to be more of a nuisance than on previous cruises and we did pose for some photos on one of the formal nights but were very disappointed with the result. They were in the main dining room every night for the first 4 nights which became a bit tiresome as they seemed to have a total disregard for you trying to enjoy your meal.
Drinks prices are high but show me a cruise lines that isn’t. We are not big drinkers and never buy any of the packages, preferring to drink what we want and where and when we want. Some of the cocktails of the day are good value for money if you keep an eye out for the bargains.
Our cabin was comfortable and clean however there were a couple of areas where the ship is showing her age. The cupboard door hinges needing adjustment is the first thing that springs to mind. I also noticed that the balcony handrails had not been varnished for some time and looked a bit tatty. We did notice a musty smell in the bathroom on a couple of occasions early on but this seemed to disappear after a few days so the problem must have resolved itself. We also had a problem with on/off switch on the TV which someone had pushed in too far and it had a tendency to switch itself on and off, after doing this 4 times one night we asked the steward to get someone to do something with it. An engineer turned up and levered the button out with a screwdriver. We were advised to use the remote to turn on/off or else it would happen all over again. All in all our cabin was much as you would expect and we felt much at home in it.
Our first port of call was Labadee, Haiti. Leased to Royal Caribbean as an exclusive resort and is completely tourist-oriented, and is guarded by a private security force. Your seapass can be used to purchase drinks etc however a controlled group of Haitian merchants are given sole rights to sell their merchandise and establish their businesses in the resort, here you will need some currency in order to trade with them. The weather was good and all in all we enjoying this stop very much. Look out for the zip line which goes right across the beach. A tad expensive at $85 a go.
Second stop was Samana, Dominican Republic, here we were tendered ashore. We only got off and went for a walk to the nearest shopping area. You might find this walk a little unsettling due to the locals all vying for your business. It was quite sad to see small children approaching you to buy a shell from them for $1. I didn’t hear from any other passengers about how the ship excursions went but can only conclude that it’s not somewhere I would wish to return to in a hurry.
The third port was Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. Here were caught a bus to Megans Bay. The transport took the form of an open safari-type trucks which had about five rows of benches that seat about four people in each row. You will see these buses everywhere here. The fare was $8 each way and there were plenty of these going back and forth all day long. You also pay an entrance fee to this beach but it is well worth it. Nice and clean with well maintained facilities.
The fourth port was Basseterre, St Kitts. We had been here before and so elected to spend most of the day on the ship and enjoy the sun. We did get off briefly to do some shopping the port shopping area.
Port five was St. John’s, Antigua. Here we shared a taxi to one of the nearest beaches, Millers by the Sea, Runaway Bay which is one of Antigua’s 365 beaches. We expected this to be quite busy but it was far from it. It’s a very beautiful beach with its own little store and cafe.
Our sixth and final port was Philipsburg, St. Maarten. Here we took a short boat ride across Great Bay to Philipsburg itself and Great Bay Beach. It was then just a short walk and a bit of negotiating and we had two sun beds, a parasol and 5 drinks for $25. The foot of the sun bed was right on the water’s edge and every now and then the waves would just roll up under the bed! It was my favourite stop on the cruise.
After 3 sea days we arrived back to a very cold and dark Cape Liberty. What a contrast to the 6 Caribbean ports of call we had just visited but none the less this was a very enjoyable cruise which we will long remember. I am not sure we will use RCI again or even sail out of New York but if the right itinerary comes up at the right price who knows.