A couple months late, but better that than never, right?! The reviews and opinions that I found on this site were such a huge help in making my decision to travel with Atlantis, and by extension with Royal Caribbean, so I want to make sure and spread the wealth a bit and offer some thoughts.
Basics: I traveled with my partner of 7 years - I'm 30, and he's 40. I've traveled relatively extensively (Ecuador, England, Mexico), and have taken two "straight" cruises with my family, both on Carnival, on much older "dumpier" ships :). The Liberty (Royal Caribbean) stopped at Labadee (which is Haiti - just a week after the earthquake; more about that below), Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. It departed out of Miami - we stayed there a few days beforehand in South Beach (one of our favorite places - we found a wonderful new hotel, the Cadet - gorgeous, cheap, and great location).
There were two distinct parts to the trip: Royal Caribbean, and Atlantis/the Gay Charter. RCL is first; Atlantis is below that.
Disclaimer: The following review has a lot of negatives. I think these are important to be aware of for people who like to research their vacations before they take them. In no way did I have a bad time, nor did I have a bad attitude - I think it is VERY important to be laid back on vacations. I did, however, really appreciate some of the advance warnings that I found on cruise critic, namely the food and the ship's design. If I hadn't had those, I probably would have had a hard time with some of the things I experienced below. So thank you, and I hope this review can do something similar for others who travel with RCL in spite of, or because of, the experiences of those before them.
Overall Impression: When we received our comment cards at the end of the cruise, the very last question was "Will you travel with Royal Caribbean again?" My answer was "Probably not." The primary reason was because the Liberty did NOT, in any capacity, feel like a ship. I LOVE the sea, and the main thing that I love about cruising is the feeling of being in the middle of such a vast body of saltwater. On the Liberty, though, you had to hunt to find any kind of interaction with the ocean. There were no outside dining areas; the coffee shop (which was otherwise a really cool place to hang out) was buried in the belly of the ship, in the middle of the "Promenade," a mini-mall of shops and restaurants; almost all of the walking you did funneled you into the middle of the ship; you couldn't walk along the outside or across the middle unless you were on the topmost deck, and even then, to descend, you had to go back inside and take the elevator or the stairs. (By comparison, on Carnival, I could get almost anywhere without ever going inside.) This might sound like a minor detail, and to some I'm sure it is, but ultimately I felt like I was inside a mega-resort for the bulk of the trip. The front of the ship (the helipad), a beautiful place to sit in the dark and watch the stars, was closed almost like clockwork at nightfall (due to "high winds" which were certainly not in effect every night at 6PM on the nose). The one time I did manage to find it open, I was out there for about 20 minutes when a crewmember came and asked me to leave so they could close it. This was one of the few places to watch the water in front of you and feel the breeze with any kind of sense of quiet - there were a few other places, but they were in the middle of a lot of foot traffic and/or not really set up for sea gazing. Also, there was no place to lounge at the rear of the ship and watch the ocean sail away behind you; the upper decks were taken up by the Flowrider, and the deck below by the Windjammer (buffet). Most of the sides of the ship were glassed in instead of railed - there were very few places to grab a chair and a book, prop your feet up on the rail, and read, listen to the wind, and feel the breeze - the glass panels cut off almost all of the sea air. The pool areas both were walled off with large glass panels, so there was no "open to the sea air" area to swim. And this, to me, really detracted from the experience of being at sea.
Random Notes: There were, though, some things I liked about RC. The hands down best thing (and this sounds dorky) was the cookies. Holy cow, best cookies EVER. Cookies for the win! (And I love to bake, and I have to say, they were even better than mine.) They had these chocolate mudslide things that were available in the coffee shop that were dense, chewy, brownie-ish treats with delicious chunks of various goodies in them. And the oatmeal, coconut, and chocolate chips were all very tasty too.
I'm not a coffee drinker, but the partner is, and he said the coffee was fine. I love tea, though, and they had a REALLY nice selection of teas - green, chamomile, various blacks, all free, all the time, in the coffee shop.
