I booked this cruise on Memorial Day as a quick getaway for our 25th Anniversary. I originally booked an Owner's Suite for our family (husband, myself and 2 daughters), but got a call from Royal Caribbean 4 days before departure asking if we wanted to upgrade to the Royal Suite for a fee. I surprised my family at check-in with this news, and they were absolutely thrilled.
Overall, we had wonderful weather, and a wonderful time, and even booked our next cruise onboard (to Iceland!). I'm grateful that we had such a relaxing, enjoyable vacation.
My review below will focus on some of the most enjoyable highlights, as well as some minor (and not so minor) things that could be improved.
The Royal Suite: The room was truly amazing. My 19 year-old musician was thrilled to have the baby grand piano all to herself. My 15 year-old was in the hot tub on the balcony before we left Bayonne. Our room featured a round king-size bed, walk-in closet, and access to the immense balcony.
The bathroom consisted of a room with a sink, bidet and toilet, and another room with a double sink glass-bowl vanity, whirlpool tub, and huge shower. It appears that there may have been a steam-shower, but I could not figure out how to work it, or if it was even working.
The girls slept in the Living room that also featured access to the balcony, as well as a dining room (table had 1 dozen fresh red roses), bar area (chilled bottle of champagne waiting for us), and enormous couch and television.
In addition to the hot tub, the balcony had a table and chairs where we enjoyed breakfast on the last day, as well as lounge chairs, which were great for reading a book or taking a nap.
There was also a small "butler's pantry" with a sink and counters, which we were permitted to use for extra storage if required.
Cons -- the lights would not turn off all the way in the living room, and the girls slept in the light on night 4. Someone came to "fix" this the evening of day 5, but actually made it worse, as the lights in our bedroom would not turn off, in addition to the ones in the living room.
It can sometimes get quite noisy on the pool deck above the suites, during the night, causing disruption to sleep.
Just to make it clear, there does not appear to be any additional "perks" with this Suite (as compared to the other suites), other than concierge escorting you onto the ship. Our luggage arrived with everyone else's, we disembarked with everyone else, and there was no dinner with the captain. I expected a few more "perks".
The Crew: While our cabin was spotless every day, and we received a very interesting assortment of Towel Animals, our Cabin Steward seemed to be operating on his time schedule rather than ours. When he came to explain all of the 'features' of the cabin, the girls were there, but we were not, and he proceeded to explain everything to them (did not come back for us). He came back to explain about the door to the butler's pantry, but could not open it (I showed him how). Also, we are not at all demanding -- we had one simple request on the second evening (ran out of shampoo), and attempted to call housekeeping while getting ready for dinner. After at least 20 rings, someone picked up the phone, and then hung up on us. We called again, and the same thing happened. We called the steward again on the 4th night to request that the lights be repaired, but were told that he did not get on duty until 5 (no message was taken either). It was even tough to find him to give him the tip envelope -- we pretty much did not see him the entire time.
Our "waiter" Katerina, one of only 10 women out of 180 waiters, was wonderful. She encouraged the girls to try new foods, quickly assessed their likes and dislikes, and had special treats waiting for all of us each night. She was very positive, enthusiastic, and spoke fondly of her husband, whom she met on-board, when we asked about him.
I think that the assistant waiter position is the most overworked crew member, and shows the impact of drastic budget cuts and efficiency initiatives. During our first Royal Caribbean Cruise in 2000, we had a Head Waiter, Waiter, Assistant Waiter, Sommelier and Bar Attendant for approximately 18-20 people. The Sommelier position has been eliminated, and bar attendant duties greatly reduced, so the assistant waiter is performing all of these duties and for about 30 -- 36 people. By the time he gave out the first round of bread, people wanted seconds. The sodas came out after the appetizer, and the wine was poured when the main course arrived. The poor man was completely overworked, but was always smiling and professional.
Our head waiter was very nice, and checked in with us 2 or 3 times during the course of the cruise.
The concierge was very professional, enthusiastic, friendly, accommodating, and quite new. He was formerly a musician on the ship, and changed his role recently. He was just learning this job. I think that if Royal Caribbean places someone in this role, they should do a bit more training, including sending them on a few shore excursions in order for them to be able to recommend things to do in port. The only part of Bermuda that he had seen was the internet cafe, so that he could talk to his family.
The Cruise Director has the misfortune of being preceded by Jimmy "how you crusin" who was the best one that I've ever seen. While this one was good, he didn't come close to Jimmy and Jacinta!
Captain Olaf was on vacation -- we missed him too!
The Food: My favorite meal by far is the "salad bar" in the main dining room at lunch time. You simply point to all of your favorite ingredients, they are placed in a steel bowl, and a "sous chef" tosses them, puts on the dressing, chops the salad and plates it. I don't know how they make the salad taste that delicious!
Breakfast is available in Portofino for Suite guests. While the setting is quite beautiful, and it is easy to get a romantic table for 2, I found the waffles and French toast to be a bit soggy. There is breakfast in the Balboa Dining Room for Diamond members, and I found that food to be more tasty. On the last day, when we arrived in Bayonne, the only choice for breakfast was the Windjammer. We grabbed some plates, and ate breakfast on our balcony. We were disappointed not to be permitted to use Portofino one last morning for breakfast, as we did during our last cruise.
Dinner in the main dining room was consistently delicious every night. The variety of choices was sufficient, and everything that I had was very tasty.
The Entertainment: Our favorite entertainment by far was a group from the Philippines, Take 4, who performed in Dizzy's Lounge each night. The singer had the most amazing vocal range that I've ever seen, imitating both Louis Armstrong and Lady Gaga. We enjoyed listening to them every night.
If you cruise out of Bayonne on Explorer frequently, the production shows have grown very stale. Due to the cost of configuring the stage, they keep the shows for an average of 7 years. I think that we've seen Fast Forward 3 times, and Dancing with the Stars at least 1 other time.
The ice show continues to be the best production show, even though we have seen it before, the guest performer was refreshing. I thought that I was good at Hula Hooping until I saw the amazing tricks that she performed -- all while on ice skates.
Gary Delena was great -- I wish his comedy show was longer! I thought that the juggler was rather "hokey".
Shore Excursions: This is the first time that I didn't book a shore excursion, but there was really none that interested me. Last year, The Famous Beaches of Bermuda, was one of the best that I have done, however, the tour provider has discontinued it, and it wasn't available this year.
Teen Club: My 15 year-old loved optix and all of the friends that she made. Mika was very good at working with this tough crowd!
Looking forward to our next cruise, and it will be Royal Caribbean once again.