Our first cruise on RCL, we have previously cruised 3 times with NCL and once with the high end Windstar, so there will be inevitable comparisons. We are myself and my partner and on this occasion we took along his 15 yr old son for his first trip to NY and his first cruise.
Flew from London to New York and spent a few days there before taking the PATH from 33rd over to Hoboken. We then took a cab down to Port Liberty. First impressions is that this is very chaotic - firstly we could not find where to check in so we actually drove up to the ship to ask them, then we sat in a long queue for at least 30 minutes as there seemed to be no differentiation between the drop off line and the waiting for the car park line. Finally we got dropped off the cab only cost $35 there was no one in the suite line at all and we must have been through check in and on the little transfer bus within 5 minutes and on board by noon. First impressions of the ship - she is huge! And full of such wonderful art work there was so much to see. I saw a wonderful painting on the first day [that I thought would look good on the walls of my lounge!] but I could never find it again until the last day when I literally walked up one staircase [bottom to top] and then down the other staircase until I succeeded!
At 1pm our suite was ready we were in Owners Suite #1314 which is on the forward part of the hump on the 10th floor the room was great with the biggest TV you have ever seen. The negatives is that is smelt and I could not get rid off the smell for the whole duration of the cruise. I think the previous occupants must have spent the whole cruise chain-smoking and blowing the smoke at the bed!. Our steward got an ozone machine to try and clear it but it didn't really help I think the windows needed to be left open for a few days to give it a real blast of fresh air. In addition, we found a teeshirt by the bed from the previous occupants and the trash in the bathroom had not been emptied. The balcony was also very small considering the size of the cabin but we did not expect to be using it much in late October!. Minor details.
We ate at the Windjammer will echo what many people have said. The food is lukewarm and the problem of only being handed a plate means that you are balancing your drink cup and your napkin on the plate and the napkin ends up getting the sauce from your meal over it! Can we have trays please? The food always seemed to be running out when we were there especially at the Jade selection but what there was did taste good. I liked the wicker chairs and the views from this buffet we ended up having a few lunches and breakfasts there. Our main meals were taken in the dining room we were in Magellan on deck 3 at #322 which is a table for 10 right by the window. Traditional dining was one of our main concerns before we took this cruise as we are such Freestyle fans. As it happened our dining mates only turned up for 2 nights so the rest of the time we had the table to ourselves, and they were all very nice! We were on the 2nd seating which meant we ate at 8.30. For me this is a bit late but no way could we eat at 6.30! I found that the meals were very rushed I guess a downside of wanting/having to serve everyone their courses at the same time. We definitely prefer NCL where you can order and have your meal served at leisure (and eat when you want to!). Generally there was a good selection on the menu I had done my cruisecritic research and had all the menu details already my only complaint is there was no Banana's Foster any more! The food was of an equal standard to that of NCL. We bought the Wine and Dine package of 7 bottles which cost $173 (plus 15%). The others ate in Johnny Rockets on our first sea day they said it was very good and the onion rings just kept on coming loved the impromptu dance by the staff. On Wednesday night we ate at Portofino's well worth the $20 cover charge the food was fantastic although far too much of it I was full after the pasta course! But nice to have a long leisurely dinner.
As we had a suite we had access to the Concierge Lounge this was packed on the first day but after that we had no problems getting seats during the 5.00 - 8.30 complimentary drinks period! CanapEs were great. Shame the Lounge is in a small internal room would have been much nicer to have a view!
We went to a few shows they were rather disappointing and are not nearly as flamboyant or visually spectacular as those of the Jean Ann Ryan Company shows on NCL. With the exception of the Planet Ice show that was totally amazing. In addition the shows for the 2nd seating guests were at the wrong time for us you were expected to go to the show before you had dinner and the whole point of having the later seating IMHO is to give to time to wash, change and have a few Concierge drinks before dinner. This left you with nothing to do after dinner apart from go to the casino three times and we did come out about $400 richer!
We had a cruise critic meeting on the first sea day it is so nice to put faces to names after communicating with them for so long beforehand!
I was amazed at the standards (or lack of standards) of dress on board for dinner people were turning up wearing tracksuits or sweatpants and trainers and caps this is certainly not my interpretation of smart casual I was also amazed to see people dress like this for Portofinos where it clearly stated a dress code. If the cruiseline states a dress code is needed why do they not enforce it?? Perhaps it is us being old fashioned or English but I enjoy getting dressed up for dinner and think it makes part of the whole cruise experience.
Our destination was Bermuda. We pre-bought the travel vouchers on the ship ($20 per adult and $10 for under 16s which were good for 2 days). Using these we could hop on ferries or busses when we wanted. We saw all the island firstly catching a ferry to St George, then we went to the Crystal Caves, lunch at the Swizzle followed by a few hours at the beautiful John Smiths Bay. The prime objective of the trip though was to find the house where I spent the first two years of my life (having been born in Bermuda) and we did! After a drink in the Hogpenny in Hamilton we went back to the ship. The second day we only had till 3pm as our time in Bermuda had been cut by 2 hours due to the harbour master wanting us out before sunset. We caught the ferry to Hamilton and then did the southern half of the island down to Church Bay which has the best snorkeling, the fish were right there when you went in the water.
We found the Bermudians to be delightful friendly people, it was spotless you are not allowed on the busses if there is one grain of sand on you transport was very easy, scenery was beautiful and the beaches were fantastic! The temperatures must have been up in the 80s which also helped. We will return!
We had prepaid our tips but on the last night we found some you have prepaid your tips vouchers and envelopes in our room so we were still expected to hand these envelopes and vouchers out to our waiters etc I would have thought that the whole point of prepaying tips was that you would not have to do this. Perhaps this is another English thing as we do not have the same tipping culture but I find this rather pointless to hand some one an envelope that has nothing in it but a voucher! I would much prefer a straight $10 per day to be added to my on board account or even put the cruise cost up by a set amount and cancel the need for tipping altogether.
Disembarkation was delayed due to two missing passengers we were finally called for the first group at 9:30 we had white labels again there seemed to be a whole host of people who ignored it as luggage label of all the whole rainbow of colours were joining us on the exit ramp. Again, why bother with colour coded disembarkation if it is not enforced? A quick bus trip back to the hanger to collect our luggage and then caught a cab back to Hoboken ($44 this time), jumped on the PATH and we were back in NY by 10.30.
In summary a very good cruise RCL wins with fewer announcements (we never felt we were being sold bingo tournaments), the ship was in good condition, despite having over 3000 passengers on board it did not feel crowded and the art was fantastic as mentioned before. Downsides are the forced dining times, and the tipping envelopes. I guess if there was an NCL and RCL ship going the same place at the same price we would choose NCL purely for the option of Freestyle dining but I certainly would not rule out taking RCL again.