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PART 1 = THE SHIP
Walking across the enclosed gangway was not the normal embarkation onto a ship; it was a passage through a time portal to the past. At the end of the portal is the Main Lobby, on the Restaurant Desk, one, single, deck-high. No towering atrium, with elevators soaring up and down, but a simple, efficient, area finished with highly lacquered wood, of varying type, textures and shades, and lots of brass trim.
As you enter the Lobby, you are welcomed by a member of the staff, greeted by a Cabin Steward, and escorted to your cabin, where the Cabin Steward opens your door with a key! Yes, the old-time, regular key, on a key ring with an oval shaped plastic tag, which has the ship logo and your room number printed on it. Another step back in time.
The cabins are small, and cramped. The furnishings sparse, and out-of-date and look like something out of a 1950's motel. More than adequate for the three day cruise that Imperial Majesty Cruise Lines has her presently running. In fact, in 1990, I spent a week aboard her, when she sailed as Commodore Cruise Lines? Caribe I, and, although the cabin was somewhat confining, it was ample enough.
After unpacking my single bag, I headed up to the Promenade Deck, where the Welcome Aboard Buffet was being served. It was not the big, lavish, buffet that we have become accustomed to, but there was more than enough to eat. There were several cold salads, three hot dishes, hamburgers and hot dogs, and the usual desserts and pastries.
The food quality was approximately what I had expected for a 'bargain' cruise. It was all prepared and presented very well, and was very tasty. Nothing extraordinary, but far better than Carnival was, before they made the major changes. In fact, I thought it was as good as Royal Caribbean, which is far from my favorite.
On the plus side, trays were provided at the buffet so you didn't have to perform a juggling act. On the minus side, they put out paper cups for the coffee and cold drinks. In my mind, they made up for this by serving real, fresh brewed, coffee in all parts of the ship, not that liquid concentrate so widely in use today.
After finishing my snack, I began a tour of the ship. As with many of the older ships, converted from multi-class ocean liners, the passageways are a maze and several areas at the bow, on a particular deck, do not connect directly to those at the stern. Every journey through the ship is an adventure, until you learn your way around. And, getting around takes a while to learn. It is complicated by the fact that there are a total of three elevators, each with a capacity of five passengers.
Being a smaller ship, only 21,000 GRT, her public areas are limited. The Internet Caf? is nothing more than a few laptops in the old coffee bar and the Arcade consists of nothing more than seven video machines against a wall on the Promenade Deck.
Ah, the Promenade Deck! A glass enclosed esplanade with plush love seats facing the sea sitting on a teak deck.
This area is a highlight of the ship, as it was on so many of the old cruise ships.
The clubs and lounge all serve their purposes well. Although somewhat on the smaller side, none seemed overcrowded at any time.
The Grand Lounge, the main show room, is the old style single deck theater with a flat floor. The lack of raised rows creates poor sight lines, and several poles obstruct the view from many seats. The other side of the coin is that the room is small, and you really can see from almost anywhere, with an occasional stretch.
I guess the ?bottom line? is that she is a fantastic ship for cruise buffs. Although she has been refitted, and refurbished, a number of times, her basic character, design and personality have remained intact. I spent quite a bit of time walking her decks, and passageways, and just taking pleasure in all of the ocean liner-type details.
As a ship, I would also recommend her for first-time cruisers, with some reservations. This will be discussed in Part 2.
Likewise, I don?t know if I would recommend her to veteran cruisers who are accustomed to, and require the amenities that only the new mega-ships can provide.
I loved her, as a ship, for what she is. The one feature that I miss most on the newer ships, which you find aboard the Empress, is the main lido deck pool at the stern of the ship?.
This is my favorite part of the ship; any ship which has pool open on three sides to the sea, with no bulkheads on the sides and another ?balcony? deck above it. Open and free, the way it always used to be.
The Pool Deck and the enclosed Promenade make up for any deficiencies she may have in other areas.
PART 2 = THE CRUISE
The food quality was inconsistent. Certain dishes were excellent. On par with some of the better cruise lines. Yet, there were some items that were not very good at all. I will say that I was able to have very good meals.
