Some of this may have been repeated in other reviews or the forums which were so helpful in helping us plan this vacation. We've cruised several times before and would rank this at the top of the list for a great experience. My. 16-year old son has been asking for the last couple of years to bring a friend on vacation with us and this year worked out for all parties. Our entire family knows my son's friend and his parents well so we were comfortable it would be compatible for all.
We drove from Atlanta to Port Canaveral (a hellish 10.5 hour drive) i75 had construction nearly the entire way so the planned 8 hour drive was significantly extended. We were very glad to see the Country Inn and Suites right as we entered Port Canaveral. There was a unique vibe to this property as their entire clientele is there for a cruise and they do a great job managing through the frenzy (a chocolate chip cookie at the front desk doesn't hurt either). We checked in and signed up for parking which is only $30 (cash only) for the week. I was a bit bummed to learn the earliest shuttle was at 1:30 as we like to get on the ship early to enjoy our fist day at sea. The room was perfect for our group- a bedroom with a door with 2 queen beds and a separate sleeper sofa in the living room so we could have privacy from the boys but not blow our budget on essentially a place to sleep (if you can) and shower. We ordered pizza in the room and watched the NCAA game. The pool area is lovely and 30 minutes in the hot tub erased the 10+ hour drive. We had the free breakfast the next morning (good selection- but a bit of a zoo) and had the front desk call us a cab at 9:45. We did find out after we called the cab that they would be able to work us in on the 10:30 shuttle, but the cab was already on the way and for $4 a person to the port it was worth it to us to cab it. My advice is if you don't like your shuttle time check in the AM to see if any slots open up. The cab driver(888 is the company) was awesome and provided some interesting history about Port Canaveral.
This is our first time embarking from Port Canaveral and it is very clean and comfortable. We were hoping to get on board by 11:00 but a surprise Coast Guard inspection delayed our arrival until noon. We saw one person carry on a 12 pack of water without issue. Under normal circumstances, it would have been a 45-minute process. As we were traveling with 2 minors one of the adults had to be assigned to each room on the records, but we obviously had the boys in one cabin and my husband and I in the other. We explored the ship and hit the Windjammer for a tasty lunch. At 1PM we could enter our cabin and we were at the pool at 1:15. We had inside cabins 1585 and 1583- quiet, mid ship and a short one flight up to the Windjammer and pool deck.
Muster at 4 PM (people were more attentive than past cruises based on the recent Costa events). We enjoyed our dining experience (early seating as MyTime was completely booked). Our waiter, Antonio and assistant Adrian took awesome care of us all week. Antonio always had a smile on his face and was eager to give you the inside scoop on what was best to order and Adrian always knew the perfect moment to bring more bread or fill your water glass. Every service encounter was a delightful experience- I was impressed by the good cheer and professionalism at each encounter in all the dining venues.
Overall, the food was very good- only one miss and that was the prime rib which was a bit tough. Because we had early dining we did miss 2 nights because we could not get back from excursions on time.
Since there bas been extensive discussion about bringing outside drinks on board, I wanted to share our experience. We are big water drinkers and since I did not want to spend my son's college fund on bottled water on board, we decided to pack two 12 packs sealed in plastic in a rolling suitcase for ease of transport. There is nothing in the contract that prohibits water from being brought on board so we decided to try it. We packed the water with shoes. The suitcase was not delivered to our room at 5 pm with the others so we figured we'd have to make a visit to the "naughty room". We received a call to the cabin after dinner to inform us they "may have discovered liquor in our suitcase and could we come down to deck 1 to discuss. When we got down to deck 1 we found 3 bottles of water missing "for testing" and they would let us know later in the cruise if the water would be returned to us. We tried to reason with the staff member to understand why 3 bottles would have to be tested from an obviously sealed package, but they feigned a lack of authority with all the charm of the DMV. We later has the water sans the 3 bottles delivered to the room.
The 16- year olds seemed to thoroughly enjoy the experience and were generally a pleasure to be with- when we saw them. They did go to the mix and mingle the first night and met a group of friends but avoided most of the organized events because they found them a bit "lame." The boys mostly played basketball (very popular) and hung out at the pool during the day. At night, they had dinner with us and even squeezed in 2 shows but mostly "hung out" on the Promenade at the pizza (free) place and Ben and Jerry's. They also just liked having the run of the ship and using the hot tubs at night. To my knowledge, they adhered to the 1 PM curfew on all but the last night and did not have anyone else in their cabins nor visit anyone in their cabin which were our rules. On the last night,they broke curfew by 20 minutes and were promptly encouraged by Royal Caribbean staff to return to their cabin. Overall, all the children we encountered on the ship were pleasant and well-behaved.
Labadee was great- my husband and the boys did the zip-line and declared it a blast (I think it was worth it). I was the official photographer and waited after the test zip line and the full zip line to snap the appropriate picture. While I was waiting to take a picture after the test zip line, one of the staff members on land ordered to take a photo because he could get an up close shot- he steered me to a bench in the shade and was able to get a great shot of each of the 3 men. This kindness was most-appreciated. The Haitian people were so helpful and pleasant - very service oriented but not pushy. I did bring a few dollars on the island to tip the staff person who brought our lounger and clamshell and also tipped Henry who took those pictures for me. Water shoes on Labadee were a must as you have to climb over several yards of rock and coral to get to a sandy bottom to swim. I later discovered that on the other side of the island next to the area reserved for suites that there was a swimming area without rocks. RCL served salad, burgers, chicken and BBQ with fruit and desserts- it was good, not great.
Falmouth for me was a bust. The shopping was not great and it was high pressure. Jamaica always depresses me- it's beautiful, but there's trash everywhere. My husband and the boys took the RCL Bobsled/Dunn's River Falls tour and declared it great fun- but a 1 hour bus ride each way makes me wonder if Falmouth makes sense. I would strongly recommend tours through the ship for safety reasons. We had to delay sailing by over an hour for a tour that
Grand Cayman is my favorite port- unfortunately, you're not there long. I booked a Stingray City / Snorkel tour through Native Ways specifically because they were short enough to get us back to port with plenty of time to make the 3:15 tender. The must have had a bad day because all the logistics were messed up. We left late, we had too many people to fit on the bus. When we finally got to the boat, it appeared things were looking up- Andrew and Andrew were awesome helping us at the pristine Stingray City. After Stingray City, Andrew began taking lunch orders (I didn't think our tour included lunch) and mapping out 3 more stops. I asked him about our return time and it was unlikely we would make our tender by 3:15. I showed Andrew our email confirmation and they had apparently put us and another party on the wrong boat! Andrew was able to solve the problem and transfer us to another Native Ways boat enroute so alls well that ends well- but someone directed 8 people in total to the wrong tour.
Cozumel, we rented a car from Ace (get all the insurance) and drove to Paradise Beach Club. The facilities are lovely, clean and well kept, but the water is rocky and had a great deal of sea weed in it so if you love clean, pristine seawater this is not your place. We drove to the eastern end of the island which is beautiful and wild, did a short shopping trip (I am traveling with 3 men) and back on ship.
We enjoyed the ice show and the a Capella group 425 (awesome!). We did the self debarkation and were back at Country Inn and Suites just 30 minutes after leaving our cabin. Crystal, the bus driver greeted us with bunny ears to celebrate Easter. A nearly perfect Spring Break. Can't wait to go again!