(thanks to my wife going and making this happen!).
The stateroom attendant did a nice job on the room but was a bit rude at first, which surprised us given our other experiences with Royal and our own laid back attitude. We didn't have a "Do Not Disturb / Make Up Room" card and called to request one and got quite the attitude for our request. She also skipped making up our room the night we did the Portofino Wine Series as dinner was earlier than our normal seating. While I understand that she didn't know we had an earlier dinner and typically made up our room while we were at dinner, she said she couldn't make up our room when she came at the normal dinner time even though I offered to leave and come back.
The cruise went to Labadee, Haiti; Ochos Rios, Jamaica; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; and Cozumel, Mexico. The weather was a bit hot but nice skies other than a quick rain shower in Labadee (and waves that canceled the snorkeling excursion) and again in Cozumel, both at the beginning of the excursion, just enough to soak us. However, we didn't let that damper our mood.
Our dining experience on the Freedom of the Seas in 2009 made us nervous about another larger ship, but there was no need to worry on this trip as the food was delicious each night!
Our waitress was really good in that she had to struggle with something we had not experienced prior. We had late seating (8:30 pm)...as an aside, we always schedule late seating to allow us plenty of time to clean-up, drink some room service coffee, and take an afternoon nap after the excursions. The struggle for our waitress was that people showed up 30 minutes and at times 45 minutes late to dinner each night. Coordinating getting hot food and no delays for those of us that showed up on time added additional work to her plate. The only thing that may have helped is that there were several nights when our tablemates, other table guests skipped dinner to try out the specialty restaurants.
To provide additional thoughts regarding, I was surprised at our tablemates purposefully coming so late to dinner every night. In our opinion, they should have done My Time dining as their rudeness in coming late translated to us not getting our main course until 1.5 hours into the dinner on the first night. Our waitress adjusted after that and took our choices when we arrived on time and delivered the food to where we were eating dessert when our tablemates were eating their appetizers. Note that we did enjoy conversing with our tablemates, they just beat to their own clock.
The assistant waitress also added to the waitress' load in that she was often standing around and talking with her fellow assistant waiters as our waiter and at times head waiter, delivered bread, filled water, and took away dirty plates. She did remember to bring us coffee each night though.
The head waiter was amazing in that he took care of ensuring our tablemates received lobster at the Chops Grille on their anniversary dinner, as it coincided with the second Formal Dinner and they would have missed out on lobster night. He also provided desserts for anniversary celebrations and assisted us in filling out the breakfast in bed card that came with our Romance Package.
We ate at one specialty restaurant, Portofino's, for the wine series on the 2nd night of the cruise. We had enjoyed the wine series in January 2010 on the Voyager of the Seas and though the menu was the same, we decided to do the wine series once again. There was only one other couple and a single man at the wine series which made the dinner very intimate with the waitress / assistant waiter. The reason for the small crowd was that the wine series was planned for the first formal night. Had we known that, we likely would not have done it ourselves but you face a cancellation fee for canceling within 24-hours of the dinner. By the time we knew the 2nd night was a formal night, it was too late to cancel. The food and wine were delicious (especially the soup and steak) and to our untrained palate, well paired. The dessert crepes were better than on the Voyager. Watch out in that the assistant waiter offered us a choice between sparkling or non-sparkling water, without advertising that it was a $10 charge for the water...the way it was offered, it seemed as if it was included in the dinner. We did get some free champagne and canapEs, which I guess made up for the surprise charge.
At the first sea day, we ate at the formal dining room. The salad bar is amazing and more than enough food for lunch by itself!
Room service did a great job in delivering exactly what we requested and always being very pleasant. We did room service almost every morning for breakfast and again for our afternoon coffee (my chocolate chip cookies)!
One last thing - my parents told me that the drinks at the Schooner Bar outside of the theater sells the same drinks as in the theater but at a cheaper price and it was true!!
SHOWS / PROGRAMS
We registered for our first ever Cruise Critic "Meet & Mingle" on this cruise...I have read reviews of ships for a while on the site but decided to join the boards for this cruise. The event was nice in that we met some fellow Cruise Critic members, received a free gift (name tag with notepad / pen), and had some additional canapEs. The AWESOME benefit was that for attending the Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle, we were offered a free session at the new ChefMasters program. Given that a session costs $110 / person, this was a $220 value for my wife and I! We have a feeling that this was given as the program is relatively new.
We did the "All About Chicken" 3-hour session on our last sea day for lunch, and we worked with a chef to de-bone a full chicken, cook each part using a provided recipe, and drank free Mimosas / ate our finished products. The chef, Drew Cross, gives his cell number and e-mail address with an offer to provide advice on any of the recipes used / any recipe we're struggling with...wow! We got to keep our chef aprons as well and received 20% off all products used in the cooking process. The only thing we purchased was a hot sauce local to the Florida region used in cooking the wings. The ChefMasters program was a highlight of this cruise, and we would recommend it to anyone!
The ship also had a separate "Platinum / Diamond / Diamond Plus" event from the "Welcome Back" event, which was nice in that it was a smaller group, and I was able to get a picture of the cruise director, Kirk Detweiler, who did an excellent job on the trip.
