Archive for the ‘Cruise’ Category

Dining on Cruise Lines

Today I’m going to compare our dining experiences on the various cruise lines that we have cruised with.  The most important thing I can say with dining reviews is that each person has their own tastes.  I have a cabinet full of spices.  In fact my New Year’s resolution was to not buy more spices until I used some up.  My mom on the other hand felt that salt and pepper was good enough, though she would go out on a limb once in a while and get seasoned salt or parsley.  We cruised together once and she was very happy with the food, but I found it to be bland and was not pleased with it.

I divided my review into two categories – complimentary dining and specialty restaurants.  Complimentary dining includes the main dining rooms and buffets on most ships, plus some other locations which offer no charge.  Specialty restaurants is anything where you pay an extra fee.

My top choice for dining would have to be Celebrity Cruises.  I found that their buffet was one of the best in terms of layout, offerings and quality of food.  There was a wide selection of breakfast items, including several ethnic choices.  This carried over for each meal as well.  The organization was great and there was rarely a line for anything.  Food choices and quality were very good in the main dining room.  We did get a chance to try the cafe in the solarium and the grill which were nice choices.  We ate at all of the specialty restaurants, including the Bistro on Five, Muranos and Silk Harvest.  The prices and the food was very good at all of the specialty restaurants.  I especially liked no per piece charge for sushi at Silk Harvest.

It is joked that some cruise lines serve sub-par food in the main dining rooms on the first night or two to get you to go to the specialty restaurants for better food.  On Celebrity Solstice, they had a “Taste of Solstice” event to get us to try food from the specialty restaurants because everyone was happy with the main dining room foods.

Next would have to be Disney Cruise Line.  Disney doesn’t offer many specialty restaurants, but I don’t think it is necessary.  With the main dining rooms, Disney offers rotational dining, which brings you to a different restaurant each night, complete with a different themed menu and different costumes on the cast members.  Each ship has three different dining rooms that you will be able to experience at least once each per cruise.  The quality of the food is very good with filets being served instead of sirloin steaks for example.

Cabanas is good, though traffic flow can be difficult at times.  On the newer ships, the aft elevators empty in the middle of Cabanas and Disney cruisers have a hard time abandoning the idea of a line through the buffet, but this is due to the design with everything against one wall.  Disney gets the nod as being the only cruise line with complimentary soft drinks not just at meal time, but anytime in Cabanas or at the 24 hour beverage stations.

Salads, sandwiches, pizza and ice cream are readily available at no extra charge in the quick service locations located on the pool decks.

Disney does offer two adult only specialty restaurants.  This is one of the few lines that have restricted the specialty dining to adults only.  Palo is a Northern Italian fare while Remy (on the two newer ships) is a French dining experience.  The price of Palo is much better than comparables in the industry.  Remy is high priced at $75 per person for dinner (not including wine pairing) but I must say Remy is the best specialty dining we have experienced on a cruise ship.

My next choice for dining would be Carnival Cruise Lines.  This one surprised me.  I didn’t go into the cruise expecting to much from Carnival in terms of dining and was pleasantly surprised.  The food on the buffet was very good and fresh.  They had tandoori, Mongolian grill, Italian dishes to name a few on the buffet most days.  The food in the main dining room was also very good.  We had planned to eat elsewhere more nights but enjoyed dining in the main dining room on the second night and returned nearly every night.

There were some disappointments though as the extra choices on the buffet as they closed down early each day, most late afternoon.  We were never able to get a burger at the pool for dinner as the grill was never open that late.  We tried to have pizza (one of two quick service locations available in the evening) and were told it would be a 15 minute wait for the pizza (this was told to everyone in line who were ordering different types of pizza – nothing was ready at 6:00 pm).  We ended up with a sandwich instead at the deli.

The steakhouse was just ok.  Not bad but definitely not worth the upcharge.  The only plus on this restaurant was that they closed the basketball court immediately above the restaurant during open hours.

Royal Caribbean has moved up a bit since our recent sailing on Oasis of the Seas.  We expected it to be similar to our last cruise on Grandeur of the Seas, which was incredibly bland.  Cuts of meat were the same as we had remembered, unless we paid for an upgraded steak.  The specialty restaurants were good, but overpriced compared to other lines.  Giovannis was the best restaurant for me because the food was plentiful and good tasting, plus the server made it fun.  150 Central Park was good, but for $40 per person plus the wine pairings, it felt expensive.

