Well, folks, I debated for a while about writing a report at all about our cruise on Cape Canaveral Cruise Lines' Dolphin IV. I had decided not to bother to write any kind of a review at all, keeping in mind my mother's adage "if you can't say anything good....." Anyway, a request for information regarding this cruise line on the Prodigy Afloat BB, from a lady for whom it was much too late to cancel made me re-think my position. What follows is our review of a 2 day sailing on the Dolphin IV from February 5 to February 7 and is warranted to be somewhat accurate. However, I will confess that I did not keep my normal notes and it has been over two months since this sailing. The weather for the cruise was atrocious and the trip proved in many respects to be one I would just as soon forget. I will tell you that while on vacation, we generally try to make lemonade out of lemons, but this trip strained our culinary talents!! Anyway, here goes!!
This was, I think, our 23rd cruise, with previous cruises including Princess and NCL and Celebrity, Carnival and Royal Caribbean, Star Clipper, Costa, and now departed favorites like Crown Cruise Line, Cunard Crown, Dolphin and Regency. I considered Dolphin and Regency to be "budget" cruise lines at the time and I placed this cruise much below the level of those now-departed cruise lines, primarily because of a lack of a level of service that one should be able to expect from even the most budget cruise lines.
First, let me tell you how we happened to be aboard the Dolphin IV in the first place. Normally in February we go to St. Martin. Well, this (EL NINO!!) year we decided to visit Eric's parents in Florida and do some miscellaneous sightseeing in Florida. BIG mistake. We arrived in Florida on Saturday January 31 and had semi-decent weather on Sunday the 1st of February. That's when the weather went down the can for the rest of the week and did not recover. We spent Monday through Wednesday cris-crossing the state of Florida, putting about 1200 miles on our rental car, looking for sunshine and warm temperatures and finding none. Finally, American Express card and passports in hand, we walked into a travel agent in Tampa around 3 PM on Wednesday and said find us SOMETHING--plane, train, ship or hovercraft--to get us the HELL out of the state of Florida and hopefully to someplace WARM. Since we both had to be back at work on Monday the 9th, we weren't exactly giving the TA too much time to work with here. Anyway, after determining that all the charter flights for Cancun, Jamaica, St. Martin and St. Thomas had all left for the day and there wasn't another one leaving until 3 or so the next day, we decided that was out of the question. So we asked about some of the 2 day cruises. Frankly, when we booked the thing, we thought that we had booked a 2 day cruise out of Tampa, not out of Port Canaveral, but it wasn't a major deal, making about an hour's difference in our drive time and at that point what is a few more miles on the rental car. Anyway, we paid $199 a person for the best available cabin on the ship, which turned out to be the February special for this cruise line. Intending to spend the week in Florida, we had not brought any dressy clothes at all and confirmed that this would be OK before we did the booking. The cruise line also wanted to make us aware that there was a likelihood of rough seas before accepting the booking and that other people were in fact canceling because of the rough seas. The rough seas were caused by the high winds and bad weather which we had been experiencing all week in Florida. We paid with our AMEX and went back to Eric's parents house to tell them what we had done.
Thursday morning we headed from Eric's parents over to Cape Canaveral to embark the ship, after calling to find out whether the ship was going to be leaving on time and receiving no info. We arrived at the pier around 12:30 and parked across the street. Parking is a breeze here, directly across the street, $7 per day, paid in advance, $14 for the trip for us. No sweat, especially since we had but one bag to take onboard with us. We proceeded to check-in and were perhaps the second ones in line and were told that the ship would be boarding around 3 to 3:30 PM, because it had been late arriving from the previous cruise. We sat on the floor in the embarkation area (there were perhaps 100 chairs in the embarkation area--not nearly enough) and observed the passengers from the previous cruise finally disembark the vessel around 2:30. Even though we had had almost no line whatsoever for check-in, we observed a huge line form for check-in. The line did not appear to move at all for some 45 minutes, as they apparently stopped checking people in. We did see some guys coming around to check luggage to take onboard. Since we had only the one bag, we didn't mind that the fellows never asked us whether we wanted to check any bags. In any event, the cruise line finally set up a table for people to set up dining room table reservations, which we did. Around 4 PM or so, they started letting folks onboard the ship. The line moved interminably slowly, as they HAND SEARCHED every single piece of carry-on luggage, looking for alcohol. Once onboard, we were somewhat surprised to see a line of stewards waiting to escort us to our cabin. The steward noted with pleasure Eric's windbreaker, which was one which he had purchased onboard (then) Dolphin's SeaBreeze. The steward said that he had sailed onboard the SeaBreeze before the Dolphin IV.
