1st, we live in MD so getting to/from the Port in Baltimore was very convenient for us. We heard there are hotels in the area you can stay the night before and leave your car there at no charge, and the hotel provides free shuttle to/from the Port -- if this helps you.
2nd, we are not foodies, but we took home several food memories: the ship food was very good -- as always, some better than others, but we thought the dinner appetizers were extremely tasty with a nice variety of offerings. Many of the main course selections were very good too. The one night that lobster tail was offered (at no up charge), it was just ok but I had better lobster while in Maine and Canada so not a problem. Our dining room servers were wonderful. We have not cruised since 2008, so we learned RC no longer includes a midnight buffet which was totally fine since it is usually very pretty but not that tasty. There was plenty of food available at different times throughout the day/night. The coffee was good which I mention because I remember not liking it on our previous RC cruise several years ago. Great omelets, brown bread + other breakfast items. The pizza and burgers in the Solarium were just ok. I think Carnival's was much better but that was in 2008. I didn't like the soft serve ice cream either but didn't need the extra calories so not a huge issue. The dinner desserts were not that great the first few nights, but then progressively became better.
Best Lobster Roll: Portland Lobster Co - warm lobster with butter on a toasted bun (+ fries) -- you can eat outside and enjoy live music. Other food choices available there too.
Best Blueberry Pie: Route 66 in Bar Harbor, ME (side street off the main drag). I had a lobster Cobb salad which was also good, but it could easily have been chicken and it would have been a good salad and probably not as expensive. The salmon salad was also good but the blueberry pie was the best.
Best Surprise Food: We stopped at a local Bed & Breakfast on our way to St. Martin while in New Brunswick and the owner just made a batch of chocolate chip cookies. We had a delicious cup of coffee from her Keurig and warm chocolate chip cooked.
Best Bread: McKelvie's in Halifax, Scottish bread -- it had a few raisins and was slightly sweet but not overly so. Very fresh and very tasty. I had a lobster roll there too -- also very tasty, but the lobster wasn't warm -- the bread was toasted though so that helped.
3rd, the ship: nicely decorated; easy to get around; colder in some areas, so layering of clothes helped on and off of the ship. We really enjoyed our Cruise director John Blair -- he also performed a fabulous rendition of Neil Diamond music at the opening and as a separate show one day at sea. He was down to earth and not full of himself. He knew how to generate the right amount of energy without being obnoxious. His wife of 25 years Katrina was a great activities manager. The shows were really wonderful: a very funny and non-vulgar comedian; the ship's singers/dancers; a juggler and his wife; an amazing magician and his wife and finally the "Unexpected Boys" with a ship-like tribute to Franki Valli and the 4 Seasons. The late night comedian was not that great, but we've seen worse. Other entertainment throughout the ship either in the Centrum or lounges: a very talented and likable trio (aunt/uncle/niece) that sang and played a number of musical instruments; a violinist and pianist playing classical music; and a not-so-great piano bar entertainer (he played fine but not a great repertoire and he really didn't sing very well). Luckily there were other choices.
4th, activities -- when we watched the video reviewing the week, my husband and I turned to each other and said, "where were we for these things?". We really did a lot of activities, but obviously there were lots more that we didn't do. We are more trivia people, so we did the Progressive one and a few others. We really enjoyed the Human Quest game. We watched the Love and Marriage game but it gets a little old since the same questions are asked. But it was still fun. There were guest lecturers re: the port cities (good, but not the most dynamic speaker), emergency preparedness (we heard this was good but we didn't attend), the history of RC (husband attended and liked), and hypnosis/stress management led by our cruise director (husband attended and really liked a lot). We went to one session at the spa on Reflexology which was ok but it was more of an invitation for us to buy the service while we were on the ship (at a slight discount which is still higher than back home). We did the rock climbing wall for the 1st time given the demographics, not a huge line and something we wanted to try. We took the stairs all the time (to balance out the delicious bread that we probably had too much of). We walked the track the last day and am not feeling guilty for doing it more even though we should have. The casinos were expectedly packed even though we didn't gamble. There were 2 nights of smoke-free gambling. The onboard shopping was ok but I didn't go there to shop.
5th, weather -- had a good idea what to expect but you never can know for sure this time of year. Mid-50s and sometimes sunny but other times overcast. We thought we were going to have bad weather in Bar Harbor but it turned out to be nice. The key is to layer: shirt; sweatshirt (recommend full zip hoodie), and outer rain jacket (for rain and/or wind). We wore sandals on the ship but brought sneakers to walk around on tours. We wore bathing suits or T-shirt/shorts or pants in the Solarium on days at sea or when we returned from port excursions. Loved the Solarium w/nice cushion lounge chairs and tables and chairs to sit, read, play games etc. I lucked into a Maj Jongg game and played 3 times in the Solarium and it felt great with the warmth of the sun.
