We had a group of 51 people cruising this trip ranging from range 12-80. The majority of us flew in from Chicago to Miami the day before. Stayed at the Red Roof Inn Miami Airport for $114 per room. Chose to stay at this airport because of the price, the offer of free breakfast and free shuttle service. Will never stay there again. The place is not very nice. A number of people in our group were sick after the stay with respiratory problems due to the large amount of mold in this hotel. The free breakfast was pretty much non-existent and they ran out of coffee before 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Only one shuttle bus was available to take us to the port and the bus fits only 15 people. The bus also had pretty much a flat tire and still decided to drive us all in 3 different groups to the port with such dangerous conditions. Complained to the general manager after our return and should be getting a refund for all the rooms booked. Not a recommended place to stay for pre-cruise.
The first shuttled group arrived at the port between 12-12:30. Major chaos at the terminal as people were still getting off the ship. I understand why they say not to arrive before 2:00. The lines were not that long for check-in, but they had to stop processing people in because they couldn't let anyone on the ship yet as all the passengers from the previous trip were not off the ship yet. They handed out numbers and we had to board the ship when they called our group number. The other members of our group that arrived later did not have this check in problem.
Rooms were ready upon our boarding and were typical cruise ship cabins. The balcony was nice to have and worked out well since we were able to open the divider doors to meet out on the balcony with other members of our group. I really wish RCI would put alarm clocks in the cabins. I remembered my travel alarm but a majority of our group did not.
SHIP: The ship is gorgeous. We never felt as though 4000 of our closets friends were nearby. The pool areas got a bit crowded on the says at sea, but that is to be expected. We tried to explore all aspects of the ship but missed quite a bit. One issue we had with our group was that the older people felt that the ship was too big and it was too much walking. Myself, I did not feel that way. Elevator could be a bit of a pain, but walking up and down the stairs was good exercise and gave me the opportunity to work off some of the food I overate. There was always something to do on the ship. If someone says they were bored and there was nothing to do, it is their own fault for not taking part in things that are offered.
SERVICE: Was great. No complaints. These individuals work very hard with no days off and minimal hours to sleep. We, as passengers, should recognize that and allow time to handle certain requests as opposed to demanding immediate attention. Waiters and food service people were very funny and made it a joy to go to dinner.
FOOD: The food in the dining room was great. No complaints. The Windjammer was fine as well. The finger sandwiches and bakery items at the cafe were great. The pizza was pretty good also. Nice to have these options available for a late night snack or to hold you over until dinner.
SHORE EXCURSIONS: Not too much to do in Puerto Rico considering the ship doesn't arrive until 3:00 p.m. Got off, looked around and returned to the ship. Went snorkeling with Captain Nautica's power raft trip on St. Thomas. Was great considering the raft was able to arrive at the first snorkel destination prior to all of the other groups. Went to an additional snorkel spot and were the only ones there. Saw great fish, sea turtles and sting rays. We find that St. Thomas has some of the best snorkeling around. Went on the zip-lining trip in St. Martin. Definitely not what I expected. I wanted to soar through the air at a fast rate of speed. This trip was not a canopy tour. It was an obstacle course (testing your balance) with a few lines of "zipping". I think the highest we were off the ground was 10 feet. It was a bit of a workout. Some people complained that they hadn't intended to work so hard on vacation, but others felt the sense of accomplishment and went with it. If I had known exactly what the excursion consisted of, I might have thought twice about it.
ENTERTAINMENT: As always, was fantastic. Wasn't too keen on the magician production and the Fairy Tale production but I give them credit for the work that goes in to putting these productions on. The ice skating show was the best. Make sure you get your tickets during ticket distribution as these shows are in high demand.
DISEMBARKATION: This seems to be a problem. We sailed on the Mariner of the Seas in October of 2005. We waited until almost noon for our color to be called. My husband and I were the last ones off the ship last time and there seemed to be nobody from RCI explaining the holdup. During the wait, nobody attended to the restrooms either. This time, we were called around 10:00 a.m. and lined up near the elevators. There was only one RCI employee going through the line telling everyone that there is nothing that can be done and it isn't there fault as everyone has to go through customs. I thought this individual to be the worst person to handle customer attention as she was not very articulate and attempted to make a joke about having to wait in the cattle call line. When we finally got to the customs line, there were only 4 customs agents handling this large group of people. I know this isn't RCI's fault, but there should be something that can be done to make this process a bit easier. It took about 45 minutes to get through. Once through, the luggage was easy to find and we hopped a cab to the airport. Since Miami's airport is a joke, I would suggest taking advantage of RCI's ability to transport your luggage to the airport, check it in, check you in and issue a boarding pass for $20 per person. We had nothing but problems at Miami's airport with the lines, mass chaos and lack of communication by airport employees. Maybe flying in and out of Ft. Lauderdale would be a better option.