This was our first cruise. There was an enormous amount of paperwork prior to this cruise. Way too much. They should make it simpler. And they hide some things. Like being able to bring up to 2 bottles of wine onboard per stateroom. They really don't even want you to bring soda or water on board. I know they want to sell those items, but RCCL should not concern itelf with non-alcoholic beverages that folks want to bring into their stateroom.
Thankfully, we booked through Costco Travel. They really did a great job in keeping things personal and simple, and even gave us a shipboard credit which we used toward onboard expenses.
We had a local friend of ours drop us off at the Cruise Dock at Port Canaveral. When you drive in to drop someone off, you must go thru the pay parking lot and they will give you a parking ticket but you will not be charged just for dropping someone off. The embarkation was smooth. The only alcohol allowed to be brought onboard for comsumption was 2 bottles of wine, and some of my favorite diet soda which was in my carry-on. There was no problem with either when we went through check-in.
We went to our interior stateroom to drop our carry-ons. It was bright and very clean, and as expected, fairly small. But we were very satisfied with it. The bed was comfortable and the bath was well designed. Our attendent was the best. I asked for ice and got ice almost immediately, and he provided ice for the duration of our trip without asking again-great! The bed was always made, fresh towels, etc. Our stateroom was quiet with little outside noise heard, which we liked.
The dining was something we were looking forward to. Service was great, but the food did not live up to expectations. The Jade/Windjammer buffet restaurants are good, but a bit lacking in selection. The buffet food is mostly of good quality, but not any better than what you would get at any good quality diner, local restaurant, or chain restaurant like Golden Corral or Denny's. I was dissapointed that there was little ice cream included. There was a soft serve kiosk on one of the upper outside pool decks, but the soft serve there is the worst I've ever had. There was no other ice cream included. There is a pay for ice cream place, but a good quality ice cream should really be part of the buffet.
We selected "my time dining" and ate most evenings in the (my time) main dining room. Service was excellent and the food was mostly, of good quality. However, in some cases, Preparation was not up to par. There were 4 of us for dinner most nights and most meals were good. Except for mine. For 3 nights in a row, I ordered steaks and they were way underdone for 2 nights, then way overdone the third night. Please note that it takes almost 2 hours for dinner every evening.
Chops Grille was our choice on one evening. It's worth the extra $30, at least for one night on a cruise. All 4 of us had Filet Mignon, with differing sides. The meal was excellent. Dessert was super no matter what you ordered. Best service and food ever. One of the best restaurants you could ever dine at, anywhere.
If you are looking for the Happy Hour Special, there is only one bar that we found. It was the "On-Air" bar. From about 4:30pm to about 7pm they have a 2 for 1 Marguerita special. So, for $6.00 plus .90 for the 15% tip automatically added, $6.90, you can get 2 Margueritas, and they are good! This was the only half price drink special that we could find on the ship. Some nights, each of the 4 of us got one just before dinner and brought it them with us to dinner. Note that if you order a Marguerita at a different bar or venue, it may be made differently and cost more than $10. Beers start at $5.46 each. There is a bar on the promenade deck that has a very good and large selection of beer.
We went to most every show available. The quality of most of them is very good.
We went into some of the bars, but many were orientated to the young crowd. There was a couple of places for the age 40-70 crowd, but the music would start late and end early. And the one night that they had a "Motown" night, they went into (too) heavy dance music after an hour or so. Then nearly everyone left. RCCL should consider having a 60's-70's-80's bar with a DJ that is open every night. They could start with Happy Hour hor-d'erves around 5pm and go up to 1 or 2am. Maybe have different theme nights starting at around 8pm--Rock, Motown, Country Rock, Beatles & English rock, a 60's nite, a 70's nite, and 80's nite, etc. That would be a hit with a big portion of the main cruise demographic. The other entertainment related complaint we had was that at about 1am, they would turn up the lights on the promenade deck. Now, we are not late-nighters, but many folks are, and, it seemed like the bar was closing and we were being kicked out when the lights came on bright at 1am. Hey-this is vacation. I understand turning the music off, but turning the lights way up--There's no need for that.
It was easy to get on and off the ship. Just have your sea-pass, and your passport ready. The shore excursions were well planned. We went on the jet-ski's at Cococay, the Island (small bus)Tour on St. Thomas, and the Downhill Trek (hike) on St. Martin. All were a good value and recommended.
Shopping varies depending on the port. At Cococay, RCCL owns the place, but shirts and some items are reasonably priced. And, there is no security issue there.
At St. Thomas, you are still within the USA, so security is about the same as other US mainland areas. There are still questionable parts of town. The bus tour that we took goes through downtown Charlotte Amalie and takes you up on Skyline drive, The views are excellent and the driver was great with all the local info. They stop for shopping along the way , all at very scenic spots. There is a large retail area near the ship docking area. They have most everything.
At St. Martin, security might be a greater concern, but not if you stay near the main part of town of Phillipsburg on the Dutch side. We did travel to the French side for our downhill hike, but did not stop at Marigot, the French Capital. But, it looked about the same as Phillipsburg. There is a very nice beach right in downtown Phillipsburg.
If you are going to shop ,or to the beach at Phillipsburg, which is recommended, take the water taxi. It goes from near the ship dock to the center of town. There is a discounted all-day pass, The one-way fare is $5 per person, still worth it, and they sell beer on-board!
When shopping at either St. Thomas or St. Martin, the main thing is to shop around. Prices vary widely, so take some time to do some comparison shopping.
On the way back, there were 2 whole days at sea. We took in as many shows as we could, spent a few hours relaxing in the sun, and enjoyed extended mealtimes.
The disembarkation process was smooth. The ship arrived at Port Canaveral at around 8am, a bit late because of an unscheduled stop at Nassau, Bahamas, to let off a person with a medical problem. Still, the only slightly late arrival was no discomfort for us. The Windjammer/Jade was open in the morning and we enjoyed a last breakfast before disembarking.
Overall, the cruise was good. Entertaiment-Ports of Call-Service-Atmosphere-Condition of the Ship--all Very Good or Excellent. The food should have been better. I could not find the all-night all-everything all-foods buffet that past-cruising friends had talked about-but I guess RCCL does not offer that. Maybe they should. They should more closely monitor food preparation in the main dining rooms and add some more dessert choices, specifically ice cream, on the buffet. We did not have any children in our party, but there were many around and there were many pool and water activities for them. The kids would enjoy a build it yourself ice cream sundae area in the buffet area also! The cruisers on our trip were about even in age groups from young right up to elderly. So, it was a very good mix not dominated by any agegroup.
Finally, kudo's to the employees of the ship. Service was excellent in every way. Thank-You!
Cruiser note: if you are not going to buy the all-u-can-drink soda option, then bring your own mug (with a cover) which you will be able to fill with water, iced tea, lemonade, coffee or whichever drink they have at the buffet. If you are not drinking alcoholic beverages or soda, there is no need to pay extra for beverages.