As we have done on many of our past cruises out of Galveston, we spent Saturday night at the Holiday Inn Express/Suites in Texas City, just a short drive to Galveston. The hotel is always clean and affordable, and you get free breakfast and free WiFi.
We parked with EZ-Cruise in Galveston, and we highly recommend them. Their staff is friendly, the buses are clean, and they are always on time and affordable!
Embarkation was fairly quick, though I noticed one small problem early on...there was some confusion by the staff near security as to whether or not wine was allowed on-board, and we saw several guests get their wine confiscated. There were some heated arguments and eventually a manager was brought in to confirm the policy that you can bring on two bottles of wine per cabin. We did just that and enjoyed them throughout the week!
The check-in process was smooth, and I like that they now take your photos right at check-in. Good move!
After about an hour (around 12:15) they began boarding the ship, and we boarded with the priority group for Platinum members. We were among the first ones to the buffet and we relaxed and enjoyed our first meal. Rooms were ready just before 1:30pm and we hung out in our Junior Suite for a little while before exploring the ship with my sister-in-law, who was a cruise virgin.
Here are some specifics on the various other aspects of our cruise:
Food - we found the food much improved over past RC voyages. We still LOVE the mushroom puff pastry and the lobster tail was the biggest I had seen in my years of cruising and it was cooked well. We enjoyed Johnny Rockets on the first sea day, and my 4yr old loved it! There was some confusion at the new Boardwalk Dog House (by the pool) as the staff was a new staff of Chinese crew brought in for the future China cruises. They did not know the difference in the types of sausages and were using cheat sheets to help them. Their lack of proficiency in English was a little difficult but once they got the order right, the food was pretty good at the Dog House. Buffet selections at dinner mirrored the Main Dining Room, with a few basic additions, though we only peaked a few times to see what they had available. We enjoyed the cookies and light snacks at the Royal Promenade Cafe several times - dang those cookies are addictive!
Pool - we enjoyed the pool several times, though we did notice several missing tiles and some rust in the various pool areas. Seems like some simple things RC can do to spruce it up a bit. Other than that, the pool was comfortable, sunny and relaxing! The one downside for many of us though was the proximity of many smokers, who just tend to ruin my activity as soon as I smell the smoke - yuck!
Cabin - Our Junior Suite (9594) was the same cabin we had last year, so no surprises really. We love the extra space for my son, and enjoy the over-sized balcony. Our room steward was good, but not great like we have seen in the past. He didn't do anything wrong or miss anything, but he just wasn't a vibrant personality like we are used to. But he kept the room clean and the ice bucket full, so all was OK.
Kids Program - my son loved the kids program, though he preferred spending time with his dad on this trip. They grew up so fast! When he did activities like money night, pirate night, pirate parade, etc. he had a lot of fun.
Excursions - we booked Tabyana beach in Honduras through RC and it was fun. He was been there before and enjoyed the clean, relaxing atmosphere. Unfortunately, here too a smoker two rows in front of me lit up a cigar and puffed away for almost two hours. We moved a few chairs over to get downwind of the stink and it was a nice day after that. While in Belize, the tendering was rough and took a long time to get everyone off. Very frustrating sitting in the hot sun, bouncing around while the tender captain tries to get things lined up. I have done tendering many times before and this seemed to be one of the tougher days for the poor little tenders.
Entertainment - we only made it to a few shows, but I really enjoyed the Australian Bee Gees. Pretty cool act!
Debarkation was easy and we were off the ship by around 10:15am and through customs within an hour or so. Lines were long and a bit slower than I remembered, but it seemed fine to me. We jumped on our EZ Cruise bus, which took us right to the lot, loaded our van and headed back to Dallas.
We are booked on the Allure of the Seas for June 2014 and we look forward to seeing what the biggest ship in the world has to offer us!