Pre Cruise: Flew down on American Airlines two days early to see my in-laws who winter in Delray Beach, they drove down to Miami to see us. We did not rent a car, used cabs to and from airport and port, and either walked or used free Metromover in Miami to travel. My friend Debbie and I had booked rooms at the Downtown Hyatt Regency on Priceline some months prior for $57 per night. This is a bit high by Priceline standards but bear in mind it was Presidents' Week and there was a boat show in Downtown Miami. Turned out to be a great bargain. We got rooms on the 22nd floor, city view, the rooms were lovely, no problem getting two double beds to accommodate us and our son.
No mention of Priceline whatsoever. Nice dressing area, great hairdryer and lighted makeup mirror, towels and amenities. My sole complaint was that the bathroom (toilet/tub area) is very dark; could use more lighting. Ate a late night dinner at hotel when our friends arrived from Boston, food was good, not badly priced. Went with the in-laws in their car to South Beach Sunday and wandered around, ate dinner with them at Bubba Gump's in Bayside Marketplace. Went at 5:00 on a Saturday night, no problem getting in, great food, good time had by all. Many stores in Downtown Miami within walking distance, and Bayside is only about 10 blocks away by foot.
Cruise Check in: Snagged two cabs from Hyatt at about 10:30 and went to port. Checked in very quickly, no problems or lines, we were on the ship by 11:30 at the latest. It was a real breeze, no waiting at all! Found our cabins and ran to Windjammer for lunch before the crowds arrived. Did a tour of the ship, drank my first of numerous BBCs and did some relaxing by the pool before Muster Drill, which was typically boring but necessary, especially given two weeks ago they called it out on this ship at 5am due to a small kitchen fire.
Cabins: We had three inside cabins and knew they would be small, which is why we put the 17-year-old boys in their own. Cost me exactly $25 extra by booking me in one cabin, hubby in other, and using two C&A coupons. We just got extra key cards coded for my son and he and I flipped them. Easy as cake. Our travel agent surprised us with $25 credits for the two adult cabins (he had previously sent us wine, which was nice also). This was on top of the $100 in cabin credits I had gotten for booking the two cabins on my Serenade cruise! Nice to have "free" money to play with. Our cabins were three of the 8 inside cabins on deck 7; most of the insides are on Decks 6 and down. I don't know if it was because we were on deck 7, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a safe in the closet! The other advantage to deck 7 was that it was the promenade deck—even though I was in an inside, we were steps away from the fresh air and chairs outside without any stairs to contend with.
Cabins were quite small but functional, OK for two people; I cannot imagine 4 in one of those insides. The cabin was a bit run down, torn wallpaper in one spot, bathroom door slightly rusted—I learned how THAT happened after my first shower, which totally ran out of the shower area onto the floor. After two cruises with the nice glass sliding shower door, the shower curtain was a riot! I'm fairly small and it stuck to me every move! We had a hairdryer, worked fine. Our cabin attendant was Murado(?), I don't remember where he was from, he was pleasant, nothing spectacular but did his job and props to him: he managed to keep up with the whirlwind the two 17 year old boys called their home for four days, including making them some hysterical towel animals using their caps, glasses, etc. He got extra tip from us just for pulling THAT off!
Appearance of ship: I was truly pleasantly surprised by this, as was my husband, who was convinced we were taking a step into hell after cruising on Voyager and Radiance classes. Everything sparkling clean, obvious fresh carpeting in many areas, no dirty dishes lying around, always someone at work cleaning or fixing something. The ship is getting a total refurbishment in a year, and I hear the cabins will be totally redone, and they will freshen up the rest of the common areas. I also liked the shopping area on Majesty, which was nice and spread out. Nothing beats Explorer's promenade, but I thought Serenade's store area was cramped.
Food: The endless Cruise Critic board discussions about "bad food" always surprise me. Considering the ship is feeding over 2,000 people, I think they do a darned good job. The Windjammer is a bit more congested than on the larger ships but it worked fine, and blissfully, it was open post-Galley fire! Food quality was good there although some of the breakfast food (pancakes, French toast) was sometimes cold, and as usual, as on every one of my Royal cruises, I have not been able to get a good piece of melon! Oh well....Also at breakfast, lox (known as smoked salmon for you non New Yorkers!) was missing after the first meal, and I do enjoy that. My one other issue: for the entire trip, the soft serve ice cream machines only had strawberry ice cream, no vanilla or chocolate, and I HATE strawberry!
