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Cruise Ship Review

Enchantment of the Seas - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

Editor's Note: All eight of Carnival's Fantasy-class ships will receive extensive upgrades as part of Carnival's $250 million "Evolutions of Fun" program. Expansive children's water parks, a new design style and features for the pool areas, and the creation of the Serenity adults only deck area will be part of the changes to the open decks of Carnival Cruise Lines' eight Fantasy-class ships.

The expanded outdoor recreation areas will be initially incorporated onto the 2,052-passenger Inspiration and Imagination during month-long dry docks in fall of 2007 and added to other Fantasy-class ships in 2008 and 2009 during scheduled dry-dock periods.


As the parade of new ships continues and major cruise lines construct increasingly grandiose vessels each year, there is the tendency to neglect attractive ships that are not among the most recent to enter the market. A case in point is Carnival's Elation, still a relative "youngster" in terms of age with 9 years of cruising under her belt and plenty of years of smooth sailing ahead.

Debuting in March 1998, the Elation is the seventh of Carnival's eight Fantasy-class vessels (which began with the debut of Fantasy in 1991 and concluded with the launch of Paradise in 1998).

Elation has the distinction of being the first cruise ship equipped with azipods, the state-of-the art propulsion system that greatly enhances the ship's maneuverability -- and has since been installed on many of the newest mega-liners. Elation was also the first Carnival ship to feature a dedicated conference center, geared toward accommodating small meetings and incentive groups.

The ship sails four- and five-night Bahamas cruises (roundtrip Port Canaveral) in the winter and spring before transitioning over to the West Coast for four-, five- and six-night Mexican Riviera cruises (roundtrip from San Diego).

Dining

While a growing number of ships have gone exclusively to open seating with no set dining times, the style of dining is more traditional on the Elation with passengers assigned tables in one of the ship's two main restaurants. The Imagination is located on Atlantic Deck, midship, and the Inspiration is on Atlantic Deck aft. There are two seating choices for dinner: 6 p.m. for early diners, and 8:15 p.m. for those preferring later times. There is open seating in the restaurants for breakfast and lunch.

Carnival's fleetwide effort in recent years to upgrade both the diversity and quality of its menu selections -- including moving away as much as possible from using trans-fats -- seems to have paid off. Each menu featured six starters, a couple of salads, and six or seven main courses (with choices including pan fried fillet of red snapper, sweet and sour shrimp, rack of New Zealand lamb, and Beef Wellington). There were also several Spa Carnival selections on each menu -- dishes that were lower in calories, sodium, cholesterol and fat. A vegetarian selection was also available.

We were also quite impressed with the service provided by a classy trio of waiters who were most cordial and professional in carrying out their duties.

Beyond the Inspiration and the Imagination, the ship's other main dining venue is the informal Tiffany's Bar and Grill on the Lido Deck, which offers both inside and poolside seating. All meals here are served buffet style and there is open seating for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Other alternative eating options include a 24-hour pizzeria, a complimentary sushi bar and 24-hour room service. Carnival is one of the few lines to still offer midnight buffets; themes varied, from a Mexican night to a gala "anything goes" spread.

Caveat #1: Tiffany's gets especially crowded at breakfast and congestion often built up near the omelet station due to a slow-moving line. So you may want to get up early and eat breakfast sooner rather than later if you want to avoid delays here.

Caveat #2: The dinner buffet offerings in Tiffany's were very limited compared to the extensive choices on the menu in the main dining rooms; there may be only one or two main courses to choose from and the choice of appetizers, salads and desserts is also less than what is available in the restaurants.

Caveat #3: There are very few tables for two in either the Inspiration or Imagination with most tables accommodating 6, 8 and 10 people; those who want to dine with only their spouse or significant other would have to eat either in Tiffany's, which has many tables accommodating couples, or order room service.

Public Rooms

In terms of layout and function, the Elation is virtually identical to her sister Fantasy-class ships. The ship consists of 10 decks with most of the public rooms concentrated on Atlantic, Promenade and Lido decks (8 - 10), while the cabins are situated on Riviera, Main, Upper and Empress decks (4 - 7). Like other Carnival ships, the public areas are designed and decorated in a fanciful, flamboyant style by Carnival's award winning architect Joe Farcus, who has a penchant for augmenting the interiors with more than a dash of neon and glitz. While passenger opinions of the decor ranged from glamorous and elegant to gaudy and gauche, there is no denying that Farcus' whimsical design style enhances the Elation's "Fun Ship" aura.

The ship's centerpiece is its six-story Grand Atrium which (in mid-November) was already decked out for the holiday season in bright red Christmas ornaments. The ship's glass-enclosed elevators also sported Christmas finery, and throughout the cruise passengers would often pause at the railings surrounding the atrium and gaze in awe at this boldly adorned space. A favorite gathering place before dinner is at the semicircular Plaza Bar on the floor of the Atrium where guests could enjoy pre-dinner drinks to the accompaniment of classical music performed by a trio.

The Elation's public spaces encompass a diversity of styles and design elements celebrating the arts of music, literature and cinema with references to the Muses and other Greek mythological figures added to the mix. Among the venues with an arts theme include the Romeo and Juliet Lounge, Gatsby's Great Bar, the Cole Porter Club, the Jekyll & Hyde Disco and the Mark Twain Library. One of the most expansive public areas is the area known as Elation Way on Promenade Deck, which is decorated with striking columns featuring crafted classical reliefs of the Muses. Promenade Deck gets especially busy at night as it connects the main "evening" lounges, such as the Romeo and Juliet Lounge, Musical Cafe, and the Drama Bar, which is next to the Casablanca Casino (it sports a Moroccan design after the movie of the same name).

Other public areas include the Galleria shopping mall, the Virtual World arcade and the ship's photo gallery. There is also an Internet cafe with access priced at 75 cents per minute; for those who plan to spend more time on the computer, there are 100 minute packages available for $50 (50 cents per minute) and 250 minute packages for $100 (40 cents per minute). Wi-Fi is available in most public rooms.

In December 2006, Carnival completed the fleetwide implementation of cell phone service aboard all its ships.

There is also a self-service laundry onboard.

Observation #1: While the ship is meticulously scrubbed and polished daily and appears in tip-top condition both inside and out, there is obvious wear and some staining on many of the carpets lining the corridors.

