This was our second cruise with a Royal Carribean ship, and confirmed our impression of them the first time as a cruise line we do not wish to go with ever again. We are regular cruise travellers, and I have to say that compared to Princess Cruises, value for money, they aren't even in the same league.
Embarkation: Very slow, took nearly 2 hours, which was just too much standing for my 88 year old father. Then, at 9.45 that night, absolutely exhausted from the long day and just wanting to go to bed, my luggage still hadn't been delivered to my cabin. When I rang looking for it, I was told that it was being held by security because of a "suspicious object". Then, three different staff people each misdirected me to where I would find it, so after half an hour of wandering the ship I finally I found where to go on my own. There were HEAPS of people down there trying to reclaim luggage that had been held...even a guy who had bought his own golf clubs with him, who was really peeved. It was just ridiculous, I have travelled with this item in my bag on scores of holidays, and never had a problem. I have no problem whatsoever with security clearances and appreciate the efforts made to make us all safe, but this went beyond ridiculous, really. Not a good start to the holiday, all things considered.
Meals: Very disapointed at the lack of choice for such a large ship, and the quality of the food which was for the most part 3 star quality (except for the pastry chef, who in my opinion is definitely not paid enough: superb). One can't fault the waiters, who really appear overworked but none-the-less are as high a quality as we have ever had non a trip, but that's pretty well where the good news ends. If you don't want to pay extra, the only choices for dining are the buffet and Promenade Cafe. The buffet then was only open to 9 or 9.30 pm, leaving only the Promenade Cafe...which every night had the same poor pathetic choices of food which was about the quality of a sandwich shop left open too long. Princess,for example,has a buffet open sometimes all night, and an international cafe which offers a good if limited variety of interesting, quality food. Room Service, though, was an even bigger disapointment. Nothing on the phone itself or in the cabin literature to tell you how you phone room service, so after trial and error I found that you have to get the operator to put you through, no direct dial (unlike most ships). I rang room service twice - first time, on hold to operator for 5 minutes, then on hold to room service for THIRTY FIVE minutes, before i hung up and rang the operator back to complain. (for which I was on hold another six minutes before they answered). They then got room service to call me back, who informed me that they were busy and I would not get my order for around an hour. Unbelievable! The second time I rang was marginally better, 18 minutes on hold and 50 minutes until the food arrived. Then, the food was less than ordinary, cheese that was stuck to the plate because it had been cut and refrigerated so long, bread that had dried edges. Unbelievably bad service and poor quality when it finally arrived.
My father and I usually go on cruises to celebrate our birthdays. The only recognition of my birthday on this ship was a letter delieved 3 days before to my cabin inviting me to spend money in the spa on my birthday as I was being offered "a special". Compared to the birthday card, balloons, etc experienced before, this was a marked contrast, and also left rather a bad taste.
Then there were the "service rules". On other ships, the bar staff know to "follow the customers". One day, the main bar on the 14th floor was closed for a private function for the limited number of gold class card holders. There were wait staff just standing around doing nothing, whilst next door the sports bar was crowded with about 60+ people: we were there 90 minutes and no one came near us to offer a drink. I was so perplexed, I went to someone who appeared to be in charge at the neighbouring function and asked why a bar staff hadn't come where all the people were, and was told "Madam, that bar is not scheduled to open". What??! When bar staff were just standing around and could have walked 1o feet to offer drinks?? Another day, my father was settled in one of the lounges and I wanted to take him a bowl of soup for lunch, and was told "there were no trays available for passengers because they did not want food taken out of the eating areas". When I took him something none-the-less, I had a bar staff (non-existent before) come and tell me I shouldn't bring food into the bar areas. I always clean up after myself and still took all the dishes back down to the buffet to avoid giving extra work to over-worked staff, but boy was I peeved....mainly because the overall feeling one gets all the time is that the passengers have to conform to the ships limited rules, rather than the passenger's needs being important. That just gets reinforced time and time again.
The shopping options were very poor, too, I found it hard to find good souvenir mid-range priced gifts, items were either incredibly cheap and tacky, or way too pricey.
Everyone I spoke to who had done the NZ trip before complained about the overpriced costs of shuttle transfers. One wonders how they can justify charging folks $22 return to go into Dunedin. Outrageous!
Entertainment: what was with putting the pianist right in the middle of the thoroughfare, instead of in the actual piano bar near the bow of the ship? One could hardly hear him, and right in front of him were people posing on the steps, chattering as they walked past. An awful thing to do for an artist, and not at all enjoyable for listeners. WHAT were they thinking??! Other entertainment was also pretty poor, and that was also the consensus from most people we spoke to. A comedian who wasn't funny....too-loud musical performances (we gave up going after we had to leave two performances).
My father also really enjoys doing jigsaw puzzles, and these have always been popular on cruises because other people come and join him, its a great way for him to meet people and make friends while doing something he really loves. Well, there were no jigsaw puzzles provided, so I bought the one up I had bought him for a present. We left a note on it, and asked the cleaning staff if they wouldn't mind leaving it....which they said wasn't a problem at all, as it was in the barely-used card room at the back of the ship. Well, after it had been packed away two days in a row in spite of the note and the assurances of cleaning staff, Dad gave up.
The library - no regulation or care of it, and consequently it was pretty well stripped within the first hours of the cruise. When I took books back on the last day, I saw a staff member clearning books out of the drop box that I had dropped back in THREE days earlier, along with dozens of others which other people could have been reading in the meantime. How bad was that?
And what is it with having an overwhelming number of channels on stateroom tv that promote the cruise line, but only one channel with any movies, all of them very old? If you wanted to watch a newer movie, you had to pay $14.95 US for the privilege. I couldn't believe it, again, a great contrast to what we have had before.
Disembarkation was just typical of the lack of interest in passengers as anything but cash cows. No one to guide inside the terminal, it was left to a helpful baggage handler to tell us where to go and how to get to the taxi rank (which is actually a bit complex at Sydney terminal).
All round, we wished we had saved our money to go on another cruise line.