I made the mistake of booking directly with RCL. In the end, it ended up being a good idea as the quality of the service and initial accommodations resulted in an upgrade from OV to SOV balcony.
When I spoke with the RCL res. agent I was very clear on my needs re: our two small kids and where they would be sleeping. The same day I made the reservation with him, I called him back only to be brushed off. I e-mailed him a few times only to not get a reply to the e-mails.
When I spoke with someone else from RCL, he informed me that, due to the kids' ages (4 and 4 - yes twins), they should not have been booked with an RCL agent nor should they have been placed in a room with pullman beds. After many and I mean MANY phone calls and e-mails, I managed to get through to the "RESOLUTION DEPARTMENT". I received an upgrade to balcony with sofabed rather than having to pay the extra $1000. I will give kudos to RCL for this. But really, all they had to do was make sure the agent knew his job in the first place.
Still, I will say that it appears cruise lines, despite allowing you to book directly through them, would much rather you use a travel agency. I "ASSUME" this is because it spreads the wealth and gives the agents a 'cut'. Also, it means not having to have as much staff to deal with customers. I'm sure someone will read this and tell me I am WRONG! So be it. My opinion.
Funny thing is, the original agent said he would give each room a bottle of wine. When he messed up, we did not receive the wine. I guess it was worth it for RCL to keep the two bottles since they already had our money. C'est la vie.
Extremely and surprisingly smooth. We had two families with four adults and five kids. We got to Port Canaveral via privately-booked shuttle from our hotel since we'd arrived the day before after flying out of Buffalo - just in case ...
We did the paperwork and photos in about 10 minutes (around 10:30 a.m.). We then made the extremely easy walk (no long line-up walking up ramp after ramp) and were on the ship from the building in about one minute, unlike previous cruises where we stood in a long line and dragged our carry-on and kids with us. A refreshing change!
A nice balance between 80,000 and 220,000 (the Allure which we took in November 2011). I liked having the semblance of a ship as opposed to a floating hotel, which was the sense I had when on the Allure of the Seas.
I found it easy to get from place to place and didn't get lost - well not too much.
Surprisingly smaller than I had expected. The balcony was smaller than I had expected as well, with two chairs and a small table. But it was great having a place to put out wet clothes after swimming and rinsing them.
The shower pressure was great although we had to call housekeeping on two occasions to replace the shower. Upon first use of it, we discovered that when the water was turned on water sprayed out sideways at the point the hose meets the shower head. Maybe this should be tested upon turn-over of guests?
At any rate, upon the call being made, someone showed up both times within 10-15 minutes and replaced the shower head.
Storage was not an issue. The suitcases fit easily under the bed. Prior to leaving Canada, I had an online chat with someone from RCL, asking that the beds be pushed together with an eggcrate mattress and that the fridge be emptied upon our arrival. I was advised the first two things could be done but not the third thing, and that I should make the request upon embarkation.
I asked the cabin steward to do this and he said it would be done on Monday (the first real day of the cruise). Why it would take that long to do, I can't answer.
As for the cabin service, our steward accommodated my request for ice in the ice bucket. It was refreshed two times a day. As we had received very good service, I made sure to note that on the comment card and also tipped him extra cash in person in addition to the auto. gratuity demanded by RCL.
The Windjammer Cafe was very good. I did get tired of the announcement made by the Cafe manager welcoming everyone to the Cafe. The second announcement about eating 'quickly' so others could enjoy the Cafe was annoying because there was never a line-up to eat (at breakfast or lunch). One thing that I liked on this particular cruise was that, because we needed a round booth that sat 12 people (for our group of 10) was that, 95% of the time, there were no parties of two sitting at the booth. It was nice to see that people exercised some common sense in this regard.
As for the MDR, we were more than satisfied with the service provided. Again, we gave extra cash tips the last night to reflect our satisfaction for their hard work. When we needed to get sped-up service due to a 7 p.m. show (we ate at 5:30 p.m. due to the five kids) we were more than accommodated. The kids had a lot to choose from, whether it was kids-type food or adult food. As for us adults, we were more than satisfied with the quality and quantity of the food provided.
The four adults ate at Chops Grille one night. We were not overly thrilled by the food quality. We would have been better served to eat at Portafino's, but having eaten at Giovanni's Table on the Allure, we thought we should give Chops a try. Oops! Not terrible food but not worth it for the $25 we each paid - in our humble opinion.
As one would expect on a cruise, especially a mainstream one such as RCL, there was no lack of activities in which to take part. It all depended on your interests and level of physical activity - be it trivia, volleyball, FlowRider, mini-golf, table tennis, wine-tasting, rock-climbing, etc.
Great crew. Not a lot of kids on this sailing. Our daughter got upset with kids club during pirate night. It was a struggle to get her to go after that. I wanted to make her walk the plank. Worst off, "I" wanted to walk the plank because I was so annoyed with her. However, the crew does a great job and strikes just the right balance of keeping them entertained and disciplining them. Special thanks to JC for looking after the kids and being a nice guy.
Because there were five kids in our party (ages 4, 4, 4, 4, 6) having a kids area is a requirement. Compared to the Zone on the Allure, this was much bigger. However, the water was c-c-c-cold! One day, RCL maintenance was fixing some tiles on the Zone deck and closed the entire zone. Why this could not have been done on the Sunday switchover, I'm not sure, but it was a tad annoying to not even be able to sit in the hot tubs that day.
