This had to be one of the best (if not the best) vacations I've ever taken. I spent a lot of time reading CC reviews and they were very helpful and I want to thank CC members for their posts. It made the decisions and plans a whole lot easier. Hope this helps other first time cruisers.
We drove in to Galveston the night before and stayed at the HOJO express a couple of miles from the pier. My wife and I, along with our daughter and son-in-law came in from Lafayette, La. The hojo was nothing fancy, but they offered cruise parking with the room and we didn't want to worry about driving 4 hours the same day of the cruise. We got to the pier around 11:00 and were onboard having lunch by 12:15. One suggestion: If you're traveling in a group, do a run through of showing passports/ ID before you leave home. My wife opted to use her driver's license and birth certificate instead of a passport and when we got to the first check in point, she couldn't find her license. We all took turns searching the purse and bags but couldn't find it. It was eventually found inside a money envelope from the bank. She had cashed a check for the trip and showed her ID, and the teller placed it with the money in the envelope. Anyway, long story short, we went through several minutes of quiet panic. Make sure of your id's before you leave home.
Our rooms were ready by 1:30 and all of our luggage arrived shortly after that. The ship is quite impressive. We had a blast just wandering around finding everything. I've read where others found it difficult getting around, but I found it well laid out and within the first day knew my way around pretty well. After a few drinks, however, all bets were off!!
The first 2 days at sea were both exhilarating and relaxing. None of us had ever spent much time on the water much less that far out to sea. It was awesome. Some of our best pictures are of us on the forward top deck with a clear blue sky and a gorgeous blue ocean laid out in front of us. I spent most of the daytime exploring and going to the various game show / trivia contest. We all "laid out" and worked on our sunburns a bit and kept the deck hands busy bringing us drinks of the day (which are really good).
The food was beyond description, but I'll try. We did very little of the buffet, preferring to do sit down meals in the main dining room (Renoir 8:15 seating). Breakfast and lunch was in the Monet and was always top quality in taste and presentation. When I did try the buffet, it was really good, I just didn't want to stand in line too often. You also have to try the pizza. It's fantastic. I read a lot about the hamburgers from The Grille, but never got one. Every time I went to get one, they were either closed or had a really long line. You have to try the bouillabaisse at Sur Mer. It's fantastic. I read all the hype on the fish and chips, but didn't care for them. The fried oysters were pretty good though. Both my wife and daughter thought the sushi was average. Paul's Deli had a nice selection and was very good. The menu in the dining areas was top notch. We tried everything and their were precious few items we thought were lacking. You MUST try the Western Indian Pumpkin Soup when offered. Outstanding!!! The lobster served the night of the Captains party was excellent. My wife didn't care for the eggplant parmesan or the panko fried shrimp dishes. I had steak most nights and they were always cooked as ordered and very good. The desserts were incredible. I had the chocolate melting cake the first night and it was hard not to order it every night. We all had different things each night and were never disappointed.
I read a lot of CC's on the Pointe Supper Club and maybe I had real high expectations but I really didn't find it all that great. Don't get me wrong, the service was second to none. The people did everything needed to make it a special dining occasion and succeeded. I just didn't find the food all that extraordinary. The lobster was better at the Captain's party and my steak was nothing special. The presentations were exceptional and they did all the little things well though, so it was a special evening. We went on Tuesday night. My daughter and her husband went Saturday and thought it was fabulous. But for only $30 per person, it's a steal, so go.
Concerned about safety and the other things we read about regarding Jamaica, we played it safe and went to the Sunset Beach Resort. You didn't have to pre-register for it, just catch a cab and pay $40 per person. It's all inclusive. The beach and water is awesome, the pool / floating river / waterslide area is great. The food is really good and the drinks are WOW!! We started with Pinacoladas and moved on seamlessly to margaritas. We all had a great day.
Grand Cayman was a bit of a disappointment in that the weather didn't cooperate. We got soaked the minute our tender left the boat and the seas were pretty rough. We were scheduled for a trip with Captain Marvin to snorkel sting ray city and 2 other reefs, but didn't go because of rough seas. We found a tour guide who took us around the island showing us all points of interest. We went to Turtle Bay which was pretty cool and then spent a couple of hours at 7 mile beach at the Marriott resort. (Try the Conch Fritters, they're really good). All in all, a good day, but not what we had hoped for.
Cozumel was the best. We went to Playa Uvas. It was an all inclusive package for food, drinks, and snorkeling ($40 per person). We also got massages. We saw numerous species of fish right off the beach area as well as a couple of stingrays. The food was great and the margaritas were WOOOW!!!! I was told that I was conversing in 3 or 4 different languages by the time we got back to the boat.
The shows were all very good. I've never been to a Las Vegas style show and I would think these were a level or two below that, but they still were well done and entertaining. Our magician didn't make the boat so the music / dance group performed and were really good. The juggler was good and the 2 comedians I saw were really funny.
The crew and personnel on the boat were exceptional. Props to Emille at the Renoir and his assistant Arya. Also Juliana at the Letour Lounge (deck 5 aft). Ask her for a peach martini. It will blow you away.
Since we were first time cruisers, I'm sure upgrades were not available to us. I had read a lot about room location and where to request rooms in hopes of minimizing ship movement and noise. When I found out we were on the 2nd level aft (the very rear of the boat) I was concerned. My trip advisor told me this was the quietest, smoothest part of the ship. WRONG!! There was engine and hydraulic noise and irregular vibrations. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't terrible and it wasn't constant, but it definitely took some getting used to. At times I had to jam a washcloth under the TV to keep it from squeaking. My wife, however; said she never slept better. It was like when we were kids and we stayed at hotels that had those vibrating bed things where for a quarter you could get a 5 minute massage. After the first night we were fine and never once felt queasy. But the upper decks were virtually motionless.
Do's and Don'ts
Do factor in a little extra cash in your budget for tipping the staff. They work hard with only one goal -- to please you.
Do locate and check all passports / ID's before leaving home.
Do try as many dishes as possible. I'm the worlds finickiest eater and I liked more dishes than I disliked.
Do approach the trip with a positive temperament. There will probably be little glitches and snafus. Roll with them and move on. You're still going to have the best week you've ever had.
Do take a moment and get to know your crew and staff. Most of them are from far away and I believe get a genuine delight in having a chance to talk about themselves, their families and their homes. If you want to really go all out, learn how to say hello in a few languages. We met staffers from Slovakia, Poland, Indonesia, Philippines, South Africa, Chechs etc. Nothing wrong with making people feel special.
Don't be impatient embarking and disembarking. Standing in line is just part of the deal. There's not any way around it. Don't let it ruin an otherwise perfect week.
Don't self assist (disembark carrying your luggage), unless your in pretty good shape. It took us nearly an hour and a half just to get off the boat and that's a pretty long time holding and dragging luggage around.
If you self assist (or even if not) DO get a porter to help get through customs. We found one right after we got off the boat and he took nearly and hour off of our waiting time. Best $20 I spent all week.
Have a great trip!!!