Embarkation process in Port Everglades (Ft. Lauderdale)...
We are a family of four... two adults and two children ages 2 and 6
After passing through security and registration we were directed to two escalators... Which went to to a second level, to the left and to the right. We noticed the signs for the right side for "Suite Guests..." Since we booked an Aquatheater Suite, without trying to flash our Gold Seapass card we picked the appropriate side escalator to the "Suite Guest Lounge". We were stopped by a customer service representative and told "Children are not allowed in the lounge"... Really???? The debate begins... I inform the woman that we paid the same price for our children that would be charged for an adult, why would you exclude children? Her reply was that "she doesnt make the rules"... We proceeded to the lounge regardless, I didnt pay $10,000 for a cabin to be told within first 15 minutes of checking in that our children were excluded and not welcome.
This "premium lounge" was nothing more than temporary type partitions that divided you from "steerage class"... a little more comfortable seating and artificial trees, but that was it. (We are Platinum members on Carnival, last sailing on Carnival we were brought to an actual "suite lounge" with a continental breakfast). Dont get too excited about the "exclusive suite lounge".
Next phase... they call boarding. As we approach the podium for the first presentation of our Seapass, a gentleman stops us because neither of our two children had colored wrist bands. Apparently this is something that we were supposed to know? On our sailing aboard Voyager of the Seas last year our daughter was issued a wristband (in case of emergency it designates their lifeboat station), but it was issued at the Adventure Ocean children's place. Now this guy makes it appear that we are a problem, he tells us we must return (in a line of chaos while pushing a stroller) for this wristband. He was advised to let us on anyway.
The Aquatheater Suite... #8330, Port side of the ship. A1 category which is the largest of the 3 categories. Well worth the money for the space. The cabin itself is over 800 square feet with the balcony over 800 square feet as well. This was spectacular... We were quite impressed. It was in great condition and made us all very excited!! (Its a shame that Royal Caribbean doesnt put more information and photos of this suite on their website, we had to goto YouTube to actually see it) Royal Caribbeans website doesnt even have the floor plan layout, if you click for the "floor plan layout" it says "no image available".
First port.. "Labadee" (Haiti...) This is advertised as "Royal Caribbean's private island", the weather was perfect that day. There are many different beaches on the island, as a suite guest we had access to Barefoot Beach which was exclusive to gold Seapass card holders only. What the ship offers that is one step better is a Cabana, for an additional charge of $175... We opted for this because our 2 year old takes a nap for a couple of hours from about 1-3pm, the 6 year old will as well most of the time. The Caban offered shade, a sofa, 2 lounge chairs, towels, a cooler with Evian water in ice. It was very nice... When this was sold to us in the Concierge Lounge, we were shown a photo that resembled the thatch roofed buildings on stilts found in the south Pacific. "This is great for the kids, the can walk a few steps down to the water"... When we arrived at the beach we were taken to a Cabana about 150 feet from the water, set back away. Hardly what was pictured.
One of the ships Concierge reps (Francis... more on him later) was present for a short time upon arrival. At about noon... A group of "people" (best word for explanation at this point) occupied a Cabana set behind ours is conversing in Haitian French (I travel to Port Au Prince on Business often and this is unmistakable French... ) These "People" had a large "boombox" radio playing at a louder than desired volume... its playing a local island radio station. Their conversation had to be at a level that was louder than the music... which seemed to keep getting louder. These "people" were accompanied by two uniformed Haitian police officers... who socialized with them for more than an hour or two. To me, these "people" were local haitians that had some sort of status that someone allowed them into this exclusive area. The reason I keep using the word "people" is because my determination of them having a large boombox radio, having such a close relationship with the two police officers and the other minor details would lead anyone to believe that they were not ship passengers or suite guests.
