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Enchantment of the SeasEnchantment of the Seas
August 28, 2008

Cruise Theme: Avoid Hurricanes Gustav & Hanna

by Austin Kearney

My wife, Joanne and I booked this cruise about two weeks before sailing. We had a Junior Suite on deck eight, cabin number 8644. We are Diamond Crown & Anchor members that earns you all kinds of extra benefits. More on that later. The scheduled stops were supposed to be Key West and Cozumel. Prior to departing for Ft. Lauderdale from Atlanta, all you had to do was watch a weather report, which tracked Hurricane Gustav and you knew this cruise was going elsewhere. If we headed to Cozumel as scheduled, it would have involved sailing through the category three hurricane, TWICE! Not recommended.

Thursday – Departure Ft. Lauderdale
Our 10 a.m. flight from Atlanta was in Ft. Lauderdale by noon. A short cab ride to the pier, a very quick check-in and we rolled our two pieces of luggage into our cabin at 1 p.m. At the check-in desk on the pier, we learned (happily) that the cruise would visit Key West and Nassau. This was our first cruise on a "Vision" class ship. The Enchantment of the Seas was launched in 1997 and had a passenger capacity of 2,446. Signs at the Guest Relations desk, said no cabin upgrades were available indicating the ship was full. A couple years ago, the Enchantment was sawed in half and they inserted an extra 73 feet of cabins and stuff (see the photos here). Hence the pool area is huge and there are fewer laps now for you runners to do a mile. This is a beautiful ship. It's very similar to the Radiance class and we've sailed the Radiance of the Seas three times now.

When we booked our cruise online, we also made reservations for Chops steakhouse for our departure dinner. We had a wonderful dining experience, with excellent food, service and ambiance. The captain entertained two junior officers at the table next to us. It is worth the extra $25 per person for a wonderful dining experience. Over the next couple days we talked to a number of fellow cruisers who wanted to dine in Chops but were unable to get a reservation and were put on waiting lists. You may want to book online early to make sure you get a table when you sail for the day and time you want.

Friday – Key West
Great weather and no hurricane… yet. We've been to Key West before and really like the port. For the first time we took the Conch Train tour of the city. We bought tickets ashore ($29 each) and had a great two-hour tour of the city. It really gives you a wonderful flavor of the history of Key West. I recommend it. We later had a nice lunch on Duval Street at a place called "Death By Cheeseburger" or something close to that. My wife and I can't remember the real name, but you will know it when you see it.

We sailed at 4 p.m. and headed North versus South into the hurricane. Dinner in the My Fair Lady dining room was wonderful. We were on the deck 4 level of this two-level facility. The food, tablemates, and service were excellent.

Saturday – Nassau
We pulled into Nassau at 10:30 a.m. There was one open berth at the pier complex to accommodate the Enchantment. The captain had been on the ship's P.A. system to tell us that you just don't say, "You know… I don't want to sail through a hurricane, 120 mph winds and 75 foot seas to Cozumel today, instead, let's go to Nassau!" It takes a room full of logistic experts back at the RCI home office in Miami to analyze the weather and the optimal dispersal of the company's entire fleet of cruise ships whose destinations may be affected by the storm. I suspect it takes more than a few phone calls and some "baksheesh" to get your ship into a safe port while you are competing with half a dozen other cruise lines with the same agenda. We have been to both Cozumel and Nassau several times each and were delighted to spend the day in Nassau. The skies were sunny.

As we exited the ship around 11:00 a.m. you slip your sea pass card into the scanner to log you off the ship and walk down the ramp to the pier. We hit the bottom of the ramp and looked left (East) towards the foot of the pier and about a mile away was a wall of brown water descending from the black clouds above. This wall was racing towards us like a freight train at full throttle. There was no "on" ramp set up yet to re-board the ship. Running at full speed, we knew the storm would hit us before we could make it to the building ashore. There are several 20'x60' shelters on the pier. The shelters had roofs but no sides of any kind. One shelter held dozens of phone booths and was full of people. Another had no phones and no people so we ran to that and went to the far end opposite the direction the approaching storm. Fellow passengers followed our lead and in no time we had lots of company.

When the storm hit, there were suddenly 50 mph winds and rain blasting sideways at fire hose velocity. Our position at the far end of the shelter and the fellow passengers windward of us kept us perfectly dry. Five minutes later, the storm was past us, the skies were blue and sunny and we continued into town avoiding the evaporating rain puddles. Every hour on the hour for the next three or four hours we received two inches of rain in five minutes with the accompanying high winds. These were the very outer bands of Hurricane Gustav that was passing the Western end of Cuba hundreds of miles away as it headed for the Gulf of Mexico. To have such violent weather so far from the central eye says Royal Caribbean made a good call on our modified itinerary. Hurricane Gustav was Southwest of us and Hurricane Hanna was a couple of days out, Southeast of us.

