Background Information: We are a cruise loving couple 49 & 57 years old with no children. This was our 32 cruise overall, and our first cruise on Royal Caribbean, but certainly not our last. We live in the San Francisco bay area and tend to cruise on the west coast to stay rather close to home, at least at this point in our lives. We have cruised the Mexican Riviera several times prior to this cruise on Princess, Carnival, Norwegian and Celebrity and have stayed at hotels in many of these ports before. Hotel Info: We flew from the bay area to San Diego the morning of the cruise so had no pre-cruise experience to report. We did stay one night afterwards at the Hyatt Grand Manchester Hotel, which is located right at the edge of Seaport Village and also within walking distance of the pier (although wouldn't attempt the walk with luggage). What a great choice, even though by the time the cruise was completed, we were ready to just come home. Although we didn't pay for the more expensive room, they were kind enough to put us into a bay view room with a great view of Coronado and the bridge. The train did wake us up a couple of times during the night, but we were warned of this. As mentioned, we were tired by the time we got back to San Diego (a bit more on that later) so kind of just wanted to go home. We did, however, venture out and did thoroughly enjoy the aircraft carrier museum that was located right next to the cruiseship pier. It was well worth the effort for these tired travellers. If you visit the visitor's center across the street from the cruiseship terminal, they sell the tickets for the museum at a slight discount. The real purpose to make a stop in there, though, is that they spend time with you to make sure you make the most out of your time in San Diego. Great tips to be had with very personable volunteers!
Travel To Port of Embarkation: As mentioned, we took the short flight from the bay area to San Diego the morning of the cruise. I love sailing out of San Diego as it is located within just a couple of miles to the pier so once you land, you are almost already there. We got to the pier to see our new residence for the next 11 nights by 11:00 AM. This was the only ship in port and we were pretty early in arriving so absolutely no crowds to contend with. We checked our luggage with the porters (inside the terminal) and proceeded to check in with no lines. After a speedy and efficient check in by a most friendly woman, we directed to the waiting area as boarding had not yet begun. Although the terminal is not the most comfortable one ever seen, it was clean and a Royal Caribbean representative kept us posted on when we could expect to board. We really only waited a matter of 45 minutes and we were well on our way onboard. Ship Info: Once onboard, we were not allowed to drop off our carry on luggage in our room (sometimes this is allowed), so had to drag it along up to the Windjammer to get a bite to eat and sit down. We were happy that the elevators all seemed to be operational and rather quick so we didn't have to carry the luggage up the stairs. Once in the Windjammer, we were rather surprised at how nice the tables and chairs were and also the separate food stations which really cut down on the lines. This could have been ugly because everyone had their carry on luggage, but seemed to move along seamlessly. As it did get later, the Windjammer got a lot more crowded and we were more than happy to share our table with some experienced RCCL pax that gave us tips on how to best enjoy our cruise. This is also where we met AP, a bar server that did her best to meet our request. We had pre-purchased a wine package and were inquiring about having a bottle brought to our table so we could celebrate our sailing. Alas, we were told that the wine had not yet been loaded onboard and we would have to wait until dinner to actually get one of our bottles. One improvement would be if Royal Caribbean would actually allow you to arrange for a bottle of wine in your room to sip during sail away, but it really didn't detract from our overall experience. Plus, it was so nice to meet AP in her attempts to help us out, that we made a friend which we enjoyed chatting with during the entire cruise. Once we were allowed (about 1 1/2 hours later) we made our way down to our room (more on that below) to drop off our luggage and tour the ship. We were greatly impressed by the layout of this ship and all the beautiful woodwork and nautical theme. Oh yes, and all the glass...it was so beautiful. She is certainly the prettiest ship I have ever seen. Nothing seemed to be awkward as we made our way around the decks. We really love ships this size, about 2000-2500 pax capacity and also love having an indoor pool. This area quickly became one of our favorite areas to hang out but spent a lot of time at the outdoor pool as well. We loved the layout of the ship and the ease of getting around. Everything was kept so clean and even though she is a bit older, things seemed to be kept in pretty good condition. The Centrum was fabulous and loved being able to enjoy the entertainment from any level....it never seemed crowded. There were lounge chairs of all different types throughout the ship on the outside decks, although they were packed in a bit tight and those small tables seemed to be nonexistent. However, you could always find a place for some solitude if you wanted. I also loved that aspect of this ship. The Aurora theater and lounges were of ample size and they never seemed overcrowded and we didn't have any trouble getting a seat for the shows or presentations. Oh, and the casino -- have to mention this as we also spent a lot of time in there, too. It was a decent sized casino, typical for a cruiseship. One side was supposed to be non-smoking but that never really caught on. It was fortunate for us that this was not a big smoking cruise even though a fair number of people did not seem to be from California. Formal nights were completely non-smoking so this was our entertainment on these nights. We found some great poker machines but were rarely open and got hooked on that machine that pushes the quarters off the ledge. Needless to say, we left a lot more there than we took out and it didn't seem like anyone was really winning much in there but this is typical for a cruiseship casino.
