A family group of 7 of us cruised on the Enchantment of the Seas from Baltimore to the Bahamas for the Christmas holiday cruise (12/22/12 - 12/29/12). We booked three cabins: (1) a single woman in an inside cabin, (2) two retirees/grandparents in a deluxe oceanview cabin, and (3) a family of four (two children ages 2 and 4) in an adjoining deluxe oceanview cabin. The experience overall was very much a mixed bag. I would say more positives than not, but the negatives were really bad - especially the fiasco of a shore excursion to Disney World (never again).
(1) Booking through American Express - AmEx Platinum has a partnership with Royal Caribbean, so we had VIP Priority embarkation and didn't have to wait in line at all. Using AmEx also gave us the additional perks of a free bottle of Moet & Chandon Imperial Champagne in our room waiting for us, a free bottle of red wine in cabin, free dinner for two at Chops specialty restaurant, free soda plans for children (which we adults used!), and a $100 onboard credit. These were nice perks.
(2) Embarkation - A breeze. Thanks to AmEx, we didn't have to wait in the long line at all. We parked around 12:00 PM and were onboard drinking champagne by 1pm. Our room was ready earlier than anticipated.
NOTE: the Muster drill was outside, which was chilly. But the drill seemed a lot shorter than other drills we've participated in, so nothing unbearable. Just be sure to bring your coat in winter!
(3) Dining - My Fair Lady / Main Dining. Our entire party agreed that the food onboard was generally excellent in the main My Fair Lady Dining Room. There were delicious seafood options every night, ranging from horseradish-crusted salmon, sea bass topped with shrimp, New England lobster tail one night, rock lobster tail the last night, barramudi, shrimp cocktail, snow crab legs salad, etc. Appetizers were delicious and varied, ranging from salads to soups to shrimp cocktail and everything in between. Desserts were hit or miss....cruises always seem to use the same congealed-pudding-type filling for every dessert, no matter what the flavor, chocolate, strawberry, etc. I am a not a steak eater, but my husband and other family members enjoyed the filet on the second night, but said the NY strips and prime rib in the My Fair Lady dining room were grizzly and tough.
Chops Steakhouse - Specialty Dining: We did experience Chops steakhouse one night for dinner because we had a free voucher. I thought the seafood in the main dining room was actually better than Chops' options. But for steaks, Chops was far superior, according to my husband. And Chops also had better side dishes and much better desserts.
Overall, I didn't think Chops was worth the upcharge, considering the My Fair Lady dining room food was probably the best we've had in a main dining room on a cruise.
Windjammer Cafe -- We only ate lunch here on the first day/embarkation and it was decent, typical cruise buffet food. Some ethnic dishes, burgers, fried chicken, salad bar, pasta bar, fresh fruit, etc. Nothing to write home about, but not bad either. Reminiscent of college cafeteria food. We did have several breakfasts in the Windjammer, which were decent but not outstanding. Similar to a free hotel breakfast with rubbery waffles and pancakes. I will say that the one delicious breakfast option at Windjammer was the egg bar, when the chefs would custom make any type of omlette or egg dish for you. But this require waiting in line (sometimes long). We also liked that Windjammer had turkey sausage in addition to the beef/pork options. Breakfasts in My Fair Lady were superior, if you had the time and patience for a sit-down.
Park Cafe -- This was the snackbar type option to go to near the pool when the other dining areas were closed. Apparently Park Cafe is a new option that was just installed a couple of weeks before our cruise, while the boat was in dry dock. There is a bagel bar in the morning, oatmeal, and grab-and-go breakfast sandwiches and panini, similar to what you would see in a Starbucks pastry case, same for muffins and danishes. For lunch/afternoon/evenings there are pre-made sandwiches, panini, soups, and salads. My husband had a particularly good asian shrimp noodle salad. I had a couple of panini that were delicious. A nice addition for a quick no-hassel meal or snack.
Ben and Jerrys / Coffee - We didn't go to these because they required upcharges.
(4) Entertainment- for a smaller scale ship out of Baltimore, I have to hand it to the entertainment on this cruise! The cruise director, Luke, is a MADMAN...seriously, this guy has more energy and talent then most large-scale Vegas acts. And he is a hottie, too! :) I will never forget how he lead the 70s Disco Party with other staff dressed up like the members Village People, from head to toe in fireman, indian, sailor outfits, bare chested, dancing and singing. Hilarious. True, genuine, energy. This guy loves his job and is great at it. He was a delight to the cruise!
