pepperdog

pepperdog
Second Mate

Hometown: Atlanta
Joined: 05/12/2014
3
Cruises
3
Reviews
4
Helpful Votes

About pepperdog



Following

pepperdog's Past Cruises

Oasis of the Seas

October 2015 - Oasis of the Seas to Caribbean - Eastern

It’s Not About the Destination, but the Journey

Oasis of the Seas

October 31 – November 7, 2015

Ft. Lauderdale – Nassau – St. Thomas – St. Maarten

Cabin 11276

 

Introduction

 

This was our 18th cruise and 13th with Royal Caribbean. As I’m writing this, the media is full of reports on the Brazilian man who went overboard at 1:00 a.m. on Friday. I just have to first get this out of my system because of the crazy news reports I’ve seen.

 

“Oscar, Oscar, Oscar Man Overboard Portside”

 

Let me say that my wife and I were sound asleep and didn’t hear the ship-wide announcement, despite being just a five decks above where the incident took place. However we did attend the scheduled Captain’s Corner at 1:00 p.m. held in the Comedy Club on deck 4. Captain Trym Selvag made himself available to answer any and all questions about the cruise, the ship, the crew and running the largest cruise ship in the fleet. This was a long scheduled event, not something to address the tragic man overboard event earlier in the morning.

 

Captain Selvag started the Q&A by directly addressing the man overboard incident. This is not verbatim, but essentially what he told the audience.

 

At just before 1:00 a.m. Friday, a call came in from a neighboring cabin that there was a domestic altercation with a lot of noise. The ship dispatched a security detail to the cabin on deck 7 to deactivate the situation. The Captain told us that one of the parties answered the door and while they were talking, another passenger ran out to the balcony and jumped overboard. The Captain said he didn’t jump out far enough and landed on a lifeboat davit a deck below. By chance, a ship beverage steward saw him and grabbed the man’s bare forearm as he lay on the davit. Another crewman climbed up to also try and pull the man to safety. At this time the Captain said he was asleep and received a call about the potential man overboard situation and he immediately ordered the ship to slow. (The Oasis was presently doing 20 knots.) About 40 seconds later the passenger pulled away from the crewmen holding his arm and fell into the sea.

 

On the ship’s bridge, there is a “man overboard” button that the crew punched to electronically mark the ship’s position. The Oasis, in 40 seconds, had slowed to 12 knots and began a turn to port. On the Oasis, the ‘Oscar, Oscar, Oscar’ call was announced over the P.A system. Also a ‘Pon, Pon, Pon’ call, “person in the water,” was broadcast on a VHF radio channel. The captain said that there were no other ships near enough to help in the search. It was dark, raining heavily and there were six to seven foot seas. Just nasty conditions. The Oasis put two small craft in the water to search for the passenger. The U.S. Coast was called. They dispatched a C-130 out of Clearwater Florida and a helicopter out of Nassau to our position 17 miles east of the Turks and Caicos in the Bahamas chain. With Coast Guard aircraft overhead, the Coast Guard released the Oasis from the search at around 8:30 a.m. or over seven hours after beginning the recovery search.

 

Captain Selvag said, instead of arriving in Ft. Lauderdale at five a.m. on Saturday, we would arrive at seven. The Oasis amped-up its speed for the last day to near the ship’s top speed of 22 knots. My wife and I learned about the situation at breakfast and the captain made a brief announcement to the ship over the P.A. system at around 9:00 a.m. By breakfast, there was a video on YouTube taken by a passenger several decks above, of the man slipping from the grip of the crewmen trying to save him and he dropped into the sea.

 

Sadly, the incident was a suicide not an accident. Initial claims by the man’s partner that his spouse ‘slipped’ off the balcony, can’t be true. I’m 6’1” tall and the balcony railing is up to mid-chest on me. The couple’s cabin also had several broken lamps and a broken coffee table and was the scene of a struggle. They clearly had domestic issues. The Broward County Sherriff’s office conducted the investigation, interviewed witnesses and reviewed the video that was on the news as well as other videos. The man can be heard saying he wanted to jump, ‘let go of me,’  ‘this is all your fault.’ I can imagine the man’s partner was advised to have an attorney when he talked to police as who knew where the investigation might lead? The man’s attorney quickly smelled a buck and charged that his client’s partner was pushed overboard by the Oasis’ crew.

 

The latest entry in the saga has the surviving partner setting up his smartphone in his cabin to video the security team. At this point his partner is over the balcony and he’s freaking out calling everyone murderers and grabbing his phone to alert CNN and the media. Shouldn’t phoning in a man overboard call be somewhere on your ‘to do’ list? This is more than a tragic suicide. There is a smell of extortion, manslaughter, aggravated assault, spousal abuse and a few other potential crimes. We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out. Paste these URLs of the videos into your browser and make your own judgment.

Man Jumps Overboard Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mdQ8rgHepI Attorney for Man Overboard Releases Video of Incident http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ls0CjjWCZKA

Now, to the cruise.

 

Getting to the Pier

 

Driving from a friend’s house in Orlando, we had a reservation at Park’N Go. The facility is a mile or two from the pier and also serves the airport. I highly recommend them. We arrived at 11:20 a.m. The staff moved our luggage from our car to their shuttle bus and dropped us off at the pier where baggage handlers took our luggage aboard. The check-in was done in five minutes, very efficient and by noon, we sitting down to lunch in the Windjammer. Park’N Go charged $71.37 for the week, which is cheaper than the on-pier parking deck. Be sure to make a reservation.

 

Departure – Port Everglades

 

This was our first cruise on an Oasis class ship. It takes several days just to absorb all the different neighborhoods that divide the ship into smaller areas with different character. The Promenade on deck 5 is a two person wide jogging track so the muster drill takes place in public areas throughout the ship. Ours was in the AquaTheater at the stern. No life jackets were in your cabin, they are now stored in lockers near your muster station. According to the video shown, you may not necessarily have a seat in a lifeboat in the case of an emergency. The video shows an escape slide that lands you in a large life raft. I just can’t see a forty to fifty foot, near vertical drop into a raft as being good for you on so many levels.