Observation #2: There seemed to be more photographers per square foot on this ship than on any in recent memory. Picture taking at times bordered on an obsession with photographers frequently snapping away both in the public areas and off the ship. While some passengers commented on their aggressive tactics, many others didn't seem to mind and were only too happy to pose.

Cabins

Sixty percent of the Elation's 1,026 cabins (a total of 618 accommodations including both standard cabins and suites) have ocean views and there are 408 inside cabins. The vast majority of cabins measure 185 square ft. and are basically furnished with king size bed (can be converted into twins), small desk and chairs, a telephone, TV, large closets and sets of drawers containing ample storage space, and large bathroom/shower. The bedding, of course, is the much-lauded Carnival Comfort Bed system, rolled out fleetwide in early 2006. The shower is especially powerful and well designed.

Elation was built just prior to the shift toward constructing ships with an abundance of cabins with verandahs, so just the 26 demi-suites (250 square ft.) and 28 full suites (400 square ft.) come with them. Full suites are the only accommodations with whirlpool baths.

Cabin stewards do an excellent job of making up the rooms twice daily, and they also display a special talent of towel folding where they shape towels into fanciful creatures every evening and leave them on your turned-down bed along with the goodnight chocolate squares.

Entertainment

Passengers have come to expect an array of multiple entertainment options on Carnival cruises. A variety of live bands and individual performers entertain nightly on Elation, and there are elaborate stage shows. Virtually every musical style can be heard including cocktail piano music, 40's swing, raucous rock, disco, gentle country, folk, funky reggae and calypso.

Among the "happening" places to go at night was Duke's, a piano bar with decor that pays tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington. Karaoke drew big crowds to the Romeo and Juliet Lounge while the Cole Porter Lounge was the scene of performances by folk and country musicians. The prime entertainment venue is the 1,300-seat Mikado, a Japanese-inspired theater showcasing elaborate Las Vegas style revues as well as performances by individual musicians and comedians. Speaking of Vegas, gaming is typically among the favorite activities on a Carnival cruise and the Elation's Casablanca casino was buzzing right from the opening bell every morning while at sea and continuing well into the wee hours.

There are also many of the traditional cruise ship fun and games available daily that attract substantial passenger participation such as bingo and trivial pursuit contests plus those ever-popular poolside events such as the men's hairy chest contest. Art auctions were also a big draw.

While you can be as active or sedentary as you choose to be on the Elation, this is a ship where "participation" really does make the experience. Around-the-clock activity means it's not a cruise aimed at couch potatoes or peace-loving travelers!

Fitness and Recreation

The ship's 12,000-square-ft. Spa Carnival has a full complement of state-of-the art exercise machines including treadmills, Stairmasters, elliptical machines and stationery bicycles. There are also classes offered (plan to pay an additional $10 per class), such as pathways to yoga and pathways to Pilates as well as body composition analysis and personal training sessions ($75 for 60 minutes). Walkers and joggers can work out on the jogging track situated directly above the Nautica Spa on the Sun Deck (eight laps around equals one mile). The ship also has three swimming pools and six whirlpools.

The spa's menu features a variety of massages as well as beauty treatments including deep cleansing facials, manicures and pedicures. Treatments range from a 20-minute foot and ankle or scalp massage costing $20 to a 50-minute Swedish massage for $99, while a deep tissue massage is $105 and a couple's massage is $220. Soothing facial treatments include a 25-minute facial for $25, 50-minute hydralift for $99 and 50-minute aroma-pure facial for $99. Men's and women's saunas and steam rooms are also located within the spa.

For golfers, Elation has a practice range (and instruction is available). This area also serves as a venue for putting contests and various group clinics.

Family

The Elation has its own version of Carnival's acclaimed Camp Carnival program which offers a full schedule of supervised activities, from finger painting and sing-alongs for younger children to photography workshops, late night movies and pool parties for older kids. The ship also contains a 2,400-square-ft. play area known as Children's World, stocked with a computer lab plus a climbing maze and activity wall, and an assortment of toys, games and puzzles. Kids also have access to the ship's three swimming pools, including a wading pool and a main pool with a 115-ft.-long water slide.

Parents can also participate with their children in family arts and crafts sessions and other multigenerational activities.

Fellow Passengers

Demographically speaking there is no "typical" Carnival passenger in terms of age or income, although many fall in the middle income range and are attracted to the reasonable rates. The mix of passengers on my Elation cruise ran the gamut from twenty-something honeymooners to seventy-something grandmothers, and there were also a number of families with children; the largest concentration of children tends to sail during holidays and over the summer. While there were some single passengers onboard, the vast majority were couples and around half of those I met had previously sailed on at least one previous Carnival cruise; in addition, many were celebrating either wedding anniversaries or birthdays (or both!).

Dress Code

There is one formal night on each of the four- and five-night cruises and two formal nights on the six-night sailings. Otherwise, dress is casual during the day and a trifle dressier at night. Carnival's material asks for "resort casual" for dinner in the dining rooms, and most people comply. If you look presentable, jeans are not an issue. No tank tops or shorts allowed in the main restaurants for any meal.

Gratuity

Carnival recommends $10 per person, per day, broken down to $5.50 to the headwaiter/waiter, $1 to the assistant waiter/cooks and $3.50 to the cabin steward. Those who want to adjust this amount can do so at the Purser's Information desk before 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, the morning of debarkation.In 2005, Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas underwent the equivalent of a major surgical procedure -- the addition of a 73-ft. midsection to lengthen the ship. And, as with most successful operations, the ship, originally launched in 1997, emerged looking fresher, younger and more contemporary than its relative age would belie.

Enchantment's "surgery" was probably the most complicated ever undertaken by a cruise line. Consider that it is the biggest cruise ship ever to be lengthened. The ship was actually sliced down the middle, and then a newly built midsection was slotted in between the two halves (for more information on the nitty-gritty details, read our behind-the-scenes report from the shipyard). As a result of the stretching, there was room for new facilities, from a fabulous new pool area to an alternative gourmet restaurant and a Latin-themed nightclub.

The ship also received an extensive refurbishment that, though not comprehensive, refreshed the ambience.

