Review of Renaissance Cruise Ship R6

LISBON TO BARCELONA, JANUARY 6, 2001, 25 DAYS

By J. McKenry & MurrayOnTravel.com



Posted - March 2001


The SHIP (R6) and SERVICES: About 30,000 tons, approximately 620 passengers (statistics not easily available),8 months old, and excellent. Minor example: shower was nicest ever encountered shipboard. Entertainment lounge could have been tiered, but with 620/2 passengers, was not a great problem. Itinerary was outstanding, and debarkation and Reception Desk, which handled great variety of problems, were best of any cruise experienced. Shore Excursion desk not to be counted on for strategic information in port cities when on one’s own. (Staff is normally introduced, usually first night. There were no intros except Cruise Director did introduce 2 assistants.) RATING: ****1/2

FOOD: As usual, influenced by individual preferences going in. Wife, who doesn’t like fish (except for shellfish) and not one to load up on desserts, preferred food on a couple of other lines, including CELEBRITY. I, with opposite preferences, and not a fan of CELEBRITY’s Michelle Roux, considered food good. Fish, chef apparently shopping in many ports, was very good. Escargots twice, no lobster, no eggs benedict (except possibly once). Other people enjoyed steak more than we. Special surprise was excellent lamb chops and rack of lamb served regularly in Grill Room, one of two specialty restaurants. The Italian is the other and recently installed $5 charge was waived in both. Kitchen had a problem with sandwiches, not unusual among cruise lines. Looking forward to good hamburger was misguided. Hot dogs were not much better. Decent ice cream plentiful and pizza good if hot and fresh. Highlight was desserts, the best I have ever had cruising. Italian restaurant not very good for Italian food and would probably run distant second to Grill in popularity were the $5 charge in effect. Its typical menu was one veal entree (description, usually misleading), one fish, one Italianized steak, one pasta, plus one other entree. The Club, the main restaurant, has number of partially isolated tables for two, good for the occasional wanting to be alone. All restaurants are attractive and make for pleasant dining, two specialty rooms especially cozy. No midnight buffet. All menus changed about every 8 days. Serving staff nice, young international group, many Balkans, all of whom kept excellent attitudes, and most handled English well. Our first experience with open seating and it worked quite well. Different tablemates any given meal, and hanging out with a particular couple(s) as desired. FOOD RATING: Desserts ***** Lamb, fish, escargots ****1/2, rest ***

DRESS: Country club casual, although one wonders which Club. Ladies almost always dressed for dinner with husbands maintaining the usual distant second. More men seemed to wear coats as time went on, however, particularly in 2 specialty restaurants. Almost everyone dressed for the one Captain's cocktail party. No other formal or special dinners. Dressing up on PRINCESS would have greater compatibility.

SHORE EXCURSIONS: Whether the ship’s excursions or on one’s own depends, to mention a few factors, on one’s health, whether a first time or repeat visitor to a particular port, how much spirit of adventure in communicating and negotiating with foreign taxi drivers, and extent of interest in contributing to ship’s coffers. Many people went the route of a taxi, normally sharing, and possibly, where available, with a guide. Taxis worked out very well and always for less money. Many people find guides they like to recommend and we found a great guide in Tangier.

ENTERTAINMENT: Two performances a night, 8:30 and 10:15. Core was dance and song group, 3 boys and 2 girls, about five different shows. Everyone thought they were good. We thought they were better. Also excellent piano player who played beautifully a repertoire of mainly forties music as well as tasteful later songs. Performed a half hour before dinner in Horizons and at dinner time in traffic area on Deck 5. Also another piano player, with electronics, who played mostly “now” music, and appeared in Horizons in early evening and late night disco. Final permanent member was orchestra (5 pieces?) playing in Caberet for shows and 25 minutes of dancing before first show. Remainder was transient acts, usually staying for two shows: two comedians and one magician (also comedian), all of whom were clean, contemporary, young, and good, if not great; two female vocalists, one quite contemporary, the other offering a touch of the classics, and two local folk troops. Entertainment ran every night except when pre-empted by bad weather, as occurred twice. Also regular bingo. and a couple of audience participation games. RATING: Dancers’ quality **** Shows‘ lavishness *** (good enough) Other *** to **1/2 .