The muster drill was awesome, too - no lifejackets, just hanging out in the dining room listening to instructions. We actually made the first of many friends just by plopping down at a random table and introducing ourselves, and that probably wouldn't have happened if we were all encumbered by lifejackets, hot, and sweaty.
The pools were nice, particularly that there was ALWAYS one open (also always at least one hot tub open). I thought, when booking, that this would hands-down win me over to Royal Caribbean (I'm a total water bug). The problem that I bumped into was the same problem I had with the ship as a whole - the pools were squeezed into the middle of the ship, like being in the center of a giant aquarium, and so I found that I didn't care to lounge in them like I had expected. (To contrast, on Carnival, there were hot tubs to the back of the ship that looked out over the water where you could see moonlight / stars / feel the wind - I closed those out almost every night, hanging out until they asked me to hop out.) So it wasn't as exciting as I'd thought it would be.
The spa was really cool, too. For Atlantis, they turned the women's locker room/steam room/sauna into a co-ed after 5 PM. The steam room and sauna were both large and nice, though for some reason the sauna was often turned off on one side or the other. Nice big fluffy towels, and lots of big showers, but eety bitty lockers for some reason. We wandered through the gym, but didn't use it. One cool thing about the steam room/shower/sauna area was that it opened off to the side to a outdoor sitting area (as long as you propped the door open with a towel so you could get back in). It was very pretty, but again, RC walled the entire thing off with glass panes, so there was no breeze at all, unless you stuck your head out one of the several window-sized openings.
The crew was hit or miss (keep in mind that this was a gay charter, so that may have influenced the general attitude). I really enjoyed chatting with Celinas at the coffee shop - she let me practice my Spanish with her whenever I ordered, and I made sure to mention her by name on the survey at the end of the ship (apparently name-dropping is very important if someone provides excellent service). Others were cordial, and many were reserved and almost sullen. I didn't get much in the way of warmth from most crew members, but there weren't any actual issues - just a general coolness. By contrast, on Carnival (both trips), almost everyone I bumped into had a warm, friendly smile and a hello for me, and the staff that I saw regularly were really nice and left a happy and welcoming impression. Big difference, but again, nothing really WRONG with RC's crew - they just were chilly.
I'm not a drinker, so I can't comment on the strength/quality of the drinks, though we did go out to the pub on the final night, and my partner ordered a round for us. He went in to get it (we were sitting at a table outside on the promenade) and tried to add an extra bit on for a tip (he's from the service industry, so always tips high). The man who was ringing him up, though, apparently got very harsh because he couldn't quite read the tip amount, and demanded that the partner re-write and resign everything. He didn't say thank you for the tip, he didn't give any reasoning, he just threw a bit of a hissy fit and sent the partner back on his way. Take that for what you will.
Room: We had an interior stateroom, and it blew Carnival's out of the water (granted, our ships on Carnival were much older). The shower was excellent - sliding doors instead of the customary curtain. Really nice. What wasn't as nice as Carnival was the one-stop shower gel - it felt like Suave ?. But fine for a few days - it just didn't have the indulging feeling of the typical spa-ish toiletries. The other random thing that was really cool about the room was the mirror placement. You could stand in the middle of the room and see yourself from EVERY angle. Which can be great, if you are feeling sexy, or can be freaky, if you ate too much at lunch and know there is a whole ship of beautiful men waiting outside your door :). There was plenty of closet room and drawer space, and a roomy little fridge (have housekeeping empty it of high-cost goodies for you).
