We needed a vacation! My husband and I both work at executive level jobs and we had been caring for my elderly mother who is an advanced stage Alzheimer's disease patient. We had not been on a vacation alone together since our children were born 21 years ago. We booked our vacation just days before we sailed and were nervous about the size of the ship, the number of passengers and summertime children's vacations, and the new ports we had not experienced. Our number one mission on this trip was to rest, relax, and destress.
Reservations: We booked our trip online just a few days prior to sailing. We received free prepaid gratuities with our reservation. We got great service from the agents there and they answered many questions for us. I contacted RCI numerous times by chat to ask questions and got wonderful service from their help lines as well. We flew from Columbus to Ft. Lauderdale and stayed with family who took us to the port. Because we booked so late, I could not make any of our reservations until we actually boarded and I was really nervous about that. We booked cabin 9109 which was an inside cabin at the far aft of the ship. It was the only room that we had a choice of so it was that or nothing, so we took it.
Cabin: 9109 inside cabin with king bed at far aft of the ship. We have never had an inside cabin before. I get motion sick and so have always wanted to be able to go out and get air, but our budget was very slim with two kids in college and I wanted a trip, so I decided to risk it. I may never pay the big prices for a balcony again. Our room was so quiet and so dark. We could sleep in and nap which was priceless. There was almost no hall noise as we were at the very end of the ship so no one came down that far. And best of all we were near the adults only pool, the theater, and the spa. The room was very tight but comfy for just the two of us. I can't imagine putting more people than that in an inside cabin. We did experience some problems with the tv when trying to make reservations and such, but got it figured out in a few days. Our room steward was friendly and figured out our schedule of napping by about day 3. This was a great room for quiet and relaxation.
Embarkation day: We got to the port early. We did not have passports and used our drivers license and birth certificate. I thought that would be a problem, but it was fine. We used cash for our expenses on board. I thought that would be a problem too, but again once we found the correct counter, it was no problem either. The reception staff was nice and helpful. Got our pictures and went to wait in our assigned area. I was amazed at how well organized the embarkation process was. We were seated in a designated area and we read our books until time to board. Since we arrived early we got on the ship very fast. Once on board, I began racing. We first went to the main desk to establish our cash account. We then bought our soda cards and water package. The water package was a complete waste. I had no idea how big the bottles were. We definitely did not need the amount of water I ordered and we ended up leaving most of it on board. Drink stations are located all over with lots of free water available, take a themos of some sort and save money on the water package. I then bought a 3 specialty dinner package. This was a pain as I had to go to each individual restaurant to make the separate reservations. Then, we got our show reservations. Once all of that was done, we went to the Solarium Bistro for lunch. Lovely air conditioning. It was definitely a buffet, but had some interesting items and a lovely salad bar. It was difficult to use the soda card in this restaurant the whole trip, but the flavored water was icy cold and good. After lunch, we went right out to the adult only pool area. Floated in hot tubs, took pictures, read, and began relaxing right away. We loved this part of the ship. Big overstuffed chairs, drinks from the bar delivered to our chair poolside. It was heavenly. Hated the muster drill. Our spot was in the spa/gym and there was very little room to sit and we had to wait a long time,as the video kept stopping. We then stayed in the spa for the raffle, we didn't win, but did receive a free service just for attending (up to a dollar amount) and since I made my husband go we each got one, the only catch was we had to book it right then and there was quite a long line. We booked the couples Rasul treatment which we had planned to do anyway so we felt we got quite a good bargain. We had dinner that night at Giovanni's table. It was a lovely restaurant. Intimate and romantic, quiet and very pretty. The appetizers were the star of the dinner for us. My husband had a beef carpachio which he raved over, and I had a scallop dish that was all cheesy and yummy. I honestly don't remember the main courses, but the appetizers were awesome. Dessert was a disappointment on the whole trip:( Not nearly as good as i remember from our last RCI cruise. After dinner we went to see Chicago. AWESOME! I would have paid for it, but don't tell RCI that!! Then lights out!
Nassau: Waited in long lines to get to our shore excursion. Went to Atlantis for the beach day. Lovely beach and we could explore the aquarium areas as much as we wanted, but we were so content bobbing in the waves that we stayed at the beach. Lots of good beach chairs and plety of room to spread out. I will say that there were too many people just roaming the beach to completely relax. I always wanted to be looking back at the beach instead of out to sea, so I could watch our belongings. I felt bad not buying things from the locals who crowded this beach and was annoyed by the banana boat drivers and jet ski guys who kept pestering people. But when in the water playing in the waves with my honey it was delightful. I would definitely do this excursion again.
St.Thomas: OH MY GOODNESS I loved it! We started out with a turtle cove snorkel trip and I saw tons of sea turtles, cross that one off the bucket list. It was one of the best tours I have ever done. However, the water was pretty rough going out and some folks did get sick. Not me though:) Wind and sea spray in my face! beautiful scenery! and TURTLES everywhere. on the way back they turn up the music, lots of beach boys stuff, and you can have as much soda or rum punch as you want. They also sell cute t-shirts, take pictures of everyone, and give all a temporary pirate tatoo, a great crew and a fun time! After we got back, we found a taxi to take us to Megan's bay, I think it was like $6 each way, no big deal. Winding and scary road over the island. We rented a raft at the beach and floated the day away, saw a few fish, the water was crystal clear and not even a wave almost too calm, but it is a pretty beach and quieter than at Nassau, if you want a good beach stop this is it.
