After reading many reviews, we were able to book a 4-star hotel (Radisson Miami Downtown on Biscayne Blvd.), obtain a minivan (Enterprise - offsite from the airport) and purchase round trip airfare for all, at discounted (very good) rates.
We arrive in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on December 14th and drove to Miami, Florida (less than 40 minutes away). Check-in at the Radisson was a breeze (in fact they let us check in early) and their dining facility was excellent.
On December 15th, we left the hotel at 10:00 a.m. and arrived at the terminal by 10:30 a.m. The embarkation process went very smoothly and we were aboard the ship by 11:00 a.m. The Adventure Ocean Counselor placed special red muster drill bracelets on the girls and gave them their Adventure Ocean cruise compasses with a reminder about registration. We toured the ship, checked out Chops and Portofino's and went to Windjammers Cafe for lunch. At 1:00 p.m. we decided to check out our connecting balcony cabins with spacious rooms on the seventh floor. We used the connecting balconies often throughout the cruise and we will definitely book staterooms or suites with balconies again. We were very surprised that two of our bags were already sitting by our doors. Within minutes we met our stateroom attendant (Renan) and the kids excitedly asked him to make towel animals and he handed us our first Cruise Compass. The girls were extremely excited when they found out they were sleeping in the Pullman beds (one in each room). At 4:00 p.m. we all went down for Muster drill. The kids decided we had to have a photo op of this. The drill did not take long. They also had a photo op with Renan. Each night he turned down our beds leaving a different towel animal (monkey, stingray, elephant, rabbit, etc.) along with extra Daily and Adventure Cruise Compasses for my scrapbook. He thought it was quite funny how I made the kids straighten up the rooms before his arrival each morning. On the last evening, he spent time with the kids and taught them how to make all of the towel animals. The kids will surely miss him and even begged him to come home with us. Upon leaving the ship, we made sure we tipped him well and even gave him several treats including candy canes. In fact, I slipped several candy canes in each of our tip envelopes. This small added gesture sure made them all smile.
Shortly after muster drill, I took the girls to register at their Adventure Ocean programs. The 8 y.o. is always leery about new programs or activities but within minutes the counselors had her excited about coming back. The 11 y.o. loved meeting her counselors and asked many questions especially ones concerning their various science activities, arts and crafts, scavenger hunts, sports, etc. Since the girls had special needs including one losing her sight, the counselors gave me a ship cell phone at no charge in case they needed to contact me and stated this would ensure I would have a great time on the cruise too. Not once did they make the girls feel different from the others. Once the counselors knew who the children were in their programs they would also assist them throughout the ship even when they were off duty. Their programs also had other great features such as all the counselors were certified and trained, any family member was allowed to check them in or out of the program, the families checked the children out for lunch and dinner, there were three nights the kids could eat with the counselors at Johnny Rockets at no cost, and for a small fee they would entertain your children from 10:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. so the parents could have an occasional late night too.
We selected the 2nd seating for our evening meals which allowed us the following benefits: most people who had children ate at the 1st seating; the girls could choose to eat dinner with us or they could eat at the Windjammer at 6:30 p.m. and attend the evening program (7:00 - 10:00 p.m.), we were not rushed getting ready for dinner when participating on shore excursions, and the passengers seem to dress up more for the 2nd seating.
We sat at a table for six and all our evening meals were fantastic!! We had decided within the first day to forego Chops and Portofino's since we often eat at several fine restaurants at home. Sunday and Wednesday nights were formal nights. At the Sunday dinner we enjoyed the Escargot appetizer, the delicious dinner, and of course dessert. At the Wednesday dinner we were able to eat several lobsters each. Each night we had various beef, fish, chicken, various vegetable dishes, various soups and salads, etc. and of course the heavenly desserts. Our headwaiter - Emiliano (from Naples, Italy) came to our table each night and was quite entertaining. Our waiter, Oliver and our assistant waiter, Shah were very attentive to us all and within the first night knew our particulars. The very next day, the girls quickly discovered Oliver and Shah also worked at the Windjammer Cafe during the day and they made sure to greet the girls each afternoon thereafter. On the first formal night the girls did not dine with us and the staff seemed very disappointed. The staff was so attentive to the girls and they even complimented them on their manners.
