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ZENITH REVIEW ? OK, NOT GREAT
CHECK-IN: We arrived in Bayonne faster than expected. Joe dropped me off with the luggage. A baggage handler reluctantly interrupted conversation with a friend to touch the three heaviest suitcases we wrestled out of the car. Shamefully, Joe tipped the man. Signs saying ?Tipping Optional? were visible when we arrived a week later, and the attendants were far more attentive. NO CONCIERGE CLASS CHECK-IN was available at 11:45 when check-in began, but the express line for ordinary check-in was fast. We ate a light breakfast so our buffet lunch tasted good. We were in our rooms by 1PM BUT had no working keys two hours and two phone calls later. We found our luggage in a pile and dragged it to our room.
THE ROOM: 172 square feet of poorly-planned space between paper-thin walls. Our neighbors never spoke to us, but we heard then snore, shower, and converse loudly. Less than 30? separated the two beds in our room, only one person could dress at a time. I slept under the pull-down bed whose ladder jiggled in the waves. The closet contents and drawers also slid in and out in the rough seas. The sofa, jammed into the few inches between the bed and the closet, became storage. The desk held the refrigerator-mini-bar poorly. To open the refrigerator, one moved the tiny useless table, opened the desk drawer to the right, moved the refrigerator sideways, then opened the refrigerator to the left. The table blocked access to the refrigerator, or the bathroom, depending on its placement. The entire set-up was far too awkward for room service. The one time we asked for special ?concierge class? breakfast foods delivered to our room, the foods were unavailable and the room service set-up too awkward to eat there.
HOUSEHOLD STAFF: Our house staff were friendly. Period. Our stateroom attendant, Aida, was pretty. Period. Aida failed to mention the ?pillow menu?, so we slept on two standard slabs of foam. She failed to bring our room keys after two phone calls. We pre-ordered four bottles of wine. At the suggestion of the wine steward, we asked Aida to take the wine to the dining room so the wine steward could chill and store the wine for us. We made this request at 10:30AM, and it still had not been carried out by 4PM. That evening the wine steward couldn?t find our wine ? Aida ?gave it to the wrong person?. He did find the wine, but when our laundry didn?t get taken by 9AM because ?there was no list? (I did make out a list!), the tone was set for a less-than-wonderful evaluation.
PORT TALK: This was one of the best I?d experienced in a long time. Our cruise director, Jeff, presented an automated show which downplayed shopping and informed us about the island. He evaluated various excursions and alternatives. He answered my inquiry about ?sea glass? promptly with a note and a print-out from the internet.
WEATHER: Yes, the Atlantic is rougher than the Inside Passage. You?ll feel the ship going down and back. Wrist bands, pills, patches, all help. The daily schedule recommends avoiding overeating and alcohol ?yes, right, uh-huh?. I personally recommend you sit underneath a tree. Seriously, we even had our trip to St. George?s cancelled due to the threat of bad weather. When I saw the Town Cut from a ferry, and realized how narrow a passage we had to cram through to get to St. George?s, I was happy we cancelled the cruise ship?s stop there. We did get torrential rain and winds on the final morning., and nobody wanted to go outdoors.
TOURS: We bought a three-day transportation pass ($28 per person) and a Bermuda Heritage Pass ($25), both of which proved to be bargains. We arranged a tour of the Bermuda National Gallery by a former curator, worth far more than the $8.00/person charged. We left $20.00 for the two of us, and they gave us a glossy program. Marlee Robinson. The guide, was wonderful! She met us at the boat, gave us a mini-tour of the architecture and history of the area, and even persuaded one artist to tell us about her work. We?d visited the previous day, but Marlee really made the artwork intelligible for us. We took the ferry at sunset, and rode the bus to gather pink sand at Jobson?s Cove (part of Warwick Long Bay). The ?dunking? scene at St. George was a howl! The poor lady who got ducked deserved an award ?By far the BEST part of the Heritage Pass was the little-known Bermuda Underwater Exploration Museum, less than a mile from our ship. We stepped into the simulated shark cage and even went down 1200 feet on a simulated dive. One of the best parts of our trip, I?d certainly return to this place before I set foot in another crafts market. You can make your own tours in Bermuda, where the people are prosperous and you can feel safe taking the bus. I did pick up a flyer for ?solitude charters?, which claims to charge $35.00 per person, the lowest prices I?d seen. I know nothing more than they list a phone number of 441-799-9594.
