Having cruised Carnival once (two thumbs down) and Disney four time (two thumbs up), I expected RCL to fall between the two. I was pleasantly surprised at the classic decor, good mix of guests from all age groups, friendly staff, and cleanliness of the ship. This was a girls' get away trip and the price with gratuities was only $338 each. We booked a "cheap" room, i.e. inside stateroom choosing deck 7. I opted to book through Costco to get the $25 room credit after checking out sail dates, staterooms, and prices on the RCL website. We booked about 6 weeks prior to sailing. Flying into FLL and getting to Port Everglades is easy!
Embarkation was easy. We arrived early since we had an early flight to FLL from Detroit. We were told we may board as early as 11 am, but some passengers didn't disembark leaving thousands of us waiting until after 1245 pm before boarding. The terminal is dreary- some airport style seating and folding chairs. No patios or areas to stroll around. You are told to sit in an area and are "roped in" since that area determines your boarding time. We were among the first group on. We were told we could go to our staterooms at 1:00 and they held to that time. At 12:55pm, we were not permitted to drop off our carry on bags. We headed to the Windjammer for lunch instead with our stuff.
Food at the Windjammer was meh! Typical buffet stuff. Some stuff was pretty good; other stuff didn't even look worth a try. The salad bar was very basic. Fruit was okay. Beverages were watered down (iced tea and lemonade), warm and with just a few ice cubes. You had to ask for coffee and often the half and half bucket was empty. Coffee was very good though- once I got my half and half. I'm surprised no soft drinks were offered. We chose the Windjammer daily for breakfast also since my friends didn't want to spend an hour eating breakfast in on of the dining rooms. Again- meh. The usual stuff. Not hard to find something you wanted. I will say though that the croissants were yummy. We had them and coffee delivered every morning to our stateroom. They call just before arriving so you are up to answer the door.
The three level dining room was gorgeous with a "WOW" factor upon seeing it for the first time. We chose MTD since 6 is too early and 845 is too late for me to eat. We were often about 15-20 mins late for our dining and were often directed to a table near the bus station. We politely but firmly told them the table was unacceptable, and after a few minutes, we'd get seated at a nicer table. The only thing with MTD is that you have various waitstaff nightly, so you don't get the cruise ship personalized service with your waiters knowing your drink preferences. Often, I had to ask several times for my iced tea. Refills were never offered. Some waitstaff were pleasant; others were not.
We were the first cruisers to experience the new menus. I found the food to be pretty good. It was far above Carnival but not close to Disney. I always found menu items I enjoyed, but there was never that, "OMG you have to try this!". Desserts were meh. I can honestly say I had the WORST creme brulee ever on the first night! The rest tasted like the frozen Sarah Lee variety of cakes and pies. We didn't try any speciality restaurants, but I will next time. Again, I was surprised that you had to pay for soft drinks in the dining room also.
Pizza was cruise ship pizza (not good on Disney either), but it was edible. I liked the little sandwiches and desserts from the little shop and loved their coffee too. I'm not a Starbucks fan, so I didn't see the need to spend the $$ on it on the ship. There's soft serve ice cream near the pool. I never tried that nor Ben and Jerry's. I would have enjoyed a cupcake class, but I felt it was too pricey ($25 or $30 dollars).
The entertainment was pretty good. I enjoyed Saturday Night Fever and the ice show. The adult games like Quest, Battle of the Sexes, and the Newly Wed Game were hilarious! Paul O'Shea at the Piano Bar is phenomenal and the guitarist in the Pub (you can smoke there) was very entertaining too. The comedian was awful, Many of us walked out.
I'm not a big drinker, but the few frozen fruity concoctions were good. There is no food poolside or dining areas. There is on Disney, but it didn't bother me because there were more sitting areas to enjoy the views.
Beds were comfy, but two of us took turns sleeping on the top bunk. The ladder is the worst- rungs far apart. It's quite difficult to get up to the bed and back down again- not great for us almost 50ers. Luckily, I'm tall and could reach the couch. Our other travel could not physically do it at all. I missed the bathroom amenities. They just have a dispenser with shampoo. I'm glad I brought my own. The room steward was friendly and attentive!
Having two days at sea, we got to enjoy the ship. The pool areas are kept clean. Having to check out a towel with a threat of a room charge annoyed me a bit though. I was disappointed there were no cooking classes or such. I did like the interactive maps and cruise guides.
I enjoyed the Dreamworks parade and the kids' parade even though mine were left at home. The Promenade is beautiful. The casino was fun- my two friends won a few dollars and I lost a few, but I enjoyed the staff there. The casino is much better and larger than on Carnival. There's a lot of slots and quite a few table games with decent minimums.
The onboard shopping isn't great. The "specials" daily while cruising had the items you'd find at Big Lots. Nothing at all appealed to me. There wasn't a big variety of RCL logo wear either.
The on board fitness center was impressive. It's great to walk a treadmill and look out over the ocean. We took the spa tour but did not buy any services. I went to the shopping talk because I usually win freebies. It was much too long!!! Oh, and I didn't win anything. It was the usual spiel about Diamonds International and such.
Having been to Cozumel before, we chose to just drink margaritas and shop. And, we did! Beautiful weather and friendly storekeepers. I don't mind being chased and love to haggle, so I enjoyed. Unfortunately, we had to be on board at 530p ship's time. They didn't clarify ship's time to local time, so many were late. I watched late comers board for up to an hour past surfer. We left late though since there was a tragic accident on an non ship sponsored excursion involving some guests. I actually met the two guests who were killed on the two sailing days prior, but I didn't find out who it was until after we were home and read about the accident on the internet. We were deeply saddened when we discovered our new friend and his girl friend were killed in a dune buggy accident.
Disembarkation was a breeze. We chose to carry our own luggage off since we had an early flight home. We pretty much made our own rules when leaving- not sure whether that was good or bad, but it worked for us. Other than crowded elevators, we managed to get off the ship with plenty of time to clear customs and head to the airport.
I'll definitely sail RCL again since I believe you get good value for your money. I still prefer Disney, but they are just getting too expensive since their new ships launched. Besides, my kids are older, and they'd enjoy RCL too. With their moderate pricing, we can enjoy more cruises. I was just disappointed that there really wasn't any deals to book your next cruise while on board other than a $25 credit. The fares are what the published fares are. So, there was no incentive for me to commit my $$$ until later.