St. Maarten: Took the water taxi into town. Did not plan an excursion, just went shopping. It was much too hot for walking around and we were tired, so we came back early. Really did not give this port its due.
Spa treatments: Couples Rassul was so fun, not at all the romantic experience I anticipated, but we laughed so hard that it was well worth the money. And since our free coupon covered most of the cost, it was a great time. We also each got a hot stone massage. OMG heavenly! I have never had a massage before and I loved it! The only negative for me was that my husband and I are both heavy and the robes were really not big enough for us, the cruise line needs to invest in some extra large robes badly! cause we weren't the only ones and I felt uncomfortable and almost exposed especially since the room you wait in has both men and women. BUT do the spa, it is so worth the relaxation!
Shows: Best I have ever seen on a cruise, Chicago was really awesome! the comedians were funny. The main singing group on our tour was awesome, and the blue earth show was really neat. We didn't make it to the diving show or the parades which i was disappointed in, but so much to do on this ship you just can't see it all. We also went to the newlywed show which was hysterical, but the cruise director on this ship is really VERY RAUNCHY and these late night shows ARE NOT ok for kids or even young teens. The late night scavenger hunt which i have found funny on other cruises was pretty much porn on this boat. Girls baring their breasts and then having it shown over and over again on the big screen and also flipping up dresses to show thongs, really over the top and not in a good way. Trivia was fun and we went to all the sessions of that. Also had some music trivia and singing which was fun. We also did the photo booth which was awesome.
Dining: As stated Giovanis table was quite good, we also did chops, which my husband loved, but I was sunburnt from St.Thomas and really tired so I was truly not up for steak so got the chicken, don't-- this is a steak resaurant! We also ate at Park AVE. Our very best cruise dinner ever, it was like being on an episode of Top Chef. And the salt is so cool! Main dining room is also very nice. Our service was top notch and even with doing the freetime dining, we were able to get the same servers just by asking for them and being willing to wait a few extra minutes. We did wait about 30-45 minutes for my time dining tables each night in the main dining room, but we also did not make any reservations, so we knew we were taking our chances.Dinner is at least a two hour affair so don't plan on getting to a show quickly if eating in the dining room. Amazingly the bread selection was always one of our favorite parts and the ice cream was a reliable stand by for dessert. The food was average to good and certainly plentiful. An indian soup was my favorite dish in the dining room. We did order cheese and fruit from room service a couple of times and it was great. Had breakfast from room service on one early morning. The solarium bistro is definitely the place to go for breakfast, hard to get a soda if you need caffeine though. The food in this buffet was good to above average. AVOID THE WINDJAMMER BUFFET at all costs. The food is awful, the hours are terrible, and the noise and rude people are a huge negative. We had lunch here twice and breakfast on debarkation. Can't say enough negatives about it, YUKKY! However, it is a lovely spot to sit in the air conditioning and watch the ship pull out of a port. Since we did not have a balcony, this was a nice place for a view of the port falling away into the distance. Also avoid the hot dog stand it is horrible. We had a cupcake, not worth the price. We also had pizza which was pretty good. There is a big problem about lunch when returning from ports on this boat. All the big dining rooms are closed and there are a lot of hungry people needing fed, this was one of the worst experiences we had with crowds on the ship. We ate lunch in a sandwich shop called the PARK CAFE which was every man for himself, but the food wasnt too bad. I would get room service instead and wait in the quiet of my room in the future.
Adults only pool area: SOOOO great! I am a teacher and I love kids, but I really needed quiet on this vacation, and this space provided it. A few kids did walk through and a few drunk adults were a problem on two of the days, but for the most part, it was awesome, and there is a pool as well as two hot tubs. I read my book in the pool sitting on a ledge on the sea days and it was heavenly. Word of caution always were some sort of shoe, the deck up there is too hot to walk on! Towels are easy to get and drinks flow freely and you can drink in the pool or hot tub. Loved it! We never heard any of the main pool noise or silliness. Honestly, we rarely saw kids on this trip due to choosing an aft location for our room. All the kid stuff was at the other end of the ship so they did a good job of laying out the areas.
Didn't get to the scrap classes, wish they had been later in the day. Got lots of great photos in a little book instead of paying for the 8 x 10s and am quite happy with it.
The Ship: This ship is quite pretty. It is wonderful to walk through Central Park at night with the trees all lit up. It really is like a quaint little town. One night it rained and they put out umbrellas so you could walk along and not get wet. The floating bar is so cool just to watch. And the Royal Promenade is always hopping. The boardwalk area had plenty to do as well. This ship really did have something for everyone and I never felt overwhelmed by the crowds except in the buffet and the one afternoon when everyone came back for lunch at the same time. Great layout for crowd control, and lots of elevators almost never waited for those either. You do need reservations for shows though as you can't just walk in because there isn't enough space. Make reservations for anything you can ahead of time. Planning is a key to success on this ship.
So overall, I loved this ship. You could be as active or as laid back as you wanted and that to me is a great vacation destination! Don't worry about its size or how many people are on board, my husband and I felt like we had the boat to ourselves even when it was sold out. And, I wish our kids had been with us because they would have loved it too!