Food: Some goods, and some really bads. The buffet area was really nice - awesome salad bar, which is what we ended up having most nights. Sprouts, cucumbers, peppers, cubed chicken, various cheeses, fresh mushrooms, tomatoes, etc. Awesome if you're a veggie person. And fun random desserts, though nothing close to the deliciousness of the cookies (note that the cookies in the buffet are NOT the same as the ones in the coffee shop). Also, the French fries were really good - almost like a seasoned fry without the seasoning. I'd read complaints about the burgers not being grilled - they weren't, but I still thought they were good. The best prepared dinner dishes were the Indian curries - without fail, they were very, very good. (I love Indian food, so I've had some exposure.) I asked one of the staff members, and he said all of the cooks are Indian, so that explains it. Also there was plenty of fresh fruit - one day they even had a bowl of kiwi, which I raided and stocked my room up with. If you're used to the standard American diet, though, I think you'll be disappointed - a lot of the meat, pizza, and various other prepared dishes I tried were gross enough that I didn't finish them. I pretty much stuck to chicken breasts, salads, burgers, and fries, but tried a little of almost everything.
We only dined in the main dining room twice. The first night, "Night Two," I started with lobster bisque and escargot (the first time I had escargot was on Carnival, and it was really, really good - buttery and garlicky and a great texture). This, however, was really, really gross. The texture was pure rubber, and it tasted like it was floating in margarine. The lobster bisque was inedible (and I don't say that lightly - I LOVE lobster bisque all ways - from cheap imitation lobster to high-end chunky); it literally tasted like they had boiled lobster shells and added a teeny bit of cream to the broth. Seriously, it was like shell water, and probably the most disgusting thing I have ever tasted (and I really mean that literally - I can't believe they were serving that to guests). For dinner I had the Eggplant Tower, which was ok - not remarkable. The mozzarella wasn't great, or horrible. I think I had a scoop of sugar free ice cream for dessert, which was fine.
The presentation of the food compared to Carnial (which was about five years ago, in all fairness) was very lackluster (as opposed to the dining room, which was GORGEOUS on RC but quite funky -bad funky-on Carnival. Though I will say Carnival's dining rooms had very lovely sea views.) The partner had truffle pasta, which was mostly creamy mushroom-flavored goo.
The service was very flustered, as though they weren't sure how to handle the "Seat as you choose" timing. We felt rushed, and had servers hanging over our shoulders waiting for our order - it was very, very chaotic. And I'm not at all picky about service. My partner ran a restaurant (local, family owned, casual-upscale) for ten years, and was horrified at the service, and very uncomfortable. I have no idea if this is a RC issue or just a "getting used to random dining times" thing, but either way, it was very, very distracting.
So here, let me just interject that dinner on Carnival was one of my favorite parts of the trip (both trips). I love to cook when I'm at home, and LOVE it when I don't have to, and love to try new and different things, and NOTHING on Carnival that I tried grossed me out. Some things I wasn't fond of, taste-wise, but there was nothing that was repulsive or inedible (the lobster bisque and the escargot). And that was eating all seven nights of both trips in the formal dining room, trying multiple entrees, appetizers, and desserts each night. For the first dinner experience to be bad enough that I did not care to try it again for the entire cruise should say something significant. Between the food, the service, the presentation, and the chaos of the free-for-all seating, it felt like an enormous waste of time. And I say that without a bad attitude or hostility - it just felt like a really dumb way to spend vacation time. So for the next four days we ate in 20 minutes at the buffet (another comparison note - Carnival's buffet area had lots of outside seating, which I LOVED - it was my favorite place to eat lunch or late night snacks), and were perfectly happy.
On the final night, we ventured back into the lion's den, not because we wanted to give it another chance, but because we had made some wonderful new friends that we wanted to dine with. We tried to get Portofino's reservations, but they were full, so main dining room it was. (The partner is vegetarian, so Chops obviously wouldn't have been all that fair ? ). This night the food was definitely ok - edible and tasty in a wedding banquet kind of fashion. BUT. We also asked the server what dish he recommended (NY Strip) and all ordered that (except the partner, who ordered the Rice Briyani). It still wasn't as good as Carnival's food was, but it was fine. The service was on the absolute other end of the spectrum - instead of being rushed, it was slow slow slow. Which was fine for us, because we were enjoying the conversation and time to get to know new friends.
