Air travel for me this year was a disaster, which made cruising out of Baltimore very attractive -- only a three hour drive from our home and no airfare cost or delays!!! My kind of travel.
We booked this trip back in August and invited two other families to join us -- one of which had never cruised before. That family was very reluctant to take a cruise and had many negative preconceived notions. Now that the trip is behind us I do believe that they will ultimately cruise again and walked away with a positive experience.
We booked a Grand Suite, and as a result, were given a separate line for check in at the port. This was a great perk and cut down significantly on our wait time. We knew in advance that this particular ship was an older and smaller ship, so our expectations weren't grand. However, our first impression of the ship was positive and we were very pleased with our accommodations. The Grand Suites are a good size, with nice furnishings and great bathrooms. The staff at check in was extremely pleasant and the entire process (parking, unloading, checking in, boarding, etc.) was pain free and quick.
While we loved our room I would never book this particular stateroom again. 8532 is directly across from the service elevator, and the noise from the elevator at all hours of the night made it very difficult to sleep through the night interrupted. That, coupled with the noise of the Windjammer overhead, translated to a week of poor sleep quality. I should have checked this out prior to booking so I feel that I have only myself to blame for this. Lesson learned and hopefully will never make that mistake again. One other detail that made this stateroom problematic is the sliding door that whistles all night long. While I miss being on the ship I don't miss the poor sleep I got while on board as a result of the above issues. Despite the above we had a great cabin steward (Bobby) so I feel bad complaining/being so nit picky.
Overall Suite Experience
In spite of the above, I can't say enough about how much I love traveling Royal Caribbean via Suites. I love the extra space, the great balconies, the priority seating and MOST IMPORTANTLY, access to the Concierge Suite. This was a highlight of our cruise!!! Reyno, our concierge, is perhaps the best in the business!! While I was skeptical when he said on the first day that he has a following, I was a definite believer by day 3 on the ship. Whatever they pay this guy is not enough -- he is THAT GOOD. I can't imagine that I will ever encounter a concierge better than Reyno on future cruises.
Is Royal Caribbean the best dining experience in the cruise industry? Probably not. But there are many things I liked about the food on this ship. Made to order salads in the My Fair Lady dining room as well as the Solarium cafe were a highlight for me. There was usually something on the dinner menu each night that was a standout, just as there were items each night that weren't so great. The folks in our party got good at figuring out what to order and we ultimately weren't disappointed, as a result. I do have to say that I didn't find the evening Dining Room staff to be particularly friendly and on some nights found these folks to be somewhat rude, in fact. I didn't find that to be a problem in the Windjammer or other venues on the ship, however.
On Board Experience
A big highlight for me was the fitness center (love, love, love Rene, the fitness instructor!!). The classes I took were wonderful and the lectures very informative and valuable to me. This was a no-joke workout experience for me and I will miss my Rene workouts. Beyond the fitness center the activities options were endless and the entertainment top notch (we particularly loved the Quest gameshow and Bingo). We traveled with kids ranging in age from 12 to 25, and all were happy/well occupied.
There were so many things that I loved about this itinerary (Baltimore to Port Canaveral to Nassau to Coco Cay back to Baltimore). We did a Sea Lion Encounter excursion through the ship in Nassau and this was a definite highlight for our family. I can't say enough good things about this particular experience. As far as the other two ports were concerned, we were beach bums in Coco Cay, and pretty much stayed on the ship in Port Canaveral. All of this was exactly to our liking.
Getting off the ship was had on us emotionally, but was certainly not difficult from a logistics perspective. We were off with our luggage claimed by 8:30. It was a very orderly and well orchestrated process.