This is our second cruise, the first to the Caribbean and second with Royal Caribbean. We are a couple age 48 travelling on our own. This is quite a lengthy review so here goes ......
Embarkation - we didn't find it too bad; we arrived around 12.20pm and were in our stateroom at 1.05pm. Perhaps we were lucky as others seem to have had a nightmare. We thought the porters in the tent area were a bit pushy, we didn't realize they also wanted a tip and had no change so it was a bit embarrassing - we just hoped they didn't lose our luggage,. Tip for next time -always carry lots of dollar bills.
CC / M&M - Our Cruise Critic friends made this cruise so special and not having participated in the M&M on our previous cruise we can see that this is a great way to make friends and get to know them a bit before finally meeting them - a definite plus. We would recommend this to anyone, especially if you are travelling alone or as a couple. M&M was great fun with our Hometown/State gift exchange and Cabin Crawl - many thanks to Cathy for organizing this. Only downside was the venue and length of time given to the M&M - The Chamber was not ideal and 1 hour was just not enough.
Smoking !!! - I have got to mention this first as coming from Scotland where smoking is banned in public places we found this a real issue and it prevented us from using some of the bar areas. It was also a problem in the Casino but we didn't seem to notice it so much there. We had arrived at the Aquarium Bar for a talk on Digital Camera techniques and the smoke was so bad we left - this was on deck 5 in an open area and it seemed to waft everywhere. This bar often had entertainment on (Latin nights) which looked really good but we could not sit there with smoke all around getting on your clothes, hair and in your lungs - I would really like to see smoking banned on all ships with perhaps designated fully encloses lounges. Sorry to be so anti-smoking but once you live in a smoke free environment you really notice how bad it is.
Areas of the Ship we used
Solarium - our favorite place to sunbathe, relax without any kids around (we love children, have 2 grown up ones of our own but we are beyond that stage at the moment), I thought the Solarium was in need of an upgrade, it was not as nice as our previous one on Splendour and it really could use a sliding roof for the first and last day at sea. Having said that it was not awful but the only area of the ship that I thought was below standard. On sea days it is hard to get a lounger - be careful if it has been raining as the seat pads seemed to be left out and I got a big "wet patch" on me from a pad that looked dry but was soaking underneath and seeped through.
Casino - we had some good fun here and the Croupiers were very friendly and informative - didn't win much but had good times in a quite relaxed atmosphere. Tip we picked up from a seasoned cruiser - at the pay desks they have wet wipes to clean your hands after handling the chips - she always took a few extra to use in the room and it is a good idea to clean your hands after playing the tables or using the machines.
Captains' Bridge - this could be viewed through glass observation panels on Deck 11 and we were fascinated by it - we would often stop by when out for a walk to see what was going on - we though this was a nice feature - there was no info to say it was there we just found it by chance.
Stateroom - we were in a JS which was very spacious for 2 people - the walk-in wardrobe closet was great and together with all the other storage space meant we never needed to have anything lying around. We really appreciated having a bathtub and used it quite a few times, nice and relaxing after a day of walking on tours. Our balcony was a good size and we used it frequently, I would never cruise without one. Our bed and pillows were sooooo comfortable and we had no trouble sleeping at all. Despite some rough weather we felt no adverse movement at all - perhaps being mid-ship and on Deck 9 helped but I can honestly say that we were never perturbed by movement at any time. Our stateroom Attendant was fantastic, he always seemed to be available but never intrusive, all the usual towel animals and lots of clean towels - he was great.
Dining Room - Barry was our waiter and he was superb. Our table struck up a great rapport with him and we had good banter every night and excellent service, he really seemed to go out of his way to accommodate us. His assistant "Mr Prada" was also very attentive but a little absent minded at times. The food was usually very good and there was always something we really liked. The ambience at our table was so good that I don't think we would have complained about anything at all. I think it is important to strike up a good relationship with the waiting staff which adds another happy dimension to the trip. We were quite sad to leave Barry, he was such a nice person, felt like we had made a good friend and of course we have invited him to visit us in Scotland any time. We also occasionally used the DR for lunch and breakfast; we had positive experiences each time. Another tip - if like us you are not good company in the morning - ask for a table for 2 then you don't need to make polite conversation if you don't feel like it.
