This is the third cruise for my DW and I, our first with our 9-year old son. We are a younger couple in our thirties and are beach people, sociable, love a good fun time, and are generally outgoing. This was a bit different than our previous cruises in that we were travelling with our son and were travelling with a larger group of 13 from my DW's family to celebrate her father's retirement.
We pre-faced our cruise with a three night stay in Cocoa beach at the Comfort Inn. We participate in their points program and the room was a good deal at $71 a night considering it was within walking distance of the beach and right next door to the Ron Jon surf shop. The hotel had a nice salt water pool and shuffleboard area. The lounge was a dive but we don't really mind that. The included breakfast was the best of any Comfort Inn we had ever stayed at and when you include it in the price it is an incredible bargain. Parking was easy and close to the room. My only gripe would be the microscopic fitness area but for $71 a night you cannot really complain. It took about seven hours to drive down on the Friday before the cruise and we even got to see the Enchantment in Port Canaveral bringing on the cruise guests for the three night sailing proceeding ours as we crossed over the bridge. From there, it was a nice lunch at Rusty's Seafood & Oyster Bar (great view, food was OK, loved the live music) and a check-in at the hotel. We also enjoyed meals at Fishlips Bar and Grill (as good a view on the outside deck as Rusty's, liked their food a bit more and the atmosphere was about the same), The Atlantic Seafood House (felt dark and moody compared to the outside dining, was overpriced IMO), and A NY Pizza House right across from the hotel (VERY good value. Recommended by the hotel 26-inch pizza for $18. You can feed an army. Atmosphere is terribel but the food is great and a great value) during our pre-stay. We also enjoyed a day at the Kennedy Space Center the day before embarkation. We thought the new Atlantis exhibit was incredible and all the new attractions really almost makes the $40 to $50 pre-person price point worthwhile. I'd definitely recommend it to space nuts or anyone who has never been. My family thoroughly enjoyed it but the other 10 in my party balked on the pricing and passed on it. For parking, the Comfort Inn allows for free cruise parking but we opted for the Radisson Park and Cruise instead and were very pleased with the service and ease of transport. We got a deal for less than $4 a day to park there and would gladly use it again and recommend it to anyone. Now on to the cruise itself
I don't have a ton of cruise experience, but this particular embarkation was by far the worst of the three I've been through. I attribute that partly to trying to get a group of 13 together to go to embarkation at the same time. We did not get to the Port until after 11am and also to the fact that a very large group processed through before us. I know that the port has to work smoother than that and I would of personally been there an hour earlier to beat some of the crowds. There didn't seem to be a lounge and color coded system where you could wait while sitting and relaxing and then go aboard in smaller groups. This just seemed to be a big herd of humanity after the initial checking-in process and a lot of standing around in a big crowd while slowly working through the different steps of getting aboard. It took almost an hour and a half from the time we pulled up in line at the port until we were on board. Most of that time was spent staring at the back of the person in front of you and wondering what the hold-up was. The ship was overbooked at over 2700 people so that can explain a lot too. Once aboard, the Windjammer was an absolute zoo. As a CC vet, I would of opted for the Park Cafe in the Solarium but the family group had decided to meet as a whole in the Windjammer once aboard (not a good idea if you ever think to do that) Coupled with the slow embarkation, it was certainly a higher stress environment than I would of liked when I ordered my first poolside margarita.
As stated before, the ship was over-booked with over 2700 people aboard. This included over 500 children under 11, several dozen infants, and a group of 127 15 year old girls in a large tour group from Argentina (yikes!). To be honest though, the Argentina group was EXTREMELY well behaved and you never really noticed them except when they set their flags up on a section of beach, booked a room for a private function, or all decided to go to the pool deck together. They did not detract from the cruise at all and several of them gave my nine year old son doe-eyes and either made his day or embarrassed him to no end. Even with the ship over-booked, the ONLY times we really felt crowded was during embarkation and that first zoo-ish lunch in the Windjammer and during the pool activities on our sea day. Aside from that, there was plenty of room.
We stayed in an inside superior, room 4047 on deck four. We had a connecting room to my in-laws but did not use any adjoining doors. We found the room to be plenty large enough and our first ever use of the third bed was good. There were two 110-plugs on the desk and our room safe functioned on the set sail pass card (against what advised, I messed up and used it the first time so just kept it the same throughout the cruise since it worked). We never cleared or used anything from the mini-bar and the room was plenty big enough for three to change and live in. Storage was better than in any room I had stayed in before, even the balcony cabin on my last Norwegian cruise. Our stateroom attendant Carlos was a virtual ghost during the week in a good way. We saw him about three times and he addressed us by name each time. The room was always clean and always in good repair. We encountered no problems.
