We were a group of 15 friends and family traveling together. Nine were in the 15-22 year old range and six in their early fifties. All have cruised before; my husband and I having gone at least 15-18 cruises and our kids have been on ten of those cruises. This was our first cruise on Royal Caribbean.
The drive to the entrance of the port from Long Island was easy. It took approximately 45 minutes to an hour.
The Port: As we turned into the Port area at 11:15 a.m. we were met with an already long line formed to head to the luggage drop-off or parking areas. There was one lane, although clearly there was room for a second lane. In the planning stage of this pier a few old No Parking signs that dotted the area to the right could have been cut down and old parking spots, which clearly haven't been used in years, paved over. We inched up and around the buildings slowly coming closer to our destination. As we got closer to the drop-off area, which is PAST the parking area meaning you must drop off your luggage then get sent back on line to park your car, we decided we would just park our car and walk with our luggage the very short distance to the luggage check-in area. I had seen this suggestion on Cruise Critic and was now keenly aware of how smart it was. However, when we attempted to do this we were told we are not allowed to park if we didn't drop off the luggage first. Totally ridiculous! There were very few cars leaving the port so there was not a cross-over problem with those leaving and those arriving. Just poor set-up.
Embarkation: Quick and easy. Representative at desk very pleasant and most appreciative of my having all documents organized with birth certificates, picture IDs and charge cards clipped to each appropriate pre-registration pass for each of my family members and the two kids' friends who were traveling with us. Those reading this may consider doing the same and putting them in an organizer folder to make life easier for yourself and the check-in person. You wait a bit to go thru a picture taking area but, although I never buy that particular picture, it didn't bother me. A shuttle bus quickly came to take us to the ship. The area you first step on to the ship is very lack luster. Usually you walk into an atrium area with a Wow factor. Not the case here. Nondescript hallway by an elevator with a staff member directing you to Deck 11 to eat. No maps of the ship handed out, no directions to your room, nothing.
The Room: Our room was average in size but lacked drawer space. The only drawers were little small ones, similar to what you would have on a bathroom vanity. There were some small metal rack type shelves in the side of the closet which we used but they certainly weren't convenient to find things as there was no light in there. Much more drawer space on other cruise cabins I've been in, some with even large drawers that pulled out from under one of the single beds. Not the case here so for four it was ridiculously short of space. I suggest bringing an extension cord and a light up clock. The telephone shows the time on a display but having a clock is more convenient. We had a balcony, which we were too busy to use much but is always nice for when you just want some quiet time. The beds&the worst I have ever had even compared to going on a girl scouts camping trip! The mattress was so worn it sagged onto the metal frame holding it up. I am a very thin person and this mattress sunk under my weight. My daughters slept on the pull out couch which felt like a board covered in fabric. It is not a pull-out in the sense that it opens into a mattress. The back of the couch drops down as the seat area is pulled forward and you sleep on that. It was like we were Goldilocks in the Three Bears trying to find a comfortable bed. If I sound as if I am being picky, be assured I'm not. I called the room steward shortly after we got in our room and requested a foam egg crate type cushion for our bed (previous cruisers had told us to be sure to do this). He brought one which didn't cover the whole bed but if we slept close to center it made for a comfortable sleep for my husband and I. After the first night the girls said they couldn't sleep on the pull out. I asked the room steward in the morning for another foam and he said everyone was calling to complain so they ran out of all of them on the first day. He offered to put another mattress pad under the sheet, which he did, and that made it a bit softer. He also said that mattress and bedding would be replaced starting in September. Although no help to us, that will help those of you going in the future. However, I was perplexed that such a major cruise line would let their bedding get into that kind of state before replacing them. The Ship: The ship is what carried the cruise (of course besides our traveling companions). It has many unique features and those are what made us chose this particular cruise. The Promenade was a beautiful centrally located area of stores, bars and light snack areas. The first night a parade takes place there that is not to be missed. Although we did not have an opportunity to ice skate, there is a rink which is certainly smaller than one you might find at home, but bigger than expected after reading many comments on how tiny it was. The ice show was excellent and was a welcome diversion since we did have drizzly or cloudy weather all day on our first full day of sailing. The mini-golf was a real no frills course, nothing decorative at all on it, but served its purpose of providing us with fun. Keeping it open 24 hours was a smart idea, as was the basketball court and ping pong. There is an oceanography lab on Deck 1, to which tours are offered. The six adults of the group went (kids preferred to sleep in late). I thought it very interesting. You could also go on to the atmospheric lab tour on the upper deck, which we did, and found the scientist that was on board this particular cruise to be a really entertaining and informative guy. It is a $3 million lab and anyone with an interest in science would love it. Honestly, I do not have any particular love of that field and still found the scientist to be extremely interesting. The rock climbing wall was fun, and if you are sent to the center of the wall to climb it can be a bit challenging for those not particularly experienced.