Portofino's - what can I say except "YUM" - this was a great dining experience, our first time and thanks to our friends for inviting us to join them or we may not have even sampled it. The food is excellent and absolutely worth the additional $20 each (and tip). On our next cruise I plan to use this ¾ times during the cruise as it is so special.
Windjammer - this always seems to get a hard time in reviews but we really have no complaints. We loved the omelette station although you have to really look for it or you wouldn't know it was there. We always found there to be loads of food and choices - great if you have kids. We were always offered tea/coffee to be brought to our table for us. It did get crowded at times but if you plan well you can avoid the rush times.
Johnny Rockets - great fun - too much food (it's addictive) we only went once because we gorged ourselves then felt a bit yucky !! The food is good and families will love it, also worth the additional cover charge.
Cafe Promenade - my husband LOVED the pizza so we frequently visited, I loved the filled croissants and fresh fruit. This was a great place to drop by for a coffee and snack and we often saw some CC friends which was great to say hello and have a chat.
Room-service - good service, we didn't think the choice available was that good and last cruise we could get omelettes but they were not on the menu this time - we didn't asks so not sure if they would have accommodated this request.
Photography Service - we got some great formal and lifestyle pictures. They are a bit pricey but this is something we would never do at home and if we did it would be even more expensive. I particularly liked the plain black background which gives a really nice classy finish (I don't really like some of the naff picture backgrounds but it is down to individual taste).
Theatre - Charo was one of our favorite shows, Gary the Violinist was excellent (and also seemed to be having a great holiday with his wife and kids) another couple of comedians were also good. We liked the nights where there was a special guest artist - the RCL singers and dancers are excellent but we can get bored a bit and enjoy a good comedian or something a bit different. Invitation to Dance - we were a bit disappointed that the passenger participants had such a short part in this, I wouldn't go again as it was mainly RCL dancers / singers again (they are fantastic so don't be put off by our opinion on this).
Ice Shows - I just went to the Challenge show and this was terrific, the special guest French skater was wonderful, a beautiful show. We missed the Seasons show (which had rave reviews) as it was such a beautiful sunny day that we decide to grab the last rays of sunshine before we headed back to the frozen north.
Maharajas - we went only one night with 2 CC friends to take part in the Karaoke. It was all too serious, we were looking for fun (which karaoke usually is) but firstly we could not enter as it was solo singers only and the average age of the singers must have been 70. This needs to be lightened up - we were allowed to sing as an "intermission act" where we bombed due to our lack of singing talent (not usually an issue at karaoke) and total horror by the oh so serious audience. Never mind we had a real giggle and our husbands will never let us live it down !!
Pool Party's / Buffets - these were great, we didn't eat as we were late dining and were always too full. But it is so wonderful; to up on deck with great music and a party atmosphere under the stars. I loved these nights. Dave our entertainments director showed off his dancing ability with one of the dancers at the Latin Pool Party - what a mover.
Miscellaneous - we had around 20 Motorcylces on board who were on a specialist tour, it was fascinating to watch them load / unload the bikes at each port. We spotted them near Bathesheba in Barbados where the local police had provided an escort and a lot of locals had also joined their convoy. We also had a guide dog on board called Boomer who was gorgeous and of course attracted lots of attention. Ports of Call
St Maarten - too late in the day arriving to do much so we took a short tour over to the French side. We saw quite a lot in a short time. We thought the shops would still be open when we got dropped off in Phillipsburg at 6.00pm but they were all closing. We had a walk along the beach and although it was dark it felt very safe, lots of beach bars and restaurants open. We discovered the ship was only a 15 walk back so followed another group of passengers (always better safety in numbers), this was really pleasant as it was lovely warm, starry night.