 

My wife and I are Diamond members and at 5:30 we headed to the Diamond Lounge, not far from our cabin on deck 11. The venue was full. It is not large enough to hold the crush of Diamond members that head there at cocktail hour. We headed to the Schooner Bar prior to heading to Giovanni’s for dinner.

 

Tonight was Halloween and all the young children aboard dressed in costume to go Trick or Treating around the ship. A load of grown-ups went full-Halloween as well.

 

We had reservations for the AquaTheater show, however the show was cancelled and rescheduled for us on another day. Apparently there was a technical problem.

 

Bonus, the ESPN Caribbean channel broadcast the World Series game while ESPN 2 Caribbean carried the Notre Dame versus Temple slugfest. After that, the sports channels returned to soccer, rugby and tennis matches.

 

Sunday – Nassau

 

If you had an inside cabin and never went out on deck, you would have no sensation of departing Ft. Lauderdale, sailing and docking in Nassau. The huge Oasis is a very smooth ride.

 

We tried to have breakfast at Johnny Rockets but couldn’t get near the place. Headed up to the Windjammer on deck 16. The Oasis staff was in the elevator lobbies telling everyone the place was full and go to the American Icon Grill dining room on deck 3. This became our preferred breakfast venue as you could order off the menu or do the buffet similar to the Windjammer. It is also where My Time dining is held.

 

At 1:00 p.m., Joanne and I played a round of General Trivia in the Schooner Bar. We won, beating a bar full of teams and learned that at 3:00 there would be the first round of Progressive Trivia. The moderator would accumulate your scores for four sessions during the week. Game on.

 

Nassau was a brief port call and the Oasis departed after lunch for a sea day to St. Thomas. Having learned our lesson on Saturday, we snagged some chairs in the Diamond Lounge at about 4:30.  The bar service didn’t begin until 5:00 but by then the two story lounge was largely occupied. We had a My Time dinner reservation in the American Icon Grill dining room at 6:00. At 7:30, the Captain’s reception was held in the Royal Promenade.  The Perry Philips Jazz Quartet provided the musical entertainment and they are just fantastic. Don’t miss them.

 

The AquaTheater has two large LCD screens and they broadcast the Sunday Night NFL game. They also carried the Monday night football game as well. We headed to Studio B and caught the ice show ‘Frozen in Time.’ Don’t miss it.

 

Monday – Sea Day

 

At 10:45 a.m. the Oasis officers and crew hosted a reception for Crown and Anchor members in the AquaTheater. Adult breakfast beverages were served, ahem, and Captain Selvag welcomed everyone back and thanked them for their brand loyalty and introduced the audience to his team.

 

After dinner, ventriloquist, Ronn Lucas was the Headliner in the Opal Theater. You don’t go to his show because his lips don’t move; you go because he’s funny as hell. He filled the Opal Theater for two shows both Monday and Tuesday nights. See him.

 

Tuesday – St. Thomas

 

The Oasis of the Seas docked at the Crown Bay facility on the East side of Water Island at 10:00 a.m. This was a US Navy submarine base during WWII. We just walked to the end of the pier and browsed the shops. Most of the familiar shop names found in downtown Charlotte Amalie and the Havensight Mall can also be found here.

 

For dinner, we had reservations in the Solarium Bistro forward in the ship. It’s like dining in a glass house with views forward, left, right, the sky above and it was a wonderful venue to watch the night time departure from St. Thomas. The ambiance, service and food were excellent. Give it a try.

 

Wednesday – St. Maarten

 

The Oasis had the port to itself. A bit more casual shopping ashore for us where you loved to hear a steel band playing Christmas tunes on the shop CD player. You could buy the album at the counter. Loved it.

 

Walking back to the ship, we observed a huge barge parked on the port (left) side of the Oasis. It stayed there for several hours pumping fuel aboard. It took two tugs to haul the empty barge away. It was quite large.

 

Thursday - Sea Day

 

The ‘fix’ is in at the Progressive Trivia tournament. Today was the third round and Joanne and I were in third place, just a couple of points from the leading team of six players. Today, each question would have five clues. Answer correctly with the first clue and receive five points. On the second clue, receive four, etc. Here’s the clue that showed us the leading team had been on the cruise and played the game before.

 

Clue No. 1: ‘He was born in California in 1956.’

 

I’m sure you all got, ‘Mel Gibson’ from that. We didn’t. Only the lead team ran up immediately with the correct answer.

 

This was the cruise’s second formal night and the dinner in the main dining rooms featured both lobster and prime rib. Don’t be shy, your waiter will arrange a surf and turf for you.

 

At 7:30 in the Opal Theater, we sat down to watch the show, “Come Fly With Me.” The theater was packed, the show began wonderfully and after about twenty minutes . . . everything stopped. The stage went dark, the music and singing stopped and all the cast members walked off stage as if on cue. One guy was left dangling in mid-air by cables and he was slowly lowered to the stage, detached himself and walked off. A five by twelve foot pit in mid stage was left open. None of us knew what was up. After about five minutes with the theater in the dark, a recorded announcement said there was a technical difficulty and the show would resume shortly.  This announcement repeated every five minutes for a half hour. Very few people left, as the show was that good. After a half-hour, the Cruise Director, Drew Devine, came on stage and said that they were experiencing a massive Windows 7 meltdown and the show was cancelled.

 

I heard a fellow passenger remark that this was the FOURTH show they missed due to computer problems. Apparently the first night AquaTheater performance, a 3-D movie in the Opal Theater, a performance of Cats, and our show, all had computer crashes. The music, singing, lighting, staging, etc. is all computer controlled. When we returned to Ft. Lauderdale, I hope a ship IT person was dispatched to Best Buy for a new server to run the entertainment system. My personal opinion; is stay away from Windows 8 and 10 as well, and recompile the software for a Mac OS.

 

Friday – Sea Day

 

See above, for the man overboard incident that began at 1:00 a.m.