This ship is not as flashy as all the new vessels and even not as flashy as our last Norwegian cruise in 2008. But it was very nice and we found it easy to get around and we enjoyed all the public rooms. The Centrum and R Bar was a nice area and there were lots of fun activities always going on here. We loved the upper deck overlooks of the centrum. Boleros seemed underused to us and we didn't find the Schooner Bar until later in the cruise. The only time we were in the Starlight lounge was during Quest. I really liked the Viking Crown lounge, it had a good vibe and wonderful views. The pool deck was often uncrowded but on sea day it was extremely overused. It seemed that three of the four hot tubs on the main pool deck did not function properly. One pool was freshwater and one pool was saltwater. I never saw anyone in the Solarium but we never used it since all of our pool times were with the kids. The Orpheum Theater was nice, it had some really good sets and versatility, a good space. This ship had the most extensive shopping area I had ever seen. We rarely used the Promenade area but did walk it once during our sea day to enjoy the views. Lots of people used the running track and we often found ourselves up there walking around. We avoided the fitness center (work out hard enough when I'm NOT on vacation, no need to do it there), so no review to be had. Also aside from stepping into it one time, we stayed away from the arcade.
We dined in the main dining room with a 5:45 reservation every night. With 13 in our party, we broke our group up into eight adults at one table and five very well behaved boys ranging from 6 to 14 at the adjacent table. The parties around us all seemed to be younger families or extended families so I wonder if they set up the dining room in such a way. Stalin our waiter and his assistant Peter did a GREAT job, especially with the children and we all tipped them extra at the end of the cruise. Compared to our other MDR experiences, this was superior by far. Even with no escargot or lobster offered on the regular menu, everything was excellently prepared and we enjoyed every meal. Peter had lots of neat little tricks and feats of dinner table skill to display and we had a ton of fun with him. We did breakfast on the morning at sea and were able to sit 10 of us together with no problem. The MDR breakfast was good though I'm not sure why you'd pick that option over the buffet which offers virtually the same thing. The Windjammer buffet was decent for lunch. I'd rate it as high as our previous buffet experiences. Liked the midnight sail-away buffet in Nassau. The poolside buffet during the sea day was just OK and the buffet in the island in Coco Cay was an absolute zoo (add that to one of the only times I ever really felt crowded). We did not dine in Chops. Overall, I'd rate RCCL's dining as a step up in the MDR over Norweigan and very good overall. We really enjoyed it and felt we got really good value on it.
It just didn't feel like there were as many varied activities on this cruise as we had on past cruises and that may have been attributed to finding more family activities or planning around things with others. We caught all the shows, the family comedy show, and the magician. Our kids skipped the broadway-style shows and honestly they were skip-able. It was of higher quality than our first cruise but we felt that maybe it wasn't as good as it could have been. The magician was pretty good and we really enjoyed his show. We absolutely LOVED some of the games and impromptu yet fully scheduled dance parties in the centrum. Cruise Director Marc Walker (Bing Bong) did an awesome job and we really liked him. He had his family on board and it was cool to see his baby daughter at some of the activities. The cruise director's staff did great IMO. The dancers and singers lacked a little bit but they were professional. We really enjoyed every musician we listened to. We didn't stick a dollar in the casino the entire week (THAT surprised me). The 70's party was a riot, we loved it! And the QUEST may have scarred me for life, but I DO have my medal to at least give me solace. BTW, my dearest darling wife VOLUNTEERED me to captain and she laughed her happy little heart out there at the end. Imagine trying to explain to your nine year old son (who was in kids club during Quest), exactly what daddy had to do to get that nice medal around his neck. Enough on that. Click the pictures if you want more than a mental image
Our son used the Kids club on two of the four nights and on both nights he begged to stay over and we gladly let him stay for the $6 an hour. We saw the phenomenon known as Gagaball through the windows into the kids club and though we cannot exactly explain it the kids LOVED it. My son also loved the Wii play in kids club. He'd absolutely go back in a heartbeat. We did not use the early dining pick-up or the Coco Cay kids activities though I'm sure both were fine.
My son loved the rock climbing wall and the bungee trampoline. The key to these activities was to get there at the right times to avoid the lines. We did the Rockwall on sailaway with Port Canaveral in sight and the Bungee trampoline after dinner while docked in Nassau.
We ended up catching the second tender over to Coco Cay about ten minutes before they even advertised we were tendering. It threatened to rain during the morning but turned into an absolutely wonderful day. We used it as a beach day and I rented snorkeling equipment. I had never really been snorkeling before and now I'm HOOKED. The water was clear and calm, the snorkeling area was HUGE, and there were hundreds upon hundreds of fish in the good spots. It was even easy to spot hundreds of fish in the rock areas in waist deep water at the swimming coves. The rocks can be sharp though so stay off of them. The biggest fish I saw was actually in the shallow swim cove just darting among waders and maybe finding a crumb or a disturbed meal on the bottom. The sunken ship and the sunken airplane offshore were great to float over and the swim platforms allowed for good resting areas (it IS a bit of a swim out). There was a deeper area with stronger tidal currents that I did not go into because I felt it wasn't up to my swimming level (my swimming level is officially somewhere around I won't drown, maybe and Swims better underwater than on the water. I'm NOT a floater at all). I mentioned the headache with the barbeque in the dining section. My other gripe about Coco Cay has to do with those wonderful Coco Locos. They are absolutely delicious but at $11 a pop after the tip, they are very cost prohibitive. Even when I tried to go get either a refill or a second one without the cup, I was told that they are only sold with the cups. So I had exactly 1 (one) Coco Loco and spent the rest of my money on cheaper beers that day. Your loss Royal Caribbean.