Ultimately, whether you've traveled on Enchantment of the Seas in the past and are eager to check out the changes (and you can see, if you look closely, where the actual new part is versus the two old sections) or are simply interested in a cruise to wherever it happens to travel, highlights include:

It's got one of the most beautiful sun decks/pool decks at sea -- not only is it spacious, with plenty of room for everybody, but it also possesses unique features, such as a multi-colored splash pool, the Oasis bar with sea view stools and the elegant if slightly futuristic-looking suspension bridges that sway over the area.

The standard buffet has been replaced with a food court-like venue -- and Windjammer Marketplace looks great, with stations that include Mediterranean fare, salads, a rotisserie, desserts and more.

The ship gets its first alternative restaurant -- a Chops Grille (though we also love the Italian-themed Portofino, the second gourmet restaurant that's found on many of Royal Caribbean's newer vessels, there's just no room here) -- not to mention other noshing "boutiques" like Seattle's Best Coffee and Ben & Jerry's.

The jazzy, Latin Bolero's, a bar concept that's gradually being added to many ships in the fleet, is one of the most fun and fabulous hot spots on any ship; don't forget to order at least one ceremonial mojito, a delicious Cuban rum cocktail with fresh mint.

Accessibility features were enhanced to include more accessible cabins (and in varying categories), improved ramps and thresholds throughout the ship, and the addition of pool lifts in the new pool and in whirlpools.

The only genuine oddity is that while many of the areas got updating, the decks ringing the Centrum -- from an Internet cafe to the Champagne Bar to the seating area around Ben & Jerry's and Seattle's Best -- were untouched and looked outdated. The casino, too, appeared a bit fusty.

Ultimately, though, Enchantment's rebirth is a fantastic example of how a middle-aged ship (so to speak) can be given new life via an exciting blend of technology, plain old craftsmanship and a little bit of imagination.

Dining

The "piece de resistance" of the new and improved Enchantment of the Seas is its buffet eatery. Expanded into a corner of the pool area, the Windjammer Marketplace has been redesigned and is set up in stations that, at lunchtime, include the Mediterranean Market, the Grill, desserts, salads, Asian and an area totally devoted to roasting chickens. There also is a station for the usual hot cruise fare (potatoes, rice, roasts for carving). At breakfast you can get pre-cooked hot fare, made-to-order eggs, cold cereals and meats, yogurts and cheeses. The marketplace is also open for casual dinners.

Be forewarned: While the area for food stations was expanded a la Voyager-class ships, the actual seating area was shrunk a bit, hence the need to build out an additional area near the pool. Most people forgot it was there and were jockeying for tables in the main room ... just walk across the hall.

While Royal Caribbean is one of the last lines to offer set-table, set-time meals in many of its ships' main dining rooms, Enchantment of the Seas is more restrictive than the newer ships simply because it has fewer dining options. To boost offerings, Royal Caribbean added the Chops Grille alternative restaurant during the refurbishment. This restaurant specializes in steaks and chops. Despite a $25 service fee, reservations are hard to get ... so make them early (you can reserve online before your cruise).

Otherwise, prime time dining in the evenings occurs in the My Fair Lady dining room. It's a lovely, two-deck venue anchored by a grand staircase and a waterfall. If you like to people watch, try to get a table on the first level (we love those by the window or out in the center section) or upstairs right on the edge of the railing (so you can look over). Menus offer a wide selection of starters and entrees, with a decent choice of healthy and vegetarian options. We were surprised, too, at how many sugar-free or otherwise low-calorie desserts were available.

The Solarium Pool has a grill area that serves up pizza, burgers, fries, chicken and a vegetarian option; it's open during the day and then late at night.

Royal Caribbean's room service options are available around the clock via 24-hour menus that offer a range of snacks and sandwiches. At breakfast, continental dishes, along with a handful of egg entrees, are available both in cabins and suites. Items off the main dining room menu can be ordered at dinner. There is no charge for room service between the hours of 5 a.m. and midnight (though a buck or two gratuity is recommended); late-night orders incur a $3.95 surcharge.

Public Rooms

Enchantment of the Seas' main focal point is its round 10-deck Centrum -- and it's gorgeous, with decks ringing it at every level, all the way up to the glass ceiling on top. Starting from the bottom are ship services, such as the purser's desk and shore excursions. There's also a surprisingly cozy and intimate lobby bar, great for coffee during the day and drinks any other time. The most significant characteristic of this large and airy space is the profusion of glass walls -- which brings the views inside in the nicest possible way.

Also dotted around the Centrum are public spaces like the stuffy, hot and claustrophobic Internet cafe (packages are available, as is wireless access). Seattle's Best Coffee and Ben & Jerry's are passenger magnets, and there's a library and card room.

Just off the Centrum, both aft and forward, are other areas, including a series of shops that, disappointingly carries the usual cruise claptrap (logo wear, liquor, cheap jewelry), and a huge photo center.

In the refurbishment, a concierge lounge was added and here's a tip: There are a couple of extra Internet terminals here though you must be a suite holder (or an extremely frequent Royal Caribbean cruiser) to be entitled to this perk.

Cabins

One of the downsides of refurbishing an older ship is that even with the addition of 36 balcony cabins, they are still more of a luxury than a given -- and are priced as such. Having said that, they're worth the money; our standard balcony cabin was quite spacious and comfortable, featuring a seating area with couch, comfy balcony furniture, and the usual amenities, such as safe, hair dryer and TV with remote. Existing staterooms got a semi-makeover with the addition of new soft goods such as bedspreads and draperies, but you could definitely tell they were older (televisions were ancient and small, the bathroom was -- getting the point? -- ancient and small).

If you can, whatever the category, try to book one of the cabins in the new section; we snuck a peek and televisions were new (and quite large), furnishings were dynamically colored and bathrooms definitely reflected a new-ship mindset (better storage, rolling shower divider rather than a wrap-around nylon curtain).

Beyond balcony cabins, outsides and insides are pretty small by industry standards. Outsides are 154 square ft. and insides are a mere 140 to 146 square ft.

Newly created onboard is a series of family cabins, ranging from an inside suite to an oceanview located forward. If you want to splurge, the Royal, Owners and Grand Suites offer all of the comforts of home and then some -- fabulous bathrooms with better quality towels and amenities, separate showers and a Jacuzzi tub, and DVD players and other high-tech accouterments. Balconies, too, were spacious enough to sleep on! There's even a Family Royal Suite that sleeps eight and comes with balcony.

