DH and I live in Norfolk, VA, and we hadn't been on a real vacation since 2005. We really hit a home run when booking this cruise!
I'm a huge Red Sox fan, and I snagged tickets to the final 2 games of the series against the Yankees. Since we were going to be in the area, we hadn't been on a vacation in over 3 years, and the price was right, we booked this cruise. We decided ahead of time to do the "My Time Dining" option and prepay our gratuities. This worked great for us.
DH and I arrived on an early flight and killed a few hours at Logan airport. We took a taxi to the cruise terminal (planned to take Silver line, but we had an extra bag, so DH talked me into it) at a cost of $25 including tip. Once at Black Falcon, the cabbie didn't really know where he was going and tried to drop us off on the other side, so we had to tell him to follow the other cabs.
We arrived about 11:30, and once we handed our luggage over to a porter, we joined the line was starting to form outside the terminal. We were told the Coast Guard was still inspecting the ship, and things would go quickly once they were cleared. We were then handed a number. After about 20 minutes, they let is in the terminal, ably to direct is to a large group of chairs. They then explained that the check-in area was very small, so they had to call is up in small groups (hence the numbers). Priority check-in people could join the line as they arrived, so it took about an hour before our number was called to join the line. Once in line, things moved very quickly. I'd say from the time we got in line to the time we stepped on the ship was 10 minutes, but the time we arrived at the terminal to the time we got in line was about an hour and 20 minutes (total time about an hour and a half arriving at 11:30). If we had it to do over again, we would have had some lunch at the airport and gone to the cruise terminal later (about 1:30 - 2:00) to avoid the rush.
While boarding, there were a couple of security checkpoints and a bag screening, nothing major. After checking out our cabin (see below) our second stop was the 5th floor of the Main Dining Room, where Ariannna took our dinner reservation. There were several pax there switching to My Time Dining, so if you want to do this, we recommend doing it before the cruise to avoid the wait. Then we were off to the Windjammer for lunch. We got our soda packages (one was actually a MyCokeRewards award card that I got for 400 reward points, which gave us one free package, and we purchased the other at a cost of approx. $48). We received cool souvenir cups and a sticker on each of our seapass cards for unlimited sodas for the cruise, a bargain considering how much soda we consume (especially considering one was free!)
What a beautiful ship! There are so many windows so you can see the ocean around you, and even some of the elevators are made of glass! Our favorite spots were the indoor Solarium and its pool (salt water), and Deck 5, where we walked after meals. At some times, the heliport area was open, and we reenacted the "I'm King of the World" scene from Titanic (much to the delight, I'm sure, of the officers watching from the bridge above us). She's a wonderful ship to explore, and nothing I can say will do her justice.
I'm in my late 30s, and DH is in his 50s. I was among the youngest pax on the ship! Most of the pax were elderly (70s) with several in their 80s and 90s! Several of them were up until all hours dancing, etc., but there was no "quest" game. This didn't really affect us, as we appreciated the slower pace, but if you have any issues with the aged, this is NOT the cruise for you. Most pax were pretty spry, but there were quite a few with canes, walkers, wheelchairs, hover-rounds, etc. I hope I'm still cruising when I'm their age!
The service was great! Every crew member we encountered greeted us with a big smile and a cheerful "hello!" The waitstaff, bartenders, and especially our cabin attendant were wonderful.
We recommend ordering a romance package (we had the most basic one) if you want to feel truly pampered.
As this was a vacation to relax and unwind, I had a hot stone massage at the spa on the first sea day. It was my birthday present from DH! It was wonderful, but too expensive.
The first thing we did once on board was check out our cabin. At this time, we met our wonderful stateroom attendant, Sori. He did a great job and did extra things (ie leaving little things like towel animals in our stateroom at turn-down) that made our cruise special. We pre-ordered the romance package, and the champagne and strawberries were waiting for us. There was no ice and the beds were separated, but Sori took care of that right away, and everything was taken care of when we returned from lunch and exploring the ship. Even though we had pre-paid our gratuities, he got an extra tip!
We had cabin #3634, a large oceanview on deck 3 starboard. When selecting this cabin, I was a little concerned because it was below the dining room, but we didn't hear any noise from above. The cabin was very quiet, except for occasional engine noise, which was a very low humming (like a refrigerator) and didn't bother us at all. We were very pleased with the cabin size, and the bathroom was small, but doable unless we both tried to squeeze in at the same time. The only problem we had was if one of us opened the bathroom door while the other had a closet door opened, there was some cross-door action, but we figured it out. The bed was large and among the most comfortable I've ever slept in. We loved having the large window so we could look out at the sea, especially when pulling out of ports and at night when things were choppy.
We had all of our dinners on the second level of the Main Dining Room, an area set aside for My Time Dining. We had different waiters, which was fine, as they all provided great service. The food was excellent, for the most part. On the First night, DH had a very bland steak. I attribute this to his getting a senior pax's bland diet meal, as I had the steak later in the week and it was very tasty. A couple of times I ordered things that weren't quite what I expected, and the waiters quickly replaced it with something else. I especially enjoyed the chilled fruit soups, and we both loved the fish entrEes and chocolate desserts (of course).
