Sorry it's a long review, but I hope you find it helpful! Cruise Critic was an invaluable planning resource for me and I just want to do my part to pay it forward.
Background: Family group of 14 with ages ranging from 24 - 64, my husband and I are in our late 20s. This was our first Royal Caribbean cruise. DH and I have previously cruised with Carnival and Celebrity. We sailed on the 5/23 Eastern Caribbean itinerary.
Day Before: Everyone traveled to Orlando from all over the country the day before our cruise. We stayed at the SpringHill Suites by the airport. The hotel had a free shuttle (you call from the airport and they pick you up within 10 - 15 minutes), swimming pool, basketball court, full (free) breakfast buffet, and comfortable beds. We liked this hotel a lot and definitely recommend it. There were lots of places within walking distance and their shuttle would also take you anywhere within a 2 mile radius. We walked to Tony Romas for dinner this night and enjoyed a delicious meal.
Day 1, Embarkation and Sail Away: Cocoa Beach Shuttle picked us up promptly at 10:00 AM. The bus was large, comfortable, nice, and air-conditioned. Our driver was very friendly. We picked up some other people at the airport and then we were on our way. Cocoa Beach Shuttle had the best prices around (including a 10% Cruise Critic Discount), they were willing to pick us up at our desired time, and they came highly recommended per Cruise Critic members. We arrived at the port around 11:15. Check-in was fast and smooth. We were eating lunch in the Windjammer before Noon. I thought the honey stung chicken was a bit over hyped, but it was still good - reminded me of KFC chicken.
Our staterooms were ready at 1:00 PM, so we dropped off our carry-ons and then explored the ship until the muster drill (some of us did not get our luggage until after dinner). After this we enjoyed being on deck for Sail Away. We had main seating (6:00 PM) on Deck 5 in the Galileo Dining Room, and we were very happy that they had a table big enough for the 14 of us! The Vidalia onion tart that they only serve on the first night is delicious!!! Raphael (from St. Vincent) and Bryan (from Colombia) were our waiters - they were very nice and it was sad to say good-bye to them at the end of the trip.
We attended the Welcome Aboard show which included a comedian and 2 AMAZING acrobats. We also went to the parade this evening - could not believe we were on a boat watching such a show at sea!
Stateroom - we had an interior stateroom in the aft of deck 6 and we really liked being close to the Promenade. Our room was above the dining room and below staterooms and we never had any noise issues. There was tons of storage (made me happy I didn't buy and pack an over-the-door shoe rack) and the room layout was space-efficient. The shower also had doors instead of the infamous attacking shower curtain. There were only 2 outlets, which were above the desk (none in the bathroom) and even though we had packed a power-strip we never ended up needing it. As with all cruises, we packed our own battery-powered travel alarm clock. There was a safe with a 4-digit code that you set, the room came with a hair-dryer (although I packed my own since I'm picky), and the bedside lamps had a neat swivel reading light so I never ended up needing my flashlight. We had our room attendant Elvis (he was great) empty our mini-fridge. In addition to regular live tv, we liked the clock & navigation and bridge-cam channels as well. The curtain that could separate the sleeping from the living area was very handy.
Day 2, CocoCay: To avoid tender lines, go before 9:30 AM or wait until Noon. The tenders do hold 300 people though, so if you are in line, it isn't too bad. We brought our own blow-up floats and enjoyed the blue waters. Our water shoes came in handy at this port. We also brought all of our own snorkel gear. Royal Caribbean requires a vest for snorkeling, so if you did not pack this it was $6.00 to rent. We were there during a low-tide so not all of the beaches appeared usable.
The lunch was not great and the reports of lots of flies and seagulls proved to be true. No big deal, we adapted and ended up grabbing lunch back on the ship at Cafe Promenade instead. We were back on board by 1:30 and enjoyed a semi-empty Solarium. If I had a do-over on this port, I would do the Flowrider in the morning, eat lunch on the boat, and then take the tender in around Noon.
Dinner tonight was the first Formal night. The food was delicious. We did not see many tuxedos or gowns, instead most people were wearing suits (or slacks, sports coat and tie) and cocktail dresses (like they were going to a night wedding). We went to trivia after, which was a blast, and then to the Production Showtime: Marquee ("A Tribute to Shows That Light Up Broadway") which I thought was okay. If you had to pick one show to miss in the week, this was it for me. The midnight adult comedy show was this night too (it was okay, but the onboard comedian(s) vary each sailing so no real point in reviewing).