The ship increased its total of handicap accessible staterooms from 14 to 20, and they are now available in inside, outside and balcony categories.

Entertainment

Night and day, Enchantment of the Seas offered a veritable three-ring circus of entertainment options. During the day, most of the action took place on the pool deck (see Fitness and Recreation, below).

At night, we loved the ample selection of bars and theatrical venues. The Orpheum Theater is the ship's venue for big-ticket production shows (we found them to be fairly banal); the Spotlight Lounge offers theme parties and comedians.

The casino, which did not get touched during the refurbishment, seemed a little tight for space -- or maybe it was just crowded, at all times!

Most fun, though, was the bar scene, from dancing at Bolero's (which has ironically wrested away the nightclub title from the Viking Crown Lounge) to the Schooner Pub, the recreation of a schooner-sort-of bar that features a pianist (and great people watching, particularly on formal night, as passengers saunter through in various interpretations of finery to meet the captain in the Spotlight Lounge). The classic Viking Crown Lounge tended to be a fairly desultory nightclub.

One spot we didn't discover until the last night of our cruise was the Champagne Bar at the foot of the Centrum. There was a family -- 20-something daughter as vocalist with parents as backup on keyboard and such -- singing sentimental pop songs that so moved a handful of passengers that they began to dance, impromptu style, on the stairway to "heaven." It was surprisingly moving.

While not operational on our trip, plans are to incorporate the pool deck, in the evenings, into the entertainment retinue via light shows and musical performances -- we'll go back just for that experience.

Fitness and Recreation

No question, there's no area in which the new and improved Enchantment of the Seas distinguishes itself more than on its pool deck -- which has been expanded by a whopping 50 percent. With its suspension bridge, enlarged pool areas with plenty of lounge chairs, the fabulous Oasis Bar that affords either a pool or sea view from its bar stools, and a kids splash pool painted in merry shades of color -- it's a blast, just a blast. There are two pools and four whirlpools. The area, it must be noted, is incredibly spacious and features many places to watch the action.

The much-hyped bungee trampoline feature is pretty wacky -- and plenty of fun (though a lot harder than it looks). Basically, there are four bungees, located forward in what was previously an unused space. Each participant gets a two-minute trial. Once you're strapped in, the music begins to play (with songs like Van Halen's "Jump") and you push off with your legs, time and time again, as the hydraulics help you lift higher and higher; the ultimate view results from being propelled some 35 ft. though this middle-aged traveler didn't get anywhere close (staffers say it's the kids who are usually able to jump highest and longest).

Enchantment's Solarium pool was untouched by the refurbishment but it was lovely in the first place; it's got a sliding glass roof and two whirlpools. It's supposed to be a "no kids" area though that rule wasn't always honored.

The ship's two-deck spa and fitness area got a new look; nothing stands out as incredible but it certainly provides adequate equipment and services. A couples' massage room is a new addition.

There is a rock-climbing wall tucked way aft; it's smaller than those on other Royal Caribbean ships and its location is so out of the way you'd miss it if you didn't know it was there.

Family

While its facilities aren't as state of the art as on the newer ships in the fleet, Enchantment of the Seas offers plenty of activities, particularly in the short-cruise market -- and particularly for kids not quite of teenage years. Adventure Ocean divides kids into specific categories without lumping too many ages together (3 - 5, 6 - 8, etc.) or requiring too much of a diversity of skills and interests into one classroom. Note: The line also has a wonderful program for tykes under 3.

The facilities themselves are sufficient but not particularly noteworthy (for instance, there are no computers or PlayStation consoles). Particularly disappointing is Fuel, the teens-only nightclub. It's big enough, but dated, and unlike newer Royal Caribbean ships offers few contemporary amenities (such as Internet terminals with reduced rates).

Fellow Passengers

Enchantment of the Seas definitely appeals to families -- as it's meant to -- but there really is something for every age group.

Dress Code

Plan for casual wear during the day and informal or resort casual at night -- save for one formal night per cruise.

Gratuity

Royal Caribbean recommends $3.50 per person, per day to the dining room waiter; $3.50 per person, per day to the cabin steward; $2 per person, per day to the assistant waiter. Royal Caribbean also recommends 75 cents per person, per day to the headwaiter, but we don't necessarily unless the service was special. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor of Cruise Critic.In 2005, Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas underwent the equivalent of a major surgical procedure -- the addition of a 73-ft. midsection to lengthen the ship. And, as with most successful operations, the ship, originally launched in 1997, emerged looking fresher, younger and more contemporary than its relative age would belie.

Enchantment's "surgery" was probably the most complicated ever undertaken by a cruise line. Consider that it is the biggest cruise ship ever to be lengthened. The ship was actually sliced down the middle, and then a newly built midsection was slotted in between the two halves. As a result of the stretching, there was room for new facilities, from a fabulous new pool area to an alternative gourmet restaurant and a Latin-themed nightclub.

The ship also received an extensive refurbishment that, though not comprehensive, refreshed the ambience.

Highlights include:

It's got one of the most beautiful sun decks/pool decks at sea -- not only is it spacious, with plenty of room for everybody, but it also possesses unique features, such as a multi-colored splash pool, the Oasis bar with sea view stools and the elegant if slightly futuristic-looking suspension bridges that sway over the area.

Instead of a standard buffet, there's a food court-like venue -- Windjammer Marketplace -- with stations that include Mediterranean fare, salads, a rotisserie, desserts and more.

The ship gained an alternative restaurant -- Chops Grille -- not to mention other noshing "boutiques" like Seattle's Best Coffee and Ben & Jerry's.

The jazzy, Latin Bolero's, a bar concept that's gradually being added to many ships in the fleet, is one of the most fun and fabulous hot spots on any ship; don't forget to order at least one ceremonial mojito, a delicious Cuban rum cocktail with fresh mint.

Accessibility features were enhanced to include more accessible cabins (and in varying categories), improved ramps and thresholds throughout the ship, and the addition of pool lifts in the new pool and in whirlpools.

