It was definitely the best vacation I've ever taken; it was also our first cruise. We took along our six year old daughter, and she also had a wonderful time. The best things: being at sea, relaxing, shopping, seeing the shows, the shore excursions, the Adventure Ocean kids program, the dining, the ship.
Our stateroom was on Deck 2 with an oceanview, and we were very pleased with it. Our daughter's bed pulled down from the ceiling and we had plenty of room. There was a vanity area, a love seat, closet and cabinets, and a small safe. The bathroom was bigger than I expected. Although the shower was tiny, we were very pleased that the showerhead was vertically adjustable--tall enough for my six foot tall husband, and short enough for our daughter. It made up for having no tub.
The room attendant was great, Bertram, as he made up the room twice a day, left towel animal creations for our daughter, and mints on the pillow. Every time we bought the drink of the day or a cordial, we got to keep the cup, and Bertram would wash it out for us. It was very good service.
Getting on board was easy for the most part. They sailed at 5pm and said do not arrive before 1pm. I recommend arriving as early as possible--there were practically no lines and no frustrations AFTER we got to the port. The previous night we had spent at the Best Western Beachfront, which is not a hotel I would recommend. On the net it seemed like a good price, about $70, but it was worth about half that much. When we left the hotel for the ship via taxi, we had to wait (with about 20 other people) over an hour for a taxi. Next time I would try for a hotel with a shuttle, or just pay the $50 bucks and park at the terminal. (At Port of Galveston online you can print a $10 off coupon for parking) I was told that every Sunday it's very busy and the wait for a taxi is long. When we got off the ship and needed a taxi back to the hotel, we waited about 40 minutes. Both times it was chilly and windy and it sucked. Including tip, the taxis cost us $15 each way.
Once at the terminal, it was all fast and easy. Soon we were aboard and looking for food, which was already available and delicious, buffet style, in the Windjammer Cafe. Our staterooms were ready by 1:30, and our luggage was delivered that evening by about 5pm. We explored the entire ship and were in awe of it. We took a tour of the spa, which seemed really great, and it smelled wonderful. I booked a course of three treatments of Ionithermie, which was guaranteed to reduce you by 1 inch each time. It's a European cellulite treatment, one of their most expensive offerings. They talked up how wonderful it was, how it's all you need to lose cellulite and firm up, etc., and it looked very relaxing and refreshing. So the next day I went for my first treatment, and I did enjoy it--at first. The treatment lasted almost an hour, with creams and oils, and electric stimulation things on your muscles (like a chiropractor uses). After I had been lying there relaxing and imagining my cellulite magically disappearing, the girl in charge returned (can't remember her name, she was from South Africa) and ruined it: from that moment on, it was a high pressure sales pitch that I didn't expect. It was "You can spend between $100 and $1000 on products to continue this treatment at home, and really the home treatment is much more important that this treatment today. How much do you want to spend?" When I didn't jump right in and spring for all of the outrageously priced oils and creams, she tried to sell me a year's worth of the oil, which was two identical $55 bottles. I asked if I could buy just one bottle, and she told me that one bottle would do me no good because to have any effect, I would have to use it for a whole year. So I said maybe I could buy one bottle and buy another when the first was used up. Of course, she didn't want me to do that because the product isn't available anywhere in the USA. I was pretty upset by then, and I hate confrontation, but things did not add up and the treatment was totally ruined. I just wanted to relax and enjoy it! I did agree to buy one bottle for $55. After that, she seemed less friendly. I felt awful. Later in my stateroom, I told the whole story to my husband. Being the wonderful man that he is, he took care of it for me. He returned the oil and got a refund for me, complained to the spa manager and a complaint was filed against the girl from South Africa, and he cancelled my other two treatments. They offered another treatment for free with another person, but I declined. I didn't set foot in the spa again.
Also about the spa, the first night they offered free hair consultations. Surprise, Surprise, I have Bad Hair! The girl tried to sell me a highlight package for $160. I declined. Maybe I'm just too cheap. I decided to spend my money on other things and keep going to Supercuts. So really my only truly bad experience on the ship was at the spa. Next time I'll know--the treatments are expensive and they'll say whatever they can to make the sales.
Speaking of sales, there are alcoholic drinks available all the time, all over the place. Just put it on your SeaPass card. The daily drink special is usually about $5-$6 plus tip, but one day we were surprised to see that it was $10.75!!! After we had bought them, of course. Many of them were beautiful frozen drinks available with or without alcohol, and all were in nice souvenir glasses (real glass with the RC logo). We bought one for our daughter on several occasions, and she saved every little umbrella. I think the drinks were worth it, we thoroughly enjoyed them. The only difficulty was how to get the glasses home--I think we ended up with about 12 in all. We did it though, and none broke.
The food on the cruise was fantastic, and the waitstaff was excellent. Halfway through we realized that we could order more than one entree (or appetizer or dessert!) and sample them all. It was exciting for my daughter, who is a very light eater, to order things like prime rib and enjoy a mere three bites without getting scolded. They did also have a good children's menu. Some nights she tried escargot, some nights it was a hot dog. She had chocolate milk with every meal. She also came home with a sack full of dinner mints--every night Bertram left mints on our pillows, but I wouldn't let her have chocolate just before bed, so she saved it for the next day, and then forgot to eat it. So she has a lot of souvenir chocolate mints now!
We were also excited to discover room service--any of the meals in the dining room can be brought to your stateroom instead, at no extra charge. We did breakfast room service on several of the mornings. We tipped the full recommended amount at the end of the cruise for all of our waitstaff and our room attendant.
