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Cruise Ship Review

Splendour of the Seas - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

Splendour of the Seas is packed with an endless supply of entertainment and relaxation options ... for a ship of its size. Close to 70,000 tons and housing 1,830 passengers (based on double occupancy), it's among Royal Caribbean's smallest and oldest vessels in a fleet dominated by humongous mega-ships that sport ice-skating rinks, indoor malls and onboard surf parks. Yet, a 2011 refurbishment has helped Splendour stay modern, adding more balconies, several alternative dining options taken from Oasis and Allure of the Seas, a pool deck movie screen and a new seven-story Centrum lobby featuring a made-over bar and aerial acrobatic shows.

The ship is also embracing 21st-century technology trends. Every cabin comes with an iPad (to borrow, of course) that passengers can use to check their bar bills, order midnight munchies to their cabins, surf the Web and make reservations at the previously mentioned extra-fee restaurants. New digital "Wayfinder" signage with large touchscreens is posted by the elevators, allowing the lost to get directions around the ship, the bored to find upcoming activities, the hungry to access restaurant menus and the "just drank one beer too many" to find the closest loo.

Other highlights include an 18-hole miniature golf course, RCI's signature rock-climbing wall, a family pool area, plus an adults-only Solarium, and various theaters and lounges.

One thing to note is that the ship has a split personality. Most of the year, the ship offers the quintessential Royal Caribbean experience, one aimed at fun-loving Americans and international passengers of all ages. But, when the ship repositions to South America for the winter months, the onboard ambience shifts a bit to cater to a majority of Brazilian travelers -- though still in RCI style.

Ultimately, Splendour has several things going for it: a good balance of size and amenities, itineraries beyond the standard Caribbean jaunts and updates to keep it from feeling old. Do you really need to cruise with 6,000 people to have a good time? Splendour says no way.

Gratuity

Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $12 per person, per day ($14.25 for suite occupants). Gratuities can be pre-paid or 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.

Dress Code

A weeklong cruise will have two formal nights, one smart casual night and four casual nights. Even the longest cruises won't have more than three smart casual and three formal nights (with the remainder all casual). Most men opt for dark suits instead of tuxedos, and women choose cocktail dresses, rather than lavish gowns. The only difference between smart and regular casual is jackets for men with sport shirts and slacks recommended, and dresses, skirts and nice slacks for women. But, honestly, this is a cruise line that doesn't get hung up on dinner dress.

Fellow Passengers

Royal Caribbean typically appeals to couples and singles in their 30s to 60s as well as families of all ages. Royal Caribbean attracts passengers who are looking for affordable, active vacations. Splendour of the Seas spends the winter months in Brazil, and during that time, a large number of Brazilians will be onboard. On those cruises, some of the dining and entertainment options are tweaked to appeal to a South American clientele.

Family

Splendour has an extensive children's program called "Adventure Ocean," for kids from ages 3 to 17. (Kids must be toilet trained; they will not be allowed in if still wearing diapers or Pull-Ups.) The children are broken up into five age groups: Aquanauts (3 to 5), Explorers (6 to 8), Voyagers (9 to 11) and two groups of Teens (12 to 14 and 15 to 17). In addition, the Royal Babies and Tots program is geared toward the littlest cruisers, ages 6 to 36 months. The three youth lounges -- Nursery, Adventure Ocean and Optix Teen Disco -- are located on Deck 10. An all-ages video arcade is next door.

Adventure Ocean activities for kids, ages 3 to 11, are free of charge and available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. On port days, the center will open a half-hour before the first excursion. Age-appropriate activities might include finger-painting, talent shows, pajama parties, karaoke, sports tournaments and scavenger hunts. Royal Caribbean also offers special kids' programs in science, art, theater and storytelling. Certain events are designated as family activities for parents and kids to do together.

Teen activity hours vary during the day and run from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. for younger teens and from 9 p.m. till late for older teens. Think dances and pool parties, video game play, casino nights and sports. The teen disco has a "mocktail" bar, dance floor and video game area.

Royal Babies and Tots programming is geared to little kids, ages 6 to 36 months, and takes place in the Nursery. The Nursery's main playroom is outfitted with all sorts of Fisher-Price toys, soft climbing structures and interactive play stations lining the walls. A huge flat-screen TV shows Sesame Street, the Wiggles and Thomas the Tank Engine videos nearly nonstop. A back room has several cribs and a changing station. Typically, the Nursery is open from 8 a.m. on port days and 9:30 a.m. on sea days through midnight.