There were plenty of other complimentary food options during the day including donuts, breakfast at Johnny Rockets and even a character breakfast with the DreamWorks characters.  Much of the complimentary food (with the exception of Johnny Rockets and the Wipeout Cafe for breakfast) was very bland.  The coffee was undrinkable unless you paid for the Seattle’s Best or Starbucks.  Pizza was pretty good when we tried that.  There was a lot to offer at the buffet, though it seemed very small for the number of people onboard.

By the end of the cruise, we were tired of paying the upcharges for mediocre food.  I must say though that the food was better than the last time we cruised Royal Caribbean.

Remember what I said about the food in the main dining room driving the guests to the specialty dining?  This was definitely the feeling we got when we cruised on the Norwegian Dawn.  I have to say that we did enjoy the buffet, but ended up eating there too many nights.  The food in the specialty restaurants did not warrant the upcharges.  We ate in the steakhouse and paid the service fee but an upgrade charge to get surf and turf.  This was a total waste.  There seemed to be an upcharge for everything, even pizza.  We were happy at the buffet but this also meant eating way more than we should on this cruise.

Princess finishes off the list.  Everything was bland on this cruise, including both specialty restaurants.  We were excited about the newly updated menus in them but couldn’t find any taste in any of the dishes.  The only exception was when we ate at the Chef’s Table.  This experience was amazing and the food was outstanding.  For the price and what we got, I would even say this was better than Remy, but it is very exclusive so I can’t really say this is a choice for most to be able to do.  I have a feeling that Princess as a whole has set standards for the food on the ships and have given the galleys very little leeway.  The Chef’s Table however, is a whole evening orchestrated by the Executive Chef.  Rumor has it they have a battle between different chefs for who has the best meal.  It’s unfortunately they don’t do this with all of the meals offered onboard.

Once again, these are my opinions based on my tastes and desires.  I can’t say that we have had bad food on any cruises, just food that I don’t enjoy.

Entertainment on Cruise Lines

At the end of the day, after spending time on shore or at the pool, it’s time to relax and catch a show.  The variety of entertainment on cruise ships has gotten better over the years.  It’s no longer just the cheesy song and dance numbers by the “cruise line dancers”.  Yes, there still is some of that, but some lines have stepped it up considerably.

In some cases, the ship will make a difference.  We have cruised on than Norwegian Dawn and were very disappointed by the nightly shows.  I haven’t been on one of the newer Norwegian ships for a sailing, so I can’t comment on that.  The first two times we sailed on Royal Caribbean, the nightly shows were not worth our time, but I was very impressed by the shows on the Oasis of the Seas.

If the nightly shows are important to you, make sure you let your travel agent know so they can pick out the best cruise line and ship for you.  Here are my picks in order of personal preference.

Royal Caribbean – Oasis of the Seas has Hairspray, Allure of the Seas has Chicago, Liberty of the Seas has Saturday Night Fever.  In addition we had a headliner (on our sailing it was Abbacadabra and we also had an American Idol star), Come Fly with Me and Oasis of Dreams in the AquaTheater.

Disney Cruise Line – Fantastic shows with outstanding choreography, stories and music.  It doesn’t matter which ship you are on, the shows are amazing for kids of all ages.  Yes, these shows are appropriate for everyone, which seemed to be a problem on some of the lines.  The Golden Mickeys, Wishes, Aladdin, Twice Charmed.  The only thing that made me unhappy was that DCL discontinued Hercules the Muse-i-cal.  Loved that show!  Disney spares no expense with these shows as the sets and costuming are top notch.

Celebrity – The shows we saw on Celebrity Solstice were mixed.  Some seemed very professional while others were a bit laughable.  Definitely there were shows that shouldn’t be missed.  Pulse, Remix and Edge are three of their custom productions.

Norwegian – Revue-type shows with singing and dancing.  Sets are minimal and costuming is refitted when new cast comes in.