The other entertainment was also quite fabulous, much to our surprise. We expected cheesy cabaret-type shows. And while, Yes, there were a couple of those (some of the cruise singers are just so-so), there were some arists and acts that completely stood out. There was a young juggling husband/wife team, who were incredible! The juggler was so into his passion, you could see the excitement and go-for-it attitude when he showed us all some of his tricks-in-progress (even when he missed the first time). The guy was amazing! There was also a magician on-board who, along with his wife/team, were the excellent quality of a Vegas-or-TV style show. It was real good stuff....and we are not gullible, and tend to be very critical/sarcastic with these types of things. We were very impressed by the entertainment onboard. Some of the entertainment singers were just ok. But some were standouts. We saw one show called "Can't Stop The Rock" which was a variety show of movie-themed songs. It was cheesy and pretty boring. The comedian was funny, but not outstanding. But the entertainment was worth it for the juggler and magician! Awesome!
Maybe it was because this was Christmas week, but there seemed to be a very special energy on the boat. One of my favorite memories will be the Christmas Caroling in the centrum on Christmas Eve around 10:30 PM, with staff, entertainers, children, and passengers alike, all singing Christmas carols up and down 5-6 levels of the ship in the centrum, with the accompaniment of the ship's live orchestra. It was beautiful. There was also a really nice apperance by Santa, who took photos of the kids. And all children received a complementary gift from Santa. My two year old son received some Fisher Price Little People beach toys, and my 4 year old daughter received a reusable/insulated lunchbag. It was a nice gesture.
(5) Ship overall - nicely decorated and well thought out. The centrum was especially nice, airy, bright. The pool decks were nice and not typically crowded (obviously part of the cruise was cold). On the nice days in port, everyone went off the boat, so the pools were nearly empty. There is a nice kiddie splash area, and a separate pool area for older children and adults. There is also a solarium pool that is supposedly adults-only, but because it's indoors and it was cold that policy was not enforced. The only complaint we had about the pool deck is that they have two HUGE scantron screens that blast music all day/night long. When we are lounging at the pool, we don't always want to be blasted by hip-hop music from Justin Bieber and Nicky Minaj. Even grandpa (who is semi-deaf in one year) asked them to turn down the freaking music!
(6) Cabin steward - Our cabin steward Elmer was amazing. He went above and beyond to make our very cramped and crowded cabin livable and cheery. Between "decorating" the cabin with our kids' toys to making towel animals. He was a super nice guy and knew all our names within the first day. This guy was top knotch! He was trustworthy and gave us a good vibe. Most of the cabin staff were nice and friendly and helpful.
(7) Kids Clubs. The cruise got SO much better for my husband and I for the second half when we decided to take a chance and enroll both our 4-year-old and 2-year-old in the kids club/nursery for a couple of nights, so we could enjoy the entertainmnet/shows and a dinner without food flying and fussing/wiggling/ overstimulated kids. At first we were not comfortable with the kids clubs...the first half of the cruise they were absolutely packed and we didn't trust the staff. But toward the second half/end of the cruise, the kiddie crowds thinned a bit. My daughter spent two evenings in the Aquanots club for children ages 3-5, and had a blast. They have a great evening program when you drop the kids off at 5:00pm and they will feed them dinner in the Windjammer (pizza and fries) and then entertain them with activities until midnight. And it's FREE! My 2-year-old son went to the nursery, which is a separate area for younger babies and toddlers under the age of 3 and not toilet trained. It was a great facility with a 4:1 ratio of childen:caregivers, lots of fisher price toys, cribs for resting/naps, climbing equipment, and a large screen TV with Dora the Explorer on it. We dropped him off at 5:45 PM, and they also fed him dinner and took care of him until about 10pm, after we finished watching the show. He had a great time. For overprotective parents like us, they gave us each a pager in case there were any issues whatsoever. We also inquired about bathroom breaks for our daughter (we didn't want any strangers taking her to the bathroom), and the policy is that children in the 3-5 club have to use the potty by themselves....no staff goes with them. They have a potty right in the aquanots club that the kids use. There is a charge for the nursery of $8/hour, which was a bargain, considering we pay our babysitter over 2x that amount. Both kids were happy to go to the kids club, and seemed well cared for. My husband and I peeked in on them both nights we used the services, and the kids were playing and happy. So for any nervous parents like us, I can recommend it. We were told in an emergency that our 4 year old would be brought to our muster station (she had a wristband she had to wear the entire cruise with her identification, room, and muster station number). For the infants, the staff carry the babies down to their respective muster stations and wait until parents arrive.