The babies program works differently than Adventure Ocean. Most of its open hours are reserved for drop-off group baby-sitting, day or night, at a rate of $8 per hour, per child. Staff will change diapers, but you're expected to provide supplies (diapers, milk, bottles, sippy cups, etc.). Parents will receive a pager to be buzzed if there's a problem.

During late afternoon open-play sessions, Fisher-Price Playgroups and Crayola Beginnings art time, kids can come for free, but they must be supervised by a parent. The room is a wonderful place for little ones to play, and we discovered that if no tots have been dropped off, the staff will allow parents and kids to come in for additional open play time. Families can also borrow bags of toys for the duration of the cruise -- a neat idea so you don't have to pack your toybox.

In-cabin sitting, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 a.m., is available through the purser's desk and must be booked at least 24 hours in advance. It's based on availability with no guarantee that a sitter will be found. Minimum age is 1 year; the charge is $19 per hour (for two hours or more) for up to three children within the same family.

Group baby-sitting for ages 3 to 11 is available from the youth staff from 10 p.m. through 2 a.m. nightly. The rate is $6 per hour, per child. (Kids must be at least 3 years old and potty-trained.)

Royal Caribbean provides Pack 'n Play porta-cribs on advance request. High chairs with trays are available in both the Windjammer and main dining room, as is whole milk. Royal Caribbean's Babies to Go program allows parents to pre-order jarred Gerber baby food, Huggies diapers and Cotonelle wipes to be delivered to their cabins for exorbitant prices.

The main dining room does offer a kids menu with appetizers, entrees, desserts and even virgin cocktails and frozen drinks. (Specialty drinks cost extra.) The waitstaff is extremely accommodating to children, having fruit salad ready for little ones upon arrival, making animals out of napkins and just dropping by to say hi.

Several family-friendly dining options are also available. Lunch & Play is offered on sea days from noon to 2 p.m., when Adventure Ocean is typically closed. Counselors will supervise a boxed lunch, movie- or cartoon-watching and playtime for a charge of $7.95 per kid. My Family Time Dining is a free service for families with early seating in the dining room. Kids will receive an expedited dinner service so they can be in and out in 45 minutes, when counselors will pick them up and bring them back to Adventure Ocean for evening activities while parents enjoy the rest of their dinner at leisure. And, Adventure Ocean Dining is a program on select nights to allow kids to have dinner in the ship's restaurants with their peers and youth program staff.

Royal Caribbean will not accept pregnant cruisers who have entered their 24th week of pregnancy before or during the cruise. Pregnant women in their first and second trimesters technically need a "fit to travel" note from their physicians.

Fitness and Recreation

The main, open, central outdoor area on Deck 9 has a large pool surrounded by four shaded hot tubs. An outdoor movie screen shows a number of family and blockbuster films, as well as popular sporting events and music videos; movie screenings are scheduled for select evenings. Lounge chairs are your basic plastic and metal affairs. A couple of Ping-Pong tables are located on the pool deck.

Toward the stern is the Solarium with the secondary pool and another two hot tubs. This area is covered by a retractable glass dome, and it's a warm hideaway when the weather is chilly outside. It's also adults-only (minimum age 16). You'll find nicer lounge chairs, tables and chairs for playing cards or eating snacks from the adjacent Park Cafe.

On Deck 10, a jogging track circles the ship, overlooking the pool areas. It passes by the Splendour of the Greens 18-hole mini-golf course (with lights for after-dinner games), shuffleboard courts and Royal Caribbean's signature rock-climbing wall. An additional sunbathing area, dubbed the Observatory, is located on Deck 10 forward. There is no basketball court.

The Vitality Day Spa and fitness center, run by Steiner of London, occupies Decks 9, aft. It offers all the usual treatments (massages, facials, hair and nail services), as well as acupuncture, medi-spa procedures to reduce wrinkles and enhance lips, waxing and special offerings for couples, men, teens and kids. The Cruise Specials newsletter that accompanies the Cruise Compass usually lists same-day spa specials and other discounts.

Splendour has a perfectly adequate gym for a ship of its size, with treadmills, elliptical trainers, exercise bikes, weight machines and free weights. Fitness classes -- yoga, spinning and boot camp (for $12), as well as free abs and stretching classes -- and spa seminars take place in the central aerobics area.

