Since Cruise Critic was extremely helpful to me in planning this trip, I wanted to write a review in the hopes of helping others. On this cruise was DH & I (in our early 40s) my 2 boys (16 & 14) and my step-daughter (14). DH & I had an E2 balcony, and our kids had connection PRs across the hall. This was our 3rd cruise, 2nd on RCI (Explorer) and 1 on Carnival (Miracle). I booked this cruise in January, and received a few price drops over the beginning months, however we were unable to take advantage of all the great price drops during the last 2 weeks prior to the cruise because of the configuration of cabins that we needed. I was also able to cash in 125,000 VISA points for a free OV cabin and paid for a balcony upgrade. Then last minute I was able to cash in 15,000 points for $150 of OBC.
Saturday - 11/21 - We flew from JFK to MIA via American Airlines. JFK is my LEAST favorite airport, and I try to avoid it at ALL COSTS, however it was the one with the best flight times home and it was the cheapest. We used Avistar long-term parking, and have never had a problem with them. Our 10:30am flight was uneventful, and we arrived in Miami a little after 1pm safe & sound. We stayed at the Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay hotel, and while the hotel was fine for the one night, I probably wouldn't stay here again. Originally we had plans to go to South Beach for dinner but wound up at Bayside Marketplace. Both the Holiday Inn and InterContinental are within walking distance to Bayside, and I wish we had stayed at either one of these places.
Sunday - 11/22 - We were up early and went to find some breakfast. The front desk tried to steer us to Marriott's "cafe" but we wanted something more than bagels. When I asked if there was anything else in the area, I was told nothing opened until after 9am. When we walked next door we found a restaurant and a deli that both opened at 7am. The deli had the same food as the restaurant, but it was "take-out" and there were tables right outside. We arrived at the pier at 10:30, filled out all the forms, checked-in, stood in a line, then sat in a room, then stood in another line, were in group number 3, and were on the ship by 11:30. Now here is where I think Bayonne has Miami beat. In Bayonne, after you check-in you go to a very large warehouse room with tables and chairs to wait. We were able to sit, relax, eat cookies & drink lemonade while waiting for our number to be called. In Miami we checked-in, then stood in a long line waiting, then we were lead into a room with rows of chairs surrounding the perimeter of the room. No tables, nothing to eat or drink, just sat in rows while we waited. Then we were brought out of the room and then lined up to go thru a check point and THEN we got on the ship. While it was all painless, I think Bayonne handles it better.
The FIRST thing we did when we got on the ship was book a private lesson on the FlowRider for our day in Labadee. The computers weren't "up" yet, so my reservation wasn't able to be put in the computer nor was my seapass card able to be charged, but the woman who was working at the sports deck told us "not to worry", took down our name & room number, and gave us a "receipt". This proved to be a problem later in the cruise. After booking the FlowRider, we went for lunch at the Windjammer, food was decent and no one starved on this vacation. We were able to go to our cabins at 1pm and get rid of our carry ons. The kids changed into their swimsuits and off to the FlowRider. There was hardly anyone there and the kids got a lot of time and help from the staff.
Muster drill at 4pm, no life jackets required which was nice.
We had main dining at 6pm and had a FABULOUS waiter in Bernard, however his assistant, Sharon, was relatively new and has some kinks she needs to work out. There were several meals where she offered everyone a roll EXCEPT my husband, and he was sitting right next to me Or she would refill my water glass, but no one elses. Minor stuff to us, but I can see how other people could be upset by it. The food was fine, we aren't "foodies", and were able to find something to eat everynight. The kids really liked the Black Angus steak, and would have eaten it every night if we let them.
DH & I went to the welcome aboard show, nothing impressive. Our cruise director was Abe, and I wasn't that crazy about him. TO ME, he seemed to be trying to hard at his job. I'm not sure what it was, but I just didn't like him. Our kids headed to the teen clubs. The 14yos made friends immediately and we hardly ever saw them while we were on the ship. My 16yo didn't get much out of the teen club, but he's not as social as the 14yos are, and prefers quiet time.
Monday 11/23 - Sea Day - Sea days are probably my FAVORITE days on the ship. Sleep in late, wander around the ship, relax, etc. DH & I went to the main dining room for breakfast, food was good. Unfortunately this was the only day we made it to breakfast here. We didn't do much today. We had our Meet & Mingle at 10:15am today, but only 10 people showed up. It was nice to meet the few who did show up.