Day 3, Day At Sea: We went ice staking in the morning (pack your long pants) - how cool to be staking at sea! We enjoyed the pool deck afterwards and the always-entertaining men's sexy leg contest. All 14 of us had dinner in Portofino - the $20, which includes gratuities, is SO worth it! This meal was one of the highlights of the trip. Beatlemania Live was the show this night and it was great fun. The 70s Dancing in the Street Party started at 10:30 - I would not consider this a "must-do" on the cruise, but it was still entertaining. We had fun but left early.
Day 4, St. Thomas: Getting off the ship this morning was when we noticed the 4,600+ passengers the most. With a late docking time of 11:00 AM, everyone was trying to get off the ship at the same time which was pretty hectic and crowded. We made it off the boat relatively quickly though and immediately hailed a taxi to Red Hook ($10/pp/ow, non-negotiable). We just made the Noon ferry ($6/pp/ow) to the beautiful St. John where we took a taxi to Cinnamon Bay ($7/pp/ow, non-negotiable, no entrance fee).
Words cannot describe how gorgeous it was here!!! When we first arrived at C.B. my jaw literally dropped and my breath was taken away. I cannot imagine a better way to spend a day in port. Some of us snorkeled and some of us floated on our bloat-up floats. With plans to take the 4:00 ferry back, we had just over 2 hours here. On the way to Cinnamon, Trunk Bay ($4.00 entrance fee) and Hawksnest Bay (no fee, and no facilities) looked gorgeous as well. I definitely plan on returning to St. John for a vacation! We packed our own bottled water and our own pre-packaged snack bars.
Four people in our group stayed on St. Thomas and did an open-air safari taxi tour of St. Thomas (nothing pre-booked, just a guy that was standing at the port). It was $35/pp and they really enjoyed the tour. They even got some beach time at Sapphire. I learned in St. Lucia that I am not a tour person (I think I'm the only one that didn't enjoy Cosol?!), so to each his own.
We all made it to our 6:00 dinner, some of us went to the Freedom Live Music Concert afterwards (a sample show that stars all of the musicians on the ship - Pedro the guitarist was great!), and then all of us went to the Ice Show (get your tickets ahead of time). I was actually disappointed in the Ice Show (the performers were noticeably lackluster about their performance) but really really liked the guest stars Olga & Dmitri. The Love and Marriage Game Show, which is always hilarious, was also this night too. I'm still laughing over the "B6" answer.
Day 5, St. Maarten (already?!): The weather was very overcast all day and it actually ended up lightly raining in the afternoon. It definitely did not put a damper on our fun though! Some of us went on the 12 Metre Regatta Sailing excursion (only available through the cruise line) and the rest went on Captain Alan's Beach & Snorkeling excursion. All of us agreed that we thoroughly enjoyed our activity selections and thought they were both well worth the money.
After sailing I enjoyed lunch in town with my Dad at Barefoot Restaurant. It had a great beachfront view, the service was fast, the beer was cold (love Carib!), and the burgers & fries were delicious.
This night was the magic show of Drew Thomas and it was a favorite! Two people from our group went to the Battles of the Sexes show that was afterwards and they said it was really bad.
Day 6, Day at Sea: We played mini-golf this day, watched the Men's Belly-Flop competition, watched people on the Flowrider, and when it started to rain (for only about an hour or so) we jumped in the cantilevered hot tubs. There were some sales on the promenade this day too (that we did not see the following/last day).
This night was the 2nd Formal Night, which was also lobster night (the best lobster I've had at sea). We took our formal group photo this was night too, which ended up coming out very nicely. Some people splurged with their onboard credit for this picture.
The show was Once Upon A Time (a "comedy musical") which was entertaining, and one of the lead singers is a true stand-out star. We also went to our very first Quest - a total MUST do! We laughed and laughed and laughed at this event.
Day 7, Last Day at Sea: We had perfect weather for our last day at sea. Today we rock-climbed (nothing like the feeling of ringing the bell at the top), boogie boarded on the Flowrider (it was SO much fun, and wear those shorts and t-shirts), did the Walk-for-Wishes (Royal Caribbean's opportunity to support the Make-A-Wish Foundation at sea, how great is that!), visited the Helipad/bow during the day and at night (go outside on deck 4, go all the way forward, then take the stairs to deck 5), and went to the FreedomFest (this is what replaced the midnight buffet, but too beautiful outside and too crowded in the promenade to stay there for long). Got lots of great Deck 12 lounging in as well (nothing like hearing the steel drum in the background while all you can see is the clear blue sky and water).
