PRE-CRUISE. We went to New York for a few days before our 2/24/08 cruise departure. We have been to NY before and were looking to spend some time relaxing rather than seeing all the tourist spots. We stayed at the Hotel Belleclaire at 77th and Broadway on the upper west side. We had a great rate on the room through Expedia and were well satisfied with the hotel. Read the reviews on Expedia as they are very accurate. We arrived in NY on Friday and used Carmel limo service to get from LaGuardia to the hotel and then again from the hotel to the cruise port. When I tried to find out how long it would take to get from the hotel to the cruise port on Sunday am I was told 1.5 hours from 2 sources (the limo company and a RCI rep at the cruise port). We left the hotel at 10 am and arrived at the port about 10:45. There was no traffic getting there and once we arrived at the port it looked like the majority of guests from the previous cruise were long gone.
EMBARKATION. We got out of the car and within 2 minutes were approached by an employee asking for our bags. We went on into the terminal where we received our sea pass card, received a number for the bus we were assigned to, had our picture taken and were told to wait until the buses start shuttling people to the ship. There were plenty of chairs, coffee, water, lemonade, and cookies to pass the time. The estimated boarding time was noon and the first bus left a little after noon. We were on bus 5 and left the terminal around 12:30-12:45. Within minutes you are at the ship and on board. We headed up to the Windjammer after dropping our carryon bags in the room. I read a lot of complaints about the embarkation process, to the point that I was wondering if I made a mistake booking out of New Jersey. I have never had the problems at any port that I was reading about in some of these reviews. I will return to New Jersey to take a cruise. I understand there will be times when the ship may come in late due to weather or some type of emergency but in the normal course of business I had no complaints about this port.
STATEROOM. We had a category D2 balcony stateroom. For us it is worth the extra money to get the larger of the two balcony rooms. We can always find room to store our things. One of my suitcases fit under the bed, the other was too large but there was room for it elsewhere. The bed was very comfortable. Our beds were separated and there was a mattress pad doubled over to add extra cushioning to an otherwise nicely firm mattress. This was the first time we had a safe and a remote that had the numbers wore off but we survived just fine. I did miss have a card with our stateroom attendants name on it. We had no pen or paper. We did not receive our coupon book until we asked for it. This is not the first time this has happened. We also had to ask to have ice brought to the room during the cruise as apparently this is no longer automatic however once we asked it was always there. We had a bar of soap and the liquid stuff in the shower and that was it. Where our room was located I think we felt a little more vibration in our room than I normally do but again it was not all the time and it did not affect the trip for us. It did make me realize that I do not want to be in the very back of the ship.
SHIP. I love the royal promenade and this family of ships. Yes it does get crowded sometimes at night but it is not the only way to get from one end of the ship to the other. The café is a nice place to have a snack or lunch and coffee or ice cream. They had different small sandwiches every day. There were items for breakfast, and snacks and fruit. It was a nice alternative. The stores are the usual, nothing there impressed me but when they have sales people are grabbing things like there were giving it away. It does make it somewhat congested when they have tables set up right past the excursion counter. The ship is easy to navigate so do not be overwhelmed by the size.
ENTERTAINMENT. We only went to a few shows. Jonathan Clark is excellent. He does comedy and vocal impressions. I have seen him on another cruise and I was glad to see him again. He was the highlight for my entertainment with the exception of the ice shows. There were two ice shows. The first was Blades-The Ice Challenge and the second was Spirits of the Seasons. I have seen the ice shows on another ship and I have never heard anyone complain about the performances. They always appear to be the "do not miss" entertainment of the cruise. Some have complained about tickets. There were always announcements in the Cruise Compass indicating where and when the tickets would be disbursed. They are handed out on numerous days and times free of charge. It usually stated the doors to the performance opened 30 minutes prior to the show. We were there 45 minutes prior to the show and never had a problem getting in. They checked our tickets at the door. Again, some people complain they had tickets and had no seat but they do open the seats up to non-ticket holders at some point so do not show up 10 minutes before a performance and expect a seat is being held for you. The other show we went to was Invitation To Dance. The dancers were excellent and it was a nice change to the singer and dancer performances I have seen in the past. There was just something different about it and I enjoyed it. I did go to the Karaoke Superstar Championship where was held on the last day in The Palace just before Bingo. Fellow guests competed and it was fun. Speaking of Bingo. The first day Bingo was $29. If you were there and purchased a packet for $29 you received a tee-shirt. If you wore the shirt to other games you only paid $19. That was a deal. They only play 4 games now instead of 5 but it was far more affordable to play this way. At least when I lose my money it is going to fellow passengers : ) Also Phil and his team did an excellent job with the Bingo games. Phil has a great sense of humor and had me in tears more than once. The cruise directory Gordon was excellent as well. Sometimes you get a stuffed shirt but not this time. Gordon could relate well to all ages and in 8 cruises he was my number 1 or number 2 cruise director. I would be very pleased to have him on another cruise.