The only genuine oddity is that while many of the areas got updating, the decks ringing the Centrum -- from an Internet cafe to the Champagne Bar to the seating area around Ben & Jerry's and Seattle's Best -- were untouched and looked outdated. The casino, too, appeared a bit fusty.

Ultimately, though, Enchantment's rebirth is a fantastic example of how a middle-aged ship (so to speak) can be given new life via an exciting blend of technology, plain old craftsmanship and a little bit of imagination.

Dining

Prime time dining in the evenings occurs in the My Fair Lady dining room. It's a lovely, two-deck venue anchored by a grand staircase and a waterfall. If you like to people watch, try to get a table on the first level (we love those by the window or out in the center section) or upstairs right on the edge of the railing (so you can look over). Menus offer a wide selection of starters and entrees, with a decent choice of healthy and vegetarian options. We were surprised, too, at how many sugar-free or otherwise low-calorie desserts were available. For dinner, passengers can choose between assigned early (6 p.m.) or late (8:30 p.m.) dining, or opt for RCI's My Time Dining, in which you pick a preferred mealtime (anytime between 6 and 9:30 p.m.), but can change your reservations on a daily basis or simply walk in when you're hungry. (Note: Those opting for My Time Dining will need to pre-pay gratuities.) The restaurant is open seating for everyone at breakfast and lunch every day.

The "piece de resistance" of Enchantment of the Seas is its buffet eatery. Expanded into a corner of the pool area, the Windjammer Marketplace has been redesigned and is set up in stations that, at lunchtime, include the Mediterranean Market, the Grill, desserts, salads, Asian and an area totally devoted to roasting chickens. There also is a station for the usual hot cruise fare (potatoes, rice, roasts for carving). At breakfast you can get pre-cooked hot fare, made-to-order eggs, cold cereals and meats, yogurts and cheeses. The marketplace is also open for casual dinners.

Be forewarned: While the area for food stations was expanded a la Voyager-class ships, the actual seating area was shrunk a bit, hence the need to build out an additional area near the pool. Most people forgot it was there and were jockeying for tables in the main room ... just walk across the hall.

Enchantment of the Seas alternative restaurant, Chops Grille, specializes in steaks and chops. Despite a $25 service fee, reservations are hard to get ... so make them early (you can reserve online before your cruise).

The Solarium Pool has a grill area that serves up pizza, burgers, fries, chicken and a vegetarian option; it's open during the day and then late at night.

Royal Caribbean's room service options are available around the clock via 24-hour menus that offer a range of snacks and sandwiches. At breakfast, continental dishes, along with a handful of egg entrees, are available both in cabins and suites. Items off the main dining room menu can be ordered at dinner. There is no charge for room service between the hours of 5 a.m. and midnight (though a buck or two gratuity is recommended); late-night orders incur a $3.95 surcharge.

Gratuity

Royal Caribbean recommends $3.50 per person, per day to the dining room waiter; $3.50 per person, per day to the cabin steward; $2 per person, per day to the assistant waiter. Royal Caribbean also recommends 75 cents per person, per day to the headwaiter, but we don't necessarily unless the service was special. Gratuities can be pre-paid in advance (and must be if you opt for flexible dining), added to your onboard bill or paid in cash at the end of the cruise. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor of Cruise Critic.In 2005, Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas underwent the equivalent of a major surgical procedure -- the addition of a 73-ft. midsection to lengthen the ship. And, as with most successful operations, the ship, originally launched in 1997, emerged looking fresher, younger and more contemporary than its relative age would belie.

Enchantment's "surgery" was probably the most complicated ever undertaken by a cruise line. Consider that it is the biggest cruise ship ever to be lengthened. The ship was actually sliced down the middle, and then a newly built midsection was slotted in between the two halves (for more information on the nitty-gritty details, read our behind-the-scenes report from the shipyard). As a result of the stretching, there was room for new facilities, from a fabulous new pool area to an alternative gourmet restaurant and a Latin-themed nightclub.

The ship also received an extensive refurbishment that, though not comprehensive, refreshed the ambience.

Ultimately, whether you've traveled on Enchantment of the Seas in the past and are eager to check out the changes (and you can see, if you look closely, where the actual new part is versus the two old sections) or are simply interested in a cruise to wherever it happens to travel, highlights include:

It's got one of the most beautiful sun decks/pool decks at sea -- not only is it spacious, with plenty of room for everybody, but it also possesses unique features, such as a multi-colored splash pool, the Oasis bar with sea view stools and the elegant if slightly futuristic-looking suspension bridges that sway over the area.

The standard buffet has been replaced with a food court-like venue -- and Windjammer Marketplace looks great, with stations that include Mediterranean fare, salads, a rotisserie, desserts and more.

The ship gets its first alternative restaurant -- a Chops Grille (though we also love the Italian-themed Portofino, the second gourmet restaurant that's found on many of Royal Caribbean's newer vessels, there's just no room here) -- not to mention other noshing "boutiques" like Seattle's Best Coffee and Ben & Jerry's.

The jazzy, Latin Bolero's, a bar concept that's gradually being added to many ships in the fleet, is one of the most fun and fabulous hot spots on any ship; don't forget to order at least one ceremonial mojito, a delicious Cuban rum cocktail with fresh mint.

Accessibility features were enhanced to include more accessible cabins (and in varying categories), improved ramps and thresholds throughout the ship, and the addition of pool lifts in the new pool and in whirlpools.

The only genuine oddity is that while many of the areas got updating, the decks ringing the Centrum -- from an Internet cafe to the Champagne Bar to the seating area around Ben & Jerry's and Seattle's Best -- were untouched and looked outdated. The casino, too, appeared a bit fusty.

Ultimately, though, Enchantment's rebirth is a fantastic example of how a middle-aged ship (so to speak) can be given new life via an exciting blend of technology, plain old craftsmanship and a little bit of imagination.

Dining

The "piece de resistance" of the new and improved Enchantment of the Seas is its buffet eatery. Expanded into a corner of the pool area, the Windjammer Marketplace has been redesigned and is set up in stations that, at lunchtime, include the Mediterranean Market, the Grill, desserts, salads, Asian and an area totally devoted to roasting chickens. There also is a station for the usual hot cruise fare (potatoes, rice, roasts for carving). At breakfast you can get pre-cooked hot fare, made-to-order eggs, cold cereals and meats, yogurts and cheeses. The marketplace is also open for casual dinners.