The other major thing that happened, though, that put me off RC dining entirely, was a wine issue. We ordered a $65ish bottle of wine for our table (the partner ordered, and I watched him do it). He said it by name, AND pointed to it on the wine menu. And the reason I watched him was because we'd borrowed a wine list before hand to go over it to try and figure out which one we wanted to treat our new friends to. So we ordered the wine, and the server brought it to the table, opened it, and passed it around, and we thought nothing more. Actually, I thought nothing more of it until three hours later when we finished dinner. My PARTNER, however, thought nothing more of it until the bill came and was for $167. Because the server had served us the extremely pricey Reserve bottle. Now, maybe this is just us, but I would have responded the same way my partner did if this had happened to me at a dinner with new friends, when you are treating them to a bottle of wine: I would have signed the receipt and not said a damn thing. And that's what he did. But, telling me about it later, he said that it is well known within the server industry that you most often will get away with sneaking an expensive bottle in in place of the same-label cheaper version.
Ultimately we didn't complain to anyone, mainly because the partner and our friends really had enjoyed the wine (apparently it was quite good - my wine palate isn't so experienced, so I couldn't say for sure), and we didn't want to add any more drama to the experience. So we were fine with paying for it. But it happened, and I think that is something to be aware of for those who are reading reviews. And there is NO WAY that it happened by accident.
I tried the flowrider, but not the rock climbing wall - I'm not really sure why I didn't, because I love rock climbing at home. I think I was having more fun meeting people in the Atlantis crowd, and the sports activities were less important. My main impression, though, was that it was a great setup for kids and families, but not so great for those into being on a ship. It was prime real estate used up - it takes up the entire rear of the ship. So, make sure you select a ship based on what you enjoy.
We did one RC excursion, to the ruins at Tulum, and it was very nice - organized, well-run, entertaining, and, most of all, beautiful. Tulum, and the beach below it, are absolute paradise. (I can't contrast any Carnival excursions, because we never took one through the line - they were all private.)
Labadee was the other situation where RC really impressed me - not so much because of the island (which was much prettier than Carnival's), but because of the earthquake. RC mentioned it again and again, and left donation envelopes / forms in the rooms from the first morning on. It was brought up at every gathering that I attended, asking to please help, and noting that a) all excursions purchased at Labadee would 100% be donated to Haiti; and b) RC would match any donation you made. (Atlantis also had similar programs going on.) So I in no way felt like RC ignored the situation. They let us know they were bringing crew and supplies along with us, and asked us again and again to help. I think they did the best they could with the situation.
The island itself was pretty - we hiked the trails around to check out the interior. The beaches weren't as pretty - the prettiest had become a private beach for suite guests (though if you follow the trails you wind up there anyway and bypass the gate). It wasn't anything spectacular, and I probably wouldn't get off next time - it was prettier sitting on the top of the ship enjoying the breeze and watching the island.
In summation, RC didn't wow me as a vacation experience (particularly considering they're more expensive than most), though as a company handling a crisis, they did. The food was mostly a mess, the crew wasn't particularly warm or enthusiastic, and the ship felt like a giant mega-resort. Don't expect to go on the Liberty or its sister ships, or the Allure or Oasis, and feel like you are on the sea. You won't. You'll feel like you are in a mall.
Being on a Gay Charter:
This was the first time either of us had done a gay charter. We come from metro Detroit, where there is not a dearth of gayness - we have a gay coffee shop, gay bookstores, bars, clubs, restaurants, etc. So I wasn't entirely sure what to expect - more of Detroit, all squeezed on a boat? In my experience here, it can be difficult to meet gay guys other than at a bar or club, and I'm not a big drinker, so I was hoping that the socializing aspect would be a little more open and interactive.
We bookended the trip with a few days in Miami, which was a really nice way to de-stress before the cruise. I had originally planned on cruising first, and then chilling in Miami afterward, but due to work timing issues, we had to flip it. And I'm really glad we did, because the entire experience can be summed up as overwhelming. But in a wonderful way.
