Galveston still does not have the direction of cruise line traffic organized very well. We arrived about 11:30 a.m. and the line was long to get in. Traffic for both Royal Caribbean and Carnival enter in the same place, but split into 2 lines. The officer kept directing us into the Carnival line even though we told him we needed Royal Caribbean. Once we got to the unloading area, porters were waiting to take care of the bags. We pre-paid for the EZ cruise lot online. It was a little difficult to find and the shuttle wasn't running when we arrived. We decided to walk back to the pier rather than waiting 20-30 minutes for a bus ride.
Checking in was easy. My mom is in a wheelchair so they let her go ahead of everyone else. It took the rest of us about 30 minutes to get through security and pick up our sea passes. Once we got onboard, we had to wait in the Windjammer until 1 p.m. since the rooms were not ready yet.
The ship is very nicely taken care of - the staff seemed to be constantly polishing, cleaning, and repairing things during the cruise. Our cabin steward, Curtis, was wonderful. Our room was cleaned every morning within an hour of us leaving. We also had turndown service every night. We brought a small cooler (held six cans) that Curtis kept full of ice for us.
We were all on deck 2. The rooms were reasonably sized. We had a window cabin. My parents also had an outside cabin, but theirs was handicapped access. My aunt and uncle had an inside. The handicapped cabin was very roomy and had a refrigerator. My mom was able to easily navigate around the room. The downside was they only had about 1/3 the closet space of the other cabins. My cabin had plenty of closet and drawer space. The bathrooms were very small (normal for a ship). I had to relearn how to shave my legs while standing in the shower with one foot propped up on the toilet seat.
The elevators were really slow. There were a few instances of getting into the elevator and finding all the buttons had been pushed. The most annoying things were people trying to either force their way into the elevator before those of inside the elevator got off (it's very difficult to get a wheelchair out when people are pushing in) or else the people who shoved the wheelchair out of their way to ensure they would get on the elevator and we wouldn't.
My mom was able to get around the ship okay by herself. There are lips around most of the outside doors that make it nearly impossible for people in manual wheelchairs to get over by themselves. We didn't have any tenders so I can't say whether there would be problems getting off and on the ship.
There were only about 2 dozen children on the cruise so we didn't have too many problems with them. They generally stayed in the main pool area during the days. There were a few times when the kids wanted to play in the Solarium pool, but the staff usually asked them to leave fairly quickly. The main pool was closed and drained one evening. I heard that someone's small child defecated in their swim diaper and it got out (this was from another passenger and I didn't ask any of the staff for confirmation), but I never used the main pool so wasn't bothered by it. There were people cleaning it that evening and it was open again the next day. Both pools were saltwater, but the hot tubs were chlorinated fresh water. The Solarium roof was never opened that I saw during the cruise. I was curious to see it.
Dinner was usually good - our waiter, George was wonderful! We had a table for just the 6 of us. We wanted to meet more people, but I think RC must have decided that it might not work to put another couple or two with a group of 6. The lobster and shrimp, duck a l'orange, and broiled cod were the favorites. The desserts were all really good, although the warm chocolate cake and cheesecakes were my favorites. My aunt really loved the cold fruit soups (watermelon and peach). They were good, but seemed more like a dessert than an appetizer. If we wanted to taste anything on the menu, George would bring it out. We passed several appetizers and desserts around the table.
The first night, I had the fish dip and shrimp ravioli. Dip was good but the shrimp in the ravioli were a paste and not chunks. Other group members had onion tart (very good), watermelon gazpacho (also described as very good), citrus fiesta (too much citrus), spinach salad (refreshing and crisp), cod (excellent!), rib eye roast (under-cooked but tender) and herbed steak (over-cooked and tough).
The second night (formal night), I had the shrimp cocktail (so-so) and the duck a l'orange (excellent!!). Others in my group had the lobster bisque (needed lobster meat but tasty), escargot (tender and delicious), beef tenderloin (1 over-cooked, 1 under-cooked, and one perfect, all said very tender), and salmon (too dry).
The third night we were in Key West and no one ate in the dining room. We all ate some barbecue at midnight. The barbecued chicken and beef were both dry, but the tilapia and chicken fajitas were really good.
