Embarkation was fast and smooth. We pre-paid for airport transfers, so after we collected our luggage we got right in line and loaded onto the bus. Our luggage was loaded onto a truck with the rest of the luggage; we never saw it again until it was delivered to our stateroom. If you choose this option, make sure your luggage is properly tagged with the luggage tags the cruiseline provides. My friend was able to bring her carry-on luggage onto the bus, since we had prepacked it with items we would need until the luggage was delivered. At the pier we whisked right thru the lines, since we had done online check-in. We were in our cabin 30 minutes after the bus dropped us off.
Our cabin was bright and beautiful, and we had a great balcony with four chairs and a little table. We were the end balcony unit, which I think gave us extra space, as we had a solid wall on one side with a little cove behind it. The cabin size was about average, but the bathroom was large with the best shower I've had on a cruise ship: curved sliding shower doors, shower wand than can move up and down and be removed, and water pressure better than what I have at home!
We ate in the dining room almost every night, the 6:00 seating, and our wait staff was excellent. The maitre 'D came over several times, and knew several of our names by the end of the cruise - pretty impressive, and more interaction than I've had with a maitre 'D on any other cruises. The food selection was great, and without exception, the food was tasty, hot, appealing, and filling. :-) Our head waiter would always tell us what was on the menu the next night, which was a nice touch.
We did eat at the steakhouse, Chops, one night, and the food and service there was beyond excellent. Some people have a problem paying an extra $25, but the filet mignon alone is worth that cost -- imagine what you would pay at Mortons or Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, and compare that to "all you can eat" ordering on this menu. Definitely worth the cost!
We only attended a couple of shows: the juggler/comedian was hilarious, and by far the best show I've seen in awhile. We also saw the "history of music" show, which was just good, not great, not terrible.
The casino is a bit small, with only a couple of each type of table games, which filled up quickly. We went probably five out of the seven nights, and on a couple of those nights, it took 20 minutes for a seat to open up at the blackjack table, which is by far the most popular. Contrast that to several of the less popular table games, which always seemed to have empty tables and bored dealers. On the plus side: for the first time in 12 cruises, I actually WON at blackjack, on multiple nights, and cashed out on the last night, rather than playing late into the night, trying to recoup some of my losses. :-)
We visited the nightclub, Vortex, several times, and by the fourth night could recite the deejay's playlist. He played the same music, in the same order, every single time we were in there, and played way too much latin music vs. club music for our tastes. He would get on a binge and play one hour of latin music, then two or three club/dance songs, then back to latin. We quickly got bored.
The ship is a decent size, and is bright, beautiful, well-kept, and easy to find your way around. The staff was, without exception, friendly, cheerful, eager to help, and a pure pleasure to interact with each day.
We used the gym several times, and although it is a bit small, the equipment is decent, and we were able to keep up with our workouts without a problem.
The pool deck is a bit small, but the Deck Patrol is serious about enforcing the "no chair saving" rule, so finding an open chair was never a problem, even during days at sea. One word of warning: if your chair sits empty for more than 30 minutes, Deck Patrol will remove your items and keep them at their counter until you return. You may want to go to lunch in shifts if you want to keep your chairs.
You can obtain up to three beach towels on the pool deck - simply present your SeaPass card, and your account is noted. Make sure you present your card when you return the used towels, so your account can be properly credited. You will be charged $20 for each unreturned towel (another reason not to leave your stuff on a deck chair and walk away), and Royal Caribbean is serious about that charge. We saw a long, long line at the "towel dispute" section of the Guest Relations counter on disembarkation morning.
Disembarkation was the only real problem we encountered. In the past they have told guests to hang out wherever they like, and disembark when they hear their luggage tag color called. This time there were still colored luggage tags, but you were given a scheduled departure lounge based on your "Air Departure Group" - the time your plane left. My friend and I asked, because our flights left a hour and a half apart, which put us in two separate Air Departure Groups. We were told to wait wherever we liked, to just wait for our luggage tag color to be called and disembark then. In my opinion, adding the Air Departure Groups just added to the confusion. If anything, assign waiting areas based on luggage tag colors, and allow people with earlier flights to wait in a separate area, and disembark first.
Once we disembarked, we quickly found our luggage and joined the exit line, where we turned in our Customs Allowance form, and then left the building. It only occurred to me later on that not once did I need to present my passport to re-enter the US, either in St. Thomas, or upon disembarking in San Juan. That's kind of weird...
As before, we presented our pre-paid transfers and were directed to a bus to the airport. And as before, we left our luggage at the transport truck, which we assumed was leaving when the bus left. NOT! The bus dropped us off at the airport, and we waited and waited and waited some more for the luggage truck to arrive. After 20 minutes, the RCCL rep who travelled with us called up someone on the radio, and wasn't happy with the response. Another 10 minutes, and a second busload of passengers arrived and joined our group. Five minutes after that, the luggage truck finally arrived, and two tired guys started unloading the luggage. The problem for those of us who had been waiting awhile - the first luggage unloaded was the last loaded at the pier, belonging to the second busload of passengers. They all collected their luggage and proceeded inside, and we continued to wait until the very last luggage was unloaded. Total wait time at the airport for our luggage: 45 minutes.
Suggestion to RCCL: If you are going to charge passengers a premium price to go to the airport, you need to ensure that their luggage travels with them! If it means a truck is only half-loaded, so be it. The process I saw was convoluted and ridiculous, and would have totally erased the great high I was floating on after an amazing cruise. If you are going to treat your passengers well, treat them well until the very last moment.
We then visited the California Lighthouse and enjoyed a 360 view of the island, although you can't go into the lighthouse, which was a disappointment. Our next stop was the Casibari Rock Formations, and we were among the brave few who climbed to the top of the highest boulder. Finally we stopped at the site of the Natural Bridge - the original collapsed in 2005, but there is a second bridge, which is just awesome to see. This bridge of rock was formed naturally by the wind and the motion of the sea, and is actually in danger of collapse as well by the very forces that created it.
Again we returned to the ship for lunch and a rest, and then headed out for some shopping among the colorful vendor stands. We got some great souvenirs and gifts, and enjoyed interacting with the delightful locals. I even tried out my just-learned language skills on them: Masha danki!
After returning to the ship for lunch, we headed downtown to visit the oldest synagogue in continous use in the Western Hemisphere. The bridge was open (closed?) - this is the most amazing thing, this bridge that floats. They run a free ferry when the bridge is open, and halfway down there they closed the bridge, so we headed back to wait. It was 4:23 by the time we got to the synagogue, and despite a sign that announces a 4:30 closing time, they were already locked up for the day. That was our single disappointment in an amazing day of sightseeing.
We then travelled down the other side of the mountain to Mero Beach, an amazing black sand beach, where we had an hour to sunbathe or walk the beach. If you go, make sure to take full advantage of the offer for a free rum punch -- much more rum than punch!
We had a great time snorkeling along the marked underwater trail, but the tour is way too short, and we only had a total of an hour and a half at the beach. I suggested we stay at Trunk Bay and pay for our own cab and ferry rides back, but that would have been an extra cost on top the excursion cost, so we rode back with the tour group. We were back on the ship by 1PM, even though the ship didn't leave until 6. They really need to look to extend the length of that excursion, even by an hour. It was really hard to leave that beautiful beach after snorkeling - laying out for an hour or so would have been such a nice way to end the cruise!
As we were rinsing off at Trunk Bay, I noticed the snorkel rental stand, so next time, we'll do our own excursion, so we can stay as long as we like.