We are a married couple in our 30s - this was my 6th cruise, 4th with Royal Caribbean (also have done one each on Celebrity and Holland America). The itinerary is wonderful; sea days and port days nearly alternate, so plenty of relaxation time with port calls interspersed. The ship is beautiful with lots of great spots to view the ocean, the crew for the most part extremely friendly, and we were blessed with outstanding weather and an extremely fun group of people we met through the Cruise Critic Roll Call board (and managed to miss a negative 16 degree day in Chicago)!
Our stateroom was an outside room with a window but no balcony on deck three. We had booked a coveted D1 Aft Balcony, but downgraded to an oceanview guarantee as the price was nearly $2000 less! The room was adequate size for two, but would have been cramped if a third or fourth was sailing with us. Basic necessities were supplied (i.e. soap, shampoo, and a hair dryer - though not sure why they provide a hair dryer when it seems like women always bring there own anyways)! I enjoyed the window a lot more than I thought I would. On the higher decks you do not get a good perspective of the waves, but from deck three the waves look much bigger and you can see their definition. I often placed pillows in the window sill and sat inside the window with the waves splashing within inches of me when we hit rough seas (one particularly large wave crashed against the window and sounded like a loud thunder bolt). Our stateroom attendant was less personable than on other cruises and made a couple small mistakes (i.e. charging us for a bottled water from the mini bar we did not consume) but overall was adequate. Guest relations easily remedied the couple problems that came up.
Our waiter in the main dining room (Adrian) was outstanding; very energetic, friendly, and he provided great service and recommendations. Ivan his assistant was somewhat quiet, but good as well. They readily accommodate reasonable special requests our table had and quickly learned our names and individual preferences. We even arranged for the Maitre'D to bring a dessert to our table for Adrian on his birthday and we sang for him. We loved a lot of the staff we met at the bars/lounges , especially Freddy in the champagne bar (outstanding martinis there as well for martini lovers and free hot appetizers and caviar bar when you order a drink before dinner there) and Eva at the pool bar (she also works in the Concierge Lounge overflow room at the Vortex on Deck 13). Both of them always provided service with a smile, made great drinks, and when they were not too busy provided a lot of one-on-one time with us. Joff, the cruise director and his staff were also very approachable and ran a variety of fun and diverse activities. Captain Thor provided a nice speech at the Welcome Aboard Reception and seemed more personable than other Captain's I have sailed with.
As a nonsmoker I was glad that Royal Caribbean now designates approximately half of the bars as smoke free. This helps nonsmokers have a variety of places to socialize yet still leaves venues for the smokers. The Schooner bar and Champagne bar were two of the smoke free areas and we spent a lot of time at both of them. The casino was also smoke free in the evening of the two formal nights and one smart casual night.
We ate seven dinners in the main dining room. The food was as good as I remember it from prior cruises - good but not great. The number of selections on the menu may have been slimmed down some. The lobster tail on the Fisherman's Plate was the largest I have had on a cruise ship. The escargot, prime rib, and onion tart were among my favorites. I am not a dessert person and Adrian happily would bring me the appetizer of my choice while others indulged in their dessert. The coffee was drinkable, but far from good. Most people in the dining room did abide by (or at least come close to) the dress code for formal nights. On casual nights men tended to wear jeans or docker style pants (I only saw two people with shorts). I will not describe what women typically had on as I am sure my wife will read this and want to correct my terminology!
We ate twice at Chops and once at Portofino's. Outstanding service and ambiance at both, but I felt the food was one step better at Portofino's (they had outstanding steak there, but also a great variety of other dishes and they have a wonderful bread basket accompanied by various spreads such as olive, tuna fish, and fresh roasted garlic). My favorite appetizers at Chops included the shrimp cocktail (very large shrimp and spicy cocktail sauce), mushrooms, and tuna tar tar. At Portofino's the fried calamari was a great appetizer. The seafood skewer is presented like a piece of art - bring your camera! Dress code is smart casual every night at the specialty restaurants.
The Windjammer was the only area of disappointment. I always found something to eat, but often the food was a bit bland and/or too salty. I found the Windjammer equivalent on both Celebrity and Holland America to be far superior (both in quality, presentation and diversity of choices). I did enjoy the frozen yogurt machine in the back of the Windjammer. The Seaview Cafe was a fun alternative for lunch; they make really tasty sandwiches such as Ruebens and Cubans and my wife enjoyed the onion rings. We did lunch and breakfast in the main dining room once each; the food was better than that in the Windjammer, but the service was quite slow (wound up taking nearly two hours for lunch).
We did not attend the shows in the main theater (not our style) but found plenty to do. We did a lot of trivia contests, played mini golf (great view of ocean from golf course), went to Quest (a must do if you have not done this before), the Love & Marriage show, and Midnight Pool Party/Buffet. Also spent a little time in the casino on non-smoking nights. One of my table mates even scared away a Cuban military vessel that came surprisingly close to our ship when he accidentally hit the mini golf ball too hard and it bounced over the railing and landed near the Cuban vessel (for a moment I thought we might have started an International incident)! I also used the fitness center three times and ran on the outside running teak four times (between this and sticking with the stairs the entire cruise I managed to lose one pound during the vacation - which really irritated my wife)!
For the Panama Canal portion we opted to stay on the ship as we were informed by some knowledgeable passengers that there is so much to see from the ship, that an excursion is not necessary. The ship passes through the Gatun locks (series of three locks) starting fairly early in the morning. Each lock elevates the ship around 40 feet or so (rough estimate). Be sure to check out views from the aft, rear, bow, front, stern, port, starboard, right, left, and high and low floors. Each view point provides a much different perspective. The ship then hangs out in Gatun Lake for a few hours (people with excursions booked through the ship are tendered off, otherwise everybody remains). Then after lunch the ship goes back out the three locks. It takes around 90-120 minutes to go through the locks one way. Then the ship docks at a port - there is not much to do at that port aside from go to the flea market. There is fairly nice crafts there, cheap Panamanian beer, and a place to get cheap calling cards (with pay phones nearby). Going through the locks was such an amazing experience. The ship is so wide compared to the canal I was able to stick out my leg and touch the lock (though I was reprimanded by security for doing this)! The people who did do excursions returned happy, so you cannot go wrong either way you decide.
What really made this cruise special was the group of people we met on the Cruise Critic Roll Call thread. We had a very active roll call and had a blast meeting people on board the ship. Our group did a variety of fun activities such as the Meet and Mingle, a Cabin Crawl, a Group Slot Pull, Poll Dancing Contest (well that one was after a few rounds of cocktails), Group Dinner at Chops, all did a tour together in Colombia, and more. We made a lot of great friends on the cruise.
I definitely recommend both this ship and this itinerary.