On Wednesday, I had the clam chowder (okay, canned soup quality), the crab cake (very good), cheese ravioli (so-so). Others had same appetizers but lamb (incredible) and pork chops (tender and juicy) for entrees.
Thursday was the other formal night. I had the creamed wild mushrooms (very good but pastry slightly doughy), house salad (crisp lettuce), and lobster and shrimp combo (both were excellent and everyone ordered seconds). Others in the group ordered citrus cured salmon (too lemony), onion soup (tasted canned), and peach soup (very sweet, almost like a dessert) for appetizers. We all had the shrimp and lobster entrEe.
Friday was Italian night. I ordered the minestrone soup (very hearty), scallop risotto (extremely good), and shrimp scampi (overcooked shrimp). The others had caprese (just okay), garlic soup (flavorful but not too much garlic), strawberry bisque (again, very sweet), lamb (very good), and chicken marsala (tender and very good).
On the last night, I had the spring roll (good but too much ginger), salad (crisp), and sweet and sour mahi-mahi (disappointing - greasy texture). Others had cucumber soup (very light), strip steak (tough), and turkey (moist and tender).
I don't remember what the desserts were everyday. The favorites were the raspberry cheesecake, warm chocolate cake, and key lime pie. The baked Alaska, cherries jubilee, and flourless chocolate cake were also very good.
Lunch and breakfast were okay. The Windjammer always had a good variety, but the quality was hit-and-miss. For breakfast, the omelets in Windjammer were really good - made to order while you waited. The pancakes and waffles in Windjammer tended to be tasteless and cold. We ate breakfast in the dining room a couple of times, but decided Windjammer omelets were the best. The scrambled eggs in the dining room were very runny and the service was sub-par. I asked for turkey sausage one morning and ended up with pork. The waitress was apologetic, but never did bring out the correct sausage. My dad had the same problem when he asked for a second glass of milk. The lunch menu in the dining room didn't change during the week. The quesadillas and catfish were good, but other items (fried shrimp, hamburger) were just so-so. Windjammer had a better variety of food, but the temperature of the buffet was not always the best. Some items were incredibly hot (I was slightly burned by the steam opening one of the lids) but others were only lukewarm.
The gala buffet was beautiful, but they really need to have it on a different night. Everyone ate a second helping of lobster at dinner so were not very hungry that night.
Overall, while I can't call the cuisine gourmet, it was definitely edible. I managed to gain 4 lbs. during the week onboard.
I know some people are very passionate about the dress onboard. The first night at dinner, I expected to see several people in shorts since the luggage is not always delivered promptly. Most people dressed up very nicely for the first formal night - several tuxes and long gowns. My husband wore a suit and I had a short cocktail dress. I saw very few people underdressed that night. The rest of the cruise was different. We had a table near the door so were able to watch most of the people as they entered the dining room. Several people wore shorts and t-shirts or jeans to dinner, even on the second formal night. I didn't see any tank tops so there were a few standards. I didn't see anyone turned away from the dining room based on their apparel, although a few probably should have been.
None of the shows were wonderful. The first night they introduced some of the other performers and Glenn Hirsh (comedian) did a routine. The second night was another comedian, Ralph Barry. Both comedians were funny, but the show lagged in places like they didn't quite connect with the audience. LaRaf was good - a little over-hyped in places but the illusions played out well. My husband and I skipped the production shows, but my parents went. They thought the songs and dancing were very well done.
After the shows, the night life was dead the first couple of nights. We mostly listened to TJ Walker in the Schooner Bar. He played a variety of classic and blues rock. The problem with the Schooner Bar is it is one of the few places on the ship where smoking is allowed. The smell became over-powering as the evening progressed.
The Love and Marriage show was interesting. We enjoyed the slow dance hour in the Viking Lounge (that's the only dancing my husband does). My parents liked Liza Hendrix since she mostly played music from the '50s and '60s. The Quest was disappointing since they used the exact same list as last time when we were on a different ship. Since many of the people had cruised before, they brought the items with them.