SHOPPING: VERY pricey ? we bought a pair of Bermudas at the Outlet Store for $29.00, and one for $19.00. You had to LOOK for reasonably-priced items. I brought warmer clothing than needed, so the $10.00 dresses at Davidson?s came in handy. I also found a set of 8 numbered prints at the Museum in St. George?s ? replicas of sketches from the 1800?s, $10.00 for a portfolio of 8, and very subtle. We ate our meals on the ship, carried our own water in a water bottle, and even shamelessly made cheese sandwiches at breakfast to carry us through lunch at St. George?s. (You?re not supposed to bring meats, fish, fruit, or veggies onshore, so we brought cheese and bread.). Joe?s bowl of fish stew (excellent) cost $6.00, and my lentil soup (so-so) was the same. With the sandwiches and a glass of water each, it came to $15.00. I understand Bermuda is a prosperous island, thanks mostly to the re-insurance industries, BUT the prices were uniformly high. Look for ?sale? signs, comparison-shop before you leave home, and don?t be afraid to leave the item in the store.
FOOD: Abundant, sometimes wonderful. Some diners didn?t know you could always ask for shrimp cocktail, broiled salmon, chicken or a sirloin steak and found the food ?too fancy?, or vegetarian if you?d like a non-meat meal for a change. Why doesn?t the menu mention this? They take up a great deal of space telling you about the chef?s suggestions, which are reiterated verbally by the waiter, but fail to mention this helpful fact. The food was often superb. The wait staff and wine steward were excellent: attentive, eager to please and considerate.
Buffets were perfectly OK, but not up to the high standards set on our prior cruises on Windstar and Radisson (Regent).
EVALUATIONS: I regret turning in our surveys before the disembarkation talk, and rating the wait staff ?very good? instead of ?excellent?. Jeff the Cruise director explained that an ?excellent? rating gives a crew member 90 points, but a ?very good? rating only gives them 66 points. That?s too large a drop?
ENTERTAINMENT: This cruise offered excellent entertainment. The ship?s own music-makers were uniformly fine, if limited in their repertoire. All their own singers and musicians provided lovely melodies, tasteful and well-chosen music beautifully performed. Their comedian, Louis Johnson, gently made fun of all our foibles. Even his ?lecture? on humor was funny?Darren Williams had a tremendous vocal range, everything from ?Carmen Jones? to Elvis. Their own dancers and singers could have given Broadway a try, and the material was crowd-pleasing. We loved being able to go from a fine meal to a fine show. As Joe said after a few minutes of Louis Johnson ?I haven?t seen you laugh this much in a long time?.
OVERALL: Well, the joy of going all over the ship with a card in my hand instead of a heavy purse always makes me happy. No phones, no fax, equal no worries. We avoided the ?Art? auctions, the wine auctions, the casinos, the bingo, and found no surprises on our bill. Planning our time in Bermuda, talking about the entertainment, got us away from dreary and depressing everyday trivia. Our fellow cruiser from another board provided a few laughs, and even joined us on a fabulous excursion. It was a wonderful week, and we feel revitalized and refreshed. Next time, I would NOT use a computer company to book our cruise. A travel agent should have warned us about the room, telling us to be sure to book a room without the overhead bed, or with one bed instead of two. I was very disappointed in the room, the room service, the stateroom attendant, and our computer booking. I was thrilled with the food, entertainment, most service, and the fact that both of us still feel relaxed and happy the next day.