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Linda Coffman

R1 Cruise Review

by Linda Coffman

Part Two

At Sea - June 16th

The week (and the time change) began to catch up with me and I slept in until about 9:00 am! For the first time since our boat drill, there was an announcement... we were cruising around Mt. Athos and I hurried out to the balcony. According to the day's Great Times newsletter, "Cruising around the peninsula is as close as most people get to the monasteries. Men need a special permit to visit the area and women are barred completely. Ships carrying women are supposed to keep at least 1600 feet from shore!" Even from a distance, the solemnity of Mt. Athos was impressive.

Having spent so much time ashore, I decided to wander about the R1 and visit the gift shops and casino. One feature of the ship I'd been asked to check on was the passenger laundry room. My advice is--don't plan on doing any laundry unless you're prepared to spend a lot of time waiting. Located on Deck 7, the launderette hours are from 8:00 am until 10:00 pm and machine tokens are obtained from the reception desk ($2/each, washer and dryer; $1/each, soap and softener). Opening the door I was surprised to find a dozen people sitting in chairs around the room... a dozen disgruntled people, both male and female. A couple who saw my notepad followed me as I beat a hasty retreat. Seems they thought I was with the cruise line and wanted to complain about the "short" hours and long wait to use the machines. They had a valid point--with the presence of a launderette, they packed light and planned to wash undergarments mid-week. However, so did many other passengers. Too many. The little launderette (with two washers and two dryers) just couldn't handle the traffic. A sign-up sheet insured orderliness, but they were grumpy.

At this point Cathy Gaffney, Senior Cruise Counselor with Vacations at Sea, rescued me and we headed for the spa. I regretted not making the time to while away at least a few hours there. It's one of the most appealing ship's spas I've ever seen, staffed by Steiner and providing a full range of spa treatments as well as salon services. The thalassotherapy pool is located on a private outdoor deck overlooking the ship's bow. Charge for use of the area is $20 per day and I wished I had more time. Alas, after lunch in the Panorama Buffet it was time to do a bit of packing, but I didn't want to miss any of Cruise Director, Richard Joseph's lecture on Classic Ocean Liners and Cruise Ships. For ship "junkies" this was a real treat. His extensive knowledge and spirited presentation made the old ships come alive. Richard shared the news with us that the SS United States had just been added to the U.S. Register of Historic Places. Hopefully, this means she'll be preserved and saved.

We were privileged to join Captain Kemp on the bridge as R1 entered the strait of the Dardanelles. Tours of the bridge are conducted on sea days, but this was a first for me (and most of our group)--to actually be on the bridge when the Pilot arrived and while the ship was being steered by manpower instead of automatic control. With Europe on one side and Asia Minor on the other, we were enthralled with the scenery and the workings of the Officers making our way through the busy waterway.

All good things must come to an end and we enjoyed a final dinner onboard in The Grill, the R1's steakhouse. The specialty restaurants (The Grill and the Italian Restaurant) share the same galley; however, I must admit that I enjoyed the Italian fare more. We sampled The Grill's intriguing chili, a specialty of the house, followed by steak and a baked potato. My preference for very rare meat usually results in receiving overcooked steaks on cruise ships and R1 wasn't an exception. The grilled salmon was pronounced a better choice. With creme brulee for dessert, I had no complaints.

With packing to complete, we skipped the show but met up later with new friends in the Casino Bar for a nightcap and much hilarity. A very satisfying end to our five nights on R1.

R1 - First in Her Class
Renaissance Cruises has a winner with this exceptionally comfortable class of ships. We enjoyed all the time we spent on R1, never bothered by announcements or feeling rushed to get to meals or our chosen activities. The ship's size makes it possible to get from one place to another effortlessly. With so many beautiful details, it would take far more than five days to notice them all and more space than I have available to describe them.

Naturally, there are some things about the ship I'd like to share. We were delighted with our Category D stateroom (photo above). At 216 square feet, it contained an astonishing amount of storage and closet space, with a safe hidden behind a cabinet door. Decorated in blue and white with dark wood appointments, strategically placed mirrors and the full width floor-to-ceiling sliding glass balcony door made it seem even more spacious. The sitting area with loveseat and vanity/desk felt even larger as there was no coffee table to trip over or skirt around. Unfortunately, that meant making do with a small round table for room service trays. The only item I found lacking was a small refrigerator, an amenity usually found in staterooms in this category on comparable ships.

The tiny bathroom (this is a ship, remember) also contained adequate space for toiletries in a mirrored cabinet above the sink and several glass shelves in the corner. Rounding out the bath was a shower with retracting clothes line, a wall-mounted hairdryer, and an assortment of shampoo and lotions in large plastic containers. We rarely saw our cabin stewardess--she did her job thoroughly and invisibly. Carts seldom cluttered the hallways.

Being located far aft, I was initially concerned about vibration and motion. I needn't have worried. Other than during docking procedures, we never felt a thing.

We saw one of the 322 square foot Category B suites and it rivaled many of those on much pricier ships. Again, the decor was blue and white with touches of gold and warm dark woods. In addition to the large sofa there were two chairs and plenty of room for in-suite dining. With this much room, and a large balcony and mini-bar, you could entertain here effortlessly. Ample closets and a bathroom with tub, double mirrored cabinets, and enclosed under-sink vanity make this category very desirable for longer cruises on the R3 and R4 to Tahiti.

