I stood on the top deck of my floating “hotel”, the Splendour of the Seas, and savoured the breath-taking views from my lofty vantage point as we sailed out of Venice’s Giudecca Canal. We passed pointed church steeples and ancient palaces, sidewalk restaurants and bridges traversing narrow canals. The little black and gold gondolas and small barges down below were dwarfed by our cruise ship. But their occupants waved to us cheerily nonetheless. And as the onion-shaped domes of St Mark’s Cathedral receded into the distance, we bid ciao to Venezia. I was overcome by the sheer beauty of it all but, as we sailed further and further away from the shore, this was replaced by pure exhilaration at being released from the shackles of land and the chaos that accompanies it.
How do I encapsulate the many delights of cruising? The feeling of total freedom bestowed by the vast open oceans, the emancipation from being released from one’s mundane daily existence, visiting magical destinations almost every day, complimentary food around the clock, and world-class entertainment galore are just some of them. I’ve been a Royal Caribbean fan ever since I sailed on Freedom of the Seas in 2008. That was one of the best holidays I have ever had and this cruise will certainly vie with it for that position. This time, I wanted my children to experience the ocean life as well and so they accompanied us. The ship was sailing from Venice which was a bonus as we managed to squeeze in an Italian holiday after the cruise.
Although Splendour of the Seas is one of Royal Caribbean’s older and smaller ships (albeit it’s fastest – according to the captain), it was the first time my kids had seen a cruise ship and they were awestruck from the moment they first laid eyes on it. The ship was re-furbished in 2012 and the generous use of glass walls allowed one panoramic views from most decks. The ship carries over 1800 passengers yet embarkation was quick and before we knew it, we were enjoying lunch in The Windjammer, the buffet restaurant which can be found in all the fleet’s ships.
Initially, I was a bit anxious about how we were going to fit the children into our ocean-view stateroom. I could not see any other beds or sleeper couches in our room besides a double bed. But that first evening, Graziela, our Brazilian room attendant, lowered two bunk-style beds from the ceiling and supplied ladders for the children to ascend. This of course thrilled them. Every morning the beds would go neatly back into their crevices and every evening they would resurface.
Adventure Ocean was a blessing in disguise. An award-winning club for kids and teens up to the age of 17, it is staffed by well-qualified, energetic staff members who keep them entertained all day with stimulating activities. The teens’ section included a video game arcade. After a port excursion in Dubrovnik, where the beauty and history of the old town was wasted upon my children, we decided that it would be better to leave them at Adventure Ocean where they were happiest. And yet they were loathe to leave it each day when we returned from our port excursions. Our children were happy there and that made us happy.
Food! No matter how hard you try, the temptation will be too great to resist. Dozens of tantalising options – including vegetarian dishes and desserts – were dished up at every meal. In the evenings, one had the option of dining buffet-style in The Windjammer or opting for a more formal meal in the signature a-la-carte restaurant “The King and I”, where impeccably courteous waitrons would serve one from menus listing gourmet options including lobster and salmon. I loved eating meals while watching the ocean pass by. However, all this food made for a marked increase in girth size. Fortunately, one could always burn off some of the calories in the gym and the swimming pools, or on the running track and rock climbing walls high above the sea level. My kids enjoyed the latter where the supportive guides helped them to conquer the advanced levels and my husband and I took advantage of the indoor solarium.
It was always pleasant to talk to the super-friendly and efficient multinational staff, find out where they’re from and hear about their experiences in delightfully different accents. The ship had over 750 staff members hailing from over 60 countries (including South Africa). On one of our port days, they did a flag parade of nations for us where all the countries from which staff members hailed were showcased. Although they were now part of a multinational organisation, the patriotism the staff still felt towards their home countries was evident. When their country’s name would be called out, the staff members would cheer loudly while waving their flags and bursting into traditional dance.
Our ports of call included Santorini, the iconic Greek island, Dubrovnik, Croatia’s most popular tourist destination, Kusadasi in Turkey and Katakolon in Greece. After a long day exploring the port, one could return to the ship and indulge in some spa therapy or retail therapy. There was so much to do on the ship in between port excursions that boredom was never an option. We would be issued with the Cruise Compass each day, a newsletter that would help us to plan the following day meticulously. It would contain information on the port to be visited, the weather forecast, entertainment and special events planned for the following day, and a lot more. A huge movie screen on the outdoor pool deck screened movies every night. On chilly nights, families would relax on the pool loungers covered in blankets and watch movies under the starry night sky.
On our last day on the ship, a small group of us were given a private tour of the bridge (from where the ship is commandeered) by the captain’s second-in-command. We felt very privileged as we met in the discreet concierge lounge, were scanned by security and then only allowed into the bridge. It was fascinating to learn how a huge vessel such as this was commandeered. The monitoring systems and the safety features in the event of a fire or water invasion were comforting. My kids were given the captains hat and binoculars to play Captain for a few minutes. And now they are already planning our next cruise. On that note, as repeat cruisers, we were invited to a special evening with the captain where a Russian couple were awarded for having spent more than 800 nights on Royal Caribbean cruises. Wow, I would love to do that!
Royal Caribbean International is proudly represented by Cruises International in South Africa. To find out more or to book your cruise, contact your preferred ASATA travel agent or Cruises International on (011) 327-0327 or at www.cruises.co.za.
Disclosure Level: 7
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