The kids not wanting to race down to breakfast (they were on vacation too); they chose to order from room service menu every morning except on Friday. The room service attendant would call ahead giving me a few minutes to wake up before coming to the staterooms. The breakfast was always superb.
Coffee, pizza, finger foods, etc. If you are a coffee drinker - don't worry you can always get a good cup of coffee with disposable cups throughout the day and night from Cafe Promenade along with miniature Biscotti, Danishes, muffins, and mini sandwiches. Within a day, the servers at this cafe knew to put 3 ice cubes in my coffee cup without having to ask. This was cool!! At the opposite end of Deck 5 our sons enjoyed the unlimited pizza and other finger foods at Sorrento's.
Each of the dining rooms and the cafes had sanitary handi wipe stations which were used by all. I don't think anyone attempted to not use a wipe before getting food.
The Daily Cruise Compass and the Adventure Ocean Compasses are a must to read. We would take ours to dinner the evening before and discuss what we all wanted to do the next day. This allowed us many more opportunities. A couple of times we were late (due to attending Bingo) but we were still allowed to attend the next activity once they knew we had just left Bingo due to our "Bingo dogs." No one was ever bored and everyone had something exciting to do, too.
The girls spent time in the H20 zone on Deck 11 each day along with eating a free ice cream cone while the boys worked out in the gym each day or went flowriding, rock climbing, swimming, and hot tubs. One afternoon, my eldest son and daughter went to an animal towel folding class while I took the youngest daughter with me to the 3 minute makeup class. The girls had a blast attending some of these "adult" classes and even attempted the rock climbing wall on the 6th day of the cruise. In between these activities we also went to Bingo several times (I missed the $4,000.00 jackpot by 1 number - in fact, I had the very next number), went to the spa, solarium, casino and of course shopping. The eldest son and I participated in the Vitality program earning each a backpack and he also earned a t-shirt and water bottle. My youngest son and I attended a program which mapped out a healthy eating plan and workout schedule for us both. I wanted to attend this activity since I have been watching my cholesterol level and I have a tendency to eat once a day which I quickly learn is not very healthy. My husband and eldest son visited the barber shop and my husband received a new style haircut and beard trim. He looked quite handsome.
The eldest son also attended the shopping program and bought the coupon book. Jen - our shopping expert was very knowledgeable and friendly. My son excitedly mapped out all the free stuff from Jamaica, Cayman Islands, and Mexico and we were able to quickly obtain most of the free items which included various jewelry - necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and loose stones. He also obtained free charm bracelets with charms for his sisters in Georgetown. He definitely got his money worth including winning a store raffle or two.
We attended various shows including the Ice Show (a must), the Love and Marriage Game Show, Ricky Nelson Show, parades, etc. It is quite amazing how 11 ice skaters can move around that small ice rink making it look relatively easy. We had great seats and our daughter was able to see all the colorful costumes too. The Love and Marriage Game Show was hilarious. My sons had never seen it before and couldn't believe some of the contestants' answers. All of these shows were aired on the television if one missed the live performances. My sons had also visited the Catacombs and on family night took the girls too.
As to the other passengers - we met several people from Ireland, Norway, Australia, Canada, Venezuela, a couple of celebrities, etc., who have cruised many times and learn some new tips for our next trip. We even got information concerning the new cruise ship (Independence of the Seas) and the Genesis Project. Even before the cruise was completed, the entire family decided we were going on another Royal Caribbean Cruise - most likely the Panama Canal area.
Alcoholic drinks - I was a little worried about this since we don't drink and everyone talked about how often it was peddled, but the only time I saw it really pushed was at the pool side on the adult side. In fact, "Friends of Bill W." signs were seen daily on the bulletin board outside the Cafe Promenade for ones who didn't drink who wanted to meet and mingle.
