Family of 4, with two boys aged 11 and 9 on The Italian Mediterranean cruise. First time cruisers; enjoyed it but a very mixed experience... Here's why:
Of course, the boat itself is extremely nice. The rooms are very well-equipped, better than we expected. The beds are excellent, the shower is good, our room was very quiet. The bathroom is tiny but all things considered the room was a big plus. The public areas are very nice and everything is kept very clean. Absolutely cannot fault the staff; very hard-working nice people, with few exceptions. All good so far. Excellent facilities. Amazing theatre, ice rink, climbing wall, flow-rider etc... Very impressive.
Food. It's OK. Plenty of it, as you'd expect, and it's pretty clear that's a (very) big attraction for a lot of people onboard....but don't get carried away; it's not top-notch. The main dining dinner often wasn't very hot. 4,300 guests, so what would we reasonably expect given the food isn't made to order?! Considering the massive scale of the food operation it was good, just don't expect better than that. Strangely we thought the Windjammer buffet often had hotter fresher food. There's so many people eating in there that no food lasts long and it's replaced very quickly. The other side of that is it helps to be a rugby player to get to the front. There are several hundred people in there at the busiest times, and it's a scrum around the food. Of course if you want to eat yourself into oblivion, you're in the right place....
Only get the drinks package if you have alcohol dependence. Do the maths. Glad we didn't buy them.
At this point it's pretty clear that there's one VERY big problem, the people. There were lots and lots and lots and lots of people. We travelled August 10th, so the boat was full. But in our opinion this isn't a place you want to be when the boat's this crammed. The worst of it was around the pool....God, simply awful. There wasn't even room to jump into the pool. (Read that again.) In the round circular spinning pool the kids reached a stalemate, where there were so many kids in it none of them could actually move freely, not unlike the M25. People almost jostling shoulder to shoulder. I noticed the safety sign said a maximum of 22 people in a pool. So I'm pretty sure that means 60 is a few too many then?? Grim. My eldest asked me why he couldn't see other people underwater through his goggles. That would be because the water is the most disgusting chemical concoction, designed to cope with that many people. You know what I mean folks. Really really horrible......Lots of value holidaymakers. Consider getting sone body tattoos before you go....;-)
The sun beds are touching each other (in the unlikely event you get one on a sea day.) Not surprising as 4,000+ doesn't go into a few hundred (chairs). If I want that experience I'll walk down Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon. Only on Oxford Street there isn't a band playing (really loudly and, to be honest, really average). If you've previously booked a 2 star package holiday you might have had a similar experience by the pool.
Queue anyone? Try getting a lift on this boat. There is only 8 at each end and they're all full, at least at the times you want to use them. We frequently waited ages for a lift. Then it arrived full. So we did a lot of stairs, which is probably a good thing! Bit of a design flaw on the boat. A common joke amongst the passengers.
Our boys like to play table tennis but no table free, in 2 weeks of trying...
Wifi is just over 40p per minute. 25 per hour. (Thanks for that Royal Caribbean - please wake up. It's 2013.) I understand from those that paid that it didn't work well, so 3G charges may be cheaper, where possible?
As everyone knows the port excursions are ludicrously expensive, but nothing new there to the cruising fraternity. Briefly:
Gibraltar....thank God it has a port as there's no other reason to stop?!
Toulon, nice, as is Corsica. Of course the Italian ports are fabulous.
Lisbon - we liked, though sad to see such a struggling place.
Vigo - somewhere to stop....very briefly...!!
But the people, another example: Meet at 07.45 for a trip to Pisa/Florence. Left the ship at 8.30. More faffing before finally setting off. Had 1 hour 15 in Pisa. We were given a voucher for a bottle of water at Subway. Took ages to get dozens of people in and out of the shop, naturally. Here's an idea Royal Caribbean, just give everyone a bottle at the start and save them all at least 30 minutes each...?! Back to the trip...wait around for ages for the other 47 people on our coach. Drive to Florence. Had just over 3 hours there before the same faffing all over again. Really hot. We got very tired of all the waiting around, especially when it took half an hour to get back on the boat, even though we were parked next to it. Just too many people...far far too many.....magnificent places to visit but there must be a better way! Frankly, RC does a very cynical job of not telling you how easy it is to get to the places you'd like to see. Use taxis at most of the ports. Saves money and TIME. Lisbon is a great example. (Not Rome!)
Photo opportunities are relentless. 'Relentless' should be in capitals. As we disembarked (usually) ladies in local costumes often jumped on the kids. Smart and Disney-esque on their part. Must be a huge money-spinner. Very tedious.
The cruise director was admirably energetic, as were his staff.
The ice skating shows were superb. The evening shows were very mixed quality affairs. Get there early.... ;-) Bobby Davro was the best! Most of them were average (being kind). And how the Welsh comedian got the gig on this boat is beyond me. Walk-out material, truly lame comedy. As someone has already said in these reviews the cruise director Joff was funnier than almost all of the paid entertainers.
We had the $12 per person tips per day added to our bill automatically. That's a total of $672 for the 4 of us, which was obviously not commensurate with the amount of service we received. Far better to do what we did and tip the three outstanding people who served us, in cash, for their huge effort. Judging by their reaction I strongly suspect they are better off via this method too. And I don't have to guess if they were rewarded properly......
I'm sure I'm not alone in comparing the money spent on this cruise versus what we could have had elsewhere for over 10k. Don't get me wrong, the boat is fabulous, the staff are great, but in the busiest times, for the best holiday experience, I couldn't recommend it.