As a note, for drink prices, I found the best options were the house margaritas on the pool deck and the Mojitos in the R Bar. Both for $5.50 and both were good and strong. The mojitos were freshly prepared each time and I love the crushed mint and sugar.
This was our first time to Nassau so we ended up booking an excursion through the cruise line on a glass bottom boat to ensure the kids would at least have one fun experience in an unfamiliar port. I actually thought the excursion was a decent deal for it's length and for the harbor tour and free rum punch included. We enjoyed a good narrated tour, a half hour out over the reef, and I might have had a few extra rum punches at $2 a pop. They also had a fruit punch for the kids. I wouldn't discourage anyone from trying this who wanted too.
A lot of people knock on Nassau due to the hassle of having to tell a lot of people no for solicitations. We didn't have too bad of a time. Maybe that was due to there being five ships in port and there being plenty of pickings or maybe it was due to walking off onto an excursion first, but we never really felt hassled while we were there. Lots of $1 water offers and such and a couple of cab offers but we felt the islanders were nice and not too pushy.
After our excursion, we got off and walked over to Junkanoo beach and the new Fat Tuesdays there. We enjoyed the beach, the views, and a overpriced and cold drink (overpriced but nice and strong, it's a Fat Tuesday's tradition). We spotted two interesting excursion opportunities nearby in the Segway tours and the Self-Drive boat tour. Both looked reputable and are on our radar for future Nassau trips. We also walked by the Royal Hilton on the way to junkanoo and it looked like a good place to do an all-inclusive day. Junkanoo beach itself looked uncrowded. There weren't any peddlers on the near end. The beach area did need to be cleaned up a bit (looked like a party was there the night before and a good one to boot considering the half full rum bottle still on hand). To their credit though, some guys had arrived to start cleaning up by the time we starting walking back to town.
We did some shopping in Nassau and bought some Christmas ornaments for my ornament collection as well as some guitar pins from the Hard Rock Cafe to add to that collection. One thing I wanted to try while in Nassau was some fresh conch salad. I had heard good reviews of it at the Fat Tuesdays and out at the Fish Fry. But Fat Tuesdays was out of conch at the time and we ended up walking a different direction that Arawak Cay. I kind of abandoned the thought and went to Senor Frog's instead just to have a loud boisterous lunch. I was extremely surprised there to find that aside from silly dancing games and yard glasses full of alcohol (which I DID partake in, thank you very much), there was also a conch salad on the menu for $12 and prepared freshly AT YOUR TABLE. Of course, I ordered this and the conch fritters and I was extremely pleased with both. The conch salad began with a live conch being shelled with a hammer right in front of you and then prepared and mixed in with limes and cerviche. Absolutely what I was looking for and absolutely stunned to find it where I did. Also enjoyed the dancing, conga lines, and silly party games that Senor Frog's is known for. And before anyone asks, there were LOTS of kids in the place and I saw nothing untoward nor age in-appropriate for my son, though I didn't go in there without being prepared for the possibility of something like that happening. Been in several of them before and only once did I see anything resembling inappropriateness and on that occasion there were no children anywhere nearby.
After Senor Frog's, we went back to the ship, enjoyed some uncrowded pool time with dinner onboard. We watched all the other vessels sail away and Nassau was back to a ghost town by the time we pulled out at midnight with a big party on the pool deck and midnight buffet. Really enjoyed Nassau and I think next time we'll branch out a bit more and explore more of the island. We do plan do go back.
Compared to getting aboard, this was a breeze. We elected to self-disembark and after catching breakfast at 6:30am, we walked our luggage over to Deck 5. This was before the general announcement to self-disembark and we were very near the front of the line. It took only a few minutes to walk our luggage off, clear through customs, and walk out the front door to the terminal and onto a waiting shuttle to our parking area. Within half an hour after we left the gangway on the ship, we were in our car and on the way home. A very easy process compared to Embarkation
Of my three cruise experiences thus far, I think I'd have to rate this one as the best overall. I really enjoyed spending time with family and bringing my son along on to his first cruise. As our first RCCL cruise, we really liked the brand and felt it was a step up in dining and customer service. Embarkation wasn't good but they recovered nicely. I really loved the Ports on this cruise and enjoyed both. There were no real bad moments aside from embarkation crowds and the pain of the buffet lines and $11 drinks on Coco Cay. I will certainly be cruising with RCCL again in the future and I will give Port Canaveral another go as the experience wasn't too bad. I think the Enchantment is a very nice mid-sized ship and never felt that I saw a spot in disrepair or in need of TLC. I hope my next RCCL cruise is aboard one of their floating cities but I would gladly cruise this vessel and this itinerary again. Great cruise and a great time!
As a note: I've asked my son for any of his future vacation plans. Well, cruising has won outright to Disney World for now. He's hooked as well. That's my boy!