This was a dream trip for my wife who was hit with colon cancer three years ago. While quite ill she expressed a desire to take the whole family on a cruise. Well, things went well and she survived radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. Meanwhile I had a heart attack. We felt blessed to be able to take this trip with our son and his wife and our daughter, her husband and four children.
Most us visited Scotland first to introduce our grandchildren to our "homeland". We met our son and daughter-in-law in Southampton and set sail. We visited Gibraltar, Toulon, Livorno (Florence), Civitvecchia (Rome), Ajaccio, Cadiz, Lisbon and Vigo.
The ship is enormous. Far bigger than any we have previously been on. This is a plus and a minus. For the children it was a plus - so much to see and do. For us it was a minus - most of the activities would not appeal to us if we were on our own.
The cabins were fabulous. Roomy and well equipped. The bed was comfortable and the girls (in our room) and the boys (in their parent's room) did not complain about the convertible beds. We did have an unpleasant bathroom smell, but the staff took care of it fairly promptly, though it it did take two attempts. The attendant was most helpful and saw to our needs in a most pleasant manner.
The concierge (Ryno) was most helpful and saw to our requests promptly and the evening pre-dinner reception each night was an unexpected and welcome touch.
Entertainment was good and appropriate for the children who especially enjoyed the ice shows. Even the comedian was OK. We are not fans of this form of entertainment and were a bit leery about taking the children, but the language was not too bad and their parents were OK with the mild expletives used occasionally. The hypnotist was by far the poorest offering.
The dining room was the one area I found disappointing. Generally, the food was good, though pizza as an entree in the MDR? and the waiters attentive. The one night we had slow service was - inevitably - the one night we wanted to eat quickly as we were headed for the Captain's reception. The disappointment related to the way My Time Dining works - or in my estimation - does not work. In reading the literature we understood we could decide when we wanted to eat, turn up and be allocated a table. We may have to wait, but that was what we expected. We have always used tarditional dining in the past, but with four young children (7, 9, 11 & 13) who had never cruised before, we wanted to be flexible. We were surprised to get an email a couple of weeks before sailing asking us if we had made dining room reservations. Checking with our TA he indicated we should not worry about it and just turn up. This is NOT how it works! The first night we were met by a rather rude dining room manager who expressed in no uncertain terms that we should have made a reservation. We had tried, but the number was either busy or not answered when we tried to call. We spoke to the concierge and he made reservations for us at the same time each night - not what we had planned, but we had nothing better to go on at that point.
My Time requires prepayment of tips. We assumed this was to accommodate the changing dining time and uncertainty of wait staff allocated to us, but in fact we almost always had the same wait staff. I do not get the necessity of prepaying gratuities.
The Grand Suite status gives you a Gold Seacard which gets you into the concierge lounge, allowed us priority boarding - we met one couple who had spent longer in the terminal waiting to be processed than they did travelling from their home near London to Southampton! It also gets you into reserved areas for the ice shows and the evening entertainment - a real bonus!
The activities on IOS are great for children. The Flowrider was a big hit and the climbing wall was used too. The pool and the spray park were used the most by the children. The putting green was used by us all, and everyone but ourselves used the gym, though the children were disappointed to be ejected from the equipment there after a few days as they were under, I think, 16.
Our son and daughter-in-law went to one of the specialty restaurants one night and enjoyed it immensely. We took a wine card and, with 6 adults, found it to be worthwhile.
Ports - The following are not options on the ports list, so I am including them here.
Toulon. We did this on our own, and it was the one surprise, I did not expect much of it, and it turned out to be a fascinating place with a great market, and interesting naval museum and a nice waterfront.
Ajaccio. We walked to a beach and had a swim, then walked round town and the market. Hoped to visit Napoleon's house, but it was too busy.
That was it. We thoroughly enjoyed it with a couple of qualifications. It was our first Royal Caribbean cruise, and if we were taking children would certainly use them again. On our own, I doubt if we would. It did not meet the expectations we have come to have of Celebrity and Holland America. The IOS is too big for our taste. Without the Gold Card, I think I would be really disappointed. The extras it gave us were great, but the concierge service on Celebrity gives you most of these benefits, except the lounge.
Again, with children this worked out great and I know they would not have been happy on Celebrity or Holland America.