Friday April 12th - Exploring San Juan
We left Tampa on the 7 am flight nonstop to San Juan. By 11 am, we were in our suits and poolside at the El San Juan Resort and Casino. Cab fare was $14 for the two of us. My first impression of the lobby was Wow!
This is gorgeous. The opulent chandeliers and beautiful bars made a great first impression. Our room was pretty good. The management has tried it update with new tiles, white linens and a refreshed bathroom, but around the edges the age of the facility snuck through. We were very impressed by the pool areas - 3 pools surrounded by plush loungers plus umbrellas and beach chairs on the beach. The beach is Isla Verde, rumored to be one of the best beaches in San Juan. It is gorgeous. We enjoyed lunch at the pool bar overlooking the beach.
We ordered the pork kebabs and watermelon salad. Not stand outs , but not bad either. We took a nice stroll on the beach and then claimed two chairs near the quieter pool. They also have three cabanas you can rent poolside. The pool temperature was perfect. We headed up to get ready for our evening food tour of Old San Juan. A cab ride was $22 from the hotel.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Norwegian Sky Review
February 15th, 2013 Sailing
Cabin 8024 – Oceanview
This was second cruise on NCL for me having been on a cruise to nowhere from Tampa on the Star in 2012. I was travelling with my wife and four of her sorority sisters from college. My wife’s original roommate had to cancel so I was more than willing to be a late fill-in. Who doesn’t like to cruise?
We arrived in at the Miami port about 12:30. Check-in was easy with not much of a wait. We then made it upstairs where we learned that boarding had not yet started due to a safety inspection. Since this was just a day after the Carnival Triumph situation, I thought it might be related but no specifics were mentioned. We were able to board about 30 minutes after arriving (approx. 1:30PM). Our cabins were ready so we headed there to check them out and drop off our bags. The cabin was great with a small couch and desk along with the porthole. Lunch would be in Crossings Restaurant which we found very good. Spring rolls, eggplant tapenade and mushroom soup were the standouts. Off we went to purchase our beverage package.
We headed to Deck 6 in Dazzles Nightclub where they had a table setup for all the beverage package options. We had decided a few weeks ago that we would definitely get the package. The main reason is that it eliminates the stress of getting the bill on the last morning. Going into the cruise, we would know how much we would be spending. We asked about the Ultimate Beverage Package and were directed to an officer who helped guide us. He explained the way it worked although he had nothing written down. Beers up to $5 and wines under $10 were included. This is most of the beers onboard including 16 ounce Coors Light, Miller Lite and Budweiser. About 60% of the wines by the glass were included with a very good selection of every style. We found some a very nice Prosecco and a fantastic Grand Rose by Isabella. The latter may only be available in the dining room. As far as cocktails, the information on what was included was a little more mysterious. Not having anything in writing, my best guess is that any single-alcohol cocktail under $10 is included. Multiple-alcohol cocktails (such as Ultimate Margarita) were not included even if less than $10. Frozen drinks (such as mudslideor Bahama-Mama) were included. We didn’t try any martinis but one of my wife’s friends did have an espresso martini and it wasn’t included. Bottled water, Red Bull and specialty coffees are excluded. When you order drinks the bar waiter will have you sign a receipt which has the normal prices and gratuity. They will write “BP” on the receipt. I found this a bit inconvenient. We had tried the similarly-priced beverage package on Celebrity and found it much more convenient since they didn’t make you sign receipts. This didn’t ruin our experience with the package and I am glad we got it. It was a great value and we knew ahead of time what we would have on our bill on disembarkation morning. My advice would be to ask the bar waiter if you are not sure if something will be covered. Hopefully NCL will start having something in writing on what is included.
We started a tour of the ship and it is a beauty. This is the ship that had previously sailed in Hawaii and that is quite apparent. Lots of Hawaii-influenced artwork in the stairways and hallways. The public lounges all had names with Hawaii themes. Outrigger Lounge. Great Outdoor Café. Longboard Sports Bar. It is the most beautifully decorated ship I have ever been on. Large, open rooms – especially Outrigger which has large windows you can look out Forward. Great Outdoor Café is a huge Aft outdoor space. Both terrific sail-away locations depending on the weather. Below is a picture of me at the Outrigger singing karaoke. Notice the canoe above my head.
