My wife and I wanted to see the Mediterranean area as a nice second anniversary trip. In the past, we have traveled on land tours and have enjoyed seeing many countries in Europe, Asia, and South America. This time, however, we felt that a cruise would be the best option to see these coastal areas.
Upon arrival in Rome, Italy for our cruise, the problems started.
Royal Caribbean reps told us to get our bags and wait for further instructions. Our transfer ticket stated that we would get a orientation tour of Rome if we arrived early (which we had). So, we were looking forward to that. The agents promised us that the tour would begin as soon as we got outside the airport. But, after we were herded into a pack of our tourists, we were informed that the "traffic" would prevent us from doing a tour. This is a strange and unbelievable excuse. We rode on a bus to Civitavecchia.
At the "holding tank" area, we sat for at least 30-40 minutes without being told what was going to happen and when. Suddenly, we were informed that the ship would be opened and boarding could commence. People rushed to the entry way and we were again herded onto the ship in a tiresome manner.
Once inside, our rooms were not ready and we had to wait in the WindJammer cafe and eat. The food in the main cafe (as we found out throughout the cruise) is similar to going to a Golden Corral buffet or perhaps some other American style buffet restaurant. While palatable, the food is mediocre and tiring at best.
Rooms: The rooms are VERY small and uncomfortable. My college dorm room was FAR better and cleaner than the room we had on the ship. I had trouble sleeping every night and the walls creaked, crackled, and popped all night. Also, the ship turns off the A/C at night and it gets REALLY HOT in the middle of the night. The mattress was no better than a cot used for a summer camp. It felt like it was filled with straw or old rags (rather than inner springs).
I woke up sweating many nights. Also, there is no water in the room (or nearby) except for expensive bottled water. The shower was VERY small and the curtain was ineffective at keeping water off of the floor. My wife and I constantly had problems with the shower curtain.
Excursions: The Royal Caribbean excursions were hit or miss. The ones to Egypt, Turkey, and Capri/Sorrento/Pompeii were fairly good. The ones to Rhodes, Cypress, and Athens were awful. In fact, the one to Cypress actually omitted a scheduled activity because we were supposed to visit a castle. Incredibly, we did not get to see this even though we paid for the tour. The guides on the bad tours were also rather bad. They rambled at a consistent monotone as if they were doing a lecture for the 1000th time without concern for whether we could hear. One guide in Rhodes, for example, lectured about everything under the sun to kill time while we waited 50 minutes for people to use the restrooms. So, a good chunk of that tour was outside the restrooms of Rhodes!
When we complained about the bad tours to Royal Caribbean reps, they just said to fill out a form and they'll get back. I thought this was a poor response and asked to see a manager. They were VERY reluctant to even allow us to see a manager. The manager merely parroted corporate policy and seemed to interrogate us as to why we would be upset!
The deal is that if you don't like something, you can file a complaint and you won't hear the result until THE LAST DAY OF THE CRUISE. The reason, I think, is so that you won't cancel any other excursions and won't get any more upset.
On the last day, they refunded us 20% of two excursions for our troubles. This amount seemed arbitrary and was part of a form letter attached to the refund.
Overall, I must say that the tours were well below what you'd see with something like Globus, Trafalgar, Cosmos, Brendan, etc.
Facilities on Board: The ship itself does not have all that much to keep you occupied for days at sea. The golf course is very small and has a few holes. It might keep you occupied for an hour. The climbing wall was interesting and took maybe 45 minutes (including the line). The library/game room is nice in theory. However, like much of the ship, it is first come-first served. People swarm to the good games and books. So, for instance, the game of Scrabble was usually out. We ended up playing the Spanish version of Scrabble :)
The gym was nice with one big exception: IT WAS HOT. If you plan on running on a treadmill, you will nearly pass out from the heat. There is no fan in the gym, poor air circulation, and no way to get air flow in there. Also, there is no water except for a small water pitcher near the spa (which is usually almost empty). I felt like I was going to sweat to death in there. If you try running on the upper deck, it will be nearly impossible because of people lingering around up there.
The computers and internet on board are acceptable. However, the connection will be worse than most high speed access you use at home. I paid $55 upfront for the privilege of having the $0.37/min package. That goes fast given the slow speeds. I could check emails and correspond well with people back home. However, you cannot really download email attachments or use Word while at sea.
Staff: Many of the people at the burser's desk, excursions desk, or any other customer service post simply give a robotic response that no one is available to give an immediate resolution to the issue presented. They never have authority to solve your problem and act rude in light of simple questions. I saw the burser people treat one elderly lady very harshly on the final day of the cruise when she asked them to remove a charge she did not make. They said they could not help her until later. She was upset because she was leaving that day. This did not concern the burser and he replied, "well, we'll be here."
Poor information: As big as Royal Caribbean is, you'd think their instructions would be crystal clear (after all, their legal disclaimers seem to be!). This is not the case. On many occasions, the tickets had incorrect information about where to meet. On the last day, for example, it said to meet in the theater on Deck 4 for our group to be called for the transfer to the airport. We went to the theater at the appointed time and it was CLOSED. No signs or anything. We went to the bursers desk and asked them and they said to try Deck 5. We did that and no one was there. Finally, a maid told us the transfers just go to Deck 1. When we finally got there, the bus was about to leave without us! I was very upset because our tardiness was due to their own poor instructions.
Medical Center: For some reason, I got very ill on this trip. I don't know if I got sick on board or from visiting Egypt. I knew to wash my hands and did so regularly. So, it's hard to say. But, in any event, I was so sick that I could barely walk down to the medical area. I was treated with IV antibiotics for two days (which, as I heard from other cruisers, is what they typically do). In the end, this cost us $1,500.00 in fees. The doctors were foreign trained (i.e. Colombia, Poland) but seemed decent. I was shocked, however, at the drugs because they were Chinese made pills in a little envelope. When I got home, I went to my doctor and got a new prescription. These same drugs were free at my local Publix. On board, they cost $161.00.
Waiters: I must say that our waiters were excellent and this was one positive aspect of the trip.
Food: They only serve Americanized food (and 1 Indian dish as Vegetarian). You will NOT get to sample the local foods from the ports!
Security Staff: The Security people are rude and will literally throw your bags into the x-ray if you do not move fast enough. Also, they confiscate any wine you might buy in the ports and only return it on the last day.
Overall, I wholeheartedly DO NOT recommend this cruise or this company. Please save yourself the money and pain we experienced and try something else.
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