My review of our cruise. Keep in mind we have two kids, so this review will not include stuff about bars or clubs or major parties. That's just not our style with the little ones. Maybe the next one we do, which will be without the kiddies.
Players - DH (35), Me (32), DD (turned 7 on cruise), DS (2.5)
Pre-cruise - Stayed at the InterContinental Miami. Checked in at 4:00 and got a harbor view room on the top floor. Provided us a breathtakingly perfect view of the port. The room was kind of small, and nothing to write home about, but we got a great price, so who cares, right? The bathroom on the other hand was awesome. Loved it. The service was impeccable, from the valets to the concierge - great job by everyone. It was raining, so we didn't get to enjoy the pool, but the whole area looked really nice. For dinner, we went Bayside Marketplace and hung out there for a couple of hours. The rain had slowed down, so we walked back to the hotel. We ended up in bed by 9:30, all of us anticipating the next day's embarkation.
Day 1 - We were up by 6:00 a.m., and got our first view of the beautiful Liberty of the Seas. What a ship!! A Carnival ship was also in port, and it looked so tiny in comparison to the Liberty. We had breakfast at the hotel and headed to the port around 11:00. They were still emptying the ship at that point, so we were definitely a bit too early. A RCCL rep. told us we'd have to wait outside until 1:00 to check our luggage. We waited about 15 minutes and found a porter to help us out and put our luggage with the cases coming in on the shuttle buses from the hotel. So, into the terminal we went.
We waited with everyone else in the terminal and began to board at 1:00. RCCL was very good with the announcement and updates about boarding. I think we were on board and checked in by 1:30. We quickly went to the gymnasium to make spa reservations, and there was already a 15-minute wait!! Glad we got there when we did, because by the time I was done, the line was triple what it had been. That was the first, and last, time we saw the gym. It was beautiful, but we're not big cruise exercisers.
After that, we went to the H20 Zone and the kids played in the water until it started to rain. We dried off, listened to the captain's first announcement (which included the infamous "Will the person who vomited while board the ship, please report the medical facility" request) and headed to Windjammer. Once lunch was done, we made our way to the cabins, which opened at 3:00. Some of our luggage was already there, so we spent time unpacking, checking out the goodies in our room, and just enjoying the sights from our balcony.
A quick note about Just Because of You. I was very disappointed in the two baskets they did for our children. They had promised lots of snacks and drinks and one or two water items. We got five water items, one juice each and a box of gourmet (read: not kid-friendly) cookies each. Not what I expected at all. I'll call them on Monday to see what they say and will post an updated. But, as of right now, I won't be using them again.
The muster drill was altered because of the rain, so we only had to stand outside our cabin doors for roll call. Very nice. Got lots of funny pictures of us all in the life jackets. Seriously - take the time for these pictures. They are priceless.
Dinner was casual. Our servers were a little discombobulated and slow that first night, so we were kind of wary about what the week would bring. By the second night, they had found their groove. We thought the food all week was good, and had no complaints at all. Since we had a table to ourselves, we set a fast pace, and dinner lasted no longer than 1 hour 15 minutes any night. Perfect for the kids (and our patience).
We went to the kickoff show with both children, but my son couldn't keep still, so I left with him and headed back for our room. For another night, we were all in bed pretty early, the travel wearing heavily on us. The beds were super comfortable and we all slept soundly our first night at sea.
Day 2 - Day at Sea Despite going to bed early, we all slept in on Sunday. All, except DH who had a Swedish massage. The kids and I went to breakfast, then the pool. At 10:00, the H2O zone was pretty empty. The kids had the run of the place for about an hour. After that, things got really crowded and in some areas, pretty crazy. Really, most of the day was spent by the pool.
DD went to Adventure Ocean for the first time, and loved it. I had to beg her to come out at times. She loved the counselors and bonded with a lot of the girls her age.
Formal dinner was this night. We all got dressed up and had pictures taken, and they actually came out good! Actually, I have to say the ship's photographers were quite good. They were all over the place and constantly snapping. They got a lot of my money - I'm a sucker when it comes to pictures of my children.
That night, we had a babysitter for our 2.5 year old. She came from 8:00 - 10:30 every night, and she was just wonderful. She normally works from 6:00 - 6:00 in Facilities on the Promenade. DS loved her and she always had a smile for him when we saw her during her working hours. She really saved us, giving us some quiet time and allowed us both to see the shows.
DH spent 8 - 9 each night in the casino, and ended up about $750 for the cruise. He was doing so well, I didn't want to interrupt him to go to the shows!
