First time cruisers, 40 something couple with 2 first graders. Never previously considered a cruise, as we prefer the great outdoors and being away from crowds in remote locations. I just didn't think we would enjoy cruising. While I'm not totally won over, there were some pleasant surprises. A year ago my husband's business began planning a 25th anniversary celebration and this 5 night cruise was part of the plan. We decided to make it a family vacation and bring our boys along. We were booked in a D1 balcony stateroom on deck 10, #1534. I am so thankful for this forum that helped me prepare and get the most out of our cruise.
We drove to FL from the Midwest and arrived in FL 2 days before our cruise sailing date. Port Everglades is under construction and our GPS took us to some yacht club first, but we eventually found the terminal. I had printed off our luggage tags at home, covered them with clear tape (good thing since it was raining on embarkation day) then attached them to our luggage prior to dropping it with the staff. Embarkation was a breeze. As first time cruisers we were not in any priority perks line, but were through in 15 minutes and on board at 1:00pm. We went straight to our room and dropped off our carry-ons. Per the new RCCL policy, I brought a bottle of wine & a bottle of champagne in my carry on. No one in security batted an eyelash about it. The last of 4 bags arrived outside our room by 7:30pm.
The ship is lovely and luxurious. Clean and well maintained. There is so much to see and do, impossible to see it all in 5 days. It is easy to find your way around with tough screen navigation screens at every elevator & stairway.
Our cabin was surprisingly roomy. The balcony had 3 chairs and a small table. The closet had plenty of room for hanging items with about 12 hangers, and additional shelving. The sofa folded out futon-style at night for our kids, and during the day was magically back into a couch. Our room attendant was pleasant and helpful. I asked to have the minibar items removed so we could use the fridge for our purchased bottle water & juice package, and she took care of it right away. We had fresh ice & glasses twice a day as well. The kids were delighted with a towel elephant on night 2, and a towel dog on night 4; but were sad we had no towel animals on our last night.
The evening of our first day I noticed the fridge was not cooling any of the water/juice. Next day, still warm so I called housekeeping. No action. On day 3, I went to the guest services desk and was told that it is only a cooler not a fridge, but they would have someone look at. We had a loaner fridge later that day for the remainder of the cruise.
I had read reviews from others that the noise of deck chairs on deck 11 was awful for deck 10 cabins. Not so for us, and we were in bed fairly early at night. Never noticed any noise, the cabin was quiet.
On embarkation day we went to the Windjammer after dropping our bags in our room and found a table for 4 without too much difficulty. Windjammer food is standard buffet fare, burgers, dogs, fries & pizza every day. A few hot dishes, cold cuts & salad bar. I was disappointed with Jade, most dishes were seasoned with curry which I don't care for.
After this first day, we found the Windjammer to be nuthouse. It was impossible to find a table and buffets were crowded with long lines at meal times. Try to catch them on the off hours if possible.
Room service menu is limited, but we did order breakfast in on three mornings. Scrambled eggs, bacon/sausage, toast and the ever present grilled Â½ tomato garnish. Juice & coffee. The MDR has both table service breakfast and a nice buffet that included omelets, French toast & pancakes (not available from room service in D1 cabins).
For dinner, we only ate in the MDR on day 1 and day 4. Service was over the top outstanding, the food, not so much. On the first night, my husband ordered the mojo pork chop, it was tough and fatty, not very good. I had the NY strip steak, which looked more like a top sirloin, but was cooked as ordered and tasted fine.
Day 2 we skipped formal night and ate at Chops, OMG! So worth the $30, it was like night and day difference. I had the filet mignon and my husband had the NY strip steak, delicious! Service also outstanding. Desserts were the best at Chops. I had a chocolate mousse cake served with a wedge of peanut brittle, heaven!
Back at the MDR on day 4, we realized you can order Chops steaks in the MDR ($15 extra), so my husband had the 10 oz filet and was very pleased. I ordered the recommended MDR seafood dish and was disappointed; it was heavily breaded and greasy.
On our last night, we went back the Windjammer and found they had saved the best for last. There was a wide variety of new foods, including Sushi at Jade and pan seared grouper that was to die for. When eating in the Windjammer, we learned to skip the right & left buffets and go right to the back. There are other and often better options there.
As a side note, outside the MDR and Windjammer there are hand sanitizer stations and RCCL staff is there making sure everyone sanitizes their hands before going in. I was glad to see that.
Other places to eat that shouldn't be missed are Cafe Promenade (open 24 hrs!) and Sorrento's on the Promenade. Cafe has delightful finger sandwiches that change every day. I liked the roasted vegetable croissant sandwich & the ham and cheese. They also have yummy desserts: mudslide cookies, triple chocolate brownies (yes I do like chocolate!). In addition to pizza, Sorrento's has made to order salads with assorted meats & cheeses, and made to order paninis. The line was sometimes long for the salads & paninis, but worth the wait.
Beware of ordering a glass of water with your meal, they are always trying to up sell to the bottled water when regular water is fine. I often felt like every time you turned around, someone was after your Seapass card for something else. I don't like being nickeled & dimed or given the "do you want fries with that??" routine.