(8) Coco Cay - This stop at Royal Caribbeans private island made the whole trip. It was a full beach day, relaxing, lots of chairs and space available, lots of things to do for young kids, great lovely beaches, and yummy BBQ lunch. I have read that many times if seas are rough RC will skip this port...how awful! It really is the best stop on the cruise. We thoroughly enjoyed the shopping, beaching, relaxing, and drinks.
(9) Blue Lagoon Island in Nassau - This was a positive shore excursion experience. We took a nice 60-min boat ride to a little island lagoon near Nassau. Nice calm beach. Good lunch included in price. The only problem is that we only had about 2-3 hours on the lagoon because the port stop was relatively short. Our ship didn't get into Nassau until nearly 1pm and then we had to be back on board relatively early. But the ferry ride to blue lagoon island, and the experience on the island was very nice. Perfect for young children. Calm and safe.
Shore Excursion. Port Canaveral - Walt Disney World Shuttle. I have no idea why Royal Caribbean even bothered to advertise a shore excursion to Walt Disney World for the stop in Port Canaveral. It was an expensive waste of time and money. The boat didn't get into port until 11am, we were off by 11:30am and it took an hour by bus to get to Disney. We got to the park at 1pm only to be told that the Magic Kingdom was CLOSED because the park had reached capacity and was full. This was the one stop my kids were really looking forward to and talking about for weeks in advance. You can imagine the tears from my daughter when she couldn't see the Magic Kingdom. And the upset parents, grandparents, and children all on the bus. Even worse, we were out $300 for park tickets and $100 for the bus ride. And we had to wait until 7pm to take the return bus back. We also had a character dining reservation in the Magic Kingdom that we couldn't get to because we couldn't get into the park. So I had to spend nearly an hour on the phone with WDW reservations trying to avoid a no-show penalty. It was an AWFUL experience! The bus didn't drop us off at the Magic Kingdom as promised, but instead took us to the WDW transportation hub and basically made us fend for ourselves. With two elderly grandparents and two young children, this was no easy feat. We ended up packed in the Animal Kingdom, which no one really cared to visit. And because we didn't want to have to wait until 7pm or 8pm for the return bus, we ended up shelling out nearly $200 for private transportation back to the boat.
When I went the next day to the shore excursions desk to ask for a refund, the gentleman at the desk was rude and hostile. Apparently a lot of other families had complained about the Disney fiasco and he was not in a good mood. He started to write up a report for his supervisor, noting my complaints. When i started to read the report over his shoulder to make sure it was accurate, he yelled at me, put his hand over the computer screen, and said it was "private" and "not for me to read!" This is MY report, and I wanted to make sure it was accurate. I received a phone call the next day from a supervisor, saying I would be refunded the shore excursion bus ride, but I have yet to see the credit on my credit statement, and it's been nearly a week! Guess I need to call back on that one.
The Bottom line - Don't bother with a Disney day trip as a shore excursion from Port Canaveral. The bus gets in way too late to enjoy anything. It's a waste of time and money. In fact, the Port Canaveral stop should just be skipped. It's not really warm there, there isn't a whole lot to do, etc. Royal Caribbean would be better off just skipping over it and going straight to the warm and tropical bahamas for another day. And don't bother with anything Disney during Christmas vacation week. The Magic Kingdom park was closed at capacity of 75,000 before 12 noon on both December 24 and I heard also December 25 and December 26 and December 27. The Animal Kingdom was packed body to body. We only got to go on two rides for the entire time we were there. And then we left. Save your money!
Cabin - If we were in a deluxe oceanview cabin, I would hate to see the regular sized one. Soooooo small for a family of four with two young children and all their stuff. Especially since Santa paid a visit too.