 

Twelve hours later at 1:00 p.m., we attended the ‘Captain’s Corner’ held in the Comedy Club on deck 4. Captain Selvag admitted to not having much sleep. The club was packed. In addition to discussing the man overboard in detail, he answered any and all questions for an hour. I asked him about refueling in St. Maarten. He says the Oasis refuels there every other Wednesday. (In the alternate week, the Oasis sails Western Caribbean ports.) Fuel is the ship’s biggest expense at $100,000 per day, with food, second at $80,000 a day. He works ten weeks on the ship and then gets ten weeks off which is the normal arrangement for captains on all Royal Caribbean ships.

 

The captain was asked if the Oasis would fit through the new Panama Canal when it was completed. He reported that the Canal was wide enough for the ship, however there was a bridge at one end that was too low to fit under.  He said the funnels of the Oasis are designed to retract twenty feet. That is so the ship can squeeze under the Verazano-Narrows Bridge in New York Harbor.

 

At 2:30, we sat down in the Opal Theater to see the performance of Cats. We had never seen it before and my understanding was that it was the fourth longest running show ever on Broadway. I am sorry, but this show bites the big one. It sucks. The cast of 25 or so, may be talented dancers and singers, but the show has no plot and you can’t understand most of the lyrics due to the audio system and the stage is kept very dark so you can’t even appreciate the costumes and makeup. Everyone I saw sit down with their children, left with them in the middle of Act I. I couldn’t relate or get interested in any character in the cast. I was praying that the computer crash that killed an earlier performance would happen again soon. As Act I ended, I leaned over and asked Joanne if she minded if I didn’t return from intermission and she could collect me after the show, drunk out of my mind in the Schooner Bar trying to forget sitting through Act I. She said, “I’m joining you.” I would estimate that about one-half of the 700-seat theater, didn’t return for Act II, based on the crowds at the elevators and staircases leading away from the Opal Theater. Cats is one of the greatest scams in history. At two-and-a-half hours, it is very long for a cruise ship show and, in my opinion; you will regret the loss of those hours for the rest of your life.

 

Friday evening, the seas were picking up, moving the Oasis around in a gentle manner. However you could watch the pool water sloshing back and forth in the AquaTheater. As a result, tonight’s water shows were cancelled for the safety of the performers.

 

Really Cool Things About the Oasis of the Seas

 

There is so much to see and do, you never have to leave the ship. After a week aboard, there are areas of the Oasis we never got to see. It’s the journey, not the destination that matters. We need to book another cruise on her to see more.

 

There are a lot of different dining venues, some at no extra cost, some at an additional cost, to try during your cruise. Do so.

 

The different neighborhoods aboard make this huge ship seem smaller and not crowded.

 

There is great entertainment aboard, with the exception of the show, Cats.

 

Each morning Captain Selvag would star in a short video of some aspect of the ship’s operation. One morning he showed all the radar, GPS and charting systems they use on the bridge for navigation. Another morning, he demonstrated pulling away from a pier using the ship’s Azipod engines and bow thrusters. I found it a neat little show to look for.

 

In Central Park, recordings of birds and crickets are piped in to make the place more authentic. We spotted real birds hitching a ride there when we were far off in the Atlantic.

 

The ship is home to a population of bats. Sitting in the Diamond lounge after sunset one evening the bats could be observed swooping all over the Boardwalk area presumably catching bugs for dinner.

 

The Ship has THREE dedicated shops exclusively selling ladies handbags. They are Kate Spade, Michael Kors and Coach. (What, only three?)

 

Things that the Oasis of the Seas Can Improve

 

The Ship has THREE dedicated shops exclusively selling ladies handbags. They are Kate Spade, Michael Kors and Coach. (Does overkill mean anything to Royal Caribbean?)

 

Before even getting aboard, The Royal Caribbean web site could use a load of work to make it more user friendly. We tried for hours to book our cruise there and finally gave up and called the RCI reservations desk. Given that you are traveling with 6,000 fellow cruisers, you need and want to plan and make reservations for AquaTheater shows, Ice Shows, Headliners, Comedy clubs and any of the specialty restaurants as well as your main dining room preference. The web site does not make this as easy as it should be and you really need to plan your vacation aboard.

 

Elevators – The elevators have no ventilation. You get fresh air when the doors open on a different deck. We’re sailing the tropics, it’s hot and A/C would be welcome. The elevators are the largest I’ve seen on a ship. Packed with passengers, exiting the muster drill, an idiot in the elevator lobby, holding a button down to summon the next car faster, just keeps the door open on the packed elevator in front of him. That doesn’t help anybody. Throughout the cruise, to get on an elevator, we, and many others, took a car down when we wanted to go up, and vice versa. New elevator software would help.

 

The Windjammer Café doesn’t seem large enough for the passenger capacity and it’s inefficient to have to walk around the entire venue to see what’s for lunch at the various stations. The tables there are pretty close together. Also, the ‘salad bar’ was pretty limited to about four vegetables at the most. Smaller class RCI ships had much better salad bars as I recall. This one is an easy fix.

 

You can purchase ‘high speed’ internet access in various packages for your cruise. We received two free days as a perk for being Diamond members. The speed is glacially S L O W. I think the signal is split with 6,000 passenger devices. I wouldn’t pay for it.

 

Just Slightly Creepy

 

Several days into our cruise, we had posed for photographs in several venues. We couldn’t find anything in the FOCUS photo posting area and asked how do we find them. Your cruise card has a photo number and the ship uses your photo taken at the check-in desk to match photos taken of you during the week to that image, and they are placed in a numbered bin for you to review and purchase. All of George Clooney’s photos ended up in my bin for the week.

 

Things You Have to Just Accept as They Are

 

There is no Viking Crown lounge to head to, have a beverage, relax, listen to live music and enjoy a comfortable crow’s nest view of the ship and the ocean you’re sailing on. I miss that.

 

When the Oasis is in port, the ship gets a little warm. Passenger and crew gangways are open along with others for loading supplies. A large amount of the air conditioning being generated, ends up a cool breeze out on the pier.

 

If you go cruising to enjoy the ocean vistas and smells, make sure you book a balcony or ocean view cabin. The specialty restaurants look inward to Central Park or Boardwalk and don’t have windows looking seaside.

