For sake of perspective, this is the 15th family cruise we've been on (husband, wife, 10 yr old daughter). We've been on Disney and Princess once and the rest on RCCL and Carnival.
We got a great deal with an exceptional amount of on board credit using an online travel agency. In fact at the end of the cruise, our bill was just under $4. Since the deals were flying, we opted for a Grand Suite, which we've never had before.
We flew into Miami which went smoothly so we were off to a good start. We got a room using Priceline at Marriott Biscayne Bay for $80 for Sat night which was also a good deal. Taxi from the airport was $24 to the hotel which was just about what everyone else reported paying on these boards. There was very light traffic so I could seeing it being more during heavier times. We knew the hotel was under renovation so we expected it. There is no real lobby now so they use an area on the 3rd floor which is where the taxi drops you off. There was good signage and there were only a couple people in front of us checking in. The staff were really nice. I asked for something up high with a view of the port and wasn't really expecting to get it especially since we probably paid the least using Pricleine, but were surprised when they said sure and gave us a room facing the bay on the 16th floor. We awoke to seeing 3 ships in port. The room was average size, but was clean and well maintained. The room service and restaurant/bar prices were very high and we didn't eat there. There is an underground mall/tunnel that connects Marriott and Doubletree that has a deli, liquor store and bar, and those prices were a bit less, but still not in the bargain category for sure. At least it was convenient. We went out to Bayside the night we arrived and left about 7:30p. I read a lot on these boards before going and saw reviews of the metro mover and being safe or not. We got on board at the stop closest to the hotel which was just on the side of the parking garage and was very convenient. There was a Police Officer on the tram platform so we felt safe there. We got on and were off. A note to others; you have to go around the downtown area on the tram before getting to the Bayside stop. If the tram made the loop in the other direction, you would be there a lot quicker. Anyway, it took about 12 minutesbut felt a lot longer. The tram had a good amount of graffiti and at each stop, more and more unsavory people got onboard, from the homeless to what looked like gang members to discheveled moms with many kids running around. There was my family and 2 other couples who clearly were not from the area and I felt some kind of unspoken bond with them. Weird. Nothing bad happened on the tram but we were happy it was over. One of the other couple immediately said they were taking a cab back to the hotel and we couldn't have agreed more. The free ride was nice, but not worth it. Even getting off the tram at the Bayside stop, the signs were small directing you where to go and although it was only 1 block from Bayside, it looked like a ghost town and just waiting for some bad people to pop out. Moving on... we ate at Chilis at Bayside which was a very popular place. We had to wait about 30 mins to get a table, but no biggie. Bayside is nice and well lighted and lots of people around. After dinner we got one of the cabs that were waiting out front. Prior to getting in we asked how much to the Marriott and he said $10. I said OK thinking it would be about $10. Well, he never turned the meter on and I'm thinking he just pocketed the money. I was tired and in no mood to argue, but I still don't like people who don't follow the rules. He dropped us off after the 5 minute thrill ride and I gave him $10 and left, no tip on that one since the entire fare seemed to be a big tip for him. We went swimming and in the hot tub which said closed at 10p which seemed a bit early, but we were beat anyway so off to bed.
On to the cruise. We arrived in port by taxi at about 12noon. Traffic was light which was a relief. I've seen that port in quite a traffic jam before. We gave the luggage to a porter as well as tip and went in. Once inside the terminal, there was a long line. Fortunately, we got our priority boarding with our new suite status and bypassed it all. Yeah! We went to the special line, got our cards and were on board in 10 mins. There was no photo station till on the ship which was different.
Once on board, we were directed to go sign up for my time dining reservations. I thought the whole point of MTD was to show up when you want. They were actually quite pushy about this but I insisted we would call them later when we figured out when we would show up. I really didn't plan on doing this either cause I didn't want to plan my day around dinner. We ended up eating in the main dining room only twice for dinner without calling ahead for a reservation and both times were seated without any wait.
We ate a bit and got into our room around 1p. The grand suite was really nice and big at 380 sf. It was the biggest stateroom we've ever stayed in. There were even 4 outlets in the room. They had our daughter's Happy Birthday decorations up and her cake was delivered an hour or so later. We checked out the concierge room which uses the same room key and we were the only ones in there. It was very clean and fancy looking. They had some board games to borrow and an espresso machine to use. It was very nice. Throughout the cruise we went into the concierge a couple times a day. The concierge and bartender were nice people (Mario and Dexter) and we did tip them in the end. Some of the questions about the concierge I had going on board were the dress and drinks. Dress was fairly casual. As long as you weren't in a bathing suit, it was OK. Some were more dressed up than others prior to or right after dinner, but as long as you didn't look like a bum you'd be OK. Drinks were free including soda and mixed drinks. There's no blender so nothing frozen or mixed up. The snacks they had were OK. Little smoky hot dogs and other hors'devours. Nothing elaborate. Breakfast was a small continental set up with bagels and toast also. It was a nice quiet place to socialize. The kids rule was enforced during the nighttime hours from 5p-8:30p. All other times, kids are OK and there's a sign on the door too. They did have a good selection of DVDs to borrow to watch in the stateroom on their DVD players. If you wanted to just hang out, it was nice to get a DVD of your choice rather than pick from the TV selection or pay the $13 to get a pay per view movie. There is a no food or drink outisde the concierge room rule that the concierge didn't seem to let people slide by. It was nice to get a drink, hang oout for a bit and then take the drink when you leave. Or to get breakfast and walk out. I know it's not the rule, but I asked and he said it was no problem and everyone does it.
