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January 4-8 2010
January 4-8 2010
Port of Miami - Nassau - Coco Cay - Key West - Port of Miami
Overall impression of this cruise is that it is a pretty solid value for the money spent. All aspects of the trip turned out well, with much of that result due to the fine efforts of the RCI crew. We expected less than we got. Could RCI do better? Sure, but they did well enough. Details follow:
Contents: I. The Reviewers
II. Pre and Post Cruise
III. The Ship
IV. The Itenerary
V. The Food
VI. The Entertainment
I. The Reviewers: Ray Coley is a seasoned traveller, but has not been on a lot of cruises (last cruise was on Renaissance, way back in '98!). This is his first experience with RCI. Ray is middle-aged, and active in the arts, principally music. His wife, Yuki, is also quite well-travelled, and has been on the same cruises. She shares interests in art and music with Ray.
Keep in mind that when we rate things, we are necessarily comparing with Renaissance, a luxury line. Also keep in mind that the weather was cold and windy, so RCI had to address the issue of an empty pool and an unscheduled day at sea.
If there are problems with this posting, please keep in mind that I normally preview everything I post, but there is no available function for this, so I am flying blind insofar as how the thing will look.
II. Pre and Post Cruise: Our flight down to Miami had every chance of being a disaster - we were routed from Baltimore through Cincinnati with a one-hour window for the connection. Given the weather conditions which pervaded the east coast at the time, this was a very dicey flight. Fortunately, we made the connection and arrived in Miami with three hours to spare before we were to board ship. Only one dark cloud appeared on the horizon: as we were disembarking the plane, a woman reached up and grabbed my rollalong luggage from the overhead bin and proceeded off the plane with it. We didn't even know it had happened until I looked in the bin and saw that my luggage was gone, then Yuki said, "That woman must have taken it! Go after her!" I took off, but didn't even know what the woman looked like, and I quickly fell too far behind to have a hope of catching her. Yuki told the flight attendant, who found the woman's correct bag and got the name. Yuki left me at the gate and proceeded to baggage claim to see if she could find the thing. Well, in order to make the story as short as possible, what Yuki did find was the Royal Caribbean representative, who was able to track down the woman and my bag (which, just as a by-the-way, had my tux in it). She also told us that we didn't have to wait until boarding time to get on the ship, but could go immediately aboard and enjoy a welcome buffet as well.
At the Port of Miami moorage, the boarding procedure was quick and painless. We had preregistered before arriving in Miami, so the entire boarding procedure took only 17 minutes - the longest wait was for the inevitable photographer to snap everybody's picture as they boarded.
The same thing prevailed after the cruise. From ship to taxi took only 22 minutes. And this time I kept my eagle eye on my bag! Unfortunately, the wait at the airport for our return flight was tedious and lengthy. We chanced upon the Airport Med office, where they were administering H1N1 vaccinations, but found that the nurse had taken the day off (we are destined to catch this flu, I am convinced. Everything works against us!).
Overall grade, pre/post cruise: 10, thanks to the efficiency and attitude of the RCI personnel.
III. The Ship: Majesty of the Ses is a few generations old. RC renovated the ship in 2007, so she generally presents well and appears in good condition. From the funnels to the hawsers, everything looked shipshape.
In the interior, we did see a bit of rust on the companionway frame between our stateroom and the head. This is nothing that would cause any problem (except for the cosmetic). The carpeting and upholstery appeared to be in good shape and the ship's interior presents an attractive face. Our cabin was an ocean view. This is always dicey, because it is so nice to have that balcony to lounge on, but in this case, we made the right choice, because the balconies almost never got used aboard Majesty due to the temperatures being in the forties. Even at the low speed of a cruise ship, the wind chill makes one feel like it's near freezing.
It was a shame that this generally good appearance was somewhat spoiled by RCI's failure to keep the portholes and windows clean on any deck below 12. This is not an impossible task. Good airlines keep windows clean on a regular basis, and encounter just as much (if not more) bad environmental conditions as do ships.
The room stewards keep the cabins in very clean and attractive shape.
If you ignore the inconvenience of shooing away the ubiquitous photographers and gold chain hawkers, it's a good ship both in and out.
Overall grade for the condition of the ship, an 8.
IV. The Itenerary: We have travelled to four continents and dozens of different countries. After the Parthenon and the Taj Mahal, a pretty beach is not overwhelming (especially since Yuki comes from Hawaii). Nonetheless, for a low-cost, nearby cruise, the ports offer something for everybody to enjoy.
We didn't take any of the excursion offers, since we like to spend as much or as little time at each spot as we wish (and since, due to the weather, water activities were pretty much out of the question), so instead we launched into the ports with nothing to guide us but maps and Ray's iPhone with its google-based GPS. Here's what we found:
A. Nassau - There are two ways to go in Nassau, and we went both ways. Paradise Island is accessible by a bridge and by water taxi. We chose the water taxi ($12 round trip for both of us) which is located right next to the dock where the ships moor. The operator points out the most famous of the residences while navigating smartly to the Island. We toured the Atlantis Resort, all open except for the room-only tower and the private beach area, and indulged in some liquid refreshment. All told, we spent a total of about two hours there, then wandered through the area shops and returned to the ship for lunch. After dining, we headed into town to the Queen's Staircase and Fort Fincastle (a little less than a mile walk) for a great view of Nassau from above. Afterward, a stroll around town took up the rest of the afternoon before we returned to the ship for dinner.
Our recommendation is to do the same thing - save some money and do the touring on your own.