Activities: Cannot believe we missed the Quest activity, everyone mentioned it was a blast. Don't even know when this occurred but we had so much fun that we might just have to hit it next time around. They had some fun activities around the pool, which I love and a pretty decent band that played music from the Caribbean at the pool stage. The activity staff seemed to keep everyone smiling and laughing. We did play the rock and roll music trivia -- almost won, fell a couple of points short is all. That was great fun and met a nice family there as well.
Service: This is where Royal Caribbean excelled in my opinion. We had the best customer service of any cruiseline with only Celebrity coming close. I just cannot say enough about the service we received and as mentioned, we aren't Diamond members or anything close. We ran into a couple of issues while on the cruise which were remedied immediately!! One time, our toilet stopped flushing. We received a phone call within 5 minutes of reporting this stating the issue had been fixed and the girl that called offered to wait on the line while I checked on this to make sure we were happy. We also booked one tour that was a total bust, so much so, we took a cab back to the ship. Upon our return, we reported this to the guest relations manager and the tour charge was immediately removed from our shipboard account, as well as the cab fare. No second report necessary, it was immediately resolved. Wow, that is customer service. As mentioned above, AP fast became our favorite bar server. But there are many more staff members that seemed to go above and beyond. John, the MTD coordinator did his best to get us the table we loved from day 1 (as a matter of fact, only one night, he had to seat us elsewhere but still in the same station). Tao, the head waiter checked on us every night to make sure all was perfect and we were happy, happy. Well, how could you be unhappy when Ida (pronounced Eeda) and Davesther were our waiters at table 550. Every night, our wine glasses, white for me and red for my DH, were in proper position when we arrived to our table. More on MTD below. Idessy, our room stewardess and Nelson, her helper, were the BEST room stewards known to man. I cannot say enough about how they anticipated our every need. I like to have a robe for after I take a shower. She was kind enough to locate 2 spares for us to use and she didn't even take them away on the last night of the cruise as is done on some lines. She also made the cutest little family of towel animals, one per night, they kept gathering on the sofa and I ended up using them as holders for my reading and sun glasses. She would move them around from animal to animal to get a laugh out of me...which always worked. One day, I made eyes for all of the critters. We just had so much fun with her...where is she now when I need her so badly?? Ah, we were never in need of anything as she took such great care of us. Stateroom: OK...this is what is going to be hard to beat from here on out. We were on the elevator side of the midship hump. This was by far the nicest balcony cabin we have had in 32 cruises. The D1 categories are more like a mini-suite in comparison to Princess cabins, but without the high price. I like that the curtain actually spanned across the room so I could actually watch TV without disturbing my DS in the bed area. I did have to share the sofa with the 'family of towel animals' but they weren't disturbed too much. Our room location was perfect! We had an extra large balcony with 2 lounge chairs, two sitting chairs and a small table. So much room, we actually napped out on the balcony several times. The bed was quite comfortable as were the pillows. The bathroom was small but efficient. The shower was a bit too small (or are is cruising catching up with me?). I thought the tile in the bathroom was a nice touch and it was definitely a plus to have a medicine chest behind the mirror. We did encounter some brown or yellow water in the toilet (after flushing) from time to time and sometimes (but not too often) did have that nasty smell come up through the shower drain but didn't experience any of the other plumbing problems that we heard so much about on deck 7. This cruise seemed to really effect those on deck 7 with a lot of flooding reported. We really only had the 5 minutes of no flushing happen to us. Overall, we were really pleased with our room choice and especially that balcony. We only smelled someone's smoke a couple of times from other balconies. It really was not that intrusive at all. The ship seemed to be very stable overall, but the room creaked like crazy the first night out and the last night back. It was something me and the 'family' got used to, though, so really wasn't that much of a problem. The only issue was being woken up two nights in a row at the end of the cruise, which is why we were so tired by the time we reached San Diego and just wanted to go back home instead of extending our vacation by one more night. Anyhow, I don't begrudge the captain at all for having to interrupt our sleep for the missing person -- some stupid teenager named Keanna that was sleeping in someone else's room. No more needs to be said about that one ????, other than she really owed everyone an apology including the Captain, whom I am sure was also woken up in the middle of the night. The night before that, I believe, was a medical emergency ....don't really know why that announcement was piped into the staterooms, but it was. The, the very last night, there were pretty rough seas and very creaky noises in the room. Oh, all's well that ends well, though.
