I REALLY enjoyed this ship. My previous experience has been limited to the Grandeur and the Monarch so there's a 2 or 3-class jump in there somewhere?
There's not much to say about the room, we had an interior on deck 9. The location was good, near the middle but closer to the aft/back elevator bank which puts you in line with Guest Services, Windjammer, Dining Rooms, Upper Lounges, Pool Decks and more. The location was quiet with cabins above and below us. I loved the shower and that's not something people usually say on a ship. The sliding doors were curved out providing more room - no shower curtain, yay! The water pressure was excellent. While a balcony would be grand, I do not know that I would pay the difference. A window over the bed doesn't seem very attractive either so we usually stay with the lower priced rooms on a good deck and spend more shopping on board and on excursions. The fridge in the room was appreciated, as was the reading lights and main light switches by the bed.
The promenade is the best part about this ship. I did a lot of research but still did not expect it to feel as large as it was. I loved how each store, lounge and venue was decorated so uniquely. Very much Disney-esque, the Bull & Bear Pub was in dark woods with a bookshelf wall, wood tables that led out to the promenade. Sorrento's brick walls were like an old Italian restaurant, serving pizza and a few salad type items. Vintages had a vineyard cottage appearance and very nice wines. I could go on. In short, the shopping and food options in the promenade were so plentiful and convenient. No surcharge for any of the food items and most venues were open early to very late. We enjoyed a table along several of the spots on different occasions and walked the length quite a bit being that it was a straight shot nearly from end to end. There were a few special events in the promenade, two parades, a dance party with a stage platform that lowers from the ceiling, wow. And to think that this area is below an enormous pool deck, it's simply amazing. The cabins with windows on the promenade seemed interesting at first but then realizing that everyone kept their curtains drawn made me wonder where the benefit was. Now that I have seen it, all of those rooms are facing across the promenade from another room so privacy would seem to be an issue. I was glad in the end for our small cabin with full privacy and darkness when we wanted it.
The main pool deck was nice, especially the water park for the kids - very cool. The Solarium for the adults had nice cushioned chairs, smaller pool and the two hot tubs off the side of the ship. All three areas were in a row so sometimes it felt like the Solarium was more of a passthrough and less of a quiet retreat but then again, it's a ship with over 4,000 people and you take the good with the not so good.
I loved the production shows. Very much improved from anything I have seen on a ship so far. Aerial acrobatics, orchestra pit that lowers into the stage, very well designed sets and costumes. Sound and lighting was excellent. Everyone had raved about the ice skating show so I couldn't wait to see it. I am not a fan on this type of show, twist, turn, spin, jump, it's just a little limited to keep my attention but they did a good job from what I can compare it to and the venue itself was nicely done.
So now I must talk about the MDR and food for a minute. The allure of a fancy dining room and waiters in tuxedos is not enough to keep me dressing up and coming back for more. I found almost all of the same menu items in the Windjammer only without the wait and uniform. As a vegetarian, I was able to better create a menu in the WJ to my liking and the food was just as good if not hotter and fresher. It's almost as if the MDR is there for those who appreciate table service because other than that, I really can't understand the difference. I stayed with my reservation in the MDR in respect of my waitstaff, but next cruise I will probably skip between the specialty options and the Windjammer.
Speaking of specialty restaurants, Portofinos was worth the extra $20 simply for the quiet away from the crowds. We skipped Chops being non-meat eaters but really enjoyed the veggie burger at Johnny Rockets. And speaking of veggie burgers, there should be some at Coco Cay and Labadee. The buffet lunch provided on both is seriously lacking in non-meat protein and there are no other options other than leaving the islands to return to the ship. Please RCI, - a few small additions such as hummus, bean salad, couscous, and veggie burgers at the private islands would make a lot of people happy. You've already got it on the ship. One other request for RCI if you're reading - please supervise the vendors on Labadee. Compared with Coco Cay, the vendors on Labadee were flat out rude and unnecessarily pushy. I didn't expect this issue under RCI's watch.
Our excursion choices were spot on this trip. We would have done waverunners at Labadee but the water was too rough for safety. I did the dragon coaster, $20 a bit steep for a quick ride but the temptation of additional rides at only $5 sold me the original ticket even though we didn't return later. Smart move, RCI. Ocho Rios was as expected with pushy vendors but we took some good advice from a friend and spent the day at Couples San Souci, $50 all inclusive cruise passenger only special per person. We paid $5 per person each way from the port - about a 3 mile ride. It was so nice to leave the crowds and enter paradise in true luxury with the kindest staff I've ever met. If you're wondering what to do in Ocho, I can't imagine any better more elegant way to spend your day. This is not your run of the mill beach day. Look it up online - you'll thank me later for this secret jewel of a recommendation. We did the ship-sponsored bike tour in Grand Cayman which included the turtle farm, Tortuga Cake/Rum store with lots of samples, a stop by Hell, a lot of fun if you're up for that kind of thing. In Cozumel we booked a private van tour with stops for shopping, a drive along the coast with lunch and a strange Taquila store/tour. It was a nice way to see a lot of the island without having the responsibility of driving. Our driver was very pleasant and helpful. Coconuts was our stop for lunch, a nice place to see in person after reading so many reviews.
On the last day of the cruise, a sea day, I forced myself to lay down on a lounge chair in the Solarium, put on the ipod and listened to the most calming music in my library. I was in Heaven staring at the clouds passing by.
I would do this class of ship again for sure. Thanks to RCI for another incredible week of experiences and a little more understanding as to the best way to get the most out of a cruise.