Background: This was mine and my husband's 6th cruise, but first on Royal Caribbean. We've sailed Carnival and Princess. We're 24, and 27, and we were traveling with my mom (62) and my aunt (59) and uncle (59), and all three were first time cruisers.
EMBARKATION: Was ok, but could've been better. Upon arrival, we were sent through the metal detectors and given number 36, and told to go to another room, and that we could not get on the check-out line. We went in the room, and soon after, we saw a group with the number 36 getting up and proceeding to check-in. When we tried to get up, we were told no, and that they were not being called by number and that she was going by "who she recognized as being there". This worker (Diane) seemed particularly confused and there were times when there was no line for check in, but Diane was chit-chatting with different groups for maybe 10-20-30 minutes and not calling anyone! Diane finally told us to proceed to check in, where we realized that everyone coming through the metal detectors was getting straight on the check in line and not even coming into the room we were in. Therefore, there were people in front of us with WAY higher numbers than us. A minor setback, and we didn't care much because we had to wait for the shuttle bus anyway, so no rush, but this is something that should be worked on. Also, my dad cancelled the cruise a week before, and we received the receipt from our travel agent showing my dad as cancelled and my mom still active and by herself in her room. However, when she tried to check in, we discovered that Royal Caribbean had accidently cancelled both my dad AND my mom. Supervisors and other staff were called over and after 20 minutes or so, the problem was fixed. Everyone involved was very apologetic and we were still satisfied with the embarkation process.
SHIP: The ship was absolutely gorgeous. The layout was nice, everything was clean and well manicured. The only thing I did not care for was on deck 12 - it consisted of a jogging track and tons of deck chairs and there was limited space to maneuver around the deck. It was fine because I found other areas of the ship to just look out at the water. I loved the observation point at the front of the ship, and was shocked that they let people out that close to the front of the ship. We hung out there a lot during the cruise, and it was great when coming into port.
SERVICE: No competition. Royal Caribbean blew all our other cruises out of the water (pun intended). The staff was SO friendly, and always cheerful, and smiling, and it was an absolute pleasure to interact with them for 9 days. The "greeters" at the Windjammer were especially friendly, and at certain points, they had a bunch of workers standing there greeting people in an upbeat, no way you could not smile, kind of way. Plates were cleared immediately at the Windjammer, and they consistently came around with the free drinks. I did not come across one staff member that was not friendly. They truly added to my cruise experience. A big problem that my husband and I always run into is that on the last day of the cruise, the service always declines. We always feel like our cruise is ending a day early. They'll take away the deck chairs, or basically hit the "reset" button, and just seem generally disinterested. This was NOT the case on this cruise. There was actually napkins and silverware the morning of disembarkation (which we did not get on other cruises!). I was amazed at how the flawless service NEVER declined, the activities were never scarce, and I felt like I was on vacation to the second my foot left the ship. Also, my uncle had to bring a machine that he uses for sleeping (due to Sleep Apnea), and their Stateroom Attendance (Aloma) got him an extension cord and set everything up for him, and really went above and beyond in making sure he was comfortable.
FOOD: Again, this blew all our other cruises out of the water. The variety was unlike anything I've seen. The burgers were delicious, and we enjoyed the make your own pasta station, the desserts, ice cream (with various condiments), and Cafe Promenade. There was something for everyone, and I only came across one or two things during the 9 days that I didn't care for. They offered plenty of free drinks - lemonade, iced tea, water, flavored water (tropical mango, strawberry kiwi, lemon-lime), so we never went thirsty. On the last day, they surprised us with a buffet on the promenade that had an array of different foods. My only complaint was that the food was sitting under saran wrap while we waited for noon to hit, and a lot of the food (like the french fries) ended up soggy. Everything was delicious, though. My mom, aunt and uncle raved every meal about how amazing the food was. We went to Johnny Rockets one night, and it was good (with good service), but we couldn't see paying again for burgers and fries when the Windjammer had it for free. We went to the Dining Room one night, but they were serving the exact same food that the Windjammer was serving, so we didn't go back. Although our Waiter, Assistant Waiter and Head Waiter were phenomenal. We were called by our first names, and they really went above and beyond with the service. On the negative side, the Windjammer finished serving at 9pm, and the only option for food became the Cafe Promenade. They only had about 2-3 desserts, 1-2 sandwiches and pizza to choose from. After midnight, the options became even more limited because there is a surcharge for room service. We did order room service every night and it was amazing. The standout was the Honey Strung Fried Chicken. It was delicious!!