SHORE EXCURSIONS. We only did one excursion in St. Thomas to Coral Land & Coral Sea. It was ok. It is a small place. We did feed stingrays and saw a sea lion performance and there were iguanas walking around and birds you would feed and some other hands on activities. The shark encounter looked interesting but we did not sign up for that. The underwater part of the excursion was a waste of time. I have been on Atlantis before I thought that was ok but this was a waste of time.
DINING ROOM. Moses was our headwaiter and Chris and Erica were our waiter and assistant waiter. We were at table 526 and once again had wonderful dining partners. The service was excellent. The food was also quite good and of course if you were not pleased with anything Chris would take care of you. I looked forward to each dinner as a result of their wonderful service. We did try lunch twice in the dining room and it was good. It sure beat the traffic in the Windjammer. I wish we would have went there earlier on in the cruise.
WINDJAMMER. We had breakfast and lunch here. The food is ok. It is usually on the luke warm side. The biggest problem I saw were all the dishes on the tables. It was had to find a seat on the sea days and part of that was because the tables were not cleared nor were they always wiped down. I started putting a napkin down as a placemat. It appeared to be worse in the front half of the Windjammer rather than the Grill area. Who wants to sit and eat and look at a table next to them piled with food on plates and dirty dishes. The carpet needs to be vacuumed/swept during the day as well. Again, food would be on the floor and nobody wanted to clean it up.
SERVICE. I always have great service on Royal Caribbean and I cannot say the same for all the lines. The officers and management are friendly and that speaks volumes. I have been on a cruise ship where the officers would walk right by you and never say a word even when you said good morning or anything else. Service is one thing I feel Royal Caribbean wins hands down every time.
PEOPLE. We always run into different types of people when we travel. We understand cultures are different and people respond differently in different situations. I have read some reviews and I am tired of people slamming Americans and stating how rude they are. Americans do not have the monopoly on rude behavior. I have seen rude people from all parts of the world and I have met very nice people from everywhere as well. I have also seen people who complain about everything while others find the good in a situation and understand there are some situations you cannot control.
DISEMBARKATION. Gordon was in The Palace providing entertainment for those waiting to leave the ship. This was an excellent idea. However, while the staff continually announced to NOT SIT IN THE STAIRWELL OR IN THAT AREA ON DECKS 2 and 3 people still did it which only made it more difficult for those called to get off the ship to walk down the stairs and get off the elevators. Disembarkation went very smooth. There was no reason for people to sit in the stairs when they could have sat in The Palace or the promenade or the library, etc. After the walk-offs we were the first group called off about 9-9:30 and got on the busses that took us to the cruise terminal to get our bags. Apparently there was a power problem at the luggage terminal or we would have been called off earlier as the ship was docked before 8 am. Also as a result of the power problem the customs agents came on the ship and took our declaration forms from us as we walked off the ship. Normally we would have gone through customs in the terminal after we got our luggage. When we arrived at the luggage terminal there were people to tell you where your bags were lined up and there were porters to help as well. It would be helpful it they would put more space in between the lines of suitcases so people can get up and down the line at the same time. Also if there were breaks in-between the lines it would be helpful to cut across and get your bag from another line. We were through and at the bus to get transferred to the airport by 10. Our flight was out of New Jersey airport at 12:30 and we made it in more than enough time. We flew NWA and our part of the terminal was small and easy to navigate.