Let me start by saying that I am a dedicated RCI fan. Emerald Crown & Anchor, and though this cruise was less than all the others, satisfaction wise, it won't change my choice for future cruises. I do love the ships and this line.
We traveled with a party of 8 friends and family. Got to Ft Lauderdale a day early (almost always necessary) from SLC, Ut, Seattle, Wa, and Clovis, NM. Always stay at the Fairfield In near the airport. Very nice place, with free transportation back and forth to airport and a fee for trip to cruise port.
Embarkation: Very slow as there was some problem onboard from the previous cruise. About an hour later getting on than usual. Some grumpy employees and some that didn't know what the other hand was doing, but nothing serious. No real problem.
We all booked balcony cabins on Deck 12, but one couple got a Jr Suite down the hall. Clean and as expected, but the two beds pushed together turned out to be very uncomfortable. They had foam padding on top of the regular mattress but under the sheets and they were smaller than the bed and would separate during the night leaving a space. I ask and nothing really was done. It wasn't the end of life as we know it but just another detail that should have been fixed.
One thing we all noticed was this was our first trip since RCI changed the tip policy to where if you didn't prepay, they add $12.00 pp per day to your account. Now all get paid regardless of anything. There were more "forced smiles" and fewer genuine happy employees for sure. Seems like cost cutting is hitting everywhere. The pizza at Sorento's was much smaller per slice, the Crown and Anchor Top Tier event was a disgrace in terms of its length, about 30 minutes, and no food just some champagne. Was held on the helipad, which meant it was hot standing around. No Captain, as the ship was about to leave port, just the Hotel Mgr who introduced a few officers, and said a few words. Way less than many of these events that I've attended.
The ports were in Nassau, St Thomas and St Maartan. Been there before, so nothing new for us. One party did the shallow dolphin experience in Nassau at Atlantis. Said it was fabulous. We did the 12 metere America's Cup race in St Maartan, and it was again, a blast. Highly recommended. Getting on and off the ship in each port was no real problem. No tendering!!
Dining: The food was about what I have come to expect, certainly not fabulous but good to very good. BUT, the noticeable absence of the normal amount of asst waiters did have an affect. Drink glasses not filled as often, etc. One evening we had 4 steaks ordered, and had to send 3 of them back for toughness or being cooked nowhere near as ordered. Head waiter told me later they have that problem a lot. We did do the Chef's Table dinner. $85 pp. It was difficult if you didn't like the selected courses, 5 in all. But if you ask they would bring you something else. Each course came with a full glass of a different wine, which were all excellent and well explained by the Chef;s assistant. However, by the end of the night, several guests were visibly drunk to some degree. Meet an outstanding young waitress at Johnny Rockets, Ma Corizon. Truly excellent attitude, etc. Didn't do many of the other specialty restaurants except Izumi, and it was excellent!! One thing I noticed is that the dress code for the dinner in the main dining room was ignored by many guests, some to extreme measures. Lots of short shorts, tank tops, cut off levis, even swimwear with a very small cover-up. Ask the Matre De, said we sometimes say something but it doesn't do any good.
One other big disappointment. Most people don't know but the ship has some older iPhone 3's they have set us to use around the ship, like the people who bring walkie talkies. You can connect with your party, call any phones on ship and check the daily compass, etc. $30 per cruise. Very good idea, but they didn't work but about 70% of the time. One party checked them all out and he did sign the agreement. My wife dropped one and broke the glass. I am in the wireless business, so I know the cost to repair that, and it is the most common repair for cell phones. It could be fixed for well under $100. They charged me $350 and said it was now useless. It still worked, just broken screen glass. I am happy to pay for damage we did, but to be gouged like that isn't right. They should have offered an insurance of additional amount per day. Would have made much more $$ over the course. Had we lost it, the cost would have been $500. So if you take them up on this offering, be careful. When they worked, it was very helpful.
Disembarkation: There was some hold up in the customs area that pushed the whole process back. Actually stopped letting you off for about 30 minutes. One of the problems is that a ton of guests chose the early option to get off and carry your own luggage. The problem was that most of them didn't get off when they should and figured they could just go whenever they wanted. Almost half the people in line had several suitcases with them. Again, just ignorance on some peoples part.
In closing, again, I am a big fan of RCI. Best ships in the industry. I am just a bit saddened by all the obvious cost cutting measures being put into practice. I am sure other lines are doing similar things. Perhaps I am old school, but the costs go up and the benefits go down. Still cruising is one of the best vacations around, so don't let my one less than stellar experience here keep you from going.
Decks and areas around ship all pretty clean and nice. New policy with pool towels. No need to sign them in and out anymore.