there's nothing like running away to turquoise water and ivory sand while snow and ice rains down from the heavens at home . . . but I digress. this is my first critique, but third cruise: my first was on the Carnival Tropicale on a 5-day Caribbean jaunt with a beau, my second was a seven-day inside passage sailing on HAL's Ryndam with my mother. (I state this now because it does influence some of my perceptions, as you'll see below.)
For this, my third, but my best girlfriend's first, we chose a last-minute, three-night sailing over a weekend to keep her time away from work to a minimum, and take advantage of USAirways' last-minute Florida sale. I'd never done Royal Caribbean, so off we went to Majesty of the Seas.
EMBARKATION: a breeze. We're both veteran single girl travelers, so we had backpacks and carryons. We arrived at Miami very early (10:30 am) and tooled down to the port with a Supershuttle full of Majesty passengers (none of whom we saw for the rest of the trip!). I had done my pre-board info on line, but she had not; still, we zipped through registration (despite our desire to flirt as much as possible with our very cute and very helpful registration agent), and were on the boat by noon, if not earlier.
We completely disregarded the request to not head to our stateroom until later on; we were tired of toting luggage, after all! And even though they weren't quite finished, Garfield, our wonderful steward, let us stash our gear so we could head to the Windjammer with both hands free for pina coladas.
I must admit, being used to Carnival and HAL rooms, I was a bit astonished by the, er, size of the room, and we could have used more storage space. However, we learned quickly to tuck things under the beds and that, if we kept our chaos down to a minimum, it was an efficient use of square footage. (We didn't mind it being an inside cabin; it made it so much easier for mid-day naps!) Off we went to the Windjammer for drinks and lunch. A serviceable buffet was served, though not memorable; however, the pina coladas were scrumptious (and potentially deadly), and we happily went off to scout our surroundings from top to bottom.
Majesty, despite its refurb, is beginning to look its age, though the crew does an admirable job of keeping things shiny and clean. Two of the six elevators in the forward part of the ship had problems throughout the cruise, and there are some unbelievably dated things on board (really, don't you think RCCL could spring for new graphics in the elevators to tell you what's on each floor? they look older than my 80's legwarmers). However, most of the worn items are more nitpicky than anything else, and besides, what do you expect for a ship that turns around 4800 passengers a week?
The obligatory emergency drill went smoothly--I was impressed by how the crew neatly lined everyone up on deck, the first time I'd seen that in a drill; I'm used to the heaving masses milling about, bumping into each other with the life jackets like bobbing apples :->.
The weather was warm but overcast -- we spent a lot of time dodging raindrops on the pool deck, and the retractable roof on the HAL line was greatly missed. Still, as we pulled out of Miami (waving to the locals on the breakers as we left), we knew it was far better than the windchills we'd left up north!
Dinner was in the Mayfair -- we booked late, and so had main seating. Note to RCCL: get rid of those chandeliers! They look like a bad 70's craft project! Our waiter was charming, our table mates were quite cordial, and we had a great time, even if we had almost nothing in common! :-> After the impeccable cuisine of HAL, I must admit that I was less than impressed with the selections. However, everything my friend and I ordered was tasty and well-presented, except for the desserts, which were not at all special and, frankly, a disappointment -- except for one chocolate cake that I could have happily eaten non-stop the rest of the cruise.
I should note that the cruise contained a goodly mix of all kinds of people -- old, young, you name it. There weren't too many children around -- just enough to make it fun, and not enough to make it really annoying. I was surprised, expecting to see more families on a weekend jaunt. After dinner, we caught the stage show -- a 'retrospective' of life as seen through the music of the 60's, 70's, and 80's. I'm pretty sure that Freddie Mercury was spinning in his grave to hear Bohemian Rhapsody edited to a two-minute Vegas production. All in all, not one to go out of your way for. We skipped the shows after that.
Off to Karaoke -- a blast! And, it was 70's night, or so we were told, so the disco was just that -- and packed beyond belief. Having been up at half-past-creation to catch planes, we made an early night of it.
DAY 2: Coco-Uh-oh We awoke to a painfully loud announcement (if there was a volume control in our room, we never found it) that CocoCay had been rained on for 24 hours straight and, as a result, was a big sandy mud pit. However, they had gotten clearance for us to head straight to Nassau, giving us almost 36 hours straight in port!
We docked at 12:30, and headed on foot to Paradise Island, poking our heads in a few shops along the way. It's a trek, and not for the faint-hearted, but it felt good to burn off that chocolate cake . . . . we spent some time on the beach and, when the clouds started gathering, walked to Atlantis and poked around a bit before catching a cab back for dinner.
