We have taken many cruises on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Azamara, but this was our first cruise on an S-class ship. We have mixed reactions. On the plus side, the ship is gorgeous. Everything is shiny, new, modern, and very pretty. Despite the increased passenger load, the staff was exceptional, from the captain (true story!) on down. Guest relations staff, especially Angel Rijo and Gavin Matthews, went out of their way to make difficulties disappear. The production shows, with much bigger facilities, were spectacular (however, we found that the rest of the entertainment was the same mixed bag that we have found on other cruises, ranging from an excellent pianist, Brooks Aehron, to a ludicrous comedy/music act appropriately called "Junk"). The new bathroom design, wish curved shower doors and lots of shelves and drawers, is a big hit, and the footrests on the balcony gave us instant loungers. And bigger is definitely better on the high seas: this hydrodynamically advanced vessel made the transatlantic ocean swells seem like ripples. In addition, we would like to enthusiastically lavish praise on the cruise line and the staff for providing a Rabbi and giving us eight days of Chanukah with all the trimmings. Upwards of 200 people took part in most of the daily services, and it was fascinating to meet folks from all over the world and to socialize over latkes, jelly doughnuts, and wine. Kudos to all!
On the minus side, unlike some other reviewers on this forum, there were many times when we found the ship uncomfortably crowded. On port days, hundreds of guests left and returned to the ship within a fairly narrow time frame, and the restaurants, elevators and corridors were overwhelmed. On sea days, of which there were nine on this cruise, the many activities often canceled each other out, and we found that our progressive trivia game, for example, conflicted with the most interesting series of enrichment lectures. In addition, activities were often held in venues too small to hold the participants. The progressive trivia is again a good example of this. The popular activity was held in the Explorer Lounge, a bar with nowhere near enough seating for all the players, who resorted to coming earlier and earlier to snap up and rearrange the chairs for their groups. Scrambling, standing, and sitting on the floor are not attractive to us, especially for an activity that is meant to be a relaxing amusement. Another example of overcrowding is that tables in the MDR are uncomfortably close together, so the servers often bumped into chairs during the course of the meal,and even when sitting at a table for two we found ourselves in the middle of other people's conversation. We also found that the cabin felt more cramped, and we did not find some of the storage (bins over the bed?!) to be as convenient as on the M-class ships.
We found the food good but not spectacular. We chose not to eat at any of the specialty venues, feeling that we had already spent enough on the meals we would be provided with anyway. The buffet was nicely designed with stations rather than long cafeteria counters, and the food was fresh and varied for breakfast and lunch. For dinner the choices were somewhat more limited, but generally it was quieter and less crowded then. The MDR food was surprisingly uninspired. Most menus included lamb, fish, beef, and vegetarian dishes, with occasional poultry. One day the steak was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and other day it was too tough to chew. Service tended to be very slow, with dinner taking upwards of two hours on most evenings, and the tables were crowded very close together. We definitely got the unspoken message that we were encouraged to use the alternative dining options, but the reviews we heard on those from others were mixed at best.
We took two independent tours and three ship tours. We noticed that a great many of the ship itineraries were strenuous, and tried to plan for the tours that would be easiest on our feet. Our tours were therefore basically drive-by sightseeing, and that was fine with us because the ports were all new to us and we enjoyed getting an overview. The biggest problem we found was that on one tour the bus driver started the vehicle while we were still in the aisle making our way to our seats in the rear of the bus. On another tour, the driver closed the back exit door while I was exiting, barely missing my arm which I was able to snatch back into the bus. We did complain about this to the shore excursions desk, but have to this date received no acknowledgement of our comments, which we find surprising.
The jury is still out on whether we will take other S-class journeys. For ports, we probably prefer the M-class ships, which are easier to board and to leave. For the transatlantic journey, the smoothness of the journey and the abundance of activity choices are cancelled out for us by the crowded conditions.
Now, if they would Solsticize the bathrooms....