When we pulled up to the pier in Miami, there were Atlantis flags flying all around, and -already- men, men, everywhere. Big men, little men, hot men, average men, and, most of all, men with LUGGAGE. OMG, so much luggage, everywhere. We travel really light - just a backpack each - but it was really cool to see the literal TOWERS of trunks, bags, packs, sacks... most of which were bejeweled with sparkles or glitter.
So we went inside after being greeted by an Atlantis rep. If I thought there were a lot of men outside, it was NOTHING to the line of guys waiting to get onto the ship. This was the first real moment of really being aware of how MANY guys we were going to be surrounded by. And it was nothing like Detroit, even at a Pride festival. It was obvious here, and became more so throughout the trip, that people in the same city can become similar to each other. We got checked in in all of five minutes, and walked over to get in line. I think that everyone was feeling a little nervous, because we were all furtively checking each other out but looking at the floor when we got caught looking. It takes a while to realize that you're allowed to look - that everyone is, in fact, a raging homo.
We were in line for a bit before we got on the ship, then walked up past four very hungry-looking German Shepherds, through customs, and over the gangplank.
A little bit of background on us: I'm the flirty, open, chatty one, while the partner is more quiet, shy, and reserved. All of my friends growing up were straight girls, while his were all straight guys. So we had two distinct reactions to what happened next: Rich (owner, I think, of Atlantis) was waiting for us across the gangplank to "lei" us with our Atlantis lanyards... and give us each a huge kiss on the lips. To me, this was standard protocol. It startled the hell out of my partner, though. (Not in a negative way - just in a completely unexpected way.) He said he tried to scoot around, but Rich said "No you don't!" And grabbed him and smooched him. Which cracked me up. Mainly, though, I mention this to just let newbies know the flavor of an Atlantis trip. If you come from a small town, or don't have a lot of gay exposure, be prepared to be a little stunned. (But, imo, it is a very good thing.)
After this, the camera people snagged us, and, just to be a bit of a brat, I also gave my partner a big kiss on the lips, which made him all the more flustered (which is part of what I love about him). And then we were free to find our room.
I reviewed everything about the room and the rest of the RC experience in the regular RC forum area, so check that out if you want to read about the ship or the company itself.
Atlantis had left us a wine bottle as a welcome gift, which was really nice. We got unpacked (pretty quickly, as it was only backpacks), and put up our door decorations.
All unpacked, we went off to explore the ship and seek our destiny. The first impression, after the overload of people who were in line, was that there didn't seem to be many people onboard. Later we learned that the ship hadn't come anywhere close to selling out - we heard anything from 2000 to 2400 people (while it's designed to hold 3400, I think), so we were only at about 60 - 70% capacity. So it felt a little bit like a ghost town at times.
We did the muster drill when we were called, and met our first new friend at our table (he handed us a business card with his room on it, which had sounded cheesy to us before going; having been, though, I would absolutely take them on the next one. They were really handy to give your contact info to someone you might not bump into again on the entire cruise, but would want to be able to e-mail).
The sailaway was the first time everyone congregated up on deck, and it was really neat. There was good dance music playing (see below), and the sun was setting, and it was warm and breezy. We chatted with a couple from Miami while we watched the city sail by, and took pictures of each other. We stayed out on deck until the sky was completely black, just enjoying the sea air (from Michigan, so we'd come from a nasty winter).
There was a "Welcome to Atlantis" session with Malcom and our cruise director (Abe). They had a light, funny repartee, similar to a drag queen comedy show. The info wasn't anything that hadn't been covered on Cruise Critic or in your trip prep documents, though, so it isn't a critical meeting by any means.
After the intro, it was time for Pam Ann.
And here I would interject - to anyone new to cruising, one of the trickier things about it is learning how to time things, because things are not available all the time. You have to be aware of when you want to have dinner, or when you have to be at a certain show. For example, in this case, we hadn't eaten dinner yet, but didn't really feel like hoofing it all the way back to the dining room, then all the way back to the theater for the late seating for Pam Ann, and in so doing ended up missing dinner the first night. It can feel kind of chaotic at first, because we are not really used to being under time constraints, especially when on vacation. So give yourself a bit of padding room, and be sure to identify the "must do's" and schedule your day, at least tentatively, around those things.
