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Copyright © 1995-2005 
Linda Coffman


Legend of the Seas
March 27-April 10, 2005
14-Days East Bound Panama Canal Transit

by Sue Adam

We began our latest cruise with a two night pre-cruise stay at the Holiday Inn ‘On the Bay’ just across from the cruise port in San Diego. We paid the extra and reserved a Bay View Room and found it to be well worth the added cost (which was minimal). A nice sized room with a huge balcony and plenty of space to relax and watch the cruise ships come and go across the street. Friends who also booked this hotel purchased a regular room and it was quite small with a balcony only about a foot deep so no room for any type of furniture at all. If you decide to spend a pre or post cruise stay there, pay the small extra amount for a nice sized room and great balcony. 

The port of San Diego was very busy with cruise ships the three days we were there and watching them coming and going was exactly what we needed to build up the anticipation of this upcoming voyage.

There is a good restaurant and bar in the hotel as well as several other choices for meals within a short walk. These include everything from a Ruth Chris Steakhouse to seafood restaurants and take out along the waterfront. 

The hotel is just a short walk to the trolley/train where you can travel to many of the stores and attractions in the San Diego area. This hotel provides a shuttle to Sea World and the World Famous San Diego Zoo. We decided to visit the zoo on this trip and spent the entire day wandering around the acres of tropical settings to view the animals with our Australian Friends that had come to the U.S. for an extended visit and to join us on this cruise.. The weather was simply beautiful compared to what we had left behind at home, lots of sunshine and warm temperatures.

We returned to the hotel after we left the zoo and decided to have dinner with out friends in the hotel restaurant. It was actually quite good and after a day of doing so much wandering and walking at the zoo, it was nice to be able to just dine without going out.

When the day arrived for our ship to pull in we all sat on our balcony as the ship slowly sailed into view. We sailed on the Legend of the Seas several years ago, actually twice before for a total of 37 days, but were still looking forward to cruising on her again.

Soon it was time to have them retrieve our luggage for the short ride across the street to the pier. Although we were told that check in began at 5:00pm we were allowed to board much earlier. By 2:00pm we were all checked and ready to head to our cabin. No line whatsoever at the pier, so it was totally effortless. The cruise line had a snack table provided, possibly because this was Easter Sunday, with everything from sandwiches to an Easter Cake for those who wanted a snack before boarding. 

We booked the same Grand Suite that we had stayed in the last time we sailed on this ship, Stateroom 8012, the Hamilton Suite. Although, I must admit the room seemed to have gotten smaller since last time, but I am sure that is only because we have sailed in several other nice cabins since our last cruise on this ship in 2001. The suite was very nice, as we expected, with lots of room to relax. An extra large balcony, with everything from a table and chairs to lounges were there for us to enjoy.

The bathroom in the Grand Suites is huge. Full sized (if not a bit larger) bath tub and double sinks with double medicine cabinets. The entire bath area is done in marble and I think is one of the largest bathrooms we have had on any ship. Storage in this suite is abundant and with all of the closets, shelves, and drawers, there was plenty of room to store all of our belongings, with room to spare. There were some drawbacks to booking this suite though.

We were both very disappointed in the amenities provided with a full suite on this ship. We received a few things like upgraded bathroom items, nicer robes and slippers and priority tender tickets (of course we only had one tender port on this schedule so those weren’t used but once), which were benefits of the suite. And then there was that warm bottle of champagne delivered with two glasses by room service. Two nights we received appetizers in the cabin, the first formal night they consisted of packaged saltine crackers and a few slices of very warm cheese (which we were both afraid to eat as that cheese had sat out somewhere for a very long time). And then the second formal night we received a plate of chocolate dipped strawberries, only problem was that the strawberries were rotten. Other than that, there were no benefits at all on this ship for booking a Grand Suite and it was very disappointing when you consider the price RCI  charges for this type of accommodation. When we last sailed in this suite there were special treats delivered to the cabin almost every night and a butler who did all our ironing for us along with providing us with personalized service around ever corner. Chilled wine and champagne seemed to appear out of nowhere several nights in 2001, but that was not the case on this sailing.

The Weather:
Much to our surprise after the beautiful warm sunny days we had in San Diego, our first few days on the cruise were quite cold. We wished we had packed some warmer clothes and jackets. But within two to three days, the temperatures began to warm up. I can’t say it ever got what we would consider really hot, as we expected, but warm enough for shorts and swimming once we were well into the cruise. Lots of slacks and sweaters appeared on passengers those first few days and I think the ships shops about sold out of their warmer logo items.

