Our family of 4 (two adults, two children ages 8 and 10) travelled on the FOS (Eastern Caribbean) January 13 -- 20th. It was our first time cruising with RCI. Embarkation was very straightforward: we arrived at the port around 11:00 a.m. and were probably onboard within 30 minutes. Our first experience with the Windjammer was a nightmare, which we were sort of prepared for based on previous reviews. It was completely chaotic with hoards of people and nowhere to sit. We finally managed to find two tables for 2 but had to split up. The lines at the buffet were crazy and there appeared to be no order at all. In retrospect, we should have just gone down to Deck 5 and grabbed a light snack to tide us over until dinner time. We explored the ship a bit and then headed to our cabin right at 1:00 p.m. We had a family oceanview cabin at the front of the ship (8200) and it was amazing: lots of space and a separate bedroom with bunk beds for the kids. The decor was showing its age but the room was very clean. I was very surprised at how long it took for our luggage to be delivered to our cabin. Our only other cruise was with Disney and I felt like we had our luggage much sooner. Lesson learned, I should have packed swimsuits for the kids in our carry-on.
We had first seating for dinner (5:30 p.m.) so we proceeded to Leonardo's to find our table. Despite having booked a table for 4 several months ago, they had us sitting at a large table with other people. We quickly informed the maitre d that this was not what we had arranged and they scrambled to find us a table for 4. We ended up getting an "overflow" table which was located right up against a waiters station. We kept getting rammed into by carts, and it was very crowded and noisy. The servers were getting frustrated too because it was hard for them to work around us. The next evening, we managed to get moved over to a "real" table which was still in the same server's section but a bit further from the waiters station. In all, a frustrating experience that could have been avoided had Royal Caribbean honored our original request.
We enjoyed the dinner menu in the MDR. The Windjammer was another story. While we could usually find something to eat, we would have liked a bit more variety. There were always a few ethic dishes, which we really enjoyed (Indonesian curry, Asian beef with green beans etc.). I am also not a buffet fan in general - I saw people ignoring the serving tongs and digging through the bread with their hands. Yuck. We went to the MDR one day for lunch near the end of the cruise and were surprised at the lunch menu. It was fantastic, and we kicked ourselves for not checking it out sooner.
Our children checked out the kids' club once, but found it far too structured and did not like the fact that everyone had to participate in the same activity so they never went back. The pool areas were great, much better than the Disney cruise we went on. The kids really enjoyed the H20 Zone. Mini golf and rock climbing were a bit hit too. Our daughter tried boogie boarding on the Flow Rider and had lots of fun. My husband tried it too and ended up with a wrenched neck and a black eye. I have never heard of anyone getting a black eye from the Flow Rider but I guess there's a first time for everything!
We noticed a sewage smell near the back of the ship on several decks. Not sure if that was unusual or a common problem. It wasn't overwhelming but it was definitely noticeable.
We bought the soda package and loved the Coke Freestyle machines. However, the two machines located outside Sorrento's on Deck 5 were the only ones that we found worked reliably. The machine in the arcade on Deck 12 never had ice, and the drinks came out warm. The machine didn't work the last 2 days at all. The machines in the Windjammer were fairly reliable, but if a drink ran out while you were filling your cup, you had to wait 5 minutes before you could get another drink. The soda machines on the pool deck were only open the first day, and then remained covered for the remainder of the cruise. There was never an explanation as to why.
Overall, we were fairly pleased with our cruise experience. I have to say that with the exception of our room attendant and waiters, I didn't find the staff particularly friendly. We actually witnessed one passenger ask a staff member for directions to something and the staff member responded quite abruptly. As she walked away from the passenger, the staff member muttered "Jesus Christ!" quite loudly. Very unprofessional. Ironically, I found the guest services staff to be the most unfriendly on the ship. I understand that they probably have to deal with a lot of cranky people but I had a couple of questions about the gratuity system and was treated quite dismissively. FYI, if you want to charge tips to your Sea Pass card, you can only charge the recommended amount. If you want to add extra, you must do this in cash. On Disney, you could charge whatever amount you wanted to on your card so again, we were unprepared for this. We ended up using the ATM on the ship and using cash for all of our tips. The departure video says that envelopes will be provided for you to give gratuities. They were not, and guest services said they don't have any. Bring your own.
Lots of pros and cons for both RCI and Disney, but I think I would have to give Disney the edge. While RCI had more to do on the ship, the service on Disney was really exceptional, and I would have to give Disney higher marks for their food as well.