(As for the braid/taxi/whatnot vendors; yes, they ask you if you need fill-in-the-blank, but a polite and friendly "no, thanks," sent them along their way. I didn't find it nearly as pushy as, say, some salespersons at the mall -- and let's face it, how can you be cranky when they keep prefacing it with, "would you two beautiful ladies . . . ")
Dinner - the formal dinner - had a bit of steam taken out of it by being in Nassau early. Still, it was lovely (tho I had to satisfy my desire for lobster with the bisque). Then off to wander around to the various live acts. Steve in the Viking Crown, who we'd stumbled across earlier in the library, kept us quite entertained -- talented and a quirky but friendly style. Sadly, we are not as young as we used to be, so we headed off to bed before the midnight buffet, which looked like it was getting rained out; it poured buckets after sunset.
SUNDAY: Nassau, part due . . .
Another day in Nassau! And now that we knew were we were headed, off we went. A woman we saw in port the day before told us, "Nassau sucks on Sundays! Everything's closed!" And yes, not all the shops were open, but really, how many not-so-great-bargain-bejeweled-globes do you need?
We sauntered out of downtown and found a free beach between the Colonial Hilton and the Quality Inn -- not as picturesque or smooth as Paradise Island, but not as crowded, either. It was a local's place, so we had a great time watching the families play in the surf, until it started to rain. :->
So off we went, in search of the Queen's Staircase. A gentleman gave us a speed lecture on the history of the staircase, the hospital, the island, the capital, the fort, the motor scooters . . . . okay, maybe not the motor scooters, but you get the idea. We trooped up the staircase and up to Fort Fincastle -- a great place for a photo op with Atlantis behind you! And then it started to rain. Again. So we headed back to the ship. Nap time. (see? inside rooms are very useful!)
It was Superbowl Sunday, so the big decision was: Patriots? or prime rib? the Patriots won out. The crew gave over one big bar, the casino, AND the showroom to the broadcast -- the latter projecting it onto the stage-sized scrim -- and set up buffets with appropriate munchies (hot dogs with kraut or chili, wings, and sandwiches). It was clear in the showroom that folks were partial to one team or the other, which made for a lively evening -- MUCH more entertaining than what we'd seen on Friday night! It was ESPN's Latin American satellite feed, so we missed out on the more, um, non-traditional parts of the event. But to hear American commentators doing "football for dummies" was worth the price of admission alone, as they explained EVERYTHING, assuming the audience didn't understand the quirky nature of American football. After that excitement, we went up to the sky deck and watched the stars go by as we sailed back to Miami.
DISEMBARKATION: a rude reintroduction to reality . . . .
We were finishing our packing and toilette (remember, we had carryons!) when, at 7:30 am, an announcement was made that the ship was cleared for disembarkation; they then promptly called THREE different tag numbers, out of FIVE listed in our disembarkation packet. We paid no attention, because we were in no hurry: our flights didn't leave until the evening. so we sauntered down to the dining room for a leisurely sit-down breakfast . . . . and discovered a madhouse. The poor waiters couldn't keep up with the orders fast enough, and the passengers seemed terribly cranky to be fed fast and gone. We calmly had our coffee, and juice, and omelettes, and exited at 8:45 to find the line of all lines on the disembarkation deck, waiting. and waiting . . .
so we made ourselves useful until 9:15 or so, when we finally decided if we didn't go stand in line, we'd be fighting off the OTHER two colors who hadn't been called. So we did, and after much herding, were finally off the boat and taxiside by 9:45. Now, there is construction going on at the port, so I can understand some confusion. But the lack of signage, to say nothing of any port employees on site to lend a hand or brain cell, made for nothing short of sheer chaos. We had thought to catch a shuttle to Bayside and decide our plan of attack there, but we couldn't find the shuttle. Couldn't find a shuttle stop. Couldn't find someone who could explain what to look for or where to go. So we decided to get a cab, instead.
Not one, but TWO, cabs refused to take us, pointing us out to the nonexistent shuttle. While I understand that the fare would not be as lucrative as, say, an MIA run, I was astonished (and fully intend to write the port of Miami as soon as I finish this!). However, their obstinacy was our gain, as we gave up and caught the first rental car shuttle to the airport, where a very lovely woman at Alamo cut us a great deal on a convertible, so we spent the day tooling around SoBe with the top down before reluctantly heading home to sleet, snow, and minus wind chills.
Long story short: I'd recommend the cruise for first timers, as it's a great introduction to cruising, and Nassau has something for everybody. However, I don't know that I'd recommend Miami as a port, because the departure experience was enough to fray the nerves of anyone, let alone a newbie.
hope this is helpful. happy sailing!