The shows all week were great. The singers are phenomenal, and the staging and costuming were better than I'd expect from a cruise ship. They were highly entertaining and well worth the hour spent watching them. I'd highly recommend them.
By 10:00/10:30, we picked up DD from AO and headed back to the cabin to relieve the babysitter. We watched some TV every night and headed to bed.
Day 3 - Labadee What can I say, the island is beautiful. We caught a tender about an hour after they started, and had no line to wait in. We just had to wait for the tender to get full. We spent our time at Barefoot Beach, which was very nice. The only thing that got me was the chair keepers who were negotiating prices for chairs. That surprised me. We got three chairs together and tipped the guy who helped us, but other people actually paid for their chairs. DD went to Adventure Ocean's facilities, and DS, DH and I hung out in the water and on the beach. DH went way out and snorkeled. He said he saw lots of fish once he got away from the crowds.
Once the AO facilities opened up to families (at 11:00), DS and I went over to play with DD. They both loved the boat and water play areas. At 12:30 or so, I noticed everyone was bright red (despite repeated applications of 50 SPF), so we went back to the ship. We got dressed and had lunch in the dining room, which was a nice change from Windjammer.
Honestly, I can't remember what else we did that day, except for watching Ever After, which I absolutely loved. I also had a lot of shopping help from Liz and Dustin, who were so personable and willing to help. I ended up not making any big purchase, but if I had, I felt fully informed.
Oh, 70s night was this night! So, so funny. We picked up DD from AO to watch it and participate in the dancing craziness. We could only stay for about 20 minutes, since we had to relieve the babysitter, but it was great. Let me just say that James Andrews was a wonderful cruise director - he was just all over the place, and so full of energy. I loved him! And his 70s dance moves were smokin!
Okay, on to Day 4 - Jamaica. After a ton of research and hemming and hawing, we ended staying on board in Jamaica. I couldn't find an excursion that would be fun and at the level of my two children. I didn't want to ride in a van with them for hours and just couldn't get fully confident about doing a falls or rafting ride with them. So, we stayed on board. And it was the best decision we made! We had the boat to ourselves, it felt like. I had a stone massage in the early morning, which was heavenly. Only downside was the "sales pitch" by the masseuse. I should have told her to skip the sales pitch at the beginning, but was running late and forgot. By the third time I said, "No, thanks", I was quite firm and not as polite. She got the message.
The kids and DH played in the H20 Zone, and I joined them in the main pools later on. We could basically go anywhere we wanted. Windjammer was open and we had lunch there. Service overall was very good in WJ (not just on this day, but every time we visited).. As soon as we would sit down, someone would take our drink order, and the waiters played with the kids while I'd go and get more food or something. Food wasn't fantastic, but better than my cafeteria at work, so I was pleased.
DD went to OA in the afternoon, as they had lots of activities going on for kids whose parents were on excursions. DS and I went to the Sports Deck and watch the flowrider a bit (it wasn't officially open, but some guys were on it, regardless). We also played miniature golf (or, I played, he just pushed the ball w/ the club, then dropped the ball in the hole.)
We went to Johnny Rockets that afternoon, which was fun. The service was great, food was typical JR, and the shakes were YUMMY!. I didn't have my camera, but the staff did a fun dance, which was a nice treat.
Once everyone came back aboard, it was business as usual - shower, change and get ready for dinner. That night, DD and I roamed the ship, shopped, picked out our pictures and watched Encore, which was fantastic. There were a few spills and falls, but overall a great, great show. We got there 25 minutes early and got a seat on the side of the ice, in the second row. Not bad at all. The show also featured Russian Circus performers, who were highly entertaining and extremely skilled.
Day 5 - Grand Cayman - DH had to be up really early for RCCL SCUBA dive excursion. Just a quick note about the excursion. He had to go to Sea Trek on Day 1 to pick up his tickets (and prove he was certified and had dived within the last two years). They told him to come back the next day to rent a wet suit. When he went back, they were out of rental wet suits, so he bought one. Wasn't a bad price, and he'll use it again, so no big deal. He also used the waterproof housing we had for our point & shoot Canon digital, and that worked really well. He got some awesome pictures. He said the dive outfit they went with was top notch and very professional and focused on safety. They did two dives and he had a great time.
Anyway, since he was up, the kids and I got up and had an early breakfast at Windjammer. We were probably on one of the first tenders to the mainland. Grabbed a taxi from the port area to the Grand Hyatt. Cost $8 for the three of us. Got to the Hyatt and asked for a daypass. DS and DD were free, and I was charged $25 in cash. They weren't able to make change from my $30, so that's how much it cost me. For that money, we had full access to the beach, beach chairs, umbrellas, cabanas and pools. Food and drink cost extra, but they accepted credit cards.