Dining: We are not extremely picky eaters although I do not eat red meat and my DS does not like fish. We found the room in the main dining room to be quite good and even though we usually do not go to the main dining room dinner every night on a cruise, we didn't miss it once on this cruise. As I mentioned, Ida and Davesther were our waiters and they were so fantastic, we looked forward to seeing them every night. Ida would give us his recommendations and we soon learned to not even bother ordering anything else. He knew what we liked and he was always right on the money. If we ordered something he knew we wouldn't care for, he gave us the cutest nod of the head and we knew we would be making a mistake. He was fabulous, as was Dave. They certainly do have a following, although Dave was taking his vacation right after our cruise. We loved our little table for two back by the kitchen. It was very cozy and we were so comfortable there. We never made it to one of the specialty restaurants but enjoyed the food at the Windjammer, the Seaview Cafe and the Solarium Cafe. Since we were in such a great location, we only got room service once, all the other times, we would just grab a cup of coffee and bring it back down to enjoy on our balcony. The one day we did get room service, it was quick, still hot and the man that delivered it was friendly and almost seemed shocked that we tipped him for the multiple trays of food he brought in. I am used to seeing them with their hands out on other cruiselines and of course we tip everytime we get room service, but for some reason, it didn't seem expected but appreciated from this one. As for the MTD, we were rather hungry the first night at around 6 PM. We waited in the MTD line for about 15-20 minutes. When we finally got to the front of the line, John explained that they were not able to accomodate us at this time (they were jam packed) and asked if we could come back around 8:15. This was really no problem for us as we knew the casino was open. We returned at the requested time and after figuring out the timing of the shows, we requested that same dining time every night at the same table. So, maybe not really 'MY' time dining but it really worked out well for us, nonetheless. I would imagine as more people like this dining option, it will be expanded a bit. I like the option to be available, which is why it took us so long to try Royal Caribbean.
Children's Clubs: Don't know about this option but there were several children onboard. A word to those parents that let their children run wild, and they were running wild....up and down the hallways, almost tripping people on the stairs and crashing into everything in site....nobody really appreciates this behavior. Why these parents didn't seem to be watching their kids was beyond my comprehension. Thank goodness this cruise spanned 2 full school weeks or there may have been a disaster onboard...even more so than the 16 year old sleeping(?) in someone else's room in the middle of the night.
Entertainment: We usually only watch one production show, which we did, and it was good. We always try to hit the comedy shows, the magicians and newlywed shows. The comedian was quite funny, we missed the magician but found the newlywed show to be very entertaining. I was glad to see it in a venue that seated several hundred people. We went to the hypnotist show, this was very good. Not everyone knew about it as it was in the afternoon but it was a fun thing to do. What I loved was the entertainment in the Centrum every evening. I thought it might be bothersome with our room being right at the edge, but as soon as the stateroom door was closed, it really wasn't noisy at all....although you could hear it faintly. The Asian singer had the most amazing voice, so if I heard her, I made a point of sitting at the library to watch from above. She also sang at the Captain's welcome party...simply awesome. I could listen to her forever. The guitar player was also excellent. There was a 70's show and dancing one night that was a riot. I loved the entertainment of the Centrum...never seen this on any other ship before and I was so impressed. We never went to the disco so cannot speak to this. We did enjoy the band that played by the pool.
Disembarkation: This went very smoothly for us. We headed to the Colony Club about 15 minutes before our departure time. They had tables with OJ, coffee and muffins for anyone that may have missed breakfast. They called our color/number and we disembarked about 15 minutes later than the anticipated time (which is excellent). We found our luggage and we out the door in no time. This time, there was another Carnival ship in port that was also disembarking, so a bit crowded out on the sidewalk. We did wait about 20 minutes to get a cab. If we were going to the airport, we would have caught the $5 pp shuttle, but we were staying the one extra night so did need the cab. It didn't seem like the others in line, from both ships, were aware of the shuttle service, as there was no line over there. So, maybe this is something that could be improved upon. Once in the cab, it was only a matter of minutes to get to the hotel. I think we were checked in and in our room by 10:30 AM....so really quick in actuality.
Summary: So, this was actually one of the best cruises we have ever been on, mostly because we loved the ship and the ship's crew and staff. We booked all our tours we took through the cruise ship due to all the recent problems with violence down in Mexico and aside from the one problem in Manzanillo, we really had a lot of fun on these excursions. If you are interested in the ports of call (I know this has been a very long review), I will include this below.