My husband & I chose this short cruise purely to experience this particular ship....and we were certainly glad we did!!! We pre-booked this trip on our last Royal Caribbean cruise and were excited to step up a level in ship size to what we had previously sailed on. We were a little surprised that it was also quite a step up in luxury as well.
We boarded later than our check-in allocated, at almost 3.30pm, so the process was totally painless and extremely quick with no waiting at all. As expected we were warmly welcomed by all the staff we encountered, although we did miss the obligatory boarding photo opportunity!
First impressions were very impressive....a light, airy feel to the ship with lots of glass & steel and much less wood panelling than on the other ships we have sailed on. The styles of furniture used, especially on the upper deck and in the adult only solarium gave the ship a real luxury resort feel Although the passenger capacity was greater than we had travelled with previously, there was never a crowded feel onboard , with ample seating (of many varieties) available & very little waiting for elevators or in the food/ beverage areas.
Probably our most pleasant surprise came when we arrived at the cabin - we had booked an inside cabin on Deck 9, as it was such a short break & we planned on spending very little time in it!.... but even this basic choice was wonderfully spacious!! Loads of floor space, room to store luggage & plenty of cupboard/storage for those longer trips when unpacking is important. There are also those little extra touches like bathrobes, a fully stocked minibar and the night time bed turn-down, towel animal & chocolate-on-the-pillow service!! The bathroom, with an actual shower screen (not a curtain!) was wonderful...plus lots of storage space, nice thick towels and ample toiletries Little touches, like the night light to save waking the entire cabin up during the night, show the thought that has gone into the remodelling when it was last refitted. The bed, although two singles joined, was very comfortable and roomy,and the pillows were not too bad although personally. The housekeeping attendant was attentive and professional in every way and as expected always had a welcoming smile & greeting for us.
We ate lunch each day in the Deck 14 Oceanview Café....a great variety of foods that were always well stocked & at appropriate temperatures. For me personally, the dessert selection was perhaps slightly disappointing in regard to the number of choices offered but not to the quality of the food. The staff worked hard to turn over the tables quickly, so even though this venue was quite busy it was never impossible to get a table. There was also a number of smaller venues to grab a snack, coffee or gelato spread all over the ship. We didn't try too many of the bars or any of the specialty dining choices but definitely would have on a longer trip.....the martini & ice bars were always well patronised.
One hiccup we did encounter was with our dinner booking. We had confirmed 6pm dining on our reservation but were booked into the 8.30pm seating on the notification in our cabin. We went to the restaurant before the first dinner to attempt to sort out the change but waited 15 minutes without any assistance - lots of hellos & nods from passing staff but no actual help. We decided it wasn't really that big an issue and just kept the later booking to avoid confusion. The Grand Epernay is a double floored restaurant, once again very light & airy. Unfortunately, our assigned table was tucked in the furtherest corner of the room and didn't allow the opportunity to enjoy the wonderful ambience that the room offered. Our table was a table for four but our tablemates never did dine in the dining room which was also disappointing as chatting with fellow cruisers is one part of the whole experience that we enjoy immensely. The food & service was top notch - a good selection with fairly generous serves especially in the mains & always beautifully presented. Our waitress was attentive and well versed in the menu and offered her advice on choices readily when asked. We did have a slight problem with the wine order on the first night not arriving before the end of the second course, but the staff were extremely apologetic and immediately offered a complimentary drink to make up for any inconvenience.... a lovely gesture as we weren't that bothered by it at all.
The activities on board started even before sailing... a fairly good cross section to let guests sample possibilities that would be available on a longer trip. Personally, I would have enjoyed a few more trivia/ game show type activities but I realize most people would want to spend their couple of days by the pools & this is what the staff catered more towards on such a short cruise. The facilities on the ship were wonderful...the pools, the solarium area, the theatre, the bars & especially the upper grassed deck area. The glass blowing demonstration on this deck was a surprise to find onboard ship...I would have loved to see the finished the results the following day as the other works they had on display were simply stunning!
Strange as this sounds, even the restrooms onboard were a little bit special....gorgeous décor, heated handtowels, self-opening doors and frequently attendants to help!
The quality of the entertainment was also quite high, especially the brilliant "Cirque-de-sol" type extravaganza that the Solstice entertainers performed on the second night. The first nights show, was interesting - a mix between Human Nature & a male strip show but still very entertaining while the last night was a lovely electric violinist with a very diverse repertoire.The theatre is a spacious double-floored venue and surprisingly seating was never a problem even at the last minute.
The shopping precinct is spread out over two floors with the upper deck stores being a little more upmarket....considering the short duration of the trip, a lot of sale periods were allocated for a variety of goods. Overall there was a good variety of merchandise for all ages & pockets.
There were the usual formal photo opportunities around the ship on the second night and staff were snapping away on the pool deck as well especially during the nightly theme nights - 70's & 80's nights, the white party & a pool party!
Disembarkation came much too quickly...but went smoothly & quickly. No customs to pass through so you were encouraged to carry off all your luggage instead of collecting it dockside. Cabin occupancy & breakfast finished in all venues at 8am, but you could stay onboard until 9.30am. The wait lines for taxis were long, as would be expected in peak hour morning traffic in Sydney, but certainly not unbearable.
Overall, this ship is certainly worth a second trip and we hope to do so in the near future!!!