The ship:
The Legend of the Seas was in quite good shape, even better than we had expected since she is due to enter dry dock for refurbishment after her transatlantic cruise that ends in Portugal. The main section we noticed some real wear and tear on was at the mini golf course. It is one reason we always loved this ship and we spent many hours playing games of miniature golf with cruise friends. It was a MESS. After attempting to play a few times, we finally gave up. It was in such disrepair it was impossible to even enjoy a fun game with friends. Greens were coming up, turfs were torn and worn, and the entire mini course was just pitiful. Such a shame, as we had looked forward to enjoying some great laughs again playing miniature golf. But then, we knew that with the dry dock coming up, we would run into a few snags in the condition of the ship.

The first sea day RCI scheduled our Meet and Mingle with the group that signed up online from the Cruise Critic message board. RCI had gifts of neck wallets and RCI-Cruise Critic pins waiting for us. There were appetizers served and soft drinks and it gave those of us that had not yet met a chance to get to know each other. Many showed up who we had corresponded with for months online, but there were a few missing from the Meet and Mingle who had chatted for months on the roll call thread. It was a nice get-together and all of us appreciated RCI going to the trouble of pulling this all together and delivering invitations to each stateroom.

The first night at dinner we realized the table we were at was just not going to make it for 14 days. We were traveling with friends and they agreed we needed to do some changing. We tried again on the second night to enjoy the company and waiter, but we were all bored to tears with the conversations and service we were receiving. So it was suggested by a Cruise Critic friend that there were tables available downstairs so we immediately contacted the Head Waiter in that section. There were three couples looking for a new home, us, our traveling companions from Australia, and another couple we had gotten to know on the Internet. With the slip of a few $$$ to our great head waiter, we had found our new home for the cruise. What a wonderful waiter, assistant waiter, and Head Waiter we now had. I have to say they were the best and we had more fun with them than in all of our previous cruises to date on any cruise line. From that first night on, they remembered all of our choices for everything from our drinks to how we would like our steak cooked. Even the bar waitress remembered our preferences from the first night onward. (If you ever get the chance to sit in the section serviced by Mohammed, Stephano, and Vino (the head waiter) don’t hesitate, they are truly the best we have ever seen.)

Since we had several empty chairs at our new table, about half way through the cruise we were joined by two of the entertainers who had just boarded the ship--Mark Kornhauser and his assistant. We weren’t sure at the time what type of entertainer he was, but we found out he had a memory like I have never seen before. We had a great time the evenings that they joined us for dinner and when the time came for them to perform, we were all in the front row of the theater. The show was very good and the magic and comedy act they did was fascinating to watch from right up front. Hopefully we will see them again someday on another ship.

Our first port of call was Cabo San Lucas:
One benefit to our suite were priority tender tickets, as mentioned above, so we were able to immediately go down and board the tender for shore without having to wait.

Funny thing happened on the tender. I watched as many passengers were showing each other apples, oranges and bananas they had pulled out of their bags and commenting on how smart they were for thinking of bringing along a snack for their trip on shore. I mentioned to a few of them that they would not be allowed to bring those into port and it was clearly stated in the Daily Planner. They actually got a bit miffed at me for even suggesting to them that they were breaking all of the rules. OK, I let that go, I was just trying to warn them and keep them from possibly being embarrassed. Then as we disembarked the tender I had to laugh to myself as all of the passengers bags were searched by customs and each and every piece of fruit was removed and placed into a container to be destroyed or returned to the ship. Even the customs agents were getting a bit peeved as everyone was told that food items could not be brought ashore unless they were in their original packages such as crackers or packaged cookies. And to think, the ship ran low on fresh fruit and was totally out of bananas for days after that first port. I guess people will never learn that there are rules when visiting foreign countries and those rules are for everyone.

Well, back to the port... we left the tender area and spent most of the day searching for medicine for a sick friend on board the ship. The medicines there are nothing like we have at home but we were able to find a few things to bring back to her.

We walked around the pier area and did a bit of shopping but that was about it for the day. It was very warm that afternoon compared to what we were accustomed to and our bodies were not yet acclimatized for this sort of weather as we encountered such cool temperatures the first couple of days. We decided to return to the ship after a couple hours and just hang out there and relax on the half empty ship. Back to the pier we went and while waiting for the tender, we just sat and watched as all the new passengers that came ashore were still having their bags searched and all the fruit they were trying to bring was filling the buckets to capacity. 

