This was our first RCCL cruise. Although not our favorite it was a good time.
Embarkation was smooth and orderly. We left out of Bayonne and it was very convenient. The buildings and grounds could use some updating, they look old and worn. Staff was friendly.
We meet our Room Stewart Daniel right away, very accommodating and friendly. Our baggage arrived rather swiftly which was great because of RCCL's policy of not lending irons we needed to get out clothes out and hung ASAP . Other cruise line we have sailed will allow the steward to bring you an iron to press your clothes with the understanding that they will return within a certain allotted time to retrieve the iron for safety. Unfortunately my husbands suit coats did not make the trip well and needed to be pressed. The good news is that the ship laundry only charged $2.50 per coat, they were returned the next day by 5 pm.
We had a Superior Balcony on the 7th floor, it was very nice, clean, roomy. Good size balcony, with a small table and two chairs. The sliding door to go out was very hard to open, the lever was difficult to move to unlock. I can't imagine someone over 70 being able to do it without a struggle.
The bed was large pushed together,very little room between the bed and the door to balcony, not the most comfortable unless you like the mattress super firm. I don't . Bathroom was clean, water was VERY hot, could be dangerous.
The ship on a whole, though smaller then what we are used to was appealing. Nicely decorated, and clean. We did smell the sewer smell others have complained about in the stairway at the 4th floor and below, but it only was present for a day or so the beginning of the trip.
There are only 2 choices for meals, the dining room you are assigned and the buffet. There is also a small cafe on the Royal Promanade to get small sandwiches and snacks. We only ate at the Buffet once or twice as I do not like to have to serve myself then have to hunt for a place to sit on vacation. We ordered room service for coffee and juice in the morning to enjoy on the balcony, as well as breakfast on the mornings in port to avoid added rushing. One morning while in San Juan for an extremely short visit, only in port from 7am to all aboard at 12:30 pm, our food never arrived and we had to run to buffet before getting off ship. Dinners were very rich and heavy, I found all foods to be very salty, lots of capers and lentils were used. Even the supposedly healthy options were salty. Fellow cruisers we spoke to expressed the same concern. Our server Megan and her assistant were attentive and accommodating. We did have a lunch at the Johnny Rockets, for a fee of 4.95 per person for anything and everything on the menu, except for the shakes which were another fee. We had fun, staff sings and dances and food was good, especially the onion rings. Which surprisingly were not salty. Also of note, website states that this nine day cruise only had 2 formal nights, but there were 3, so plan ahead. Most of us were caught off guard, even though for the most part the dress code is relaxed. No beach wear in dining room, but we did occasionally see people in shorts.
PORTS: As mentioned before stay in PR was early and short. We did the Bacardi tour on our own, caught the water taxi, 2 piers down from the ship for $1 round trip to Cantana, then the taxi was $3 per person, right to the factory. The tour is free and includes 2 free drinks afterward. The factory opens at 9. We were done with tour by 10:30 and back to gift shop and pavilion where your drinks are served, we visited and enjoyed the breeze for awhile. Taxi's are waiting in parking lot for trip back to water taxi. We were back to pier by 11:45 ( next to ship). The total price per person $7 plus whatever you want to tip your taxi driver. Price charged by cruise line $31. It's up to you.
Bermuda we took the water taxi to Hamilton, walked around using the city map and visited the churches on Church street. Had lunch and took the bus back to ship. Very expensive area, high cost of living. Transportation for both ways was not bad, $6 to and from pier. It is confusing though when you get off ship as to where to purchase tickets and where to wait for bus. Ticket agent pointed a few of us in the wrong direction and we were waiting for quite awhile at the wrong bus stop. Ship was in port 8-4, sufficient amount of time.
St. Marteen: We walked out of pier and to the right of welcome center there is a taxi stand with set prices. Four of us shared a cab for 4 hrs, the driver took us anywhere we wanted. $45 p person. We first went to Maho bch to watch the 747's land on the shortest runway available to them in the world. Look for videos on YouTube to see why this is a must see. When we were ready he took us to Marigot, then to Grand Case. As Rusty our driver says, we were his boss for the 4 hrs. The cab belongs to him, it was clean and comfortable, he acted as a guide with information and history. Don't be afraid to eat at one of the LoLos in Grand Case, it is part of the experience, try either Talk of the Town or Sky's the Limit, they both come recommended. Johnnycakes are .50 each and very tasty, all meals are inexpensive.
Labadee: is RCCL's private island, we were there for the day, luckily from what we hear while no other ships were in port as it gets quite crowded. It was crowded enough with just Explorer guest. Very important hint. Go to the beaches on the same side as the pier!! The beach on the ocean side is extremely rocky. Get off ship early to pick a spot as it does fill quickly. The bay side beaches are smooth. Locals hired by cruise line are eager to help you set up the complimentary chairs and shelters for a tip. Once you get settled jump on one of the trams to get a view of the island, the Artisan Market seemed to have everyone selling the same items which leads me to believe that the products are not handmade but mass produced. BUYER BEWARE! Lunch was a fiasco and not that good. It was to be served between 11:30-1:30, if you chose not to flock early and wait in ridiculously long lines, you would find they were out of and not replacing some foods. When we arrived at the steam table at 12:45 we found bones only in the pans meant to hold the ribs. Also please remember these are Caribbean Islands and sun is strong, lots of heavy duty sunscreen and fluids. We witnessed a few people suffering the effects.
Couple of other things to note: the ocean between the northeast and Bermuda is not as smooth as the Caribbean and with the pace of travel it can be rocky. Plan ahead. We really felt a lot of swaying and vibration in this ship.
After we returned I checked on my credit card used on the ship and noted that each day a hold was put on for a percentage of my on board spending, I placed a call to cruise line to confirm my final charges. I was being charged almost $10 more then what I was expecting. The rep reviewed my charges with me and low and behold we were being charged for a mini bar item last minute. We never used the mini bar in the room the entire trip. I find it suspicious that this was tacked on last minute and would have gone unnoticed had I not called. Imagine the windfall to the cruise line if each room added an additional $10 charge for not used items. Beware, it may behoove you to make the call on the Monday you return.