We did RCL's New Year's Trip RT out of New Orleans. We live in the area right now, so we drove to the port. We have left out of 3 other ports including 1 outside the US and this port was the worst the leave out of. It took us a long time to get to the parking lot, we then had to wait in a very long line (even as Gold members), and it took nearly 1.5 hours just to get on the ship. We spoke with other travelers who have experienced other ports and shared the same frustration at embarkation in NOLA. It seemed they had much fewer guest service people checking everyone in, since we sailed thru security rather quickly (once we got to that point!).
The ship was decked out in holiday regalia. We absolutely hate the holidays and often try to escape to a non-christian country to avoid the cold, Christmas caroling, and what not. We were pleased that even though the ship was dressed to impress for the holidays, we did not hear any Christmas music and it was toned down the further we got into the cruise. The 3rd night, the main dining room was free of Christmas stuff entirely, and by the end of the trip the only item left visible was the tree in the Promenade. We were so grateful for that!
All our days at sea were crappy weather. I know the cruise lines cannot do anything about this. They moved the majority of events from the outside into the inside or cancelled them all together. We never had a lack of something to do onboard, but would have appreciated 1 day sitting by the pool, but alas it was beautiful once we were down in the Caribbean! Our cruise directors were hilarious, personable, and we had a great time on 70's night, NYE party, and a few sail away parties camped out in the outdoor hot tubs watching the sunset. We did go see several of the shows, the Platters brought down the house! Not a dry eye in the place! The juggler was okay, the comedian was mostly funny (we were both sober, so maybe some alcohol helped). Formal nights were fun and orderly. I took 1 of the photography classes while onboard and the staff down there were wonderful. Two of the photographers were very gifted and we bought all the photos these 2 took, with the rest being rather lack luster. We really enjoy the portraits as they are framed fun memories of our adventures.
The people onboard were by far the friendliest we have encountered. We met many people from all over the US. I met a fellow photographer onboard and we spent an hour on the pool deck showing me how to work my new fancy camera. We met another couple NYE night in Boleros bar near midnight and had great conversation, laughs and dancing. The celebrations on the Promenade were fun to be had by all and even though it was insanely crowded and loud, people were still nice and willing.
We tolerate the Windjammer when we are too tired or don't want to think about where to round up food. (Isn't the point of a cruise to not think for a week?). Some things in the Windjammer were good, others awful, you just kind of learned what to avoid. The hand santizer guy at the Windjammer won employee of the month for his insane amount of enthusiasm in the morning getting everyone to sanitize their hands. He was awesome to wake up to every morning! We buy the soda package on these cruises and between him and the caffeine, you were moving in the morning! We did eat at Johnny Rockets 1 day for lunch, we didn't need to eat anything till our 8pm dinner and even then we weren't really hungry. Johnny Rockets is so much fun, loud, and food is good for diner food. Love the cheese fries and chocolate milk shakes. I would eat there every day just for those two things, but I would have gained 10 pounds on a weeklong cruise doing that! Lol. We also ate at Chops Grille on NYE night. We had a 6:30pm seating, and the place was empty when we got there with a few couples wandering in by 8pm when we rolled ourselves out of there. Our steaks were good, dessert phenonmenal, and we even got funky hats for NYE celebrations later. Our waitress was nice but not super informative. The very first time we had Chops on an RCL line (Serenade of the Seas in 8/09), we got "the steak talk" from our waiter. They went over the kinds of cuts, how best to cook them, etc. We have not been able to get "the steak talk" since then, and only for that reason would not rate it as the best Chops experience we have had. I would have enjoyed more interaction with our server, the host was very friendly and pleasant and spoke with us several times throughout our meal.
