This was my 14th cruise (4th in a row with Royal, the others being the Oasis, Allure, and Freedom.) I was travelling with my sister (21) who has been on at least as many cruises as I have, if not more, my boyfriend (23)who has only been on the Allure and his twin (we'll call him BB) who has never cruised.
We flew into Ft Lauderdale out of Toronto with no issues whatsoever. However several planes had landed at the same time so we ended up waiting in a taxi line for about half an hour. Can't complain about that, the line moved quickly and it was a nice day.
I had read previous reviews about the systems going down at the seaport as people were waiting for embarkation so I knew it was a possibility, but it wasn't a problem at all and we sailed through. The only slight bump there was my sister and BB didn't get their pictures taken when they were assigned their sign and sail cards and despite having selected the option to have their credit cards convert the American dollars to Canadian, it was entered as having Royal convert it (something we didn't find out until the last day.)
Once on board we dropped out bags off in our room and went to Sorrento's, I don't mind the pizza there at all except this is the first cruise I've gone on since being diagnosed as non-celiac gluten intolerant, so eating gluten won't kill me but I'll be curled up in a ball praying to pass out from stomach pain.
They had gluten free pizza, I was thrilled! You could order it by the slice (it was more of a thin crust, but still delicious.) You could get any of the toppings that were on the pizzas of the day and it took about 5-10 mins max. They also had Udi's brand gluten free snicker doodle cookies. Sometimes the staff wouldn't know what you meant when you said gluten free, but if you repeated it enough they would grab someone else to help you out.
The food in the main dining room (we had late seating) was standard Royal Caribbean (given this is my 4th Royal I am finding the food quite repetitive.) The menus now have symbols for food that is available to be made lactose free, gluten free and vegetarian. Our waiter, Matey, was fantastic about telling us that even though some of the options said gluten free he informed us he had previously put in those orders for people with dietary restrictions only to be told they contained gluten, so the menu isn't perfect yet.
Along those same lines, a lot of the food doesn't lend itself to being gluten free, only the salads or fruit options for the appetizers were usually able to be gluten free, and dessert meant you were having fruit or mousse. There was gluten free pasta available but Matey told us he'd never served it to anyone who liked it (I'm guessing it ended up mushy like many g/f pastas do.)
There is one night (I believe maybe the third or fourth) where roast chicken with polenta is on the menu. I know there was something else I generally prefer so I ordered that but Matey regularly brought out extras of anything that was gluten free (he really was great and accommodating) and it was by far one of the best things I had on the ship all week. I really recommend that chicken!
Twice we ate in the buffet for dinner just because we felt like staying casual, and we found the sushi good and the options not bad at all. Gluten free bread was available there for every mean as well as in the dining room and it changed every day, cheese bread, focaccia, 12 grain, it was great.
Once night we chose to eat in Chops (for $30) and we all ordered filet mignon, no one found the meat particularly tender and as I like my meat very rare I found it was over cooked (I figured that would be the case in the main dining room and didn't fuss over that, but given the surcharge I had hoped it would be different there.) However, our waitress suggested she bring one of every side for the table to share and I'm glad she did because they were absolutely delicious and we devoured them. Being gf the only dessert I could have was the crÃ¨me brulee, which isn't a problem I love it, but they light it on fire in front of us and when the flames went out and we ate it there was a distinct chemical taste to it.
We had inside cabins, 2665, and 2667 with John as our cabin steward. We didn't see him often and we didn't get towel animals but the rooms were always clean and he was always friendly in the halls.
I was a little worried when I read some reviews that said they had rooms under the dining rooms like we did (apparently vacuuming was loud) but we didn't have a problem with any noise.
The entertainment was a mixed bag, the first comedian we found dreadfully unfunny. He had a small part in the welcome show and said if you liked him he had a full set in a few days, and if you didn't, well he wasn't going to get better by then. So we chose not to see it. The ice show Strings, was fantastic as was a vocal impressionist who did mainly older impressions but gave them a younger twist so everyone could enjoy them. Similarly the Unexpected boys show was much in the style of Frankie Valley but with a modern twist.
There was a magician I was very excited to see based on clips of his they showed before he came on, Ed Alonso is pretty well known but several of his tricks you could see he was holding objects to switch out. Even though the show was at 10:30, it seemed to cater to children.
The timing of the shows was kind of strange to me. We had late dining and I expected we would see lots of shows at 7, however some nights there were shows at 7 and 9 but then other nights the shows would be much later. Given we're gym rats and liked to get up at 7 am for the gym, I found myself taking naps to stay up for the 10:30 shows. I understand if they're skewed more towards adults to have later shows, but most weren't. But they ones that were, were great.
The cruise director Joff, and Captain Tio had a bit of a rivalry and it culminated in the fantastic Stars vs. Stripes charades game. Really well done, allowing the two sides to make jabs back and forth.
Quest was also enjoyable, but seemed less risque than previous years. Surprisingly, given we cruised during Spring Break it seemed like a much older cruise and that lead to less participation during the game for some sections, which was a bit of a letdown.
The gym had the usual amenities, but only one set of 3 lb. weights and I wish there had been better air conditioning or even fans as the air felt really stagnant on the treadmills. The classes were the usual ones offered and there was zumba class three times on the sports deck. The only problem is given how hot it was; doing zumba in the blazing sun didn't feel so great.
For the ports, St Marteen we've been to countless times and we love to walk down the shops and then spend the afternoon on the beach. Same as always and no complaints.
St Kitts, the guys did a snorkeling excursion which they enjoyed (took them to three different areas.) But I found the cruise port a bit grungy and the amount of men with little tiny monkeys you could take pictures with was a bit overwhelming (especially the monkey that looked barely alive.)
Puerto Rico was great; the guys did the zip lining through the rainforest. They bought bug spray from the ship, as they were advised but found they didn't need it. My sister and I walked around the cobble stone streets and sat at a cafe (we were only there for 4 hours unfortunately) but the port itself was great.
Labadee was the perfect beach day although there was another ship there (want to say the Enchantment but I could be wrong) so it was pretty crowded, even though we walked to the far beach Columbus, which has its own food area so we didn't bother going over to stand in the long buffet food line.
Extra comments: When booking the excursions the woman who helped us (I believe it was Giada) had really low energy, when we were asking which of a few options were the best she didn't seem to care and it was the only time we experienced less than stellar service.
What made that worse was we flew out of Ft Lauderdale at 8:30 pm on the Sunday, we knew we'd have a long day and chose to do an excursion there. We had looked at doing the Saw Grass Mills excursion but it was only 4 hours so when we asked if there was something longer but would still allow us to go to the mall she told us we could do the extended Hollywood stay that would bring us back to the airport for 4 pm and we could still go to the mall.
So on Sunday we got off the ship (quick and smooth sailing there) only to wait 45 minutes for our bus and to be loaded on to it. Once we got going the drive said, lots of people take this trip thinking it goes to the malls, it doesn't. I was really ticked off. Once we got to the welcome center where we could store our carry ons (the bus kept our bags) we asked about the mall and were told we were at least an hour away from Saw Grass, but if we took the trolley as far as it went we could take a $15 cab ride to the Aventura mall. We ended up doing that.
I would have greatly preferred Saw Grass. There was nothing wrong with Aventura, it was large, had lots of stores but it was missing the outlet aspects of Saw Grass and was mostly full of very expensive stores. We also had to spend money on top of the excursion to get there.
In summation, the food is definitely only okay. The rooms were clean and small as usual (not a big deal.) The ports were lovely and the ship and its staff great. I would do Independence and Royal again, but the food aspect is making me contemplate trying a Celebrity cruise.