I just came back from an Avon Training cruise with Royal. This was my 1st time sailing with RC. I have sailed mostly with Carnival (3) and once with Norwegian. From all of the reviews and people I spoke with before sailing I expected way more.
1) Our waiter was very dry and hardly spoke with us. He kept serving the wrong dishes to the wrong people. I got the impression that he didn't speak much English as we tried to talk with him. He never smiled and the few sentences he said sounded like they were just memorized.
2) The sail away party was basically non existent. Maybe about 30 people up on the deck and there was no camera man walking around. Also, there weren't any shots of the "party" shown on the Big Screen during the sail away.
3) All food places were closed after 12am and 2am on some nights, leaving the only option room service which there was a $4 fee. (Usually Free 24hrs on other Cruise lines and Pizza or something is availa)
4) There were about 20 kids on this ship, so I would not recommend it for Families with children.
5) The ship was very rocky and when walking we had to weave back and forth... I believe this is because it is such a small ship. A lot of passengers got sea sick on those rocky days.
6) Our beds were pushed together and made up as a queen or king size. I heard we could have them separated, but we weren't sure where they would go so we didn't bother.
7) The food was not as Fabulous as I was told it would be. One day Breakfast food was still out in the Windjammer (buffet) at 3:30pm. They seemed to close down the other side of the buffet quickly and did not have all of those items available on the side staying open. I was pleased there was Turkey Sausage available. We ate in the dinning room every evening for dinner and most of it was normal American food, not much variety. Also several meals were over cooked. It was difficult to get fresh ground pepper. I prefer Carnival who has more of a variety of options.
8) Most of the 30 TV Channels were in French or Spanish. There were 5 cruise channels and then a few channels in English.
9) Most of the passengers were 60yrs and up. So if you are looking for that crowd then it's perfect for you.
10) We only received 2 towel animals.
There were some Pros vs the other Cruise Lines:
1) There were hardly any lines. Embarking and Disembarking was a breeze. We didn't have to wait in the theatre to wait to be called for a tender when arriving to the port. We got off the elevator and just went out.
2) Security seemed to be very relaxed. They didn't even look at my birth certificate or check my beverages. I carried on 2 bottles of wine and 4 big bottles of water. They were even selling single bottles of water and cases of water ($10) outside the port for guest.
3) There was plenty of cabinet and built in shelves behind the mirrors both in the Bathroom and in the Main part of the cabin.
4) There was tea, lemonade AND Fruit Punch available for free. (Usually there is just tea or lemonade available. Which I loved because I and not a Soda Drinker. :)
5) This ship was great for a business trip, but I would not choose this for a vacation.
6) The steward did do a good job although I only saw him twice. Although on Carnival they were much friendlier and they remembered special request such as an extra towel daily and even my name.
So overall I will stick to Carnival for future Cruises unless it's a work cruise.
Before the cruise we stayed at the LaQuinta Tampa Airport Inn. Great rate! They were accommodating for an early check in at 12:30pm. My 1st room had a smell and stains on the bed cover. I called the desk and they apologized and immediately moved me. It was clean and great for 1 night. There was a a fridge and microwave in the room. The hotel had a FREE shuttle to and from the airport and to the nearby International Mall. (It is close enough to walk if traffic is bad.) There you will find a variety of specialty restaurants. We had a pre cruise dinner at Cheesecake Factory which accommodated our group of 20. And I hear the Blue Martini is the place to go for nightlife.
The hotel has a contractor shuttle that they work with who was trying to get us to book him for before and after our cruise, but since we had a large group and some people were going on to Disney or other hotels afterwards we were able to talk him into an $8 rate per person. (When we called before our trip and we were told by the hotel that we could get the shuttle for a flat rate of $68. The shuttle guy said he didn't know what we were talking about.)
When you disembark there are several choices for the airport. Taxi $25 flat rate, shuttle buses $15 for single rider and it is cheaper the more traveling together. I learned that if you pre book a bus thru the cruise line it is $10 per person.
I definitely recommend doing the shopping talk whichever cruise line you are on for additional coupons and tips.