We booked our cruise shortly after selling our house. Because it was spring break, we paid a bit more than we normally would, but as our daughter is a senior, we wanted to have one last family hurrah! In order to easily accommodate 2 adults and 2 teens, we booked two adjoining but not connected interior staterooms. This was our 7th as a family, all on Royal Caribbean and at 8 days was the longest.
We arrived at the port about 12:30. First of all, I have to say I don't much like the E-Documents and the fact that you don't get luggage tags. The porters aren't much help with giving you tags and pens but they still know how to hold their hands out. Parking was fun as always in Fort Lauderdale. But we managed to get checked in and on the ship in a matter of minutes.
The first thing that stuck me was how beautiful the ship was. I didn't realize it was one of the newest ships in the fleet, less than 3 years old. It is very striking, and very well maintained. The interior rooms were adequate, especially after our last sailing on the Sovereign of the Seas. The new pillow top mattress, linens and duvets were a very nice touch.
We had excellent service all around. Our attendant was superb, bringing us additional towels and keeping the room up. We had an awesome team in the dining room. We buy the soda cards, and in the dining room it is sometimes difficult to get one soda, let alone get refills. After the first night, our assistant waiter (actually, waitress) brought our sodas out as soon as we sat down and kept a pitcher nearby to keep them filled. Those are the types of small things that keep us coming back to Royal Caribbean.
The activities were a lot of fun. A new twist which we enjoyed was the cake decorating challenge, for which my wife got picked to compete with the cruise director against the chef. She was embarrassed but it was fun. The Love and Marriage game show was a hoot as always. The house rock band was great, playing music from all eras. And the entertainment was very good (except for the last night - I don't think a juggler is supposed to drop what he is juggling multiple times). The main feature was a Temptations tribute band who did all their hits note for note.
The solarium was the most gorgeous of any ship we have cruised. The pool was warm and seldom crowded. The pool tables were another story. It was sometimes difficult to play though we managed to find a few occasions. The public areas, such as the theater, centrum and Safari Club were very nicely decorated, clean and well furnished. No matter where you went it felt like you were in a 4 star hotel.
The ports of call were truly awesome. The only downside is that you arrive in Puerto Rico mid afternoon. We would have liked to have more time there. The shopping in St. Maarten and St. Thomas was great. Those islands and Antigua were beautiful, though it is evident that Antigua is not very well off. We snorkeled in St. Maarten, and after visiting Nassau 5 times previously, we also snorkeled there. I have to say that the rainbow reef is one of the coolest places to snorkel (and we have snorkeled in Grand Cayman, Cozumel and Hawaii).
I know it is only one more day, but it seems like doing the 8 day cruise was a lot longer than the weeklong cruises we have done. Many of the staff were on their last voyage on that ship, including the cruise director. This was the last sailing in the Caribbean and the day we got back, the ship departed for Europe.
If there was one area where it seemed like a hassle it was the departure. We had a ton of luggage so we needed to check it. They told us we could leave with the first group of colors. Normally I would have expected that to be by 8 am. Unfortunately it was closer to 9 and about 9:40 when we left the garage. It appeared that they were having problems clearing customs. It could be because there were 5 ships in port Sunday morning.
All in all this was an awesome cruise. I highly recommend this ship, especially if the ginormous ships like the Freedom seem too impersonal for you. The size of the ship, the activities and the itinerary made this one of our greatest vacations.