The second port of call was Acapulco:
We took a taxi at the pier with a couple we met on the internet who turned into great friends as we got to know them better during the two week cruise. We first stopped in old town for some extended shopping, then on to Senor Frogs for a Margarita before heading to the cliff divers on the other side of the island. The cliff divers were good, but I would never book the ships tour to see them. Much less expensive to grab a cab and go there yourself. The show only lasts a few minutes and the admission of $3 per person also entitles you to a cold beer or soft drink. Very easily done yourself, no need to book this excursion and pay what the cruise line is asking for something this simple to do on your own.

After we had finished our mini tour we had the cab driver take us by the local Wal-Mart to again look for some medications for our sick friends onboard the ship. Make sure the amount the driver will be charging is fully understood by both the driver and yourself as we had a bit of a problem with them wanting to charge us almost double at the end of the day. But it was settled and we were finally on our way back to the ship.

The Third port of call was Huachuca:
This is one port we could have skipped altogether. It was a very dirty hole of a port and I would never bother to even get off the ship if I were to stop there again. We booked a snorkeling tour with RCI that was advertised as a visit to two beautiful secluded beaches. OH MY, were we shocked at what we found at these beautiful secluded beaches. We were driven to the first beach that was so smelly that we had to wade through rotten garbage in the parking lot to get to the beach (not joking at all here). As we tried to find the sand through the thousands of people on the beach, it was almost impossible. The water was dirty and actually smelled terrible so I never even got my feet wet. Everyone on the tour was very unhappy, but we had one more beach they were taking us to and it had to be better, as it couldn’t be worse (or could it?). 

We arrived at our second stop and the beach looked a bit nicer and definitely not as crowded. So down the 75 steps to the water (yes, you guessed it, we counted them as the driver told us it was only a few steps down to the beach and RCI actually told a couple who were disabled and one in a wheelchair that this tour was handicapped accessible). It looked nice from up above but as we got to the waters edge we could see a terrible scum floating everywhere. Again, I didn’t even go in but my husband was braver and decided to try a bit of snorkeling. All of a sudden everyone was getting out scratching and twitching. The water was full of small jelly fish and they had all been stung. Thankfully, they were tiny and didn’t do any real damage to anyone on the tour. Just a lot of itching and scratching from the many stings they received.

Needless to say, everyone on both buses ended up at the excursion desk after re-boarding the ship to file their formal complaints. We were actually surprised when the total amount of our tour was credited back to our shipboard account the final day of the cruise. I guess RCI realized the tour was NOT as advertised and didn’t come even close to providing what was promised. So, all’s well that ends well--we were refunded our money and all we were out was half a day in a port that wasn’t really worth exploring anyway. If we ever sail again to Mexico, neither of us will bother even getting off the ship in Huachuca, at least not to do any type of swimming or snorkeling.

April 2nd was a sea day and it just happened to be my husband’s birthday. I had sent a box UPS to our hotel, which was waiting for us upon arrival. He thought it was packed with gifts for our Australian friends and there were actually a few gifts inside it. But mostly the box contained decorations for his birthday so that he would not see them in the luggage. I discretely passed the birthday things along to our friends and they did a marvelous job decorating their cabin for the surprise birthday party. We gathered the gang from Cruise Critic and we were all there to surprise him with a celebration. It was so nice of our friends to offer to get things ready for this birthday surprise and offer their cabin for the gathering. 

Around the middle of the cruise we noticed hand sanitizers appearing outside the buffet each day. We knew there were many on board who caught some sort of upper respiratory illness and there was a lot of coughing coming from many of the passengers. I still can’t understand why most cruise lines wait to put out this small preventative so as maybe these illness’ won’t spread as rapidly as they do without them? I knew our traveling mates had come down with something, that is why we made all of the trips to the pharmacies in Mexico, but until I saw the sanitizers come out, I had not realized just how many had come down with almost the same thing.

Port number Four-Puntarenas, Costa Rica:
We booked an all day river rafting/float trip through RCI. An air conditioned bus ride to the river and then we were outfitted with life vests and paddles to begin our adventure. Because of the tides, we arrived several hours late in port but they extended the stay so that all tours could be completed.

The theater on the ship was a total zoo that day with all the tour participants inside at one time because of the late arrival. Every seat filled with impatient passengers wanting to head ashore to begin their tours. Since the ship was arriving late, the tour times were all changed so everyone was there and ready to begin their day, which was more than the theater could handle at one time.

