Focuses on ships’ informality, food

This item appears on page 26 of the May 2011 issue.
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My cruises are portions of longer trips, up to two months in duration, and because this octogenarian doesn’t want to struggle with luggage or porters, he travels light — an old nylon garment bag with big zippered pockets slung on one shoulder and a carry-on nylon shoulder bag on the other.

I never pack a suit or even a jacket and tie, let alone a tuxedo. I, therefore, appreciate Holland America Line’s (HAL’s) policy of serving in the cafeteria lobster or whatever else is served in the dining room on formal nights so that people like me don’t have to settle for an inferior meal.

My last cruise with HAL was aboard the Volendam from Acapulco, Mexico, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a few years ago.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s (NCL’s) “Freestyle Cruising” is even better. Passengers need never dress up if they don’t want to, and they may eat when they wish in any of the main dining rooms, with no assigned times or tables. NCL also offers extra-cost specialty restaurants, but I haven’t patronized them, as I feel the cruise fare is enough to pay.

I’ve found NCL’s accommodations and food to be just as good as HAL’s, and it’s provided in a less formal atmosphere that I enjoy. I cruised aboard NCL’s Norwegian Sun from Santiago, Chile, to the Falklands and on to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in March 2010.

I traveled on my first and last Royal Caribbean International (RCI) cruise from Barcelona, Spain to Galveston, Texas, aboard the Voyager of the Seas, Nov. 7-21, 2010.

Although I had paid, just like the other passengers, for the lobster served in the dining room on a formal night, I had to settle for a distinctly inferior meal in the cafeteria because I chose not to dress up. I felt cheated by this.

I had been informed, before I booked the RCI cruise, that if I chose not to dress for dinner I could dine in the cafeteria, but I had not been informed that the food there would be inferior to that in the dining room. I am mostly a non-red-meat eater, and in the cafeteria I felt the chicken served was dried out and fish was not always available.

The quality of the food in the dining room on nonformal nights varied. The emphasis seemed to be on presentation. Grilled shrimp were beautiful and skillfully removed from their shells by the waiter, but they had the taste and consistency of cardboard, in my opinion. Also, eggs Benedict were overcooked and loaded with salt. (Whenever someone at my table of eight rejected an entrée they had ordered, a substitute was always cheerfully provided.)

Breakfasts in the cafeteria were adequate, and the made-to-order omelets were excellent, but the ship ran out of peanut butter, raisin bran and bananas, which are staples in my diet.

The ship’s best food items — desserts in both the dining room and cafeteria were excellent.

Seating in the dining rooms was at an early 5:30 or a late 8:30 p.m. Passengers could utilize RCI’s “My Time” option to dine at other times, but that required payment in advance, in one’s onboard account, of the full gratuities “recommended” for the cruise, which were, I felt, excessive and, of course, not dependent upon service actually received. (These “gratuities” were mandatory.)

With RCI, a 15% “gratuity” is added automatically to the purchase of soft drinks or alcoholic beverages, including wine in the dining room, and passengers are encouraged to add an “additional gratuity for excellent service”!

Also, regular hamburgers were free in the cafeteria, but supposedly “deluxe” burgers had to be purchased in the ship’s extra-cost “diner.” Soft-serve ice cream was free, but regular ice cream had to be purchased at a premium price.

I also found the constant exhortations to buy and spend very annoying.

My accommodations were fine. I paid $1,296 for single occupancy of an outside cabin (category H, No. 2610). I felt the cabin service was only soso, however.

The Voyager’s library had no reference materials, not even a dictionary or atlas, and no nonfiction books, merely a poor selection of novels.

In the movie theater, unobstructed views of the screen were available only to those who sat in the front row or who sat in aisle seats and leaned out. The most outstanding feature of the much-touted ice show was that it was on a ship.

The last straw, for me, was that Fox News was the only news available on the ship’s TV, even though, while off the coast of the US, the ship could have provided CNN or CNN International. My conclusion that RCI may cater to conservative, right-wing types was reinforced by the fact that, though not personally important to me, both HAL and NCL listed LGBT get-togethers on their daily calendars while RCI did not. For liberal or progressive passengers such as myself, an alternative source of news would have been appreciated.

Most frustrating, for me, was trying to arrange a transfer from the ship’s pier in Galveston to the airport in Houston after the cruise. Because I was attending the cruise with an RV organization, I had to book through their travel agent instead of directly with the cruise line. The travel agent refused to sell me a transfer from the pier to the airport because I wasn’t flying out of Houston on arrival day but was going to the airport just to pick up a rental car, and RCI insisted they could not sell me a transfer because I had to go through my travel agent!

The agent told me I could buy a transfer on the ship without the flight requirement, but RCI said that such a purchase might not be available on the ship, so I should buy it in advance, which I could not do! In the end, I had to find a shuttle service on the Internet.

