Embarkation: It was fairly easy and the RC staff was friendly and very efficient. We arrived at 12:00 PM and were on board by 12:45 PM. Luggage arrived promptly to our cabin around 5:30 PM.
Cabin: Normally, we stay in a suite (our last RC cabin was the Royal Suite, complete with a baby grand piano!), but this time, we were doing a last minute, 'cheapie' cruise and grabbed an inside cabin with a window overlooking the royal promenade ($481 per person, how could we go wrong?!). The cabin, even though it was small, was well laid out. Kudo's to RC for no shower curtain! The shower doors are a nice touch! The linens on the bed were nice and soft. The old style, non flat screen TV should be replaced. The stateroom attendant, Clova, was magnificent! She was even kind enough to clean out our mini-bar fridge so we could store the bottles of water in there, that we had brought on board (shh!) in our checked luggage. I was worried that the cabin might be a bit noisy due to the parades and bars on the royal promenade, but that was absolutely not the case. We had no trouble at all sleeping in! This cabin was a great deal for the money!
Itinerary: Normally, this cruise was scheduled to go to Mexico. Since we live in San Diego, 30 minutes from the Mexico border, there is NO way we would ever travel to Mexico; especially knowing all the turmoil that is going on there currently (dh is a SDPD officer and hears all the frightening stories!). We were thrilled when RC said they were switching the itinerary to the Pacific Northwest (due to Swine Flu). We immediately jumped on the deal and so did several of our friends! Los Angeles: Embarkation was a breeze! We showed up at noon and were on the boat by 12:45.
San Francisco: What a lovely time it is to sail under the Golden Gate Bridge! If you ever get the chance to do this, do NOT miss it! Literally, the ship's radar ball clears the bridge by only 10 feet! We did the Alcatraz Tour and it was fabulous. My mom really enjoyed seeing the famous "Rock".
Victoria, BC: RC's excursion desk really let us down on this one. We purchased a night time Butchart Gardens to see the largest low voltage landscaping lighting installation in North America... Unfortunately, our tour ended at 8:30 PM and sunset did not occur until 9:30 PM. As per usual, the shore excursion desk team bordered on rude and insolent and would not do anything to make it right. We still LOVED our time in BC and would go back again and again! Why are shore excursion desk employees usually the surliest staff members?
Activities on board: Well, the activities seemed to really have been trimmed back. I found it odd that the Captain's Book Signing (and yes, you were expected to purchase his book) was considered an 'activity'. Also, the puffy eye symposium, fighting the female fat cell, and other various gimmicks all designed to sell you something, were border line insulting as 'activities. The movies being shown in the screening room were simply awful. They were movies that we had never heard of. It was almost as if the cruise director picked them up at the dollar store in the clearance bin! Also, the TV selections for entertainment in our cabin were pretty bad. Fox news only had reception for 1/3 of the voyage and other than that, there were 2 border line PORN type programs on about Hugh Hefner and all of his Playboy bunnies and some program about South American models and their love interests. Both were completely inappropriate for a family style cruise, and both shows ran 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Entertainment: My mom and I couldn't put our finger on what was missing with the production shows. The performers were good and obviously working their tails off, but the material they had to work with just was lacking. The 80's production show did not go over well with the older folks who had no idea who Duran Duran, Culture Club, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, etc. were. Also, the sound guy pumped in so much "Karaoke echo" effects onto the singers voices, that it really cheapened the production.
The magicians, "LaRaff", were like watching a car wreck! The first 15 minutes were simply awful and much of the 1400 audience members started walking out! The show did get better towards the end, so we were glad we stayed.
Matt Yee is not to be missed! He does a great piano bar, sing along in the Schooner Bar. His shows are pretty much the same, night after night, so one show is probably enough, but be sure not to miss him. He is hilarious!!!
Food: First, let me say that Chops Grill is NOT, NOT, NOT to be missed. This would have easily been a $200 meal back in San Diego, so I was thrilled to pay $25 per person plus an extra gratuity. My mom had fish and I had chicken w/ sautEed mushrooms. The appetizers were incredible. The desserts were stellar... The service was uber friendly and not stuffy at all. I wish I would have made reservations for more than one night.
Dining Room Food: Ho Hum... Can you say Golden Corral?! On the nights that I had to order a grilled chicken breast because there was nothing on the main menu that would work for me, it was truly awful. Our dining companions started calling it the "Spencer Gift Joke Chicken" because it was so dry and rubbery. The baked potatoes were the size of a small child's hand (more like a baked red potato). The desserts were bland, at best. The apple pie was very similar to the kind that you buy at the grocery store in the freezer section. Thank goodness for the good dinner rolls. We all ended up filling up on those every night (sigh). On 'prime rib' night, we were told that they didn't have horseradish on board! Huh? I'm sorry; did I accidentally get on to the Carnival ship instead of Royal Caribbean? Also, the kitchen had a hard time getting our table of 6 - 8 entrees to come out at the same time. Talk about uncomfortable... You would get your meal, but your dining companion right next to you doesn't get his meal for about 10-15 minutes, even though you ordered at the same time. This happened on two different occasions. Our waiter was frantic, and kept going back to the galley, so I don't think it was his fault. Overall, the dining room service was fantastic. Always friendly and they are always trying hard to please you.
Buffet: Windjammer Cafe: So the midnight buffet has gone the way of the Dodo bird... OK, that's not a big deal. But what is a big deal is Royal Caribbean's new times for meals: Breakfast 7:00 - 11:00, Lunch 11:30 - 2:00 PM, Dinner 6:30 - 9:00 PM. Did you catch that large gap between lunch and dinner? If you miss lunch, and you're hungry, your only choices are room service or the dried up Pizza and teenie tiny premade sandwiches in Cafe Promenade. This is truly unacceptable. Even on Princess, they have a grill going outside by the pool with chicken sandwiches, hamburgers and hot dogs during the afternoon. The soft serve yogurt on RC is a nice touch. However, they don't start the machine up until the THIRD day of the cruise (no kidding!). They say it's for environmental reasons, but it has to be for cost reasons.
My mom and I are booked in a Crown Loft Suite on Oasis of the Seas, but after this trip, there is NO way we will be spending $10,000+ with RC. It's one thing to spend $481 per person... your expectations just aren't that high; however, spending $10K is an entirely different arena. We have rebooked with Regent and are going to be able to sail in a suite, 11 days, all inclusive (including shore excursions, cocktails, etc!) for less than the $10,000 with RC! If RC isn't careful about becoming a slightly classier Carnival, they will lose more customers like my family and me to Regent or Seabourn. Oasis and Allure are so expensive, that you can do a luxury cruise for nearly the same cost and get so much more.
Royal Caribbean has super friendly employees and that continues to be their strong point. However, they better remember that consumers want good value and GREAT entertainment and a book signing by the Captain, or a Puffy Eye Symposium just isn't going to cut it.