This cruise was our family's 6th spring break cruise in a row. We are in our 40s now, and travel with our middle and high schoolers each year, along with several families who are also friends of ours. We have sailed RCL 7 times now, and enjoyed each cruise tremendously. Comparing to past cruises, however, this one was our least enjoyable yet.
Chief negatives compared to past RCL cruises:
- Entertainment. Clearly the budget has been reduced in this area. Only one full-cast show, and nothing approaching a broadway-style production. We really loved Liberty two years ago, with Saturday Night Fever. Odd to be on the same class of ship, and on a longer cruise, but with less investment in entertainment. There was a band from Nashville which was very talented and hilarious as well (crowd-involvement), but they were on the ship for one show and left us in Jamaica for the US. Ice show was fabulous as always; front row seats are worth getting because they enable interaction with the skaters during the show.
- Food. We are not food hounds by any stretch; couldn't even tell you whether we get the Food Network on our TV at home. That said, the lack of memorable meals and desserts in the dining room was staggering. Each night just kept being unmemorable. Again, I blame budget cuts...a distinct lack of chocolate-based desserts, for example. Check the price of chocolate inflation in the past couple of years? Bingo. Our nightly experience improved dramatically on Night Three, when the best waiters we've ever had on a non-Disney cruise offered to make me some curry chicken. I've been to India for work, and our waiter is from Mumbai, so we clicked and from Night Three onward, he brought multiple chicken curry dishes out each night for us to share (we had 8 adult friends at our table this year; 8 teens adjacent). I'm pretty sure he acquired it from the employee cafeteria, but who cared! The cooks are really good at making an authentic curry. He rescued a lackluster printed dining room set of offerings with this gesture. Windjammer was monotonous, by the way.
- Pool entertainment. The standard steel-drum band was there, of course, but they seemed to rarely play. There were A LOT of hours by the pool when you could have heard crickets chirp. Granted, that's far preferable to loudspeakers blaring the latest bingo game or "port shopping training session" but I feel like RCL should pay the band a little bit more and double their hours on deck each day. We're in the Caribbean...bring on the steel drums!
- Cruise director. Essentially absent, other than at the required pre- and post-show blurbs around the shows each evening. I'm fine with it; but the guy was completely irrelevant and thus a missed opportunity for RCL to create a memory with this person rather than no impression at all.
- Flowrider. We love this class of ship because this device entertains teens endlessly. When it's working. It was not functioning until the last sea day, a source of great frustration. Ridiculous, in fact. Day Four it was under "health-repairs" which I believe was a lie. Day Five it was still down. I guess Oasis-class avoids this issue by having two.
- Lack of draft beer options. Heineken and Amstel, period. Apparently all those other taps are used in the European summer season, but in the Caribbean it's a bottle crowd for the most part. With the new alcohol program, RCL would improve its margins if draft beers were part of one of the program tiers. The fact that RCL wanted to serve me bottles all day rather than pouring from a far-cheaper keg, is bizarre. But since I don't really fancy Heineken, nor Diet Heineken, bottles it was.
Reasons we'll continue to preference RCL in the future:
- Drink package is great. I'd say if you're 8+ beers a day, or 6+ cocktails/frozens a day, the $55/day option works great. Be sure to consider whether you can really drink that much every day, and factor in days you'll be on shore. The package works in Labadee, and we stayed aboard in Jamaica (intending to FlowRide without crowds), so it was easy to get our money's worth out of this $55 package. 3-4 drinks during the day, 2-3 at dinner, 2 after dinner. Sleep tight! Bartenders get their normal 15% gratuity on whatever they provide to you, so there's no need to worry about lackluster service because you're on the drink program. By contrast, on several days the pool bartenders went out of their way to find me Speckled Hen beer, and London's Pride beer...I was on a Brit-beer binge of sorts, once I drained the last Boddington and refused any more Bass after realizing it is a "British recipe" brewed in the US.
- Ships are gorgeous and well maintained.
- Clientele is our speed. Not once on this cruise did we have our balcony peace disturbed by rowdy cruisers nor cigarette smoke. That occurs EVERY day whenever we are on Carnival (2013, 2009).
Areas where Carnival has an edge on RCL:
- Guy's Burgers
- Red Frog Pub / Ale
- Cabins on and above the pool deck level. We spend most of our time on deck, and naturally love to avoid elevators and stairs. Carnival's placement of cabins in the front of the lido deck and above is a difference-maker.
- People-watching. Carnival lives up to its Fun Ship moniker.