PRE CRUISE: Flew virgin LHR - MIA great service and kids were fine. We stayed at the Hilton hotel on Biscayne boulevard 2nts prior to the cruise. The hotel was great in all aspects and I would definitely stay there again. (I have posted a review on the hotel on trip advisor if your interested (paid £98 per night for room with 2 double beds).
EMBARKATION: Picked up from hotel at 1130. 5 min drive to terminal. Cases dropped off by driver to porters and that was the last we saw of them until about 1630 (no tip required). Got through Passport and security and check in, in only 20 minutes. So from hotel to stepping on board the ship took no more than 40 minutes.
THE SHIP: is absolutely incredible, (where do I start). The royal promenade is like a shopping mall street on deck five and is absolutely stunning, it houses all the things listed in previous reports, and all of them are great. Every time I got in one of the glass lifts it was a real joy to look down and over the street as you go up to the pool deck (11). The pools are fantastic. Our children loved the kids H2O pool and the 2 Jacuzzis within them (the Jacuzzis are soooooo warm). When we boarded the ship the kids saw it and wanted to go straight in as the weather was sunny, so we spent about 2 hours playing in the kids H2O pool and had it all to ourselves FANTASTIC (water a little chilly though)don't forget to put your swimmers in your carry on luggage. Family pools were also fab and there are 3 further larger Jacuzzis here. We did not use the adults solarium pool, but that also looked gorgeous. The pool areas and sun beds got a little busy on sea days, but our experience on the first sea day was great. After breakfast in the windjammer we ventured up to the pool area to settle down for a fun day, we got there at around 10am and had virtually the pick of whatever sun beds we wanted so picked a couple right by the H2O. By about midday most of the beds were in use, but at no stage did the pools or the pool areas feel over crowded, busy yes but not over crowded. Flowrider is great fun, neither of my kids could do boogie boarding or stand up surf as they are shorter than the required 52" and 58" for stand up. during the day there is always a line to do flow rider so I avoided it and got up early one morning and got there at 9am with only 3 other people, and had a few goes at stand up which was great fun and really quite difficult. Climbing wall is also a lot of fun.
STATEROOM: We had an inside on deck 8 forward. Drop down beds from the ceiling for the kids. No complaints with the cabin. Great hot shower with good pressure. Overall good storage but would be a little difficult with older children or teens as we struggled a little ourselves. DINING: The dining room is very impressive, spread over 3 floors and a fabulous sweeping staircase and a huge chandelier. However we were placed in a room which sits just off the main dining room which meant we could not see the grandeur of it all and missed the waiters singing and parading on a couple of nights. However we did not let this bug us and stayed where we were. Our waiters Banu and Andray were fabulous and really looked after us with remembering drinks etc and often letting us try dishes we were not sure about whilst ordering a reserve if we did not like them. They loved the children and the children loved them. The food however is good but not top quality gourmet, we never had a problem with choice and had no problem eating the meals but don't expect it to be like "the Ivy". I know they have to cater for a lot of people and I give them 11 out of 10 for effort but it does affect the quality. The windjammer was great for breakfasts and lunch, we always found somewhere to sit without too much searching and the choice of food is plentiful and pretty decent. The tables were cleared and cleaned very quickly, but the carpet always looked like it could do with being hoovered. Pizza at Sorrento was really nice. Cakes and coffee at the promenade cafe were also really nice (would go down here every morning at around 0730 to get tea and coffee and take them back to the cabin before breakfast, would walk down the royal promenade and virtually have it all to myself).
SERVICE: was great from everyone member of staff I met, they were all so friendly and helpful.
KIDS CLUB: Now I know I said that we did not want to dump the kids in kids club, but our youngest wanted to try aquanaughts 3-5 year olds, so she went one afternoon and absolutely loved it. She would ask to go every day and even missed the shows sometimes so she could go. So I guess kids club gets a big thumbs up as well.
ENTERTAINMENT: The shows were fantastic, as good if not better than some of the west end shows I have seen. Richard Spacey the cruise director was very good, but I believe that this was his last week on the ship (we did not find out where he was going). The street shows were also great, and very busy but I felt that the big crowd only enhanced the atmosphere. Ice show is not to be missed. Its no problem getting tickets.
AOB: Price of drinks: We bought soda passes for my wife (doesn't drink alcohol) and both kids and cover all branded sodas in all the bars, they are available when you get on board in all the bars (they put a sticker on your seapass) adult pass was 6 dollars per day plus gratuity and kids was 4 dollars per day plus gratuity. We felt that by the end of the week the pass was really good value. A bottle of beer will cost approx 5 dollars inc grat, the nearest to a real ale they do is Murphys red (draught) (it tastes like bottled ale as it is carbonated and served v chilled) this was 6 dollars inc grat. Wine at dinner started at 6 dollars a glass up to a lot more. A bottle of wine started at about 26 dollars and up plus grat. So with the dollar rate pretty bad at the mo, its not cheap.
With over 4000 passengers on board we always managed to find places to relax and never felt crowded and found it very easy to get around what is a monster of a ship. We found that early mornings were great as everything is empty, ie. royal promenade, pools, cantilevered Jacuzzis and flowrider.
The people on board (half American and only 128 from the UK) were really friendly, especially the Americans, who often made a fuss of the children and would mostly always have a nice chat with us. However some people from other nations seem to be short on basic manners. I lost count of the number of times I had trouble to get out of a lift due to people not waiting to let people out before getting in, or would just try and push in lines (particularly the ice rink) I have to say that these people seemed to come from South America and Southern Europe (Italy) (sorry to name names but its true).
WEATHER IN JAN: Mostly like an English summer (not baking hot) we had a couple of showers and Grand Cayman was a waste of time as the weather was grey and cold (stingray city was closed due to choppy condition GUTTED!!!) I will probably go later in the year next time.
Anyway I have written more than I intended, so will sum up by just saying we all had a fantastic time (both kids said best holiday ever). I am already planning to book another and will stick to Royal Caribbean as all round they are fab.
Don't forget that the coffees and cakes and pizzas etc are all included in your price. Except speciality coffee and Ben and Jerry's ice cream (free ice cream available from the sprinkles machine a the pool deck.