KENNETH G. CROSBY
Livingston, TX

ITN sent a copy of Mr. Crosby’s e-mail to Royal Caribbean International (1050 Caribbean Way, Miami, FL 33132) and received no reply.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

My cruises are portions of longer trips, up to two months in duration, and because this octogenarian doesn’t want to struggle with luggage or porters, he travels light — an old nylon garment bag with big zippered pockets slung on one shoulder and a carry-on nylon shoulder bag on the other.

I never pack a suit or even a jacket and tie, let alone a tuxedo. I, therefore, appreciate Holland America Line’s (HAL’s) policy of serving in the cafeteria lobster or whatever else is served in the dining room on formal nights so that people like me don’t have to settle for an inferior meal.

My last cruise with HAL was aboard the Volendam from Acapulco, Mexico, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a few years ago.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s (NCL’s) “Freestyle Cruising” is even better. Passengers need never dress up if they don’t want to, and they may eat when they wish in any of the main dining rooms, with no assigned times or tables. NCL also offers extra-cost specialty restaurants, but I haven’t patronized them, as I feel the cruise fare is enough to pay.

I’ve found NCL’s accommodations and food to be just as good as HAL’s, and it’s provided in a less formal atmosphere that I enjoy. I cruised aboard NCL’s Norwegian Sun from Santiago, Chile, to the Falklands and on to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in March 2010.

I traveled on my first and last Royal Caribbean International (RCI) cruise from Barcelona, Spain to Galveston, Texas, aboard the Voyager of the Seas, Nov. 7-21, 2010.

Although I had paid, just like the other passengers, for the lobster served in the dining room on a formal night, I had to settle for a distinctly inferior meal in the cafeteria because I chose not to dress up. I felt cheated by this.

I had been informed, before I booked the RCI cruise, that if I chose not to dress for dinner I could dine in the cafeteria, but I had not been informed that the food there would be inferior to that in the dining room. I am mostly a non-red-meat eater, and in the cafeteria I felt the chicken served was dried out and fish was not always available.

The quality of the food in the dining room on nonformal nights varied. The emphasis seemed to be on presentation. Grilled shrimp were beautiful and skillfully removed from their shells by the waiter, but they had the taste and consistency of cardboard, in my opinion. Also, eggs Benedict were overcooked and loaded with salt. (Whenever someone at my table of eight rejected an entrée they had ordered, a substitute was always cheerfully provided.)

Breakfasts in the cafeteria were adequate, and the made-to-order omelets were excellent, but the ship ran out of peanut butter, raisin bran and bananas, which are staples in my diet.

The ship’s best food items — desserts in both the dining room and cafeteria were excellent.

Seating in the dining rooms was at an early 5:30 or a late 8:30 p.m. Passengers could utilize RCI’s “My Time” option to dine at other times, but that required payment in advance, in one’s onboard account, of the full gratuities “recommended” for the cruise, which were, I felt, excessive and, of course, not dependent upon service actually received. (These “gratuities” were mandatory.)

With RCI, a 15% “gratuity” is added automatically to the purchase of soft drinks or alcoholic beverages, including wine in the dining room, and passengers are encouraged to add an “additional gratuity for excellent service”!

Also, regular hamburgers were free in the cafeteria, but supposedly “deluxe” burgers had to be purchased in the ship’s extra-cost “diner.” Soft-serve ice cream was free, but regular ice cream had to be purchased at a premium price.

I also found the constant exhortations to buy and spend very annoying.

My accommodations were fine. I paid $1,296 for single occupancy of an outside cabin (category H, No. 2610). I felt the cabin service was only soso, however.

The Voyager’s library had no reference materials, not even a dictionary or atlas, and no nonfiction books, merely a poor selection of novels.

In the movie theater, unobstructed views of the screen were available only to those who sat in the front row or who sat in aisle seats and leaned out. The most outstanding feature of the much-touted ice show was that it was on a ship.

The last straw, for me, was that Fox News was the only news available on the ship’s TV, even though, while off the coast of the US, the ship could have provided CNN or CNN International. My conclusion that RCI may cater to conservative, right-wing types was reinforced by the fact that, though not personally important to me, both HAL and NCL listed LGBT get-togethers on their daily calendars while RCI did not. For liberal or progressive passengers such as myself, an alternative source of news would have been appreciated.

Most frustrating, for me, was trying to arrange a transfer from the ship’s pier in Galveston to the airport in Houston after the cruise. Because I was attending the cruise with an RV organization, I had to book through their travel agent instead of directly with the cruise line. The travel agent refused to sell me a transfer from the pier to the airport because I wasn’t flying out of Houston on arrival day but was going to the airport just to pick up a rental car, and RCI insisted they could not sell me a transfer because I had to go through my travel agent!

The agent told me I could buy a transfer on the ship without the flight requirement, but RCI said that such a purchase might not be available on the ship, so I should buy it in advance, which I could not do! In the end, I had to find a shuttle service on the Internet.

KENNETH G. CROSBY
Livingston, TX

ITN sent a copy of Mr. Crosby’s e-mail to Royal Caribbean International (1050 Caribbean Way, Miami, FL 33132) and received no reply.