Advantages Superb service and fantastic surroundings
Disadvantages Tipping was an issue with us
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A cruise, maybe it is still viewed as a holiday for the well heeled and maybe older generation. Hopefully the tale of our experience will help to remove some of those preconceived notions.
Just the word cruise brings to mind pictures of the romantic and the exotic and the other one, expensive. I am not going to deny that it isn’t a cheap holiday but in this case you do get what you paid for and then some.
I’m jumping ahead here; maybe I had better start at the beginning. That is several months before our date of departure.
It was cold and miserable when we entered the travel agents but browsing through the glossy brochures we soon started to warm up as the snapshots of exotic, sunny climes jumped out at us.
We decided on the Royal Caribbean cruise mainly because there were sailings that met our desired dates and destination rather than picking the company. With it being our first cruise we had no idea of what was a good company and what wasn’t. We had of course heard of Royal Caribbean and they had a good reputation so that was a good start.
Booking couldn’t have been easier, with our choice of ship, The Brilliance of the Seas, dates and destination all decided, it was simply a matter of one phone call to Royal Caribbean to find the availability of staterooms and to make the booking.
As this was our first cruise we decided on balcony rooms, more expensive but definitely worth it, more on that later.
At this stage you will be asked if you want to prepay your gratuities, the tips you give to the waiters and stateroom staff. We did, this time, never again though. It amounts to rather a large sum of money and we ended up tipping people that we had never actually met, so my tip is don’t do it. More on tipping later
As your holiday gets nearer you will get your tickets, probably from the travel agent unless you have booked direct with Royal Caribbean, in which case you will get them through the post.
These are done very well; you actually get a ring bound book that contains all your flight, transfer and cruise tickets. It also contains a large amount of useful information on a wide range of aspects of your holiday.
Pre-booking of a wide range of excursions is available on the Royal Caribbean website, it has a good description of each one allowing you to make your choices, something worth considering at this point is whether you feel confident to go and do your own thing at the port of calls or if you would rather have the security of an organised trip.
We did both and I have to say that doing it yourself is a lot more cost effective.
Doc’s tip 2
Also worth pre-booking is a soft drinks package, if you are on a cruise to sunny climes you are going to get through an awful lot of soft drinks just to keep yourself hydrated and this is the best value item that we bought on the whole trip. We worked out that we had probably paid for it in the first couple of days and all the other drinks after that were free. You also get a closable cup that both acts as proof that you have bought the package and also handy for carrying drinks around the ship.
A little investigation into Royal Caribbean told me that their ships cover most of the globe with cruises from a few days up to months long.
There are currently 23 ships in their fleet. All have “of the seas” in their name so they are instantly recognisable as being part of the fleet.
And so finally after much anticipation the big day had arrived. After a very early start and a very poor check-in from BA we had a good flight to Spain. On arrival in Barcelona we were met by very friendly Royal Caribbean staff. They were helpful and efficient and soon we were on a coach heading to Barcelona Harbour.
As we approached, we had our first sight of the ship, it is enormous, there is no other way to describe it. The sun glinted on the walls of glass and we could feel the excitement level on the coach raise dramatically.
At arrivals we handed our cases to porters who loaded them on to a waiting truck. We then entered a sea of humanity who were waiting to check-in. This is very efficient, however, and doesn't take as long as it looks like it will.
The time has arrived to finally board the vessel. Our passports and documents are checked once again and we also had our photograph taken. This is very important as this photograph goes on your photo ID card that you are issued as you board. This card is the most important thing you will have on your voyage as it is not only the key to your cabin but also acts as your passport when you go ashore and ID for any purchases on board as the ship operates a cashless system. IE all your expenses are put on account that you have to settle at the end of your trip.
Finally on the ship you again have your photograph taken, this time as a souvenir of the start of your voyage.
Time to explore.
We headed towards our cabin we were eager to see where we would be living for the next two weeks. As our cabin was on deck seven, we took one of six glass lifts.
Our stateroom was spotless and whilst not being exactly palatial, was plenty large enough for our needs. It also has a balcony with chairs and a table and was separated from neighbouring balconies with frosted glass panels.