Entertainment

The hub of the ship is the Centrum, which got a full makeover in 2011. Its lowest level is Deck 4, where the R Bar serves up classic martinis in a setting that's supposed to be 1960's mod decor. The bar and additional comfy seating surround a small dance floor and bandstand. That's where all the action takes place, including art auctions, cooking demos, ballroom dance classes, audience-participation games like ring-tosses and "live horse racing," and late-night themed dance parties. The Centrum space soars up to Deck 8 with a windowed ceiling on the pool deck above, and the upper reaches have been outfitted with stage lighting and rigging for aerial acrobatic performances (think high-flying bungee swings). The performances, some of which are publicized in the daily programs and some of which are serendipitous, vary in quality; if you go to only one, make it the farewell spectacular.

The ship has a few main lounges. Adjacent to the R Bar is the clubby yet whimsical Schooner Bar. There, the floor by the bar is actual teak decking, varnished and polished to a rich, glossy sheen. Several tables feature ersatz bits of masts and rigging sprouting from them like transformed umbrellas. A piano with sing-along seating is there for evening entertainment and trivia game purposes.

Located on Deck 4 forward, the 802-seat 42nd Street Theater is one of the most functional and intelligently designed we've experienced. Sightlines from either the main floor or balcony are excellent. Seating is on fixed banquettes, which guarantee adequate space to enter and exit rows, and space is maximized by eliminating tables in favor of drink holders on armrests. On a one-week cruise, expect several performances by the ship's singers and dancers and a few specialty acts. (On our cruise, it was a Beatles tribute band, a comedian and Bowser from Sha Na Na.)

The art-deco Top Hat Lounge, located forward on Deck 5, is the ship's secondary performance venue. It plays host to art auctions, bingo games, dance lessons and dancing to live bands, karaoke and various presentations, from future cruise sails to shopping talks.

The most recognizable public room on Splendour of the Seas is Royal Caribbean's signature Viking Crown Lounge, up on Deck 11. It's a lovely spot to watch sailaway from indoors, and it's also the late-night disco venue.

The Casino Royale on Deck 4 has slot machines and all the requisite card tables (poker, blackjack, craps, etc.). We found the casino staff unusually friendly and helpful, and we've never had so much fun losing money.

The cruise staff conducts a large number of games, competitions and other activities, both on sea days and in port. As on other RCI ships, this cruise staff seemed to truly enjoy the activities they supervised and participated in.

Cabins

Of the 915 cabins on Splendour, 587 have ocean views, and 357 of those have balconies. While the refurb added balconies to 124 existing outside cabins, the ship still has a pretty low percentage of balcony cabins compared with today's new-builds.

Three categories of inside cabins range in size from 132 to 165 square feet -- i.e. teeny tiny. Standard oceanview cabins measure 152 square feet. Of these, several cabins on Deck 2 have portholes instead of windows, and cabin numbers 6120 and 6624 have obstructed views.

Standard balcony cabins (called "deluxe" or "superior" oceanviews) are either 150 or 192 square feet with 37- to 42-square-foot balconies. Balconies are each furnished with two chairs and a small table.

Standard cabins are comfortable and practical, and even the smallest cabins feature little sitting areas with sofas and coffee tables. Storage space is generous, with hanging racks and shelving in the closets, drawers and more shelves in the desks/vanities, and nightstands. Cabins feature flat-screen televisions, phones, safes and hair dryers. Royal Caribbean has added iPads in each cabin. The iPads can be used throughout the ship to access daily schedules and onboard accounts, order room service, access the Internet, watch movies and make restaurant reservations. But be careful with your borrowed technology -- the fees for damaged and lost iPads are $200 and $700, respectively.

Bathrooms have decent storage, though each shower only has one shelf and a clingy curtain. Toiletries are limited to hand soap and a mystery substance (Shampoo? Body wash?) in an unmarked dispenser in the shower.

Cabin service was exceptional, unobtrusive and thorough. Cabin stewards created imaginative towel-people and creatures as part of turn-down service. (The hanging monkey was one of the best we've seen.)

Splendour offers six types of suites. The Junior Suite (at 230 square feet with a 76-square-foot balcony) is essentially an expanded balcony cabin with a larger sitting area (sofa plus two comfy chairs) and a bathroom with a bathtub. Grand Suites (355 square feet, 114-square-foot balcony) are even bigger, with more distinction between the sleeping and sitting areas (each with an L-shaped couch) and a larger foyer area. The Owner's Suite (511 square feet, 116-square-foot balcony) has a separate living area with a queen-size sofa bed and a small table and chairs. The Royal Suite (1,002 square feet, 139-square-foot balcony) has a king-size bed in a separate bedroom, a large living room with a queen-size sofa bed and baby grand piano, and a whirlpool bathtub.