A word regarding Cape Canaveral Cruise Line the Dolphin IV might be in order here. Cape Canaveral Cruise Line has no affiliation whatsoever with Carnival Cruise Lines (and there are several signs and notices throughout the ship to that effect). Cape Canaveral Cruise Line sails out of Port Canaveral, which is within a few miles of the space center at Cape Canaveral. There is currently only one ship sailing for the line, the Dolphin IV, formerly of Dolphin Cruise Lines.
The Dolphin IV is an old ship, probably 30 years old, and she looks it. She has classic cruise ship lines, holds about 600 passengers and, even though a fairly small ship, handles rough waters pretty well, which we would come to find out soon enough. The public rooms of the Dolphin IV actually are in pretty decent shape for such an old gal, with relatively new carpets and chairs. Nothing flashy or extravagant, but not bad. The teak decks, as of when we sailed at any rate, were in disgraceful shape. They looked to possibly be in the process of patching them, so hopefully they will be refinishing the decks soon.
We received cabin #502 on the boat deck, which was the next category to the suites on the ship. Our cabin had one double bed, one chair, a four-drawer dresser, a closet, bathroom and telephone and that was about it. No TV, of course, or safety deposit box or refrigerator, etc., etc. By the way, we looked at one of the "suites" and don't remember that there were a TV, refrigerator, etc, in that one either. It was not much bigger than our cabin, which was pretty small and I believe it had only a double bed also. The bedspread and curtains in our room looked fairly new, but otherwise I don't think any money had been spent on the cabin in quite some time.
After being escorted to our cabin and putting away our few items of clothing, etc, we took a walk around the ship, which didn't take long, as there are basically only about 4 decks, including passenger accommodations. Public rooms consisted of the Rendezvous Show Lounge, small casino, Miramar lounge, and outdoor buffet restaurant, and of course, the restaurant and purser's desk and shore excursion desk.
After one of the most thorough lifeboat drills we have EVER experienced (maybe they feel like on this ship there IS a possibility of sinking???) we headed back to the bar for a couple more drinks before dinner. We always sit at the bar on ships. Don't ask me why, other than I guess we feel like we get better service. Anyway, this was the first ship I can ever truly say that I felt unwelcome at the bar. The bartender was truly surly and I felt like it was a very bad omen. There was a TV above the bar by the casino, which was really the main bar of the ship. Despite the fact that I saw very few Hispanics onboard the cruise, this TV was always tuned to a Spanish station.
We headed to dinner and were seated at a table for 8. At our table were two empty chairs masquerading as passengers, two passengers who didn't speak a word of English, and a couple of first time cruisers from Indiana. Now, before anyone says anything bad about Indiana, please remember that I grew up in Indiana. Although I am quite convinced I was NEVER as green as these folks. They were nice enough folks but obviously we had nothing whatsoever in common.
The first night at dinner was the scene of "the dirty spoon debacle". Frankly, I don't really remember what I had to eat, other than to say it wasn't bad, although not particularly memorable. I believe this was the night that I had beef, which was vastly overcooked and very tough. In any event, they served sorbet between the salad and entre, which was fine. Unfortunately, they didn't bring any sorbet spoon, so one was forced to use one's coffee spoon. Then, as the busboy came to take away the sorbet dishes (which at our table happened to be parfait dishes, although we did actually see some tables with sorbet dishes), the busboy laid the dirty spoon back at our place settings. Eric and I looked at each other and tried to keep from bursting out laughing. Dessert was cherries jubilee, which was an acceptable dessert (and quite a novelty for our table mates from Indiana, who had no concept what it was). We exchanged virtually no conversation with the waiter and busboy, except for Eric, who made the mistake this night of asking the waiter which was better, the salmon or the beef. The waiter muttered something which led one to believe that neither one would probably give one ptomaine poisoning. Speaking of the waiter, I do not believe that there was a single occasion when he came past me that he did not bang into the back of my chair. Our busboy spoke some English, but his native language was Spanish and he spent most of the meal speaking with our Spanish speaking table mates.