Now the main dining room. We had the best waiter we have ever had on any ship, ever. Volcun (seriously, that's his name), was happy, energetic, happy to talk to us, polite, joked with us, and overall just a wonderful person. We never wanted for anything. We were in a back room from the main dining room, which we were initially upset about, but he more than made up for it. After we found out that RCL no longer does the Caribbean dance through the main dining room with the waiters dressed in kitchen accutreman, it didn't matter we were not in the main dining room. Our table only had 1 other couple at it, and they too helped make dinner very enjoyable each evening. We had so much fun talking to them and learning about each other. We made friends with them, and took them to the airport when we disembarked. Again, total blast for the dining room. The food on average was ok. I feel the quality and most certainly the proportions have declined. But if we didn't like something, our waiter quickly brought us something else. We would order different desserts and our waiter would bring us everything on the list just to truly each night since we had an 8 person table with only 4 people at it. I was very unhappy to find out RCL no longer prints the Gratuity Coupons to go into your envelopes on the last night onboard. We have always prepaid gratuities and If we got special attention we would throw some extra cash in there. We always enjoyed passing around the envelopes on the last night, but since we got ho-hum service from everyone except our waiter, he was the only one who got additional cash. I asked the guest services desk if the employees are told who did pre-paid gratuities, and she said no. So we wrote on our envelopes that we did not put cash in "We prepaid your tip and RCL will not print a coupon". So we were rather disappointed at that. Knowing that in the future, we will not prepay our gratuities and do strictly cash for everyone. I don't know if that was RCL's goal or not, but that is what it resulted in.
Please DO NOT book excursions through Royal in Grand Cayman. We routinely buy excursions thru the cruise line and pay the higher price largely for the "idiot factor" of not having to think or worry on our trip. Grand cayman is beautiful, civilized, and the port is built to have ample opportunity to get a tour from a vendor there on site or even take a taxi to a local beach w/o a fuss. Our guide here was half an hour late, literally read road signs of local businesses to us for our tour, then rushed us through places to get back on schedule because the boat left at 3pm. Our travel agent warned us against doing a cruise ship sponsored trip and she was totally right. We loved Grand Cayman and cannot wait to go back and "do it right". In Jamaica (our first port day on New Years Day), we signed up to do Dunn River's Falls and Green Grotto Caves. First off, that was a mistake to sign up for 2 very physical activites right after New Years night. We don't drink, but we were still up late and had to be off the ship by 8am for this tour. We were dragging all day. Dunn River's Fall was ok, not sure I would do it again. The perpetual hounding to buy something got very old very quickly. The Green Grotto caves were very neat to see. In Cozumel we chose to go mudding in a dune buggy to the Jade Caverns. Fun, but again not what we expected. We spent a lot of time broken down and only got about 5 minutes at the caverns. They try for these corny photo ops holding an alligator, next to parrots and hawks and the like, but they are far from good photos. Half of them didn't even show up on the screen at the end of the tour anyway. I believe it was termed an X-rails adventure. Bring a bandana, wrap around sunglasses, towel, and a change of clothes. You will get COATED in mud (which is what we wanted). We would do this tour again if given the chance. The facility was nice, the people friendly, and they provided taxis back to the pier (about a 10 minute drive). The pier in cozumel is great for shopping. We went back to the ship, grabbed a quick shower, and went back off to go have lunch at Senor Frogs along the water at the pier. I recommend Senor Frogs! Fun party atmosphere, all their drinks come in tall obnoxious plastic glasses, and the food was really good. I bought a tanzanite ring from Tanzanite International on the pier here, they love to haggle, so never pay the first price they say!
After Cozumel we cruised back to New Orleans. We had a wonderful trip even though the weather was awful (cloudy, 70 knot winds on deck, all outdoor activities this day were cancelled including the dodge ball tournament we were looking forward to watching).
Next year the ship will be something else and it will go to different ports out of NOLA. We are seriously considering doing another New Years trip out of this city, and would happily return to this port to do more in the future once we are platinum or higher guests because they got on very quickly. The people onboard this cruise were super friendly and we had a great time doing a wide variety of activities! Our room attendant was good, not great, but he did his job. We enjoy inside rooms because they get totally dark, have always been very quiet for us, and we are hardly in the room if we are awake!