Embarkation: Embarkation, once we got off of our shuttle bus, was a breeze. However, we had to wait in our bus for about 1/2 hour as the drop off area was very disorganized. There is a lot of construction going on around Port Everglades and the whole port is just a disorganized mess. RCCL's embarkation process was very painless as we were on the ship within 1/2 hour of getting off of the bus. There was some confusion which led to a potential financial impact that I will explain later.
The ship- I believe the ship underwent an upgrade in the past year. We had been on the Freedom of the Seas and this ship is her identical twin for the most part. The only real signs of wear were the carpets in the stateroom hallways. The majority of the interior was spotless. We did see some external painting going on in one of the ports, but I believe that is just normal maintenance. She is a beautiful ship and well maintained.
Our stateroom- We booked a balcony room on the starboard side near the front of the boat. The idea was to be as far from the engines as possible. I know there's different theories as to the best locations to avoid vibration and rocking. Our first two sea days were headlong into a 25-30 knot wind which created an apparent 50 know wind on the deck. The ship rocked more than I thought it would, but it was going into heavy wave action. I still find it funny that the refrigerators are stocked with soft drinks, waters, etc that are extra. We always bring water bottles and remove all the mini-bar items. The bed was not very comfortable, even with an egg crate topper. The shower was great as long as you didn't drop the soap. If you do, you have to open the shower doors to bend down. John, our room steward, was awesome and kept our room clean and fresh. We really enjoyed the balcony views of ports and the ability to sit and listen to the waves at night. I think we were fortunate that we did not have smokers on either side of us.
Entertainment: This is where the trip shined. In addition to the excellent production shows, there was an ice show that was awesome. We were fortunate to have the Home Free vocal group perform twice. They had just won the "Sing Off" television show and to have them there was really great. Joff, the cruise director was very funny during all of the events. The comedian for the early shows was Phil Tag, who we had heard before. He was funny, but I missed the adult show since i was watching the BCS championship game that night. We also took advantage of the Mystery Dinner, which was probably the best food of the trip in addition to the entertaining storyline of a murder mystery.
Food: I have mixed feelings on this. The Windjammer food was very bland. If you like scrambled eggs like I do, to be faced with runny scrambled eggs every morning was very disappointing. In addition, they didn't really have any pastries worth mentioning. And I didn't know you could butcher chocolate chip cookies, but they managed to do it. On the plus side, the food in the MDR was excellent. We were able to order more than one lobster on lobster night. I had steak one night but it was a little dry. We only took advantage of the upcharge Johnny Rockets once, but it didn't disappoint with the best fries on the open seas. If I had it to do again, I would eat in the MDR for all meals. We also used MyTime dining and ended up making some new friends each night.
Smoking policy- This was probably the most disappointing part of the cruise. I wish RCL would institute the same no smoking policy as Princess. There were many times we had to get up and leave the casino when a smoker sat down next to one of us and lit up. Same thing on the pool deck or promenade deck. There's nothing worse than walking along that beautiful deck in the sunshine only to be assaulted by cigarette smoke.
Ports: We chose this cruise because of the ports. They were places we had not been. St Maarten, St Kitts, and San Juan did not disappoint. I wish that we had stayed an extra 1/2 day in San Juan as we did not have near enough time there. After the 2 1/2 hr walking tour of the two forts, there was barely an hour for shopping before we had to get back on the ship. Labadee was ok, but we're not much for beach visits.
Staff- The staff on the ship was first rate, from Joff the cruise director to the lowest level employee. Never were we greeted with anything but a smile and a good morning. Special shout out to Oxsana, for her really entertaining trivia games. While she may have not known how to pronounce all the words, she maintained a positive attitude throughout each game. Some of the people participating in the trivia games could have been much nicer....it's only a game, people.
Back to the topic of the financial snafu. RCL mixed our booking with another couple such that they had our room assigned to them, even though the booking was in our name. whenever we looked at any of our pictures in the photo area, we also saw some of theirs. We finally met them one day and lamented about the mix up. It caused some delays disembarking on one of the ports as my sea pass card was invalidated because of the mix up. The customer service desk finally got everything straightened out, but we still saw some of their photos up until about 3 days left in the cruise.
Disembarkation was very easy and not so early that we didn't have time for breakfast in the MDR.
If I had to make one change, it would be a more defined smoking policy. Overall, though, I would highly recommend this cruise.