We are a recently engaged couple, ages 22 and 21, who go to college full time and work part time. I had been wanting to go on a cruise for a while, and when I saw the rates for this cruise, I couldn't resist. It was my fiancE's first cruise, and my second, although my first (Carnival) was when I was very young, so this might as well have been my first.
Although we live close to Atlantic City airport, I booked my flight with Newark b/c it was much cheaper, and we had to go in that direction anyway to drop off the dog. I will rethink this in the future (more about that later). Our flight was at 6am, and so the airport was virtually empty, meaning we completed the entire check in/security process in about 15 minutes. Flight to Miami was uneventful, and we arrived about 9am. As soon as we got to the baggage carousel we saw our luggage and grabbed it.
Went outside and hailed a taxi. It was $24 (not including tip) from the airport to the seaport. For this reason I advise against using RCCL's transfer. They wanted $50 EACH for this transfer round trip, whereas we spent $50/two people round trip. It is not hard to get a taxi at the airport or the seaport. Just walk outside.
Got to the ship at 10:00. Had already completed the online check-in, but needed to fill out other forms. Woman working at the first check in was loud and annoying. They let us line up for embarkation at 11 am. Being one of the first, there was no line, completed all the check ins, got our SeaPass in about 10 minutes. Unfortunately, immigration was taking their time and we were herded into a big room and they did not start boarding until 12:45. Still an hour and 15 minutes "early". Was the first group to get in after priority.
Checked out our room. Inside cabin, deck 3. Small but adequate. Changed and went to the Windjammer. Not crowded yet, don't remember what we ate, but it was good and we both went for seconds. Checked out the view from the pool deck. Went back to the room to nap as we hadn't slept the night before b/c of our early flight. Luggage was already there.
Woke up for the muster drill. Not exactly fun, but short.
There was obviously a lot of concern about Noro. Hand sanitizers were given out at every turn, and an announcement was made that employees would not be shaking hands with guests. Learned later that a few people on the previous cruise may have gotten sick. I have to say RCCL was trying very hard to prevent this from happening again.
Shortly after leaving Miami is when we started rocking. Went to the Viking Crown Lounge and watched the pool turn into a wave pool from above. Had a couple drinks - beer was more expensive, but mixed drinks were MUCH cheaper than they are here in NJ.
Went to dinner. Were seated with two girls, also in college, about our age. Other two people didn't show up. They (young couple about our age) did show up the next night - formal night - and then we never saw them again. My dinner was great the first night, but my fiancE and our tablemate agreed there was too much fat on the prime rib. The rest of the cruise, food was good except service was much slower on formal night.
Next day, arrived in Nassau. Took a cab to Ardastra Gardens. About $10, and $12 to get in. If you do this, get there just in time for the shows (you can look up the times online, I believe we went to the 10:30 and 11) and walk around the zoo afterward. We did the opposite and finished walking around the zoo way before the shows and had to wait. Flamingo show was less impressive than what I expected but it was still cool getting so close to the flamingos. However, feeding the lory parrots made the whole trip worth while. As we left, one of the staff put a live macaw on my head and a cockatoo on my fiancE's shoulder and took our picture (with our own camera). Very cute, and all he asked for was to put a dollar or two in the donations box for the zoo.
Went back to the ship for lunch. Ate in the main dining room for "Royal Brassiere 30" - two courses in 30 minutes. It definitely took longer than 30 minutes, but we weren't rushing. We also thought for lunch you sat by yourself, but they seated another couple with us. We started talking to them though and they were very nice, we just thought you only sat with strangers for dinner.
Took a cab to Atlantis. $4 each, each way. I'm sure staying at Atlantis is really cool, but just walking around, there's not too much to do or see. My fiancE, an avid poker player, was shocked and disappointed to find out there was no poker room.
Took our waiter's advice and walked around to the back of Atlantis and found the free beach - Cabbage Beach - outside the premises. Didn't have our bathing suits, but talk a walk on the beach. Afterward, went back to the ship.
Although we were sailing with a full ship, it NEVER felt crowded on this ship. The only thing we felt was too crowded was the hot tub. There was only two, so we never went in because they were always full. Hung out by the pool for a while, then changed and went rock climbing. No line for this either. You only actually need socks, shoes are provided. My fiancE went to the top, but I chickened out halfway.
Went to the Captains party that night, mainly just for the free drinks. They would not take your picture with the captain with your camera, only their own. The crowd at this party was mostly older but it was definitely worth it for the free drinks. Had champagne and Bahama Mamas (drink of the day, but at the party it was in a rocks glass).