The dining room had an inviting, comfy feeling. The d?cor was very toned-down, and warm, and the low ceilings added to the warmth coziness.
At dinner, on the first evening, I ordered the New York Strip. It was served exactly as ordered, medium-rare, and was dished up hot and fresh. The flavor was excellent, but it was a bit chewy. The side dishes consisted of nice helpings of fresh vegetables and potato, not the little, fancy, ostentatious servings on many of today?s ships. A hot baked potato, with all of the fixings, was available at every dinner, on request.
The soups were ordinary, and very commercial, while the salads were varied and interesting. The dinner rolls, for the entire cruise, consisted of the Pepperidge Farms packaged dinner rolls, with no variation. They happened to be very good, but it did get boring. A few breadsticks, and a dark roll, would have been well appreciated.
The dessert selection was small, and the choices limited, but they were excellent. The coffee was fresh-brewed, from coffee grinds, and was consistently good. And, after dessert, we did get the ?Hot, Hot, Hot? show?
I certainly found sufficient quantity of very good quality food to keep me stuffed for the entire week-end. But, this is not a cruise for a more demanding cruiser.
The service was excellent. In fact, the dining room service was among the best I have ever had! The waiter and busboy were attentive, conscientious and polite. Food was served precisely as requested, with a smile. Water and ice tea glasses were refilled before they had been emptied and soiled dishes did not remain on the table any longer than it was necessary for the busboy to ask if you were done.
On the buffet lines, waters served ALL of the dishes. A slice of ham, or cheese, was placed on your plate, as were the various salads, hot dishes, and even the rolls. As you walked down the procession, a line of waiters placed the items you chose onto your plate, with no passengers reaching for, grabbing at, and breathing on the food.
The entertainment was totally disappointing. They had only one band, a three-piece affair, which doubled as the ?pool band? and the ?house band.? Therefore, they spent very little time at the pool. This may have been a fortuitous happening, since the band was from Eastern Europe, and were not very adept at playing the familiar island music we enjoy so poolside. As the house band, playing for the production shows, they were very good. The ship could certainly use a Caribbean band to play live music on the Lido Deck, instead of the recorded music they blasted at you.
The two production shows were of the cabaret variety which was prevalent on all cruise ships up until the late 80?s.
The dancers were very good, for what they did, and I thoroughly enjoyed their performances. The singers had exceptional voices, in both tone and range. Their ability was entirely negated by the fact that they, also, were from Eastern Europe, and had fairly heavy accents. No matter that your voice is of the highest quality, it is annoying to hear them singing ?New Yoruk, New Yoruk,? or ?Alexendra?s Regtime Bend?.?
I?d be kind to say that the entertainment, in general, was unsatisfactory.
The Cruise Director, and his staff, provided plenty of goings-on for a short cruise. They were very pleasant and ?mingle? with the passengers throughout the cruise.
At the Sail-Away Party, as we left Port Everglades, they provided some classic, cruise-style, entertainment, starting with poolside horse racing and ending with hula hoops and madness. With the exception of the horse racing, this was repeated as we left Nassau.
The one thing noticeably missing was the lack of any trivia games. Maybe, because its one of the few activities that I regularly participate in, I felt that this was a negative.
The casino crew was sociable and the dealers gracious. The casino itself is rather small, and has three blackjack tables, one Caribbean Stud table, a Roulette Wheel and a more than adequate number of wide-ranging slot machines. A minor problem is that the some of the slot machines required maintenance.
The slots, however, seemed to pay off better than those in casinos, both on other ships and land-based. They appeared to be pretty ?loose.?
The bottom line is that I had a great cruise. I took pleasure in just walking around the ship, knowing that she was the last of a dying breed. I found gratification in sitting in a lounge, on the enclosed Promenade Deck, having a frozen thingee and meeting fellow passengers. I reveled in the aura of an old time, small, ship.
I enjoyed the food, very much, even with its minor flaws.
I was disappointed in the production shows, and find this to be a major failing on this cruise!
Would I sail on her again? Yes, I most probably will. After all, for fares starting at $179.00, per person, and with them, occasionally waiving the ?single supplement,? you get far more than your money?s worth.