After dinner it was time to go do a little gambling before heading to bed, to the accompaniment of some "rock and roll", due to the windy weather we had experienced all week. We awoke Friday morning around 8 AM, expecting to be already docked in Freeport, but finding ourselves still in the channel. For those who haven't been there before, there is a good reason why Nassau but not Freeport, is often included in stops on a Caribbean cruise. There is nothing there in Freeport. The pier in Freeport is a commercial dock, with nothing of interest within walking distance.
There were a few tours offered in Freeport by the cruise line, most of which were canceled due to poor attendance. There was a Freeport Highlights tour, which included a tour of the island, one of those inevitable Calypso shows, and shopping time. A waste of money at $47.00 per person. There was SUPPOSED to be a beach party, which included lunch and the inevitable Calypso show, beach games, etc. This tour was an OK price at $49.00 per person. Snorkeling was $34.00 a person and glass bottom boat tour was $29.00 a person. Unfortunately, the beach party, snorkeling and glass bottom boat were all canceled by the cruise line for lack of attendance, leaving one with a choice ONLY of the Freeport Highlights, a rip-off. There was a Dolphin Experience tour, which was $50.00 a person and sounded quite interesting. This tour did go, but of course was full by the time the line announced that all the other excursions except the Highlights tour were canceled. Our table mates from Indiana who had never snorkeled before, and for whom this trip was SUPPOSED to be the trip of a lifetime (YIKES!!) were very disappointed with cancellation of the snorkeling excursion.
There are two shopping areas in Freeport, one by the Princess Casino (the only casino currently open on the island) and the other shopping area at Port Lucaya which is right across the street from the designated cruise passenger beach. The beach was fairly nice, but there really weren't any nice places to eat or drink right on the beach, although several of the hotels had restaurants or bars fairly close to the beach area that one could make use of. I suspect this was because the Lucayan resort, which is the beach area in question, is basically closed. There were very few people there on the beach the day we went, primarily because it was pretty chilly--around 70 degrees with a stiff wind. The shopping across the street from Port Lucaya was fairly tame, with maybe a couple dozen stores and a small straw market. One lady in the straw market saw Eric's t-shirt touting Cancun and asked him for information about Cancun. I have this really surrealistic vision of this lady from the straw market lying on the beach in Cancun...... Anyway, on with the story. We had a couple of drinks, sitting in a moderately warm courtyard and listening to the steel drum band there in Freeport and felt we had come about half-way to the Caribbean, at any rate.
As the weather clouded up, we headed back to the ship for some lunch at the buffet (a couple of semi-warm burgers and fries), and tried to lay out on deck for a while. However, the cold and wind forced us back inside. Since we had arrived late in Freeport, the captain elected to stay in port an extra hour, which meant that I had a chance to get a nap in this afternoon, since we couldn't gamble or lie out in the sun.
Friday evening we headed back toward Cape Canaveral, through some moderately rough seas. At dinner, we had but four people at our table till half way through the meal. Our Spanish speaking friends were nowhere to be seen but the invisible couple from the first night showed up, as we were eating our entre. They said there were in the casino and didn't hear dinner announced. Anyway, with true class, they booked out before the Baked Alaska was served. I think it was so they wouldn't have to tip the extravagant amount which was required for the two day cruise--a grand total of $12 per person for the waiter, busboy and maitre d'.
Tips were handled particularly well on this cruise. Basically, the tips were $7 per person for the cruise for the cabin steward, $6 per person for the dining room waiter, $3 per person for the busboy and $3 per person for the maitre d. This amounted to a whopping $19 per person for the whole cruise, which one could charge to one's room by means of a gratuity voucher system. Very easy and painless.
