Need to Know this first I am not starting this review with usual embarkation info, I will get to that. Before you read any further, if you are within 60 days of your sailing and you have not checked to see if you can make your reservations for entertainment -- DO SO IMMEDIATELY. One of the best parts of this cruise was the entertainment! I can't tell you how many people we met who did not make reservations ahead of time and could not get the times they wanted when they got on board or were completely closed out.
The way the shows work is "about" 60 days before sailing, you can sign in to RCCL and go to Pre-Cruise Planner and book your show times. For our sailing is was more like 50 days before sailing because RCCL had not yet finalized entertainment contracts. Only about 30% of seats are available for booking pre-cruise and remainder of reservations can be made on board.
The entertainment on board is top notch and you do not want to miss it! We saw Hairspray on the first night and it was Broadway quality. We went to an afternoon showing of the Aqua show. You need to get there at least 30 minutes ahead to get a good seat and about 10 minutes before show time they start letting standbys in. It is possible to see this show by standing in the back. For the Frozen in Time Ice Show, we had great seats. Try to sit on the shorter end of the ice when you first come in as all the skaters will be coming towards you. All of these shows have extremely talented performers. Also check your Cruise Compass for times when the performers from Hairspray will give a second performance. One night some of the singers from Hairspray performed in the Opal Theater and on Thursday night in the Viking Lounge, Tracey and Edna from Hairspray gave a great Cabaret style show in Viking Lounge. Comedy Show was just OK. We saw Come Fly with Me, the last day at the 5pm show and was not as high quality as some of the other entertainment. For all shows, if you did not get a ticket, you can stand on a standby line.
We were four people in early sixties, all seasoned RCCL travelers (Diamond -- almost Diamond Plus). We prefer smaller ships, love Azamara but felt we needed to try this. For the most part, if you made the right choices for where to eat and where to sit on deck areas, you did not know there were 6K+ people on board. OK -- now for the rest of the cruise. The night before, we received a message from our Travel Agent that Coast Guard was doing an inspection and boarding would be delayed until 12:30. Luckily we were staying at a friend's condo in Ft. Lauderdale and they drove us to terminal. Embarkation was a breeze. After going through security, we were directed to area with dozens in agents for check-in. They processed credit card and documents, took picture, issued Sea Pass card and off we went. Since by this time it was after 1pm, we were able to go directly to our rooms.
We had a D7 category Ocean View Balcony on Deck 7 (10716). Room was towards AFT on Starboard side. There are only two sets of elevators and stairs on this ship, on group mid-ship towards AFT and other mid-ship towards FORWARD. Each bank had ample elevators and never had to wait for elevator. Room configuration was different than older ships. I liked the placement of closet (not across from bathroom like older ships). I did feel this ship had less storage space -- not as many drawers and cubbies. They did correct problem of desk outlet being under desk and now is on desktop with three outlets. Other than that bed was comfortable and had ample storage underneath for bags. Did hear that they are eventually adding more shelves over bed for storage.
We had first seating on third level of Opus Dining room. Felt dining room was one area that you knew 6K people were on board. Dining room noise level was high. Nothing spectacular about food. We had pre-booked three nights in specialty restaurants. Giovanni's was great -- food delicious and service 5 star mainly because on Manager Vyetko from Croatia. Danella was our server and she was outstanding. We ate in Chops twice but felt service and food was not as good as Chops on other ships.
For breakfast and lunch, we totally avoided Windjammer because of crowds. Each breakfast and lunch venue has a plasma screen outside telling you the crowd level and Windjammer was always RED. Our favorite place for Breakfast was Wipeout Cafe on Deck 15 near Sports Court. They have a made-to-order Omelet station, plus eggs, sausage, pancakes, hot and cold cereal and fruit. Another good breakfast option is Johnny Rockets on the Boardwalk (AFT deck 6) where for no surcharge there is a short menu that you can order from that includes omelets, waffles, pancakes etc. In the Park Cafe in Central Park (Deck 8), you can get loaded bagel, breakfast sandwiches and yogurt parfaits. Last option is Vitality Spa Cafe outside of gym and spa on Deck 6 where you can also get a breakfast sandwich or delicious yogurt, fruit granola parfait. Never made it to Promenade Cafe on Deck 5 but they also had fast breakfast options
For lunch you have to try the hot roast beef sandwich in Central Park Cafe!!! They also have great salads and Panini's. Wipe Out Cafe has tacos, pizza (not as good as Sorrento's on Royal Promenade deck 5) and a delicious Pretzel Dog (hot dog wrapped in pretzel roll). Vitality Spa has great little wrap sandwiches (different kind each day)
Spa and Gym
So now that I talked so much about food -- how about the GYM. We did not use any of the spa services but gym was state of art and never had a problem getting a machine. One comment is most of weight machines used metric system for weights, so brush up on your metric conversions. I did the 4 session Boot Camp and felt it was well worth the $120. It met at 4pm on Nassau and 10AM on sea days. Learned some great workouts and received booklet with all of workouts to take home. Burned about 500 calories in 40-minute session!
It was Sunday in Nassau and a lot of shops were closed. We did take a cab over to Atlantis. Wanted to show our travelling companions the aquarium but Atlantis now charges to go anywhere in hotel except Casino. Cab was $4 per person.
In St. Thomas, it was chaos trying to get a cab! We had reserved a day rate room at Emerald Beach Club (a Best Western Hotel) about 5 minutes from ship. Most cabs were taking people into town. We finally got a cab to take us. Beautiful beach. Day rate is $139 and includes use of room, pool, towels, beach chairs and umbrellas. For about $20, you can just get two chairs and umbrella. Bonus in St. Thomas for Sprint and ATT customers -- regular phone access! (Not Verizon)
In St. Maarten, we paid $6 per person for cab to Orient Beach. Cab drivers always push getting off at first group of clubs -- String Beach. We always bypass this stop and stay on for Bikini Beach ($18 for two chairs and umbrella) or Coco Beach ($20 for two padded chairs and umbrella. Much quieter and less crowded than String Beach -- both have Wi-Fi.
Deck areas can get crowded if you want to be close to pools but tons of other options. The Solarium Pool area is much more open and I feel not as nice as Radiance Class ships. Pool is very small is Solarium. We were not travelling with children but children's area looked great.
Did not participate in many but DO NOT miss Belly Flop contest on second sea day at 1:30. It is held in the huge Aqua Theater at the AFT end of Boardwalk Deck 6 and every seat is taken. Unlike Belly Flop contests on smaller ships, they make a major event out of this and have underwater cameras and instant replays on giant screen. The cruise director, Ricky Matthews, makes every event he hosts fantastic! He is hilarious and has SOOOO much energy. Make sure you get to final dance party on Royal Promenade deck 5 on last night at 9:30. Ricky puts on quite a show. Also try to get to at least one of the 12:30PM parades on Royal Promenade (first and third sea day). The question and answer session with Captain Tryn Selvag was also very informative.
We were sorry that we never got to visit the Rising Tide Bar -- a unique bar that starts on Deck 5 on Royal Promenade and rises up to Central Park on Deck 8 with great views of Royal Promenade.
We are fortunate to be Diamond Members and Caroline Cubillas was the best Concierge that we ever had! Diamond Club was not crowded at all on our sailing but a little noisy as it overlooked Starbucks and Royal Promenade.
Very well organized. A lot of people carried off their luggage. We had an 11:50 flight and used bus to go to FLL. We were group 11 luggage tags and were off ship by 8AM. Customs was a little slow due to staffing cut-back. Would I do it again? Yes, but have many other RCCL itineraries, I want to do. I think it is a great option for extended families.