The only negative thing about the rock climbing area was the lack of organization. If you can picture a large number of people lining up in a small area in front of a sign up desk, some being cramped with their backs against a door that keeps opening as more people keep coming and then closing without seemingly having a sensor to reopen it once it hits those people. There was an older woman waiting with a grandchild who I saw get quite a hit by that door. The staff members arrive and now ask that everyone who has already signed releases earlier in the week to come over to put their names on a sign-in sheet and get their shoes to start of climb. This means someone who just walked on the line goes way ahead of those who have been waiting a while already. Some people had the forms filled out but just needed to have their cards punched with a hole indicating their release was signed. They had to wait too. It was mobbed since it was the first session of our only nice full day at sea and crazy. Once your name is on the numbered sheet (only 50 allowed per session), they don't call those names in order, you just wait on another line, which is in a tight area so no real line, waiting for the climbing to start. Realistically number 20 could be walking ahead of number 2. This was a bit too much for me and when I went up to the desk to take my name off that list, I saw others signing up for the later 2:00 time. I asked the staff if they were taking names for later sessions could I do the same and was told yes. Of course when I returned at the later time I was told that sheet that the other staff member had us use was not valid (which I do agree with if they hadn't said yes in the first place - I did think it was unusual that at the first session they were letting people sign up for various ones during the day but figured that was their system). I wasn't't about to argue so I just waited on the line, again, only to see there were only two slots left on the sheet by the time I got up there and there were five of us. The girl behind the desk, hearing the kids trying to decide who wasn't going to go, and knowing that we had spent who knows how much time on lines on two different sessions and given misinformation was kind enough to call me over and say that she would let all five of us go. We certainly appreciated that gesture. The short of this is, once on board get a release for each family member at the skating rink or roller blade area, both which seemed not to have a heavy influx of people. Get your card punched whether you think you'll do any of these activities or not. If you want to do them, then you are set. I really don't know why this course of action was not suggested by the cruise line at the start of the cruise, or even have you do the releases on-line when doing your pre-check-in. What I saw happening at the rock climbing could have been eliminated and people a lot happier than what I was hearing from those waiting on various lines. Also skip the first session of the day.
Food: The dining room food was consistently good with a nice selection. The chef did tend to put a sauce on a couple of different entrees which had an ingredient with a distinct taste that I didn't care for, but that, of course, is just personal taste. You are more than welcome to ask for different entrees and use this as an opportunity to try new dishes. We left dinner every night more than full.
The buffet area was quick and convenient but lacked in imagination and quality. It seemed as if we were eating the same foods over and over again. We often travel on Carnival and I always love their grill area where you can get a hot off the grill burger or thin steak on a roll. Here the burgers were pre-cooked and left in a warming tray. I am also accustomed to Carnival's NY style deli with hot pastrami or corned beef, etc. Here the sandwiches are pre-made and left on the buffet. I am also used to have the napkin with silverware already on the table for you and a person going around with a cart to refill drinks. Neither of these were available here so it made for a bit more carrying. Their large oval buffet plates did help a bit.
Service: Our stateroom attendant was efficient and a man of few words. In the book in our stateroom it showed two men's pictures but I never saw or met the assistant. Possibly there wasn't one or the men alternate on various cruises. I rarely ever saw our attendant but our room was always clean with a towel animal each night and fresh towels for the beach. My boys room did not have the beach towels and when my husband asked an attendant in the hallway about it he was told they didn't have any more and for my husband to go to the pool area and get some. I would have thought that was his job to bring some down from there. Our dining room wait staff was very pleasant and tried hard. I do think they gave them too many passengers to wait on. We had the 8:30 dinner seating and always arrived promptly but never seem to get out before 10:20. The night of the midnight buffet it was 10:35 p.m., the head waiter announced for all to leave and turned up the lights and we had just gotten our coffee and dessert. The young woman who was the assistant was only 18 days on the job. She was trying so hard and you never saw her standing still but said her number of passengers kept being increased. Maybe the kitchen was far from the table. The poor girl fell in the kitchen and injured herself, missing the last night's dinner. We were certainly concerned over her job security after that one. I just can't imagine the cruise line is paying these people that much money that they can't afford to hire a few more and let them slow their pace down a bit and yet serve in a bit more reasonable time frame.