The stateroom was fully furnished with a very comfortable bed, storage in the form of plenty of draw space and a hanging section of the built in wardrobe. there was also a writing desk, complete with paper and envelopes and a two seater setee. In the corner of the room was a en suite with sink, toilet and shower. The shower was quite powerful and piping hot water was available all the time.
The only issue with the bathroom was the fact that the door opened outward right into the space where the stateroom door opened inwards. We had a couple of minor colisions but that is a very minor point.
The stateroom was fully air conditioned and was very comfortable.
Before the ship sets sail there is a mandatory emergency safety drill.
After the drill we started to explore the rest of the ship. This is no small task as there are 13 floors to explore. The first nine floors are cabins so that left us with the top 4 to explore.
By this time our first priority was food. There are two main dining rooms, one is the formal dining room and the other is buffet style. As neither of these was yet open we headed up to the open decks above. This is where most of the action is with swimming pools, bars and sports areas. There are three pools; the main pool is a salt pool. There is a children's pool complete with flumes and slides. There is also a indoor pool for adults only.
All open decks have a large number of sun loungers. At the rear of the ship there is a basketball court, crazy golf course and a huge climbing wall that mounts one of the ship's funnels.
Back inside we found the kids clubs, one for youngsters and one for teenagers. Both are very well run and are open all day. They are free unless you want to book your kids in for after 10pm in which case you will pay $10 an hour.
Our exploration also found the theatre in which there are nightly shows ranging from musical to magic shows and also a cinema showing a range of up to date films that change daily.
By the time we had finished wandering we noticed a slight vibration that tells us we have started to move. We are underway on our voyage of discovery.
Time to eat
As mentioned there are two main dining rooms, we hadn’t booked for the formal dining room so went to the buffet. It is amazing, there is no other way to describe it. The range of food is huge.
But first we had to get into the hall. So we joined a long looking queue and prepared to wait. It didn’t actually take that long to get in, however as the capacity of the dining room is large. The use of hand cleansing gel upon entry is mandatory. We have all heard of the raging upset stomach outbreaks on cruise ships so this is only common sense really.
We were greeted by very friendly staff and then we headed into a world of food.
There are allsorts on offer from salads to roast and burgers to pizza. Virtually all styles of food are represented. The food on offer changes daily with a special each day. It could be build your own pizza or a very large array of sushi. As well as the special counters the meats and fish change daily as well.
You can eat as much as you want and visit the counters as many times as you like and since the food is all so delicious you are probably going to feel very full by the time you leave.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all served here. All three meals give you a vast choice.
There is no dress code as such for this dining room although shirts are a requirement.
Doc’s tip 3
Although there is a wide window in which to eat we found that we needed to get there early and to grab a table as it did fill up quickly and there is nothing worse than wandering about with a tray full of food with no where to sit and eat it.
The other dining choice is the formal dining room. This is the classic style of eating and drinking that is most people’s idea of cruise cuisine.
Different nights have different themes and dress codes. Some nights are formal occasions where evening dress is required; whereas others smart dress is fine, details of which nights are which can be found on your TV. Whilst on that subject, the TV info system is very well done. You can do an awful lot from your remote control, from checking your account (to see how much you have overspent), to booking excursions, to just finding out info.
Back on subject, the formal dining room wasn’t too our taste, we tried it once and to be honest the choice of food was more to our taste in the buffet, especially when it can to children’s choice. Also we found the very attentive staff a little overpowering. There are different waiters for food, wine etc so we did feel that there was someone over your shoulder a little too much. Of course that is personal choice and it could be that formal dining would be more your cup of tea.
You can book a table in this restaurant so if you want a structured meal, this is the place to go.
Entertainment for the evening.
There is a vast array of things to do on board for all ages. As already mentioned there is a cinema and nightly shows. We went to a couple of the shows and they were of high quality and very enjoyable.
There are several bars to have a quiet drink or a more noisy one with music etc, the choice is yours.
There is also a large casino with all the games you would expect such as roulette and blackjack. There are also a large amount of slot machines if gambling is your thing. This area is over 18’s only.