Kids spent a good portion of the day on the FlowRider, and we enjoyed watching them. While the kids were FlowRiding I went to confirm our reservation for the next day. Here is when the "don't worry your reservation isn't on the system" became a HUGE problem. Seems our time slot was given to someone else. At first the supervisor was trying to give us another time slot, during dinner, but I wanted to keep our original slot. He then offered to call the person who had our slot to see if he was "willing" to take another slot. Thankfully I had the receipt that I was given the first day that showed the time slot I was given and was able to keep our original time. So a BIG FYI...If you go to book a private session and the computers aren't "up" yet, make sure you get a receipt with your date & time on it, AND don't wait until the next day to go back and check, do it later that day
We went to the ice show before dinner...it was FANTASTIC We worth going to see
It was formal night and saw A LOT of men in tuxedos and women in gowns. Since we had to fly to Miami we decided to dress "nicely", but to leave the suits and dresses at home. We went to the production show and it was AWFUL, I mean REALLY AWFUL We never went to another show by the RCI singers & dancers the entire cruise.
On a side note, we were in cabin 7278, and noticed a sewer smell in the hallway near the cabins in the low 7300s. It probably lasted 2 days before it went away.
Tuesday - 11/24 - Labadee - The pier isn't complete, so we tendered in. The captain announced that it would be ready the next time The Liberty arrives in 2 weeks, but I don't see how. As we were tendering the kids saw the aqua park and wanted to go. Although we didn't pre-book this, I was able to pay right at the beach for them to go for one hour. They had a great time, and would have stayed all day if they could. We walked around to the other side of the island, the water was a bit rough and there were a lot of rocks. We didn't stay for the BBQ lunch. We only stayed a few hours since we had FlowRider reservations for early afternoon.
All I can say about the FlowRider is this....IT IS WELL WORTH THE MONEY TO RENT IT PRIVATELY Yes it IS expensive at $300 for one hour, BUT our kids had such a great time and I got some really amazing pictures of them. The kids learned all sorts of tricks, and my step-daughter even managed to stand and surf by the time the hour was up. DH & I went on for a short while, but after a few falls and bangs I had enough. The kids were sore and exhausted by the end of their time. Shaun & Mario were wonderful instructors, however the kids preferred Philip who was instructing at the FlowRider on Sunday. In hindsight, I wish I had requested him to do our private lesson.
We had dinner in the main dining room, then later at night went to the 70s dancin in the street party, which is a lot of fun.
Wednesday - 11/25 - Ocho Rios - We were up relatively early since we had a 9:30 reservation for the Chukka Canopy tour (zip-line) thru RCI. Once we got off the ship it was quite disorganized trying to figure out where to go. Then once we arrived in the correct building, trying to figure our where our tour group was meeting was CHAOS Our tour was finally called and off we went with Joe. He was very knowledgeable about Jamaica and talked the entire time he was driving us to the beginning of the tour. We went up this "one lane" 2 -way road, that Joe referred to as the "butt massager" due to all the pot holes. We arrived after a 30 minute ride , put on bug spray, were fitted for our harnesses and off we went.
What the description of the tour DOESN"T tell you, is the downhill hike you have to take to get to the first zip line. It was "stairs" (which were really just pieces of wood and sometimes tree trunks), lots of "stairs" all wet, some very slippery, and often at times steep. By the time we got to the first platform, my legs were literally shaking. However once we got past the leg shaking it was a BLAST I think there were 9 zips in total, some longer than the others, with 2 "surprises" and the longest being close to 200'.
We had zip-lined in St. Martin thru RCI last year and this was by far superior. Never once did we have to do ANY of the clipping in of the gear like we had to do in St. Martin. It was all done for us, with EVERY platform manned. I never once felt unsafe, and the people who were working there are very helpful & friendly.
After we finished, we had a ½ mile walk back to where Joe would meet us. By the end of the tour I was exhausted and the walk back felt like it was going on forever. There were refreshments for sale (soda, beer, chips) where Joe met us. Then he took us to the Chukka "village" where a lot of the other excursions (horseback riding, ATVs, etc) take place. This is where you can buy all the pictures they take of you on the tour, as well as a gift shop, bathrooms, bar & a jerk chicken stand.
When we arrived back at the pier, we decided NOT to go into town and head back to the ship.
Dinner tonight was at Chops Grille, and it was fantastic. The kids RAVED about the food, calling it "the best steak" they have ever had and my oldest son loved the broccolini (anyone know how I can get the recipe?). It was truly an enjoyable meal and I'm glad we decided to bring the kids with us to this dinner.
Went to the Love & Marriage show, which was fun as always.
Thursday - 11/26 - Grand Cayman - Thanksgiving - We had decided to make this our "relax on the ship" day. We slept in, had a relaxing breakfast, then DH & I went into port while the kids stayed on the ship. Did some shopping, and were back on the ship in 2 hours.