 

Saturday – Back to Ft. Lauderdale

 

We glided into port just a bit after sunrise around 7 a.m. The media and Broward County Sheriff’s officials greeted the ship . . . Film at eleven.

 

Summary

 

We’re sold on the Oasis class. If you haven’t tried it, please do so, I don’t think you will be disappointed. Need a handbag? Climb aboard.

 

Austin Kearney,

Dunwoody, GA

 

Read Full Review »

Brilliance of the Seas

April 2015 - Brilliance of the Seas to Caribbean - Western

Sweet Cruise on Brilliance of the Seas

Brilliance of the Seas

April 25 – April 30, 2015

Tampa – Key West – Cozumel – Tampa

Cabin 7573

Introduction

This was our 17th cruise and 12th with Royal Caribbean. We booked this cruise earlier in April and, as the ship was filling up quickly, we took an interior cabin on deck 7. This was our first cruise departing from Tampa and our first interior cabin in a long time. We are “Diamond” members, which has some nice benefits like fluffy bathrobes, a tray of assorted sweets delivered to your cabin one day, a members’ reception, free drinks during cocktail hour and a number of others I’ll mention later.

Brilliance of the Seas was launched in 2002 and seems to be well maintained but you can see some aging if you look hard enough. We’ve sailed her sister ship Radiance of the Seas, on three previous cruises, and really love this class of Royal Caribbean ship. I had knee surgery earlier this year, and I wouldn’t call the Brilliance small at 961 feet long, but I’m recently free of a knee brace and still wobbling around with a cane.

Saturday – April 25th – Embarkation Tampa

Boarding began at 11 a.m. and we arrived at the pier at around noon. We dropped our luggage with the baggage handlers at the curb and learned parking fees would be $75 for the five-day cruise and that for $20 more, you could valet park. We decided to try that despite my vision of a “Ferris Bueller” moment with a couple of valets hot-rodding around Tampa in our Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. That worked out well. We didn’t need to seek out the parking garage and then hike back to the pier.

Boarding was quick and efficient. Cabins were being cleaned and were not open to passengers until 1:30 so we rolled our suitcase up to the Windjammer to grab some lunch. The lifeboat drill was at 3:15 p.m. and our luggage was delivered prior to then. With the recent surgery on my hind leg, we went down early via elevator to deck 5 because I have to walk down stairs backwards at the moment and I’m S L O W. My ship’s elevator treatise will follow shortly. It deserves its own comments.

The digital safe in our cabin wouldn’t lock so we called maintenance and they had a repairman up to us in about 20 minutes. He was expecting to just replace the safe’s batteries, but ended up escalating the repair several times to where a new circuit board was installed to get it working. He had all the parts with him and had to disassemble the safe to make the repairs. Good job for the maintenance crew.

We were unpacking in our interior cabin when the ship left the pier at 4 p.m. We had no sensation the ship was moving until we left our cabin around 5:00 to head up to the Viking Crown Lounge and the Diamond Club. Next cruise, I will insist to my wife, Joanne, that we get a room with a view.

Prior to the cruise, Joanne had made a 6:30 reservation for us at Giovanni’s Table, the ‘family style’ high-end Italian restaurant for $25 each. I had a vision of dinner at a huge table with people I didn’t know, asking some kid to pass the bread sticks. My fears were groundless, we had a wonderful table for two in the elegant Giovanni’s on deck 6. As a side note, Tampa Bay is a gigantic body of water. Two-and-a-half hours after sailing at 14 knots, we were just passing under the Tampa Bay Bridge as we sat down to dinner.

Family style dining means we had three different appetizers that we shared and the tables in Giovanni’s didn’t have white tablecloths. Caesar salads followed. Most of Giovanni’s staff seemed to be of Asian extraction and joked about the Italian names on their name badges. Our guy was Anthony and we called him Tony. The food was just incredible as was the service and ambiance. I had the grilled rack of lamb that melted in your mouth and Joanne had the veal osso buco. Both were good choices. We ordered a bottle of Tuscan red wine, drank half the bottle for dinner and the staff resealed it and had it waiting for us to finish the next night in the Minstrel main dining room. For desert, the cart was wheeled by and you were forced to select several Italian wonderments.

Looking out the window in Giovanni’s at 7:30, I noted we were still passing channel markers departing Tampa Bay. Yes, it’s a big body of water.

The headliner in the Pacifica Theatre that evening was comedian Rick Corso. Sit down front by the stage and arrive late or leave early and you will become part of the act. He had a second show later in the evening that was advertised as ‘Adults Only’ and we didn’t attend but were told by fellow cruisers that it was pretty raunchy.

The Elevator Situation

The Brilliance has a main elevator bank in the Centrum with six cars. One of these was out of operation for service for the entire cruise. This ship class also has a bank of three at the forward end of the ship. While each car might hold 20 Japanese cruisers if there is someone to stuff them in like on a Tokyo subway, 10 typical Americans is a snug, get to know you, passenger load. Put 2,500 passengers on deck 5 and dismiss them all at once from the lifeboat drill and you will wait for quite a while for an elevator if stairs are an issue, like they currently are for me.

Adding to the elevator capacity issue, is the preponderance of cruisers riding electric scooters around the ship. We had a lot of folks riding these things everywhere and one scooter will take up two or three spaces for standing people on an elevator. I asked a crewman if Royal Caribbean supplied these vehicles. I was told there was an independent service that you could tell what model device you wanted and they had it delivered to the ship for you.

Hey, guess what, as we cruisers age, more of us want to or need to take an elevator to travel the decks. Future ships need more elevators per passenger. Ship architects please take note. During the cruise I spent a good deal of time waiting for an elevator car and had the time to get to know the repair guys spinning new cables on the out of service elevator. They were equally greasy and friendly. Good call Royal Caribbean, I’m all for elevator maintenance and your friendly repair dudes.

Sunday – April 26th – Key West

“A nice little drinking village, with a bad fishing problem,” as the t-shirt states.

We pulled into port and docked around noon. Having been there on a number of cruises, we just wandered ashore and shopped a bit and had a beer at the Bull and Whistle bar on Duval Street. Two floors up is the Garden of Eden, clothing optional, bar.