For formal night I wore a cocktail dress and my fiancE wore dress pants and a shirt and tie. Most people were not incredibly dressed up, cocktail dresses, a good amount of men were not wearing jackets, so don't stress. For the casual nights slacks/sports shirts and dresses/slacks for women were suggested but I saw people wearing jeans, our tablemates wore shorts and by the end of the cruise my fiancE downgraded to untucking his polo and pairing his dress pants with flip flops. I wore dresses everyday b/c I never get to wear them at home. My opinion is you pay enough for a vacation, you should be able to dress as you wish. On this night, service was slow, and our whole table ditched desert and went to the Love and Marriage game show, which was a lot of fun. We couldn't stomach the headliner El Gaucho after 10 minutes, and left.
Next day, got to Coco Cay. Line for tender looked long but when it moved it moved all at once so we didn't wait too long. Picked out a lounge chair, I went for a walk by myself, decided I'd walk around the whole island, got about halfway there when I realized it was a lot bigger and rockier than I thought, took the nature trails back. Rented fins and safety vest for snorkeling, had our own masks and snorkels borrowed from my future in-laws, so we paid half the price $15 for partial gear (vs. $30 for full gear) plus $3.49 for a one time use locker (should be free with snorkel rental in my opinion). Snorkeling was a lot of fun, we were literally swimming in a school of fish, and the markers they had up by the "wrecks" made it very easy for first timers. However don't expect to see anything terribly exotic unless you go off on your own to the rocks. Ate at the barbecue. Not amazing but not bad either. Spent the rest of the day lounging and sipping on CoCo Locos, which I thought were very good.
The night before Key West, they sent everyone a letter saying we all had to go through customs before Key West, and they would call it by deck. We were not due to dock until 10am and our floor would not even be called until 10:30. I was pleasantly surprised to find we docked early, and they called everyone for customs by 9am. There was no line for customs, and even stopping at Windjammer for breakfast we were off the boat by 9:45 - 15 minutes before we were even supposed to dock! Well done!
Key West was our favorite port. Had reserved a tandem bike for delivery from place called Eaton Bikes. When I called the guy explained they didn't deliver to cruises anymore, but was honest and recommended Paradise rentals. (Fitzpatrick St.) Got the tandem for $25. Took a little getting used to but it was a blast! Went to Hemingway's house, ($12 each) and the Lighthouse ($5 w/student ID) and of course had our picture taken at the Southernmost Point. Then followed the advice of the rental guy and cruised down Atlantic to the bike path on the beach, rode up the Aids memorial, found a small nature preserve trail, saw some mangrove swamps with herons, and then rode over to Duval Street. Did our own bar crawl, went to all 3 floors of the Bull and Whistle, (3rd floor is a clothing optional bar, had to check it out), Sloppy Joe's, (ate here too - food was good, entertainment was great too) Hog's Breath, and Margaritaville. Skip Margaritaville...the margarita was ironically terrible, and they had no live entertainment or anything. Somewhere along the way returned the bike b/c we were afraid to drive it after too many drinks. Guy at the bike place was great, he told us the names of some other bars that he goes to. Didn't check them out b/c we had enough at this point, but we would definitely love to do Key West again. Nassau, not so much.
Hung out by the pool again. Played ping-pong later. Had our money changed out at Guest Services for tips. Waiters all did song and dance type stuff at dinner.
Next day, we were sad to leave. Disembarkation was quick. Were at the airport by 9am. Unfortunately, I hadn't been able to book a flight earlier than 9pm. Put ourselves on standby for the 1pm flight and managed to snag the last two seats! However we had to abort landing in Newark b/c we got too close to another plane on the runway! We then spent 45 circling back around. This seems to be a common problem in Newark (3 days before us, two other planes had an even closer call) and is a bit alarming.
Casino - small but good. Not a lot of poker going on though, which disappointed my fiancE.
Johnny Rockets - Very good, and the dancing waiter thing was cute. $3.95 cover, but all drinks besides water are extra.
Sorrento's/Compass Deli - Sorrento's was okay, not true NY style pizza, kind of pizza hut like, but still good. Deli didn't have the best selection, but food was good.
Cabin Steward: It seemed he would appear out of nowhere. We would go upstairs for 20 minutes, realize we forgot something, come back to the room and find it immaculate, and you don't even see him in the hall! He made some cute towel animals too.
Overall service: Everyone was accommodating and friendly! A+!
The worst thing about this cruise is that it was too short! We had a great time, and did not spend a lot of money at all! Our SeaPass balance at the end was only $100 between the two of us. And the cruise itself was ridiculously cheap (resident rate) plus we got $50 onboard credit for booking during the one day sale.
If you are on a budget like we were my recommendation for this cruise is to do your research and plan activities on your own and not book the cruises' excursions. Things like Ardastra Gardens and Hemingway House were about 4 times the price through the cruiseline, and all they did was throw in some extra "sightseeing".
Would definitely cruise again, and fiancE agrees. Probably would not do the same itinerary, b/c we like variety and we weren't big fans of Nassau. Would like to try some of the bigger newer ships also. Would like to try one that leaves out of NY so we don't have to fly. Would cruise RCCL again but would also like to try Carnival and NCL ... we are always hunting for deals, so whoever can give us the best price, we'll go for.