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josephmz

NCL FAN TRIES ROYAL AGAIN

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A LITTLE HISTORY TO START: We began our cruising career several years ago. Our first few cruises were with Royal before taking one with NCL. We liked the product, so we stayed with them. We are a couple in our 70s from Virginia and have cruised pretty much at least once a year. We are Platinum (3rd tier) with NCL.

 

I began looking at trips last spring and found a Rhapsody sailing leaving Tampa on Feb. 1 to Western Caribbean. I priced an outside cabin (they pick) with $125.00 OBC and trip insurance that was considerable less than basically the same trip as NCL without the insurance.  Considering the fixed income thing, it was very attractive. I did think the $500 non-refundable deposit was over the top.

 

This would actually be our fourth cruise to the area, but we enjoy the shipboard experience almost as much as the ports. We do enjoy relaxed sea days. We are also fans of the smaller ships although I think their days are numbered due to economies of scale.

 

Interesting story about insurance. We have never purchased it previously. We are both in reasonably good health, but bad things can happen to good people, so I added it. A few days before sailing DW began pressing me for details that I couldn't answer. I didn't remember ever seeing confirmation and scrolled through my e-mail log to no avail. I checked the Royal website and couldn't find where I had purchase it. We finally called and got the carrier's number. Yes, we did have insurance and they sent us a link to find the terms.

 

The value was brought home to me while in Key West. I was out on the Deck 5 promenade late on Sunday afternoon. I watched as a crew member rolled an elderly woman off the ship in a wheelchair. She was covered with a blanket. Two other people followed pulling three suitcases. They walked a block off the end of the pier and stopped at the corner. In a few minutes a white van drove up and took them away. Hope they had insurance.

 

BOOKING: It may be my unfamiliarity, but I found the Royal website "clunky" to navigate. I had to memorize my reservation number because they kept asking for it.  I used the OBC to purchase the 3-night dining plan. The net price difference was about what I would have paid NCL in service charge for their "included" plan. I found it frustrating not to be able to book dining ahead of time. I don't really see the value of having a courtesy reservation without knowing where it is at. DW finally called Customer Service and got our MDR nights scheduled. She asked about the specialties, and the agent said she could handle that. Then she apologized and said she couldn't make them because we had a package. If we had purchased individually, we could have reserved the times ahead.

 

At 30 days out, I placed modest bids on a balcony and junior suite. I got my refusal the day before the cruise. I pretty much figured it was a no go a couple weeks before. Tried a mock booking and the cruise was not even listed, and Expedia was only showing inside cabins.

 

We talked with a couple two doors down from us. They had a balcony booked and paid for. At some point Royal called to tell them there had been a booking snafu. They said they got a refund and an outside cabin plus a nice OBC.

 

EMBARKATION: We flew from Raleigh to Tampa on Southwest non-stop with no baggage fees on Friday evening. Found the hotel shuttle location at the airport difficult to find. The next morning at 11:45 we took a $20.00 shuttle to the port. I had read a lot of complaints about the Port of Tampa, but we waltzed right through the Platinum line (more about that later) and were on the ship in no time. Cabins would be ready about 1:00.

 

Big mystery: When I printed out our boarding passes, I noticed mine showed Gold status. DW was Platinum. Now we have been married almost 51 years and I don't recall her disappearing for weeks at a time. So how did she reach Platinum?

 

We immediately headed to one of the specialty restaurant to confirm our three nights. Why can't this be handled online pre-cruise.

 

MORE TO FOLLOW

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ME AGAIN:

 

DINING: We typically enjoy our first lunch in the MDR, a little peace and quiet after a hectic morning. Unfortunately it was not open. We headed for the Windjammer. It looked like Black Friday at Macy's. Took several turns to finally find a table.

 

Now, I do like the way Windjammer is laid out. The circular layout is very nice and the individual food stations usually create short lines that are less institutional. We ate every breakfast but two there and had lunch three times. Thought it was a nice touch in having roaming crew taking and refilling beverage orders. Thought the food quality and selection were good.

 

For our three specialty dinners, we booked Chops twice and Giovanni's once. I would have preferred the other way around, but my steak-eating sidekick prevailed. One of the reasons we enjoy NCL is the choice of least five different venues plus O'Sheehan's, the 24-hour included place. Since we are not into the sushi thing, we only had the two choices.