Be forewarned: While the area for food stations was expanded a la Voyager-class ships, the actual seating area was shrunk a bit, hence the need to build out an additional area near the pool. Most people forgot it was there and were jockeying for tables in the main room ... just walk across the hall.

While Royal Caribbean is one of the last lines to offer set-table, set-time meals in many of its ships' main dining rooms, Enchantment of the Seas is more restrictive than the newer ships simply because it has fewer dining options. To boost offerings, Royal Caribbean added the Chops Grille alternative restaurant during the refurbishment. This restaurant specializes in steaks and chops. Despite a $25 service fee, reservations are hard to get ... so make them early (you can reserve online before your cruise).

Otherwise, prime time dining in the evenings occurs in the My Fair Lady dining room. It's a lovely, two-deck venue anchored by a grand staircase and a waterfall. If you like to people watch, try to get a table on the first level (we love those by the window or out in the center section) or upstairs right on the edge of the railing (so you can look over). Menus offer a wide selection of starters and entrees, with a decent choice of healthy and vegetarian options. We were surprised, too, at how many sugar-free or otherwise low-calorie desserts were available.

The Solarium Pool has a grill area that serves up pizza, burgers, fries, chicken and a vegetarian option; it's open during the day and then late at night.

Royal Caribbean's room service options are available around the clock via 24-hour menus that offer a range of snacks and sandwiches. At breakfast, continental dishes, along with a handful of egg entrees, are available both in cabins and suites. Items off the main dining room menu can be ordered at dinner. There is no charge for room service between the hours of 5 a.m. and midnight (though a buck or two gratuity is recommended); late-night orders incur a $3.95 surcharge.

Gratuity

Royal Caribbean recommends $3.50 per person, per day to the dining room waiter; $3.50 per person, per day to the cabin steward; $2 per person, per day to the assistant waiter. Royal Caribbean also recommends 75 cents per person, per day to the headwaiter, but we don't necessarily unless the service was special. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor of Cruise Critic.Enchantment of the Seas is a bit of an anomaly. Most ships are new, old or at least uniformly updated, but this one can't make up its mind. Following a 2005 refurb -- in which the ship was sliced and diced and sewn back together with the addition of a 73-foot-long midsection -- parts of the vessel sparkle like new, while others show a bit of wear.

Although the exterior of the ship is slightly faded, the midsection (both inside and outside) still looks relatively new, offering a larger pool deck, funky suspension bridges, the Boleros Latin lounge, Ben & Jerry's, a Champagne bar and the ritzy Centrum atrium, complete with glass-enclosed elevators.

Cabins are comfortable and fairly modern, but a few of the hallways show their age with scuffed walls and dented stateroom doors, some of which looked as though they had been hit with rocks ... or cannonballs.

Although the ship was full during my sailing from Baltimore to Bermuda, it never felt crowded -- not even at mealtimes. I was also surprised by the number of young adults onboard, as well as the zealous nightlife. However, those who chose to steer clear of more rowdy pursuits had plenty of options, as well; everything from trivia to Bingo was offered, and the Solarium provided a relaxing escape for lounging.

Overall, food onboard was decent, and service was efficient and friendly. Royal Caribbean's stellar youth programs kept children busy, so the hallways and pool areas weren't overrun with kids. And, although chair hogs were out in full force during my sailing, I never wanted for a sun lounger by the pool. I was, however, disappointed by the closure of the sports deck for much of the sailing, due to windy conditions that rendered the jogging track, rock-climbing wall and bungee trampoline unsafe for passengers.

Dining

For a quick bite and lots of variety, the Windjammer Marketplace on Deck 9 is a good bet. It's set up in stations, so you can grab everything from carved meats and cheeses to pizza and dessert. It's open from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch on embarkation day, 6:30 to 7 a.m. daily for continental breakfast, 7 to 11 a.m. for casual breakfast, noon to 3 p.m. for lunch and 6:30 to 9 p.m. for casual dinner. Beginning at 3 p.m. each day, an afternoon tea is also offered there. During busy times, it may be difficult to find tables. I was disappointed (and awfully hungry) on embarkation day when the Windjammer closed at 3 p.m. and nothing else (not even room service) was available until dinner in the main dining room at 6 p.m.

For more formal dining, check out the My Fair Lady dining room on Decks 4 and 5. It's open daily from either 7 or 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. for breakfast and most days from noon to 1:30 p.m. for lunch (at which time, it's converted into a restaurant called Brasserie 30, which serves excellent shells with pesto sauce). Dining times for the set-seating option are 6 p.m. for the first seating and 8:30 p.m. for the second. Passengers can also opt for anytime dining, which allows them to avoid set tablemates and eat whenever they choose between 6 and 9:30 p.m.

Some menu items like fish and steak are always available, as is at least one vegetarian option. Each menu also has a section for healthy options and Chops Grille offerings. Some of the more interesting and/or tasty dishes I tried were watermelon gazpacho with celery, a Vidalia onion tart, filet of Atlantic salmon, peach soup and cheese gnocchi. Great desserts included coconut layer cake (although the portion was a bit small) and chocolate brownie sandwiches. On the last night of our sailing, the waiters got together for a parade around the dining room.

Enchantment's alternative dining venue is Chops Grille on Deck 6. It's open 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. and carries a fee of $25 per person for menu options that include filet mignon and seafood.

Burgers, pizza and fries are the order of the day at the Solarium Bistro, inside the adults-only Solarium on Deck 9; kids are allowed to get food at the Bistro but can't stay in the Solarium to eat. Times vary, based on the ship's itinerary, so check your daily Cruise Compass planner. Late-night snacks are offered there nightly until 2 a.m.

Good luck trying to resist the smell of freshly baked waffle cones as you stroll past Ben & Jerry's on Deck 6. It's open from 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. It's also the site of Cafe Latte-tudes, which serves coffee drinks for an extra charge and pastries for free. I caved and bought a cone and some sort of frou-frou mocha drink that was quite tasty.

Another option is room service, which is available 24 hours a day. Be aware that a $3.95 fee will apply to all orders placed between midnight and 5 a.m. Continental breakfast items, salads and sandwiches, fruit and desserts are offered, among other menu items.