We also tipped the staff at Adventure Ocean. The kids program was excellent!!! They were generally open from 9am-12pm, 2pm-4pm, and 7pm-10pm. From 10pm to 1am was the Late Night Party Zone, which was $5 per hour per child. (The rest is free.) We took our child ashore with us at each port, but the hours are extended on those days to accommodate parents who want to leave their kids on the ship. Those kids had Pirate Night, a Rock N Roll Party, and a Mardi Gras Party. You can also send your child to eat supper with them at 6pm instead of in the dining room with you. The first formal night, she ate with us, but the second formal night she ate with the kids and participated in Pirate Night. They dressed up like pirates, painted their faces, learned "pirate commands" and had a Pirate Parade all over the ship. They came into the dining room and put on a show for us, very cute. Out of everything: being at sea, all of the excursions, etc., our daughter enjoyed Adventure Ocean the most. By the way, it wasn't crowded. There were never more than about 20 kids altogether (ages 3-12), plenty of space and attention. We went the second week in February, purposely avoiding Spring Break and similar holidays. For every activity the kids attend, they receive an Adventure Ocean buck, and can redeem them on the last day. Our daughter ended up with a t-shirt, several stuffed animals, a key chain, a visor, etc.
The shore excursions: wonderful. On Key West we took the trolley tour combo, which included about 1 1/2 hours on a trolly tour of the island, very informative and enjoyable, also entrance to the Shipwreck Historium, and the Aquarium. The Shipwreck Historium was great, and the Aquarium was fun. It was small and quaint, but worth seeing--some really neat exhibits as well as a big touch tank. Go to the Aquarium while it's still light, if you can, because there are a few unlit outdoor exhibits. The highlight of Key West for me was at the Shipwreck Historium, where we climbed to the top of a tall open tower just after dusk, and we looked over and could see our ship, which was huge and fabulous and well-lit, not to mention all of Key West. It was beautiful.
Grand Cayman: We went to Stingray City, which was the experience of a lifetime. You go out quite a ways into the ocean, to a sandbar, and get in with your snorkel gear. There are hundreds of stingrays to touch, feed, and photograph. I am afraid of fish, so I was quite nervous about it, but after only a few minutes of hyperventilating I calmed down and REALLY enjoyed it. It was amazing! Take along an underwater camera. We took our daughter along, but she was only in the water a minute or so, and was too scared. She and one other person climbed back on the boat and watched, which was still a fun experience for her. The water was very clear and not too cold. After Stingray City, we had several more hours on Grand Cayman and no other tour scheduled. We returned to the pier and took a tour with a native Caymanian woman in her minivan taxi. It was $45 for all three of us for about 1 1/4 hours. She took us all around the area, to the Turtle Farm, to Hell, and to the Tortuga Rum store. She was very friendly, informative, an excellent tour guide, and she cost less than any ship-affiliated tour. On Grand Cayman, I recommend taking this sort of tour instead of one with the cruise ship. Make sure you take it with a native, and not one of the many available with non-native workers.
Cozumel: We went on the Tulum/Xel-ha Combo tour. First we took a ferry ride (they have a good variety of Cozumel t-shirts for sale on the ferry for $5 each) over to the mainland (rough crossing, felt somewhat sick) at Playa del Carmen, then boarded nice tour buses for the ride to Tulum. The guide was excellent, and funny, and gave lots of information and recommendations on the way to Tulum. Once in Tulum, he took us on a tour for about an hour, then we had about 25 minutes to walk around on our own. A longer time at Tulum would have been nice, but we got the basics and some nice photos. After we left Tulum, the bus took us to Xel-ha, a private resort/lagoon/park, where my husband snorkeled, my daughter played in the sand, and I watched. It was beautiful. If you go to Xel-ha, I recommend researching it thoroughly online before you go so you know exactly what you want to do. There are a lot of options and it's a big place. Also, on this shore excursion it would have been better for us to be wearing our swimsuits under our clothes and having sandals or aquasocks, to avoid the time to rent a locker and change in the crowded locker rooms. There are shops at Xel-ha, but all a part of the resort, and expensive compared to the rest of what we saw of Mexico. This tour was booked through the ship, so fortunately it waited for us as we were late returning. All aboard was 5:30, sail time was 6:00, and our group didn't get back until about 6:10. If you go to the mainland, book through the ship! By the way, Tulum and Xel-ha were both great excursions.
On the ship there were so many things to do and see, that we were never bored. We went to 5 of the 7 shows and ate every night in the dining room. We went to a couple of the pool parties, a dancing lesson, bingo, the casino, the shops, the family games, the sing-along, and on and on. It wasn't too crowded, and there were plenty of places we could go off on our own. We were in the hot tub three different times, and twice we were the only ones in.
Advice: buy sunscreen, shades, batteries, underwater cameras, etc. before you go, because it's all more expensive after you're there. Also, we bought a steamer for our clothes at Wal-Mart for $15, and it worked great. Irons aren't allowed, and it's expensive (relatively) to have your clothes pressed onboard, especially if you have silk things, suits, and cocktail dresses. Take a few empty collapsible bags because you'll come home with lots of souvenirs. Don't bother bringing a beach towel--they provide them on the ship, even for you to take ashore with you. Bring at least one pair of jeans and long sleeves, because there might be a cool day at sea.
Loosen up--I am a rule follower and had to force myself to not waste time being annoyed at the rule breakers. There are always people who will ignore the rules (by saving a lot of seats in the theater, saving numerous deck chairs by the pool, wearing shorts on formal night, and blocking stairways as you try to disembark) so do your best to ignore them. Don't waste your vacation by spending all your fun time irritated at little things. Enjoy the fabulous ship and the week of being treated like royalty.
I have a million more things to say, but you've been reading for quite a while now if you've gotten this far. I recommend taking a cruise!