 

On the first trip to Chops, I had the bone-in ribeye.  I was not impressed. The second time around I chose the New York strip which was excellent.

 

We had dined at Giovanni's on our previous Royal cruises, and I personally think it is one of the best shipboard experiences out there. Despite the New Yorker and Jerseyite opinion that NCL's La Cucina is faux Italian comparable to Olive Garden, we have always had excellent meals there. That being said, Giovanni's takes the prize.  I love lamb, but for some reason about the only time I eat is when cruising. Giovanni's rack of lamb did not disappoint.

 

In both places the service and leisurely pace of the meal were great. They even brought me cheesecake and sang Happy Birthday without any prompting. How do they do that?

 

One of the big attractions with NCL is the freestyle dining where we could always get a table for two with lilt or no waiting. Now, I don't consider myself a snob, but I never liked being stuck at a big table listening to someone discuss their last surgery, their former wife or their lousy kids. This trip we had the best of both worlds. We had a table for two in the same balcony area with the same waiter, Ike, and his assistant, Ladylyn, every night. They were delightful. By second time they knew what we wanted to drink. Now my wife has sworn off desserts. What with going on a cruise, her timing was questionable. The first night she asked Ike about some fresh fruit. She doesn't like melon, so she requested mixed berries. Ike promptly obliged and told her he had placed a standing order. Since we alternated nights with the specialties, he would bring her two servings.

 

CABIN: We had only cruised in outside cabin once on the Dawn. That cabin was a little claustrophobic, narrow and short with a very small bathroom. I was a little apprehensive as it was located on Deck 2 (2036), one deck above the oars. I was amazed when we entered.  It was a good two feet wider and much deeper than expected. The bathroom was  a very nice size. The forward elevators were directly across from the door. Port disembarking was a breeze since we only had tow walk down one light of stairs and didn't have to fight the elevator crowd. My only surprise was that there was no refrigerator. Didn't really need it, so it didn't really matter.

 

The room steward, Sandovan, was excellent. We are low maintenance and didn't make many requests. I see I lot of pre-cruise posts fretting over CPAPS. Not to worry, he promptly supplied a jug of water and the needed extension cord.

 

Ports to follow.

 

 

 

 

Edited by josephmz

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Great review. We were on the Rhapsody in Jan and LOVED it. We like the smaller ships, don't need all of the whistles and bells now that the kids are grown and on their own!

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PORTS: Our first stop was Key West. We had been there twice before, once by car and once by ship. The first time, over 50 years ago, we drove down from Miami. It was a pretty sleepy place. Big change! I had booked the Old Town Trolley passes directly. The 1-1/2 hour narrated circuit makes 13 stops. There's one every 30 minutes, so you can get off and re-board later. Good way to see the island. We toured Mel Fisher's treasure museum. Shopped for the Grands. We asked a shopkeeper for a recommendation for a relatively non-touristy restaurant. She suggested El Meson du Pepe, a Cuban place a couple of blocks away. We had a nice lunch. The Cuban sandwich was great. We ate on the covered porch complete with the free-roaming chickens. No kidding!

 

This was our fourth time in Grand Cayman, once for a hotel stay. We had previously been to Hell and back, driven around the island in a rental jeep, swam with the stingrays and visited the turtle farm. We opted to walk around town. Shopped some more for the Grands. Looked in the multitude of jewelry stores and wound up at Jimmy Buffett's where we were able to check e -mails for free while snacking on a humongous pile of nachos washed down with a couple beers. Word of warning: I would  not suggest renting and driving around the island. Beside remembering to drive in the other lane, traffic has mushroomed since we did it years ago.

 

In Cozumel we docked at the International. We had tied up downtown on previous trips I booked a beach day through Resorts for a Day website. You pay $20.00 upfront with balance due at the resort. The Allegro Resort was beautiful. The have a large kid's play area and a waterpark, two large pools and of course the beach. The only problem was when we arrived there weren't two lounge chairs together anywhere. Around 1:00 things cleared out somewhat and we situated at one of the pools. Drinks and lunch buffet were included. The buffet was excellent with many options. The taxi cost $20.00 each way. They charge $12.00 for use of the internet. It was not working the day we visited. We went back to port around 3:30. The mall at the port is huge. DW found her obligatory piece of silver jewelry. Hit Jimmy Bufett's for internet.

