I spent many hours on cruisecritic planning this cruise and got valuable advice that both saved me money and had a very positive impact on my cruise experience. I offer my review in return. This was our birthday cruise as three of us celebrated a March birthday - I was traveling with my sister, my daughter and a friend and husband - my daughter just turned 20 and the rest are mid to upper 40's.
WE arrived at noon on Friday and took a cab to the Radisson for our $35 priceline rooms. Our room was ready and we found we had a lovely view of the pier. We enjoyed both the lunch and breakfast buffet at the hotel which was delicious. There were plenty of hot and cold options, food was fresh, especially the fruit, and service was good. That evening we met up with our friends and found that it was ladies night in the comfortable hotel bar so settled in to catch up and enjoy a few drinks on the house.
Next morning we grabbed cabs and headed out to the pier about 10:30. Porters were waiting for us when we got to the pier. Boarding was quick and we were on board within the hour.
I read about cabin selection on cruise critic and I booked the corner aft cabin 7388. It was one of the highlights of our trip. The room was comfortable even for three of us and the balcony was simply fantastic. It had a huge porthole for the starboard view and a wide-open deck for the aft view. The ship structure although present did not interfere. We had two reclining loungers, two chairs, a table and still had plenty of room. We spent hours there relaxing in the sun when we returned from our excursions or when the pool area became to crowded or windy. It was also our first stop in the morning and our last view at night.
Due to the Haitian situation we did not go to Labadee and were left scrambling for last minute information. There was misinformation from RCI on the replacement port vs sea day that made securing an excursion quite difficult. Just a few days prior to departure I reserved a jeep from Bahama Buggies but unfortunately reservations did not mean anything to them. As instructed, we took a taxi to their location at 9AM but were told that a previous customer had asked to keep the jeep until the afternoon and they did not have an available replacement. Needless to say, I would not recommend Bahama Buggies. My friends booked a 20-mile bicycle tour that they loved.
Our other excursions worked out perfectly. We were on Peat Taylor's first bus to the falls and went to Sting Ray City with Soto's. Both excursions were excellent, everything we expected and I would highly recommend. We had some confusion over local time in Grand Cayman. I consulted with the excursion desk the night before and was told the Grand Cayman was an hour behind ship time - unfortunately this was not correct at this time of year and caused panic when we arrived at the pier and realized we had missed the bus by about half an hour. I placed a call to Soto's and fortunately they returned for us. Their tour was the highlight of the week and is the main reason we have chosen a cruise that returns to Grand Cayman next year. In Cozumel we also followed cruisecritic advice and headed to Paradise Beach and were not disappointed. The Beach was everything we expected. Food was delicious, service was quick and bathrooms were extremely clean. Taxis were readily available for our return trip.
Overall we enjoyed the ship although we found it a bit crowded at times. The parade and the captains welcoming cocktail party are two occasions that are best viewed from afar and, IMHO, the photographer that is set up at the deck 5 entrance to the dining room is the main reason for the nightly gridlock in that location. On early port days it was a bit difficult to find an empty table for breakfast in the Windjammer and I will take advantage of room service next year. As expected, the pool area was crowded on the sea days with all the chair hogs about but we quickly found available chairs and moved them to a sunny area so we could sit together. We enjoyed the solarium on occasion but since it was smaller we found it was even more crowded.
My small group tried to keep the spa in business and tested several of their treatments. We had manicures, pedicures, full body massages, seaweed wraps and facials and thoroughly enjoyed all the pampering. We also made use of the gym on several occasions and found all equipment in good shape and enjoyed the experience.
Food was generally acceptable - I was not expecting a 5 star experience so was not disappointed. Our dining table location was our complaint. We had booked our cruise a year in advance requesting a large table at late dining and we ended with one of the worst tables in the dining room. Our group of 5 was assigned a table in a dark corner at the kitchen entrance on the third floor of the dining room next to a staging area. We had no view of any of the dining room activities, ate to the sound of crashing plates and silverware and had to pass our dishes and drinks among ourselves (2 of us had our backs to a wall). It was certainly not the elegant dinner experience we had expected. We requested a change of location upon boarding but early seating was the offered solution and not an option we wished to pursue. I can understand that someone has to have these tables on a fully booked cruise but those that book early should be assigned better tables with the fringe tables assigned to those last minute bookings. I had booked an 11AM flight on Saturday morning and we easily secured white tags and were off the ship by 7:30. It seemed like only a matter of minutes before we had cleared customs and grabbed our luggage. We were very pleased with American Airlines pier check in and were able to check in, deposit our luggage and were in a cab by 8:15.
All in all we loved our cruise and made sure to book our next one before departing. We have booked three cabins (I will be in aft cabin 1100!!) on the Jewel in March 2005 and are eagerly awaiting our next Royal Caribbean cruise.