IMPORTANT NOTE FOR YOUNG FAMILIES: our cabin was technically able to sleep 4 however, this room was not equipped to host two young children under the age of 5. We had our two-year-old son in a pack n play, but there was nowhere for our 4-year-old daughter to sleep! The room had two pull-down beds from the wall, but we were told once we were onboard they are for children ages 8+. There was no sofa or sofabed in the room, despite that I was told that by Royal Caribbean reservations at least twice. So, my daughter had to sleep in the bed or on the floor(!) while my husband or I slept with in the pulldown bed. Not exactly romantic. So parents with young children....I would advise to upgrade to a family suite that has a sofabed or sofa for another young child to sleep on. I don't think Royal Caribbean customer service knows what they are talking about. I specifically asked and confirmed with them that the room had a sofa or sofabed for our daughter. They knew the ship and even knew our pre-selected cabin number. But there was NO sofa bed.
Service - We opted to do the My Time Dining instead of a regular seating. And I think service suffered because of this. Not only did we have to prepay all our gratuities, but the service wasn't as good because we didn't get to know our waitstaff the way the routine seating times did. We had some servers who were excellent (Lakinder Singh from India - was an outstanding exception...he even cut our children's food for them!), but in general with the Mytime Dining we found the service to be sub-par. Some of the waitstaff seemed bothered or offended when we asked for extra napkins, an extra dessert for the kids, or there were problems like the wrong drink brought to us. Other of our requests were simply ignored! Breakfast service in My Fair Lady was downright rude at times. We found the service in Windjammer to be much nicer for breakfast. The cruise was packed and I think the servers were very hassled and overworked with so many people onboard.
Ridiculous Upcharges - This really pissed us off. Sitting for breakfast in the My Fair Lady dining room, a server came by offering fresh squeezed orange juice. Of course we all said sure. Then he informed us that there was an upcharge of $2-$3 per juice. What? Did we not just pay for a cruise? This was not labeled on the menu. Same for coffee. I ordered a latte only to be told that there would be a $2-$3 upcharge for it. Again? It seems like Royal Caribbean was trying to upcharge us for everything. You want a better steak? $20 more. You want a lobster tail? $29 more. You want better coffee? $2. This happened over and over again. We expected the cruise line to push things like photographs, shops etc, but did NOT expect to pay for fresh squeezed orange juice. I will take the plain old regular juice, thanks.
Wifi - In this day and age, there is no need to charge something like $7/min for Internet service. Thank goodness we had it in port.
Crowds/illness - This was a very crowded boat, since the holiday cruise was sold out. Lots of sick people, too. And Lots of sick staff. The captain was sick. The shore excursions director was sick in the infimary. Mention of this staffer or that staffer being sick. Seems like everyone had the flu. They blamed it on the boat being in dry dock for the two weeks prior, but I didn't buy that. There definitely was something going around. Thankfully we avoided it...but not everyone did. The grossest was seeing some guy vomiting/hacking into a trash can right in front of the elevators on the first day just after embarkation. We all got into the elevators and prayed he stayed out. Also saw evidence of "illness" in the public restrooms. We made a point of using the bathroom in our stateroom with the kids or for us. Some of the public rooms were gross - for two days the hallway outside of the orpheum theater smelled like vomit. When we embarked, we all had to fill out a health form, certifying that no one you are traveling with has had flu-like or gastroinstestinal symptoms within the past week, otherwise they had to be evalated in the infirmary. I think TONS of people lied on that form. People were coughing and hacking all over the place. Thank God I brought along 3 canisters of antibacterial handwipes for the kids. This is another reason we avoided the buffet in Windjammer....lots of sick people touching tongs and coughing around the food. I actually saw one lady picking up food using her bare hands instead of the tongs. GROSS!
Because it was so crowded and it was cold for 4/7 days of the cruise, the inside of the boat was usually packed. On the 6th day of the cruise, while we were at sea, my family spent 30 minutes looking around the boat for somewhere to sit. Every place was packed. On a warmer cruise, folks would be spread out more on deck.
Casino - Location was right outside the orpheum theater, so you and your family (and kids) had to walk through a smokey casino back and forth to get to the shows. Poor placement. Also, poor that the casino was so smoky all the time. The smoked waffed everywhere into the theater and around the other public facilities. We appreciated the two "smoke free casino nights" that the boat had on formal nights. That gave my husband and me the opportunity to play a bit of blackjack without infecting our lungs.
Overall, the cruise was an enjoyable time for our family. There were definitely some highlights but absolutely some lowlights. On a grade scale, I would give the food an A-, shore excursions a C, cleanliness of boat B-, restaurant service B-, Room service A. ports B-. Overall three stars. I don't think I would do a holiday cruise like this again. Too crowded. But I would cruise with Royal Caribbean again on a different ship to different, warmer, ports.