Public Rooms

The ship's glitzy 10-deck glass-walled Centrum is an open atrium where there are live performances, dancing and two see-through elevators. Decked out in shades of tan, gold, teal and peach, the Centrum is convenient for orienting yourself while searching for other venues like the guest relations and shore excursions desks on Deck 5.

On Deck 6, just past the atrium, you'll find the art and photo galleries, where you can purchase paintings and individual photos or sign up for a photo package. DVD's are also available for purchase. Just be forewarned that this is all very expensive, with a family photo package costing nearly $110. If you're in the mood for some shopping, head to the Shops Onboard, which sell toiletries, clothing, duty-free alcohol, jewelry, perfume and a variety of other items.

For quiet retreats, the Crown and Anchor Study (open to qualifying members of Royal Caribbean's past passenger program) and the library straddle the Centrum on Deck 7. You'll find the study on the port side and the library on the starboard, the latter featuring comfy brown-leather chairs, a decent selection of books, board games, and daily trivia and puzzles like Sudoku.

On the starboard side of the Centrum on Deck 8 is the Concierge Club Lounge, which is available only to suite-holders and top-level past passengers. Or, if you're looking to stay connected while at sea, you can get your social media fix at Royal Caribbean Online, the Internet cafe on Deck 8 on the port side of the atrium. There, you'll find 16 stations with Internet-ready desktop computers. Or, you can bring a laptop and use the ship's Wi-Fi, which is available in most public areas (but not in cabins). You'll need to use your keycard to sign up before you can log on, and the charges will go right to your onboard account. You can pay by the minute, but you'll get a much better price if you purchase one of five prepaid packages, which range in price from $35 for 60 minutes to $150 for 500 minutes.

For a quiet place to people-watch while enjoying some ice cream or coffee, there's a small area with chairs and tables across from Cafe Latte-tudes and Ben & Jerry's on Deck 6, just forward from the atrium.

It seemed like it was barely used on my sailing, but there is also a conference center available on Deck 6, sandwiched between Chops Grille and the Schooner Bar.

Although self-service laundry facilities are not provided, there are laundry and dry-cleaning services available onboard, for which you'll pay per article of clothing.

Cabins

Staterooms onboard are decorated in shades of white, gold and teal and feature strange, faux-suede wall panels. All feature twin beds that can convert to queens.

Inside cabins on Enchantment of the Seas now come in three types, thanks to the ship's 2005 elongation: Family Interior Staterooms, new since the refurb and offering more space for passengers with children (260 square feet); Large Interior Staterooms (145 square feet); and Interior Staterooms (137 square feet). Rooms with windows include Family Oceanview Staterooms (293 square feet) and Large Oceanview Staterooms (152 square feet). All inside and outside standard cabins offer a sitting area, a vanity and a private bathroom. Many -- including the family cabins -- feature Pullman beds for extra guests.

Cabins also include small TV's, each with 28 channels like CNN, Spanish channels, and various movie and music channels. There was plenty of closet and drawer space, but in my oceanview cabin, the clicking together of the unused hangers woke me up at night on several occasions until I removed them from the bar in the closet. There were also two end tables, a glass coffee table, a couch, a desk chair, reading lamps, two 230-volt European plugs, two 120-volt U.S. plugs and a surplus of mirrors. Safes can be found in the vanity cupboards. Various snacks, soda and bottled water are stacked on top of the vanity -- something that seems a bit strange since space is at a premium -- and are available for purchase, but beware of their high cost.

Superior Oceanview Staterooms offer their own balconies. Each clocks in at between 190 and 195 square feet with a 36- to 41-square-foot balcony. Each balcony has two chairs and a small table. Mini-bars are also available.

Bathrooms are standard with shower-only options and clingy shower curtains, removable shower heads and shampoo/body wash dispensers. The only other toiletries offered are bars of soap for hand washing. Decor is fairly plain with cream and peach tones.

Suites on Enchantment offer the most variety with five different categories. Junior Suites are 248 square feet with 62-square-foot balconies. Sofa beds sleep additional passengers. Grand Suites, which are 349 square feet and have 107-square-foot balconies, offer separate living areas. Royal Family Suites, 487 square feet with 58-square-foot balconies, feature two bedrooms, two bathrooms and separate living areas with sofa beds. Owner's Suites are the next step up, offering 511 square feet of space with 107 square-foot balconies. Finally, the ship's Royal Suites offer the same amenities as the other suites, plus private, in-cabin hot tubs and baby grand pianos.

All suites have bathrooms that include bathtubs. Additionally, passengers booked in suites (excluding Junior Suites) receive priority check-in, access to the Concierge Club onboard lounge, priority pool deck and theater seating, bathrobes, luggage valet service and complimentary pressing service on formal night.

The ship offers 20 accessible cabins.

Entertainment

Enchantment boasts several onboard bars, including the Champagne Bar, a tiny area near the atrium on Deck 4. It offers a prime, ground-level view of any live performances that take place in the atrium throughout the cruise, and it has a nice selection of wine. The Schooner Bar, Deck 6, starboard, is decorated with dark woods and a laid-back nautical theme, and a pool bar on Deck 9 means you don't have to go far from your deck chair to snag a bucket of beer.

Lounges also abound on this ship. On the only night I ventured into the Spotlight Lounge, a disco on Deck 6, it was dead. I found Boleros, a Latin-themed lounge, bar and dance venue on Deck 5, to be a bit flashier as well as centrally located. Best of all was the Viking Crown Lounge on Deck 11, aft. It offered a D.J. and a clubby atmosphere that was both fun and easygoing.

For shows, Orpheum Theater is where you'll go. It hosts everything from free first-run movies to musical revues and comedic performances. This venue is a decent size and comprises space on Decks 5 and 6. On my sailing, I saw a phenomenal magic show and a mediocre revue of music from contemporary movies like "Men in Black" and "Charlie's Angels."

Loud, flashy Casino Royale is located on Deck 5 between Boleros Lounge and the Orpheum Theater. It features an interesting see-through floor near the entrance, lots of lights and crazy purple carpet, as well as slot machines, blackjack, roulette, craps and poker.

