Background: This was a last minute cruise for my wife (39) and I (44) along with our daughter (14) and her girlfriend (14), all of us from the Seattle area. I've cruised twice before, while my wife and kids have never cruised. We booked two weeks prior to the cruise through CQ. Although this was a bit stressful, it turned out to not be warranted. When we arrived at the port, the porter took our bags, looked our names up on a list and determined which cabin we were in, then attached appropriate color tags. He then directed us to the port building, went in one door and picked up our tickets, then went to the door right next door to go through security, which was pretty much like the airport.
Went fairly smoothly, although the person checking us in did give us some misinformation. When I asked how much of a credit card hold they put on (I only wanted to activate one Sail & Sign card), she said they didn't put a hold, just put $50 on the credit card for the one activated S&S card, then as you went over it, they just charged the card. Not true. They put $50 per person on the credit card right away, regardless of whether their card was activated.
We had checked in around 11:00 AM, it took about 10 minutes for the lady to check us in, then we waited in groups to board. We were in Group 3 and began to board around 12:00. When we got on board, we dumped our carry on luggage in our cabin (although technically they asked us not to go there till after 1:00) then searched out the lunch buffet. Note: We'd been told that the pool would be open then, but it wasn't open till the following morning at 8:00 AM.
I was very pleasantly surprised with the condition of the ship. She is quite beautiful, and in wonderful shape. If you're worried about selecting this ship because it's a bit older, don't be. She's in fantastic shape. Yes, the décor is bright, sort of 80's Las Vegas with lots of chrome and neon, but somehow it all works. The crew was always cleaning and maintaining her.
The crew was very friendly, always going out of their way to say Hi or chat.
The pool was smaller than we expected, and although the kids had been looking forward to that big blue water slide, they never did it just because it was so small and crowded.
We had an inside quad, on the Main deck (M68) and it was just fine for us. We were worried about bumping into each other all the time, but never did. One tip: You can create a small changing area by opening the bathroom door and one of the closet doors. That gives you much more room for us larger folks to get dressed. Speaking of us larger folks, I'm 6 ft 350 and had no problems at all with the bathroom or shower. I've read some reports about a sewage smell in some of the bathrooms on these lower decks. Well, to be honest, I THINK we had it, but if it was, it was extremely minor. Sort of "Is that what they're talking about?" type of reaction. We had brought some freshener just in case and I think we used it once. There were plenty of places for us to unpack and store our clothes in the room, then slide our luggage under the beds.
The only problem we had with the cabin (and it turned out to be ship-wide) was that we lost the vacuum system that the toilets use to flush for about an hour our first evening.
Our cabin steward, Nelson, was great and left towel animals on most nights (not the first or last nights though). He sad he was the best on the ship and did some of the ones that they display occasionally in the main promenade.
To us, this was the weak point of the cruise. The Cruise Director, Michael Mullane (and his tireless wife who's one of the dancers, among other things) did a fantastic job. He was always approachable, kept everyone enthused and had a great sense of humor. The production shows, however, we thought were pretty lame. This was primarily due to the weakness of the lead male singer, Roberto Araujo. He has a beautiful soft voice, great for love songs, but the lead role requires the type of strong voice that he just didn't have. Costuming was beautiful.
Other entertainment included a magician (who I thought was lame but my wife liked fine) who went through all the standard illusions that are rather boring to me (swords through a box with a person in it, levitating his assistant, etc. Yawn. ) They also had two comedians on board, who we thought were pretty good.
Okay, I'll admit that we're not exactly gourmets. We're basic, meat and potatoes type of people. We went to the main dining room the first night, and although the food was nice (great Filet Mignon), it just felt too fancy for us. (My daughter kept asking – Why do we need 10 pieces of silverware each?). We weren't about to haul a tuxedo and ball gowns 3000 miles just for one formal night either. So after the first night, we just ate at the buffet or had pizza. The pizza, by the way, was excellent! Great thin crust that was very flavorful. My daughter had the Caesar salads there so much they started making her one any time she started waling towards the counter. By the way, they'll add chicken to them if you ask. We had room service twice and both times it was good. The buffets were fine. Not a huge choice, but it was enough to satisfy us. Breakfast was always pretty much the same thing, the only things they rotated were pancakes/French toast or grits/oatmeal. I absolutely loved the meats and the hash browns.
We decided to skip the ships Stingray tour and spent a fabulous day on Grand Cayman with Nativeway Watersports, who I booked on line prior to the cruise. They were fantastic.
The Sensation was late letting people off the ship due to some customs issues, but since we arrived at 7 (ship time) and Cayman was on Central time, there was plenty of time to catch our tender.
When we arrived on the dock there was Eldon holding up a sign for Nativeway. Were were smiling because the ships tour on their big boats was $49 per person and the other vendors on the dock were holding up signs for $35 per person yet there we were for $25 per person getting all this personalized attention. We got on Eldon's van/bus and stopped at two resorts to pick up two couples. That was the entire group for our trip. In all there were 8 customers on our boat plus 4 crew. A pretty good ratio!
We boarded then headed out to Stingray Sandbar. Gorgeous blue water. When we got there about 10 minutes later, many boats were already there, but most were much more crowded (big double deckers), directing their people through loudspeakers when to come back to the boat, making them all wear funky life jackets (even though it's only 3-4 feet deep). With Nativeway it was optional if you wanted one. You could also use the snorkel gear there if you wanted to watch them underwater.
My daughter, 14, was absolutely terrified of the stingrays, yet the crew was so great. When I told the crew this, they said "You got her this far, we'll take it from there". They found a smaller, younger stingray and brought it over to her. They never forced her to do anything she wasn't ready for. Eventually she touched one, then petted it, then kissed one, then they had one give her a "shoulder massage" and by the end she was wearing one like a hat. Like I said the Nativeway crew was great.
We then headed out to the barrier reef for some snorkeling, which was a lot of fun. Some amazing coral there, the crew tried to coax out a barracuda that lives around there, but no luck.
After about a half hour there, we headed to Coral Gardens for more snorkeling. Tons of fish there, bright and colorful.
We then headed back to the dock and were safely deposited at the cruise ship dock in time for our tender. They asked specifically which ship we were on a couple times so they made sure we got back. When we arrived at the dock, there was a loooooooong line for the tenders (Tip: We were anchored with the Imagination and there were TWO lines, but for some reason everyone was lining up in the Sensation line which was way longer. Check which line you're in!).
They had a videographer on board who was great too. They offer a video tape (for I think $45) or a DVD for $60. We ordered the DVD to remember this wonderful day.
We spent a fantastic day at Paradise Beach. We docked at the Puerta Maya pier. As you get off the ship, you walk through a mall type area just for the ships, to make your way to the taxi stand. The fare to Paradise Beach was $12 and we gave the guy $15. Paradise Beach was great, with plenty of umbrellas and chairs for us and tons of water toys and activities for the kids. Right now it's free to get in and for all activities (in contrast to the other beaches which charge for admission and all their toys) but there will be a $5 total charge for everything starting in October to help maintain the toys. This will still be a huge bargain compared to everywhere else. The food was great (especially the fajitas). The water was a stunning blue. There are jet skis, parasailing and banana boat rides at the beach next door for a fee. It was just a nice relaxing day, at a beach that looks like the Corona commercials were filmed there.
After the beach we decided to forego downtown and just pick up a few souvenirs at the mall on the pier, since the two stores we really wanted to hit – Los Cinco Soles and Del Sol – were both right there. We picked up a nice onyx chess set ($20) and some t-shirts, etc. then headed back to the ship.
To be continued in part 2
Sovereign of the Seas
Radiance of the Seas