Embarkation/Debarkation We had to check out of our hotel by 10:30, so we arrived at the port around 11. We were checked in within 10 minutes and seated to wait until the ship actually boarded. The ship opened around 11:30, and Diamond/Platinum/Gold guests were allowed first. They all boarded within 10 minutes, then the rest of us boarded. Without the 30 minute wait for the ship to open, the total embarkation time was less than 15 minutes.
Debarkation was even easier. We opted for Express Debarkation as we were carrying our own luggage. We simply walked of the ship, around several empty "switchbacks", walked straight up to a customs official who essentially ignored our paperwork and welcomed us back, and walked straight out to a waiting taxi. The entire process took less than 5 minutes.
We have never experienced service as poor as we received in the Opus Dining Room aboard this ship. For the two nights we endured it, we were the absolute last table served on our floor. We were often two courses behind everyone else, and were the last people to leave the room. The waiter was obsessively concerned with whether we properly enclosed his tip in the envelope, and the assistant waiter ignored us once she filled our water glasses.
One of the prime alternatives to the main dining room was the Windjammer Cafe buffet. It was usually crowded for breakfast and lunch, but we timed our meals away from typical dining hours and never had an issue finding a seat. At dinner time the buffet was deserted. The food there had a good variety and was excellent. The layout is well organized and orderly enough to prevent backups.
The Park Cafe served sandwiches, salads, and dessert. The food was very good and service was always exceptional. This place has full-service drinks as well; coffee, iced tea, juices and milk. This provided us several lunches.
The Wipeout cafe offered more American fare: burgers, hot dogs, chili, pizza, and ice cream. It was often over-crowded and some of the food looked old. The place was usually filthy and unkempt and looked more like an elementary school cafeteria than a ship's restaurant.
Finally, the only 24-hour venue, the Promenade Cafe was the standard RCCI snack bar. They served minimal drinks, small finger sandwiches, and a few pastries. Given the minimal variety, we only used them for morning coffee, a few late-night snacks, and a source of drinking water during the day.
Chops Steakhouse was incredible. They served one of the best steaks I've ever had. The side dishes were varied and very tasty and the service was outstanding. Unfortunately, we were in a party of 8 which they had great trouble accommodating. We were seated at a table for 6 which was very crowded, and the total meal took 2-1/2 hours. It went so long that we left before dessert so we could attend a show. Despite the logistic issues, it was a wonderful meal and worth going. They even sent our desserts to our cabin for later enjoyment. That's service!!
The Seafood shack was the second-worst service I had on any ship (after the Opus dining room). Repeatedly we were forced to call ANY waiter (or even the Manager a couple of times) over to order, refill drinks, give us the bill. If the food was very good I could forgive the lousy service, but the food was typical deep-fried frozen seafood you get from the grocery store. It was definitely NOT worth going and I felt ripped-off by the time we left.
As I've mentioned, dining service is sporadic. You probably won't have any way of guessing the level of service until you walk into a restaurant and try for yourself.
Our Cabin attendant was wonderful. She cleaned the room to perfection each day, and saw to our special needs. If only more could be like her!
The various ship's service-people like bartenders and buffet waiters were wonderful. They were friendly and attentive; especially at the Globe & Atlas Pub. They are a shining star aboard the ship.
We participated in many activities: various trivia games, the "Love & Marriage" Game Show (only until we were asked to rip our shirts off, beat our chests, and yell like Tarzan...then I left the stage) , Dancing, Card Games, Crafts. They were all a lot of fun. We won a few trinkets, and even two "Silver Medals". I believe the activities add to the overall experience...they provide a sense of "involvement".
I experienced a first on a cruise: I WILLINGLY attended my first stage production, Hairspray. My reaction to it is very enigmatic: It's the best production I've seen on a ship to date, but I fell asleep twice during it. I saw two stage productions on a "higher-priced" cruise we took in the spring, and this show was much better quality.
We also attended a comedy show. The first of the two comedians was hilarious and interacted well with the waitress and a couple of audience members. The other was slightly boring and insulting. In all though, it was worth attending.
The casino is huge. It has many more table games than a typical ship casino. Thankfully, half of it is non-smoking, so it didn't stink as bad as many do. If our performance is any indicator, the casino games pay generously too!
We only took one excursion on this trip: the Champagne Catamaran Sail & Snorkel to St. John's Island (from St. Thomas). The sail was peaceful, the snorkeling very nice, the crew was very helpful and friendly and didn't beg too much for tips, the drinks flowed freely once snorkeling ended and the water was spectacular. The only drawback was that of the 4-1/2 hour excursion, we lost 2 hours to driving. The drive to the catamaran is lengthy through both heavy traffic and VERY bumpy dirt roads on overcrowded buses. We were upset to lose so much time to driving and not be warned about it. Thus, be forewarned: if you take this excursion, it's only about half as long as they advertise!
This ship is HUGE! At every port, we towered over, and extended well past every other ship. We were the envy at every port. Despite it's size, it never felt crowded.
I've never cared about the artwork on a ship before, but this ship did some things with their art that I found fascinating. At various places around the ship there are devices that look like a Viewmaster slide viewer mounted on a pedestal. The view in each is a different nature scene. There are also things that look like a giant telescope bolted to the floor. These are static displays of rocks or shells arranged to make beautiful artwork.
Some of the art hanging in the stairways was very beautiful. RCCI can be very proud of the art they chose for this ship!
The various "neighborhoods" they divided the ship into definitely prevent the ship from feeling crowded. We found the Central Park area to be a peaceful and serene atmosphere in the evening. They even start a background recording of crickets when darkness falls! Boardwalk is much like a carnival and well-suited to mid-afternoon activities. Despite having more than 5,000 guests aboard, we never had a problem finding a chair on the pool/sun deck area, and the Solarium was a very welcome respite from the bustle of the children aboard. Again, the more "luxury" cruise we took in the spring could learn a lesson from this adult-only area!
The "Rising Tide" bar/elevator, was broken during the entire voyage. I would have liked to try it, but truly didn't feel we'd missed anything. With all of the other places to sit and relax with a cocktail, this was simply one in the multitudes. Besides, the "upscale" decor of the place wasn't warm and inviting...it isn't what we seek in a drinking establishment.
We didn't even experience any excessive waits for elevators. You never feel like you're on a ship with 7,700 people aboard.