Carnival – More of the revue type shows.  Went to two shows that were supposed to be “the best”.  Dancing in the Streets was ok but not in a league with either RCCL or DCL.  We didn’t bother with Get Ready but were invited as VIPs to Xtreme Country.  Since we were sitting next to our hostess for the night, we felt we had to look like we were enjoying ourselves.  It was a hard act.  A couple good singers, but not a good production.

Princess – Nothing about these shows “invited” us so unfortunately, I cannot rank Princess.

Next up:  Dining.

Are The Oasis Class Ships Too Big?

As you may know, I was on the Oasis of the Seas last week with a group of ToaDers.  We had a fantastic time, as is usually the case with ToaDers.  We created lots of memories that will last forever!

I had always said that I wouldn’t want to cruise on a ship as large as Oasis of the Seas.  It’s HUGE!  But when I toured the ship in 2011, she didn’t feel like a huge ship.  It wasn’t overcrowded and that was on embarkation day.  I decided to give it a try.

I don’t think I would have been as happy had we booked this cruise alone without friends.  It was great meeting up with people for activities and meals.

If I were to ever sail on the Oasis or Allure of the Seas again, I would definitely select a different room type.  I missed the ocean view.  I also didn’t like being so far back on a deck.  It wasn’t the motion (though surprisingly I did still feel motion even on such a large ship), it was the distance to everything.  Just getting to the nearest elevator was a hike.  I would likely select a room closer to the forward stairs/elevators.

One of our travelers clocked the distance from our room to the forward beverage machine on the Promenade.  Roundtrip it was 1/2 mile.  We got into the habit of combining trips and carrying more stuff with us on each trip to avoid the lengthy walks.

I never felt that things were worse at the elevators or getting out of shows or dinner seatings because of the number of people onboard.  It was pretty much the same as any other ship.  Yes it took time and there was waiting involved, but it wasn’t any worse than other ships with half as many passengers.

The biggest issue I had was with customer service, which indirectly was related to the size of the ship.  I did have an officer blame the customer service on the size of the ship itself (fewer crew to handle the ship), but the problem I had was most responses to inquiries was “you need to go there” to take care of anything.  It was never a simple phone call.

To set up the internet access in my cabin, I needed to go to the aft elevators, up to deck 14 to the card room and sign up.  But I had a discount coupon so I had to go to deck 5 after signing up and turn in the coupon.  Then finally I could go to my cabin to use the internet.  Only problem was, I couldn’t send emails from Outlook so I called for help.  Can’t do that, have to go to Guest Services, who then directed me back to the card room where they gave me a different outgoing server name.  I asked about the port number to use and was told that didn’t matter “if it did matter, the IT department would have told me what to tell you”.  It did matter.  For the duration of the cruise, I had to go to my web client and send all emails, requiring considerably more time on the internet and less time available to post pictures and blogs.

I did enjoy the extra space available though.  We never felt crowded in any area or venue, except on formal night or when they were giving away something.  The Promenade did tend to fill up then.

Other than these few issues, I didn’t feel that the Oasis of the Seas felt too big.  I don’t think you should be intimidated by the size of the ship when selecting a cruise.

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Favorite Cruise Lines

I get asked all the time which cruise line is the best or which is my favorite.  That question is not as easy as it sounds.  Which one has the best food, best customer service, best ships, best itineraries is a bit easier.  Over the last ten years, we have cruised on six different cruise lines, covering 11 different ships.  Additionally, I have toured one other cruise line and seven more ships.

I cannot say that my favorites will be your favorites.  There are somethings that are very personal.  I might find food bland while you might think it is the best ever.  That’s what makes us all individuals.  So I’ll preface these reviews by telling you a bit about myself.

I am a mid-40s married woman with no children.  My husband and I love lots of flavors in our food (I like to try to identify the herbs and spices used in certain dishes).  We enjoy pairing wine with food.  I also enjoy cooking as well.

Service is highly important to us.  I expect to be greeted when I approach an employee at and service related establishment, not just if I need something.  For example, when I pass a grocery store employee in the store, I appreciate them saying hello, even if it’s obvious I don’t need help finding something.  A simple “good morning” or “hello” when we are passing is not too much to ask (I’m not suggesting if they are busy with a job and we don’t make eye contact to drop what they are doing and greet me, but if we do make eye contact, a simple greeting shouldn’t be difficult.