Dining tonight was in Crossings. We would also go here the second night and on the last night went to the “sister” restaurant The Palace (same menu). The menu changes each night but they have a “classics” section which stayed mostly the same each night. I only noticed some minor differences on the classic section on the last night. Each night there was a regional specialty which was some kind of fish dish. The standout dish from all the nights was a vegetarian patty dish with a chickpea stew (picture below). Fish dishes and pasta were better than the steaks although the rib eye on the last night was pretty good.
Entertainment options were great and varied. Outrigger had a Latin band. Dazzles had a DJ (where we spent most of the first evening with some good dance music) and the Atrium Bar had a 5 piece band which was very good – although also very loud so I recommend sitting one deck down on Deck 5 with your drinks. There was a comedian Andrew Kennedy who I thought was very funny. We saw his family show at the Welcome Aboard show and his late night adult show on the last night. We also enjoyed Captain Cook's bar with Nathaniel - the piano player. He played a good mix of sing a long favorites and songs that really showed his range.
On the second night of the cruise they had their White Hot Nights Deck Party. The weather actually cooperated for a couple hours. The DJ was really. The cruise staff dressed in all white - many with angel wings and led us in different dances. At one point, we felt like we were in a Jane Fonda workout video so we treated to the side to boogie on our own.
One hilarious moment was when one of the Gamma girls leaned on the circular bar. The staff hadn't locked the wheels properly so the whole thing moved. We joked that we were going to grab it and start the world's best congo line!
The last night they also had a farewell show with one of the cruise director staff as host. He performed some magic, the lead singers from the Atrium band performed and then the Jersey Boys tribute group came out. They were all very good. Final act of the farewell show was performance from all the cruise director staff. Very entertaining – but I don’t want to give details or it would spoil it for you. We went to several trivia events and won twice. First time was some NCL Frisbees and the second was a free bingo card(sadly it was not a winner!!). On the last night they had the Quest which was entertaining (no spoilers). The sorority friends travelling with us had never been to anything like it – and they enjoyed it. We went to the casino a couple of times. I ended up donating $10. My wife won about $20. Large casino for this size of ship. Not smoky at all. Good variety of slots.
Saturday we headed to Great Stirrup Key. The weather was not cooperating at all. Friday was rainy and Saturday wasn’t any different – rainy and cold. My wife and I had room service coffee and fruit, went for a walk on the covered jogging track and then decided to wait to see if the weather would clear. We went to the buffet for a “proper” breakfast which I found very good. They had excellent eggs benedict along with all the other breakfast offerings you would want fresh made waffles also). We then decided to sit underneath the overhang in the Outdoor Café bar and see if the weather would improve. It didn’t. So we decided to abandon going ashore and find chairs near the pool. We had a couple of bloody mary’s (included in the bar package). We tried the “Il ADiago” for lunch and it wasn’t memorable. We thought this would be a sit down place but found a long wait for both pasta and pizza. The pizza was average. I tried the pasta the last day and it was pretty good. They had two sauces to choose from (mushroom and marinara) and either fettucine or penne.. Then you could have them add a variety of other items such as chopped onion, bacon, mushrooms and other veggies. Because of the nasty, rainy weather they added a few more activities onboard in the afternoon. We went to an impromptu karaoke session in the Outriggers Lounge. Only two people singing (including me). I really like the system them have setup. You search for your song on a touch-screen device, enter your name and it gets you in the queue. I liked it better than other karaoke where you have to search through large three ring binders and enter on paper.
The regular lunch buffet was much better. A lot of variety of sandwiches, burgers, hot items and a nice selection of cheeses. I really liked the Great Outdoors Café near the back of the ship. It had a streamlined version of the buffet where you could grab a quick snack while you were having a cocktail at the Great Outdoors Bar.
Our last day was in Nassau and it didn’t rain!! It was pretty cold though. We got off the ship and took a walk down to Junkanoo Beach since we had heard a lot about it but never been. Quick fifteen minute walk and we were there.
I guess because of the cold weather there was nothing happening there – not that we had any intention of swimming. All the little shacks for beach-related items were closed. We walked back to downtown for a little while and found many shops closed – probably because it was Sunday. Back to the ship we went for some lunch and cocktails. Buffet again today which was delicious.