For daytime fun, check out the main pool deck to participate in or just watch any number of silly contests, from belly-flopping to Ms. Biceps. Most enrichment on Enchantment consists of activities like dance classes in the disco and gaming lessons in the casino. These are free of charge. If you're looking for lectures and the like, this probably isn't the ship for you.

Royal Caribbean offers a number of shore excursions on port days through its "Explorations!" desk on Deck 5. Sightseeing tours and glass-bottom boat trips are very popular, as are beach excursions, but be aware that you may be able to access some beaches for free or for a much lower price if you just go on your own. I paid $58 for the Beach BBQ & Island Party excursion, and although the food was delicious and the entertainment was lively, I didn't think it was worth the cost.

Fitness and Recreation

Enchantment Day Spa, located on Deck 9, offers a serene environment for everything from pro-collagen marine facials ($145) to teeth-whitening ($149). Hair and nail services for men and women are also available.

Also on Deck 9 is the Solarium adults-only indoor pool, which features a retractable glass roof that can be opened in nice weather and closed when it rains. The space also includes two hot tubs. With its classy white pillars and tiled floors, it's a great place to escape the hectic vibe throughout the rest of the ship.

At the opposite end of Deck 9, you'll find the main pool, two hot tubs and a kids' splash pool (which, oddly, didn't seem to be open at all on my sailing). I was pleasantly surprised to be able to find a number of available sun loungers -- even on sea days. The sports pool is located midship and is flanked by two hot tubs. You'll also be able to take a walk on one of two futuristic-looking suspension bridges, which offer views over the pool deck.

For active pursuits, Deck 10 is the place to be. Forward, you'll find the Jump Zone, which features a bungee trampoline. Aft, you'll find the rock-climbing wall and fitness center, which includes free weights up to 90 pounds, a variety of exercise balls, nine Life Fitness treadmills, six elliptical machines, 10 reclining bikes, nine spin cycles and various weight machines. Classes are offered there -- some (like abs classes and stretching) are free, while others (like Pilates and cycling) carry a $12 fee. Shuffleboard courts and a jogging track can also be found on this deck. Just be warned that, if the weather is too windy, the sports deck and all of its amenities will be closed.

Family

Royal Caribbean is known for its outstanding children's facilities, and those on Enchantment are no exception. The Adventure Ocean children's program is divided into five groups that cater to children from ages 6 months to 11 years. Playgroups and baby gymnastics are set up throughout the cruise for Royal Babies (6 - 18 months), and offerings for Royal Tots (18 - 36 months) include Crayola Beginnings sessions and bedtime stories.

Aquanauts (ages 3 - 5) can mingle at pirate-, circus-, dinosaur- and superhero-themed festivities throughout each cruise and take part in other activities in the kid's center on Deck 10. For Explorers (ages 6 - 8), youth staffers offer science experiments (like building volcanoes), pizza parties and other fun pastimes for kids. Voyagers (ages 9 - 11) can participate in hula-hoop contests, face-painting and trivia.

Teens have their own space -- a club called FUEL, which has modern-style couches, a dance floor and TV's. On my sailing, there were so few teens onboard that they combined teen activities for ages 12 - 17, but on voyages where more teens are present, they're divided into two groups: 12 - 14 and 15 - 17.

In addition to Adventure Ocean's Nintendo Wii, youngsters will find a video arcade across the hall from Adventure Ocean on Deck 10. It's got air hockey, foosball and other classic games. A note to parents: The arcade isn't free, and credits for game play will be charged to your onboard account. Ping-Pong tables can also be found out on deck.

For parents looking to dine sans kids, Royal Caribbean offers a "Lunch & Play" option for children that includes a two-hour lunch and play time with food, movies, cartoons, karaoke and scavenger hunts. It comes with an extra fee of $7.95 per child. Another option for parents is the Late Night Party Zone, which will occupy younger cruisers from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. at a cost of $6 per hour, per child. Baby-sitting is also available on a group or in-cabin basis between 8 a.m. and 2 a.m. Reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance, and it's on a "first come, first served" basis. Rates for in-cabin sitters are about $19 per hour for up to three children in the same family (kids must be at least one year old).

All passengers younger than 18 have a curfew of 1 a.m., unless they're accompanied by a parent or participating in an organized, ship-sponsored youth activity.

Fellow Passengers

The majority of the passenger base consists of Americans in their 50's, but there's a fair mix of younger adults, as well. (Note: This ship is great for families, but because school was in session, there were only about 150 children, ages 17 and younger, onboard during a recent sailing.)

Dress Code

Casual clothing is the norm during the day throughout the ship, but no shorts or flip-flops are allowed in the dining room, and men's shirts must have sleeves (no tank tops). Dinner attire is generally resort or country-club casual, with most men wearing khakis and collared shirts and women wearing sundresses or blouses with dress pants or skirts. There is one formal night on each cruise, during which most women wear party dresses or gowns, while men opt for suits or slacks with collared shirts and blazers. Occasionally, men also wear tuxedos.

Gratuity

Royal Caribbean recommends tipping $3.75 per person, per day to the dining room waiter; $5 per person, per day to the cabin steward (or $7.25 if you're in a suite); $0.75 per person, per day to the headwaiter; and $2.15 per person, per day to the assistant waiter. This totals $11.65 for those in standard cabins and $13.90 for those in suites. Gratuities can be pre-paid in advance (and must be if you opt for flexible dining), added to your onboard bill or paid in cash at the end of the cruise. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.

Gratuity

Royal Caribbean recommends tipping $3.75 per person, per day to the dining room waiter; $5 per person, per day to the cabin steward (or $7.25 if you're in a suite); $0.75 per person, per day to the headwaiter; and $2.15 per person, per day to the assistant waiter. This totals $11.65 for those in standard cabins and $13.90 for those in suites. Gratuities can be pre-paid in advance (and must be if you opt for flexible dining), added to your onboard bill or paid in cash at the end of the cruise. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.

Effective March 1, Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $12 per person, per day ($14.25 for suite guests). Gratuities can be pre-paid in advance or will be added on a daily basis to passengers' SeaPass accounts during the cruise. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.

Gratuity

Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $12 per person, per day ($14.25 for suite guests). Gratuities can be prepaid or will be added on a daily basis to passengers' SeaPass accounts during the cruise. Passengers can modify or remove gratuities by visiting the guest services desk while onboard. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.

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