Suite passengers are entitled to perks like priority check-in, Concierge Lounge access (see below), priority tendering (where applicable), access to dining room menus via room service, luggage valet service, complimentary clothes pressing on formal night and priority debarkation.

Two suite categories are intended for families. The Family Junior Suite (452 square feet with 54-square-foot balcony) sleeps six with two sets of twin beds (one set in a separate room and others that convert to queens) and a double sofa bed in the living room. The Royal Family Suite (516 square feet with 75-square-foot balcony) features two bedrooms, two bathrooms (one with shower, one with tub), a walk-in closet, a double sofa bed and a Pullman bed in the living room. It can accommodate up to eight people.

A new Concierge Lounge, carved out of the Top Hat Lounge, is open to all suite passengers and "Diamond-Plus" Crown & Anchor loyalty program members. Amenities include continental breakfast (served daily, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.), hors d'oeuvres and petit fours served in the evening, a self-service bar (no fee) during happy hour, movies and CD's to borrow, and business services (faxing and copying) for a fee. A concierge can assist passengers in making reservations for specialty dining, shore excursions, and spa or salon services. They can also pre-order wine at dinner and arrange private parties. "Diamond" Crown & Anchor members have their own lounge, also adjacent to the Top Hat Lounge, with similar services.

Seventeen cabins are wheelchair-accessible and come in several categories: insides (251 square feet), outsides (257 square feet), and suites (276 square feet, with 69-square-foot balconies). These cabins feature open bed frames, wider entry doors, space to turn, lowered vanities and closet rods, bathrooms with wider doors, roll-in showers with fold-down benches, grab bars, a raised toilet and a lowered sink.

Public Rooms

Splendour lives up to its name with gorgeous colors, rich woods and shiny marble gracing its public rooms in muted, soft tones. There are also floor-to-ceiling glass panels that highlight the Centrum with spectacular views of the sea on sunny days.

The reception and shore excursion desks can be found on Deck 5 in the Centrum. The Centrum Shops are adjacent, selling duty-free goods, sundries, logowear, jewelry, perfume, fashion and formalwear.

The photo gallery, where you can view and purchase pictures taken by the ship's photographers, is located on Deck 6, overlooking the Centrum and surrounded by cabins. Thumbs up to the machines that show you all photos of you when you insert your cruise card; thumbs down to the costumed crewmembers hounding you every day to take photos with them.

Two flights up on Deck 8 is the "Royal Caribbean Online" Internet lounge, which offers real-time access to the Web 24/7. The room is beautifully designed and bordered by floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean and the top-most part of the Centrum (which means you can hear the pianist playing below).The ship is now outfitted for Wi-Fi, bow to stern, but some spots onboard might get better reception than others. You can pay for Internet as you go for 65 cents a minute or purchase a package: $35 for 60 minutes, $55 for 100 minutes, $75 for 150 minutes, $100 for 250 minutes or $150 for 500 minutes. To use Wi-Fi on your own laptop, you must first sign up for an account at the Internet cafe.

On Deck 9, the new BRITTO gallery is a colorful venue selling logo items designed by pop-art icon Romero Britto. In addition to prints and paintings, passengers can purchase luggage, key chains and umbrellas with the artist's designs.

Conference rooms are located on Deck 3. There are no self-serve laundry rooms on Rhapsody.

Dining

Service and cuisine exceeded our expectations. Having said that, let us add a caveat: Royal Caribbean is not a "foodie" line like its sister cruise line Celebrity Cruises. When you order a burger or duck, you are rarely offered an option in how it's prepared (i.e. medium rare, medium well, whatever). Still, we found the food to be hearty, good and plentiful if not innovative. Service at dinner was unobtrusive and thoughtful.

The King and I main dining room serves breakfast and dinner every day, as well as lunch on select sea days. For dinner, passengers can choose from assigned early (6 p.m.) or late (8:30 p.m.) dining, or they can opt for RCI's My Time Dining. The latter program lets you pick a preferred mealtime (anytime between 5:30 and 9:30 p.m.), but you 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 offers open seating for everyone at breakfast (7:30 to 9:30 a.m.) and lunch (noon to 1:30 p.m.).