6th, ports -- already talked about the food. We did not go through RC -- we booked our own.
Portland - Trolley ride - $21 ea. - 2 hrs around the city; 1 stop that you get off. Then walked around the city on our own. The weather started to get a little worse so we went back to the ship after a late lunch.
Bar Harbor - beautiful city; we did a bus tour through their local park service - $27 for 3 hrs; 3 stops; excellent tour guide/driver; we walked around the city on our own for several hours -- lots of shops and beautiful views for photos. Bought a sweatshirt; blueberry name and popover mix as gifts. You have to tender to this port, but the process was pretty smooth; just allow enough time.
St. Johns -- this is an interesting one as we saw a review on Cruise Critic for Roy's Tours that charges $50/hr regardless of the # of passengers. We tagged on with 2 other couples we met on Cruise Critic and ended up with a 6 hr tour of the city + St. Martin. Plusses: small group of 6 so we could customize the tour easier. We stopped at a Fort and decided to buy tickets and stay (evidently not part of the intended tour but we didn't quite know that). We really enjoyed the fort so it was nice; It was Canada's Thanksgiving that day so a lot of things were closed, but we saw a park and a really cool mfg site where trucks unload their wares (wood chips) and there is a huge magnet that tilts the truck on a 45 degree angle to empty the load to grind into pulp to make paper. Slightly negative: Our tour guide was nice but he was not dynamic or thoroughly knowledgeable -- he had cheat sheets on various locations that we would read aloud (because he was driving). Not quite what we expected but good nonetheless. The stop at the B&B was nice and then we went to St. Martin and walked the ocean floor; one of our group had the World Famous fish chowder and said it really was great, so consider that a recommendation. We had a late lunch back on the ship.
Halifax -- this is the only port that we didn't have a plan for in advance. We tried to arrange a tour but the tour was booked; he gave us a referral but the referral never got back to us. There were 3 ships in port that day and it was very crowded. We originally got off and bought a pink hop on hop off bus ticket for $44 ea. -- then we waited in a very long line. While looking at the map we realized we could walk the city so I politely asked for a refund and it worked out fine. It was cooler and overcast so the sweatshirt and raincoat w/hood really helped. We walked along the boardwalk and went to the Maritime Museum for 2.5 hrs and really enjoyed it -- we don't have a museum like it in MD/DC so it was location-specific. We walked up to the Citadel area after lunch for great photos then we walked to the Alexander Keith brewery for the tour. We really liked the beer, but the tour was a bit hokey -- the people are dressed in 1820 costumes and speech -- and song as they entertain you -- but it was not a real brewery tour. We're none the worse for doing it, but I would recommend going to the tavern and just ordering the beer. If we ever go back, we would like to go to Peggy's Cove but don't feel badly that we missed it as the City of Halifax was great to walk around in. For all port days, we were back on the ship with more than enough time.
7th and finally, the people -- this could change on any cruise, but the passengers were all delightful. This was our 1st cruise without our children or extended family and didn't know what to expect. We're used to having our entire family make up a dinner table, but now we were with new faces. The average age was older than us -- probably in their sixties +. There were definitely walkers, wheelchairs and scooters along with some oxygen tanks. Not many children due to school -- a few toddlers, home schooled kids and a few that go year round that were on vacation this week -- all very well behaved. There was a group of about 25 deaf people affiliated with Galludet in DC with 6 interpreters; one person was deaf and blind and has a special tactile interpreter. One person had balance issues and brought along a service dog -- the dog did his business on the 5th floor (we asked!). Also on board were a number of women from the Red Hat Society so red and purple clothes/accessories decorated the ship. A number of quilters organized this group trip and had some private events (presumably sewing as we saw sewing machines). We were on the late seating which we prefer. Originally there was a couple at our table and the husband was blind (since 2005). They were charming and spoke about his blindness so there was no elephant in the room with these strangers. We ran into them several times on the ship. We enjoyed the other couple at our dinner table and saw them at various events as well.
Here's our overall take on a cruise: we don't have to prepare/cook/clean or think too heavily. You can do as little or a lot of activities. All inclusive with great entertainment. If you don't like what we like, there's plenty more to enjoy.