Embarkation was smootheven better than our experience boarding the Majesty of the Seas at RC's homeport in Miami. The staff was friendly, the embarkation facility was comfortable, and the process was efficient. I especially appreciated that I wasn't feeling like the baggage handlers were pressuring passengers for a tip situation that I felt when I embarked in Miami. All of our baggage arrived just a few hours later.
We did a guarantee rate, and was in an inside stateroom on deck six. The beds were comfortable and had enough blankets to keep us warm. Though we had requested that the beds be put together, we found it to be separated on our first day. We ended up rearranging the beds ourselves. Being relatively low and centered made the rocking less noticeable (good because I was prone to sea sickness).
We packed light (considering it was a 15-night cruise) so there were adequate storage for both of us. However, some of the doors for the storage were beginning to get loose and sagged. It rarely felt crowded, even when we ordered room service. The cabin attendant was not as friendly as others we've had (though he wasn't unfriendly either), but he was responsive. When we asked for the clothes line to be replaced, it was done by the next time we were back. Also, when we asked him not to leave the lights on after making the bed, he made sure not to do so again.
We greatly enjoyed the performances by the ship's singers and dancers, as well as the performances by the ice skaters. The ice skaters were phenomenal and it was just amazing what they could do in such as small space (especially while the ship was rocking). We only wished that they had more musical reviews by the singers and dancers since they only did two. They did also perform during the parades, but it can be hard to see the performance because there usually were so many people in the Royal Promenade and the performers were usually on the bridge.
As usual with Royal Caribbean, we liked the food on the ship. It wasn't the best that we've ever had, but it was very good for the price. And although we were on for 15 days, the food had enough variety that it didn't get old. We frequently indulged by having multiple desserts during dinner. On a typical day, we went to the Windjammer for breakfast and lunch, and then went to the dining room for dinner. We wished we knew how good the lunch options (especially the salad bar) was in the Carmen dining room sooner. The midnight buffet was not as impressive as past cruises I've been on (where they've done "chocolate extravaganzas"). However, I did appreciate that there were a lot of fruits, which made it healthier.
One complaint is that the soft serve ice cream machines on deck twelve were frequently out of service (a significant problem since one of us has a sweet tooth for ice cream). Though we complained to the manager, he did not seem to really care and gave us a somewhat flippant response. During the 15-day cruise, the soft-serve ice cream was probably only available for a few days. We especially appreciated late night (up to 2 am) availability of the Cafe Promenade, which served pizza, sandwiches, fruit, and desserts. When we stayed up, this was a great place to get a small snack so we're not starving late at night.
Going on a transatlantic cruise, I thought that I may get boredI was wrong. There were plenty of activities on the ship and at the end of each day, we often wondered where all the time went. We worked out, played in the sports court, learned a dance, listened to lectures, ice skated, or mini-golfed when we were on the ship. As much as we can, we went to see Mimi (one of the lead singers) performshe just had such a great voice. Our one complaint would be the movies hosted in the screening roomthe facility was way too small and it was just too frequently packed. Though we tried a couple of times, we never were able to make it inside. It was surprising since the screening room was hard to find (just below La Scala).
There was a sizable contingent of GLBT passengers (and staff) who were all welcomed and made to feel at home on the ship. We were surprised how many passengers showed up for the FOD meetingsthere ended up being three different times to accommodate everyone's varying schedules and preferences. Other passengers were very welcoming and we had no problem presenting ourselves as a same-sex couple. Even during the dance lessons, we slow danced together and no one batted an eye.
We made a point to engage in sightseeing at each port. Not everyone does (we were guilty ourselves of having slept through a port on our last cruise). This time, we walked quite a bit around each of the cities (and helped burn off all the extra calories we were consuming). None of the ports were boring. The ship had ports of call in: Cartagena (Spain), Funchal (Madeira), Canary Islands, Nassau (Bahamas), Miami, and Galveston.
Cartagena - a great city with very interesting old ruins. We highly recommend seeing the roman amphitheater and going to the old fort for great views of the city. A large family of peacocks also reside in the old forta nice treat if you've never seem peacocks. While docked, there was a renaissance fair going on, so we were also treated to medieval music and folks in period garb.
Madeira - a great place to sample and buy Madeira. It was our first time trying Madeira and we found it to be robust and delicious. Well worth the time to sample and buy some to take home and enjoy. The honey cakes make for a good item to bring to the office. A little dry by the time we got back, but it was fine if you dunk it in a little coffee or milk.
Canary Islands - We initially intended to the beaches, but we didn't end up spending too much time exploring the Canary Islands since it was somewhat rainy and cold. Here we found an interesting monastery that was celebrating its 500th anniversary by displaying art and antique instruments and tools. After a few hours, we went back to the ship and stayed (since there was a long walk back to the dock). Other guests told us later that the other side of the island was sunny and had amazing landscapes. I suppose we'll have to catch that next time we take this cruise.
Nassau - We ended up visiting the straw market and snorkeling while in Nassau. We also recommend going up to the old fort, where you will be treated with a view Nassau's cruise docks. It's possible to walk to the fortplan for a 20 minute walk.
Miami - Unfortunately, getting through customs was a big hassle and there was a lot of confusion because it was unclear if people who were staying on needed to fill out forms. We were givin conflicting instructions by members of the crew, but also saw customs officers giving conflicting instructions. Moreover, it was clear the two hadn't coordinated with each other. We were supposed to get off around 8:00 AM, but we didn't get out until 11:00 AM due to the confusion. Some friends of ours ended up being 4-hours delayed, so they stayed on.
Galveston/Houston - We ended up signing up for the ship organized excursion for a tour of Galveston. During the excursion, we drove through parts of Galveston, saw the rocket center, and parts of Houston. Hurricane Ike had just hit a few months prior and it was clear that the community needed more help and had more work ahead of them to fully recover.
Captain Patrick Dahlgren did a great job and made key decisions that made the 6-day voyage across the Atlantic more pleasant. A storm front in the northern Atlantic and we would have crossed through parts of it had we maintained our planned course. The Captain took us further south and because of that, we enjoyed relatively calm seas and warm weather that was conducive to relaxing on the ship's pools on deck 12. We definitely appreciate the Captain's decision for it made the cruise much more pleasurable.
Activity-wise, I've explained what we ended up doing already. So I'll just leave this with a few suggestions: (1) participate in the Olympics - it was a good way to meet others and it's a lot of fun during the ocean crossing; (2) do the walk-a-mile - it's a nice workout, you get to enjoy the seascape, and you even get rewarded if you do it often enough; (3) wake up early - try to catch a sunrise and you'll be rewarded with a majestic view; and, (4) stay up late - go to the helipad in front of the ship late at night, and you can see so many stars. Also, note that during the ocean crossing, you'll gain an hour on most nights (at least going westward). So feel free to stay up a little, maybe go to the disco, and know that you'll get about an hour back anyway.
Disembarkation was pretty easy, though expect to wait. Keep a book or a magazine with you to keep you entertained while you're waiting. And the airports are pretty far from Galveston so make arrangements for a shuttle ahead of time. Taxis can be very expensive.