Key West - My husband and I had been to Key West a couple of times before. We walked around Duval St. then took the sunset sail excursion with my aunt and uncle. The weather was very nice and the sunset was gorgeous. When we got back, we ate at Conch Republic and my aunt and uncle went back to Duval. It was Fantasy Fest in Key West. There were several very interesting people around and the streets were very crowded. After eating, we walked around Duval again, then went to Irish Kevin's until time to return to the ship.
My parents took the Trolley tour. The trolley had a lift for the wheelchair that made it very easy for my mom to get onboard. They thought the guide was very informative and gave them a good overview of the Key West history and architecture.
Costa Maya - Costa Maya was a big disappointment. It was a fill-in stop since Grand Cayman was cancelled due to the hurricane damage from Ivan. When we first boarded, my mom and I went to the excursion desk to see what was available for a wheelchair-bound person. We were basically told to stay on the ship because Mexico is not a place for a wheelchair. The other five of us tried to sign up for the snorkel excursion offered through the ship, but were told it was sold out already. Since we were the 4th people in line when the excursion desk opened, it was disappointing. I thought they were supposed to hold some spots on the excursions for booking onboard so either they didn't or the people in front of us took all the openings.
The pier area had several shops, private excursion booths, and soldiers carrying automatic weapons. We ended up taking a private snorkeling excursion ran by a group with a booth at the pier. I forgot the name, but it left from the Tequila Beach Club. The price was $15 + $5 for cab pp (way less than the $49 pp the cruise line wanted). Our guide, Ricardo, took very good care of us since 3 of our group had never snorkeled. The water was rather choppy so the 3 newbies got out of the water within about 15 minutes. The reef was really beautiful - saw several types of fish, urchins, coral, and a starfish. The boat ride was about 15 minutes each way and an hour of snorkeling time.
After snorkeling, we walked to Majahual. The roads were dirt and heavily rutted. There were a few shops that has typical Mexico souvenirs - shot glasses, jewelry, handmade ceramics. It didn't take long to walk through the town. When we returned to the pier area, one of the soldiers checked our IDs while another pointed his rifle into the car (very scary!!!). We walked through the pier shops (nothing special) and returned to the ship. We got off the ship around 9 a.m. and were ready to leave by 1 p.m.
The wheelchair could get into most of the pier shops, but if my mom had gone into the village, the wheelchair would get stuck in the ruts and mud in the street. The excursion information people were right - Costa Maya is no place for a wheelchair.
Cozumel - It was okay. My aunt and uncle took the Tulum ruins tour. They enjoyed the ruins but thought the tour guide spent too much time describing Mayan life in great detail and left little time for actually viewing the ruins.
The other four of us took a cab ($10) to Chankanaab Parque. The park was very wheelchair accessible. The archeological section was very nice, but needed more details describing the statues. The descriptions listed the name and period of the pieces, but not what they were used for. The lagoon was pretty and the botanical gardens were also nice. My mom was able to get around most of the area without much assistance. The museum required climbing stairs so she was unable to go inside. The park also has a beach and snorkeling. My husband and I snorkeled while my parents read and watched people.
After the park, we took a cab ($10) into San Miguel. The sidewalks are very narrow and have few ramps for wheelchairs. There were several ships in port that day so the area was very crowded. We ended up walking in the street most of the time. Shopping was okay - I wasn't looking for jewelry, which is the main thing they seem to sell. It didn't take long to decide to return to the ship. It was getting close to 4 and we were supposed to leave at 5.
We were the last group off so we didn't get off the ship until almost 11. On previous cruises, the staff had entertainment or trivia contests to occupy waiting passengers. Nothing like that was offered. I brought a book so was able to read and talk with family while waiting so it wasn't too bad. Traffic was a mess when we left. We couldn't find the EZ cruise shuttle bus so ended up walking to the lot. The officers seemed to have problems directing traffic again. We had our luggage waiting by the curb to load. For whatever reason, the officer would not let my husband park next to our luggage. She made him stop much further down and had us carry our luggage to the vehicle. It made the loading process take at least twice as long. By that time, getting out of the port area was easy.
Overall the cruise was very nice. I wasn't thrilled with any of the port stops, but the ship and staff were beyond compare.