Not so bad for a first-timer's cruise: looking ahead to MORE
The original plan was to drive from West Palm Beach to Saint Augustine for a long weekend. But several folks advised against it, saying that Saint Augustine was great for a day; maybe two, but not worth a whole long weekend. So then we started looking at last minute "cheap flights" to a fun city...perhaps New York? New Orleans? Somewhere in the search, a cruise popped and we said, "Why not?"
We have never cruised before, so we didn't know what to expect. We have talked with people who either LOVED cruising or HATED it. We enjoy traveling a lot-usually "slow travel"flying to a city overseas and staying in an apartment rental for a week: shopping for groceries, exploring the sights, etc. from a single home base. We weren't sure about how cruising would work for us.
The cruise that we booked was Royal Caribbean, Enchantment of the Seas, departing Fort Lauderdale and going to Key West and then on to Cozumel before returning back to Fort Lauderdale. Departing on a Thursday evening and returning on Monday morning.
Since we live in West Palm Beach, we just drove to Port Everglades and parked our car. Signage in the port could have been better, and it was not clear where to drive to drop off luggage or park the car. We had packed carry-on bags, so we finally found the parking garage, grabbed our bags and carried them to the terminal.
Check-in was relatively smooth. A security worker was quite rude (her name was Mary and she had her name badge turned around so it couldn't be readbut had the first name printed on the backside). Once we got through the initial security line, all was good. The check-in was great: Cora was very helpful, friendly, and spent some extra time with us describing the features of the ship, things we should explore, etc.
Carrying our own luggage on board was easy: we each had a carry on and an extra bag. It was nice having our luggage with us and not having to wait to have it delivered. We quickly found our cabin; an outside view; 155 square feet toward the front of the ship. It was larger than I had expected. I was really surprised at how many storage spaces/cubbies/surfaces there were. The medicine chest in the bathroom was perfect; there were spaces in the desk/vanity that we didn't use. At one point, I counted 18 different drawers/surfaces for storing stuff: even the love seat had drawers beneath for storage and our carryon bags easily fit underneath the bed. Not to mention the closet with more hangers than stuff we brought to hang, and another small dresser within. The safe worked perfectly with our room keyno need to use a credit card as indicated in the directions.
To make a bit more room, my partner asked the cabin steward to remove a small round glass-top table which he promptly did. This gave us a bit more breathing space. In all the cabin was fine.
The service on board was very good. I was surprised at how friendly everyone was. We did "My Time" dining, which allows you to show up at the dining room each evening whenever you want during the meal time (6 p.m. to 9 p.m.) Each night we simply requested a table for two and were always given one without much delay. One afternoon at lunch they seated us at a large round table and then brought a family with 3 young children to sit with us. We're not "kid-friendly" or appropriate, so we politely apologized to the family and got up and requested to be re-seated at a private table. This was accommodated quickly. The father indicated that he understood completely and said he wished he could have sat somewhere other than with his kids, too. This worked out fine. It wasn't our intention to make life-long friends on this trip, and we really don't "do children".
Since it was summer there were a lot of kids-all ages: very young to teen, on this trip. Although there was a pool for adults (ages 16 and over) I don't believe that this was strictly enforced. For the most part we didn't have trouble with kidsbut they did roam freely, often unescorted by parents/guardians who must have just figured that their kids would be o.k. on an enclosed environment.
The food each night was good to very good; we had some super cold soup appetizers: one was mango and another was watermelon/cranberry. The service was very good and friendly. We ate one or two meals in the Windjammer Cafe which is a buffet: food there tended to be average: nothing special, but filling. Presentation there was not anything fancyreminded me of a college buffet line. We preferred eating in the dining room.
On the last evening we ate at the Chops Specialty restaurant (additional $25 per person). The food was very good with excellent desserts. Service was worse than in the regular dining room. For example, from the time we placed our order until our entree came out was 90 minutes. We did get our appetizers right awaybut they were cleared within 15-20 minutes, so we literally waited more than an hour for our entrees. (Steaks ordered rarehow long can that take?) There was no explanation or apology for the delay: when the food arrived it was very good and tasty. We had two deserts that were EXCELLENT: the Mississippi mud pie and the Passionfruit Parfait. Both were really, really spot on.
Entertainment was probably good for a cruise ship, but it appeared corny to us. We went to the show on the final night: which featured a magician and some singing/dancing. It reminded of a Disney production: just very G rated, corny, and somewhat amateurish like average community theater. We got a few chuckles, but couldn't wait for it to end.
Enrichment: I had read a bit about "cruise lecturers" and anticipated seeing some great offerings. None on this cruise. They had staff doing a half hour demonstration on how they fold towels and cut fruit garnishes. Nothing fancy, interesting, or enriching. I suspect that this is due to a smaller ship, shorter trip, and relatively low cost.
The cruise cost us each $429for 4 nightsjust a bit more than $100 per person per day including meals. We did pay $25 extra each for the meal at Chopsthe dessert was worth it!. I also purchased the "soda package" at $26 that provided access to Coke products at any bar, lounge, in the casino, at dinner, etc. Otherwise they are $3.00 plus tip each. My partner isn't a soda fan, so we brought some bottled water on board instead of forking over $4.00 for each little bottle of Evian that the ship will glady sell.
The casino was fine; I play blackjack and even though the rules of the casino weren't the most favorable for players, I walked away with $350 more than I started with; paying for almost 1/3 of the cruise.
For relaxation we found a nice shaded spot for two lounge chairs on the pool deck and enjoyed that spot for two days. We're not really "cruise people" in terms of the group stuff: the belly flop contest or Mr. Enchantment of the Seas contest didn't interest us in the least. The Park West Gallery Art Auction was interesting in terms of the items presented and the commentary about the artistshowever, there is so much controversy surrounding them and their practices (do a google search) that there is no way I would buy from them at sea. We toured the spa on the first day and found the prices to be a bit "high end" for what was being offered, and couldn't stop laughing at the look on the specialist's face when after she informed us that the facials were guaranteed for 6 weeks, I asked what exactly was being guaranteed, and how could I return the facial. She then informed me that I'd still have a "radiant look" after a full six weeksand she wasn't at all clear on how I would prove it if I felt that my look was "less radiant" or exactly what they would dorefund money or offer another facial, etc. We had a good time laughing about it, but it kept us out of the spa for the trip.
As I stated, this was our first cruise. In talking with others we learned that this was a smaller ship. We were told that if we enjoyed this at all that we would definitely enjoy a larger ship. We were also encouraged to try Celebrity, which may be a bit more to our taste. We're a gay couple, and weren't looking to meet other people per seso we had an enjoyable time. We ran into a few others on the boat, who mentioned a Friends of Dorothy gathering, but it was never listed in the itinerary or schedule. They did, however, list Friend of Bill W. meetings (Alcoholics Anonymous).
I suspect that we will cruise again. Not sure that we'll cruise with Royal Caribbean again, although, if I could find a good itinerary that visits several great diving ports in the Caribbean I could be influenced to do it, simply for the convenience of being able to dive several locations within a week. I'm excited to check out all of the other reviewsespecially on other cruise lines, to find out what might be a better fit for us.