August 16, 2009
Los Angeles , California (Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, California to be specific)
We arrived at the port around Noon having taken a cab from our hotel, the Renaissance, in Long Beach. Fare and tip was $25. Since we booked through SmartCruiser.com, we hadn’t received luggage tags from Royal Caribbean so we had to stand in a long line to first obtain tags before we could hand our bags off to a porter. Luckily, after being in line for a few minutes a porter with an empty cart passed by looking for bags destined for deck 7 so I hopped out of line and talked him into giving us blank tags ($5 tip made that easier) and we offloaded our newly tagged bags onto his cart and proceeded into the cruise terminal.
Scanning of bags and x-ray operation was swift and smooth as was our short wait inside the terminal to complete a health questionnaire (only 2 questions long) and then we were on our way to the ship stopping briefly to have our photo taken along the way. Once aboard the ship, we were offered the “My Time Dining” option. The gentleman that greeted us told us that we would be able to go from a table of 6 (as indicated on our Seapass cards) to a table of 2 and we could choose a different time to eat each day. This appealed to me greatly and was on my list of things to do upon boarding because I am not big on chit-chatting with random strangers at dinner each night and sometimes I’m not hungry at 6:00 or 8:30, depending on to which dinner seating we have been assigned.
So we proceeded up to Deck 5 to wait in a short line to sign up for the My Time option. To do so required that we prepay our tips, which is something we generally do anyway not wanting to carry a bunch of carefully denominated cash aboard (prepaid gratuities are billed to your Seapass account, which is ultimately billed to a credit card). The My Time Dining Concierge, Gary, explained the procedures to us and assured us that, unlike Norwegian Cruise Lines, we would not have to wait at all if we arrived at the time we had reserved that day. We set up a standing reservation for 6:45 each night knowing that we could change it any day that we wanted to eat at a different time and knowing that the standard early seating was at 6:00 so we could potentially arrive as those folks were finishing their meals.
After a quick lunch at the Windjammer we checked out our stateroom. Having a balcony is great! It makes the room feel much larger than it is. The port has public wifi and being that our stateroom was on the starboard side of the ship we were able to access the wifi from our balcony. This was great as the PGA Championship was just wrapping up (Tiger fell short, surprisingly) and we placed a few Skype calls before we headed to sea. The ship has internet capabilities including wireless in many common areas, but at a cost of 55 cents/minute (cheaper “bulk” minute packages are available) it is best to avoid connecting too often.
After our muster drill (we were pleased to find out that guests no longer have to wear life jackets to the muster drill –
quite a relief given how hot is normally is and how tightly packed everyone is on the outer decks) we watched the ship depart from our balcony. The main attractions here were some packed bars/restaurants of well-wishers waving and screaming to us and some showboating by a couple U.S. Coast Guard vessels. Some young ladies a couple decks up thought the cute guys on the boats were waving directly to them…they must have apparently already been at the bar I’m guessing.
At 6:45pm we arrived at the dining room to find a long line of folks for the My Time Dining option. This was in direct contradiction with what we were told to expect and it turns out that a group of 45 people signed up for My Time Dining but never reserved a time and they just happened to all show up together at 6:00pm. For some reason they were seated (which isn’t surprising because Royal Caribbean makes accommodations for folks in almost every circumstance) and we, therefore, were forced to wait for a table. We were given the option to dine with other guests also waiting for the My Time option, but declined since one of the selling points of the My Time Dining is that you can have a table for two. Our wait was about 25 minutes and the Concierge was quite apologetic and thanked us many times for our patience, but it still was a damper on the start of our vacation.
Dinner seemed quite rushed and not the normal, intimate affair we are used to when sailing with Royal Caribbean. It is impossible to judge the My Time Dining feature after just one night, but if things don’t improve by the end of the cruise I will be very unlikely to choose and/or recommend this option in the future. At no time during dinner were we offered beverages other than water (which was all I wanted, but still it is nice to have the option) and the waiter seemed to be very stressed about many other things including several other tables. Also, given our late start we were treated to 80% of the dining room being empty near the end of our meal and the accompanying noise and activity as the dining room was prepared for later guest. Again, I’ll reserve judgment until later in the cruise when we have had more opportunity to try out the My Time Dining option again.
One casualty of the late start of our dinner was that we were not able to attend the opening night show, which I didn’t mind but my wife was disappointed. There was only one show the first night of the cruise so we called it an early night in preparation for our day at sea.