Accommodations need to be clean and comfortable.  I don’t expect luxurious amenities.  Depending on my needs for a particular trip, it’s nice to have a complementary breakfast or parking, airport shuttle, etc. but other times, just having a clean room with a comfortable bed is enough.

Depending on the itinerary of a cruise, the cruise staff and their activities, the other entertainment and in general things to do while cruising will matter.  Some itineraries it is more important to have good food and accommodations because time onboard is limited and the ports of call are what really matter the most.

Over the next few weeks, I will be comparing different areas for different cruise lines and ships and giving my overall review of different aspects of the cruise/cruise line and how I would rank each line.  The lines included will be Royal Caribbean, Disney, Carnival, Norwegian and Celebrity.

Let us know if there is any areas you want to be included in the review.

Which Side is Better? Forward, Midship or Aft?

I get asked this question all the time.  Which side of the ship is the best side to book your cabin on?  The answer is not clear and is not necessarily the same for each person.  It all depends on what you want to see, where your cabin will be located and personal tastes.

I’ll start with personal tastes.  On some ships in suites generally, the decor may be different from one suite to another.  For instance, on the Disney ships, the Roy O. Disney Suites are decorated differently than the Walter E. Disney Suites.  The classic ships are the same and the new ships are the same, but on the ships themselves, the two rooms are different.  On the Celebrity Millennium, the Sky Suites have different color schemes.  If you have an aversion to Azure, you will want to make sure that your room is not decorated in that color!

Next you’ll need to take into account what is around the room you are interested in.  If there is a galley above my room on the starboard side, but a hallway on the port side, I’ll take the port side for my room (or switch decks!).

Finally, I think about the itinerary – what you might see while cruising but, more importantly, what you might see in port.  The important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t count on the ship berthing a certain way in the ports.  While most of the time the ship you are looking at may “back in” to a port, there is the chance that they could do things different based on the sea conditions, the dock they have to use, any number of factors.  You can look for which side most likely will be facing the way you want, but don’t set your heart on that happening.

Also keep in mind that on a roundtrip itinerary, you are covering the same area so one side is not going to be better than the other (you’ll face one way on the outbound and the other on the inbound).  Of course this is something to keep in mind with one way or repositioning cruises.  A Transatlantic Cruise may not matter because you have ocean on both sides of the ship for many days, but an Alaskan Cruise may make a difference.  When going through the Panama Canal, some people wanted to face the side where the webcams are or where the welcome center is located while others wanted it more quite and also to face the other ships going the opposite direction through the canal.

Also asked a lot is where is the best place on the ship to book, forward, midship or aft.  Again, this is a personal question, but it also depends on the ship.  I have had many clients over the years ask me for an oceanview stateroom midship on the Disney Magic at least deck 5 or above.  That simply doesn’t exist!  As with most ships, the higher decks only have balcony cabins midship.  Some will have ocean view rooms on the ends of the ships.  Likewise, you can’t get a balcony room too low on the ship.

Midship rooms, lower on the ship, are theoretically the best for minimizing motion.  After that, I would say aft is better than forward, but that is my personal opinion.  I do have a tendency to get a bit seasick at times and have found this to be the case.

I recommend deciding which is more important to you – location on the ship or type of cabin.  Let your travel agent know and tell them what your choices are.  Many times you can have both, but in case you can’t, at least your priority is known.

On My Insurance Soapbox Again…

With Hurricane Isaac hitting Louisiana and the 7 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I thought it was a good opportunity to bring up travel insurance once again.

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Who’s Who on a Cruise

I was asked recently what the differences are being the various server positions on a cruise.  While it can vary from cruise line to cruise line, there are general positions that are consistent between the lines.  The same goes for the entire hierarchy of the ship.  Some positions have a different title from cruise line to cruise line, but the duties are generally the same.

Let’s start from the top.  The Captain is the master of the ship.  He oversees all departments and he is in control of the ship at all times.  In fact, if the president of the cruise line is onboard, the captain is still in charge.  The only exception, and it really isn’t an exception, is that when coming and going to port, a pilot will get on and will assist and sometimes take control of maneuvering the ship, however, the captain is still in control of the ship.

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