Before Pam Ann came on, Malcom and Abe introduced the whole Atlantis crew, letting us know that they'd be around to chat with us and help us out if we needed anything, as well as to seat us at dinner.
Pam Ann's show was a hoot - she's very cute and funny, and a bit nasty. She called a few people up from the audience as well, so watch out if you sit on the aisles on the lower floor.
She ran long, though, which was why dinner was closed when we made it back. So we grabbed a slice of pizza at the pizza bar, and people watched and chatted on the Promenade.
It wasn't much longer before the first dance party started - Manny Lehman in an indoor converted Ice Rink. Other than the people, this was what I was most looking forward to - I LOVE dancing, and if the music is good, I can dance for hours and hours in a happy little place of sweat and joy. (I don't drink or party, though, so keep that in mind when you read my opinion of the music). I wasn't sure what to expect - the only "circuit" type party I'd ever been to was the White Party in Miami, and I hadn't been terribly impressed with the music there.
And, unfortunately, the music was very similar here. I can dance to lots of different types of music, but there are a few things I need - good vocals, good melody, or great, high energy synths. I don't mind darker atmosphere, or minor chords or edgy music, as long as there is a vocal to go with it. What seemed to be the standard, though, throughout most of the dance parties here, were sparse, tribal, heavy beats with little melody and broken vocals. And I can't keep the energy up long enough to that type of music to dance all night. So I was bummed. We gave it about an hour, and then wandered over to check out the other DJ going, Paul Goodyear in the Catacombs (a REALLY cool, dungeon-like space). The music there was more vocal, but unfortunately we were the only people there except for one really ambitious dude who was shaking his butt all by his lonesome in the middle of the floor (you go, ambitious dude). So we went back to Matty's party to see if maybe the music had changed. After five or six songs, we figured it hadn't.
So we went to grab some food at the late night buffet (which Atlantis keeps open from 1am til 5am - great policy! We used it almost every night.), and to assimilate our first night.
From here, the week gets kind of blurry - a lot of the experiences run together, so I'm going to switch to generalizations and random thoughts.
Overall impression: First and foremost, what I learned from this cruise, is that there are SO many different ways to spend your time on your vacation, that it is CRITICAL that you take the bull by the horns and identify what you like to do, and then go do it. I, for example, realized only by the third or fourth day that my favorite "people meeting" times were a) lounging around the pool and b) chilling in the coffee shop with some green tea. So if you're not really feeling the show you're sitting at, or the dinners bore you, or the music isn't your style - go track down another, better, more "you" place to be - because they're out there, and most likely, someone else will be doing it too, and you'll make a friend.
Second, BE FRIENDLY!!! Say hi to people, sit down next to people you don't know, ask someone what they're reading or listening to, or ask about their Kindle and how they like it, or whatever.
Third, be prepared for stressful things to come up in your brain, and take time to sort them out. I don't know if this was just us, but we went through a TON of different negative emotions on this trip - from feeling shy, to unattractive, to isolated, to freaked out, and on and on ad nauseum. But by the same token, I learned MANY wonderful things about myself, about my partner, about our relationship, and about being a gay man. If you can be open to and ready for the overload of being around so many people who are "like you," I think you can keep the negative feelings open enough to look at them and let them go as needed. Maybe not everyone will go through this - but if you do, try not to feel isolated from the wonderful community of people that are around you. Realize that even the bitchy party boys or the 80 year old kind of creepy staring guy are part of who we are, and try to accept them even while you realize you don't have to spend your time around them. There was such a wonderful opportunity to feel a oneness and a unity, and it would have been easy to miss that with our gay tendency toward being bitchy or judgmental.