The photographers on board the ship were great. They took fantastic photos. We only bought a few since each one cost approximately $20.00. I also bought the Inaugural album and scrapbooking materials which enabled me to received 10 free photo cards.
As to our shore excursions: At Labadee, Haiti - we did not participate on any excursions. We toured the marketplace and island, watch the dancers, fire eaters, and acrobats, and ate the buffet style lunch. At Montego Bay, Jamaica - my husband, sons, and I went on the Jungle Canopy Tour. It was a very enthralling experience and one shouldn't miss it for the world. The girls were able to stay on the cruise ship while we were on this excursion and upon our return I was able to retrieve them quickly so they can spend time exploring Jamaica too. (On a side note: 93 passengers (4 vans) were escorted back to the ship by the police due to an accident holding them up for over an hour.) At Georgetown, Cayman Islands (have visited before and will always be my favorite place) - the girls and I went on the Pirate ship excursion. It was quite comical when the pirates had the children scrub the decks with toothbrushes and rags (only about 5 minutes), the girls loved walking the plank and swimming in the clear blue water and enjoyed the fruit punch in the sun. In fact, my youngest daughter wanted to stay and become a pirate too. We went shopping with the guys before our excursion including my favorite store "Far Away." This store has fine Irish linens, shawls from India, and other exquisite European and Far East items. While we were on the excursion, the guys ate at Margaritaville, walked to the Post Office in Hell, Cayman Island, and of course shopping for their free jewelry and bought several other items. At Cozumel, Mexico - the girls and I went on the Atlantis Submarine excursion. We received certificates for diving down to a depth of 105' and were able to take some very cool pictures. Afterwards they girls and I went shopping in which we received several free items and I bought a colorful necklace and bracelet set. The guys went deep sea fishing and had a blast. On Saturday after disembarkation, the entire family went on the Everglades excursion. The tour guide was very knowledge and easy on the ears. Riding on the airboat was very cool and seeing live reptiles in their natural habitat was awesome. After the tour was completed the bus dropped us off at the Fort Lauderdale airport by 1:00 p.m.
As to disembarkation on the 22nd - since I had previously filled out all the necessary paperwork, the packing went quite smoothly early Friday evening while the girls were at their programs. In fact, they stayed at their program until 10:00 p.m. while we went to the casino (we won nicely too). I went and checked out the girls one last time and turned in the ship cell phone and to my amazement the eldest daughter was already missing her new friends. Since we were carrying our own luggage (Express cost $20 per person or per bag and we wanted to ensure our luggage got to Fort Lauderdale Airport too), we were off the ship, through customs, and on our tour bus by 6:45 a.m. (taking less than 30 minutes). The only snag was how the other 34 tourists were held up on the ship for an entire hour.
We only had two criticisms concerning this cruise. The FIRST concerned the shore excursions. I had contacted the shore excursion department several weeks prior to our cruise, but was given very limited information including special needs or medical issues. Although this was easily fixed by exploring the various options on the internet, I had thought I could obtain more particulars once on the cruise ship - which did not occur. Thank God for the Guest Relations Desk since the Excursions Desk was unable to assist not only me but several others too. I believe this cruise line would be more successful booking shore excursions if they made sure their own personnel have first hand knowledge. The SECOND criticism concerned the medical facility. It was only opened a couple of hours per day. The day after the canopy tour, my knee swelled up and I couldn't obtain any assistance from the medical facility nor obtain a Ziploc bag for ice anywhere. I ended up using an oversized shopping bag to hold the ice. I firmly believe if the medical facility is closed, then Guest relations should have Band-Aids, Ziploc bags, and other small first aid necessities available in case a passenger needs it.
Overall, it was quite nice not to have to plan anything including meals, and we all enjoyed ourselves tremendously. We are definitely looking forward to our next cruise on the Royal Caribbean and we also won't accidently forget the "Meet & Mingle."