Overall, this was a great cruise which happened to have really terrible weather. Beautiful ship which I hope to sail on again – really enjoyed all the venues and the food. Ultimate Beverage package was a very good value for us. If we added it up I am sure we each had drinks equal to or greater than the amount we paid. But the main reason for getting it was achieved on the last day when I got a printout from guest services and we had no extra charges!! I only hope that NCL makes it clearer what is included. Written information would be helpful.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
A Taste of the Celebrity Life!!
My wife and I sailed on the special 2-night Constellation on 1/19/13. Port of call was Nassau. We were on Deck 8 in Inside Cabin 8015 (Category 9). Late seating for dinner. We purchased the Classic beverage package for both of us. We took this cruise mainly for the price, but also because we had booked a 7-day cruise on Summit in April 2013 and we felt this would give us a taste for this class of ship.
We arrived at the pier about 2:00. It was a very strange embarkation. Apparently Constellation was in a temporary pier so instead of the usual terminal building, they had a large tent. Not the best first impression for a cruise line boasting they are “deluxe”. I thought we might be headed into a beer tasting festival instead of a cruise. We were able to use the line for Select checkin since I had been able to get Captain’s Club credentials having been Platinum on RCCL. Check in was fast and we quickly found out we had been upgraded from Deck 2 to Deck 8. We had booked an Inside guarantee. It was nice to be closer to the pool and bars. We bypassed the photo op and across the gangway we went. Onboard by 2:30. Once inside, realized we were in the right place. We loved how the ship looked more like a hotel than any cruise ship we had been on.
We were welcomed with a nice glass of champagne and really enjoyed the look of the ship. We quickly made our way to Deck 8 using the stairs (we always try to avoid the elevator and get the extra exercise). We were greeted by our cabin steward on our way down the hallway and he made us feel very welcome and to let us know if we needed anything. The cabin was in perfect order. Next on our agenda was some lunch.
We had done some research and saw that Bistro on 5 was going to be open lunch so we are anxious to try it. We were greeted by the hostess and quickly seated at a table for two. This was our first opportunity to try the drink package and we both ordered a glass of wine. For food, I order the chef’s salad and a Rib Eye crepe. Both very good – especially the salad and blue cheese dressing. My wife had the Cowboy crepe which she thought was very good (I did also!!). There was a $5 surcharge each (which we thought was a bargain for the food quality) and we left an additional $5 gratuity. We next were headed to a Roll Call meetup at the Sunset Bar on the back of the ship.
The roll call was in the Sunset Bar which is the coolest bar on any ship I have been on. Great place for sail away with a guitar player, shaded seating and nice bar with stools. And close to the pizza station if you still needed a snack. The roll call members were wearing beads and they had name tags which was a nice touch. The bar service was a little spotty at first. The bartenders seemed ill-prepared for the number of people. After about 10 minutes of this, one of the managers came out and he quickly got a couple more bartenders and the service was back to normal. Again we used the beverage package and it worked fine. They do take your card and confirm your package but you have nothing to sign. We found that if you stayed in the same bar for more than one round, they no longer asked for your card and in some cases just came over and refilled your wine. We chatted with some of the people in the group and watched as we sailed away from Miami, seeing the Epic and Breeze as we departed. We headed to our cabin to get dressed for late dinner.
We first went to the welcome aboard show and saw the comedian Fred Klett who had apparently appeared with Jerry Seinfeld before. We found him pretty funny. Not rolling on the floor funny but had some interesting observations. The crowd was very small. After dinner, we went to Michael’s Club where they had a piano singer. She was very good. Very cool lounge and unlike any piano bar I had seen before (no seats around the piano). We then went to karaoke and had fun singing a song (Lady is a Tramp). We liked how the host moved new people to the front of the list to sing.
We then went to the disco in the Reflections Lounge. Every other disco I have been on a ship has been in what I would call a “cave”. Very dark and low ceilings. Not on this ship. Huge room and large floor to ceiling windows. Simply the best disco I have ever seen. And a great DJ who really knew the crowd. Played a mix of old and new – and often both at the same time which kept everyone dancing. Great cocktail service here.