As far as shows, we typically don't go to the Welcome Aboard show as we are unpacking and preparing for dinner. This trip, we skipped many of the other shows due to various reasons. However, we didn't feel like we really missed out as the Ever After (same night as wine dinner) and Up In the Air, we saw last year on Freedom of the Seas. We decided to wait until Thursday for the Ice Show but then ended up too tired from our Cayman Island excursion.
We did go to the tribute to The Temptations show, the Love & Marriage show, and to the adult comedian. All were well done!
SPA / GYM
For the first time, we didn't hit the gym. However, my wife did take in a hot stone massage, which she really enjoyed.
Be cautious as the spa masseuse will push spa products and made it as though some creams were included with the massage but they were really > $100. We returned the creams. :O)
I'll detail out the excursions in the separate section, but as a warning, though we really enjoyed the Helicopter Ride in Grand Cayman, the same ride can be purchased mere steps away from the cruise pier by the same company for half the price!! We splurged to do the excursion on this trip and were disappointed to find we had really overpaid.
I'd also like to warn you to pay attention to the price for the drink of the day in your daily Compass as we tried a Labadoozee (very good) on the beach in Labadee and the Royal Caribbean bar staff (Royal Caribbean owns the port area so you use your SeaPass card on the island) overcharged us by $1.5 per drink.
As mentioned in the main review, the excursion we booked, Snorkel Safari, was canceled due to the winds / high waves. We also got pretty wet in the rain after first departing the ship. However, once the showers passed, we enjoyed a lazy day laying on the beach and drinking our Labadoozies.
We walked by the Artisans Village but made a quick circle as the salesman were extremely pushy / grabby (as in they would grab your arm and put something in your hands to look at).
We did the Ultimate River Extravaganza - which was the excursion aboard the San San and included a walk up the Dunn Rivers Falls as well as snorkeling.
The ship was nice and shaded on the 2nd deck so we sat up there and enjoyed the wonderful weather and sites. The captain and crew were friendly and after the Falls, offered up rum punch, champagne, and Red Stripe. On the way back to the pier, we ate local fresh fruits = yum!
The Dunn Rivers Falls was more challenging than the first time my wife and I did it. We took the right hand path versus the left hand path from the prior tour. We felt that it was more fun and also more intimate in that there were less tourists going up the right hand path. Be careful on this excursion though as one tourist didn't listen to the guides and stepped on a black rock (algae so its slick) and feel / scraped up their leg.
The snorkeling was okay - there were fish and coral but nothing stand-out.
After we finished, we headed to the same Margaritaville we ate at on our first ever cruise and split a Cheeseburger in Paradise & some tasty wings.
Our helicopter excursion got delayed from 9:30 am as advertised to 2:00 pm, which given the 15 minute travel time each way to the airport and last tender leaving at 3:30 pm, made it a bit tight getting back on board and caused us to skip the 5:00 pm ice show back on board.
Given our extra time, we tendered around 10 am over to the island and spent some time wandering around, splitting a jerk chicken & cheese sandwich & some fried shrimp at Breezes by the Bay (restaurant name something close to this), having a drink in Margaritaville (where we watched a drunk Carnival ship patron have a sleezy guy take body shots off of her), and enjoying TCBY yogurt while waiting for the helicopter ride.
As mentioned in the main review, the helicopter ride purchased at $150 / person through Royal Caribbean can be purchased literally a few steps from the pier by the same company for $75 / person.
The ride was amazing though, and the pilot did an excellent job of describing the island's history as well as the famous people that own homes on the island. I was amazed that you can spot sting-rays, turtles, and barracudas from the helicopter. Seeing the ship overhead gave a view that you won't get any other way (good job flowrider surfer that was surfing when we flew over!).
There is a maximum capacity of 5 people in the helicopter with the pilot and so you are ensured a personal experience / great views.
We snorkeled with Sea Turtles near Cancun. We hopped on a 30-minute ferry ride after catching a brief shower as we departed the ship that took us part of the way to our destination. We then caught a van for a 30-minute ride to the hotel, Akumal Beach Resort. Note I don't recall seeing the 1-hour travel time each way, which majorly cuts into your time in Cozumel, so I wanted to mention it here.
The ferry is a very rough ride so if you get seasick, I recommend a motion sickness pill prior to leaving and to sit near the back of the boat.
The snorkeling was a blast! Our guides had us swim around the beach area looking for turtles, and we found 4 turtles eating sea grass as well as a massive stingray. We snorkeled for ~ 45 minutes to an hour of constant swimming so you definitely burn some calories! Lunch is included - as much beer / wine / soda as you want as well as some seafood soup, steak fajitas, and a fruit / sherbet dessert.
After lunch, we were given time to wander the resort, my wife and I played some ping pong and took pics on the beach. We enjoyed the resort but wouldn't likely stay there...note they didn't seem to have many people staying on the resort.
We had an hour remaining we returned to downtown Cozumel so we headed straight back to the ship. Less