Key West was a fairly brief stop and you had to be back aboard by 5 p.m. as we departed for a sea day and Cozumel. As the t-shirt noted, Joanne saw quite a few “old drunk men” around town on an early Sunday afternoon, praise-the-Lord. Key West is still a wonderful cruise stop.

For conventional dinner dining, we chose ‘My Time Dining.’ We selected this option when we booked our cruise online. A few days after booking this, a Royal Caribbean service person called us to select a time we would like. We settled on 7:30 versus the early seating at 6:00 or the late dinner at 8:30. It’s a nice option and we would always finish dinner in time to make the headliner show at 9:00 in the Pacifica Theatre.

Tonight’s show featured the Brilliance of the Seas, singers and dancers who entertained with themes from Broadway shows. They were very good.

Monday – April 27th – Sea Day

Departing Key West, the winds had picked up to about 25 knots. The seas rose with the wind tearing spray off the whitecaps. The Brilliance was rocking. The ship moved just enough to let you know you were at sea.

We had a very relaxing day at sea. After the prime rib and lobster dinner in the Minstrel dining room, the headliner in the Pacifica Theatre was singer, impressionist, Karen Grainger. With out a doubt, she was one of the best acts we have ever seen aboard a ship. She is wonderfully funny and mimics the styles and sounds of dozens of popular singers. She sang Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” exactly like the original, knocking it out of the park. If you ever get the chance to see her perform anywhere, don’t miss her show.

Notes on Diamond Member Status

Royal Caribbean awards you one point for every day spent cruising with them and double points if you book a suite. As you accumulate more points, you earn increasing benefits and reach Diamond level at 100 points.

On the Brilliance, the Diamond member lounge is a section of the Viking Crown Lounge on deck 13. Each night we would head up there for complimentary cocktails before diner. While it is by no means even suggested, early in the cruise, I slipped the two bartenders $5 each and our concierge $20 as a ‘thank-you’ for their attentive service. We did not have empty glasses for the entire cruise.

A new feature was the ability to enjoy your Diamond member cocktails in virtually any bar on the ship. This was likely due to the growing number of Diamond members not being able to fit in the lounge and if you were traveling with non-Diamond members, you could sit in any bar and have your complimentary beverages with them. This drink-around feature was not available in the Minstrel dining room or in any of the specialty restaurants.

If you can’t leave email and the internet out of your vacation, Royal Caribbean had internet access packages that started at $29 for 24 hours. Yikes! With Diamond status, you get one day’s access for free. If your cruise mate is a member, that’s two free 24 hour periods. You can enter the logons into your laptop, smart phone or iPad, or use the PCs available in the business center in the Centrum on deck 7. Joanne printed out a fellow cruiser’s airline boarding pass for him there. A similar deal exists with the photographs taken during the cruise. Each member gets to pick a freebie from the ship’s photo gallery. I picked a photo of a hot babe at the pool.

There were Spa discounts, Casino credits, logo item discounts and a bunch of other benefits you could access with a Diamond, or even lesser member rankings.

It’s smart marketing to take care of your repeat customers. Royal Caribbean does a good job making them feel special.

Tuesday – April 28th – Cozumel

The ship was along side the International Pier at 8:00 a.m. docked next to the Liberty of the Seas. The Brilliance looked small by comparison. We sailed on the Liberty out of Ft. Lauderdale a year ago and it also stopped in Cozumel. Given that I am still rehabbing my hind leg, we just walked to the shops at the end of the pier and picked up a few gifts for neighbors watching the house and our dog-sitter.

If your health care insurance stinks like ours, consider shopping for expensive prescriptions in Mexico. We found a pharmacy among the shops. Pharmacists there take on some of the responsibilities of your doctor dispensing medicines and you can save a lot of money if you are still working down your deductible.

After dinner that evening, Vox Audio performed in the Pacifica Theatre. The five entertainers create a wide variety of music without instruments using just their voices.

Wednesday – April 29th – Sea Day

Following winds smoothed out the ride as the Brilliance cruised northeast back to Tampa. We sailed out of some light rain by 10:00 a.m. and the rest of the day was sunny. We overheard several passengers say they watched dolphins chasing the ship, but we missed seeing them.

A couple of fellow Diamond members we met earlier in the cruise joined us for cocktails that evening in Viking Crown Diamond Lounge. They lived just a few miles from us in metro Atlanta and it turns out we had common acquaintances and had similar business backgrounds. Small world.

Thursday – April 30th – Tampa

Our time to leave the ship was supposed to be 9:30 however our group was called around 9:00 and customs and immigration was quick. After collecting our bags, the valet retrieved our car in about two minutes and we were on our way. I would use the valet parking service again in a heartbeat.

Our Inside Cabin

A year ago on the Liberty, our ‘inside’ cabin overlooked the Royal Promenade. It was not a true inside cabin, in my mind, as it had a nice view. On the Brilliance in our inside cabin with the lights out, midnight looked exactly like, high noon. Set an alarm for the time you want to get up. I use a CPAP for sleep apnea and brought a 12-foot extension cord. I needed every foot of it to connect to one of the two 110 volt sockets on the dressing table. Our bed had the foot pointing to the cabin door with perhaps one foot of wall clearance on either side. The cabin was snug and also had two additional bunks that could be lowered from their stowed positions over our bed. I honestly can’t imagine four people sharing that cabin but it’s available if you have a couple of kids to keep an eye on. On our next cruise, I’m going to insist on a window at the minimum.

Summary

It was a wonderful five-day cruise and the Brilliance of the Seas had one more domestic departure before heading to Europe for the summer months. My observation over the years is that the larger the ship, the less tasty the meals, and I’ve mentioned this on previous cruise reviews. I thought the Brilliance served up some delicious meals regardless of the venue.  The crew, right down to the elevator repair guys, could not be friendlier or more eager to make your vacation memorable. There were a variety of musicians entertaining in the Atrium, the Pacifica, the pool area, etc. and they made the voyage memorable. Look and listen for the Fleur de Lis Strings playing around the ship. The pianist and two violinists were just magical.