It was very interesting floating down the river passing monkeys asleep on the branches of the trees, alligators (or were those crocodiles?) resting in the shallows, and birds of all varieties along the way. Even a few snakes showed their slimy selves.

If anyone is interested in class 1-2 rapids, which are very, very calm this would be the tour for you. Only a few steps down to the river so there was not a lot of walking downhill or up involved. For anyone who would like this experience who doesn’t get around very well, they should do well with this tour. We admit we like a bit more of a challenge with class 3-4 rapids, but it was still fun. When it became a bit too calm, we would find a group of friends in another boat and the water fight would be on. Not sure who won the water fight, and it really didn’t matter, it was just a lot of fun to bombard each other with the splashing while humming the theme songs from Star Wars and Deliverance gave it that bit of suspense before the attacks commenced.

The morning had come to sail through the Panama Canal and our phone rang at 5:15am with an excited friend telling us that most of the ship was up and active. Although we didn’t begin our entry into the canal until about 6:30, they were so excited that they could just contain themselves any longer. We had breakfast delivered from room service and then did the balcony hop from one friend’s cabin to another. We all ended up back at our cabin as there was more to see on our side of the ship.

The men of the group were very excited about this transit, they seem to have an engineer mindset and they watched as the mules pulled us slowly and steadily through each lock within a few feet from the edge. The water came rushing in to fill the lock as we all watched the ship slowly approach the depth needed before the next set of locks opened. Simply fascinating.

After the second lock we disembarked the ship for a half day tour to the Embara Indian Village. The village and Indians were very interesting. Our guide translated as the son of the chief told us all about their culture and some on the tour joined in the native dances. We were then given time to shop for their handmade wares and there were many tables set up for display. The smaller children napped under the tables on tiny hammocks tied to the table legs, they were adorable. But the tour that was to last for 4 hours could have been easily accomplished in less than one. After we left the village the boat did a type of animal or bird watching tour through the lake. I heard the head of the tour tell our guide to stretch this out as the tour was supposed to last 4 hours and we had over 2½ hours left. Needless to say, we were all getting bored with the lack of animals spotted and by the time we got to the pier to meet the ship, we were all quite ready to end this tour. 

Our ship somehow snagged a log on the anchor, we were told, and had a difficult time freeing itself from it before the final lock. So it arrived over an hour late at the pier. What a mess this was. They opened up only one gangway with over 1000 tired and hungry people waiting to get back on board and over a thousand people on board attempting to get off for the shopping on the pier. We were to be docked for only about 2 hours so those on the ship were in a hurry to get ashore for shopping, while those of us who were gone all day were trying to get back on board to get ready to make our late dinner seating. A real mess from start to finish that could have been completely organized if RCI had just opened two ramps, one to board and one to disembark the ship. Finally, we were back onboard and made it to dinner only a few minutes late that evening.

Our last but favorite port of call was to be Aruba. We could have spent an entire week there with its pristine white velvet beaches and crystal clear waters. We booked a catamaran snorkeling tour through the ship and, although the waters were a bit rough for snorkeling, we enjoyed a great lunch overlooking the water and some fabulous beach time.

That evening we visited Aruba’s casino, which was much more fun than the one on the ship and a lot more generous than the ship’s too. Although I have to admit that on the Legend of the Seas I won over $350 on a NICKEL slot machine, which is strange to say the least. But the Aruba casinos are very large and offer a lot more choices for a lot less money, especially when it comes to the slots.

After shopping, a great tour, and a trip to the casino, we ended up at Carlos and Charlie’s just as friends who had been on the Aruba Pub Crawl excursion were pulling up shaking their maracas. All I can say is that place was really wild that evening. Most of the crew members we had gotten to know and love on the ship were there, including our waiter dancing the night away.

Sail-a-way was at 1:00am and we stood on our balcony watching as those not sailing with us who were left at Carlos and Charlie’s ran to the fence to wave their good-byes to our ship.

Our next two days were sea days and they went by quickly. Although we didn’t join in too many of the shipboard activities, we watched and enjoyed them. We spent many afternoons just relaxing on our balcony and in our stateroom.

Disembarkation went fairly smoothly. I also commend RCI for the announcements during debarkation telling those sitting on the stairways that they would need to move. I have seen passengers clog the staircases on far too many ships, to the point that it becomes dangerous.

We were one of the first numbers called to disembark so there were no lines at all. Before we knew it we were claiming our luggage and off to the hotel for an overnight stay in Fort Lauderdale before flying home the following morning.