If a night stroll to walk off your dinner is more to your taste then why not just enjoy the night air.
During the day there is a whole host of things to do with the pools and kids clubs being the main focus. When at sea during the day there are structured events around the pool, from music to barbeques to join in events for adults and children.
There are table tennis tables, pool and snooker tables, basketball court as well as the climbing wall and indoor golf simulator. The list goes on and on. Some of the Royal Caribbean ships have the wave rider surf simulator, ours didn’t unfortunately, I would have loved a go on that.
There is a good range of shops on board. They are all along one corridor which has been very well done out as a shopping street. These shops stock all the usual array of duty free goods you would expect.
Also every evening a sort of street market stall is set up in the middle of the shopping street. The range of goods on sale changes nightly and we found the prices to be quite reasonable. This area does get very crowded during the evening.
For me this was one of the highlights of the holiday. Each morning we got out of bed and went out onto the balcony to discover a new land. Of course in some places you have a dock to look at but in others you are berthed offshore and have a fantastic vista before you.
Docs tip 4
If you can afford the extra, it is money VERY well spent to upgrade from an inside room to a balcony. I went in one of the inside rooms and found it very claustrophobic. That aside though, you would be missing out on a large part of the enjoyment in my opinion, should you book an inside room.
Excursions can be booked prior to sailing of whilst onboard. There are pros and cons to using the structured shore visits. If like us, it is to be your first cruise then the security of a structured tour may appeal. They are expensive, there is no denying that, but sometimes they can be useful. For example when we visited Rome we were a long way from the city where we docked and so travelling on the coach was a cost effective way of getting to the city and the tour was a good one.
When we went to Athens, however, we went our own way. We hired a taxi for the day. There were taxi drivers waiting for fares at most of our stops.
For a lot less than the price of a guided tour to the colloseum we went to several sights and had the added comfort of an air conditioned taxi. Of course this is a more risky way of doing things and judgement has to be used. If you make sure you negotiate the full price and make sure everything for the day is included then it should be OK doing it that way without any nasty surprises when you get back to the ship.
A word on disembarking and embarking.
When entering or leaving the ship you have to pass through strict security. When going ashore you are only allowed off the ship if you have your photo ID card, this is swiped and your photo checked. This card acts as your passport whilst ashore so DON’T lose it.
When returning to the ship your card is again swiped and your photo ID checked. All bags etc are scanned and checked.
Don’t try to take and food or drink products aboard as they will be confiscated by security
At the end of your voyage
As your adventure comes to an end you will have to settle up your onboard account, this is done by credit/debit card. All onboard prices have been in US dollars but you are told the equivalent in local currency. At this point you also sort out tipping.
This is my major issue with our trip. We paid tipping in advance when we booked. NEVER again, you end up tipping people you have never met and not tipping people who have looked after you whilst onboard.
If you have paid in advance you are issued vouchers for you to add a note too and hand in. If you haven’t prepaid you can fill in a form and pay those you wish too.
At this stage you can also join the Crown and Anchor society. This is worth doing as you will receive offers and future info and it’s free to join.
One other thing that I was slightly surprised by and a little alarmed to be honest was that when leaving you are asked to leave your suitcases outside your cabin door for collection. The cases are thus left unattended for quite some time, something that you are told never to do when travelling. You won’t see your cases again till you have left the ship and I did find that a little strange.
Final bits and pieces
From our experience on this trip we hardly knew the ship was moving and none of us had any sea sickness. I should point out that the sea was flat calm throughout our trip and how the ship would feel in heavy seas I can’t comment on.
Trying to list prices in this review would be futile, cost depends on where you are going, when and for how long. Also what type of cabin you book and what extras you want included.
Cruising isn’t a cheap pastime, there is no denying that but comparing it too say renting a villa nowadays it isn’t really that much more when you consider that all your food and travel is included in the price.
We had a fantastic time and will definitely be doing another cruise in the future. We will almost certainly choose Royal Caribbean as our company of choice as they looked after us so well on our last cruise.
© Docpov 2012
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