There is very little positive I can say about this cruise. Much of the blame lies with the Royal Caribbean management.
At the best of times, getting into and out of Cape Liberty is difficult. The morning of January 21st, it was nearly impossible. From previous experience we knew did not want to park directly at the pier because of the traffic pattern. We parked in a lot near the airport. What should have been a been a 15 minute trip turned into an almost hour and a half trip. There was a snow storm going on and the single road in and out of the pier area was not plowed. It was the bumper to bumper traffic in one lane that melted the snow to make any progress possible.
Our ticket told us to check in between 11:30 and noon. Because we had left early, we actually got to check in at noon. We were given numbers which we found out were for actually loading the bus from the terminal to the ship. Then we sat in the terminal tent, for another two hours waiting for our numbers to be called. Every few minutes someone would yell over the PA system that if your number has not be called you cannot load and everyone should go sit down. It was almost 1 PM before number 1 was called. Someone who had arrived at 10 AM had been given # 19. She sat in that terminal for almost 4 hours. While we were waiting, Royal Caribbean provided coffee, cold water and we were told there were occasionally cookies. There was no sanitizer near the coffee and water. Since we never saw the cookies I cannot speak to whether there sanitizer near the cookies.
Finally our number was called and we loaded on the bus. There was no sanitizer available before loading the bus. Because we were all bundled up, I am sure there was no sanitizer there because I would have had to take off my gloves to use it.
By the time we did get on the ship, and into our room, it was almost 3 PM. We had purchased the soda package and our souvenir cups were in the room. We went to the Windjammer to get some lunch. Unfortunately, as soon as we sat down to eat, it was time for the muster drill and we had to report to our station.
The ship left late (5 PM instead of 4 PM). Since there was a storm, it was a rocky voyage for the first 36 hours. At times, I felt like a ping pong ball bouncing off the walls as we walked down the hall to our room. I could not go up and down stairs without hanging onto the railings. The sanitizer was placed outside food venues but not outside bars.
On day 2, it was announced that the upper decks were still icy so the captain determined they were be closed off. Because the pool deck was off limits, the Arctic Zone (the free ice cream) was not open. (It never was open the entire voyage as the explanation was with the increased sanitation procedures it was deemed unsafe.) However, the Ben and Jerry’s stand was never closed.
The show scheduled for the evening of day 2, got pushed back to day 4 because of the severe rocking. It was determined that it was unsafe for the performers. Another performer was moved to have a show. It was the first formal night. Two guys who were having dinner near us told us the mens room right outside the dining room had no running water for at least two hours (6 PM until after 8PM) They had repeatedly reported it but staff was not responsive. It was later that night that the first wave of people who were sick with the norovirus. We were told that was 150 people who got sick then.
The speakers for both the enrichment series (space travel) and the destination series were extremely poor. The destinations speaker repeatedly complained about women who dragged men to shop rather than describing the ports to permit us to pick those sights which we should see. He was ill-prepared and a bit argumentative with audience members. It took him ten minutes to complete a thought.
The enrichment speaker was just not excited about his topic. He droned on. His wife kept trying to get him to tell stories which might have made his presentation more exciting but it resulted in lots of disjointed thoughts. If the speaker is not passionate about his subject, how can the audience be engaged
The morning of day 3 it was announced that increased sanitation was being employed. However, the soda machines were still open and staff insisted that they only way to use our soda package would be to use the souvenir cup (not a clean one). During the day, another 300 people got sick. So that evening the captain announced that we were not going to Labadee but straight to San Juan. That day most of the talks were cancelled because the speakers were ill.
Then the soda machines on the main promenade were closed for three days. The sign claimed it was closed for cleaning. So although we had paid for a soda package (because they had diet ginger ale, which I wanted, not because I got sick but because I like it) was subject to the limited time the buffet was open. On several occasions the buffet area was closed and I could not get what I wanted. Otherwise I could get diet coke from a bar. I wanted to avoid caffeine and sugar. The casino remained open through the entire voyage. From my point of view, the casino could have been a serious source of germs. There was no way to wash down each machine between users and the casino was the only indoor venue that permitted smoking. So people would touch the machines, then pull out their cigarettes and place the cigarette in their mouths.
The evening of the fourth day, the dance show was again postponed, this time because the performers were sick. A passenger ended up being the entertainment for the evening. We docked at San Juan at 8:30 that evening.
We tried to make the best of things by exploring Old San Juan during the daylight hours. The free trolley from the waterfront to the forts was very helpful. I would highly recommend using it to get around Old San Juan. The tour office was closed that day so we could not get info we might have appreciated.
St. Thomas we went shopping in the morning. We got rum for gifts and then collected the charms from the Diamond International shops. I did buy some smaller jewelry pieces (earrings and necklace). We took a ship excursion tour of the island. The views were wonderful but to get to them we needed to pass through souvenir shops and bars.
That evening after everyone got back on the ship, the captain announced that we were skipping St. Martaan and going back to Bayonne. The captain then was available in the Promenade and was listening to passengers.
There was no entertainment (shows) the first sea day heading back to Bayonne. Since they had shortened the cruise, it seemed odd they had no entertainment. We enjoyed going to the shows before we had dinner. No show was a disappointment.
The captain had “Captain’s Corner” to discuss the offer that Royal Caribbean was offering as compensation. That was the fullest the theater was the entire cruise. Initially it was $400 added to our on board account and half off a future cruise. People were upset and expressed it. Only one of the people who spoke swore but everyone was angry. The captain said he would get back to the company bigwigs in Miami. That evening it was announced that we would receive the remainder of half off in 4-6 weeks. Although they charge drink packages on per diem, the total cost was charged and the two days we did not receive were never reimbursed.
The trip back to Bayonne was uneventful.
With all the increased sanitation, cabin stewards were too busy cleaning public spaces to pay attention to things in the cabin. I don’t blame them but it did show.
We ate most of our meals in the dining room as we decided it might be safer than the buffet. Few of our meals arrived hot. Most were lukewarm. The quality of the food was at best adequate. The service was good but the food itself was a disappointment.
We will have to decide whether we will take advantage of Royal Caribbean’s offer of half off what we paid on a cruise booked within the year. Some of the issues were unique to the outbreak of norovirus but I think some of the issues were just business as usual. The only way to get good food is to pay extra either in the main dining room (for steaks, seafood) or in the specialty dining areas. Anything at no further cost can be eliminated but things which can be charged will continue without review.