My DW and I made a last minute decision to try and get a New Years Eve cruise booked. Given the cost of last minute flights, we looked specifically at something that was within an 8 hour drive from our home in Toronto, which pretty much limited us to Baltimore!
We were able to find an Outside Cabin on the December 29 departure and booked it via an online agency.
Our drive down was rather uneventful. We came in the night before but did not take advantage of the numerous 'stay and park' offerings in the area as we were staying on points.
The cruise ship terminal is located just off of I-95 and was easy to find using the instructions on Royal's website. Parking was straightforward ($105 for the week paid upon arrival) but was a little time consuming as the port authority had only two kiosks open, and neither of the parking attendants were in any hurry.
We arrived at a little before noon and had about a 10 minute wait to go through the security check, followed by another 10 minute wait to check in. most of the delay at security was due to passengers not paying attention to requests to remove metallic objects, etc. resulting in an alarm and subsequent additional inspection.
Once checked in, we were able to head straight onto the ship...but were not allowed to go to our rooms. This is not the first time that we've had this situation and we've gotten quite good at lugging our carry on luggage around but nonetheless it makes for a crowded lunch up in the Windjammer buffet.
Before I go on further, just want to mention that this was our third cruise this year; with earlier cruises being on Celebrity and Disney.
I had heard that the ship was getting on in years but we found it to be very well looked after. The recent drydock refurbishment showed, with new carpets in many areas, flat screen TVs in the room, touchscreen displays in the common areas, and redecorated cabin bathrooms. The centrum is fantastic looking.
The ship was still decked out for Christmas with a large tree in the atrium along with a display of gingerbread houses.
Even though the ship was very full (2490 passengers - much higher than the double occupancy rate) we never felt crowded outside of the Windjammer cafe.
One major disappointment was the solarium. It was advertised as an adult only oasis but, due to the inclement weather for 3 days of the cruise, the non-existent enforcement of the rules, and the location of the Park Cafe in the solarium, there were kids everywhere! We were looking forward to a quiet oasis for at least some of the cruise.
The crew kept the ship very clean during our cruise.
We had a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom on Deck 4. We typically go for a balcony but none were available at the late time that we booked. The room was clean but much smaller than what I was used to on Celebrity and Disney. Not a big deal for us but I am sure families would have had issues with this cabin.
Our steward, Humberto, made at least three visits a day to keep things clean and well stocked.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE
We were only able to book My Time dining as both the early and late seatings were full. The My Fair Lady dining room has two levels, with the upper level now dedicated to My Time dining guests. We have the same complaints as others -- service can be indifferent! However, we did find a waiter we liked on the second night and arranged to be in his area for the remainder of the cruise. I strongly suggest doing the same if you are doing the My Time dining.
I did get a chance to talk to our waiter (name withheld - I'd hate for anything to come back on him) about the My Time dining. It's a much different process from the assigned dining. With the assigned dining, waitstaff are able to collect orders 'all at once', submit them, and then spend some time with diners. Again, once the course is delivered, the waitstaff has time to follow up and find out if there are any issues. As well, since they have the same guests every night, they can make better suggestions regarding menu choices.
The My Time dining results in waitstaff having people coming in at all different times. Couple that with no reduction in the number of guests served by a waiter and there is less time to interact due to the less efficient process.
If you could get assigned to the same waitstaff every night it did get better but you certainly didn't get the same experience as the set dining times.
One final item: the EOS has two galleys in the MDR. The upper galley, servicing the My Time diners, closes at 9:00 pm, resulting in added effort for the waitstaff as they need to traipse downstairs to the lower galley to get meals after 9:00! Royal really needs to do something about this!
The MDR food was hit and miss. My wife is a vegetarian and, like most cruise lines we've been on, Royal has poorly executed vegetarian entrees. We were quite disappointed that the many curry dishes that used to be on the menu had disappeared with the redesigned menus introduced last month.
The Windjammer cafe was a typical buffet. Okay food and lots of people! The layout made for plenty of traffic jams! However, you could easily avoid it by eating a little later (after 1 pm).
The Park Cafe is a new addition to the EOS and was a pleasant surprise. They had a nice selection of sandwiches, desserts, and a build your own salad station.
We didn't try the added fee steakhouse as we heard a number of comments that it was basically the same as the MDR, just with larger portions. I would have liked to see Royal put an Italian or French dining experience in place.
Royal was offering the 'all you can drink' package on this sailing - not sure if this is the first time for the EOS.
There are a couple of drawbacks to the package. First off, everyone over the age of 21 in the cabin must purchase the package. Not useful if one person doesn't drink, as is the case for us!
Secondly, and more importantly, we saw a few people who were doing their utmost to make sure that EOS lost money on their drinking! This did ruin the atmosphere some nights in the dining room.
I did find the soda package to be a good deal. It was nice not to have to pay every time I ordered a coke!
The EOS had a wide variety of entertainment for cruise, with one exception that I will come to shortly.
The headliner shows were a mixed bag. We went to all shows except for the trio of Broadway singers (really not our thing). The stage productions were mediocre at best, with the "Can't Stop the Rock" show on day 6 being downright awful.
The magic show (Haines Magic) was fantastic - easily the best show of the cruise. Additionally, the do a 'behind the scenes' lecture in the daytime that is terrific.
The husband and wife juggling team was very good as well. They were very passionate about their craft and it showed.
Both comedians were mediocre. Neither were able to really connect with the crowd and, other than the headline shows, were pretty much invisible.
We tried to take in most of the Trivia contests (there were at least 3 each day). They are a lot of fun but a few of the crew had trouble with English so the flow was poor.
Luke, the cruise director, was much funnier than either of the comedians on board and we looked forward to his appearances.
I did mention one exception to the variety of entertainment: on the last full day (a sea day) there was a dearth of things to do. I expect Royal was thinking we would be out on the deck enjoying one last day of sun...which isn't going to happen in the North Atlantic in January! Many cruisers mentioned that there was very little in the way of planned activities on the last day.
The ports visited was probably the weakest area of the cruise.
Port Canaveral has very few options - we took a shuttle to Cocoa Beach and hung out for the day. Some cruisers went to Disney World even though they were warned about extremely long lines. Royal really should consider doing something else than visit Port Canaveral.
We arrived at Nassau on New Years Day to a deserted town! Seriously, there might have been ten stores open. I've been there a number of times and always found it hectic...except this time. My wife was prepared to do a lot of shopping and was, needless to say, disappointed.
Coco Cay was the best port visited. The island was quite nice even with two ships visiting (Majesty of the Seas was there). We tendered out early in the morning, grabbed some sun, and headed back to the ship for lunch. We then went back out in the afternoon after refreshing ourselves for a while on the ship. The tendering process was well run - you obtained a tender ticket and headed to the tender when your number was called.
Generally a pleasurable cruise experience! We found the ship to be in much better condition than expected. Service in the MDR and the cabins was excellent; other areas tended to be somewhat indifferent.
Given that I was on Disney and Celebrity earlier this year, I would rate Royal as having better food than Disney, but worse than Celebrity. Disney and Celebrity had much better service than Royal.
Interestingly, we never saw the 800 kids on our Disney cruise but the 400 kids on this cruise were very apparent! Royal could take some cues from Disney on how to keep the little ones engaged and entertained!