I have traveled with RCCL almost 20 times, thanks to my parents who started me cruising when I was 12. I have been on Carnival (never again), Norwegian, RCCL, and Disney's older company - The Big Red Boat (as a teen). I have always been impressed with the service and attention to detail on RCCL. For a mid-range priced cruise, many times I have received high-priced service. On my cruise over Thanksgiving, I did have some moments of high-quality service, but I also had some very surprising "bumps" on the high seas.
I'll start with the good stuff: Loved all the ports - but I knew people who had been to these locations before and they prepared me for what to expect. Others who had not been advised by friends seemed disappointed by the lack of glamour of Belize City, and the very small port of shopping and a tiny beach at Costa Maya. My advice - You need to do a tour in Belize (jungle buggy tour and cave exploration was a fun way to see the island), take a tour or veg-out in Costa Maya (horseback ridding was AMAZING. Loved it), and shop in Grand Cayman. Cozumel was canceled due to the recent hurricane damage.
Food in Portofino's - and service - was simply perfect. The waiter even went down to get a beer from the pub that was only sold in the pub (new castle) for our table mate who wanted to try the beer. I cannot say enough wonderful comments about the service and food. Pay the $20 per person and GO!
The ship does have a lot of different activities. I climbed the rock wall and ice skated. You have to plan out your day if you want to be active, but the ship also does a great job with letting you just watch the world go by - and getting a tan in the meantime. Our room steward was perfect and our waiter and assistant waiter were entertaining and informative.
Great work out area - new machines and nice facilities.
The Beatles tribute show was a great deal of fun - and I was not even alive when they were a band... The comics were good and offered jokes other than those about the sucking toilets. Seemed to be plenty of deck chairs, but it was very windy, so people may not have dared to go out. Overall, the ship was clean and very well-kept.
But, then there were the bumps...
First, embarkation was a nightmare. I had a flight that arrived at 9:30am (last minute change by the airline - was to get in around noon). I was told by the RCCL rep that I could board a bus to the port at 11. This wait was totally expected and understandable, since my flight was so early. What was less expected was the fact that I reported at 11, but RCCL did not know where the buses were. A bus showed up around 11:15, but it was too small - smaller than expected - and only 1 of an expected 5 -6 buses. At 12:30pm I was sent outside to a bus that was "coming very soon." 30 minutes later the bus arrived and again, it was too small to hold the 70 or so people that were sent outside by RCCL to get on the bus. It honestly felt as is the few hundred people that arrived via Miami were a total surprise to the bewildered five RCCL men that huddled together talking about the lack of buses...
The port of Miami was not much better, but due mainly to the port authority and customs. Only 2 metal detectors for a ship that holds thousands. The phrase "Threading a camel through the eye of a needle" pops to mind. I was finally on the ship at 2:30pm... (even though the book says the ship cannot be boarded until 2:00pm, people - including my parents - boarded around 11:45am.)
Second, I went to a class entitled "Learning How to Ice Skate." As the title implied, I assumed beginners could attend. How silly of me to assume such things. A very prissy and very unhappy teacher actually sighed out-loud when only 3 of the 12 people in attendance stated they had ice skated at least 5 times before. He continued to be frustrated by the sheer nerve of the novices showing up at his "Learning How to Skate" class... at one point telling us to skate back and forth to the other wall while he working with the skaters "he could teach something to..." Another RCCL skater arrived later and took over the class of those who were not skilled enough to have the pre-Madonna teach them. I will say the bitter teacher was brilliant in the ice show, though. Maybe he needs to stick to that profession.
Third - the food. What happened here RCCL? I guess as the ships get bigger the food becomes more bland and mundane. Sometimes it was hot in temperature; usually it was lukewarm. Mostly it was not impressive. (At Johnny Rockets, my brother and I placed our order with a waitress - and every single item we ordered was wrong - including not bringing 2 of the items we requested.)
Fourth - the tender service on Grand Cayman... it need to be re-evaluated. Our trip from the boat to Grand Cayman took an amazing 1 hour and 10 minutes (and the trip is MAYBE 1/2 a mile)! Tickets for the tenders were not issued, so you had to wait a very long time to fill the tender (and they PACK you in), and then there is this odd organization of tender boats - so we literally sat outside the dock for 20 minutes as 4 other tenders from other ships went into the dock. The Explorer actually left 1 and 1/2 hours late due to the slow tender service. Lastly, I must say that if you do not like children A LOT, or even if you are middle of the road about children, then do NOT take a Thanksgiving cruise. With kids off for the holidays, there were literally hundreds of children of all ages, but 7 - 14 seemed to be the most prevalent ages of free-roaming children. I realized by day 2 that many parents saw the cruise ship as a "safe place" for kids and thus, let them run all over the ship unsupervised. And, I mean RUN literally. Up and down halls, in public areas, up and down stairs and to virtually every activity. The Adventure Ocean program that was to entertain these children was apparently not in service for a great deal of the cruise. And, I am not sure when manners stopped being taught to children, but as was evidenced by numerous encounters, apparently it was halted around 1993.
I will say that the usually chaos of disembarkation was relatively easy. People started off the ship at 7am and I was off by 9:30 (I was the last group called by choice - my departing flight was late in the day).
I love RCCL - they have taken me to some beautiful ports and usually exceed my expectations. I am worried that as they grow, they are not paying attention to the details anymore - and those details are what have placed them above and beyond most mid-priced cruise lines. I hope that this trip was a fluke and another trip on RCCL will result in vast improvements in embarkation, food, tender service and enforcement of rules of behavior.