We embarked on our cruise Christmas week, December 21, 2003. We travelled with two boys, 15 and 11 as well as parents who are 75 and 80. The ship was filled to capacity. No upgrades were available.
This is our second cruise, the first having been on the Celebrity Century in 2000.
Embarkation was not as bad as many of the reviews I read. While it was not particularly well organized I attribute any chaos to the ancient mindset of the cruise industry as a whole rather to any specific cruise line. Certainly the cruise industry has a few lessons to learn from the hotel and airline industries. If checking in and checking out of a Holiday Inn was as chaotic as it is with a cruise they would have been out of business decades ago.
Boarding was not particularly memorable which I find unfortunate. We were greeted by someone in a plain white uniform (no name tag) and politely directed to the nearest elevator. Ho hum. In fact, that set the tone for the rest of the cruise.
We booked a balcony stateroom (3 total) on the 9th deck, mid-forward. Our Attendant was Maria who was as efficient and as sweet as you could want. The prior occupants of one of our rooms were smokers (yes, in-room smoking is allowed in ALL rooms on RCL). Without asking Maria stripped the entire room of all of the curtains and bedding, washed them twice, washed down every single inch of the rest of the room and repeated this the next day. What more need I say?
There was more than plenty of room for all of our "stuff." The room was in decent shape but beginning to show signs of age. About the only complaint I had with the rooms, aside from the bathroom being small, was the lack of any cold water. All the water in the faucet was warm or hot.
Our luggage arrived later in the afternoon without incident.
Our first encounter with the food was at lunch in the Windjammer Cafe. In general, the Windjammer food was fresh, pleasantly displayed, competently served and well organized. Contrary to most reviews the coffee served on our ship was EXCELLENT. It was fresh brewed from the "Seattle's Best" brand. I was very relieved. In fact, the free coffee throughout the ship was tastier than the strong, Starbuck's type coffee found at the coffee bar. Windjammer served a huge variety of food and desserts, many of which were sugar-free.
Unfortunately, Windjammer closed in the evening. This ship has NO "midnight buffet" and no place to eat after 10pm except in the tiny, well hidden Seaview Cafe way up on the 12th deck accessible solely by exterior means. On our voyage we had winds of over 50 MPH the first 2 nights and it was dangerous trying to get to this place.
Equally unfortunate was the fact that the Seaview also served the best food on this ship (it was freshly prepared for your particular order). Suffice it to say that the "food" served in the Cascades dining room was awful and on par with nursing home food: institutional in taste, always served warm and everything tasting just about the same. This was a huge disappointment. Indeed, we will never travel with RCL again due to this. Our waiter was Darko, from Croatia, and he was excellent.
We thought we would avoid further disappointment by eating at the so-called specialty restaurants. We tried Portofino. The food was HORRIBLE! In fact, it was inedible. Fortunately we enjoyed Chops much more.
Entertainment was only fair, at best.
As for children's programs they were basically non-existent for our kids. While the ship has a room dedicated for these programs there were no Supervisors in sight, ever. Worse, at night no one from the ship stopped any of the children from walking the upper decks in 50 MPH winds. That also happens to be where their basketball court is. Kids from 10 up were free to roam anywhere they wanted with whomever they wanted.
I would comment on the Cruise Director except I don't think we had one. Someone named "Bill" called himself the Cruise Director the 2 times he appeared in public, and he was a total dud.
As for the rest of the ship the public bathrooms were ALWAYS dirty and smelly, the elevators could have been faster and another bank of elevators in the forward section of the ship should be installed. It is a long, long, looong walk for anyone, and particular the elderly, from the "forward" elevators to the forward rooms.
In sum I would rate this cruise a solid 6 out of 10. As a result we will not travel RCL again.