All in all, however, I enjoyed Windjammer. It is divided into two sections; don't stop at the front area, the area further aft is prettier and you have the option of going up a level to find tables. We ate every breakfast and lunch at Windjammer except for one of each meal in the dining room, dinner always was in the Dining Room. The upstairs area of Windjammer also served as the Mast Bar. Pizza and frankfurters and often some sort of sweet are available here into the wee hours, and they had great sandwiches out during sail away.
Dining Room: We were assigned to the Mikado on Deck 4, had requested a table for 6 late seating and got it with no problems. Our table was in a nice location, and although the dining area is not as spectacular as on the newer ships, it was still beautiful. Our waiter was Yavuz from Turkey. Suffice it to say he was a little on the odd side. Barely saw him during the meal, although our food arrived promptly with no problems. Then after dinner he would stop by to chat and went on and on, and half the time we had no idea what he was talking about. Just a strange dude. In contrast, our assistant waiter, Carina from Argentina, was truly spectacular. She knew what everyone liked to drink after the first night (anyone who remembered Earl Grey tea for me and English Breakfast tea for my son is amazing), was constantly in attendance, and took care of all sorts of stuff for us. Saw the boys' soda cards the first night and from that point on the Cokes and Sprites kept appearing without asking. Told us all sorts of stories about her family and heritage (Italian/Argentinean) and was quite entertaining. She also got a nice tip from us! Our headwaiter was Wellington from India and he is the best headwaiter I've had. Attentive, friendly, and actually visible; came over and chatted at length with us every night. Our friends were blown away (as was my son) when he took the shrimp scampi out of the shell!
As for the food, in general it was great. The RCI menus were exactly the same as on my four night Serenade cruise and I knew what I did and did not like. The first night, however, they had the infamous ranch steak (albeit in a special marinade) and I was in a steak mood, so I cracked and tried it. Not the best. Kudos to the prime rib, the duck (which I asked for nice and crispy and got!), shrimp scampi, shrimp cocktail, escargots, Key Lime Pie, and lots of other goodies. We had one breakfast there (the day we disembarked, as we were in no hurry) which was pleasant, and one lunch, on what turned out to be our sea day, since we did not make Coco Cay. More on that later, but the lunch was excellent. I have to add here that the 2 17-year-old boys went to town at meals. The funniest night was when my son Andrew was eating shrimp scampi with one hand and Fettuccini Alfredo with the other. They also LOVED room service nachos. There were two buffets, a midnight one as we sailed away from Nassau (which was nice) and a midnight chocolate buffet that the adults missed due to total exhaustion but the boys raided. They pronounced it to be outrageous.
Ports: We unfortunately had crummy weather, more or less, our entire trip. There was a cold front across Florida and the Bahamas and we landed right in the middle of it. Our two days pre-cruise were OK but not pool weather. Boarding day in Miami was fairly nice and my husband managed a suntan. The day in the Bahamas was overcast. We went in the morning into town and did some shopping, my son got a Casio watch, I got a Skaagen, and he bought sunglasses. We ran back to the ship, had a little snack and were picked up by Stuart Cove snorkeling for their excursion. We took a half hour bus ride to their boat, got to see some local sights (since we had stayed at the Atlantic for three nights a few years ago, we had already seen a lot of Nassau). The water was a bit rocky, it was gloomy and raining on and off and I was a bit dizzy, bear in mind you ARE snorkeling off a boat in the middle of the water! The rocking prompted me to jump into the ocean and try snorkeling for the first time very quickly. I had a ball in the water, and felt much better there. Our friends chickened out, but my husband, the boys and I had a ball.
Alas, the weather and 10' swells also cancelled Coco Cay. It was very disappointing but I'm sure the captain was concerned with safety. We actually met with Captain Per in a corridor later that day and he was very pleasant, explained at length why we could not get there, especially with tenders involved. We had been looking forward to this, especially my son, as they have beach volleyball there and he was raring to go (he plays varsity in HS). The ship of course increased activities and did hand out free Screwdrivers and Bloody Marys from 10am-noon by the pool, not that you could sit there without being blown off your chair and into the water! It felt like my Canada cruise....in any event, we compensated, the boys caught up on sleep, had a nice leisurely lunch in dining room, played some games, visited the casino (no luck there), shopped, etc.