I mentioned above the first of my music thoughts. In case anyone is curious, here were the DJs:
Wayne G, Dog Tag T Dance, Poolside DJ Abel, Lost Island Party, Poolside Wayne G, Late Night Lost Island, Inside Paul Goodyear, Just Dance, Poolside Guy Smith, 80's, Inside Manny Disco T Dance, Poolside Wayne G, Through the Looking Glass, Inside Able/Manny Lehman 90's Divas, Poolside Anthony, Hip Hop, Inside Goodyear/Rosabel White Party, Poolside Wayne G, White Afterparty, Inside Goodyear, Splash T Dance, Poolside
I spent about an hour at each of the parties above. If they were outside, I was mainly standing on the top deck watching the moon and stars and listening to the music; if they were inside, we'd grab a chair and just listen to see what type of music was being played, to decide if we wanted to go elbow our way into the dance floor. The one party that did get me shaking my booty was the Alice in Wonderland party, which had some AWESOME costumes (well done, boys! *golfclap*). There was a 7-foot tall Queen of Spades, a sexy Tweedle-dee-Tweedle-dum couple in suspenders and beanies and knee socks, various Alices, and more and more and more. I myself wore just a pair of red and white heart boxers, buttoned to prevent pop-out incidents. The music was good enough that I danced for an hour - it wasn't spectacular, but it was vocal and melodic enough that I could get into it for a while.
It is worth noting, though, that a circuit party seems to not be so much a dance floor of actual DANCING but instead a shoulder-to-shoulder sweat-and-sway fest. There wasn't a whole lot of dancing going on (though I move a LOT when I dance, so that might be just my perspective). I cleared out a little corner right next to the speaker to have a little bit of room to move, but just be aware that it can be claustrophobic and very, very snug. Maybe that's why the music was consistently not super-high energy? People probably would have been knocking each other out left and right with flying elbows and shaking rumps.
Most of the music was along the same lines - dark, not much melody, not a lot of vocals, and, to me, not a lot of life. So I ended up skipping out after just a bit of time at most of the parties. Even the 90's diva party, which I expected to be a scream-along fest of claws and indignation was strangely subdued musically. I felt like I could have plugged my ipod into a speaker system and hit random and generated a better set list - that said, though, the dance floor of the main parties were always packed, so maybe it is just what I prefer.
Regardless, we left when we got bored, and went and had other wonderful experiences, so it was fine, but I wouldn't go on another one expecting to dance the whole trip - the music was too consistent through the various DJs for me to expect a massive change.
Regarding the shows, the only one we saw was Pam Ann. Roseanne (Barr) was our special guest, FYI. Neither of us is a fan, so we didn't make it a priority to go see her. Pam Ann was funny, but I prefer to be outside whenever I can on cruises, so those weren't a priority. Many guys said they were great, though.
The dining experience on Atlantis was... weird. I've taken two other cruises, both with large groups of my family, so haven't ever done the "cruise dining" thing where you eat with random people. On Atlantis, all of the seating is open time, so you go whenever you want (which I understand is how it is on most cruise lines, as well). A group of Atlantis staff greet you at the door... sort of. The three times we went, they basically were standing there chatting, and just sort of waved us in through the dining room doors, handing us over to a weird assembly line of RC staff who were talking in hushed voices through walkie talkies. From what I understand, they're supposed to ask you if you want to sit by yourself or join another table. This didn't happen. The first night, they just sat us with two other guys, who had already ordered, so the timing was strange. Conversation was a little awkward, partially because it was the first night, partially because it is a very intimate setting to just start chit chatting, and partially because (see my RC review) the staff FLEW us through ordering to try and catch us up to the guys at the table. So we felt like we were messing up their timing, and that in turn made us nervous... it was not the calm, warm dining experience I'm used to, both on trips and at home. Once it got going, though, it was cool - the guys were really nice, and we ended up saying hi to them several times throughout the trip. The second time we tried it, the Atlantis staff barely even acknowledged us. So we walked in and I told the RC staff that we'd like to join a table (figuring the first time would be the most awkward, and that it was bound to smooth out). So, they sat us... at a table for two right in the middle of the floor. I tried to turn around and tell the staff we wanted to sit with a group, but they'd disappeared. So I figured we'd wait a bit and let the server know when he came over. 15 minutes later, we hadn't seen anyone. So, we left. I debated asking to sit with someone else at the front door, but I was kind of flustered by this point, and needed a few minutes to chill.