Possibly one of R1's nicest rooms is the Library (photo left). In addition to being one of the prettiest on board, with a domed aviary ceiling and comfortable seating, it contains two computers (sorry, no email access) and hundreds of books. The Library is an unstructured environment and the open-door policy is on the honor system. If you don't finish reading your choice, you are free to purchase it and take it with you. About every six to eight weeks 300 new books are delivered to the ship. Appropriately enough, travel books are the volumes to routinely "go missing."

Notwithstanding the "country club casual" dress code, several young couples chose to dress to the nines in evening gowns and tuxedoes one night during our cruise. Mel enjoyed not wearing a tie, donning his sport coat only one evening. We both liked open seating dining, particularly since we made friends with couples we wanted to share an evening with. As Frank Del Rio, Executive Vice President of Renaissance Cruises opines, "How many people do you know that want to dine with strangers each night of their vacation?" One thing Mel missed was the camaraderie of a regular waiter. Things moved a little slowly when we joined other couples already seated as the waiters held back a bit until late arrivals caught up.

Food is a big part of a cruise to many passengers. Mel and I just aren't "foodies" and we seldom find fault with what we choose. Our meals were made exceptional by our companions. By and large, all the appetizers we sampled were very good (particularly the cod cakes) but the soups were rather bland. All salads were interesting with crispy greens and imaginative dressings. Bread and crunchy breadsticks were heavenly. Entrees were nicely presented, even making up for the steak I didn't care for. In addition to my favorite meal of prime rib and lobster, a salmon mousse was wonderful.

To make up for all I was eating, I cut back on desserts (except the irresistible creme brulee) but tried a moist and flavorful coconut pie at tea one day. A lamb stew served at luncheon in the Panorama Buffet was quite tasty, as was roast turkey, and pizza. Fresh fruits tasted as good as they looked. The Barbeque's shishkabob offering was consistently our favored choice over the burgers, although I loved their French fries. Canapes are offered in late afternoon before dinner in the Sports Bar; however, there is no midnight buffet on R1. Even midnight snacks were discontinued after passengers voiced their concern about the wastefulness--they simply weren't interested in food that late at night.

If I had to put my finger on the one aspect of our cruise that I found most desirable, it would have to be the atmosphere. Sophisticated and adult. No annoying announcements invaded our days, guests consulted the Great Times newsletter for information, and no grating hard sell was present at any time. Service was available when guests needed it, otherwise it was unobtrusive. Perhaps because of Captain Kemp's frequent and amiable presence in the public areas, the ship's crew and staff were friendly and courteous at all times.

The R1's small passenger complement meant never standing in lines. Shore Excursion Manager, Judy Christy, and her staff are to be commended for their outstanding efficiency. Hotel Manger, Robert Steginga, listened patiently as Cathy Gaffney and I related the launderette debacle. He paid close attention to my suggestion that perhaps a solution would be to charge for the ship's laundry by the pound instead of by article, encouraging thrifty passengers to send items "out" rather than being annoyed waiting in line to wash them.

Renaissance Cruises listens to their passengers and makes changes accordingly. The R-Class ships are small in size, but not stature.

Disembarking, Istanbul - June 17th
The R1 staff really shone, making this a painless process. After breakfast, announcements were made to pick up passports and guests were disembarked according to their plans for the day. We were participating in the Highlights of Istanbul tour and were the first group called. While waiting for the others, I happened to notice Captain Kemp leave the ship. As he walked down the gangway he ran his hand along the railing. Pausing at the bottom, he signaled above and the railings were immediately wiped clean by a steward. Just a small example of the Master's attention to detail.

Check-in at the Ceylan Intercontinental later in the day wasn't quite as pleasant... the desk clerks were somewhat harried and short-tempered and we were somewhat tired. Luggage was awaiting our arrival and, again, our room was lovely with a view of the city and the Bosphorus in the distance. After cocktails hosted by the Intercontinental's manager in the Presidential Suite (it has to be seen to be believed!) we were on our own and chose the hotel's Safron Restaurant for dinner. The view of the Bosphorus from this vantage point was breathtaking and the Turkish and Ottoman cuisine was excellent. Somehow their chefs topped the bread on the R1--salads with pomegranate and oil dressing and lamb entrees were outstanding. Naturally we had to try the local rice pudding to complete an exceptional meal.

Istanbul - June 18th
After a relaxing morning cruise on the Bosphorus, we headed off on our own to see sites not on Renaissance's tour roster. Our final evening was spent at a special performance by the Mevlavi, known also as the Whirling Dervishes. Afterwards we were served a traditional Turkish dinner on the grounds of the mosque.

With a 4:00 am driver scheduled to deliver us to the airport the next morning, we called it a night. Again, everything moved like clockwork and we were dropped off with plenty of time to make our early morning Delta flights to Vienna, then Atlanta, and home.

Our short cruise on R1 has whetted our appetite for more... 

Bon Voyage and Smooth Sailing!

Athens Pre-Cruise - The tour starts here! Seeing antiquities come to life.

Greek Island Hopping - Visit Santorini and Rhodes, Greek islands in the sun.

Turkish Delights - Uncovering Ephesus, exploring Istanbul, and that unexpected "eastern" plumbing

Back to R1 Cruise Review: Part One

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