OK, so here goes, for the two highlights of the trip--the flying table and roulette!! First, for the flying table. Eric was playing blackjack and I was kind of wandering around, variously watching the casino action and the very moderately talented duo in the Miramar Lounge. The ship started tilting even more than normal, listing at perhaps 10%, which made even walking very difficult. The ship had a perpetual list while at sea, but this was extraordinary. I walked out through the back of the Cafe Miramar, but still undercover, to observe the rain moving positively sideways, as the continuous flashes of lightning lit up the sky and the fierce wind howled. I watched in wonder as the wind PICKED UP one of the 4 person plastic dining tables off the stern of the ship and blew it straight sideways and DEPOSITED IT in the sea. Quite a sight!
Now, for the second highlight of the trip--roulette!! Now, don't tell me that roulette is a fool's game and the absolute ultimate in house games. I know all that already and am still hooked. Anyway, those who don't play roulette probably won't understand this story, but here goes. I sat down to play roulette and, after making a modest win, asked to be paid in color chips instead of roulette chips. The croupier refused to pay in color chips. He stated that he was not allowed to do that unless all their roulette chips were out. Of course, this pi__ed me off but I continued playing and continued winning. And, of course, I won ALL their roulette chips and proceeded to announce in a snotty tone of voice "NOW will you give me some color chips?" Made my day!! By this time, it was about 1:30 AM and I was quite miffed, despite schedules in the printed bulletin to the contrary, when we were able to get only one drink at the casino bar (which was not supposed to close until 2) and to discover that the disco was already closed for the night. Since I couldn't disco or drink the rest of the night away, it was time to retire, which we did. Quite early for us for the last night of a cruise, as we usually are awake until we can see the lights of Florida ahead in the distance.
The last morning, they served breakfast in the dining room, as well as some (stale) muffins and coffee on deck, which we opted for, since we didn't want to get up early. Since we had but one suitcase, when they announced we could disembark the ship (which was a kind of "every man for themselves, you can get off now!!" we just carried our bag off the ship ourselves and were in our car headed out by around 8:45 A.M.
MISCELLANEOUS--There was a nice set of shops onboard. Unfortunately for the two day cruise, we were not out of the U.S. for long enough so that duty had to be paid on all purchases, so liquor, etc., were not a good buy, either onboard or in the few shops in Freeport.
Because of the crappy weather, we did not get much opportunity to enjoy the steel band, who seemed fairly decent, actually. The duo that played in the Miramar Lounge were infinitely missable. I have no idea what took place in the two evening shows, as we didn't go. We didn't go to the captain's cocktail party either.
The casino was small, but even at that, did not really seem crowded much of the time. There were Caribbean Stud, Blackjack and Roulette tables, but no craps, although we weren't really that surprised with the latter being absent. There were $1 and $.25 slot machines, although many of the slot machines were older than me.
Dress onboard was "whatever you're wearing is fine", so long as you've got clothes on. The dress for the second night was ostensibly "Dress to Impress". We hadn't brought any dress up clothes at all and did not feel out of place in the slightest. If what most of these folks were wearing was intended to impress anyone, I would hate to see what they wear the rest of the time.
Would I recommend this cruise? Gee, I don't know--it depends on what you're
going for and what you're paying. This was in no way what I would consider a "real
cruise". We have often said that a first time cruiser will be so impressed with
everything that he or she cannot help but have a fabulous time. The two English
speaking couples who ended up at our table were both first time cruisers. BOTH of
them said to us that they couldn't honestly recommend this cruise to anyone. A sad
state of affairs. IF you are already in Florida and/or don't have to fly to get there and
you pay $199 a person for this trip, you could possibly get your money's worth. We
took this cruise primarily because of the time constraints at the last minute. However, if
you're not doing it at the last minute, but you really only can afford a couple of days at
sea, you would be much better off to spend maybe $100 to $150 more per person and
do one of the Carnival or NCL or Royal Caribbean 3 or 4 day cruises. Any one of those
will give you much more enjoyment for the money, with a much higher quality of food,
service, entertainment, accommodations, and public spaces than is currently provided
by Cape Canaveral Cruise Lines.
Carol & Eric
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