This was my 5th overall cruise, 2nd on Royal. Went with my wife, daughter and sister as all were on spring break. We're locals so there was no air travel or hotel stays involved. We continue to LOVE cruising out of Tampa. It's close, drop off is a breeze, and self-park is easy. Even the valet attendants weren't pushy! Security screening, check-in and boarding again took all of 15 minutes!
Last year we sailed on the same cruise (although on a slightly different itinerary) with my parents and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. This time, while still enjoyable, we had a few disappointments. As mentioned in another review, the weather was not the best. The day before departure, a cold front went through and quite a bit of wind was left behind. Upon entering the Gulf, the seas picked up and we rocked and rolled for 2 and a half days! Heck, it even took the pilot about 30-45 minutes to get off the ship once we left the channel! Fortunately, none of us were affected but the staff strategically placed barf bags throughout the ship and they were steadily disappearing. The motion of the ship also made putt putt quite interesting!
The second day was a little overcast and when the sun went completely away, it was a little cool on the pool deck. Even so, most lounge chairs around the pool were taken. In fact, the only areas with chairs readily available were in the wind 2 decks above the pool. And when I say wind, according to the ship's information channel, the apparent wind on days 2 and 3 were between 40-50MPH! WOW!
The third day is when our first real disappointment happened: we missed our port of call in Grand Cayman. We woke up early to get ready and saw the island off in the distance. As we were getting dressed, though, we noticed the island shifting to south and when we turned to the info channel on TV, we could see we were turning away from the island. About that time the captain announced that due to those high winds, Grand Cayman closed the cruise ship anchoring and tendering area. Overall, this was probably a blessing in disguise since tendering would have been very difficult and our planned excursion to Stingray City would have been even more rough; nevertheless, my daughter was very sad. Oh well. An extra day on ship was not a bad alternative and we got to Cozumel a few hours early (although that means it was 6AM local time!)
The ship itself was well maintained and beautiful. Some signs of wear and tear were noted but nothing to take away from the overall appearance. The decor is bright and everything was very clean. The room itself was great and our steward Simplicio was very quick to introduce himself and educate us about some of the amenities associated with our suite. He was quick to clean and replenish supplies and always seemed to be around to take care of anything we needed.
The food in the main dining room in my opinion was very good. My wife thought otherwise but still seemed to finish everything she was served. The wait staff was above average (especially our assistant waiter who had our drinks ready nearly as we sat down!) Service was quick but a few orders got "forgotten." We did not eat dinner in either of the specialty restaurants but with our cabin, breakfast dining was in Chops Grill. As such, there were no crowds whatsoever and service was outstanding. Also, we thought the pancakes there were the best we've ever had - ANYWHERE! The buffet dining in Windjammer Cafe was hit and miss. Room service menu was VERY LIMITED and delivery was a little slow but the food was good.
As for our second disappointment, it had to do with the menu selection in the MDR, more specifically, the choice of which foods were served on what nights. As I mentioned before, due to missing our port in Grand Cayman, we arrived in Cozumel early. However, our departure time remained the same and all excursion times went unchanged. Our excursion (Passion Island by Boat) was a relatively long one, leaving the pier at noon ship's time and coming back at 530. We had early dining (6PM seating) so we kind of already knew we would miss eating in the MDR that night and planned on trying Windjammer instead. Prior to leaving the ship, though, we still looked at the menu to see what we might be missing and really didn't see anything worth trying to rush back to get ready for just in case. Apparently, most everyone else had the same idea as us: spend as much time in Cozumel, get back to the ship late, clean up and eat in the buffet. It was packed! Even one of the staff commented that the MDR must be empty as busy as the buffet had been that night. And that is when she also dropped the, "And it was even lobster night!" My wife and I looked at each other and didn't believe her so we went and looked again at the MDR menu. Nope - no lobster listed as a main course entree. Starting to feel a little relieved that we hadn't missed "Lobster Night" my sister then pointed out an entree named "Fisherman's Catch." Sure enough, buried in the description (and not even as the first item,) there it was: "Fresh fish, lobster tail, and shrimp." Now, I understand the cruise industry is a business and their job is to make money. However, this just had all the appearances of pinching pennies by serving the most anticipated meal on a cruise on the night when most people would not be planning on eating in the MDR. Last year, lobster was served on the night of one of our port calls but we had left port by 330PM so there was no worry about missing it. This time, the ship was still tied up even as the LATE SEATING was beginning. Just an overall bad taste in our mouths that still has us shaking our heads. To top it off, as we are making our way back to our rooms our cabin steward noticed my daughter sulking and asked what was wrong. We told him what happened and he advised us that with our suite, we could actually order off the MDR menu and have it delivered as room service! Unfortunately, we had just gorged ourselves in the buffet so we weren't hungry. Additionally, if we were to order it, we would have had to do so in 5 minutes! Now THAT would have been some useful information to have BEFORE we went to the buffet! Oh well... live and learn.
As for entertainment, we actually saw every production show and all but the last night's comedy act were quite good. One of the nights was evan a performance by the Texas Tenors from America's Got Talent! AWESOME! Even saw them in the Sports Bar watching the NCAA tournament the last night of the cruise!
Disembarkment was the fastest I have ever experienced. Ship was supposed to arrive in port around 7 so we planned to wake around 730, go eat and plan for leaving around 830. Got to the specified meeting place for breakfast and as soon as we arrived, the host told everyone to grab their things and we were off the ship by 800!
Overall, we had fun. Wish the weather would have been better and was disappointed we missed the best meal of the cruise. If you are planning on getting a Grand Suite like we had, make sure you get a good description from your cabin steward or the Concierge of all the benefits that come with your room! Will still plan on sailing with Royal Caribbean again. Only suggestion for them would be to combine formal night and lobster night - it only makes sense to me!