Sunday – Sea Day
The weather was perfect and the Enchantment spent the day doing seven-knot lazy doughnuts in the ocean South of Grand Bahama Island. Carlos, another Piña Colada por favor. Ft. Lauderdale was just a few hours steaming west.

The Ship
The Enchantment of the Seas was built in 1997 and is similar to the newer Radiance Class of ships. There is an atrium with a group playing each evening, filling all of the vertical spaces with wonderful music. Our favorite groups were the George's String Trio and The Evergreen Trio. The My Fair Lady dining room is a two-story affair. We ate there twice, but made sure we gave our waiter and staff full gratuities. One night we ate at the excellent Chops and another night had hors d'oeuvres in the Concierge Lounge followed by more munchies and cocktails at a Crown and Anchor member reception. After all that we didn't need dinner.

We booked this cruise two weeks prior to sailing without much concern for the itinerary. We didn't attend the big acts in the Orpheum Theater and can't comment. However, the group, Surfside, up on the pool deck, set a fine Caribbean party mood and the other musical groups we like have been noted.

To me, it seems the larger the ship; the more space there is despite the expanded passenger load. This ship was totally booked, but at no time did it feel crowded. Despite walking all around the ship, four days is not enough time to get to know her.

Our Cabin
Our Junior Suite cabin was probably three feet wider than a standard balcony cabin. It doesn't sound like much, but it gives you a huge living space. We had a three-person sofa plus two club chairs and two foot stools plus a glass topped coffee table. The balcony had two comfy chairs with a table in between. The bathroom had a full bathtub versus a stand-up shower and was larger than what you get with the usual cabin with balcony. We have grown spoiled to cabins with balconies I'm afraid. There was a huge amount of storage with a big closet, plenty of shelves and drawers.

Diamond Crown & Anchor Status
Dude. Put on your his-and-hers fluffy bathrobes and eat your chocolate covered strawberries. Diamond status is pretty corrupt.

When you check in, you receive a second Sea Pass type card that gets you into the Concierge Lounge on deck eight. In the morning, this lounge spreads out a fruit, pastry, juice and coffee buffet. In the evening, hot and cold hors d'oeuvres plus an open bar with a wonderful ocean view and the attention of Julian brings you back. Your attendant, Julian, by the way, could be the double for Denzel Washington. Ladies take note.

There was a Diamond member luncheon get together that we forgot to attend on day four of the cruise. As Diamond members on this cruise, there were three days of food and drinks to schedule. One night was a Crown & Anchor member reception. Joanne and I had settled into a table at the back of the lounge and just enjoyed the cocktails, food, and music. One of the ships officers asked to join us and we of course asked him to sit down. He really wanted to know why we kept returning to Royal Caribbean. This was not a rhetorical question but a RCI officer doing some marketing research. We talked for about ten minutes and he seemed genuinely attentive to our responses. The bottom line is Royal Caribbean works very hard to make sure repeat customers keep repeating. I've got to say they do a very good job. To paraphrase Arnold, we'll be back.

We also had chocolate covered strawberries left in our cabin one day and his-and-hers baseball caps left by the cabin elves on another. When we first got to our cabin there were two Diamond Member coupon books. The coupons got you things like a 20% Spa credit, a complimentary cocktail, water or soda, a free photo, casino credits, internet credits, 10% off in the gift shop, and much, much more.

There was a special line for Diamond members when boarding in Ft. Lauderdale, however at the time we arrived at the pier, 12:30, there was no wait for anybody. At the end of the cruise, we were issued white luggage tags. This was the first group of color-coded passengers to be called to disembark.

How To Get A Free Cruise AND Make Money
No I didn't hit it big at BINGO or in the casino. Here's how you do it. I have a small business and charge 20 to 30 thousand dollars each month on American Express. If you are signed up with their Membership Rewards program, you earn a point for every dollar charged, so my points build up quickly. I purchased the cruise with my AmEx card and was told when the statement comes, call them and they would convert my Membership Rewards points to dollars and pay the cruise charge. O.K. so we get a free cruise. Next we own 100 shares of Royal Caribbean. Let them know that and provide RCI your stock and cruise info and on a four-day cruise, they credit your account with $50. (On a longer cruise, the credit is $100.)

Next, we had points built up on our Royal Caribbean Visa card and converted them for another $250 credit to our Sea Pass account. Lastly we had signed up for an excursion in Cozumel when we booked the cruise and so there was another $196 credit to our account due to the cancellation. After four days of bar tabs at the pool, wine at dinner and browsing the shops aboard we had to go to the customer service desk on our last day and collect $265 of unspent cash in our account. They would not credit it back to the credit card we provided at check-in to cover our Sea Pass charges.

What a great four days. We are really low maintenance cruisers. We are not gourmands, entertainment snobs nor passengers that expect to have their butts constantly kissed. Give me a chair on the pool deck in the shade where I can listen to the band du jour playing "The Electric Slide" while I read my book and I'm good! Carlos…another Piña Colada.

Photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean International ©

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