If this review helps or you have any questions I can answer, please feel free to drop me a note.

Austin Kearney

Atlanta, GA

pepperdog@mindspring.com

http://julielondon.org/J/Home.html

Read Full Review »

Liberty of the Seas

April 2014 - Liberty of the Seas to Caribbean - Western

The Cruise Was Fine, Getting On and Off the Ship Was a Nightmare

Liberty of the Seas

April 26 – May 1, 2014

Ft. Lauderdale – Belize City – Cozumel – Ft. Lauderdale

Cabin 6291

 

Introduction

 

My wife, Joanne, and I are Diamond Crown and Anchor members. This was our 12th Royal Caribbean cruise. We last sailed in 2008 so this represented, in certain instances, a sharp departure from our cruising experiences of six years prior. More on this throughout the review. We have been loyal Royal Caribbean customers for years. We were even stockholders and had an RCI Visa card to earn points towards cruises. Boarding in Ft. Lauderdale and getting ashore again, after returning to Ft. Lauderdale, were such nightmares I may never again set foot on another cruise ship. Royal Caribbean demonstrated an incredible disregard for the wellbeing of their customers at the front and back-ends of this vacation. Disney knows that the two most critical elements for delivering a good vacation experience to their customers occur when they first arrive at a park and when they leave. That’s what sticks in people’s memory and RCI should send some execs to Disney World to see how it’s done.

 

Saturday – April 26th – Embarkation “Scotty, get me outa here. Beam me up.”

 

Boarding was supposed to start at noon. We drove up to the cruise terminal a bit after twelve, dropped off our luggage and parked across the street in the Mid-port garage. We walked back across the street with a few carry-on bags and found the end of a line to get on. I had asked our baggage porter if there was a line for Diamond members? He said not until you get in the building. It’s now 12:30 p.m. and we’ve not moved a step in ten minutes. It is starting to get a bit warm standing in the 90 degree Florida sunshine and the line is growing rapidly behind us. No one is getting inside the cruise terminal and the hero of the day is a Broward County cop who single-handedly starts forming everyone into a line which serpentines along the 300 foot wide front of the terminal. He got everyone under a large awning to get people in the shade. We were three rows out from the building and ultimately there would be ten rows of passengers in line to get aboard. This police officer should get a medal for saving 3,600 passengers from heatstroke. This sentiment was echoed by a number of our fellow passengers. He was great.

 

Sometime after 1:00 p.m. a door opened and the line began moving. Nobody from the cruise line could be found outside the terminal building. An ambulance and fire truck full of EMTs arrived to minister to someone beyond where we could see. They left after an hour without lights and sirens on, so hopefully it was a minor event for a passenger. A heat related issue would be my bet.

 

An hour-and-a-half after getting on line to board, we were at least now in the cruise terminal and still had to weave back and forth through more lines to get to a check-in person.  I felt like if Royal Caribbean can completely screw up the act of getting on board, do I really want to depend on them for my comfort and safety for the next five days? If we hit an iceberg a mile out of port, I wouldn’t be surprised. I told Joanne, we had cruise insurance and I wondered when I get in front of a check-in person and ask for our money back, what would they do? We had waited six years, and this cruise was our 35th wedding anniversary celebration. Joanne really wanted this cruise.  I was more than ready to get a hotel on the beach somewhere in lieu of five more days of these ass clowns. I kept my mouth shut and dutifully followed Joanne aboard after over two hours on line. Many of our fellow passengers would have at least another hour or more on line to board.

 

We drank a bottle of water in our room and then went to the Windjammer where I drank three lemonades and a couple of ice teas. You would hope that somebody at Royal Caribbean would figure out 3,600 passengers out in the Florida heat for hours might need a cup of water to keep them hiking up to ten passes in front of the terminal. A guy behind me on line had a Navy cap and prosthesis for one of his legs and he got no different treatment than the rest of us. If you were parents with young children, or were elderly using a walker or cane, you had up to a three-quarter of a mile hike to the head of the line. Absolutely no one from Royal Caribbean gave a crap. People in hell all want ice water and 3,600 paying clients felt like hell 100 feet from the Liberty and could have used a cold drink. Memo to Royal Caribbean . . . hire somebody to see to the comfort and safety of your passengers waiting to board. Oh, you have a crewmember or RCI employee with this in their job description. FIRE THEM you morons.

 

I believed Royal Caribbean’s philosophy was that if they could make everyone’s boarding process as miserable as humanly possible, then whatever shipboard treatment we received for the next five days could only be an improvement.

 

The lifeboat drill was also pretty strange. A little before 4 p.m. we gathered at our station on deck four. The primary message by Captain Gjerstad was for him to list all the things that would get you thrown off the boat. “Possession of illegal substances, being rude or abusive to a member of the crew, dumping your murdered spouse overboard, etc., etc. Purchasing and consuming excessive quantities of alcohol on the ship was NOT on the list. I really have to believe that some company lawyer gave this script to the captain with orders to read it. There was none of the warm and fuzzy ‘welcome aboard, we want you to have a spectacular vacation, thank you for choosing Royal Caribbean.’ This was not how I remembered being welcomed aboard in past cruises.

 

We next headed up to the Diamond Crown and Anchor member lounge on deck 14 for a cocktail and to watch the ship’s departure.  Gustavo Butcher was our Diamond Concierge guy. He also gave a welcome speech about anyone caught in the lounge who was not a Diamond member would get thrown out of the lounge and off the ship. I can see the company’s viewpoint, but I’m still waiting for my first crewman to give me a welcome back moment. I’m not holding my breath. Again, I think company lawyers are writing everyone’s script. We interacted with Mr. Butcher throughout the rest of the cruise and he couldn’t have been nicer or more cordial.

 

After booking the cruise, Joanne made reservations one night in Portofino and another night in Chops. Back in the day, there would be a reminder delivered on a card or piece of paper to your cabin reminding you of such reservations. Not any more. At seven o’clock, we showed up at Chops and learned our reservation there was in a couple of days and we were redirected over to Portofino. Here Flavio Constanti from Romania took great care of us and he took a major step in improving my mindset about this cruise.