This was a great day. The kids weren't overly fond of the ocean and beach (I think they were just bored), but when we moved over to the pool, they made friends with the kids there and had a blast. The pool is great for smaller children. It's 2 ft and deepens to about 3.5 feet in one roped off area. DD was able to stand (she doesn't swim) and DS could also stand in half the area. It was nice that they were able to go in and out as they pleased. The pool also had deep areas of 7ft +, but we didn't go there. The pool had bar and food service, which mean I could order drinks and food, without leaving the kids. We started to pack up around 1:30, with a plan to go shopping downtown. The Hyatt has a bathroom area where we changed. The Hyatt doesn't have their own taxi stand, but the concierge told me to just go next door to the Beach Club for their taxis. I walked over there and it was craziness -- lots of cruise excursion people leaving, tour buses all over the place and just general mayhem. Instead of dealing with that situation, I walked back to the Hyatt and asked them to call me a taxi. We waited about 5 - 10 minutes, and one arrived. The price back to the port was $12, but the concierge had warned me it would be a little more expensive than the cab I took from the port.
Back in town, we started to shop, but the kids were just too spent to put up with it. They both just wanted to go back to the shop. I was bummed, because I really wanted to go to Del Sol. However, I knew better than to not listen to them, and we headed back. When we got back, DH had left a note saying he was going to the mainland after his dive. I called him (we have international dialing on our cell) and asked him to go to Del Sol for us. I got my t-shirts after all.
We went to the Pirate Parade in the afternoon, which was fun for all. Only 15 minutes, but gave the kids their pirate fill for the cruise.
That night was formal night; we all got dressed up and took more pictures. It was lobster night, which made me was very, very happy. That night we watched In the Air, which I think is a love it or hate it type of show. I loved it, but DH kept rolling his eyes and lots of people got up and left during the show. Even afterwards, James the Cruise Director was kind of egging people on to stand up and clap. It's kind of an out there show, but I just found it amazing they could do all those stunts and moves on a ship. Like I said, I loved it, but YMMV.
Headed back to the room around 10:15 and made preparations for Day 6, otherwise known as DD's 7th Birthday.
Day 6 - Cozumel - Otherwise known as DD's birthday. I think she expected it to be on the Compass and announced over the loud speaker. Anyway, we woke up, she opened her presents and we were off for the day. We had breakfast in Windjammer (again), then made our way off the ship. We had arranged earlier to go to Paradise Beach and have some birthday festivities there. We caught a cab at International Pier, which cost $12 to Paradise Beach. The resort was awesome! Better than I could have imagined. We were one of the first families there, so had the pick of chairs. We got the armbands for $9 to use the water toys and snorkeling equipment. It was just a great, relaxing day. Tom, the manager, came over with "shots" of Sprite for DD, and later brought her a cake while the staff sang to her. We played in the water and watched a storm in the distance. We ended leaving around 1:30 - 2:00 to go back to the ship, then go shopping.
Taking a cab back to the pier was easy - there's a ton at Paradise Beach. After we got cleaned up, we caught another cab downtown to shopping. I had asked to be dropped off at the other pier, but the taxi suggested we get dropped off at the "official taxi drop" on the map. I wish I hadn't agreed. It was a long, hot walk back down to the shops I wanted, and by the time I got there, I was just not in the mood to barter or shop. So, I ended up leaving without anything.
After going back to the ship, we hung out for a bit and then got ready for dinner. The servers all wished DD a happy birthday, and brought her out a birthday brownie after dinner. I was a little annoyed because it took them forever to get the cake, and we were already running late because dinner started at 6:30 (we had to be back to the room by 8:00 for the babysitter). I figured they knew all week it was her b-day; they could have been a little more prepared. But, that was a minor quibble. The staff sang happy birthday (thought the one server asking her name in the middle of the song was weird). She was a very happy camper. After the babysitter came, I took DD down to the souvenir shop and let her pick out one thing in the kid section, then took her to the AO. I told the counselor it was her b-day, but DD said they never acknowledged it. No biggie, just mentioning it.
That night, DH and I didn't see the show. We just weren't in the mood. I can't remember who the headliner was - I don't think I mentioned him when I answered that question earlier. He was another comedian, I believe. Instead of the show, we walked the outside of the ship and sat on the helipad for a while. It was nice to have some really quiet time, looking at the stars and watching another cruise ship in the distance. Next cruise, we're going to make more time for that time of stuff.