Breakfast offers a buffet of cold items -- cereal, fruit, yogurt -- plus you can order off a menu of hot offerings like pancakes or eggs. A server will bring around a platter of breakfast pastries. Both here and in the buffet, you can choose free, watery O.J. or pay extra for freshly squeezed juice. At lunch, the venue adopts the name of Brasserie VII, with a menu of hot items (pasta, burgers, chicken sliders, fish, etc.) plus a very large salad bar.

The dinner menu is split into starters (salads, soups and other appetizers -- choose as many as you like), entrees and dessert. RCI makes up a "Vitality" selection list each night from the regular menu that includes a starter, main and dessert that add up to 800 calories or less. Always-available items include pasta with marinara sauce, chicken breast and steak, and each menu features a Chef's Signature Entree. There are vegetarian options on every lunch and dinner menu; gluten-free and lactose-free items are also marked.

If you want specialty-restaurant-quality fare in the main dining room, you can order a lobster from Portofino ($24.95) and filet mignon ($14.95) or surf and turf ($34.95) from Chops Grille. A 15 percent gratuity will be added to the entree prices.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets are served in the Windjammer cafe on Deck 9. Much of the food had that "sitting on the warmer for a while" quality, and pizza was particularly unappetizing. Though set up in stations, the buffet area is relatively small, and the venue gets packed on certain days and at certain times (such as breakfast before an early-morning port debarkation), making it difficult to find a table.

At breakfast, you can choose to wait in the made-to-order omelet line or grab the steam-table versions of scrambled eggs, pancakes, French toast, breakfast meats, etc. Cold items like fruit, cereal and pastries are also available. At lunch, there's always a carving station and pizza, as well as steam table burgers and dogs and an Asian section that features Indian or Chinese fare. (Usually the gluten-free and vegetarian items were represented there.) At dinner, the Windjammer serves buffet versions of the items on the main dining room menu. Waiters push carts through the buffet offering beer, wine and cocktails. Sometimes servers brought us beverages like juice or coffee, but on other days we had to find our own drinks.

On the opposite side of the main pool from the Windjammer, you'll find the new Boardwalk Dog House, which originated on Allure of the Seas. It offers passengers the chance to sink their teeth into the Austrian-style wunderdog (a skinny wiener in hollowed out roll), German brat with sauerkraut or five other varieties of hot dogs and sausage sandwiches. The all-you-can-eat dogs are available at no extra cost, and the Dog House is open for lunch and dinner.

Across the deck, in the adults-only Solarium, is the Park Cafe, an Oasis of the Seas original added to Splendour in 2011. It serves breakfast from 7 to 9 a.m., pre-made sandwiches, salads and pastries from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and late-night snacks from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. It's a hidden gem on embarkation day; while the hoards take over the Windjammer with their carry-on luggage, we found no line and empty tables by the Park Cafe.

The 2011 refurb saw several for-fee specialty dining restaurants added to Splendour. Despite how you may feel about paying more for cruise food, the additional venues do add a nice variety to the onboard dining options. Both Chops Grille and Izumi, located on Deck 9 by the Viking Crown Lounge, are open for dinner between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., and reservations are recommended. We saw plenty of empty tables, especially early in the cruise, so don't hesitate to try your luck with a walk-in. If you do make a reservation and need to cancel, do so 24 hours in advance to avoid a $10 fee ($25 for Chef's Table). Children from ages 3 to 13 can dine in specialty venues prior to 7 p.m.

Chops Grille is Royal Caribbean's signature option for grilled meats and seafood. It's open for dinners only, at a cost of $30 per person. It's the special-event, date-night venue, where the steak -- from the popular New York strip and filet mignon to 18-ounce Porterhouse -- takes center stage, but the appetizers (like the forest mushroom soup) and desserts (huge portions of rich chocolate pie and red velvet cake) certainly hold their own. Fish and chicken are also available, and you can tuck into some veggies with an array of sides -- asparagus, potatoes, green beans, onion rings -- served family-style.

Izumi is the pan-Asian restaurant, but it mostly serves Japanese food and sushi. The fee structure is a bit more "European cruise line" with a cover charge ($3 for lunch on sea days from noon to 1:30 p.m., $5 for dinner) in addition to a la carte fees for menu items. You can choose from sushi and sashimi (combo platters from $6.50 to $12), hot-rock grilling ($6.50 to $10), hot pot dishes ($6 to $12) and appetizers like vegetable tempura and tuna carpaccio ($4 to $6.50). The menu is huge, so feel free to cheat and order one of the set combination meals ($15 to $23). The mochis are a must for dessert.