Tonight was the second formal night, and the only difference was they offered a full turkey dinner and not lobster.
I don't remember what we did at night.
Friday - 11/27 - Cozumel - Friday started out VERY EARLY at 3:30am when my youngest son woke up sick. I thought he was seasick since the water was a bit rough, but that turned out not to be the case. By the time we docked it was clear that my son was not going to be well enough to go into port, so DH took the other 2 kids to Paradise Beach and I stayed on the ship with my son. Even though it was a bit overcast, and chilly, DH & the kids had a great time at Paradise Beach. It was one of the kids' "must dos" on this cruise.
By the time dinner rolled around it was very clear that my son wasn't getting any better, in fact he was much worse, and off to the medical facility we went. They truly run a first class operation there. Even though there were people waiting to be seen, my son was brought right into the exam room. I think he was so pale they were afraid he was going to faint. The doctors & nurses were so kind to him and took really good care of him. Thankfully he was only in the facility for about 4 hours, and was given a clean bill of health the next morning. They do not accept insurance on the ship, so we did have to pay 100% of the cost out-pocket, but I'm hoping between our regular insurance and our trip-insurance it should cover 100% of the bill.
Dinner obviously was a wash, and I was very happy to get to bed tonight.
Saturday - 11/28 - Sea Day - It was sad to wake up tody and know we would have to go home to reality tomorrow. We slept in, had a leisurely breakfast in Windjammer, and relaxed during the day. We watched the kids ice stake, watched the kids use the FlowRider, watched the kids play ping pong, we watched the kids do a lot of things.
The "Liberty Food Festival" on the Promenade was fun to attend. A lot of different foods, and the food sculptures were amazing
We got to the dining room, SAT DOWN, and THAT is when the kids asked if we could go to Johnny Rockets for dinner. Needless to say, I didn't want to get up and be rude to our waiter, so we stayed.
After dinner it was back to the room to pack and put out our luggage. We caught the 11:00 late night comedy show (Jim David), and he was VERY good
Sunday - 11/29 - We were up at 6:00 because we had signed up for the luggage valet service and had to be in the 4th floor dining room BY 7:15. The valet service is something new and since we were flying on the Sunday after Thanksgiving we decided to spend the $100 ($20 per person) to have our luggage taken off the ship, and for us NOT to have to wait in the check-in line at the airport.
There are pros & cons to this service. For flights out of MIA, your flight has to leave AFTER 11:30, ours was 11:45, for flights out of FLL, your flight has to leave AFTER 1:00. We were in the dining room before 7:15am, and waited, and waited, and waited. It was close to 8am by the time we started walking off the ship. We cleared customs, got a taxi and were AT the airport by 8:35. The check in lines at American were HUGE, and it was nice to bypass them and walk straight to security. However, we now had to wait 3 HOURS for our flight to leave.
So while it was nice not to have to wait in the long line to check in, I'm not sure we'd do it again. We could have easily walked off well before 8am, and still made our flight.
We had an uneventful flight home and landed at JFK a little after 2:30. Vacation over.
A few thoughts and observations: - We REALLY enjoyed this cruise and the ship itself. I'm going to have a hard time convincing the kids to sail anything without a FlowRider. (That may be a good thing and DH & I go on a cruise just the two of us ) - The 2 14yos really enjoyed the teen club rooms, and spend a good amount of time in the evenings there. They even met 2 kids who GO TO THEIR SAME SCHOOL. They also made a ton of friends, and there was many tears shed as they all said good-bye. - The pizza at Sorrentos was good, and was great for a quick meal. There were MANY nights the kids went out to make a midnight pizza run. - I wish they would offer a few more flavors at Ben & Jerry's. - Our cabin was fairly close to being center of the ship, yet we were forever using the back stairs, next time, I'm going to pick a cabin a bit closer to them. - We went to a trivia game one of the last nights, and it was so much fun I wish I had found it earlier in the cruise and had gone to a few of them. - We WERE invited to the C&A welcome back reception (we are gold members). The captain spoke, Abe spoke, and there was a demonstration by 2 of the cruise's mixologists. Free drinks and canapes. - The kids received small RCI "messenger" bags, and while DH says we received them as well, I didn't find them when I unpacked.
So....will we cruise again...YES Will it be on RCI...Maybe.
The kids are asking (OK BEGGING) to go on Oasis, however, living less than 2 hours from the NY & NJ ports, I think we'll take a few cruises from "home" before we fly to FL again. The ease of being able to drive to the port outweighs the higher cost of the cruise. Now if RCI would bring a Freedom class ship to NJ, I'd be set.