We ate 2 breakfasts in the Dining room, one morning was a special breakfast in bed for the romance package (eating scrambled eggs topped with salmon and caviar and sipping Mimosas while watching the ocean passing from our stateroom window - life doesn't get much better than that!) The rest of our breakfasts were in the Windjammer. We enjoyed them all. If you eat in the dining room, you'll be seated with other people. If you aren't conversational and/or friendly with others, please don't do this. We were seated with an 80-year-old lady who said that the previous morning, she was seated with people who refused to speak with her, and it ruined her breakfast.
We had our lunches with in port or in the Windjammer, where the food was good and plentiful, and you could get pretty much whatever you were in the mood for. For "fast food" folks, there were burgers, fries, pizza, etc., and different salads, meats, pasta dishes for those wanting something a little more substantial. The desserts were varied (and for the most part, delicious) and there was a soft serve frozen yogurt machine! No matter what your tastes, you won't starve! It's a wonder I only gained 5 lbs!
The first night was a comedy show for all guests at 7:15. We aren't "in" to comedians, and our dinner reservation was at 7:00 so we skipped. They replayed the show on the room TV, and it was hilarious!
The second night was a broadway review with the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers. Show times are 8:30 and 10:30. DH and I ate at 7:30 and went to the late show, but we left early. We were tired, and it seemed only 2 singers (who were just OK) were singing almost all of the songs, so we had enough.
The third night was "the comedy and songs of 'international star' Judy Kolba." We'd never heard of her. Show times were again 8:30 and 10:15. We didn't go or watch it on TV, and we didn't hear about it from the other pax.
The fourth night was something called "City of Dreams," again with the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers. That night, they did a pre-dinner show at 6:30 for the second seating people, and the regular 8:30 for main seating. We passed.
The fifth night was a magician, again with the 6:30 and 8:30 showtimes. Again we passed, but we DID go to the Love & Marriage gameshow at 10:00, which was hilarious!!!
The best show was the sixth night, the Tango Buenos Aires. This was the same group the was recently on the "Today Show," and they were wonderful. The showtimes were 8:30 and 10:15 (we ate at 7:00, so we were done in time to go to the 8:30 show). Everyone loved this show, and the dancers performed and gave classes the following day.
The final night was a physical comedy show (juggling, etc.) There was a pre-dinner show at 6:30 for the second seating people, and the regular 8:30 for main seating. At 10:00, there was a Cabaret show with the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers. We passed on both as we had a lot of packing, etc. to do.
We had wonderful weather, which was a blessing! The leaves were just starting to turn for us, so people who are looking for foliage should probably take the cruise in early October.
Our favorite ports were Bar Harbor and Halifax. We didn't want to be on a schedule, so we just did our own thing and didn't book any of the ship's excursions. This worked well in every post but Saint John, where all of the "interesting" stuff is out of walking distance.
In Portland, we stopped at the tourist info booth right outside the port and picked up a map. We then just walked around and saw the sights that interested us. The tourist info lady gave us an excellent lunch recommendation of Gilbert's chowder house. We went, and they had the best clam chowder ever, an excellent lobster lunch, and the most delicious blueberry pie either of us ever ate!
In Bar Harbor, we took the 2 1/2 hour Oli's Trolley tour, which we enjoyed. It was a beautiful day, and the view from atop Cadillac Mountain was awesome. We then had lunch (lobster again) at the West Street Cafe. It was excellent (be sure to have a Bar Harbor Blueberry Soda) and walked around town for some shopping. What a beautiful place.
Our only complaint about Halifax is there wasn't enough time to do everything we wanted! Peggy's Cove was out because there was too much for us to see in town. We went to the Maritime Museum to see the Titanic exhibits, then we walked (straight uphill!) to the Halifax Citadel, where we spent the rest of the day. DH loved this, and I found it very interesting as well. If we had a choice, we would have preferred to have done an overnight in Halifax to do Peggy's Cove the next day. This is definitely a place for us to come back and explore in further detail!
Saint John, unfortunately, is not. The people were very nice when we got off the ship (I was given a rose and DH a pin) but there just wasn't much to the place. There is a large market in walking distance, but everything else is either a real hike or will have to be done by tour or taxi. We took another trolley tour, but there just wasn't much to see. The reversing rapids are interesting, but the water is dirt brown, and it has an ugly factory behind it. After the tour and a quick walk around the market, we returned to the ship to eat and go swimming.
On the sea day en route back to Boston, the sea was quite rough due to the Nor'easter in the area and Hurricane Kyle. DH and I were in the Solarium pool, and it was churning so much that it reminded us of one of those wave pools at a water park! And that was BEFORE things got really rough that last night. It wasn't anything we couldn't handle; neither one of us got sick or anything like that. We just really earned our "sea legs" that night!
We did the express walk off, and we were near the front, so it looks like we avoided the debarkation melee reported by those on our Roll Call board (elderly and disabled pax left with no assistance). It was raining, but we had no problems and got a cab right away. We did, however, have quite an adventure trying to get to our hotel with a clearly non-English speaking or understanding cab driver! We ended up having him drop us off at the Airport, then we took a shuttle to the hotel. (Avoid the Independent Cabs). Our first Red Sox game was postponed due to rain, but they were both played the following day. Thankfully, we didn't fly out until Monday so at least we saw them!
A beautiful ship, great food, a stress-free itinerary, lobster lunches in port, all followed by Red Sox baseball at Fenway.....We had a wonderful time! It was just what we needed.
We HIGHLY recommend this cruise, ship, and Royal Caribbean!