R1 Cruise Review
by Linda Coffman
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
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
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
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
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
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
Renaissance Cruises listens to their
passengers and makes changes accordingly. The R-Class ships are
small in size, but not stature.
Disembarking, Istanbul - June
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!
Pre-Cruise - The tour starts
here! Seeing antiquities come to life.
Island Hopping - Visit Santorini and Rhodes,
Greek islands in the sun.
Delights - Uncovering
Ephesus, exploring Istanbul, and that unexpected "eastern" plumbing
Cruise Review: Part One
of Call Information