Sixth time on a cruise, ranging from 2000-Present. I'm not a picky person and can tolerate a lot before something starts negatively impacting my mood. My last three cruises have all been over $2000 for the staterooms.
Being a Gold member, and knowing just about everyone else is too, made me think it's just a gimmick. But in reality, it took us no more than 20 minutes from pulling into the parking lot to being on the boat. Embarkation could not have gone any smoother. We arrived at 11:15 am as a frame of reference.
First walk around the boat while waiting on cabin rooms to open:
If you have been on cruises before, this ship is average. One of my favorite things about cruising is exploring the ship on the first day. All staff we encountered were pleasant (Lincoln aka Lincs at the Solarium bar was awesome). The huge TV at the pool quickly stands out and I don't know what the other reviewers were watching, but in the bright sunny middle of the day the TV was easy to see. I'm sure if they showed some movie that was dark a lot it probably wouldn't have looked good...but otherwise my gf and I enjoyed the music videos they played on the tv while we sunbathed (on the 2nd day).
Special note about the Concierge service:
We quickly marched to the Spa like I always do to schedule a massage. I would like to point out this cruise was the first time I tried to use the on land telephone concierge service to book things a month in advance. DON'T EVEN BOTHER. They couldn't book me in the spa for some reason when I called them in June, yet 5 minutes of talking to the people at the spa and everything was booked. They never answered my questions correctly. They even said that they were no longer offering the drink packages on 3 night cruises. While I understand the amount of binge drinking that occurs on shorter cruises, this disappointed me. However, the first bar we stopped at while on the boat (Solarium bar), the bartender offered us the drink package so I bought 2 Ultimates. Basically, the concierge service on the phone is useless. I mention all of this because this cruise was my special gift to my long time gf and I wanted everything to be booked ahead of time so we were free to spend our time planning other things. Unfortunately, the Royal Caribbean on land phone concierge is worthless and when we were on the boat, everything was contradicted from what they said. RC should definitely work on this. I can give all examples if anyone wants to prove it wasn't just one or two things and I'm not being unreasonable.
Every cruise I go on, I get a room on the back of the boat. The balcony is always larger and there is more privacy. However, the aft rooms on this ship are not private at all. Right above the room is the lobby area for the spa, and anyone standing by the window can look down into our balcony. Also, there are four other balconies that can easily look into yours...not all of it but can see into it. I like having private time with my gf on the balconies while sailing but couldn't, so if you are like that and look forward to large balconies with lots of privacy, you may want to look for another room.
The room did not smell (I didn't smell anything bad the whole time, like other reviewers have stated they smelled). Everything was as it should be. Two standard outlets and one 230V outlet. Our stateroom attendant was awesome and we made a couple requests on the first day like ice...and our attendant made sure there was ice every day without us asking. Overall, the stateroom rocked except for the balcony (of course, this was for personal reasons so shouldn't reflect on the rating unless you are like I am and want privacy).
Skip Chops Grille. This was another thing the on land concierge service couldn't get right. We were on a cruise for relaxing and not much socializing, so we wanted to go to Chops Grille every night. The on land concierge couldn't even do that without confusing me so I waited until getting on board! Once I got on board the ship, it was easy enough to reserve. However, this is where we had our only truly bad experience on the boat. We got to Chops 6 minutes late and were promptly seated. It was not full, despite the person we spoke to saying all weekend was booked so we had to choose specific times (late dining was out the other nights!). The waiter we had was way too busy and it took forever to get us even our first drinks. Then it just got worse. My gf couldn't decide and we were having fun talking with each other anyways. So we put in some appetizers. Well, apparently there is a direction to the serving crew to not put in orders right away. So after waiting another 20 minutes for him to come take our order, we found out he hadn't even put the appetizers in! By this point we were starving as we did not eat all day in anticipation for our cruise dinner which I'm used to eating a LOT. So we ordered our main dishes. The only way I can put this into perspective is by saying we got into the restaurant at 8:36 and didn't get our appetizers on the table until 9:32. We didn't even leave until 10:30. Now, I understand the tricks of saving money as I used to GM for a restaurant. The slower the food comes out, the faster diners get full and the less they eat. I get that. Also, not putting in food until you have all of the orders AND not putting in each order until the diner has eaten the first one ensures extra food is not ordered that won't be eaten. This is just managing a restaurant 101. However...we PAID extra for this dining experience and expected a lot more. The food was great, except two easy parts of the order were wrong...we ordered creamed spinach and got sauteed spinach and my gf ordered the onion soup but was told it was something different when she asked the server about it. Now, these may seem trivial, but imagine being very hungry and being given one dish at a time. Your mind is ready for some gourmet creamed spinach and you get something else, and you know if you ask for them to correct it you won't see it for another 30 minutes or so. All of the food was excellent, though. Especially their tator tots...you HAVE to try them. Each one is HUGE and cheesy and amazing. Best tator tots I've ever had without exaggeration. They are so good they almost turned around our mood, but unfortunately we were already crabby from not eating all day and the waiter was too rushed to give us that special experience you get on a cruise...so we left that restaurant in bad moods. We ended up going back to our room and just going to bed. Very lame but we had started bickering a little at dinner and just needed to relax.
Windjammer Cafe is where it's at during dinner time. We didn't do the main dining room on any night. The last night, instead of going to Chops which I had already reserved, we decided to go to Windjammer and this was the best experience on the cruise! There is a HUGE selection of food and it was all good. I'm sure some snobby people could find something wrong with it like some of the dishes weren't cooked perfectly and the sushi selection leaves a lot to be desired, but if you aren't picky and can enjoy yourself anywhere then the Windjammer is the place to be. I wish I could have that kind of buffet to choose from every night! The first person who was our waitress almost pushed me over the line to reconsider ever sailing with RC again, but I guess her shift ended as we sat down so we got another waitress who was awesome.