 

Our Cabin

 

On deck six (6291) our inside cabin had a window looking down one deck to the Royal Promenade. You can sit in the window seat and watch the various parades or just people watch. The cabin is very quiet. We were amidships about four cabins down from the “Ben & Jerry’s Sweet.” This cabin (6305) sits above the Ben & Jerry’s premium ice cream shop in the Royal Promenade. The cabin window looks at the backside of Ben & Jerry’s cow sign and not much else. As compensation for the blocked view, cabin residents each get a free scoop of ice cream per day. Apparently a few years back the benefits were more substantial. I think Ben & Jerry’s normally gets about $3.00 per scoop.

 

 

FlowRider

 

This was the first Royal Caribbean ship we’ve sailed that had the FlowRider. No, I didn’t try it out, but you can have a load of fun watching others. Most of the 30 – 40 – 50-year-olds we watched, managed standing about 15 seconds max before wiping out and getting flushed into the back wall of the ride. The eleven to fifteen year-olds did much better. Regardless, there is no happy ending to a FlowRider attempt. Every ride ends with someone slamming into the back wall, with or without their bathing trunks being dragged half-off. The exception was a greying fiftyish guy that put on a surfing clinic. He was clearly an accomplished surfer and worked the ride like a pro. Everyone gave him a huge hand after his wipe out. As I said, no happy endings. It’s great fun though.

 

Quiet Places Amongst Your 3,600 New Friends

 

At any given time, it seems like there are 40 or 50 activities to do on the ship. It’s easy to hang with the crowd at the pool, in the casino or on the Promenade. If you want a quiet place to read or take a nap, here is where you can go. During the day, head up to the Viking Lounge (also called Olive or Twist) on deck 14. A panoramic view, comfy chairs, air conditioning and very few people await you. Also, go forward on deck 11 as far as you can. There is a windowed door on both the left and right sides of the ship that leads to about 20 lounge chairs that look out over the ocean. The deck spaces flank the fitness spa but are not shown on any deck plans. Few people have discovered them. On deck 4, where you mustered for the lifeboat drill, lounge chairs are put out and you can shoot a cannon down the length of the ship and not hit a soul. If you are a Diamond member, your cruise card gives you 24 hour access to the lounge.

 

The Ice Show

 

Joanne had booked an ice show reservation online well prior to our departure. It was on the afternoon of our first sea day. Without a reminder, we were engaged elsewhere on the ship and forgot all about it until after it occurred. A day or so later, a new German friend, Jorge, said whatever we do, don’t miss the ice show. We looked up Gustavo Butcher in the Diamond lounge and he made us new reservations for the next day. The show is called “Encore” and is spectacular. We’ve seen ice shows on four other cruises and this show is amazing. If the skaters didn’t have Olympic Ice Dancing Gold medals than I don’t know what their problem is. The show’s special guest star is Larissa from Las Vegas. A beautiful woman on ice skates with hula-hoops? I can’t begin to describe her performance, but she brought the house down with a standing O. She gets my WOW Card.

 

Me and My Maintenance Guy, Dy Carl, Save The Liberty From Sinking . . . You’re Welcome!

 

On our second morning of the cruise, we were waking up in the Florida Straits on our way to Belize City. The toilets flush with a vacuum system when you press the flush button after you do your business. I did my business, pressed the button and everything worked normally, except the water didn’t shut off and kept filling the bowl. Luckily every time I hit the button, the toilet emptied, but just kept filling. If I didn’t hit the button every five seconds, the toilet would overflow and the effect would be the same as if the Liberty hit an iceberg in the Florida Straits. The ship was potentially doomed by its own plumbing. While I kept hitting the flush button, Joanne called in a MAYDAY to the maintenance department about our pending demise. No lie, the maintenance department had our guy Dy on the problem within three minutes from Joanne’s SOS call. Suddenly the water stopped filling the toilet and I could manage a peek out our door into the hallway where Dy had a maintenance panel open fixing the issue. 5,000 passengers and crew were saved from being shark bait and me, Joanne and Dy are to thank.

 

This is new to us. When you get on the ship you are given a WOW Card. If someone on your cruise delivers a WOW moment, you can fill this card in and I imagine the person gets some form of added compensation or recognition. After our brush with death, over breakfast, Joanne said, “I think the maintenance guy this morning should get a WOW Card.” I told her I was thinking the same thing. We could have used four or five WOW Cards to assign, but Dy Carl was top of the list.

 

iPads and Cruise Cards

 

A couple of days into our cruise, Joanne’s cruise card wouldn’t open our cabin door lock. We brought it down to the front desk and had it re-coded. They told us the cards were pretty sensitive so keep it away from your phone or iPad. On day 4, our sea day, the same thing happened. We figured Joanne’s cruise card came too close to her iPad and got erased a second time. The front desk fixed it again and Joanne was much more careful. Keep your cruise card and iPad apart. As an aside, the couple next to us at the desk was talking to them about all the beverage charges on their account. Your cabin has a fridge stocked with water and soft drinks and there is a charge for consuming them.

 

Elevators

 

The Liberty doesn’t have enough of them. The Liberty of the Seas, a Freedom Class ship, has 3,600+ passengers. It is about 100 feet longer and holds about 500 more passengers than the next size down Voyager Class of ships. Apart from the extra 100 feet in length, they are essentially very similar. They have the same number of passenger elevators. There are two banks of four elevators fore and aft, located at either end of the Royal Promenade. If it’s after the muster drill or a show has just let out, be prepared to wait a long time. I don’t know about Oasis or Quantum Class ships, we’ve not sailed on one, but hopefully the architects added more elevator capacity.

 

Dining

 

One evening in Portofino and one in Chops make for wonderful dining experiences. Please try them. The three-level main dining room has each level named for a different Ninja Turtle. Deck three is the Rembrandt dining room, deck four Michelangelo and deck five is the Botticelli dining room. Somebody please fact-check me on the Ninja Turtle thing. Our waiter was Belle from the Philippines and she was just marvelous taking care of us at table 486. I felt bad because we were seated at a table for six and except the last night we dined alone. A bad situation for tips for Belle. Belle also worked the Promenade coffee shop in the morning. By the way, the coffee that Royal Caribbean serves on the Liberty is fantastic.