Next door, the Viking Crown Lounge now serves tapas-style small bites. The munchies -- ranging from Caesar salad and kobe beef sliders to flatbreads and red velvet cake -- are a great idea for between-meal snacks or some munchies with your drinks. Tapas cost between $3.50 and $8.75.

If you're a serious foodie, consider the exclusive Chef's Table experience, a $95 five-course, wine-paired dinner hosted by the executive chef and sommelier. It takes place at 7:30 p.m., and diners must be 21 or older. Locations and dates vary by itinerary, so check your Cruise Compass for information.

Latte-tudes on Deck 6 midship is the all-in-one coffee shop, snack stop and Ben & Jerry's ice cream counter. Specialty coffees, teas and ice cream cost extra, but the cookies and pastries are free. The chocolate chip scones should not be overlooked. It's open from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Ben & Jerry's doesn't open until 11 a.m.)

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. Passengers in Grand Suites or higher-category cabins can order items off the main dining room menu for room service. There is no charge for room service between 5 a.m. and midnight (though a buck or two gratuity is recommended); late-night orders incur a $3.95 fee.

Adults and children can buy unlimited soda cards for $6.50 and $4.50 per day, respectively (plus 15 percent tip). There are also water, juice, wine, alcohol and wine & dine packages available at different costs. There's also a dining package for $115 per passenger, which includes the Chef's Table, Chops Grille and Izumi.Splendour of the Seas, with sister ship Legend of the Seas, is packed with an endless supply of entertainment and relaxation options. Close to 70,000 tons of fun and adventure for up to 1,800 guests with highlights that include a seven-story lobby, and an 18-hole miniature golf course.

Dining

Service and cuisine exceeded my expectations. Having said that let me add a caveat: Royal Caribbean is not a "foodie" line like its sister cruise line Celebrity. When you order a burger or duck you are rarely offered an option in how it's prepared (i.e. medium rare, medium well, whatever). Still, I found the food to be hearty, good, plentiful if not innovative. Service at dinner was unobtrusive and thoughtful.

RCI makes up a "Ship Shape" selection list each night from the regular menu, but fails to include nutritional information. There are vegetarian options on every lunch and dinner menu.

Breakfast and lunch buffets are served in the Windjammer Cafe, and lacked variety. The Windjammer also serves as an alternate, casual dinner venue, for which no reservations are necessary. There's a hot dog and hamburger grill in the Solarium.

Royal Caribbean has introduced a somewhat complex drinks-package on board. Adults and children can buy an unlimited soda card for $33 and $21 respectively (plus 15 percent tip). Adults can buy, for $29.95, twelve 16 oz. non-alcoholic drinks (works out to about $2.50 apiece) or $44.85 for 12 alcoholic drinks (about $3.75 per). You buy the cards (or, in the case of soda, stickers) at any ship's bar.

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 5 a.m. and midnight (though a buck or two gratuity is recommended); late-night orders incur a $3.95 fee.

Public Rooms

Splendour lives up to her name with gorgeous colors, rich woods, and shiny marble gracing her public rooms in muted soft tones. Not to mention the floor to ceiling glass panels that highlight the Centrum with spectacular views of the sea on sunny days.

The most recognizable public room on Splendour of the Seas is the signature Viking Crown Lounge, which sits atop the ship and is popular with the late night crowd and a great place to watch the ship come in to port.

At the foot of the seven-deck Centrum, is the surprisingly warm and inviting Champagne Bar. I am not usually fond of atrium bars, finding them too open and overly trafficked. Here, though, the largeness of the lounge is carved up by the insertion of curving partitions, the separation accentuated by ample placement of plants. Boutiques of Centrum, the onboard shopping center offers an array of merchandise ranging from perfume and jewelry to liquor and cruise wear.

The art-deco Top Hat Lounge, located at the stern, is the ship's secondary performance venue offering up live music and dancing most nights of the cruise. Another favorite public space is RCI's "Royal Caribbean Online" Internet lounge, which offers real-time access to the Web 24/7 for fifty cents a minute. It's easy to email; computers are outfitted with software from the best known ISPs, from AOL to Hotmail to Yahoo, among others. The room is beautifully designed with three "stations" of four terminals a piece and bordered by floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean and the top-most part of the Centrum (which means you can hear the pianist playing below).

There are no self-serve laundry rooms.