Day 7 - Day at Sea Final day. Another day spent at H20 Zone and the pool. We made a stone massage appointment for DH that morning (one of the day's specials), so he was MIA for about two hours. DD hung out in the zone with some AO friends, and DS tried to tag along. We had lunch in WJ (again) and DD went to AO to get prepared for the circus they were planning. The circus was held outside Sorrentos and was really cute (if you have a kid in it). I thought they all did a great job.
Started packing after the circus. At 5:30, I realized I never received my tip vouchers. I called guest relations, and they said I'd have to come down and get another copy of them. I had to waited in the "last night of the cruise" line (which I wanted to avoid) and got my vouchers with 10 minutes to spare. One thing I really didn't like about RCCL was the pre-paid gratuity system. The vouchers were so impersonal - didn't have names or amounts. I added money to each envelope, but next time I'm just giving all cash.
That night, we had the babysitter for the last time, and DH made a killing in the casino. We saw the good-bye variety show, which was only okay. James was the best part, I thought. The "act" was funny, but not phenomenal, and I had seen his final trick a bunch of times before, done better by others.
Got back to the room and gave a huge thanks to our babysitter. Once she left, I put our bags out and filled out our customs form. Finally, we were ready to leave (physically, at least. )
Debarkation We had orange tags, which meant we'd be called between 8:15 - 9:30. Our car service was supposed to come at 10. I tried to call them on Friday to make it earlier, but no one answered. Anyway, we got up at 6:30, showered and left the room around 7:20 with our carryones. Had breakfast at WJ (where else?) and hit the elevators at 8:15. We planned to wait in the promenade, but as we were going down, our color was called, so we went right to deck 4.
Debarkation was simple. We walked off the ship and through customs in a matter of about 15 minutes. We had our luggage by 8:50. I called our limo company again, and there was still no answer. I called our driver's cell and there was no answer. We ended up taking a cab to Miami Airport. We got there so early, we we able to catch an earlier flight. We could have taken the 10:55 flight, but thought that might be pushing it, so we took a 12:05 flight. Unfortunately, our car service at home couldn't accommodate us, so we ended up waiting an extra hour in the airport at home. But, we still saved ourselves about three hours in total.
Overall impressions: Great vacation. Overall, much better than I expected it to be. This was our 5th cruise, and I had lowered my expectations considerably due to the noro scare and some review I'd read. But, I was pleasantly surprised. Yeah, it wasn't all sunshine and roses, but I felt the good far outweighed the bad.
Soda package - well worth it for us. I liked the liberty of not having to sign for soda, and my family drank a lot of it. I'm completely soda'd out right now and have been drinking water in gallons for the last 24 hours.
Service - Overall, it was very good. Met a couple of surly people, but again, the good outweighed the bad. After the first day, our serving team got it together. However, one day our assistant server was out that the assistant server that replaced her was phenomenally better (quicker, more responsive, etc). No complaints about our server and head waiter - they were always there and doing a great job. Our attendant, Annand, was great. We had towel animals for 5 of the 7 nights; the kids were thrilled!
Crowds - Maybe it was because of the times we were out and about and ate (somewhat off-peak), but we really didn't encounter a huge crowd problem. We always got seats in the pool area and didn't really have the elevator problem others have mentioned. We were in the aft of the ship, and never waited more than a minute or two for an elevator. If the wait did become too long (around dinner), we'd just walk down to the dining room. No biggie. Windjammer was where we ate a lot, and only once or twice did we have to circle for a seat.
Cabin space - We had adjoining D2 cabins, which was sweet. Two bathrooms and a room to send the kids to when they were being a bit too hyper for our liking. I could not imaging having four people in just one D2 cabin (if that's even an option), but the two cabins were perfect. Loved having the balcony, even if we didn't use them as much as we have in the past. I couldn't do a cruse without one, even if it's just for the extra "air out the clothes" space.
The Ship - It was beautiful. Some of the decor was questionable, but not offensive. The promenade was breathtaking when I first saw it, and I loved the lighthouse impression the aft floors gave off. I don't think I got a pictures of that. I liked being in the aft, because all the things we did were there - WJ, H2O zone, AO, Dinner, Library, Internet, etc. The H2O Zone saved us, and in the future I look forward to doing more of the Sports Deck activities.
Itinerary - Hmm...this one is harder to review. I've only done Eastern/Southern Caribbean before, so Western was a nice change of pace. I loved Grand Cayman, and Paradise Beach made Cozumel for me, but I missed St. Maarten and St. Thomas (really, St. John). Not sure why, but I did. I'm not sure I'd do the Western itinerary again any time soon. Maybe when the kids are older and we can do more of the adventurous stuff. I was looking at other itineraries, and I think we'll tried the AOS itinerary next time (despite the lack of H2O zone).