KIDS CHOCOLATE BREAKFAST
This is booked on the ship, not before. So stop trying if you've been doing that! :) It doesn't cost any extra. It's held two or three times during the cruise. You get to the MDR at 7:45 a.m. and it starts at 8 a.m. Four or five characters come into the room and go table to table allowing you to get a photo with them. The food is well, very, chocolatey should you so desire. But you can get regular breakfast fare as well. Note, however, that there is an abundance of character appearances during the week, so you don't necessarily have to do this event unless you want to. Personally we enjoy it. Just give yourself about 90 minutes to do this.
I'm the only slots addict. I went the first night as 'urban legend' says the slots or loosest the first night. I spent either $140 or $160 and decided that the return (zip) was not worth me spending another dime. I managed to walk through the casino a number of times during the next six days without dropping another penny! Sorry RCL, but you need to at least give people the perception that they might win - something. Anything! I did win a very cheap RCL keychain for spinning the promo wheel. This was located in the coupon book I received.
The fitness centre is great. Treadmills along the front windows make for a great view watching the sun come up. The only odd things: 1. the hours of the fitness centre. Why it would close at 10 p.m. is beyond me. 2. The steam room and sauna were not activated until 8 a.m. when the spa opened and leading from this, 3. you could not get a key for a locker in the change room until the spa opened at 8 a.m. One would think the customer would come first, not the staff.
The ice show is first class! The magician was over-rated. He did the same trick 10 times or so it seemed, but still entertaining to an extent.
Didn't see much of the comedian but he seemed funny from what I could see being there with the kids before bedtime.
Jamaica - not a fan of the country due to anti-gay sentiments. Did a quick port walk with my partner so he could say he'd been there.
Cozumel - been there a few times. This time the ship docked away from downtown. A complete surprise to me since we'd walked from other ships to the shops in about 5 minutes.
Haiti - felt like RCL with a beach. Didn't feel like we were doing anything different other than having a beach instead of a pool, what with people hawking drinks, etc. A lot of vendors selling the same ... stuff. The bbq was decent and the water was nice. The kids enjoyed playing in the sand and the water park was a lot of fun what with the buckets of water tipping over and spilling on us. We spent 45 minutes doing that activity! The kids club on the island was a nice touch. Kept the kids busy for a few hours so the adults could lie on the beach in peace.
Cayman Islands - very 'classy'. Like St. Maarten, it just feels like somewhere I'd want to spend a week if I wasn't so against all-inclusives and being stuck on one island. But, other than being expensive, I think I could enjoy the Islands. We had lunch at a kid-friendly restaurant just to eat a meal off the ship. We enjoyed it very much. Please don't ask me the name as I don't recall but may a name may jog my memory if I'm prodded. We did the ship's stingray beach tour. We thought it was actually worth it as something different than just touring a factory or getting a quick island tour. And we supposedly got up close and personal with the stingrays based on the local guide's VIP service we received due to them being long-time island residents. (Who knows if that was true or not...)
There was lots of space to hide in or hang in, whatever the case may be. You didn't have to search too hard for a place to spend a few minutes or hours. As everyone says, despite the numbers on the ship, it never felt overly crowded except for during the Dreamworks Parade - which is exactly the same as on the Allure. So, fair warning, once you've seen one Dreamworks Parade, you've seen them all.
LEAVING THE SHIP
We sat in Pharoah's Palace while we waited to disembark. When we made our request to leave the ship at a certain time, we were given a later time and had to go to the front desk to change the tags. No issue at all, but just slightly annoying. Nonetheless, we waited for about 30 minutes and then walked off the ship with no issues. We located our luggage within about 5-10 minutes and walked through U.S. Homeland Security without any issues whatsoever, including no attitude!
We got our private shuttle to MCO and waited 3.5 hours to board the plane. Thank goodness for Mickey D's and kids t.v. at MCO, but their wifi sucks - big time!
Always a wealth or information prior to a cruise. I hope I've done my part in imparting my personal experience (and opinion) to you. My only qualm is I missed the MEET AND MINGLE. I don't know when it was but I missed it. I guess there was no sign by the front desk. My fault I suppose. Otherwise, I enjoy reading other reviews and comparing experiences to my own. Hopefully I've shed a bit of light on my experience on this particular cruise on this particular ship.
On more than a few occasions, I would walk past a crew member and not get a smile or any acknowledgment. I know it's a job, but a service industry such as this almost dictates that employees pay some sort of notice to guests.
Also, one day while sitting near the self-serve Sprinkles ice cream machine on the pool deck, we observed a pool deck employee get an ice cream cone for himself. Because the chocolate ice cream was extra long when he stopped pushing on the handle, he used his bare finger to 'chop' the ice cream from that portion in his cone to the portion hanging down from the machine. Needless to say, given all cruise ship crew's instructions on good hygiene, it was more than a bit disconcerting to see this, especially when I saw someone else approach the machine not more than 20 seconds later to get the rest of the chocolate ice cream he had so lopped off with his finger. Ewww!
I made up an excuse to talk to the man then went to guest services to report his actions - not to get him in trouble but because this was a poor example of hygiene and it was simply disgusting.
Being gay males, we get tired of ship crews asking where the "moms" are. Part of us wants to give a wacky answer but we just tell them, there are no moms, just dads. When I spoke to the ship's onboard HR manager, he expressed just the right amount of indignation at the actions of the crew, telling us that the crew receives a lot of diversity training, that the crews come from countries all around the world and that he promised there would be continued training to tell the crew to be more 'sensitive' about asking guests personal questions about their family situations.
NOTE: All comments are that of the author. If you were on the same cruise - December 9-16, 2012 - and had a better experience in any area. Great! If you had a worse experience in any area, sorry to hear that.