Sail time was June 30-July 7. I have been blessed to have travelled to almost 40 countries through out North America, Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East. Yet this was my first cruise. I am now asking my myself "What took me so long?" This cruise experience was awesome from beginning to end. I have broken down my review into categories (a strategy I think would be useful for those only interested in reading reviews about certain aspects of the trip.)
Very easy. A+++. I arrived to the pier around 1:30, dropped off luggage showed my documents and was quickly pointed toward the line that said deck 14. Within minutes I was boarding the ship. To be honest, it happened so quickly that it was all a blur. I know this will sound a bit strange but the next time I cruise I plan to slow it down a bit so that I can take in the ambiance of the moment. But then again, I am the type that like to take time to smell the roses.
My cabin was on the 14th deck (starboard side - ocean view balcony), across from the kids adventure area and just below what I think was a hot tub. Yet, at NO TIME did I encounter any noise what so ever. In fact, it was so quiet and peaceful that several nights I actually fell asleep on the balcony enjoying the sound of the water below (it sounded like a waterfall in the distance). Actually, that was one of the most memorable part of the trip; sleeping on the balcony listening to the ocean in total darkness. I wish I could have package the serenity of it all and bring it home with me. At the end of each day I would sit on the balcony to reflect on my life and being thankful and grateful for the opportunities I have been given in life. It's time like those when you can step back and really appreciate the life one has been given. It is unfortunate that some people complain so much they forget about all the blessings that have been bestowed upon them. Guys, take time on your cruise to think about your opportunity to be sailing on such a wonderful ship. Not many people can enjoy a vacation like that; be thankful that you can. Ok, enough of that philosophical stuff, back to my cruise review.
Getting around the ship:
I read several complaints about waiting for an elevator. The only time I actually had to wait for an elevator was after shows. Other than that there was no problem. However, I must admit that I am very athletic and enjoy walking so taking the stairs were perfect for me. Moreover, I spend a great deal of time on the sports deck, which was just one floor above my stateroom. So I always took the stairs. By the way, the gym is great. Lots of equipment, although you might have to wait a few minutes to get the specific equipment you like. While waiting you can simply enjoy the walking and jogging trail. I used it and and found it very functional.
Aside from eating to stay alive, I am not a big food buff nor am I a big food critique. So for me the food was good and I enjoyed all the meals I had (especially since I did not have to prepare it nor clean up afterwards.) I also liked the presentations of the meals in the dining room. There were lots to choose from in the windjammer, although I tended to gravitate towards the fruits and vegetables (even for breakfast). No, i am not a vegetarian but I do love vegetables. I did set dinning at 6pm. I enjoyed going to eat dinner every day at the same time, at the same location (a beautiful table by the window) and with the same wait staff. I would definitely select set dining again. For me it was well worth it. I did not try any speciality restaurants, although on my next trip I hope to do so. BTW, the positive comments you read about the roast beef sandwiches at Park Cafe is true. They are that good! Ate breakfast at the windjammer. Some days it was crowded but the staff were able to get my traveling buddies and I a window table EVERY TIME we ate there.
Although I had reservations for all the shows, I only made it to the aqua show (it was good) and the comedy show (great). I love trivia so I attended a lot of the trivia games (gosh, I was so bad with the rock n roll trivia, the host made fun of me. She was on question 10 and my answer sheet was still blank. So she showed my sheet to the entire room and said, "this is what you should not have...a blank sheet") But I took it all in stride. Out of sympathy a gentleman came over and gave me the answers (see, there are still nice people in the world today.) A note to the wise: If you do not want to be a part of the main attraction, do not sit near the host or near the stage. You WILL get pulled into the action. I tried the slots in the casino and lost $40 within 20 minutes. Then this guy I met on the cruise taught me how to play black jack. He did an excellent job. To my surprise I started out with a $100 and within 40 minutes I was up to $210. Guess what? I took my money and walked away. Hip hip hooray. With regards to the pool, I am not a pool person (much prefer the natural setting of a beach) and since lounging in the sun is not my kind of thing I cannot comment on pool activities. However, on my sailings there were some days when the pool deck was not at all busy (even on sea days). Besides, there was one or two pools that opened 24 hours a day so if you feel compel to be in the pool you can do so during less crowded hours. The zip line, surfing, table tennis, mini golf, volley ball and dodgeball games was my activities. Had a boat load of fun doing those.
