We have cruised 4 times, 2nd time with Royal Caribbean - it was outstanding again!
Boarding - On the way to the ship we bought bottled water & soda - saved us a ton of money and the line had no regulations on bringing it aboard. Saved us at least $100 as I drink at least 5 bottles of water a day & I think they were $2.75 a bottle. The only free choices aboard are ice tea, lemonade or tap water. We started to board in Miami at 12:10, we were on board & all checked in within 15 minutes! We did pre-boarding online & everything went very, very quickly. we were allowed in room at 1:00 and our luggage arrived by 2:00.
Excursions - Since this was our 4th cruise we decided to not prebook any excursions & just wing it in every port. In every port you could get off & choose from many choices of inexpensive excursions immediately after getting off ship - I don't know if we will ever book through the cruise line again. Belize was first port. We took a 1 hour horse & carriage tour for $20 total for 2 of us! It was "unbelizable"! A lot of history by an informed native guide who took us through the wealthy & average neighborhoods, we even stopped for a local beer for $1.50. We also shopped at the market just as you get off the ship - a woman in her sixties was ahead of me at the drug store, she bought 30 viagra tablets for $90. I bought a bottle of 30 aspirin with codeine for $5 - great for the morning afters aboard ship! There also were a few shops with knock off Gucci, Coach, etc bags & shoes - great prices & top quality knock offs. I bought 3 pairs of knock off sandals for $68 - they are beautiful and my best find of the trip!! We also went to an Internet cafe, aboard ship it was 50 cents a minute, in port it was 15 cents a minute or $3 an hour - it's the way to go to contact home.Next stop Costa Maya - the village as you leave ship is man made, crowded and the natives are very, very aggressive, if you want to buy the typical cheap trinkets wait to Cozumel - there prices are posted, cheaper & you don't have to haggle. If you do buy in Costa Maya be sure to haggle -it is expected, we always paid 40-50% less then first price given. The best thing to do in Costa Maya was pay the $3 air conditioned bus fare to a beach about 5 minutes away - there I got a 1 hour massage on the beach in a beautiful white screened hut for only $20!!It was one of the best massages I have ever had & being on the beach listening to the ocean waves & a local sing a Mexican love song created a great memory. The cab ride back is $2. Their was jet skiing for $40 & snorkeling ride to reef for $15 at the beach too. You could swim at the beach but not at the shore of the village, too rocky. The village did have a swim up bar that looked fun though.
Cozumel - best cheaper shopping & a huge selection of stores & local set ups. Went to Senior Frogs & just had too much fun with the yard drinks there! First & last time my husband would be photographed with a sombrero! Grand Cayman was my favorite port, right off the port you could choose many excursions - $40 glass bottom partial submerged sub ride, full below surface sub ride was $89. You absolutely have to swim with sting rays here, it was only $45, there were regulations being voted in on March of 2007 to eliminate picking them up anymore & restricting who can give tours & how many people can be at a location at once so now is the time to go! Holding them & having them tickle your back is an experience of a lifetime! Grand Cayman was also best high end shopping for brand names - Movado, David Yurhman, etc
The ship - always spotless & beautiful. Everything was just so perfect. Service was always outstanding - you never wanted for anything! Food was good to very good. Johnny Rockets, Ben & Jerry's ice cream & Seattle's best coffee were great extras offered. Check out the higher end restaurant, Potafino's, menu before you commit to the $20 per person to go - we found the dining room menu beat theirs every night. I highly recommend the Prime rib,lobster and the cheese tortellini. The buffet was always fully stocked with so many choices - I can't see how anyone could possibly complain about any of the food options. Room service was always quick 20 - 40 minutes as promised, we would get fresh fruit & International cheeses around 6 as we were showering to hold us over to the late seating. We got our portraits taken a few nights - $19.95 for a large professional picture - also one of the best deals around!! Don't miss the shows - they are all excellent especially ice show. Wait if buying Royal Caribbean logo attire, they put it at 50% off or 2 for $20 on last day.
Spa- you can save 25% if you use services while in port days- worth it as the least expensive massages were $109. You should book as soon as you board, you can cancel w/24 hours notice. The sauna & steam room were a great way to finish off the day - don't miss out on these, they are kind of hidden in the locker rooms in gym. Take the 15 minute spa tour on first day - worth the 15 minutes. Informative seminars - "eat more to weigh less", "3 ways to flatten your tummy you don't know", all very good!
Departure - I couldn't believe you can choose your departure time! if you don't like the time they gave you just go to guest relations where you can choose your time & luggage tag colors from the counter.Or you can also choose to leave the boat at 6:15 am with your luggage - no waiting, but you have to carry your own bags. Our time was 9:30 we were called at 9:20 & we were getting in our cab at 10:20 - basically an hour process, moved slowly but it was always moving. Be careful though we had light blue tags & accidently stood at "blue" carousel for 10 minutes before realizing light blue was a different room. The ship also sold $25 shuttle tickets to Ft Lauderdale - a good savings since cab was $75.
Rates - I went on cruise critic board and before the cruise I posted with other people that were taking same cruise as I was going to - extremely helpful! One woman informed us that rates were lowered by over $300, people called Royal Caribbean and get the $300 reduced off their rates as they had booked a long time before. She was everyone's hero! So watch the rates & call to see if they will match, not sure of terms on that...worth a call.