My wife and I booked this cruise for our 20th wedding anniversary. We had previously taken a 4-day Catalina/Enseneda cruise aboard the Carnival Ecstasy. I had been told by most people that we would probably enjoy the Royal Caribbean experience more than our experience with Carnival. I can say that overall, they were right. We had a great time and really enjoyed ourselves. I used the message board and cruise reviews before we booked the cruise and I can say that the tips we learned really helped out a great deal.
We took a Taxi to the cruise terminal and were very disappointed. The web site for the terminal recommends Checker Cab and we called them. They suggested the rate might be in the neighborhood of $30 to $50. They ended up transferring our fare to Yellow Cab who charged us $75 and we had to give directions! We had a one way flight back from Vancouver aboard Alaska Airlines that gave us plenty of time to explore Vancouver before our flight left. We booked Execucar from the airport back home and were very pleased. It cost us a little over $100 for this return trip and it was much more pleasant. You can book Execucar from the SuperShuttle web site but I suggest you call them. They have more booking options than are available on-line, including transportation to the port.
Embarkation was a snap. We arrived at about 2:30pm and there was NOBODY in line. We were told our cabin was already ready. When we got on board we went directly to our cabin to unload our carry-on luggage where we were met by our cabin steward. He introduced himself, got our names, told us when he was on duty and how to use the "Make up my room" and "Do not Disturb" cards. He was very visible and after that one introduction he addressed me by name every time after that. We had an inside stateroom on the second deck, one of the least expensive options, and the service felt first class!
We were unhappy with the bed in the room though. It was made up as a queen as it should have been but the bed was hard and you could feel the separation between the mattresses. I realize this is probably standard for this type of cabin, but we were not comfortable and had a hard time getting a good rest. The rest of the stateroom was very nice for what we remember getting on our last cruise. There were plenty of lighting options, a good-sized closet, plenty of drawer space and the customary tiny bathroom.
The ship layout was outstanding. We had no trouble getting around at all! We didn't have to change decks to get from one end of the ship to the other as we have in the past.
I took advantage of the two offered spinning classes on board and we did the couples massage where we learned some good techniques. This was a nice class. We noticed that there was plenty to choose from through the spa and the schedules were liberal enough that there seemed to be room in almost any program. The fitness center was a little small though with many machines requiring some amount of waiting if you like a morning workout.
The food in the Windjammer was ordinary but there was a good variety and it all tasted pretty good. We found that most of the dishes were similar to what was offered in the Aquarius dining room, but the food temperature and appearance was typical for a buffet; lukewarm and overcooked. I think that is probably unavoidable for the size of the buffet and the number of people that they had to serve. We ate breakfast there every morning except one, lunch the first day only (we almost never ate a lunch) and dinner there on two occasions. We did enjoy the pasta and stir-fry bar where food was prepared to you liking while you waited.
The Aquarius dining room food was outstanding but the service was just OK. Our waiter was good but the assistant was often missing in action. We had trouble getting drink refills for soda in particular and if you wanted more than one piece of bread you had to ask. If the bread plate is empty, another should be offered, unless you are at the end of your main course. Our waiter should have noticed this and corrected it. When we brought it to his attention it only marginally improved. We had main seating dining, which was a 6:00pm. A little too early for me as it seemed to interfere with our schedules, which is why we only ate there three of the five times, instead of all five.
We only had a couple of occasions to get anything from the Solarium Cafe. It always seemed busy but what we did have was good. I know to stay away from hamburgers at places like this, so we did have a slice of pizza and a hot dog. I will say that the Carnival Ecstasy had the casual dining food down much better. They had much more to offer poolside than Royal Caribbean. If you are the type that expects to eat when you want to instead of according to pre-set breakfast/lunch/dinner scheduled windows, then you might be disappointed by the offerings at the Solarium Cafe.
The soda was disappointing with most of it being served from warm 2-liter bottles over ice. This really destroys the taste as it really releases the carbonation from the drink while it is being pored instead of while it is being consumed. The bottles should have been pre-chilled or they should have used a soda fountain. I was guessing this was removed due to bacteria concerns. Pouring from 2-liter bottles is much better from that perspective.
I should also mention that there was plenty of anti-bacterial liquid available on the ship. It was prominent and there were plenty of signs asking people to keep their hands clean to avoid illness to themselves and other passengers.
We did not book any Shore Excursion in San Francisco, choosing instead to use you own exploration. We had a GREAT time exploring Fisherman's Warf, Pier 39, Lombard Street, Downtown, Coit Tower, Ghiradelli Square and a few other tourist type attractions. We ate a late lunch at Pier 39 and skipped the dining room, choosing instead to lounge at the Solarium pool and take pictures as we passed under the Golden Gate bridge coming out of the harbor.
In Victoria we booked the Buchart Gardens and Butterfly Gardens tour. We purchased this tour on the Internet before we left. Our tickets were delivered to our cabin as promised. Our tour guide, Albert, was EXCELLENT. He gave us the right advice about the weather, how long to take in the gardens, advice about the gift shops, etc. Embarkation and Disembarkation from the ship in Victoria was a problem though. The ship cleared customs later than planned and the captain never did announce when that was. A bunch of people congregated in the hallways to leave. They had staff there to direct traffic, but it wasn't pretty. Security for re-embarkation was done on the ship, which slowed things down quite a bit for getting back on. In most ports there are multiple security checkpoints in the port before you get on. Not so here.
We booked the Vancouver tour and airport drop-off after we boarded the ship. We were happy that we did this because it meant we were some of the first off ship. This worked out great, as long as you read the ticket correctly and went to the proper waiting point. We did, some did not and they had problems. We heard people complaining but we didn't have any complaints ourselves. The tour was delayed and we were not scheduled to arrive at the airport until 12:30. Some had flights that were scheduled to leave just after 2:00 pm and didn't feel that this was enough time to check bags, get through customs and get on the plane. That was probably right. I don't know what happened with them. The tour was OK but there was way too much traffic and road closures due to construction caused the driver to take unexpected detours. It was the unexpected part that bothered us. He should have known about road closures and planned accordingly.
The entertainment was better than average and we especially liked the final act in the Aquarius. We had no problem with the show schedules as they were all posted correctly in the cruise compass. As long as you read everything and followed the published schedule there was no problem with the show times. Obviously this was a problem for many though as the magician had a very small audience for the 7:15pm show. We enjoyed the comedians and even went to the final night, late-night show.
That brings me to one other complaint I had about the cruise and that is you had to read everything very carefully each day. We missed deadline to have the tips added to your stateroom. On our last cruise the customary tips were automatically added if you didn't indicate otherwise by the day before disembarkation. We expected the same from this cruise and didn't read the paperwork carefully, meaning we ended up having to get cash and put it in the little envelopes, hoping that they actually reached the right people.
The Internet access was very disappointing. It didn't work in all of the areas where they published it should be working. The purser's desk told us that they knew there were problems on some of the floors. The kiosks were very slow, causing us to have to pay more than we should have. Don't count on it for doing business.
Finally, we did encounter rougher seas between San Francisco and Victoria. We had read this might be case from others here on Cruise Critic so we were prepared. This was a good thing as many of our shipmates had problems. The ship had placed sickness bags on the banisters for those that were having problems.
In all, the cruise experience aboard this ship was excellent. We really loved the choice of ports and the on-board experience was better than we expected. We would do this cruise again and highly recommend this particular ship. Listen to the ship's announcements, read the material delivered to your stateroom and if you have a question, ask someone. Everyone was VERY HELPFUL.