Now, I have to admit that we are usually Princess cruisers and occasionally venture out to other cruise lines just for a change of pace, so I will do a bit of comparing here at the end. Along with a few things we found we loved, there were others that were not to our liking on this RCI ship.

The one thing we found spectacular on board the Legend of the Seas was the crew. What a great bunch to sail with. Tons of fun and very friendly from our waiters to room stewards to other staff members we dealt with throughout this cruise. I would love to take them all and put them on a Princess ship… it would be the best of both worlds. The food and amenities we love on Princess with the greatest and friendliest crew is what we would end up with.

Now for the things we found that were not to our liking on the Legend of the Seas. The buffet... this is the worst feature of the entire ship. Totally overcrowded, with no flow to it in any way. Like being on a freeway during rush hour with cars going in all directions. It made me realize I would never, ever complain about the size or the way Princess handles their buffet again as long as I live. RCI has this buffet area set up where you have to go through so many lines to get all of your food and drink items that by the time you find a table (IF you can find a table), all your cold food is hot and all your hot food is cold. Passengers forgetting things and going backwards in the line and others that can’t find the next section really congest the flow of this tiny buffet area terribly. It made the Princess buffets look like a 5-star restaurant in comparison.

The food offered was repeated so many times in 14 days that we always knew what we would find there before we arrived. Cut up hotdogs being labeled as breakfast sausage? Hmm, I wonder what country they were thinking of when they did that every morning? Also, even though this is a buffet, the food was barely warm even to begin with, which assured it would be totally cold by the time you found that magical table.

I was surprised though that each time our head waiter was working in the buffet area, he could pull an empty table out of his hat for us. But when he wasn’t there, it was a real chore finding one and most times we ended up outside.

Aside from the flow of the buffet line the Legend of the Seas seemed to have a real food problem compared to what we have been accustomed to on Princess. I had never seen so much chicken offered on any cruise line in the dining room. It was prepared well, but how much chicken can one person eat in 14 days?

On the first formal night they were almost out of lobster tails by second seating and switched to a tiny lobster tail they had in reserve somewhere. Lobster was also offered on the last formal night but we were told immediately that there were very few of them left in the kitchen. Many of us, even if we ordered them, would not be receiving lobster. One of our tablemates ordered it anyway and was served a lobster so tiny, three bites and that was all there was of it. 

The Solarium offered pizza (comparable to frozen Toni’s pizza is the best way to describe it), burgers, hot dogs, and fries every afternoon. They also had a small buffet set up where you could make nachos and burritos with all of the trimmings. This was offered each afternoon and the buffet never varied, it was always the same.

Again, in comparison to a buffet on Princess, this one would receive a score on a scale of 1-10 of maybe a 2, where Princess would receive a 9.

The Entertainment onboard:
The best known entertainer performing was John Davidson, known mostly for his years as the host on Hollywood Squares. We ran into him at the buffet one morning and I was sure glad he still had those dimples. With the long grey hair he now has, I would have never recognized him if I did not know he was on board.

There were also the comedians and production shows, which were all done well. The RCI Dancers were very good and I have to admit I was impressed with the shows I attended. I would have to say I think the entertainment on this cruise was a bit better than what we have seen on recent Princess sailings. The theater is set up so that every seat has a great view of the stage, so there isn’t a bad seat in the house no matter where you end up.

Final thoughts:
The Panama Canal was great, but the Mexican ports were places I will not be repeating anytime soon. To quote a passenger on one of our tours “If the doctor gave me a month to live, I would take a cruise to Mexico, that way it would seem more like a year”. I can’t remember the gentleman’s name who made that statement, but he summed it up perfectly for us and gave us a good laugh at the time.

I will commend RCI on its staff as they seem to be the happiest and friendliest we have ever encountered throughout our almost 30 cruises. When we left the ship, it was not like saying goodbye to staff members but more like having to say farewell to old friends. So much so that we invited Mohammed, Stephano, and Vino for a champagne toast the final evening in the dining room as soon as we finished dinner.

It was nice to try RCI again after all of these years, but when comparing it to Princess, we prefer the variety and added benefits along with the organization that is offered by Princess. I doubt we will sail on RCI again anytime soon, but will return to our beloved Princess line “where (it looks like) we belong.”

As for the ports we visited in Mexico? I also doubt we will be returning to any of them in the near or distant future. 

BUT Aruba, it is definitely on our list for a land vacation as soon as we can find the time for a week or more to that wonderful paradise!