My husband and I have now been on 3 cruises with 3 different cruise lines: Carnival, Princess, and RCL. We wanted to have a point of reference for future bookings and now I can share our experiences with you. We booked this cruise to celebrate our third anniversary and we are a young couple in our late 20's from North Carolina.
We arrived at the FLL airport at around 11:00 AM and were almost immediately able to board the bus (pre-booked through RCL) to the port of Miami. After arriving at the port, we breezed right through embarkation (we had completed our set sail passes on line) and were on board eating lunch in the Windjammer by 12:30. We were very impressed as this was one of the fastest and least nerve-wracking embarkations we have experienced.
We were not allowed into our stateroom until precisely 1PM. It was much smaller than any other room we have been in but it was definitely sufficient and clean. The new bedding and beds are absolutely the most comfortable we have experienced and our room steward, Debra, was wonderful. We did tip her in cash right off the bat which I think is a good idea. We were incredibly pleased with her service for the entire cruise.
Food: I must say that the food was adequate but somewhat disappointing compared to our previous experience. The Windjammer had the same types of food every day and there was no 24 hour buffet like the other ships we have been on. Even in the dining room the food was definitely not gourmet. This was a bummer for me because one of my most favorite things about a cruise is the dining room experience and the food. Room service was good although it did take 45 minutes to an hour to arrive and they really mean light snacks only in the Cafe Promenade - that is all they have and none of it is great. The dining room was beautiful, however, and the service was outstanding. Our head waiter made a point to converse with all of the tables on a nightly basis and the other staff was just as eager to please. We did not receive our request for a table for two (we made our first stop to ask in the dining room as soon as we walked on board) but we were invited to dine at the staff captain's table on the second-to-last evening which was very enjoyable. Our head waiter explained it was a random selection process and we were the only couple at our assigned table the night he extended the invitation.
Johnny Rockets was hard to find but worth the trouble and the cover charge. We actually ended up eating there twice since it was the only place open after 9 PM most nights but it was good so we didn't mind.
Pools: The pools were nice and although crowded, it was not really too hard to find a chair on the two at sea days. I wish the band would have played more like on the other boats and of course, the fresh water pools on Princess are a huge plus as opposed to the salt water on RCL and Carnival.
Our first port was Labadee, Haiti, which was honestly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. We went parasailing which was just OK. It was nice to be out on the boat for a while but then you start getting seasick while waiting for everyone else to have their turn. Also, the ride is fairly short and the price is high for what you get. The staff was very helpful and pleasant and I felt very safe under their guidance.
We did venture into the market to make our purchases. I felt kind of conflicted about vacationing in a country like Haiti which is so poor and experiencing so much turmoil so we decided that we would do our shopping here too help contribute in some small way to the residents as I read that they are allowed into the resort area only to sell their goods and this is their only form of income. They were very pushy as I was warned but they will listen if you firmly and politely explain to them what you do or do not want. They do start their bargaining high and you can always talk them down but I really didn't want to haggle that much - I ended up paying about half of what they originally asked for the items that we bought and felt that was fair.
The next port was Ocho Rios, Jamaica where we went horseback riding at Chukka Cove. This was seriously one of the most fun events of my life and worth every single penny. We were driven to the polo club by bus where we were assigned horses and began walking on the trail to the cove/beach area. Every 4-6 guests had a guide of their own and along the way they picked various flowers and told us the history of the land. When we got to the beach, we dismounted and ventured into the water in small groups with our guides so everyone could have their chance. What a rush! The water is shallow enough for the horses to gallop/run in the water so you really get a fun ride, especially since you don't have to worry about falling off. They even have photographers following along in a little boat to capture your adventure for you and you can purchase them on a CD to take home. After going in the water, we waited for everyone else to have their turn and then got back on our horses to ride back. We tipped our guide well as we really felt our positive experience had a lot to do with him.
Casino: They really need more $5 Blackjack tables on this ship. Most of the time there was only one open and we waited for along time and actually gave up a few times for waiting too long. You would think they would want to make it as easy as possible for people to give their money away!
Overall, this was a great cruise and we certainly enjoyed ourselves. We got some great pictures and met a lot of really fun people. Our impression is that for people our age who want to party and drink, this is your boat. The ship is beautiful and kept very nicely. We were really impressed by the service and the bedding most of all but since we prefer a slightly more upscale experience; our next cruise will probably be with Princess.
Hope this was helpful!