The only low point of the cruise was the service in the dining room. On the first night we arrived right at 8:30 and were seated immediately. When we got to the table, our waiter came over and told us it would be awhile before he would be over to take our orders since he had to seat other guests. Or so he said. We actually didn’t see him seat any other guests but he was correct about not coming back for quite some time. Once he did come, he took our orders for dinner. Food quality was very good but needed more seasoning. For example, escargots which I have loved on other cruise lines for their buttery-garlic flavor, were nearly tasteless on Celebrity. The Duck L’Orange which I had on the second night also was exteremely underseasoned – tasting nothing of orange and lacking any sauce. I also ordered the Celebrity signature Beef Toranado (I am sure I have spelled this wrong). And while it was cooked properly to order (medium rare), it too cried out for some simple salt and pepper.
Cocktail service was also off. We never saw a bar waiter. In fact, our assistant waiter had to leave the dining room to go get my wife’s cappuccino, slowing down service for everyone. The sommelier was very good, but it took a while for him to come to our table to take orders. Once he did, it took some time for him to return for refills. It seemed like he was the only one serving our entire dining room. That issue seemed to be more about management then the individual server since it appeared that one server had the whole entire side of the restaurant to take care of.
We had room service breakfast and found it average. The omelet was cooked solid and the coffee average. Much better in the buffet where I was surprised to find made-to-order eggs benedict with your choice of protein including smoke salmon. Delicious!! They also had English breakfast and for the first time I tried blood sausage – and I loved it!!
Lunch in the buffet was very good. We found it unlike any other cruise ship buffet in that they served you almost everything. For example, someone would put the green you wanted in a salad bowl and then you would take that and put whatever else you wanted. They had a pasta station where they made it to order. Even the entrée section, the servers would give you a portion (or more) of what you asked for. I actually liked this approach better than other cruise line since there was less concern about cleanliness issues. There was a great pizza station where they had 3 – 4 types available. The best food we found in the buffet was the absolutely amazing selection of freshly made sushi. We had this for a snack before the last dinner and found it really good. One service issue at the buffet was that I found that dirty trays and plates stayed around much too long - especially out at the Sunset Bar where the seagulls were feasting on uneaten food while we were in port. I have to put some blame on the passengers for this. A reasonable person would know that when you eating outdoors near a port, there are going to be birds. Sometimes very aggressive birds. If you are done with your tray, have the common sense to at least put a napkin over it so it is not as available to the birds. Or better yet, take 30 seconds and bring it inside where it isn’t tantalizing for the gulls. We saw several times where this wasn’t done and the birds came in large flocks. Mostly avoidable if the guests would have taken a little consideration for the passengers around them. We ate breakfast in the dining room on the last morning and it was pretty good – although the eggs benedict in the buffet were better.
The service issues are possibly symptoms of the 2-night cruise and being understaffed. I don’t know how to explain the food issues since I had much higher expectations from Celebrity.
Pool and Other Amenities
We sat by the pool on the day at Nassau and had a “sea” day”. The area has two pools one smaller than the other and used for games (they have a basketball hoop). Bars are found on either end. Cocktail service was somewhat slow in that there weren’t many server walking around. Once you found one, they would come back to you. We also checked out the adults-only Solarium which was excellent. Large heated Thermo pool with jetted stainless steel “chaises”. Very relaxing and they have their own buffet of healthier lunch options and snacks. Also some interesting marinated fruits which I tried but none were particularly memorable. There is also a sauna, separate showers and lockers for men and women in this area. Did not try them but probably will for our upcoming Summit cruise. On the first morning, we did a morning 3-mile walk on the jogging path. Not as wide as some other ships and there were some chaises which you had to be careful walking past.
We had only brought carryon luggage so didn’t have to leave anything outside our cabin. We would just walk off the ship through customs. The process took longer than I think it should have. We waited in a long line on the outside paths of the ship (Deck 3 I believe). And getting through customs took some time as well. It took over an hour to get off the ship and through customs. Longest of any ship I have been on.
I loved the ship and enjoyed the cruise very much. I am excited for our 7-day cruise on Summit which is the same class. This gave me the “taste” I wanted and left me wanting more - which I hope to get on Summit. There was so much of the ship I felt we didn’t get to explore and I plan to take it all in on Summit. If you have any questions about the cruise, I would be glad to try to answer them.