The dinner this night was our least favorite and some people ended up ordering a filet from Chops (extra $15, they said was very worth it) for their entrEe. The Farewell Show had the acrobats again (they are truly spectacular), a comedian, and a highlight video of our week.
Day 8, Debarkation: We had breakfast in the Windjammer, then went to the Promenade where our number was soon called. We went through customs quickly and then went to pick up our luggage, which was the start of a 1 hour and 15 minute ordeal. We had number 9, which the porters confused with 6, and our luggage ended up being spread over 3 of the 4 baggage carousels (which were spread over 2 un-joined warehouse rooms). A lot of our frustration came from the fact that no one tried to help us, no one cared, and when we asked for help we were completely dismissed. I do believe though that this part is the government-run port authority, and not part of Royal Caribbean.
In the future I will only do express debarkation, or I will pick an early number that cannot get mixed up with anything else, and I will take my time getting off the boat to ensure my luggage is waiting for me and not the other way around. Four in our group had number 16 and said their debarkation was quick and painless.
We took Cocoa Beach Shuttle back to the airport, which was also a completely different experience than Day 1. They seemed very unorganized about getting their customers and transportation paired up, and it took a while for "our" van to show up. Then, they stuffed 15 of us in a van (4 adults in the tiny back bench), with no air circulation, and a not-so-chipper driver. It was an unpleasant 50+ minute ride back to the airport, too bad too, because I really wanted to sing their praises after Day 1.
Four in our group with a late afternoon flight split a Day Room at the Hyatt at the airport. They said that was one of the best tips they got for the whole trip.
Miscellaneous Thoughts/Tips: - Our cruise director Allan Brooks was great! He was witty and energetic and had us laughing all the time. - Despite its size, you can feel motion on this ship. One day the sea had large swells and a member of our group got seasick. Take Bonine as soon as you don't feel well; the Guest Services desk has it for free. - Check your folio (SeaPass account) on your stateroom tv a few days before the cruise ends. If you have any disputes, note that they take 24 hours to clear. - We picked out a table area in the Windjammer and this was helpful for our group for breakfast and lunch. - If you pack your own soda or drinks, avoid cans since your checked bag will get shaken and tossed around. Our mini plastic bottles held up perfectly. - We made door decorations and got lots of compliments on them. It made the trip that much more festive. - Outside on Deck Four, close to the water, was one of our favorite places. - We booked this sailing through a cruise agency sale, and the onboard credit that was part of the deal came through exactly as promised. - One note with onboard credit, you cannot apply it to cruise enhancements (specialty restaurants, excursions, etc.) that you book ahead of time and were already charged to your credit card. - Post-It Notes came in very handy for requests for our stateroom attendant and to communicate with others in our group. - I was worried if I would like the water and coffee onboard, but they both tasted great. I never ended up needing my Propel drink packets. - Bring your own refillable water bottle. It will save you at least $4.50. Just remember to be sanitary and fill up cups first, then pour them into your bottle. - We brought a trash bag for dirty clothes. This really helped with packing at the end. - There were towels in the spa changing room in the gym that you didn't have to check out. - To get good seats we found that you had to get to the theater about 30 minutes early. - The theater shows are not necessarily Broadway or Vegas quality, but within the context of cruising, they are excellent, entertaining, and enjoyable. - If you're interested in the Spa, the deals got better each day. Booking ahead of time or on the first day will guarantee you pay the highest price. - Water wallets for port days were great. A lanyard for your SeaPass around the boat is nice too. - The ship did not feel as huge as I thought it would, but I think that is because it is laid out so well. I did have a WOW moment though the first time I saw the Royal Promenade. - We ate lunch at Sorrentos or Cafe Promenade (food not extra) as much as we did in the Windjammer. - I thought about packing a travel coffee mug, but while onboard I was happy I left it at home. I did not miss it. - While it has been on other ships, cigarette smoke was never bothersome. As far as I could tell it was only allowed in the casino, Olive or Twist bar, and one side of the outside decks. - All of the Solarium chairs were taken by 8:00 AM, but chairs anywhere on Deck 12 could always be found.
Overall, the ship is beautiful, the activity options are endless, the service is outstanding, the entertainment is fabulous, the food is good to excellent (yay - no grocery shopping, cooking, or cleaning for a whole week!), and the scenery is gorgeous.
This was the best vacation we have ever been on and we will definitely be repeat Royal Caribbean customers! We booked this trip last August, and even after months of anticipation, this cruise exceeded our hopes and expectations. Sooo Nice!