 

I had booked Maya Chan online for Costa Maya. You pay deposit upfront and then they bill you the balance about 30 days ahead. Wednesday night things got pretty bumpy. We got up and packed for the day and headed to Windjammer for breakfast. While eating the Captain announced that we wouldn't port due to wind and high seas. He checked about Belize but couldn't get in there either. One good thing there were plenty of seats in the Windjammer that morning. There were also "barf bags" on each staircase. The pools and hot tubs were closed for the day. DW filmed the white caps in the pool. Friday was still pretty bouncy, but they did reopen the pools. By the way Maya Chan refunded my money that Friday.

 

The biggest downer of the trip was getting off. We placed our three bags outside the door with the #4 tag affixed. After breakfast we headed to the theatre on Deck 5. After a while they called Group 4. We conga lined out of the theatre, through the casino, down the atrium steps, around the atrium, through the MDR and finally out the door. Upon arriving at the luggage area we could only find two bags on the #4 table. We checked the adjoining tables and the lost tag area.

The port staff were very nice but didn't have an answer. I figured someone had picked up the wrong bag. We waited as other carts were unloaded. Finally, DW began scouting out the higher numbered tables. After most of an hour, I heard her yell "I found it". It was mixed it with luggage tagged 15 or 16.

 

So what did I miss by not sailing NCL? We didn't get our nice loyalty perks. We missed not having a wider variety of dining options. I missed not having a cigar lounge. I missed having some money after leaving the casino, but that happens every cruise.

 

Would I sail royal Caribbean again? In a heartbeat!! In fact, I'm already looking at a cruise out of San Juan next February.

 

Thank for following!

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Great review, quite humorous.  From a Royal fan who has sailed NCL twice your observations are spot on.  It was so much easier booking specialty dining with a package on the NCL planner prior to the cruise.  Lunch on embarkation day in the dining room on NCL is such a nice experience.  Your comment about the Windjammer is so true.  

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Recommendation -- book Chops for lunch on embarkation day, you can avoid the "Black Friday" chaos of the Windjammer.  

(And it will keep the steak-lover in your life happy, too -- happy wife, happy life!)

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7 hours ago, josephmz said:

DINING: We typically enjoy our first lunch in the MDR, a little peace and quiet after a hectic morning. Unfortunately it was not open. We headed for the Windjammer. It looked like Black Friday at Macy's.

 

One of the reasons we enjoy NCL is the choice of least five different venues plus O'Sheehan's, the 24-hour included place.

 

This trip we had the best of both worlds. We had a table for two in the same balcony area with the same waiter, Ike, and his assistant, Ladylyn, every night. They were delightful. By second time they knew what we wanted to drink.

 

RCCL is really missing the boat by not opening one level of the dining room on embarkation day like NCL does.  I hate how RCCL staff literally force everyone to the buffet when boarding.  Your analogy of Black Friday at Macy's is bang on.  That said, we keep returning  to RCCL because they do many other things very well.

 

We loved O'Sheehan's on the NCL Dawn.  Really miss having a FREE venue like that on RCCL ships.  Not everybody wants pizza and mini sandwiches all day long.  Love the variety that O'Sheehan's offers.

 

You figured out My Time Dining.  Go and if you get a good waiter and are happy with the time, ask if you can have them again every night, preferably at the same time.  People will say that you should just do fixed seating for this, but doing it your way, you are not limited to the specific two times the fixed seatings begin.

 

4 hours ago, josephmz said:

Would I sail royal Caribbean again? In a heartbeat!! In fact, I'm already looking at a cruise out of San Juan next February.

 

Glad to hear it.  We enjoy both RCCL and NCL for different way they do things.  If we could only merge the best of both lines, we would have the best cruise line ever.  Sailing out of San Juan is fantastic if you do not mind flying there.  Be sure to book a few days pre- or post- cruise to enjoy San Juan.  It is amazing and great if you are there with no ships in port one day.  Sailing from San Juan should provide better weather for you and you are very close to many different ports, so you get more ports on a typical cruise and your port fees are actually a lot lower than departing from the USA.  We did a 10 day New Year Cruise out of San Juan on the Dawn and loved the 9 ports in 10 days.