The Agony and the Ecstasy
My wife and I travelled with one other couple on the 1/10/13 of Ecstasy. Stopped in Nassau and Freeport. Cruise Director is Brent Mitchell. We stayed in Inside Cabin R38. First time on this ship but had been on Inspiration (same class) twice before. As you can guess from the title, it was not my favorite cruise. Will get into details as we go along.
|Not my favorite cruise, but we still had a great time.|
Very smooth. There was no line to get checked in when we arrived around noon. My wife had checked a couple of weeks before to see about any upgrades to an Ocean View cabins and was told that the ship was sold out but that didn’t seem possible based on the few people at checkin. The clerk got our room key packet - and what may have been an omen of what was to come occurred. My wife’s key was there but mine wasn’t. Instead was another passenger’s named Cynthia. This lead to a few jokes with my wife about who this Cynthia person was and why she was in our cabin. It took the clerk about 10 minutes to finally locate my key and we were on our way onboard. Rooms wouldn’t be ready until 1:30 so we went to Lido for lunch and a Drink of the Day (Funship Special). Food was pretty good. I most enjoyed the Mongolian Wok which hadn’t been on any previous Carnival ships.
We arrived at our cabin and found it quite impressive. One of the larger insides we have seen. More than enough room to move around and adequate closet space. Luggage easily fit under the bed. Bathroom was clean and well appointed. We had Crest toothpaste, nasal strips, moisturizer and Nutris Shampoo and Conditioner in the amenity basket. Our room steward greeted us in the hallway as we met the other couple who was staying a few cabins away. It was a nice touch.
We next did a tour of the ship finding out where everything was (we already knew where the pool was). Took a little while to find our dining room but then realized we had to walk over the galley and then down one deck. No problem once we figured that out. One of the coolest public lounges is Chinatown.
We went to the Spa to see whether they had a steam and sauna. When we asked where the locker rooms were, there was a somewhat surly attitude from the clerk about why we needed to see them. We had to ask twice more before they pointed out where they were. We felt like they were trying to sell us something. We did see that the locker rooms are very large. And both men’s and ladies have free separate sauna and steam rooms. My favorite bar ended up being the Society Bar which was right above our dining room.
In general, the ship is well kept and the public areas are kept clean but didn’t see cleaning crews as often as I did on RCCL Monarch of the Seas.
This is where our cruise went horribly wrong. We were seated a table 396. This was hands down the worst service we have had on any cruise. Our waitstaff disappeared for long periods of time. There were huge gaps between courses. One night we didn’t get our entrees until 40 minutes after appetizers and we ate them in the dark because the dancing show was about to start. Two nights we ordered coffee and it never came. Water refills were rare. We compensated by getting multiple glasses filled from the extras on the table. I didn’t get the sense that our head waiter even concerned about us. Not once did she ask how dinner was. She never made any recommendations from the menu. Every night she disappeared and the assistant waitstaff had to pick up the load as best they could. They were adequate but simply had too many other tables to truly provide good service. Even the Maitre D wasn’t much help. First time I have been on a cruise where he didn’t provide information about the next day’s breakfast or what would be on the menu the next night. Seemed more concerned about the singing and dancing.
The worst service we experienced was on disembarkation day. We went to the dining room for breakfast. We planned to leave the ship at 8:30. We got to the dining room at 7:45. We ordered our meals by 7:50. My wife got the melon platter and I ordered eggs benedict. We were not offered pastries. About 5 minutes later, my wife’s fruit arrived but no eggs. About 8:15 after a few coffee and water refills, my wife asks the assistant waiter to help find my order. He literally just shrugged his shoulders as if he could care less if it ever arrived. Five more minutes and nothing. We then ask if we can get the pastry basket since it is obvious that I am not getting eggs. That seemed to be an unreasonable request to the waiter, but it was brought to the table. At 8:30 we see our waiter coming out with a large order of other tables. He had a somewhat smug look on his face. He apparently had my eggs but it was too late. We had to leave to bring our friends to the airport.
We love the Punchliner Comedy club although Kenny Miller needs to change up his act. It was the exactly the same as we had seen a few years ago. Same audience gimmicks. The other comedian (Lance??) was funny. We saw both his family and adult shows. We saw “The Brits” and it was really great. Terrific music and a talented cast of singers and dancers. The set was “interactive” – I won’t give away any spoilers – just see it to believe it. By far, the best show I have seen on any cruise ship. Angie also enjoyed the Thriller Dance Class.
We also saw the Hasbro Game Show and it was well done. A great for passengers to get up on stage and it was fun to watch. They had poolside trivia on the port days. We didn’t get off the ship so that was fun while we were at the pool. And we won a Ship on a Stick on Music Trivia.
