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Wonderful Ports, So-So Ship

Author: Carmen Critchlow
Date of Trip: April 2012


We were pleasantly surprised to arrive at BWI and there was no one at all in the security line. This is the first time this has happened in decades of travelling, and it was great to just walk through security, with the usual security checks of course, but it took no more than five minutes. We had a 12:15pm flight which was delayed until 1pm. We arrived in Lisbon, Portugal the next day and were picked up by Royal Caribbean’s mini bus and taken to the pier. Checking in went easily; we were early and had to wait for about an hour. There were refreshments for those of us waiting to board the ship. We were then allowed on the ship, only to find out that our cabin was not ready. We went to the Windjammer Café for lunch and walked around the ship for a while. We have always sailed on big ships (which I prefer) and this one was the smallest we have ever sailed on.

This is our first time sailing with RCI and we weren’t very impressed. The ship is old and you can see signs of wear and tear, especially in the cabins, with rust on the balcony, shabby carpets, the furniture was worn and nicked, an old TV (no flat screen here), and mold in the bathroom. I read somewhere that it was going into dry dock next March, it really needs to go sooner. The public areas were maintained better than the cabins. We had a superior ocean view stateroom with balcony on deck 7, but it was not as big as I thought it would be, I think the word “superior” got me fooled. The library was just four cabins down which was very convenient and would have been great if it was a hot spot. The ship is not wireless, so you had to go to hot spots around the ship to get on the internet. I had downloaded books on my iPad to read in my cabin, but ended up in the library reading a regular book instead. No one manned the internet café, and any problems you encountered you had to stand in line at the customer service desk where no one there had any idea about how to fix any internet problems. They said to just keep trying to log in, well that was not working, my DD was very frustrated. There were a few channels on the TV, and no access to your onboard account in the cabin.

The staff were all very nice and helpful, and our cabin attendant was excellent.

The food was not great; especially the pasta (which they had almost every day) and which tasted like it was dipped in hot water for about 2 minutes and served. My DH eats everything, so when he couldn’t eat it, you know it was bad. Most of the dishes were not labeled, so it was a guessing game (and it was that way for the whole cruise) and when we asked a cook about a particular dish, he did not know what it was; well I don’t eat it if I don’t know what it is. The food was very repetitive, with few new dishes. The salad bar was well stocked and the desserts were great, as well as the coffee, and there was a large variety of teas. Breakfast was good with the usual long lines for omelets, but they had the most delicious pastries. The waiters were very lax in clearing the tables and we had to do it ourselves a couple of times, in order to get a table. We had to call them over to clear a table because a family was just standing there waiting for them to clear it. They did not speak English and they did not want to move or they would have lost it to another passenger. Our cruise director was Leo Papa, I saw him once when there was a food carving demonstration.

We went to a few shows which were ok, but the best one was with a Beatles look-alike group, I knew all the songs and the person next to me was surprised that I did lol. Everyone was singing and dancing, we had a wonderful time.

We usually sail to Europe in June when the weather is perfect. This is our second time cruising in April/May and it was somewhat cold. I would definitely avoid cruising to Europe at that time of year in the future. I called RCI, but this was the only time they were going to these ports, and since all the ports were new for us, we decided to book it. The ports were Vigo, Spain; Gijon, Spain; Portland, Dorset; Brugges, Belgium; and Amsterdam, Holland. The original itinerary had a port in Paris, which was the main reason why I booked the cruise (I wanted my DD to see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre); but that port was later changed to Dorset. It irks me when they do this, and to make it worse they do not let you know, an e-mail from RCI would have been appreciated. I found out by checking the itinerary, which I do from time to time.

We booked shore excursions for all the ports with RCI, and I must say that they have some of the best guides, very knowledgeable, patient, attentive and definitely people oriented.

Vigo, Spain – We actually had two tours in one. We spent some time in Vigo and visited the El Castro Mount, the Vigo Bay and walked through the Oyster Market on Stone Street. We then went across the border to Valenca do Minho, Portugal, a small town with quaint streets and stores filled with pottery, linen and crockery, and a lovely church. I forgot to pack my comb and brush and was able to get both here, along with rain hats for myself and DD.

Gijon, Spain – We drove along the coast to the town of Aviles, where we visited a beautiful church, Church of Sabugo, built in the 1200s, the City Hall and the Gijon Museum. We then went to the fishing village of Luanco, a lovely town with lots of cafes overlooking the Bay of Biscay.

Day at Sea

Portland, Dorset – This should have been the Paris port, but we got to see the Salisbury Cathedral and The Chapter House which houses the best preserved of four surviving original Magna Carta, it was magnificent, no picture taking was allowed. You can see the Cathedral’s spire for miles and it is a beautiful and historic building. There was a lot to see including the Medieval Clock – the world’s oldest working clock, The Cope Chest used for storing ecclesiastical robes, Britain’s largest medieval Cloisters, The Tomb of William Longespee (1226), the first person to be buried here, The Memorial Glass Prism, and much more. The highlight of this tour was Stonehenge, and although it was a rainy day, it was crowded. It was definitely a “WOW” moment, when you first see it. The actual stones are fenced off for their preservation and protection, but you can still feel the mystical power of it all. We were able to get some great pictures, despite the crowds. They had a small gift shop and to say it was jammed packed would be an understatement, but I was determined to get some souvenirs, which I did. The shop keepers said the shop would be expanded sometime this year, and it really needs that expansion.

Brugge, Belgium – We had a guided tour through the historical center and visited the Market Square, the Belfry Tower, the Burg Square, the Town Hall, the Lake of Love, and the Chapel of the Holy Blood. We then took a 30 minute guided canal boat cruise, which was a lot of fun, we had the best guide, he was young, but he kept us entertained. We saw medieval Brugge from a different perspective, from the canals and waterways of the city. We, of course, bought lots of Belgium chocolate and lace.

Amsterdam, Holland – We started our tour with a drive to the Dutch village of “Broek in Waterland”, known for its wooden houses and farms. We then drove through the beautiful low lands of Amsterdam, seeing fields of colorful tulips along the way, to visit an original 17th century windmill. We saw a short film about wind drainage and how the Dutch managed to live below sea level for over 300 years, very informative. We also visited the Baroque-style Royal Palace, the famous Niewe Kerk (New Church), the Dam Square, the Mint Tower and the Weepers’ Tower. The Dutch loves their bicycles and there were lots and lots and lots of bikes everywhere. We bought our fair share of wooden shoes and Royal Delft Blue ceramics.

The next day was a day at sea, which gave us time to pack and relax, and then debarkation in Oslo, Norway, which went very smoothly.

We book cruises for the itinerary, and we were extremely pleased with this one.

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