Quick note...when sailing, the pool area is WIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINDY. Be ready for it. I say that because on the second day we laid by the pool from 9am - 3pm, during our docking at Nassau. We only went to Nassau for about an hour to shop for the kid. I've been there many times and personally I think it's a terrible port of call, but to each his own. Getting on and off the ship was easy.
Coco Cay was exactly what I remembered...a big beach. We were out there from 9am - 330pm (we live in Florida, so are used to the sun). We stayed in the water or on our chairs the entire time. We even brought paddle ball, which apparently they are not used to because we were the center of attention novelty for some of it. The buffet they serve on the island (free) was awesome. Again, snobs could critique it. If you are looking for a 5-star dining experience, the Coco Cay BBQ is not it. But when you are in the sun, hungry, and buzzed...the food almost has a halo of goodness around it. The Mac and Cheese was awesome, needed salt but otherwise the best item on the buffet imo. I love Coco Cay and that's coming from someone who has lived 30 minutes away from Florida beaches his entire 37 year life.
Times have changed on cruise ships and it was readily apparent every single day. They have found ways to nickel and dime you at every turn, which I guess was inevitable so I wasn't really shocked. My first RC cruise was my first cruise ever which was in 2000 so I'm sure I have rose-colored glasses when I think of that cruise, but I don't remember all of the rules they have now on their boats. Carnival, Disney, and Norwegian are much more accommodating than this ship was, in my experience. Also, I caught one of the bartenders in a scam. I bought the Ultimate Drink package which includes all alcohol. One night, we were passing by the pool bar and ordered some fruity drinks. I didn't show the guy my card first (which has a sticker on it with UP showing I have the package). So, he made the drink and served it and I gave him my card. Immediately he took the drink back and said he had to pour it into a different glass because the one he gave me was for people without the package and the cup is considered a souvenir cup that costs extra. So, without even asking the customer, he made the drink in a more expensive cup. Watch yourself at the bar if you don't buy a drink package, I bet they do this all the time.
Back to how times have changed. I've been on two different cruises now where they are starting to put late night food out of the way in little corners and removing any semblance of selection they used to have. After 10pm, there isn't much to eat anywhere unless you join in on the pool parties and such, which means you will be waiting in very long lines just to fill your plate. On a Summer night in the Caribbean after being out at the beach and by the pool, the last thing we wanted was to go out at midnight to sweat in the humid air (again, I'm from FL and have this weather almost year-round so I know how it gets).
The last thing I'll bring up is something I didn't believe in the reviews I read on this site before booking and going on this cruise. RC includes all tips in the bill now. You can give an extra tip but everything you order already has the tip included. THIS IS NOTICEABLE IN THE STAFF!!!!!! I can't overstate this and I was skeptical when reading other reviews. I've had staff be short on cruises, I've had staff forget stuff, I've had staff get things wrong....but never ever ever ever have I ever had rude staff on a cruise, until now. It wasn't a prominent theme the whole time but it did happen. A for instance (I like giving these so people don't think I'm exaggerating), we got to the pool at around 9am on the 2nd day. We are on a cruise, so what's the first thing we do? Hit up the bar, OF COURSE!! Well, the one we went to was closed and there were two guys behind it getting ready. We started to ask them wh....and were quickly interrupted with a finger pointing to another bar and the guy said that is the only bar that is open. So we walked to that bar that had one guy running back and forth. He didn't look at anyone. He didn't acknowledge anyone. He just kept going back and forth. So after a few people had gathered, I rose my voice to get his attention. He turned back to me, looked in my eyes so I KNOOOOW he saw me (I'm waving my finger right now pointing at him as if he can still see me) and turned around to walk through the door to get to another area. At this point, I'm getting a little short-tempered. As soon as I saw that door open again, I rose my voice again and he said "Not open". That was it. So I had been told they were open, and now I'm being told they aren't. So I started to ask when it would open and he was already halfway through that back door again. He did stop though because I was getting a little loud at this point just wanting an answer (I SWEAR I can raise my voice without sounding like an a-hole, just to get attention from someone). So I got my question out and he said he will be right back and without waiting for an answer or anything, he turned his back on me and went about his duties and never acknowledged me again after that. Trust me, even rereading what I just wrote, I can't really portray how rude this guy was.
So...after saying all that about the guy, let me say that I know what it's like to be busy. I know what it's like having to do the job with bosses breathing down your neck and criticizing everything you do. I know what it's like to have customers coming up to you every minute to ask you the same monotonous questions. But I ALSO know that putting up a simple sign saying "Closed - Will open at xx:xx" goes a very very very very long way from having to put your staff and/or your customers in those situations. This was my first rude experience ever on a cruise and the fact he gets tipped for every drink regardless really punctuates how this has changed attitudes. The shorter cruises like 3-day and 4-day obviously wear out the staff faster than longer cruises; I get that. But I spend a LOT of money when I'm on a cruise boat (this was one of my cheapest at $1,211 for a 3 nighter) including paying the full price of the rooms, so I don't want rudeness...EVER. If it happens, apologize. Simple as that. But it looks like that isn't taught these days. I will sail RC again, but won't go on this boat.
Congratulations, if you've read all of that you not only have an impressive attention span but you are ready to go on a cruise!