I did notice that most of the Cruise Director staff seems indifferent. Just going through the motions during the activities. The Assistant Cruise Director Adam was being very vulgar just prior to the adult comedy telling anyone under 18 to “Get the #&^* Out!!”. I didn’t think that was necessary.
I had yet to be on a cruise ship where I didn’t want to sail again on the same ship. But I found that ship this time. The situation in the dining rooms was so bad that I don’t wish to sail on Ecstasy ever again.
Monday, December 31, 2012
After everyone was assembled, we headed to the house. We were not disappointed. The house was perfect: five bedrooms each with their own bathroom plus a great pool and rooftop deck.
We settled in and then Edgar and his wife arrived to make dinner. We had elected to have a chef prepare breakfast and dinner each day except Sunday. The food was amazing! We ate so well!
Sunday, Glenn had arranged a tour with Cozumel Bar Hop. A van picked us up and we headed to the "other" side of the island. This side is barely developed - no electricity or running water. A few bars have popped up over the years. We visited five of them and had a terrific time. Some of the highlights:
|Swings instead of bar stools|
We headed back home to catch sunset from the rooftop deck.
Monday was a lazy day around the pool. We walked down the Carlos and Charlie's beach club for lunch. Then we had a great night hanging in the living room playing games. Tuesday, Tom, Margaret, Glenn and I went to a cooking class. It was so much fun! We went to the market to buy the ingredients and then Josefina taught us how to make her family favorites.
Wednesday was my birthday and it just so happened that Glenn's sister was in port from her cruise ship so we all met up at the Town Square for lunch. I even got a special birthday corsage from a tiny clown.
Then a monsoon hit and we took cover in a dive bar until it was dinner time. Glenn had arranged for a birthday cake. It was a terrific birthday. Thursday was a rainy, rainy day so we all hibernated in the house - reading and playing card games. Friday, we headed to the Playa Palancar. It was awesome. It was like we were staring in our own Corona commercial.
Then we enjoyed our last sunset on the rooftop.
It was so hard to say goodbye to one of the greatest vacations I have ever had. Some tips for next time: invest in having the house stocked with food, beer and tequila before we arrive. It will be worth it. Don't forget to include the $2 per person day tip for Edgar and his wife in the equation. Pesos are not necessary, but helpful because the exchange rate can change widely. Consider securing a taxi for a the week. We spent $35 one way to town every day so getting a taxi to agree to be on call for $100 per day may be worth it. I can't wait to go back!
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Delightful Cruise on the “Old” Lady of the RCCL Fleet
Booked a 3-night Bahamas cruise with my wife. We live in Florida and can reasonably drive to four ports. This time was Port Canaveral. Ports of call were Nassau and CocoCay. The ship is about to be sold to another cruise company in April 2013 so this is one of the last cruises. We were in Outside Cabin 2026 forward starboard. It has small porthole. Perfect size for a short cruise but would want larger for a 7-night. No issues with the room itself but we did have some loud “banging” below and around our cabin on two of the nights. We never did find out what it was, but since the ship is 21 years old, we wrote it off to old age. The staff and crew onboard were so friendly. The cabin steward welcomed us which was a very nice touch. The ship was nicely decorated for Christmas.
Bar and restaurant service was top-notch. The food in the main dining room was the best I have had on any cruise. Standouts were the pork medallions, beef tenderloin and sautéed mushrooms. They have a fantastic lunch menu as well. They have a salad bar setup in the dining room where you have the attendants add the greens, toppings and dressing you want. They had four types of greens, grape and Roma tomatoes, several proteins including bacon, prosciutto and chicken along with several dressings. Then they chop it up for you and serve. It is a really wonderful idea. The lunch menu option had a lot of good choices including tomato risotto and grilled barramundi which was nicely spicy. We had embarkation lunch in the buffet and found it just okay. It is a smaller ship so the selection is limited by size. The burgers were good. Pizza just average – maybe better as a late night snack. Room service breakfast was okay but coffee was cold which was disappointing. We wondered if they realized the thermos’ didn’t work - or maybe they poured the coffee hours earlier. We only got to try it once because on the second day, they didn’t pick up our room service ticket even though it had been placed on the door by Midnight (the ticket stated it would be picked by 3AM). Only continental breakfast was on the menu and it was decent but they need to work on the coffee.Entertainment
We attended the welcome aboard show and they had a funny comedian who we later saw on the last night for the adults-only show. Attended the Love and Marriage game show and surprisingly they had a new list of questions from what I had seen before on past RCCL, Carnival and NCL cruises. Well done for not having the same old questions!! Our second port was CocoCay and we had to miss that port because it was not safe to tender. The cruise director (Marc) had to change the day’s activities to a Sea Day and it was surprising how seamlessly it went since it wasn’t announced until 8AM in the morning. We went to a lot of activities including Napkin Folding and many trivia contests. I enjoyed the movie theme trivia the most. We saw the belly flop contest at the pool which was fun since they allowed everyone poolside to vote on each “flop”. They had other pool activities (Sexiest Man and Pool Games), but we were at other activities and missed them. We went to the piano bar and didn’t like it. The player didn’t have a list of the songs he knew which has been a staple of other piano bars. He seemed more interested in promoting his business since the piano was littered with his business cards. He was also drinking shots which I didn’t think was appropriate. The ship has a great Canadian band called Hounds of Liberty which played several times. Once was an acoustic set before dinner which I thought was their best.
