My husband and I booked this, our first cruise, to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary and what a celebration it was! Hurricane Jeanne tried to disrupt things, but was only marginally successful. We were a day late leaving Miami, but the compensation was more than enough from Royal Caribbean, so I didn't mind at all.
Precruise: Had booked the Hyatt downtown on Priceline for $37. It's a beautiful hotel and has a free metromover that will take you to Bayside Marketplace. We spent a lovely evening there, having dinner at Bubba Gumps, listening to a Latin band and taking a $10 cruise of the harbor. We did have to stay an extra night (which was $120), but travel insurance will take care of that. One more reason to buy travel insurance when you travel during hurricane season!
Embarkation: I knew from my months of review of these boards not to book the Royal Caribbean transfers from the hotel, so at 10:30am we were tossing things into a suitcase and hailed a taxi. It was an $11 ride to the port from the Hyatt downtown. Due to the hurricane, there were 3 RCI ships in port and several others as well so it was a total zoo! There were people everywhere. We managed to find a porter and sent our bags off and were in the first group of 25 in the terminal. After about a 15 minute wait, they allowed us to enter the check-in area. This was done by decks, so we were the second in line to check-in for deck 9. We were on the ship in minutes!
Cabin: We had a D2 balcony cabin on the forward side of the "hump". I had been preparing my husband by telling him not to expect a hotel room, but we were pleasantly surprised by the size of the cabin. There was plenty of room for everything. The suitcases all fit under the bed. There were plenty of hangers. I never had a use for duct tape or a bungee cord. I wished I had brought a pop-up hamper and I never used the plastic shoe holder we had brought for extra storage. I did have to send my husband out while I unpacked because we kept tripping over each other, but it wasn't a problem the rest of the week.
Food: We had early seating and were at a table for six on the bottom level. There were two empty seats every evening. Our server Aneta from Poland was a total doll. She provided us with the perfect blend of professionalism and friendliness all week. The food was better than I was expecting, though I'm not really hard to please. Just being able to sit at a linen covered table with a linen napkin and be served food that was so beautifully presented was a treat for me. They probably could have fed me sawdust and I would have called it good! My favorites were the warm chocolate cake and the crab cakes. Aneta made sure I had more than one serving of each. My husband had Caesar salad every night and thought it was wonderful. All of the beef we had was perfectly cooked.
We only ate in the Windjammer two or three times. I preferred to sit in the dining room where there was always the opportunity to meet new people. I did discover that my favorite thing in the Windjammer was the French toast with strawberries and whipped cream. We had dinner at Portofinos. I thought it was worth every penny of the extra $20 each. It's a much quieter, more relaxed experience and we both liked it very much. We never tried room service.
Entertainment: The Osmonds were the headliners for this trip. We enjoyed their show so much that we also went to the second show. The ice show was truly something not to be missed. I was very impressed with the costumes and lighting. The production show was good, but not great. This was the first show for this cast. They had just come on board, so they may get better with time. They had comedians for three of the nights. We only went to one.
We really enjoyed the midnight buffet/party by the pool, Quest, Dancing thru the Decades and the Chocolate Midnight Buffet. We are generally early to bed people but there was so much to do, we were never in bed before midnight.
Ports: Because of the hurricane, we missed Belize and they substituted Nassau for Grand Cayman. So, the only really organized thing we did was SNUBA in Cozumel with Mayan Paradise Tours. Wow! That was fun! I would highly recommend this excursion, but not for children. They have an open bar on the way back to shore and it's quite a party atmosphere. We are not drinkers but had plenty of fun.
Conclusion: This was truly a "vacation of a lifetime". We booked a cruise on the Jewel for 11/05 while onboard, but let me lend a word of advice there.....never leave the booking desk without a confirmation in hand. We got home and when we had our TA check on our booking, were told we never had made one. It took several days and many phone calls to straighten it out. We still don't have a booking for a balcony cabin because RCI didn't have any more left by the time we re-booked.
Also, keep a close eye on your seapass charges. We did get charged for a cookbook we never bought. When I went to guest services, they said it would be taken care of. My credit card was still charged. I then called RCI...once again, it'll be taken care of. We'll see if it happens.
Those are small annoyances though, and can't tarnish an almost perfect experience. The ship is beautiful. The staff is great. You can be as busy as you want or park yourself with a book someplace quiet for the week. It's truly the best of all worlds. Thanks Royal Caribbean!!