With that being said, we move onto some other staff members, namely those not affected by whether you would be tipping them or not. I have only once previously been on a cruise where I had any staff at all be rude and snippy - and that cruise line is no longer in business. On this cruise a number of people seemed to be very rude. An example - after the ice show we left our seats and stopped, off to the side, to check where the kids would be heading off to. One of the staff walks by and stated in a snippy tone, I need you to leave here NOW, we have to get ready for another show. I could understand if an announcement had been made or we had once been politely asked to move on. This was not 20 minutes after show time - believe me, our kids were getting ready to run to their next activity, people had just left. Another rude encounter was when we were at the Captain's Cocktail Party. The waiter made an issue over serving a drink to my son and his friend (ages 22 years old). They had showed their Sea Pass card with the proper indication of being of age to drink (younger get holes punched in them). The waiter wanted further ID, to which my son wasn't initially sure he was carrying his license in his suit pocket. When my husband wanted to know what the problem was the waiter said she was told to do this and would bring over her supervisor since she didn't want to get in any trouble, which was fine by us. The supervisor was very arrogant and when my husband requested his name he refused to state it and would only point at his badge. The supervisor then told my husband if he was requesting his name then he wanted my husband's name. At first my husband said fine, but then said Absolutely not. I have not been rude to you and why must I account to you who I am??!! The supervisor kept insisting that he wanted my husband's name if he was taking his name. A couple sitting at the next table overheard this whole encounter and came over later saying they felt terrible about how we were treated. The woman said this was her first time on RCCL and had thought this was considered a step-up type line - same impression we had. She said she had asked a staff member a question, he looked at her and then walked away! She never encountered this on other cruise lines. She was unsure if he didn't understand, in which case he should have said one moment or Excuse me and got someone, or if just rude. She seemed to think rude since it wasn't the first time she was treated in that type manner. Another passenger I met at the beach with her granddaughter told me she cruised extensively and felt she was treated curtly by many of the staff on this particular cruise. She said she would stick with Princess Cruise Lines in the future.
Personally, I really hate to dismiss a whole cruise line on the lack of friendly staff on one particular cruise and she did agree. However, I was sorely disappointed in the area of staff friendliness. Getting to know various staff members is usually what adds to the quality of your cruise.
Bermuda: The docking area is not particularly attractive but I assume it will be further built up in the future. My kids did the jet skiing from the Watersports Center and had a great time. We also went to Snorkel Park, swam, went on the small slides in the ocean and used the snorkel mask we brought along to look at some beautiful fish over by the rocky area to the left. A fellow passenger had dog biscuits which he crumbled and shared to feed the fish, which made they come over in numbers. Bring a few biscuits with you.
The second day we took the ferry to Hamilton and then the bus to Horseshoe Beach, which was beautiful. Buy your tokens ahead at the window on dock or all day passes can be bought on the ship for $12.00 per person. For children 16 and under you do better to buy the tokens you need ($2.00 per ride) than the $12.00 all day passes.
The first night in Bermuda, by the dock, there is a craft type fair set up with a magic show and local entertainment, as well as our cruise director. It made for a nice evening. If you have teens or young adults and they spot the sign for a Beach Party at Snorkel Park I would advise skipping it. I originally thought this was something in conjunction with this cruise associated fair. My husband and I insisted on going there to check out the Party and found it was not volleyball on the beach or entertainment. It is basically a pitch black beach with the bar being open. No association with the cruise at all. We had the younger teens walk back to the ship with us and the older ones stayed with strict instructions not to leave anyone alone or walk back alone, even for 2 of the guys in our group who are each near 6"7' tall (we felt some of the bar patrons a bit seedy looking). The kids all thought we worry too much and laughed as we left. They weren't laughing too hard when they arrived back on ship earlier than instructed and said later in the night they saw two guys get into a fight and one pulled a knife and held it above the others chest as if ready to stab. They all quickly left together. We refrained from saying, We told you so!
Disembarking: Very organized, although hard to hear the announcements if you didn't stay in one of the general rooms. Our color was third from the end but was called by about 10:15 a.m. The luggage was clearly placed in color coded areas. We carried our luggage to our car and passed on trying to jockey for a space in front of the passenger pickup area. Since we were one of the last to be called, exiting the area was easy.
All in all it was a great vacation, lots of fun had by all. There were those areas that were lacking, mainly the lack of friendliness in some service (and I can handle slow service if people are pleasant and trying - after all, I'm not going anywhere once we are in the middle of the ocean) but I didn't let it but a damper on my vacation. Go and enjoy!