Background ... family of 4 (47, 45, 14B, 12G) on our 10th cruise (3 RCI, 4 Carnival, 2 Disney, 1 Norwegian) with the Disney Fantasy scheduled for August 2012. We were with 2 families who we have previously cruised with us on the Carnival Liberty and Carnival Freedom.
Embarking was a breeze. We drove from NJ on Saturday finishing up the last 2 hours on Easter Sunday. We arrived at the port at 10:30, waited half hour for friends and were eating at Sorrento's by noon.
The ship is beautiful, different from what we are used to be, so it took us awhile to warm up to it. We really liked the idea of the Promenade and the digital screens around the ship is genius. Kudos to whoever thought that up. What I didn't like about the ship is the Pool deck - and I think this has to do with cost cutting measures. There is no food available by the pool. In order to grab something to eat, you have to get dressed, go through the revolving doors (a really dumb idea), pass the elevators and foot traffic, to go to the Windjammer. Every other ship that we've been on has some type of food available by the pool (pizza, deli, tandoori, BBQ).
We know the economy is bad and that all cruise lines are searching for ways to cut costs, but we really felt that RCI was penny pinching to the extreme and it cost them our (3 families) loyalty. Examples .... both Disney and Carnival had a return guest gift waiting for us in our cabin on the first day. RCI gave us nothing. (Maybe they gave it out at the Crown and Anchor reception, but we had reservations at Portofino's and didn't make.) The free ice cream is a joke; 2 machines back to back by the pool open from 11 - 7. You are not allowed to make your own and is only on a cone; on other cruise lines, the ice cream is open 24 hours, has bowls, and toppings. If you didn't buy a soda card, water was only available on the Promenade level. (If you asked a bartender for water or soda, you were given an eye roll.)At St. Maarten, there was a Norwegian and a Celebrity ship docked with us. Upon return to the ship, both of those cruise lines were handing out cold water for their passengers to drink. RCI, again, gave us nothing. This might sound like we are nick picking, but its the little things that count.
Dining .... We ate at Portofino's once and that was spectacular. Both Portofino's and Chop's is located in the Windjammer and I find this a little strange. The rest of the week, we ate in the dining room. The first two nights, the service was horrible. We couldn't figure out who was supposed to get us our drinks (alcoholic, soda, and wine). The second night, all the tables around us were either done or on dessert when we still didn't have our meals. After complaining the service got better for the rest of the week. The food was good, some meals better than others, but the portions are extremely small. RCI is not fooling anyone by making the plates smaller. This is the first cruise that NO ONE in my family gained any weight. One morning, we ate breakfast in the dining room, again the service was bad. We were seated at 9:40 (closed at 10), by 9:45 they were already cleaning up the buffet portion. We again had trouble getting drinks - it always seemed to be someone else's job. Lunch and breakfast in the Windjammer was the best; this is where we found the most helpful and friendly staff members.
Entertainment .... We are a family who enjoys activities and The Freedom always had something going on. So, that is good. The bad .... the Headlining shows were mediocre at best. The Ice Show was the best show, but the skaters fell a few times, taking the WOW factor away. We enjoyed the cruise director, but it seemed that he was the entertainment for the week. We would have preferred more comedians, jugglers, hypnotists, magicians - there was a wonderful magician on board, but the Now You See It show was hyped up with the RCI singers and dancers - just do the magic. We did enjoy the Love and Marriage show, the parade, the Rock show, Quest, Family Quest, Trivia, rock climbing wall, flo-rider, basketball, mini-golf, bingo, Graham's comedy show, the deck party, Battle of the Sexes.
Staff .... on this cruise more than any, we found the staff to be lacking. I think the first problem is the language barrier - too many did not speak enough English. Second, I found the dining room staff to be overworked and/or under trained. Other cruises, we always looked forward to speaking to them, finding out a little about themselves/country and my kids always enjoyed their tricks and jokes. They were too busy to speak to us and when they did, they couldn't understand us. If you went to a bar for a water or soda, the bartenders rolled their eyes because they do not get the automatic 15% tip. At BINGO on day 3, they gave out a suite to the jackpot winner. They announced this at the shows the previous night. The entertainment staff was completely inept at handing the crowd. There was one line through the Pharaoh lounge, pass the elevators, and down the Promenade. They made no announcements while people were on line until they ran out of the electronic boards. When people complained, the staff actually argued back. I have never seen this on any other cruise.
Ports ... We had no tours planned because we like to stay on the ship when everyone else is off. But the kids wanted to get off this time,so we just got off and walked around.
Cabins .... We always get interiors because they are not very importatant to us as we only sleep and shower/change in them. But RCI interiors are extemely small, the smallest we have experienced. When the twin beds are placed together, there is no room to move as the couch is blocking one side and the vanity is blocking the other side. Beds were very comfortable. Decent storage space.
Getting off was easy. Went to our area, called us 2 minutes later and off we went, straight through baggage and customs.
We had every intention of taking advantage of the discounts offered on the ship and book the Allure for the summer 2013. But, that is not happening now. We will go back to Carnival. They have better entertainment, is better staffed, and is a much better value for your money. I had no problem paying more for RCI because I thought I was getting better quality. I was wrong.