Cabins

Though the bottom-end cabins, at about 150 square feet, are hardly palatial, they are comfortable and practical, and even the smallest cabins feature a small sitting area. Storage space is generous. Cabins feature televisions, phones, hairdryers, safes and toiletries. Robes are only available to those who have booked suites. Nearly 40 percent of the outside cabins have balconies. Cabin service was exceptional, unobtrusive and thorough.

In all, there are 17 grades of accommodation, ranging from three and four-berth family cabins to twin insides, seaview (picture windowed) outsides, balconied staterooms and suites. Top of the range is the Royal Suite, a grand affair with whirlpool bathtub and a baby grand piano (Liberace would have been impressed). In the grand suites (the name is more formal than the cabin, which is just a rung above a junior suite), the interior was roomy, designed in a welcoming red-and-gold color scheme, smart beechwood trim and attractive artwork on the cream walls. And with a triple wardrobe, plenty of drawers and shelves and two cupboards in the bathroom, there was plenty of storage space.

Entertainment

Splendour 's 42nd Street Theater with 802-seats is one of the most functional and intelligently designed we've experienced. Sightlines from either the main floor or balcony are excellent. Seating is on fixed banquettes, which guarantees adequate space to enter and exit rows, and space is maximized by eliminating tables in favor of drink holders on armrests.

On a one-week cruise expect one show featuring a name entertainer, two production shows, three evenings of variety acts, and a farewell show. The casino has slots, dice and all the requisite card tables. We found the casino staff unusually friendly and helpful. I've never had so much fun losing money. The intra-ship television channel features numerous channels of professionally produced promotional videos and a rather scrawny selection of movies.

Fitness and Recreation

The main open central outdoor area has a large pool surrounded by four hot tubs. Toward the stern is the Solarium with the secondary pool and another two hot tubs. This area is covered by a retractable glass dome. There is an additional small sunning area in the bow. Splendour has a perfectly adequate gym for a ship this size, with eight treadmills and exercise bikes, step machines, etc. A second room offers aerobics and free weights. Steiner's of London has the usual spa installation aboard. Besides fitness pursuits, the cruise staff conducts a large number of games, competitions and other activities both on sea days and in port. As on other RCI ships, this cruise staff seemed to truly enjoy the activities they supervised and participated in. Splendour of the Greens, an 18-hole miniature golf course has the look and feel of a real course with all the benefits of being on a ship, including a retractable roof for rainy days and lights for after-dinner games.

Family

Splendour has an extensive children's program called "Adventure Ocean," for kids from three (or when toilet trained) through seventeen. The children are broken up into four age groups: Aquanauts (3-5), Explorers (6-8), Voyagers (9-12), and Navigators (13-17).

Group baby sitting is available from the youth staff from 10 p.m. through 1 a.m. nightly, and, on port days, from noon till departure. The rate is $4 per hour per child (who must be at least three years old and potty-trained). In-cabin sitting is available through the purser's desk and must be booked at least 24 hours in advance, based on availability. Minimum age is one year; the charge is $8 per hour, in cash, for up to two children within the same family, $10 per hour for a maximum of three children in the same family.

RCI will not accept pregnant guests in their third trimester.

Fellow Passengers

Royal Caribbean typically appeals to couples and singles in their 30's to 50's as well as families of all ages. The median age is in the low 40's on seven-night cruises and in the 30's on three-and four-night cruises, passengers 50-55 and over tend to dominate ten day and longer cruises. Royal Caribbean attracts passengers that are looking for an affordable, active vacation.

Dress Code

Expect two formal nights each cruise. Most men opt for dark suit instead of tuxedo, and women choose cocktail dresses rather than lavish gowns. The remaining nights are casual, with sport shirts and slacks recommended for men, and sundresses and khakis for women.

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 $0.75 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.Splendour of the Seas, with sister ship Legend of the Seas, is packed with an endless supply of entertainment and relaxation options. Close to 70,000 tons of fun and adventure for up to 1,800 guests with highlights that include a seven-story lobby, and an 18-hole miniature golf course.

Dining

Service and cuisine exceeded my expectations. Having said that let me add a caveat: Royal Caribbean is not a "foodie" line like its sister cruise line Celebrity Cruises. When you order a burger or duck you are rarely offered an option in how it's prepared (i.e. medium rare, medium well, whatever). Still, I found the food to be hearty, good, plentiful if not innovative. Service at dinner was unobtrusive and thoughtful.

