We are a three-person family (mom, dad, 11-year-old son) who've cruised regularly for years exclusively on Royal Caribbean. This was our first venture into holiday cruising and our first trip on a Voyager class ship.
Transfer to Port of Embarkation Because we had Royal Caribbean handle our travel arrangements, we had a transfer from the airport. Now, I was a little worried about this one, but it seemed to go smoothly. It was a little strange that we were the only 3 people on the bus who were on the Explorer (everyone else was on the Freedom), and we got a few nasty looks when we were dropped off first, but everything went pretty smoothly.
Embarkation We were very worried about embarkation because the lines looked very long. In reality, they weren't long, just poorly managed by the pier staff. It didn't take us more than 10 minutes to get from the end of the line to the desk where we could check in (granted, we are Platinum members, so we got in a shorter line near the end, but that's all). We were on the ship quite quickly and got to our stateroom in pretty near record time!
Ship Info The ship is huge! Okay, I've never been on a Voyager class ship before, so the size of this one took me aback. In fact, although we had a week on the ship (including 2.5 at-sea days), I never really felt comfortable that I knew where everything was. I never even saw everything there was to see.
The Promenade on the 5th floor is a great addition. Although it means that the ship has no central location (like the old Centrums), it was party central after midnight on some evenings. Reminded us of Bourbon Street, which was probably the point.
During the day, it was a nice place to relax and catch some coffee, ice cream or a drink with friends. I saw a family opening their presents on Christmas morning under the tree near the coffee shop. Very nice.
The ice rink was a hit with my family. Our 11-year-old son skated for hours when the rink was open (which, unfortunately, wasn't very often). He also needed a permission slip signed by us on each day he wanted to skate. Not sure why you just can't have one permission slip per cruise, but this made the lines much longer and the parents more than a little perturbed.
Stateroom The stateroom we had was 2656. It is an outside cabin for 3 people on the lowest deck way in the back of the ship. It was really very nice.
We usually prefer inside cabins because they are dark all the time and therefore our son sleeps later in the day, however, this cabin was nice because it had blackout shades so that we could keep it at least a little darker in the cabin in the morning.
Since the last time we sailed, RCCL has added mini-refrigerators to the staterooms (stocked with their own stuff), and the shower now has a door instead of a curtain. Additionally, there were shelves in the closet (very nice addition), and extra space to hang clothes on a second (optional) rod in the closet.
Dining Our waiter (McArthur) and assistant waiter (Lyubomir) were wonderful (table 473). The dinner services were cleaner and more refined than in other ships. There is still the requisite lobster tails, prime rib, and scallops; however, there are also Thai flavored mahi mahi, fried tofu, and other lighter fare with some really nice flavors.
Service Overall, the service was wonderful. We had no bad interactions with anyone working on the ship. Our stateroom attendant, Otto, was attentive and pleasant.
Children's Clubs Despite having an 11-year-old son, we didn't interact with the Children's Club at all this cruise. He wasn't interested and the personnel in this area did nothing to get any of the kids interested and involved. Eleven is a difficult age, so a little extra work here would make all the difference in getting this age group involved and their parents more interested in continuing to cruise on these ships.
The Ports of Call We visited the Eastern Caribbean including San Juan, Puerto Rico; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; and Nassau, Bahamas. The disembarkation process in St. Thomas was made a little more difficult by US Homeland Security who required that everyone physically present themselves for immigration before being allowed off the ship. The lines were prohibitively long at times, but things were pretty much completed by 10:30am.
We didn't do any planned excursions at any of the ports. In San Juan, we went to the Old Town and the wonderful old fort. In St. Maarten, we went to a local beach and did some shopping. In St. Thomas, we spent the day on the Magen's Bay beach. It was perfect! In Nassau, we did a little shopping. Nothing overwhelming, because we really just wanted to relax.
Disembarkation Disembarkation was a lot smoother than at other times we've sailed. First, we didn't have to resent ourselves for customs until after we got off of the ship (nice change), so we could start disembarking at 6:30am.
We had breakfast, then left the ship at about 9:00am, about a half an hour after our tag color had been called. The wait for customs was long, but not as long as in the past. We breezed through in about 30 minutes, then went to pick up our luggage.
Now, I haven't cruised out of Miami for a while now, and was surprised at the addition of luggage carousels. I thought, wow, what a convenience! Well, it wasn't. A communication breakdown between the ship and the pier led to the wrong bags being off loaded onto the carousel first. Because all of these bags (orange tags) were on the carousel and weren't being picked up (because orange hadn't yet been called to disembark from the ship), they couldn't put the correct bags on the carousel (our bags, the yellow-tagged ones).
This resulted in a lot of ticked off people. And I mean a lot. Some people took it into their own hands to start removing orange-tagged bags from the carousel until the porters told them it was illegal to do so. When bags fell off of the carousel, many people wouldn't put them back on.
Finally, the pier workers were notified and started removing the orange-tagged bags from the carousel and replacing them with yellow-tagged bags.
It took us 1 hour to get our luggage and some people, who had disembarked when their tag color was first called, had waited over 2 hours. Not a relaxing way to spend your final morning of vacation. I tried to make the best of it, though.
Transportation to Airport I've had problems with Royal Caribbean's transport to airports taking forever. First you have to fill up the bus, then you have to drive to the airport, then you have to get to the right terminal.
No big delays on this trip, though. The bus was full in about 20 minutes, then we made it to the airport in 15 minutes instead of the posted 30 (the driver knew a shortcut). Then the driver dropped us off at a special location just for busses where we could check in immediately, and then walk leisurely to security and the gate area.
We were checked in within 10 minutes and were on our way home. Happy New Year to all!