Ordered the soda package for the whole family, what a waste of money. I knew it was fountain soda, but figured it would be self serve. Not so. On Liberty, you have to go to a bar, show them your Seapass card and ask for a soda. The bartenders were generally less than enthusiastic to serve "free" soda and I always felt like I was a being a pain in the a$$. Not only was the service bad, but the soda was often flat and tasted watered down. Would not pay $36/day ($24/day for kids) for that again. Read the fine print carefully about which sodas are included. Root beer is not. We were charged for root beer at Johnny Rockets because it is not part of the soda package. We showed our Seapass cards when we ordered it, the server did not say any ting at that time. Imagine our surprise when it was on the bill because it is a fountain soda, it is listed on the menu with the other sodas. How are we supposed to know that? No, the $1.75 each is not a big deal, but it is another example of the nickel and diming that leaves a bad taste in my mouth about RCCL.
The bottled water we ordered (12 pk) was in our room on our arrival. 1L bottles of Evian, averages out to $3/bottle when purchased ahead of time. Same bottle listed at $4.95 out of the minibar.
Had a few glasses of wine with dinner in the MDR and Chops, nice selection even though it is pricey ($9-$17/glass), and a few beers at various bars. Never tried the "drink of the day", but quickly caught on that the nice man with a tray of drinks isn't giving them away.....they'll want to see your Seapass card.
Another word about bars....I was shocked to see smoking allowed on board in the bars. Every day, the bar list would post opening/closing times and where smoking was allowed. Smoking was allowed in the Hoof & Claw on the Promenade and that smoke wafted all over the Promenade. I have no issue with smoking on private stateroom balconies or some open air bars around the pools, but in the Promenade??!! RCCL please reconsider.
I can't say enough nice things about Luisa, affectionately called "LuLu" by the kids, and her staff in Adventure Ocean. The boys couldn't wait to get there every morning and were sad when we picked them up at night. They had wonderful age appropriate activities and kept the kids busy and engaged. Adventure Ocean was open daily from 9a-noon, then 2-5pm, and again at night from 6-10pm. However, getting to Adventure Ocean takes you through the enormous arcade on deck 12. It was like running the gauntlet 3 times a day to get our kids through there without an all-out meltdown over not being able to play more arcade games. Obviously they strategically placed the Adventure Ocean entrance so you would have to walk through the arcade.
In Belize we scheduled "Private Island Beach Break" to Bannister Island through the cruise line. We were told to gather in Studio B at our appointed time, and taken to the tendering boats for a 5 min ride to the island. Very smooth.
I would definitely recommend a ship excursion in Belize, we had dedicated tendering boats, those going ashore for private excursions or on their own had a wait of over 1.5 hours in line for a tendering boat.
Bannister Island is small, and the group from 1 tendering boat would have been plenty. But a second boat arrived and then a third, there were not enough chairs or bar staff. I felt bad for the third boat, they were on a snorkel excursion, but brought to Bannister Island to buy lunch. Several people were confused and thought they had bought a package that included lunch.
The bar could not handle the number people that day and we gave up waiting in for drinks. I was glad I had bought some bottled water & juice along. Once the crowds thinned out we ordered from the grill, I really enjoyed the grilled grouper sandwich. I also enjoyed kayaking around the island with the kids. The water is beautiful and warm. Don't forget your sunscreen, but did not need bug spray.
In Cozumel we reserved a Jeep from Avis, which is easily located at the pier, and planned to do our own exploring. $127 for the day, including all optional insurance and waivers. Well worth it! It was a brand new 4 door vehicle with a/c. We went around to the other side of the island where the beaches are deserted and had a great day. Stops included Coconuts bar & grill for a margarita and delicious fish tacos. This is truly a one of a kind place and shouldn't be missed. It is an open air thatched roof bar without electricity (no blender drinks) that is up on a hill that overlooks the ocean. The bartender made grasshoppers out of woven palm leaves for the boys that they were thrilled with, and we bought them shark teeth necklaces from a local vendor. We also went to the National Park at the southern tip of Cozumel and climbed the lighthouse for spectacular views. ($12 adults, $8 kids). Back at the pier we were pleasantly surprised to find that the shops had nice items reasonably priced, and we picked up a few souvenirs for friends and family back home. And we had to laugh at a pharmacy right at the pier selling medication you can't get in the US without an Rx, antibiotics, viagra, ativan, etc...(no purchases here)
We only had time for the Magician (Levent) and the Ice Show Encore. The Magician was good and appropriate for all ages. The Ice show was spectacular. WOW! The costumes, the talent, and I can't believe the show they put on with such a small rink. Don't miss this show!
No where near as smooth as getting on. Next time we would self-carry. Placed our bags outside before 11pm on last night. Numbers were assigned 1-36 in groups to depart in an orderly fashion. We were in group 18. We were told the night before to meet in On Air at our assigned time, but when we got off the elevator on deck 3, staff was there telling everyone just to go all they way to deck 1. So we walked with the massess down to deck 1, then had to wait in ine to get our bags, then carry them to the back of a looong line waiting for customs. Took about an hour.
We did enjoy ourselves on this cruise, even though we never had planned on taking a cruise. I was a bit overwhelmed by the size of the ship and numbers of people on board. The service was very good overall, the food was plentiful and if you know where to look there is something for everyone. Will we cruise again? Probably not, but that is just personal preference and no reflection on RCCL.