We spent the additional $175 with the expectation we would have a quiet comfortable Cabana... not feel (or sound like) we were in downtown Port Au Prince. The Concierge representative "Francis" told me that I was incorrect and these were "suite guests" and he knew exactly who I was talking about. He began disagreeing in an argumentative way, telling me their "were no police officers there and these were suite guests"... This brought me to saying "if you knew exactly who these "suite guests" are, wouldnt someone have mentioned the radio policy the ship has?" The next thing out of his mouth is "sir, there is no such policy..."??? Onboard the ship there are signs prohibiting personal stereos... this is also printed in the Cruise Compass that is distributed daily. He tried to tell me that this is "off the ship and beyond our control"... Really? Royal Caribbeans own "private island" that they provide all of the food, drinks and activities on? I requested a refund... it was denied, because I didnt bring it up immediately after returning to the ship. It was also stated that "this was already paid to the island and theres nothing we can do". The part I found interesting was that "Francis".. the Concierge person was not there for any of this, got defensive... told me there was "no reason to write a complaint report, because he was going to himself", really? worthy of a report but not a refund?
Of the 2 Concierge reps, one was very good at what she did... The other, was defensive, argumentative and would always interrupt mid sentence. Our first day aboard we wanted to make some reservations at the specialty dining restaurants... we had already booked some shows ahead of time. When I asked this Concierge person if he could print out our reservations so we could determine when to schedule these restaurants, he told me he could not... about an hour later I receive a telephone message in our suite saying "he has this printed out and ready for us"???
Contractors... Many venues onboard the ship are contracted to third party companies.
-Gift Shops , Vitality Spa and the Focus photography people... all third party contractors and not actual Royal Caribbean employees.
We had many photos taken throughout the sailing... There are many options for purchasing them. From individual 8X10's for $20 each up to $449 for all of your photos (unlimited) and also on a computer CD. We opted for this all inclusive package... The system uses facial recognition software to group your photos together or you can provide your seapass card to the photographer which seems more reliable. On the last day of the cruise, we went to look at and purchase all of the photos... throughout the cruise you can visit a computer kiosk, swipe your card and see the previews. There was a great photo of my wife and son, I was curious to see it in print, full size and without all of the watermarks. Once we purchased the package for $449, (140 something photos) we sat down and looked through them. We noticed that this one specific photo was missing which brought us to realizing that a range of 8 photos from a formal night were also missing. We asked one of the photo people for some help and when we explained this she had a laughter in her voice like we were idiots and thieves... She said "so let me get this straight, you purchased the package... and are now coming back saying there are photos missing"? (making it sound as though we wanted free photos... even thought this is an "unlimited" package". When we showed her the photo on the computer kiosk she said "I remember this photo... I commented on how cute it was"... Talk about a "photographic memory"... 5,500 passengers... at a simple multiplier of just say 10 photos per passenger... she remembers one out of 55,000? I told her they were not in our folder... Within 5 minutes she miraculously finds the 8 missing photos (that is now determined we were trying to pull a fast one or something)... in someone elses folder. Of the 2000 folders... difficult to determine how.
Final evening of the cruise... A summary statement of onboard charges was delivered to our suite later in the evening. Everything appears in order... As we disembark the ship, the final swipe of your Seapass card not only makes sure that you have actually left the ship but if you havent "paid your bill" the security officers stop you right there and send you to the Guest Services Desk. Sure enough... he swipes our cards in the reader and "bing bing bing"... Please goto the Guest Services desk, with a less than professional attitude. With a time constraint to make our flight, we didnt have a whole lot of time... certainly not to go stand in a line. At this point in the disembarkation process they have the lobby roped off basically to flow traffic in one direction. Dragging bags and pushing a stroller we goto Guest services (against the flow of people) I tried to get one of the pursers attention and said we werent sure why we were sent here, but we will miss our flight if we are in line for sometime. He told me I had to wait... and get in line. We could only guess that the credit card on file was flagged by our bank for international use. No explanation could be provided as to why this wasnt determined when the account was finalized that evening, why no one could have either called our suite, sent a note etc... that the only indication was when we were leaving the ship.
$10,000 for the suite...
$2,500 in onboard charges...
$12,500 for a 7 day trip... We are simple people, we dont need to be pampered. We dont need to be told we are right if we are wrong... but this was definitely not the experience or treatment we had in mind.