The embarkation process went quite smoothly. Despite a relatively long queue, the line moved quickly and we were soon enough at the counter completing paperwork. After a couple of obligatory photos in front of picture of the ship we meandered our way up the gangway and onto the ship. The mood on the ship was quite subdued compared to the embarkation process on a Carnival cruise. Soft piano music was being played in the Centrum area, and the tone of the atmosphere was far more elegant than our experience on Carnival. We proceeded to the Windjammer for lunch and enjoyed a nice meail overlooking downtown San Diego. Compared with some of the industrial areas in which ships often dock, this setting was absolutely serene.
Fortunately, my wife and I are very patient travelers, and it takes a lot to get us out of a good mood on vacation. We figure if you're going to be upset on vacation, why bother going. Well, at about 4pm on embarkation day, I get a call in our stateroom from Guest Relations. The kind woman on the phone tells me that there was an "incident" with one piece of our luggage. She stated that she couldn't tell me what happened but that I needed to go down to Deck 2 to speak with a ship representative. I promptly went down and met a gentleman who was standing over one of my wife's bags. Water was seeping vigorously from all sides of the duffle. The gentlemen proceeded to tell me that an entire pallet of luggage had fallen into the water as they were loading it onto the ship. My first thought was how in the heck did they get the suitcases out of the water. Do suitcases float? In any event, the good news is that it was retrieved. The bad news was that all of my wife's evening clothes were drenched in smelly bay water. It looked like we hardly got the worst of it though as another guest was down there at the same time with what looked like his entire luggage portfolio soaked in water. The ship did dry clean everything and hand deliver it to our room. We didn't really press the issue either, figuring it was just an accident. As long as there was no damage to anything, no harm no foul.
Meals on board the ship were acceptable but largely unremarkable. The Windjammer always had a sufficient selection for the kids, but none of the entrees were outstanding. The hamburgers sat in chafing dishes for long periods of time, and the pizza was mediocre. The kids always found plenty of things to eat, however. We ate in the formal dining room 6-7 times throughout the trip for dinner. The service was friendly but slow. The waiter and assistant effort made strong efforts to interact with the children and were very genuine with their attention. The service was just painfully slow, however. By the end of the cruise, I made the habit of stepping out of the dining room to get a glass of wine at the bar, because I knew it might not come until dessert if I ordered it at the table. The Cascades menu was about what I expected, and the food was delicious for the most part. Having read a few other reviews on cruisecritic.com I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food.
We have sailed on Carnival before and were excited to try Royal Caribbean. As I mentioned, we have several children, and we were curious to learn the differences between the various cruise lines, particularly with respect to the quality of the childrens' programs. The "Adventure Ocean" program is top notch. Our kids loved the activities and the staff. "Grandpa" was my son's favorite. It's obvious that the staff loves their work and takes it very seriously.
The entertainment on board was very good. There was plenty of live music every night. I particularly enjoyed the classical guitarist that frequented the Schooner Bar. The headliner shows were also very solid. The Matthew Fallon magic show was Vegas-quality, and the virtuouso pianist was outstanding. We made a point of missing the shows at which the staff dancers perform. It's just not our thing, but others seemed to like it.
All-in-all the cruise was outstanding. Honestly, a lot would have to go wrong for us not to have a good time. The ship was beautiful, the food was acceptable, and the staff was friendly. A couple of parting thoughts, though. Yes, we did notice the "sewage" issue on the ship. The vacuum system was inoperable for about 2 hours while docked in Acapulco. We had to jump from bathroom to bathroom to find a clean toilet for my son to use. There were also a number of times when the smell of sewage was obvious on different parts of the ship. Also, why does RCCL leave ports so early? When on Carnival, we stayed in Puerto Vallarta until 10pm. I think the latest we stayed at any port was 5:30pm with RCCL. Based on the travel time to/from some of the ports of call, there seemed to be plenty of time to allow guests more time on shore.