This was out 39th cruise, the 6th on RCI. Our most recent cruise was on the "Oasis of the Seas" earlier this year and before that we had not been on RCI for 15 years, when we took the" Enchantment of the Seas" on a London -- Boston cruise. We weren't all that happy at that time mainly due to a lack of activities.
We flew to Madrid and then took the train down to Malaga (2.5 hrs). Stayed at the Barcelo Malaga for one night -- the hotel is connected to the train station and we were happy there. We made our own air arrangements.
In the morning we took a taxi (12E) to the port. Got there about 12pm and after a short wait for the security there was no line for the past passengers and we were on the ship within 30 min. after arriving at the port. Cabins would be ready at 2 pm so we got something to eat at the Windjammer.
Normally we would book a balcony cabin but since this was our 4th trans-Atlantic cruise and we know that the ocean could be "angry" at times we opted for a cabin on the lowest deck (#2) in the middle of the ship. But, the ocean was calm during the cruise. We were happy with the cabin -- except the old TV and no internet in the cabins. Some cabins had flat-screen TVs where they had to replace the TV. The AOS is due for a dry-dock in 2014 and I'm sure the TVs and the internet will be addressed.
The ship has some of the same features of the Oasis (Royal Promenade, Ice Skating, etc.) but she is no Oasis. We knew that of course, so we were not disappointed. She is in fine shape, nevertheless there was more maintenance done on this cruise than any other cruise we have been on. On two port days in the Canary Islands they shut down the toilets for a few hours in the morning. We were off the ship at that time! We also had a power failure at night -- but we slept through it.
The most notable maintenance was that the Cafe Promenade was closed. They were replacing tiles. Since this is the only 24-hour restaurant on the ship they had a temporary coffee set-up (right next to Starbucks) and the food was available in the Imperial Lounge (or the entrance to the lounge when it was being used). After about 6 days they had half the cafe open, mainly the counter for food. Four days before the cruise ended they opened the whole cafe. Needless to say, this was not an ideal situation, but I think they had to do the maintenance to pass the US inspection when they got back.
The entire staff, without exception, was friendly and cooperative. This was a very international cruise with cruisers from the UK (900), the US (700), Germany (550), Spain (400) and a lot of other nationalities. There were 50 kids and 150 hearing impaired cruisers with about 10 interpreters for the deaf. Most of the activities and shows were interpreted. Almost all announcements were in at least 3 languages (English, Spanish and German).
We were quite satisfied with the food. We ate all dinners, except one, in the dining room. One night we ate in Portofino, the Italian restaurant, which is the only alternative restaurant. There is a Johnny Rockets for hamburgers, etc. It's really in a bad location on Deck #12 -- out of the way and easily overlooked. We had one lunch there. There is no pizzeria on the ship, although they have small pizzas available in the Windjammer and the Cafe Promenade. They didn't look all that good to me.
We liked to eat early but the earliest reservation I could book before the cruise were 7 pm every night. Once on the ship I was able to change this to 6 pm -- and it appears that 7 pm was when dinner started in Europe, on this cruise they changed it to 6 pm -- the computer had not been updated when I made the reservation before the cruise.
We opted for a table for two "My Time Dining" and since we had dinner at the same time every night we had the same table and the same waiter every night. There are very few table for two in the main dinning room but there are many in "My Time Dining". So I would suggest that if you are looking for a table for two take "My Time Dining" and then if you eat at the same time you can still have the same waiter -- it's the best of both worlds. This would also work for larger tables, of course. I think there were also few tables for four in the main dining room (Deck #3 & #4). There was not much demand for "My Time Dining" on this cruise so most of Deck #5 was also regular dining.
For "My Time Dining" you will be charged for the tips when you make the reservation or final payment. The only way to avoid this is to change to "My Time Dining" once you are on the ship, then you will be charged once you make the change -- assuming that it's available. We ate most breakfasts and lunches in the Windjammer. It was very crowded on port days for breakfasts.
Why was I not surprised that they ran out of bananas after 10 days? Because the same thing happened on our trans-Atlantic cruise 15 years ago. They also ran out of fresh milk, skim milk and chocolate milk. For breakfast these were available in single packages. For about two days they had the kind of milk that you don't have to refrigerate in small packages and then they ran out of those also. But they still had the non-refrigerated milk in larger containers which they served in juice dispensers. I like to think that RCI knows how much food they will need on cruises, so I think this was a cost saving measure. Especially since they did not restock these items in Antigua, our first port in the Caribbean.
We took excursions in all ports except St. Marten and St. Thomas which we had been to several times. They were handled well and were interesting. In Madeira we had the only real rain on the cruise and we got soaked to the skin -- but I won't blame RCI for that! If you reserve excursions before the cruise your credit card will be charged right away. First time I ran into that.
The internet was about as expected -- not real fast but then it's never fast on ships and it's a lot better than it was a few years ago. The internet center was large -- but I had my laptop along. They were several hot spots on the ship -- amazingly they were all in busy place -- the Royal Promenade, conference center & the Solarium -- doesn't make much sense to me. I found out it also worked in the library and the internet center and I went there. I had signed up for a package, but on three days they also charged me for using the internet. It pays to check your account, which you can do on the TV.
We went to all but one of the shows. I liked some better than others, but nobody promised me that the all entertainment would be geared to my taste. There was no comedian on board -- I think due to the many nationalities -- it would take too long to repeat the jokes in 3 or 4 languages, not to mention what they would lose in translation. Two days they did not have any shows. I have seen this on other cruises, although I don't quite understand this.
The cruise director was a last minute substitution - I am not sure why, but I do know there were a lot of mistakes made on where things were taking place and sometimes the venue was too small for the crowd. For some reason they did not have any art auctions -- not that I need them!
RCI does a good job looking out for it's most frequent cruisers. If you are Diamond and above you were invited to many events. They also set aside two center rows in the theater for "Diamond +" and higher.
We signed up for the airport transfer in San Juan -- I should have taken a taxi. They charged $18/p, but we didn't get a ticket and nobody asked for it. You really didn't have to pay. But, the baggage was taken in a truck and we had to wait 30 min. for the truck to arrive at the airport Fortunately we had a lot of time.
American has the only club at the airport and since our flight was not leaving till 3:30 pm and I decided to join for one day so we could have a nice place to wait. You can do that even if you're not flying with American, we were on USAir. AA is on the other side of the airport, far from USAir, so it was a long walk, but you can do it once you are through security. The attendant at the club, once we told her we were flying USAir, arranged for a cart to take us back for our flight. Good service AA!
This cruise was far from perfect, but we are glad we took it -- and no cruise is perfect, anyway. After not cruising on RCI for many years, we have decided, after taking the Oasis and the AOS, that RCI is a cruise line we will take again. But our next two cruises will be on Princess and NCL, unless there is a good sale on the Allure early next year.