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.

RCI makes up a "Ship Shape" selection list each night from the regular menu, but fails to include nutritional information. There are vegetarian options on every lunch and dinner menu.

Breakfast and lunch buffets are served in the Windjammer Cafe, and lacked variety. The Windjammer also serves as an alternate, casual dinner venue, for which no reservations are necessary. There's a hot dog and hamburger grill in the Solarium.

Royal Caribbean has introduced a somewhat complex drinks-package on board. Adults and children can buy an unlimited soda card for $33 and $21 respectively (plus 15 percent tip). Adults can buy, for $29.95, twelve 16 oz. non-alcoholic drinks (works out to about $2.50 apiece) or $44.85 for 12 alcoholic drinks (about $3.75 per). You buy the cards (or, in the case of soda, stickers) at any ship's bar.

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 5 a.m. and midnight (though a buck or two gratuity is recommended); late-night orders incur a $3.95 fee.

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; and $2 per person, per day to the assistant waiter. Envelopes are provided for tipping in cash, but passengers can also prepay their gratuities at the time of booking or have the amounts added to their shipboard (SeaPass) accounts. (If you opt for the flex dining option, you're required to pre-pay gratuities.) A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs; tipping for spa services is at passengers' discretion.Splendour of the Seas, with sister ship Legend of the Seas, is packed with an endless supply of entertainment and relaxation options. Close to 70,000 tons of fun and adventure for up to 1,800 guests with highlights that include a seven-story lobby, and an 18-hole miniature golf course.

Dining

Service and cuisine exceeded my expectations. Having said that let me add a caveat: Royal Caribbean is not a "foodie" line like its sister cruise line Celebrity. When you order a burger or duck you are rarely offered an option in how it's prepared (i.e. medium rare, medium well, whatever). Still, I found the food to be hearty, good, plentiful if not innovative. Service at dinner was unobtrusive and thoughtful.

RCI makes up a "Ship Shape" selection list each night from the regular menu, but fails to include nutritional information. There are vegetarian options on every lunch and dinner menu.

Breakfast and lunch buffets are served in the Windjammer Cafe, and lacked variety. The Windjammer also serves as an alternate, casual dinner venue, for which no reservations are necessary. There's a hot dog and hamburger grill in the Solarium.

Royal Caribbean has introduced a somewhat complex drinks-package on board. Adults and children can buy an unlimited soda card for $33 and $21 respectively (plus 15 percent tip). Adults can buy, for $29.95, twelve 16 oz. non-alcoholic drinks (works out to about $2.50 apiece) or $44.85 for 12 alcoholic drinks (about $3.75 per). You buy the cards (or, in the case of soda, stickers) at any ship's bar.

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 5 a.m. and midnight (though a buck or two gratuity is recommended); late-night orders incur a $3.95 fee.

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 $0.75 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.Splendour of the Seas, with sister ship Legend of the Seas, is packed with an endless supply of entertainment and relaxation options. Close to 70,000 tons of fun and adventure for up to 1,800 guests with highlights that include a seven-story lobby, and an 18-hole miniature golf course.

Dining

Service and cuisine exceeded my expectations. Having said that let me add a caveat: Royal Caribbean is not a "foodie" line like its sister cruise line Celebrity Cruises. When you order a burger or duck you are rarely offered an option in how it's prepared (i.e. medium rare, medium well, whatever). Still, I found the food to be hearty, good, plentiful if not innovative. Service at dinner was unobtrusive and thoughtful.

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.

RCI makes up a "Ship Shape" selection list each night from the regular menu, but fails to include nutritional information. There are vegetarian options on every lunch and dinner menu.

Breakfast and lunch buffets are served in the Windjammer Cafe, and lacked variety. The Windjammer also serves as an alternate, casual dinner venue, for which no reservations are necessary. There's a hot dog and hamburger grill in the Solarium.

Royal Caribbean has introduced a somewhat complex drinks-package on board. Adults and children can buy an unlimited soda card for $33 and $21 respectively (plus 15 percent tip). Adults can buy, for $29.95, twelve 16 oz. non-alcoholic drinks (works out to about $2.50 apiece) or $44.85 for 12 alcoholic drinks (about $3.75 per). You buy the cards (or, in the case of soda, stickers) at any ship's bar.

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 5 a.m. and midnight (though a buck or two gratuity is recommended); late-night orders incur a $3.95 fee.

Gratuity

Royal Caribbean recommends $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 $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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