We aren't a family vacation family. When the kids were little, we tried the rental-house-at-the-beach thing, but that fell by the wayside once the kids had summer things they wanted to do. However, now that we have older teens starting to leave the nest, we wanted to find a new way to spend time together as a family. My daughters have very different interests and tastes. I'll call them Patty and Cathy. If you remember the Patty Duke Show, you'll understand the reference. I booked this cruise shortly before Thanksgiving, at which time there weren't many options that worked with our schedule. We wound up in the Royal Family Suite because it was available, and very little else was!
Having nothing to compare it to, I can only report on our experience.
Getting to the Cruise Baltimore terminal couldn't have been easier. (We live about 20 minutes to the south.) Even with the snow, we had no problems getting there, figuring out how to proceed, parking, and getting inside. Patty has a health problem and cannot stand for long periods, so I had some anxiety about standing in lines. We did encounter some lines, but she was able to rest on my rollaboard suitcase. I recommend bringing along something--a seat cane or a rolling bag--if you are traveling with someone who cannot stand. Once through security, we were quickly onboard because we got to go through the suite passenger line. (There was one family in front of us.) I could see the line could be pretty long otherwise.
We were able to get into our suite at 1:30, and found it to be very comfortable for the four of us. We had the mid-ship Royal Family Suite, which I gather may be smaller and differently configured than the ones at the aft of the ship. Just inside the cabin door were a small bedroom (just big enough for the bed...I'd thought I had asked for it to be arranged as twins but it wasn't, and I'm not really sure it could be) and a small bathroom with a stall shower. Pat these was a pleasant living room with a sofa and two club chairs, and a coffee table, but not the dining table we'd seen in the floor plans for some other RFS staterooms. Separated from the living room by a sliding glass door (and curtain), we had a nice master bedroom with balcony, and its own bathroom with tub. The balcony was just big enough for four chairs and a small table. This suite theoretically can sleep up to 8, if I recall correctly, but I think it was just right for four. The beds were very comfortable and there was plenty of storage.
We dined every night in the Main Dining Room (late seating) and found the food to be generally good, but certainly not great. The service was attentive and accommodating, and we got personal help from the head waiter in identifying items that contained peanuts (Cathy is allergic). However, as nice as she was, our lovely and attentive waiter did not, as far as I could tell, learn our names or remember from one day to the next that we don't eat shellfish. Or pork. (If she'd remembered that, I think Patty's spaghetti wouldn't have arrived with that prosciutto on top the last night...) But really, the wait staff couldn't have been nicer.
We tried all the different venues--room service, main dining room, Windjammer, and Park Cafe for other meals and would say that everywhere, the food is pretty good, but nothing to rave about. I'd done enough research not to be surprised or disappointed. I was happy that there was always something available I didn't mind eating. Some of the desserts were good enough to go back for seconds.
As far as activities, we went to a few of the trivia games in the Schooner Bar, karaoke nights in the Spotlight Lounge, some of the shows and games that the staff put on, but didn't see the headliners in the theater. I will say--don't go on this cruise ship for the karaoke. I've had a better karaoke experience in a friend's living room. The song selection is limited and there are not enough books for people to look through. But hey, we had fun. The game shows, like Quest, Love and Marriage, and Battle of the Sexes were more fun than I expected them to be. If there is one thing I can say about the passengers on this cruise, they were really good sports! People got really into participating and made it a lot of fun for those of us watching. We went to the first production show with the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers and thought it was...fine. Had they been amateurs we would have been really impressed. However, for professionals, I think they didn't quite meet my expectations but it wasn't an unpleasant experience.
My daughters did a couple of the dance lessons and a craft activity or two. They tried checking out the teen activities (Cathy was hoping to find Patty someone else to hang out with so she could read a book in peace), but they really weren't happening, despite having a lot of kids on board. (I can't remember if they said 400 or 500.) For what it's worth, they did let Cathy into the teen lounge even though she's 19...they never asked her. There isn't anything visible on the Sea Pass to identify passengers as being over or under 18, and they never asked to scan her Sea Pass. She was even able to get Patty a soda using Patty's Sea Pass and soda cup. No one ever scanned it to see if she was Patty.
One thing that made me anxious about cruising was the prospect of crowds, lines, insufficient chairs, etc. I was pleasantly surprised that the ship hardly seemed crowded at all. We hardly ever had to wait in any type of lines and there was always a chair when Patty needed one. The pool deck was awfully crowded on the day we started our two-day sail from the Bahamas back to Baltimore, and the inside of the ship started to feel a little crowded on the last day when the weather was really bitter on the pool deck and everyone was inside. Other than that, though, we could generally find chairs and tables when we needed them, could walk right up to what we wanted at the buffet, etc. The longest lines I encountered were at guest services, the first day, when many people's Sea Passes didn't open their staterooms, and the last night, when many people (including me) felt the need to get a look at their bill before it was delivered to the stateroom. I understand some ships offer the ability to review your bill from the TV in the room; this one doesn't, although, oddly, some material in the room indicated that it did.
The ports of call for this cruise were Port Canaveral, Nassau, and Coco Cay. At Port Canaveral, Cathy and my husband did an excursion to NASA, which they enjoyed. Patty and I stayed on board and enjoyed the empty ship. She got a massage (they have a reduced price service list for kids, called Y-Spa), jumped on the bungee trampoline with no waiting, got the personal attention of the two guys running the otherwise-abandoned climbing wall, and took a nice long bath. On our Nassau port day, we took our time leaving the ship (had lunch in the uncrowded Windjammer after lots of people had gone ashore) and enjoyed walking through the shops collecting the freebies that the port shopping lecture lady had given us coupons for. (I didn't go to the lecture, but I saw it on the closed circuit TV and then stopped to chat with her near the Guest Services desk, where she plied me with coupons for free jewelry at several different shops.) We also didn't rush off the ship at the first opportunity in Coco Cay, although in retrospect it might have been wiser to do so. We had a hard time finding a place to "park," because there did seem to be more people than beach chairs. (Two ships were there.) Eventually we got a couple of hammocks in the shade and were happy. Patty and my husband went parasailing and Cathy went snorkeling. Firsts for everyone and they enjoyed these very much. The shore excursions are pricey, though.
The trip wasn't without glitches, but in general, we had a pleasant and unstressful time. We liked it enough to put down a deposit on a future cruise.