Antigua - we did the Excellence Catamaran trip which stopped at Green Island for 2 hours. A word of warning there is a 20 minute spell when they go out into the Atlantic and it is very rough, I thought I was going to be sick and we got a bit wet at our side of the boat (we were too scared to move once we started going really fast through the high waves). The barbecue lunch was delicious and a constant flow of rum punch, lager and soft-drinks left me slightly the worse for wear on our return. It was a great day, one I will always remember and again we met really nice people.
Dominica - took a Beno tour with our CC friends and our driver was Joseph. He was brilliant, very knowledgeable, a real joy to travel with. It was a great day, the island is so lush, the rainforest was an amazing experience and with the spurts of rain then sunshine we saw numerous rainbows. We went to Emerald pool, Trafalgar Falls and Mr Nice's fruit stand - loved the coconut candy. We had great fun with him and this was a memorable part of the trip. For pure natural beauty this was my favorite Island - it is very unspoiled and the people seem so friendly. They really love their island ad it shows. I considered myself very lucky to have had this experience and hope it remains unspoiled for others.
Barbados - had booked Glory Tours, they were a bit late for us but Kevin turned out to be an excellent guide. I had expected it to be a minibus but there were only 3 of us on the tour so it was a taxi. Kevin's brother was driving 2 of our friends who were doing a slightly different tour and they kept in contact so that we could all meet up at the same point for lunch together. Kevin took us to some additional places because or glass bottomed boat part of the tour was cancelled due to the sea being too rough (I missed out on swimming with turtles which was a big disappointment). Barbados was beautiful, lots of very English looking churches, a big British influence still evident. Kevin took us passed the airport and explained they have a Concorde which was gifted to the people of Barbados and is a big tourist attraction. A great day, weather was very sunny but a little windy.
St Kitts - our least favorite island - we went to Reggae Beach on an RCCL trip and there were not enough loungers for everyone, the beach did not seem that clean. The highlight was the Steel Band playing and Masquerade Dancers who appeared and were very entertaining. Otherwise we not have enjoyed it at all. It was quaint to see cattle and goats all over the roads on the way to the beach and we saw quite a few green monkeys but I would stay on ship next time.
St Thomas - a very rainy day that almost spoiled it. but cleared up in the afternoon thankfully. We went to Mountain Top which had spectacular views of the other small Islands and Megan's Bay; we drove down to Megan's Bay but didn't stay as the weather was so unsettled. Next stop was Blackbeard's Castle, we really enjoyed this, it would be fantastic to spend more time on a sunny day as there are swimming pools and loungers available. The plantation houses are open to view and are very well furnished with antiques from years gone by, really good guides available to tell you about them. The gardens are also very beautiful. I would highly recommend this [lace for a visit. We wandered down the 99 steps to the shopping area and after a wander got a taxi-bus back to the ship for very cheap - the driver gave us a guided commentary all the way back which was very nice. I loved St Thomas and would love to return there.
San Juan - just went off ship for a couple of hours to do some last minute shopping and got back on early to get some good loungers in the Solarium before the majority of others returned. A beautiful sunny afternoon for sail away from our last port.
Disembarkation - this is the horrible bit when not only are you feeling down at your holiday being at an end but you are evicted at an early hour from your cabin and made to hang around in crowded areas waiting to get off. We sat in the Theatre just to get a seat and waited around 2 hours which didn't seem to be too bad. Once were called we were off swiftly and got our luggage and a Porter no problem who took us to our bus for the airport.
Heading Home - we took a day room in the Sheraton Hotel as our flight was not until 7.40pm and it was too long to wait around. We though RCCL may have organized a tour for those with late flights but nothing was arranged.
Summary - we loved this cruise so much we have booked again for next February, the itinerary has been changed around a bit and St Kitts has been replaced with Tortola which we are pleased about. Apart from little niggles we had a very positive experience; the ship was beautiful, very well maintained and clean. Now with over 2000 photographs to sort out I can keep reliving it all over again - until next year ....