We arrived in Key West to lovely, 70-degree weather. The ship now has to go through immigration since we were back in the United States, and although it went smoothly, we sat in port until 10:30 until it was completed, which was a bit annoying looking at the beauty outside. We were going to take the Trolley tour but opted for walking. Did the tour of Ernest Hemmingway's house (as I wanted to see the cats!) and walked to the southernmost point. We walked back toward the pier on Duval Street, lost Debbie & Benny to the stores, and the boys went right back to the ship for "lunch, sun, virgin pina coladas and basketball. Bruce and I went in search of the Kino sandal store; if you don't know about them they have a very inexpensive sandal factory and make great flip-flops. Other family members have brought them to me so I reciprocated and bought some for them, and we made our way back to the ship for lunch at the Windjammer.
"Our" Carina was working there that day and kept bringing us goodies! After that Bruce went in search of a lounge chair and I went off ship again for some solo shopping time; I didn't buy much but enjoyed people watching and strolling around. I joined Bruce for some sun, bought some photographs, and we showered and got ready for dinner before sailway from Key West. Don't miss that sunset, but watch it outside (Bruce and I watched from the Viking Crown Lounge and apparently the polarization on the windows cut out some of the coloration of the skies).
Entertainment: The two production shows were "Wild Wild West" and "The Beat Goes On." Honestly, I had heard the former was not too good, and I agreed, we walked out. "The Beat Goes On" was pretty good and I enjoyed reminiscing with some of the music. Comedian on cruise was Greg Otto. He was hilarious; he did the first night cruise and also a late night comedy act the last night. My son was rolling in the aisles. The first night show also featured "Cowboy Dario El Gaucho," who does a comedy/music/everything else act and is a treat. Also entertaining was Hal Frazier, who did a comedy/singing act beyond explanation. If he's on board, make sure you see him. We also went to Quest (funny, although a bit repetitive the third time around: I really think RCI should consider something new) some game called Liars Club on our at sea day, and Love and Marriage game, which is always funny.
My husband loves watching Karaoke and we spent some time watching this. Worth is just for the antics of Bar Waiter Desmond, who becomes part of the act and is hysterical. We didn't do rock wall, much of the dancing scene, bingo, art auctions, spa, not enough time to do everything (hey, I need to sleep, I'm not 22 years old!). Bruce, who likes to exercise, was disappointed by the Gym and pronounced it horrible compare to our two other ships. I assume this will be part of the refurbishment next year. The Cruise Director is Tim, who I thought did a great job. Young, dynamic, funny and truly seemed like he was enjoying himself, as did the assistant cruise directors and other staff.
Disembarkation: Alas, it was already Friday morning and time to leave. Since we were in no hurry we had aforementioned breakfast in Mikado, retrieved our luggage, went quickly through customs (remember immigration had already taken place) and were off the ship by 9:00 am. Were at our "Priceline booked $42 a night room" at Embassy Suites hotel at MIA (since we all had morning flights Saturday, we opted to stay by the airport) by 9:30. Rooms were not ready yet (not unexpected) and although this hotel is a great value for the buck (free Managers' Reception at night with drinks, free cooked to order breakfast and free shuttle bus to the airport) there was NOTHING to do around here (it's truly an airport hotel) so we laid by the pool and vegetated until we could get into rooms. Ended up eating both lunch and dinner at the hotel as my son was feeling lightheaded (which we thought was post-motion but found out later was not, as he came down with some sort of bug); there IS a Bennigans fairly close by but aside from that you're really stranded without a car. Got up the next AM and went to airport for our flight back to New York but that's a horror story that I won't go into here, as it isn't cruise related!
Final impressions: We knew this wasn't going to be the same sort of experience as cruising on the larger and newer ships, but a vacation is what you make of it and we had great fun with our friends. They got hooked and booked another cruise; the Loyalty Ambassador, Kim, was really nice. There's more action on the larger ships but this one did have a great crew and plenty to keep you busy. I do understand they miss the Coco Cay port often due to tendering problems; keep that in mind. Any questions, please ask me! Robin