We have just returned from a lovely weeks cruise on this brilliant ship.
We found the embarkation experience to be very easy-turning up slightly earlier than we should and finding no long queues or wait. With our two daughters this made getting onboard nice and easy and we were soon exploring the ship within about half an hour.
We loved our first look around the ship before the crowds descended and really made the most of exploring from top to bottom to familiarise ourselves with as much as possible.
We found the ship to be a real WOW factor having previously cruised on much smaller ships. The decor and maintenance in most areas still seemed fairly clean and sparkling with just the odd signs of wear and tear on carpets but as she is due a refit next year am presuming this will then be sorted.
After a good hour exploring we headed up to the Windjammer for lunch having read on previous reviews how crowded it gets and yes they were right! We went to the back and managed to secure a table and start on our first of many feasts for the week!
We tended to use the Windjammer for breakfast and lunch (it is often very busy so either head for breakfast early or lunch early!) and then we did My Time Dining on the Mozart level every evening around 6.30 pm which suited us and meant we were assigned the same table every night and with the same waiters, Savio and Ghazi. These two waiters really made the whole cruise a wonderful experience for our young daughters-making them feel special and serving such lovely food. I am a real foodie and must have tried most things on the menu-all was cooked really well and my eldest daughter especially liked the mash for which I'm sure you know Royal Caribbean is famous for serving! With regards to desserts-The chocolate sponge pudding is one of the nicest I have ever tasted!
I found a good selection of dishes to suit most people and even my fairly fussy DH found something he liked most nights.
Our daughters loved getting dressed up-indeed we were pretty formal on every night just to make the most of the cruise -but if this isn't your style then the Windjammer serves a great selection of food in more casual surroundings. We didn't see much point in trying Johnny Rocketts with the amount of other yummy free food available and it was quiet most of the time. Not sure why they bother charging for this- it might make more sense just to offer it free to all and have it used a lot more and help ease the crowds in the Windjammer which often lives up to its name and is jam packed!
We had an inside cabin which had a small sitting area and overhead beds that pulled down for our daughters. With 4 suitcases full, we still managed to squeeze our clothes into the wardrobe and cupboards quite well! Our cabin attendant JP was sweet and friendly and kept our cabin spotless and tidy. Our daughters loved the surprise animals he made from towels, and even though it was a small space for 4 people for a week we managed perfectly well.
We loved the ice show and even though we missed out on coveted tickets on the first day, we were told to turn up in the hope we would still get a space and thankfully we did as it really is amazing what they achieve on such a small rink!
Myself and my daughters also thoroughly enjoyed having a go at the ice skating ourselves twice-just turn up early to make sure you get a space.
Most evenings after dinner, we would head for the bar at the top of the ship to mingle with others and play cards and enjoy the lovely views and ambience and also the cocktail of the day! (I now have a good selection of free glasses they give away!) The staff up here were lovely and friendly and the music is nice to listen to. Seats in front of the windows are highly sought after but we always tended to manage to get one when people headed for the 9pm shows.
Our daughters dipped in and out of the kids clubs when it suited them and our itinerary and our eldest daughter especially enjoyed meeting up with new friends and not coming back to the cabin until the early hours!
During hot sea days the sun loungers around the pool are very busy but we always managed to find a space on the upper deck or if you get chance try the adults only area-its fabulous!
The kids slides and pool were also well used by our youngest daughter. We were impressed with the amount of people who had a daily swim or jacuzzi even on colder days!
We didn't watch many shows preferring the cloud nine bar instead but on the final night we made the effort to go see the acrobats/farewell show with Donovan and Rebecca from America's got talent and they were brilliant! We also enjoyed taking part in some of the quizzes and the Bingo was great fun too! This cruise ship really does offer something for everyone and you can do as little or as much as you like.
Our ports of call were all in Norway and we researched each place on trip advisor ourselves first before paying out for the rather expensive tours the ship operates!
Alesund-we looked around the town ourselves and headed for the steep climb up 418 steps to the famous viewpoint which was great and burned a few excess calories with a fab view at the top!
Skjolden-a very tranquil village with not much going on but a pleasant walk from the ship all around the area whiled away a few hours and we discovered the most magical lake to the right of the main town with breathtaking views.
Flam-was our most favourite of all ports-we had read reviews of the train ride and could not justify the price the cruise tour wanted so knowing our ship was docking early and the only one in that day, my DH hot footed it straight down to the station around 7.30 a.m and along with 20 in front of him managed to secure tickets for 900 NOK a family. The best views are on the right-the little stop at the waterfall is slightly bizarre but fun and the scenery and experience pretty good overall. (Not sure I would have been so impressed paying three times as much via the ships tour though!)
Flam is a wonderful picturesque place to just walk around and explore and you can hire bikes too which we would have done if we had not managed to get train tickets.
Stavanger-A nice little town to explore with a bit more in the way of shops and parks and the quaint old town with cobbled streets is very pretty.
I hope I have helped give an insight into the world of cruising-I would certainly go on another with Royal Caribbean and found the crew and whole cruise to be a wonderful experience-Can't wait to book another! It is a shame they charge so much for photographs as I am sure they would sell a lot more if they reduced them by at least half price- as we all know it doesn't actually cost that much these days in the digital age and it would make people feel like they are getting more for their money. I actually found just asking other passengers to take photos of us as a family meant I have a great selection anyway. They could also do with reducing the wine prices as at around 30 dollars for the cheapest bottle this is pretty expensive and again we noticed not many people around us ordering wine.
Overall we had a most fabulous cruise on a not too massive budget and all I can say is please go with an open mind to really get the most out of the holiday and enjoy it!