Chops- we ate there once minus the daughter, and it was great. Well worth the $25 per person. We had the filet mignon and it was one of the best I ever had. Service was wonderful and everything tasted phenomenal. I liked the simple menu and unlike Portofino, it was very basic unfancy food. I read mixed reviews on Chops being worth it, but in my case it definitely was.
Speaking of food, we were able to get the dinner menu room service in the suite. We did this twice and service was pretty quick especially for a big order. The food was good and warm but the last night I got the NY strip steak which appeared to be nothing more than the "minute steak" they were serving in the Windjammer. But this steak was not good. Very dry and thin. Other than that, room service was good.
One of the coolest things we got to do was go on the bridge tour and meet the Captain. The Captain was Charles Tiege. The suite gusest got to go to the bridge and watched them work as we pulled out of Jamaica. It was really interesting. After we pulled out, the Capt talked to us for about 15 mintues and explained things then we were able to get our picture with him. It was a great experience.
One thing that bugged me was the handling of the passengers in Cayman. There were rough seas so the tenders were about 2 hours late to start and they weren't fast. There was a huge line from decks 1 to 3. There was very little order and people were so cramped. People were getting off elevators or coming in from different hallways and were bypassing others that were waiting for a long time. This can't be the first time Royal Caribbean has experience a tender delay. They should plan for this and post crew members up to direct people to right way. This was just chaos. They need to get a clue here and give some direction before it turns into a riot. Luckily most people were very patient and understanding, although some were a bit frustrated as well. When we did encounter a crew member at the deck 2 stairs, we asked about how long to the tender and she was nice but said she had no idea. That is just lame. Give some room for error and say from this point to the tender boat at a slow rate, it generally takes XX amount of time. Again, this couldn't have been the first time this situation was encountered. We ended up waiting about 50 minutes to get on the tender then another 15 minute ride to shore. It felt like hours though. Getting back on the ship was very smooth and no waits at all.
Some other things- enforcement of the rules in H2O zone was hit or miss. Some times kids were allowed to eat ice cream in the hot tubs, sometimes not. Sometimes kids got talked to for running or jumping in the pool. It seemed to be spotty. Just an observation. In the main pools area, everyone was jumping in and wasn't a big deal.
We had the Miami highlights with airport transfer excursion booked months ago for post cruise. Unfortunately the last day we got a note saying there was not enough people signed up and it was canceled. It was too late to use the luggage valet and the purser desk was of no help in that area. We ended up doing the Hilton post cruise with airport transfer. This was basically getting the use of the Hilton hotel by the airport with transfers. The pursers desk had very little info about this tour whichw as discouraging, but we didn't want to spend 7 hours at the airport so we went for it. It was $35/person. We got luggage tag 10 and waited in the concierge lunge like we were supposed to. However the concierge went from luggage tag 9 to 12 and seemed to have forgotten about us. When we asked him about 10, he said we had to go right now and seemed a bit frantic. We got off the ship right away (another suite perk) and through customs, got our bags and waitied outside where there were no signs for this excrusion. After talking to several people, we found our line and waited. About 30 mins later a van arrived and we loaded up. We waited about 30 mins more and some more folks got in and we left. A 20 minute ride to the Hilton airport location and we were there. Again, there wa no information at all for us. We were dropped off in front and the driver left. No one to greet us inside or signs or anything. A few of us asked at the front desk and we were told we have use of the pool area, bathrooms and we can eat at their restaurants and buy thier alcohol. At first I was a bit annoyed, but I guess it was a good deal for $35/person especially when there's no other option available other than renting a car. So we hung out at the pool which was very nice and heated. There was a sauna a hot tub too. We ate at the very expensive snack bar by the pool and then got a ride to the airport using the hotel shuttle. Looking back, the "day rate" was OK, but Royal could do a lot better to explain this and get the hotel on board. The hour wait at the port to go 15 or 20 minutes to the hotel was just annoying.
All in all, we had a great time. Some minor annoyances but I'm sure that's everywhere. The suite experience was really cool. There was nothing else that really stood out. We had been on Freedom OTS twice so we knew what the ship had to offer and did most of it. Everyone on board seemed happy and was having a good time.
More to follow in the port review sections.
I got tons of pics so if anyone wants to see something specific or has a question, fire away.. Jay963@cox.net