Maybe this type of situation wouldn't be hard for everyone; I'm not sure. It was for me, though - it felt really shy to join a table for dinner, and to have it be compounded by flustered, ungracious RCL crew and uninvolved Atlantis staff made it really uncomfortable. Now that I've had some time to think about it a little, I would be fine on the next one being more direct and vocal with the staff, but I think that there are much better ways to handle it. If, for example, the Atlantis staff were to bring you to a table, introduce you, and play hostess just a bit more, I think it would be fine. And that was what I'd been expecting from the way they described it in the brochure, but that wasn't what happened. The Atlantis staff wasn't involved at all. I'm not sure if it is always like this, but I was bummed to see it handled so bluntly. But, again, you get over it and just sort of plow your way through. It just could have been much more gracefully and elegantly and warmly handled, especially for the newbies.
That was my general take on Atlantis as a whole, too - the experience was so fabulous more because of the ship full of gay men. I didn't really notice Atlantis adding a lot. The main functions I was looking to them for (the music and the meals) didn't do much for me. But they certainly set up a wonderful arena to meet people, have fun, and learn about yourself.
I'd read before we went that this trip skewed younger that the March one, or the RSVP trips. It did feel young (and I'm 30), but the interesting thing was that most of the people we talked to said it was very, very subdued compared to past January ones, because there weren't as many young guys (presumably because of the economy). So I can only image what an extra 1,000 horny 20-somethings would do to the atmosphere.
My take on it was that the bulk of the people were there for the parties. The crowds were much heavier at the dances than they were in the morning around the pool or at the coffee shop. So take that into account if you book the January cruise - it is a party ship, for sure.
Another interesting thing was that Rich said that 50% of the crowd was foreign, which was apparently also unusual. I liked this, myself, but I heard a few grumbles from the US guys.
The one excursion we did was to Tulum in Cozumel. It was a lot of fun - kind of like a gay summer camp bus trip. Beautiful ruins. We did it through RC, mainly to have an all-gay trip; we weren't rushed or herded or anything. (We'd already been to Grand Cayman for the stingrays on a previous trip, but if you haven't, DO IT! They're incredible.)
Final Thoughts: This really was a special trip. We met many wonderful people, and beyond that, came home feeling full of pride and happiness. Travelling (for us) has always been about learning about ourselves and each other, shaking things up, and having fun - this trip, though, added that travelling also is about being around your peers and feeling the amazing feeling of belonging to a very special group of people. And that adds an element that we realized we want to cultivate as much as possible in our daily life, because it was such an invigorating and affirming feeling.
If you're debating whether you should go, whether you will fit in, or whether you will like being around such a large gay population, I would say the most important thing is to honestly evaluate your ability to cope with new things, and to have a positive attitude even when things get confusing or a little overwhelming. If you can stay positive, and find affection for those around you even if they're different, and see the joy in learning about new people and new things about yourself, you will definitely come home changed for the better, and enriched by your time on Atlantis.
We're already booked on next winter's RSVP trip. I want to try them out and compare, but would certainly not be against booking Atlantis again either. The January cruise next year is on the Allure, which looks way too big and resort-y for me (the Liberty felt like a mall as it was), and their winter one goes out of San Juan, which sounded a little too complicated for a quick winter break (besides which I like to hang in Miami before or after), so we're doing RSVP. (Also, RSVP's special guest this year was Jennifer Coolidge - OMG, she beats Roseanne to a PULP!!! "WE BOTH LOVE SOUP, GIRL!!!") I'm hoping the crowd is a little more present during daylight hours, and that the music is a little brighter, but even if not, I'm sure it will be fabulous.