Bahamas: The time at this port is too short to do much. So we took a cab from the port and did the Atlantis. After the tour of Atlantis dig and aquarium ($39 for the ticket if you purchased it at the Atlantis Hotel) we took a cab back to the port and shopped around a bit. St. Thomas: We did an island tour. We stopped at Magens Bay (paid a small fee to enter), put our feet in the water just to say we were at one of the worlds most beautiful beach then continued our trip around the island. We then went swimming at Lindquist beach (also paid a small fee to enter). Nice warm water and there were not many people there. However, there was a little to much seaweed than I would like. We then proceed to Red Hook for lunch. We had a very nice lunch there before heading back to the ship. St. Martin. By far, my favorite port. Again we took an island tour that covered both the french and dutch side of the island ($40 per person). We stopped at Orient beach and the taxi driver said once we get out of the cab we should go left to avoid seeing unpleasant naked bodies. But being the explorer that we were some of us jump out of the cab and immediately turned right. And when we returned we told the driver he was right; it was the type of nudity that we would have preferred not to see. Nonetheless, I can now cross going to a nude beach off my list; that's interesting because it was never on my list to begin with..oh well. From there we continued our journey around the island. Then came the highlight of the trip and the most anticipated stop...Maho Beach. Of course we were there not to swim but to watch the planes come in at a very low altitude. It was very very very crowded and to make things worse, it was raining. However, that did not stop me, my new cruise friends and many others from enjoying the show. I absolutely love it and will do it again. For me that was the highlight of the trip. I really wanted to feel the sandblast when the planes took off but was "too chicken" to try it. Next time, I definitely will, albeit I am going to skip the fence surfing (that looks a bit to scary). After Maho beach we continued our tour back to the pier and did some last minute shopping.
The staff was very friendly and polite. Our room steward (Ceone) was the most charming room attendant I have ever met (since this is my first cruise I can only compare him to the room attendants at the zillions of hotels I have stayed in through out the world). He seemed very shy but was very polite and professional. Although I did not have any particular requests from him I was so impress with his mannerism that it was the first time I have ever given a room attendant a tip in the 3-digit range. I hope Royal Caribbean takes care of him for he sure knows how to take care of their guests.
I did the valet service (where you leave your baggage out the night before and don't see it again until you get to your final destination). For me that was well worth the $20 fee and will use it again. My flight was at 12:15 and I left the room around 8AM. I was at the airport between 8:35-8:40...way, way to early. I did not have to leave the room until 9:30 and should have stayed had I known that getting off the ship was that quick and smooth. Again it was so quick that you can't recall the moment. It felt like I woke up on Saturday morning and the next thing I know I was back at the airport. It was all a dream. Come to think of it, the whole week felt like a dream. I guess I will have to do it again to make sure it was real.
The biggest regret of course is that the trip had to come to an end. More realistically, I regret not taking advantage of all there was to offer on the ship. For example, I did not attend any of the parades, the 4th of July celebration, shows (even thou I had reservations), the speciality restaurants and although I met some great people on this trip, all of whom I plan to stay in touch with, I wish I had attended the "meet and greet" social events.
The trip is what you make of it. If you want to be bored you can elect to do so. If you want to have fun you can have tons of fun (the option I chose). If you just want to relax between the fun times, despite the size of the ship there are lots and I mean lots of places to find quiet time (HINT: the back of the ship at night is very quiet and could be a very romantic area for just talking and starring into the darkness. I used it on a couple of occasion (just for talking and looking into the night NO romance, I was traveling solo and I am not that type of girl to romance on the first date...nor the second). Overall, I find that trip was well worth the time and money. I had such a great experience that I have already planned a another trip for December..same itinerary, but different ship (Allure of the Seas). Hopefully this time my regret list will be shorter or non-existant. Now that I am hooked on cruising my wish list is that I can make lots of friends who also love to cruise. That way I can avoid the penalty that single folks must pay (the travel industry calls it a "single supplement fee" but we single folks know its a punishment they impose on us for being single). Enjoy your trip and if you are sailing in early december on the Allure, I guess I will see you there.