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2 hours ago, Russ Lomas said:

RCCL is really missing the boat by not opening one level of the dining room on embarkation day like NCL does.  I hate how RCCL staff literally force everyone to the buffet when boarding.  Your analogy of Black Friday at Macy's is bang on. 

We learned very quickly to avoid the buffet on embarkation day, now we go to the Solarium on Quantum class and Solarium and Park Café on Oasis class.  The Solarium especially is not busy.

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13 hours ago, josephmz said:

 

Big mystery: When I printed out our boarding passes, I noticed mine showed Gold status. DW was Platinum. Now we have been married almost 51 years and I don't recall her disappearing for weeks at a time. So how did she reach Platinum?

 

Wives can be very sneaky at times....

 

The interesting point is that I thought married couples both got the higher person's C & A status by default? In which case, you should also have been platinum (not that you get much more at platinum than you do at Gold).

As for why you can't book your specialty dining with a package online in the Cruise Planner, that one has always puzzled me as well. The only thing I can think of is that some venues fill up quickly, and if people could see the ones they want are full, they won't buy the package.

 

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4 minutes ago, Balsam12 said:

The interesting point is that I thought married couples both got the higher person's C & A status by default?

As for why you can't book your specialty dining with a package online in the Cruise Planner, that one has always puzzled me as well.

Immediate family members (including children), get matching status. 😃

 

The explanation that I was given about not being able to pre-book specialty dining when purchasing a plan is that you are getting a discounted rate in exchange for losing the privilege of making advanced reservations. If you want to have the ability to pre-book, then you need to pay full price for each individual restaurant. 

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I think your wife is probably linked to my now deceased mom. <jk> :classic_biggrin: She was also Platinum with 2 Royal Caribbean cruises and somehow linked to a lady in Plano, TX. Go ahead and link your account. with DW, to take advantage of the Platinum status. 

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What a fun review! And thanks, by the way, for the unintended reminder to book Chops for lunch on embarkation day for my upcoming cruise in 90 days! I'll just have to remember to book my specialty restaurants for my 3-night plan while I'm at Chops avoiding the Windjammer embarkation-day battle Royal (Caribbean)!

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I totally agree about O'Sheehans.  It is nice having a "restaurant" type venue with a good variety (wings, reubens, hamburgers, etc.) available for "free"...and being open 24 hours.  I really wish Royal would get "on-board" and come up with something like that.

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7 hours ago, Tapi said:

Immediate family members (including children), get matching status. 😃

 

The explanation that I was given about not being able to pre-book specialty dining when purchasing a plan is that you are getting a discounted rate in exchange for losing the privilege of making advanced reservations. If you want to have the ability to pre-book, then you need to pay full price for each individual restaurant. 

NCL only opens a percentage for early booking. It didn’t seem to me they were turning folks away when we went. Plenty of seats.

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12 hours ago, Russ Lomas said:

 

Glad to hear it.  We enjoy both RCCL and NCL for different way they do things.  If we could only merge the best of both lines, we would have the best cruise line ever.  Sailing out of San Juan is fantastic if you do not mind flying there.  Be sure to book a few days pre- or post- cruise to enjoy San Juan.  It is amazing and great if you are there with no ships in port one day.  Sailing from San Juan should provide better weather for you and you are very close to many different ports, so you get more ports on a typical cruise and your port fees are actually a lot lower than departing from the USA.  We did a 10 day New Year Cruise out of San Juan on the Dawn and loved the 9 ports in 10 days.

Actually, our first Royal Cruise was out of there. It was a biz group trip on Adventure. We later did a 9 day repo thru Bermuda ending up in Norfolk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by josephmz

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17 hours ago, truckswain said:

We learned very quickly to avoid the buffet on embarkation day, now we go to the Solarium on Quantum class and Solarium and Park Café on Oasis class.  The Solarium especially is not busy.

We too have learned to go to Central Park Cafe on the Oasis class ships (we have not been on a Quantum class ship yet).  Unfortunately, the Freedom and Navigator class ships do not have an option similar to this.

 

Still wish a part of the dining room was open on embarkation day for those who would like that option.

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7 hours ago, josephmz said:

Actually, our first Royal Cruise was out of there. It was a biz group trip on Adventure. We later did a 9 day repo thru Bermuda ending up in Norfolk.

We love departing from San Juan.  We have sailed on the Dawn and the Freedom out of San Juan.  We sail on the Adventure next month (for the first time).

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