 

Every night, the main dining menu had three ‘pay-per-view’ options you could select for an extra cost. A surf and turf, a whole Maine lobster and I think a filet, could be had for up to a $29 additional fee.

 

We had breakfast and lunch in the main dining room to try that out. For breakfast you can order off the menu a-la-cart or try the buffet they set out. For lunch, there is a custom salad bar where the ship’s staff will make a salad, large or small, with the ingredients you select. The main dining room doesn’t seem to be a breakfast or lunch option on days when the ship is in port.

 

The Windjammer up on deck eleven took care of the rest of our breakfasts and lunches. If you can’t make up your mind on what you feel like eating, come here.

 

Belize City

 

After talking with several fellow cruisers who had been there, we elected to not go ashore and stay on the ship. The popular shore excursion was cave tubing. We were told the country was extremely poor. Royal Caribbean had six shops on their port map. We didn’t feel like taking the 25-minute tender ashore to go to Diamonds International or a Del Sol t-shirt shop. As a footnote, all of the tenders to take you ashore were featuring Diamond International logos on every external surface.

 

Cozumel

 

The Liberty had a berth at a pier and it was an $8 taxi fare to get into town where the shopping was. If you didn’t want to go into town, there were lots of all kinds of shops at the foot of the pier. We have been to Cozumel several times and headed into town and landed at Los Cinco Soles. It’s a great ‘high-end’ souvenir shop and also carries about 200 different kinds of tequila, if that’s your beverage of choice. We purchased a few gifts and also had lunch at Pancho’s Backyard that is part of the facility. For every $10 you spend at the shop, you get a $1 credit off your meal at Pancho’s. Good food and great margaritas. Post-lunch naps back on board the Liberty.

 

Don’t Even Think of Getting Off The Boat in Ft. Lauderdale (Baksheesh Time)

 

We were given luggage tags numbered 23 to get off the ship. The Liberty was planning to start with group 1 at 8 a.m. and we were projected to be called at around 10 a.m. Crown and Anchor members could wait in a dining room that had coffee and pastries to pass the time. Apparently only six Customs and Immigration personnel showed up to process 3,600 passengers. They decided every departing passenger needed to be finger printed. By 11 a.m. the ship now called group TWO to depart. We were now scheduled to get off the Liberty in early July. Folks at adjoining tables were now worried about missing airplane connections two miles away. I told our friends, it’s the U.S. Government and THEY DON’T CARE.

 

Sometime after 11 a.m. our Royal Caribbean hostess moved all of us to get off the ship. I personally believe the Customs and Immigration people needed a HUGE cash payment to do their jobs. I’m guessing at least $50,000 was required to process 3,600 passengers off the ship and get the next 3,600 people aboard. The head Ft. Lauderdale Customs and Immigration guy probably kept the lion’s share and gave a few crumbs to his peons. The delay was the ship and RCI negotiating with Customs on how much pain they were prepared to tolerate versus how much cash was being demanded. O.K. lets open the Casino’s safe and see what we have. Work a few cruise ship arrivals and departures each week and retire early in the top 1% club. I’ll alert my Congressman to this government shakedown as he will certainly want to make  sure he’s getting a cut. Our Customs person was a woman named Orla in case indictments are ever handed out. Not likely.

 

I expected to pass by the many idle C&I officers on my way off the ship and watch them counting their wads of cash. They were politely discreet.  Paying a bribe to a government official is as much a crime as the official accepting it. So everybody keeps quiet and money makes the world go round. RCI isn’t going to admit to this and the customs people know it and will continue to squeeze. Cruise fares will be going up. Ships will continue to sail, albeit late.

 

I tried to do my good deed for the day. It was just before noon and walking out of the terminal, I stopped a Royal Caribbean employee and suggested could someone arrange to have water brought outside for the next crowd of passengers that would be waiting on the sidewalk. He said this week was completely different as last week’s problem was related to them not having a zero count after all passengers had left the ship. Regardless, it was almost time to board and there were still several thousand passengers behind us that needed to be processed off the Liberty. The doors were not going to be welcoming passengers at noon on this cruise either. I tried but the Royal Caribbean guy wasn’t going to hear about it.

 

Summary

 

The cruise experience itself was nearly perfect. Getting on and off the ship, to my thinking, wasn’t worth it. This is likely my last cruise. I’ve submitted my cruise survey and have written to RCI’s customer service department and they just don’t care to respond. The Liberty was heading next to the Mediterranean for the summer so my review may be irrelevant. Sorry but I’ve tried to be fair.

 

Austin Kearney

 

Atlanta, GA

 

pepperdog@mindspring.com

Read Full Review »

pepperdog's Tips

Belize City, Belize - Fellow passenger said Belize City was very poor. There were six stores ashore to shop at unless you booked a tour. We stayed aboard.

Badges (Learn More)


Points (View Leaderboard)

0
This Week
121
Total

Recent Activity

uploaded a photo album from their Oasis of the Seas cruise on 2015-10-31

added Oct 31, 2015 cruise on Oasis of the Seas to their profile.

reviewed their Caribbean - Eastern cruise on Oasis of the Seas and gave it 5 stars!

received a helpful vote on their Brilliance of the Seas cruise review - Sweet Cruise on Brilliance of the Seas

uploaded a photo album from their Brilliance of the Seas cruise on 2015-04-25

received a helpful vote on their Brilliance of the Seas cruise review - Sweet Cruise on Brilliance of the Seas

received a helpful vote on their Brilliance of the Seas cruise review - Sweet Cruise on Brilliance of the Seas

added Apr 25, 2015 cruise on Brilliance of the Seas to their profile.

reviewed their Caribbean - Western cruise on Brilliance of the Seas and gave it 5 stars!

received a helpful vote on their Liberty of the Seas cruise review - The Cruise Was Fine, Getting On and Off the Ship Was a Nightmare