EXCURSIONS AND PORTS: The first day in Bermuda we bought a 2-day bus pass ($20) and went to Horseshoe Bay Beach. It was crowded (we were docked with the Caribbean Princess), but if you walk down the beach, there are outcoves and really private areas. The sand is pink and feels like power and the water is crystal clear. It was by far, one of the most gorgeous beaches I've seen. We also visited the Glassworks Factory and the Rum Cake Factory (and took back a couple, too!). The second day, we had the Segway excursion booked. It was very organized. There was a sign on the pier and we were sent down to a yellow bus within walking distance. The bus didn't move, orientation was given on the bus and then we were allowed on the segways. Only my husband and I did this excursion, and it did not go well. The tour guides were great, but the segways were not for me. I had trouble balancing and controlling the segway. I often found myself jetting forward and not being able to stop. I kept saying I wasn't comfortable, but decided to go anyway. They took us in the streets (in traffic) and was still very uncomfortable. I was so nervous that I did not hear a word of the tour! At our first stop, my segway began going backwards and I could not stop it. I jumped off of it and said I didn't want to do the tour because I did not feel like I had control over the segway. One of the tour guides said he would stay with me in the back, and he did. Part of the tour takes you up and down a STEEP hill. When I had to lean completely forward or on my heels I seemed to be fine, but on level ground I had trouble maintaining. About halfway through the tour, my segway jetted forward again on a turn, the tire hit the curb and I fell on my side with the segway on top of me. I ended up with a bad cut on my ankle and foot and a couple of scrapes and bruises on my leg and arm. So, we returned back to the ship after that and did not complete the tour. Although it did not end well, Mark and Connor and the company running the tour was fantastic. It was my own fault, as I should've refused to go if I did not feel comfortable. In Nassau we booked the Blue Lagoon Dolphin Encounter. The Captain surprised us by extending our stay in Nassau by two hours, so we left at 8pm instead of 6pm. The pier and lining up to get to the boat for th excursion that would bring us to the island was somewhat disorganized and it was a long walk to the boat, and very easy to lose the group as you're walking as we were docked with three other ships that had passengers walking around. The excursion itself was amazing. It was a once in a lifetime experience. The encounter did not include the foot push, but we were standing on a platform and we were able to pet the dolphin, feel it's teeth. We got a hug, kiss, and got to dance with the dolphin. The trainer we had was fabulous and this was the highlight of the cruise. Coco Cay was amazing as well. As soon as we got down to the tender, we got right on. It was a short and beautiful trip over to Coco Cay, and the island was fabulous. There were plenty of empty areas, and it seems like people plopped down in the closest areas, where other further areas were completely empty. It was very easy to get a lounge chair or a hammock on the island. The island BBQ was delicious and very organized. The highlights were the BBQ chicken and the BBQ ribs. I wished there were more tables in the shade, as the benches were SO hot and nearly impossible to sit on.
ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT: Our Cruise Director was Jimmy Rhodes and again, he blew other cruise directors out of the water. He was funny, personable, upbeat and just great. We went to the shows each night and the real standout was Jonathon Clark. He is a comedian and vocal impressionist. He got a standing ovation, and his performance was truly amazing! Fast Forward was also a performance I would not miss. The singers and dancers were great, and put on GREAT performances throughout the cruise. The ice show "Spirits of the Seasons" was breathtaking. The ice skaters and props were absolutely gorgeous. DO NOT MISS THIS!! Check the Compass at the beginning of the cruise, because tickets are required and they only have a limited amount and they went fast!! We ended up with tickets for Day 8 at 5pm. It was the most amazing show I've ever seen at sea. The Farewell show actually made me cry. The staff was so amazing in every way, and in every area of the cruise ship, that I did not want to leave. The parades they put on in the Promenade were great, too, and we watched from the balconies by the elevators instead of being squashed in the Promenade. Great music onboard throughout the cruise also.
DISEMBARKATION: We always do walk-off on our cruises. We probably wouldn't have done it had we known that this is a working pier and you have to get on a shuttle bus. Like always with walk-off, it was horrible getting an elevator, but with patience, we eventually got one, and it was a long line getting off the ship and onto the buses, but it moved smoothly (albeit slowly), and we got on. I don't know if I would do it again (walk off), simply because of the shuttle bus. Coming off the ship, they created a snake line to board the shuttle bus, and people were trying to cut the line because of the set up. We left our staterooms at 8:30 to start disembarkation, and we were picked up at the pick up point to go home at around 9:30, so if you're doing walk off, you may want to start proceeding down early.