B. Coco Cay - When we arrived at Coco Cay the next morning, we were greeted by seven-foot seas in a 35-MPH wind and temperatures in the forties. We had already made up our minds to stay aboard ship before the captain's announcement informed us that he had made the same decision. We spent that day at sea, probably not uncommon for cruising in January.
C. Key West - RCI's normal Miami/Nassau run is three days covering only Miami and the two stops mentioned above. We paid less than $50 apiece to get on the one-day-longer cruise that included Key West, and we think that it was money well-spent. In the end, we spent less than $90 per day for a four-day cruise - significantly cheaper than a hotel in Podunk, USA plus meals for the same period of time!
When we arrived at Key West the temperature was at 31 degrees, but by the time we debarked it had climbed into the high forties. Armed with our jackets, we hiked over to the Butterfly Conservatory (well, we're not the Jimmy Buffet type), which turned out to be completely charming, and well worth the roughly two-mile hike to get there. Highly recommended.
The historic buildings are conveniently located in the Old Town section, and easily covered from the ship on foot. I tend to tire quickly of "And here is the desk at which Hemingway wrote", etc., but it is interesting to see the accomodations.
Key West was also where we latched onto the bulk of our souvenirs. Nothing is too terribly expensive except the gemstones, and I simply don't trust the notion that Key West is somehow a center of commerce for precious gems. Local oldtimers that I talked to agree with that assessment.
Overall grade for ports, a 6.
V. The Food: The best way to sum up the food aboard the Majesty is to say that we knew we weren't on Park Avenue, nor were we at Nedick's. In the Starlight Dining Room, the food was delicious and well-prepared. The steaks were not the absolute best cuts, but were very good. Seafood was excellent. There was a middle-eastern flavor to many dishes which we found to be excellent. Service was top-notch and friendly. Since I speak fluent spanish, I was able to get to know many of the wait staff (which hailed mainly from Peru, with some Jamaicans and a few Filipinos), and they were all happy to be there and got along with the guests very well. It was nearly a family atmosphere in the dining room, which we found charming.
The buffet menu changed daily, and was nicely varied. Again, the service staff was friendly and anxious to cater to the passengers' needs. We found a similar atmosphere in the deli and the pizzaria (we didn't try Johnny Rockets).
I tried the "Drink of the Day" once (and only once). I'm sure it had some rum in it, but I never quite found it. Bad.
Overall grade for food, an 8 (would have been a 9 if I hadn't tried that drink).
VI. The Entertainment: It may be unfair to rate the entertainment aboard Majesty, because I am a professional entertainer. However, I will try to be impartial, and look at things first from the standpoint of the passenger.
The musicians were mixed - some quite good and some not very. The stage "orchestra" was really a band, consisting of a five-piece combo with an extra keyboard thrown in. Five of the six had worked together for years, the sixth was an add-on who also played in the Schooner Lounge (on which more later). The sound of the group was mostly good, sometimes not quite together. The core group also performed as a jazz band, and were pretty good. Three musicians went on to cover solo spots in the atrium ("The Centrum") and in the Schooner Lounge. The solo pianist, whom I got to know pretty well, was clasically trained and handled his gigs very well, getting personal with the crowd and routinely doing requests of classical, jazz and pop songs. The second, a pianist/singer, had a more limited range of music and technique, and was somewhat more distant from the crowd. The last was a guitar/singer/harmonica-ist who routinely lost the crowd, and I wouldn't expect RCI to renew his contract.
The dancers were taken from all over the US, and worked remarkably well together. The dance numbers were slick and well-performed, and the troupe seemed energetic and happy to be there doing the numbers. Many numbers required the dancers to sing while dancing (always a tough gig, because dancing takes away your wind and it's hard to hold a tone while jumping up and down), and they came away from those all right.
The comedic routines were OK, even if not-quite-ready-for-NYC. Perhaps the comics, if they got a good laugh, milked the subject a little overmuch. Nonetheless, the stage productions were entertaining.
Given that we had a day at sea which had not necessarily been planned, the games had to take up the slack. The emcees were very good and interacted with the audience engagingly. Being middle-aged, my only complaint was that the games were pitched to the under-thirty crowd (which might have been up to half the shipload of passengers). Well, OK. We middle-agers have more patience than the young set anyway. Still, I could have used the bloody luggage tag.
Overall grade for entertainment, an 8.
One more note: Since I spent some time talking with performers and the activity director, I found out that performers are normally hired contractually for periods of 90 to 270 days. In some cases, these performers go from ship to ship, popping off ship A and onto ship B at some mutual port. Some of these performers may be seen only once during a cruise, while some may be with the cruise for the duration.
I did get to perform aboard the Majesty, in the Schooner Lounge. The condition of the piano was not as bad as a lot of instruments I have played on, but it was not as good an instrument as I would want in any lounge of mine. Without getting too technical, I will say that it was not maintained well. Nonetheless, it was a serviceable instrument. The location was OK, but in a corner (all right, a large corner). Would I perform there on a regular basis? Yes, but with reservations: the instrument should be made more serviceable, and something should be done to help out the entertainer insofar as tipping (after going all out to create a cash-free ship, where is the passenger going to find five bucks to tip the pianist?) Also, I would try to make it a more romantic and intimate setting instead of a blue-collar bar. Then again, while I wore a tux on formal night, 9 out of 10 men did not. So maybe I'm a dinosaur...
Our overall impression of this cruise: A good value for the money. Going in, I figured that this would be my one and only cruise on Royal Caribbean. Now, I'm not so sure. The ship was as big as I would want (I'm not the Oasis type), but the atmosphere was friendly and easy. We may try RCI on a longer cruise, or maybe we'll try one of the other mass-market lines to locate a slightly older clientele. But aside from a few areas that RCI needs to look into fixing, this is a good deal.