Let me start my review by saying that I have only cruised 3 times in the past...all on Carnival. I was planning an 11 day cruise with my wife and two children (9 and 11). Everyone I spoke with told me that Royal Carribean was great for kids and was much better than Carnival. So, off I went to book the Legend of the Seas for 11 nights. The highlight of the cruise were the ports of call. We went to Aruba, Bonaire, Grenada, Antigua, Barbados and St. Maarten. All of these ports were amazing and I recommend them to everyone...except on a different ship. I am going to critique the Legend of the Seas according to what area of the ship we used as well as services on board and ports of call.
Cabin- I rented two cabins (with adjoining rooms) as I have two younger children. This ship has very few adjoining rooms so we ended up on the second deck. As we entered the cabin I noticed that the decor was straight from the 1980s (or even 1970s). Stale, old, outdated. The beds were just as old and extremely hard and uncomfortable. We were kept up all night long by a rattling sound....the type of sound you get when you are hearing loose screws. I am quite certain that this was solely due to the age of the finishings. There were certainly enough closets and drawers...it was just that the cabins looked old and stale. The bathrooms were sufficiently clean but, again, old and stale. The hallways also desparately need an upgrade.
Pool area - Once again, this was a let down. The pool area was clean and useable. It just looked and felt outdated. There were also not enough lounge chairs...and this was really important as this particular cruise included 4 days of sailing. It was necessary to wake up early so that we could "reserve" chairs for me and my family. This is simply not acceptable when one is spending $2,500 per person for a cruise. The water in the pool was pure sea water which was so cold that only a few children even used the pool. Those lucky children had the fortune to find dead fish in that sea water. There were two hot tubs next to the pool which were too small to be used by more than 5 adults and the water was not "hot". When I sailed on the Carinval ships, there was always a great vibe at the pool...not so on this ship. During the day, there was a 2 piece band which was God awful. One member of the band was totally tone deaf and the other could only barely hold a tune. It was so difficult to listen to these amateurs, that my wife and I turned on our ipods full blast to drown them out. Once a day there was an excercise class that took place on the pool deck. I have no problem with that, except, that when this class took place, it forced the removal of about 20 of the already scarce deck chairs. I love to watch football. However, I would not have expected to see the big screen of the pool area dedicated to college football every night of the cruise. I would have expected music, food, drink and partying. Instead, a handful of (mostly men) watched football. As I said above, the vibe in the pool area of Carnival was fun. On this ship it was dreary and quiet.
Dining room - we went to the dining room on the second night of our cruise. Chicken was overcooked and dried out. Steak was overcooked and dried out. Food in general was terrible. We spent the rest of the cruise in the buffet, which interesting enough was not that bad. Each evening a special table was set out in the buffet for foods of the world. These foods were quite good. While evenings in the buffet were very acceptable, the mornings were another matter. While the food and selection was more than adequate, finding a table was another matter. It would sometimes take 10 or 15 minutes to find a table for 4 people. Too many people and not enough tables was part of the problem. The other issue was that the used tables were not cleared quickly enough by staff. There were many times where we had to clean the table ourselves or else face eating cold food. This is not acceptable when one is paying $2,500 per person.
Gym - My wife and I promised that we would not gain weight on the cruise so off we went to the gym each morning. Well, they gym on this ship is so small that it was necessary to wait in line for gym equipment. We had to wait even if we went early.
Kids activities - if anyone wants to choose this ship for a family vacation, then forget about it! There is very little for the kids to do. There is a kids area for the children to socialize in. I went into it twice. Both times the kids were sitting/standing around doing nothing. I took my kids to the arcade. The "arcade" consisted of 5 or 6 machines jammed into an area which must have been around 6 ft by 15 ft. It was ridiculous! There is a rock climbing wall and a mini put. I took my kids to these areas once (in the back of the ship) but the wind was so strong that my kids passed. My kids did get to watch a movie or two in the evning which wasn't bad....but you would think that staff could pass out drinks and popcorn or something???
Shopping - the staff in the shopping area is very pleasant. The stores are clean and look new. The prices are good. However, I think there were only 5 stores so by mid-way through the cruise, it was simply boring to browse. There is no "promenade" area on this ship. It is just an area with a few stores.
Cafe - the ship has a cafe where you can buy a decent coffee and ice cream. However, it is staffed by only one person so you could wait in line for 15 minutes to get a coffee. I was pleased with this cafe until the time my child wanted an ice cream but was not sure what flavour to buy. She asked for a "taster" of one of the flavours and was told that that was not allowed....really? I still shake my head about that!
Second pool area - there is a second pool area near the gym. This area is actually quite beautiful. Unfortunately, it is restricted to 16 years and over....so my family was forced to get up at 7 a.m. to reserve chairs, and then listen to the crooning of tone deaf musicians all day long.
Internet - It was not crucial that I use the internet while at sea but it certainly would be beneficial if I was able to check my work emails now and then. So, I checked into WIFI packages. The advertising said that WIFI was available for a "small fee", so what the heck! Then I discovered it would cost me 85 cents per minute! forget that!!! I later discovered from fellow travellers who acutally purchased the WIFI plan that the outrageous rates start as soon as you log on....even though it could take 20 minutes to actually connect. RCI should be ashamed of themselves!!!
Ports of call - It is extremely clear to me (and many others on the ship who I spoke with) that the Legend of the Seas is sent to the Southern Caribbean as many guests want to see these ports of call and are willing to sacrifice the quality of the ship so that they can get to these ports. In other words, nobody would book the Legend of the Seas if it was sent on any other itinerary. The cruise started in Aruba. Aruba is beautiful, has good weather and is safe. We spent the day on Palm Beach. I recommend Aruba to anyone. The next port is Bonaire. Bonaire is a very small island with little to do but snorkel. Snorkeling is excellent and highly recommended. Next was Barbados. My wife always wanted to see this island which, in our opinion is over-rated. Very little natural beauty (although the beaches are exquisite). Beaches are overcrowded. We saw the Synagogue and attached museum....which is well worth the short taxi ride. Next was Grenada. Grenada has abundant natural beauty with magnificent mountains. The people are friendly and we felt safe. We went snorkeling, which was decent...not great but was very adequate. Grenada was a favorite of ours. Next we went to Antigua. We went to a place called Prickly Pear Island. It is a small island operated by a wonderful local family. Only 20 or so guests were on the island so is was very relaxing. The island was so small (with two short beaches) that we were able to let out children play as they liked with little, if any supervision. The operators offer included drinks and wonderful home-made food. Prickly Pear Island was definitely a highlight of our cruise.....but book it directly and not through the ship! We concluded the tour in St. Maarten. Actually, we didn't spend any time in St. Maarten but headed to Anguilla where we swam with the dolphins. Again....a big highlight of our trip! However, you will want to book this excursion directly and not through the ship...thereby saving a lot of money. Second, you will want to spend the extra money on the "Royal Dolphin Swim". Instead of sharing one dolphin among 10 or 20 people, my family of 4 had 3 dolphins all to ourselves. Finally, DO NOT take the ferry from the dutch side of St. Maarten to Anguilla. Instead take a taxi to the french side and take the ferry from there. Doing so will save you 25 minutes of rough seas on a small ferry and about $100 each way on ferry fees. You will also get a taxi tour of french st. Martin.
In summary, I would recommend the above itinerary in a heart beat. However, STAY AWAY FROM LEGEND OF THE SEAS if at all possible. As mentioned in my introduction, this was my first Royal Caribbean cruise. Despite all of my friends telling me that the other RCI ships are so fantastic, the Legend was so bad that this will be my last time sailing Royal Caribbean.