GRATUITIES: System can easily be a sore point, although In RENAISSANCE’s defense, the dining room staff pools gratuities. Assumed to be not a Renaissance invention, is clever, subtle psychological pressure, discouraging passengers from advertising a reluctance to follow suggested tipping guidelines. Envelopes are issued to itemize how much is to be charged to one’s credit card for each different service. So much for secrecy. Not quite as respectful of privacy as the old cash in the envelope system, but can be circumvented, if desired. The help deserves and depends on gratuities, and the sales pitch would be more palatable if “as a convenience” were omitted.

AMBIANCE: If the degree of hurry, scurry varies in proportion to a ship’s passenger size, then R6, carrying 620 passengers, plus or minus, as opposed to large ships with1600, 2000, and more, would almost have to offer a more relaxed atmosphere. Although large ships abound in greater resources, tending to even out the supply/demand competition, the theory seems to have held true this cruise. Staff exuded warmth throughout the ship. Another explanation for the laid back passenger ambiance, it was probably partly due also, on one hand, to a lack of typical shipboard activities, such as language, dance, bridge, and craft instruction, an economy for the cruise line, and on the other, the cruise being so port intensive that it minimized the available time for such activities. (There were a couple of cosmetics presentations.) The line’s No Smoking policy and discouraging minors (there were no children) lends to further defining the ambiance. Because of the age policy, the cruise’s length, and its distance from the U.S., the crowd was almost exclusively 55+, with emphasis on the plus, and included hardly any foreign language speaking cruisers.

WEATHER: Roughest ever experienced, an overnight 10 hour, 70mph plus gale from Nice to Barcelona that smashed dining room dishware unsecured in cabinets, bottles in bars, TVs in Horizons as well as reportedly in one or more cabins, and slid cabin furniture across the floor while knocking everything loose off dresser tops. Passengers had to hang onto beds for dear life with the ship listing at least halfway horizontal, and waves washing as high as deck 6. There was hard speculation as to whether the weather could have been avoided considering there were two overnights in Nice and two in Barcelona.

AIR TRAVEL: Cruise line apparently did what it could to obtain low airfare. Two principal objections: Air Deviation was not permitted and seat assignments could not be obtained in advance on overseas flights (at least, not for us). There was no cooperation advertised for flying on one’s own; people had to arrange their own airport transfers (except $20 xfers to the airport were available for debarkation). Even with cruise line provided air, many experienced long delays in transfer to the ship.

COMPARISON TO OTHER CRUISE LINES: Cruise line categorization is not a science and partly because they are not in overwhelming number, categorization is generally acceptable based on qualitative and quantitative factors used. Qualitative factors include lavishness of amenities, perception of clientele, and personalization of service, among others, and quantitative factors are such as ship’s age, construction, extent of inclusion of fee items, and overall cruise cost, the latter, in spite of being inconstant, providing some measurement of quality. The distinction between PREMIER and MASS MARKET categories may be fuzzy, but the general perception of RENAISSANCE seems to include it with PRINCESS, ROYAL CARIBBEAN, CELEBRITY, and HOLLAND AMERICA, for example, in whichever of those two categories. RENAISSANCE has also been suggested as possibly pushing towards LUXURY category.

When the qualitative and quantitative factors, or individual characteristics, relating to each cruise line are matched head to head, naturally there are pluses and minuses for each. A best guess, based on this cruise, would be also to place RENAISSANCE in the same category as the above lines, with however, a minor reservation. The categorization should probably be considered probationary in view of RENAISSANCE’s relative newness to the field and its appearing to be still developmental in some respects. It is not considered LUXURY. That judgment is challengable, however, since there has been no experimentation with LUXURY lines in view of the high standard of quality maintained by many other fine cruise lines, especially the options they present in introducing a plethora of new ships. Also, LUXURY lines’ perception of clientele remains somewhat discomforting. To conclude, RENAISSANCE provided a very enjoyable experience on this ambitious and wonderful itinerary.

J. McKenry March 1, 2001