For background, this was our 14th cruise -- 3 on RCI, 1 on HAL, 1 on NCL, and 9 on Disney. DH and I are late 30's and our daughters are 9 and 11. We booked the cruise 2 Â½ weeks prior to sailing when a Crown and Anchor deal popped up that caught my eye. This was our first time on a Freedom class ship and we were looking forward to trying out all the amenities. We thought it might be a nice alternative to Disney cruise line, which has become our favorite.
Our trip got off to a rough start when we got to the port. We sailed through security and quickly checked in and got our cards, but when we headed to get on the ship, the line to board the ship was insane. To make a long story short, it took 2 Â½ hours after arriving at the terminal before we boarded the ship. I heard there were issues clearing the ship when it arrived, so I presume that's the issue, although the security guard said it was fairly common.
-Overall, the ship is great. We loved the promenade area and the bars/nightclubs/theaters were all really well themed and attractive.
-The gym was fantastic -- the best I've ever seen on a ship. It is large and the equipment is clean and new. I'm sure it was busy in the mornings, but when I was there in the early afternoons, it was empty and I had no problem getting a treadmill.
-The pool areas were well laid out and spacious. I appreciated the "deck patrol" guys who helped keep the chair hogs at bay.
-The Solarium was beautiful and we really liked the H2O Zone. The kids were able to play without being jammed into a tiny kid area.
-I was really surprised that there is no food service in the pool area. On every other ship we've been on, we've been able to get a burger or a plate of fruit from a pool side location. The buffet is close by, but it's not open in the late afternoon and you can't just walk in in your swimsuit.
The Lines -- aka "this is worse than Disney World in July"
-I had to list this as its own category because after the 2nd day, my kids started calling it "Royal Caribbean cruise LINE."
-Rock Climbing Wall - We waited in line to get to the desk where we were asked to sign waivers. I had already signed all the waivers online, but was told we needed to sign them again. We then had to get in line to get our gear, and then wait in another line for our turn to climb. We spent a total of 45 minutes in line. We enjoyed climbing, but didn't do it again because it wasn't worth the wait.
-FlowRider -- Before you can use the FlowRider, you need a wrist bracelet indicating that you've signed a waiver. So after signing our waivers online at home, and signing them again at the Rock Climbing desk, we had to wait in line for 45 minutes at the FlowRider desk so they could confirm we had signed our waivers and give us bracelets. We then waited in line for 20 minutes to ride. We went back later in the day and rode a second time and the wait was also about 20 minutes.
-Ice Skating -- On boarding day and day 2 of the cruise, there were no ice skating sessions. On day 3, there were 6 evening sessions available. After dinner, we went to the rink and were told the remaining sessions for the night were full, so we didn't get to skate. There were no sessions the rest of the cruise. So on a ship of 4,000+ people, only 300 were able to ice skate.
-Pool Towels -- There was one desk open throughout the cruise where you could pick and return pool towels. They scan your card at pick up and drop off to ensure you return the towel. So you have to wait in line to pick up and wait in line again to return a towel.
-Port Day -- We decided to skip doing an excursion in Cozumel and just enjoy the ship since we took this cruise to try out a new boat. However, the FlowRider, Rock Climbing Wall, and Ice Rink were all closed during the time we were in port. Given how much demand there was for these things on sea days, I don't understand why they weren't open more hours.
-We had two connecting PR cabins on Deck 7. We liked being able to see the promenade, but as I've read in other reviews, you can see right into the cabins across from you, so we kept the curtains closed most of the time.
-The cabins were small, which I expected, but clean and functional. I can't imagine a family of 4 staying in one cabin, but two cabins for the four of us was plenty of space. The showers were really small, but I appreciated that they have solid doors instead of curtains.
-When we arrived, the kids' beds weren't separated, as I had requested online. We left a note asking the attendant to separate them. I guess he technically did that, but he just put new twin sheets on them, but didn't actually separate them by putting the night tables between them. So each bed had its own sheets, but the mattresses were still touching.
-I have to say, the food on this ship was the worst we've experienced on a cruise. I suspect it was just bad luck because we are not fussy. After 14 cruises, we have a good handle on what "cruise food" is and this cruise missed the mark.
-Windjammer Buffet -- The buffet is laid out well and while crowded sometimes, it was more functional than other buffets on other ships. The food was hit or miss. Some things were good and some were bad. Nothing was great. We ended up having dinner here twice and while the food wasn't so good, the atmosphere was great. It was quiet and peaceful and the staff was really friendly.
-Main Dining Room --Service was friendly and efficient. The salads and desserts were ok, but our entrees were really bad. I felt like there must be some cost cutting going on. Grilled shrimp was served with an "ice cream scoop" of plain white rice, like Minute Rice from the microwave. The lasagna was made with fatty ground beef and tasted like Hamburger Helper.
-I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was really pleased with AO. When I originally saw the room for the 9-11 year olds, I was concerned. It's pretty small for size of the ship and the number of kids onboard. But, there were never more than 20 kids there, so my girls really enjoyed themselves and got to know the counselors well. The counselors were much better than the ones on NCL and HAL, and since it was a small group, it was more personal than Disney.
-My only complaint is that AO closes for 2 hours mid-day and then charges extra for time after 10:00. Except for Disney, all lines seem to do this, but it's a nuisance.
So overall, it wasn't a bad cruise, but it didn't live up to our expectations. The ship, the amenities, and Adventure Ocean were really great, but the small details really impacted us. I don't want to wait in line for a towel, or skip dinner so we have a shot at ice skating, or wait 45 minutes for someone to verify a waiver I've already signed twice. I want to relax. So for now, we're going back to Disney. We'll probably try another RC ship again in a few years.