We attended the Crown and Anchor returning guest party. It was really nice. Tasty appetizers including mini bruschetta, chicken wings and spicy mozzarella sticks. Drinks were free-flowing and we heard you could have ordered what you wanted although we were fine with the champagne and rum punch. They had a nice presentation for frequent cruisers including one women who have 750+ plus cruise points – and only since 2006. She is the definition of frequent cruiser!!
Cleanliness and Upkeep
Given that the ship is 21+ years old, it is in very good shape. The furniture in the lounges appears to be very new. Carpeting and flooring in good shape. Perhaps because of the upcoming sale? Didn’t experience any cleanliness issues. Public bathrooms were always immaculate and often being cleaned.
My wife and I aren’t loyalists to any cruise brand – we always go based on price point. Will we be back on an RCCL cruise again? Yes. I was impressed with the experience and if the price is right, we’ll book another cruise. I also will be curious what the new owners of Monarch will do with her. I heard onboard she was headed to the Southern Caribbean. It would be interesting to see what changes the new company makes.
Sunday, July 8, 2012
Our tour of baseball parks took us to St. Louis. We combined the ball park visit with visiting two great friends and their families. Friday night we had a proper St Louis barbecue with pork steaks with homemade bbq sauce, corn on the cob and handpicked blackberry cobbler.
Saturday we set out for the ball park. It was one hundred degrees. My eye lids were sweating. The ball park was beautiful.
We loved how it was a sunken field so you had a great view from the sidewalk. Plus the view of the Arch was terrific.
We made it to the 7th inning. After the game, we headed up to check out the view from the roof of the hotel across for the park. It was a great overview of the park.
Our hotel was a nightmare. We had to wait for everything and then we didn’t even have towels when we checked in. It became the running joke of the weekend. We were finally able to get ready and we headed out to the West End for a tour of restaurants. We started at the Drunken Fish – which had a fantastic Saturday night happy hour: Half Off Select Martinis and Sushi. YUM! Then we went to Sub-Zero. It was the most incredible martini selection I have ever seen. We sampled a couple and had the best plate of nachos I have ever had. Then we walked over to Salt. Salt is in an old funeral home. I love restaurants in old houses. We shared some small plates and great wine. It was a wonderful night out.
Sunday we got up and met for lunch at Duff’s.
Then Glenn and I headed out on our own. We tried to ride up to the top of the Arch, but the line was just too long for the sweltering heat. We stopped by the Morgan Street Brewery.
I liked the Black Bear the best. Then, we were lured in by the air conditioning and promises of loosest slots at the Casino Queen. After cooling off our wallets and ourselves, we tried to visit the Schlafly brewery, but it was closed for renovation. We went to Blueberry Hill to sample the best hamburger in St. Louis. Glenn also had his first toasted ravioli. I loved the inside of Blueberry Hill.
It was blanketed with photos and display cases of memorabilia. The burger was very good. We headed back over the highway to The Famous Bar – a fantastic bar that’s been around for decades. We joined the locals at the bar and shared a beer before heading to the airport.
Our flight was delayed for four hours. The upside was that it meant I randomly met up with one of my friends from college who was connecting through St. Louis through the magic of Facebook!
Overall, we loved St. Louis and look forward to many future visits.