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First, a note of warning to those who do their own air (instead of the cruise line's air). We left early Saturday morning from PBI, got to Charlotte, NC for our connection with over an hour to spare. Our next plane was expected to leave at 12:30, getting us to Newark at 2:30. Plenty of time to get over to Bayonne (Cape Liberty), NJ. Right after we boarded in Charlotte, they took us back off the plane and told us that the plane would not be leaving until 2:30 - getting us into NJ at 4:30. (Not so good - being that we had to be onboard by 5:00) To make a long story short, we managed to leave just before 2:00 and the pilot must have gotten a good wind, because we landed and were off the plane by 3:30. (Thank heavens.)
Second Warning - some of the taxi drivers still do not know where the new port is. Luckily, ours had been there once before. As we went into the port area, we got a bit freaked out. We went quite aways and were going past old dilapidated warehouses. (We were wondering if the cab driver really knew where he was going.) But, eventually we were at the RCI terminal. At 4:00 there were no other passengers in the terminal, so we went through check-in very quickly. Then we got on a shuttle bus to take us to the ship. Once at the ship, we entered via the cargo/luggage area on deck 2. (I use a cane and/or walker, so they let us walk in through that area.) All other passengers have to use the makeshift staircase and climb 3 flights of stairs to enter on deck 5. The bad thing for us was that we didn't get an embarkation photo. We were in our room (3229 was our first room) by 4:30. Windjammer Cafe was already locked up - so no food was available until after the fire drill (at 5:00). Ship didn't leave port until after 6:00 due to a bus with 47 passengers arriving late.
This was a very casual cruise. All nights were casual except for 2 formal nights. (No smart casual on this cruise.) Sunday (at sea) and Friday (leaving Hamilton) nights are the formal nights, with Friday being the Lobster and shrimp night. Monday is Casual/í50s; Tuesday is Casual/Pirate; Thursday is Casual/Country.
We did have to move from our 3rd floor inside room. Unfortunately there seemed to be a mold problem in or near our room and I was becoming very ill. The Guest Relations desk people were very helpful and managed to find us another room. (Maybe it helped that we're Diamond Members - maybe not.) Up to the 7th floor (7513) but still inside. The size of the room was the same: SMALL!! (All those other reviews of the ship were not kidding. The Empress of the Seas has to have the smallest rooms of any ship.) Also, we were right above the show lounge. Luckily we weren't in the room for very long when the bass sounds of the entertainerment started up. We had a problem with air conditioning in our room twice. First time it was making noises. Called maintenance and got it fixed. The second time (after the noise was gone), there seemed to be one setting, no matter where we put the thermostat - COLD!!! Called maintenance again, and it was fixed right away!
Entertainment was very good on this cruise: The Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers were great. They really gave their all to their performances. The first entertainer was a comedian: Steven Scott. He also did a midnight show the second night. Very clean act! Also onboard for the second night entertainment was Billy Fellows - singer and songwriter. He had some VERY hilarious songs!!! Later in the week, there was the magic of Dale Scott & Ana. We sat up front and to the side - where you thought you could see some of the sleight of hand. But, we still couldn't figure out how he did the tricks!!! The Guse Family also entertained with their dancing and playing of instruments. Very talented family. (Actually, I didn't see them on this trip, because I had seen them before on another cruise.) We missed the farewell show which featured Los Pompas Gauchos. The entertainer that we enjoyed the most was Rick Novell. He is billed as "The High-Wire Comedy and Acrobatics". My husband and I never laughed so hard! (Oh, and ladies - he's not hard to look at either!!!) But be forewarned - he will pick on people who come in late and choose people from the audience to help him on stage. I hope we can see him again on a future cruise. We almost missed his show due to scheduling. The Crown & Anchor party was at the same time as the show! We showed up late to the Crown & Anchor but luckily we did show up. We found out that we were the ones with the most RCI cruises (32). That's not a large number compared to most sailings! So, we received a bottle of champagne which we shared with our tablemates.
There was a taxi strike while we were in Bermuda, so we just bought a 4 day bus pass to move about the island. I believe it was $35 each. You can go anywhere and everywhere with this bus pass and the people are very helpful. (All you have to do is look for a pink pole and that means that's the bus stop to go towards Hamilton, if it's a blue pole, it's away from Hamilton.) You can easily get to the aquarium/zoo; Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, beaches, etc. The bus passes are available in every port. They don't start until you actually use them - and then it is for consecutive days.
We are not beach people, so I can't give you any information there except that they are very easy to get to via public transportation.
We were only in St. George for one day. Wish we had more time - or had gone back there later via bus or ferry. My husband and I took one shore excursion - the city tour and Fort St. Catherine in St. George. Very enjoyable. Hubby did go deep sea-fishing one day also while at the Dockyards. He caught a 45 lb wahoo. No, you're not allowed to keep it. But at least he caught a fish!
We enjoyed the Dockyards area. Not much shopping, but a great internet spot in the Clocktower mall area. Only $5.00 for 30 minutes. (A lot cheaper than the ship.) There's also a museum; and of course the Frog and Onion Pub! (Great t-shirts)
Hamilton has a lot of shopping. Seemed a bit on the expensive side, but there was a great souvenir shop on Queen Street.
Regarding the ship: I was told by our room steward that only the inside rooms were refurbished. The outside rooms had been redone a year or so ago. Unfortunately they did not install safes into the rooms during refurbishment - but safety deposit boxes are available at the Customer Relations desk. There is NO free ice cream on the Empress of the Seas - only Ben & Jerry's. If you're a Diamond Member, you will get a free coupon in your booklet.
There were a lot of the usual activities onboard, but because we were docked in port for 4 full nights, the daytime activities were not as plentiful as other cruises and the casino was closed the whole time while in port. I did manage to play trivia most of the days. Came home a winner of key chains; luggage tags; hats; water wallets; luggage locks and pens!!! Love that trivia!
We did have a problem on the last day. We found a $15.90 telephone charge on our bill. Since we never use the phone onboard, we knew this had to be a mistake. My husband spent quite some time at the purserís desk arguing about the bill and eventually they did remove the charge. They did give us the phone number that was called, so when I got home I checked it out via the internet. The only thing that I could find was that the area code (784) was in St. Vincent, Grenadines. (Gee, do you think it could have been our cabin steward - who was from there?)
Anyway, overall, we had a great time and hope to go to Bermuda again in the future. Itís a great relaxing place. The city was very clean and the people were very helpful. But have to admit, that I would prefer going on another - newer ship to Bermuda next time. (Voyager and Grandeur will both be there next year for 5 day cruises. The Voyager will berth at Dockyards the whole time.)
Oh, a side note to Royal Caribbean fans: Celebrity and Royal Caribbean are merging their Crown and Anchor Benefits as of January 2005.
"The great difference between voyages rests not with the ships, but with the people you meet on them." --Amelia E. Barr
Royal Caribbean- more than 2800 points (400+ cruises); NCL-15; Carnival-13; Princess-4; Celebrity-2; Costa-2; Disney-1; Azamara-1; Defunct lines-18