This was our first cruise with Royal Caribbean, only have cruised three time previously with Norwegian. I had been told that RCCL was a cut above Norwegian by other cruisers, but after this experience I would say there are pluses and minuses for both. Embarkation in Ft Lauderdale was handled very well and went quickly. Luggage did not arrive too speedily as I had packed a little steam iron in one of our bags, not being aware that RCCL does not permit them on board. Our cabin steward did not appear for quite a while, but when he did, we were extremely impressed by his friendly yet professional manner. All the crew seemed to be well trained and all were friendly and very helpful. The balcony we had on this ship was smaller (more narrow) than the balconies on either the Norwegian Sun or Jade. The bathroom was very teeny, although had a nice medicine cabinet/mirror for storage of toiletries, plus there was more such storage behind behind two mirrors in the vanity/desk in the stateroom seating area. The closet was well outfitted and held lots of clothes on 4 racks plus some shelves in the middle of the closet. There were three drawers for things on either side of the desk and a center shallow drawer above the chair niche of the desk that was perfect for hair brushes, makeup, etc. So all in all, the storage is very adequate. The bed in the balconies is located adjacent to the balcony sliding glass door, so your privacy is a bit less than the layout on the Norwegian Sun or Jade, where the beds are located nearer the entrance to the cabin and the sitting area is adjacent to the sliding balcony door.
Food varied in quality in the various venues. The main dining room served pretty good and sometime excellent food for the most part, although fish entrees were few and not very tasty. Had only one breakfast in Tides, and that was terrible so did not return there for that meal of the day. The buffet is much better for breakfast, making omelets and eggs to order that are very well prepared. The service in the main dining and in all restaurants was excellent, especially in the Tides and Chops restaurants. We ate in both specialty restaurants, but found Chops to be superior to Portofino, although my Ahi Tuna in Portofino was prepared just to my liking and quite tasty. My husband's entree was just OK and the salads and sides there were nothing to write home about either. Service in Portofino was not on a par with Chops for some reason. The buffet does not offer as many selections as we were treated to on Norwegian, which was a real disappointment. Food was OK, just not a ton of things to choose from. The waffles and french toast seemed to sit around too long to be really appetizing. The did have a two wonderful chocolate buffets during the cruise, but the first was almost empty of passengers as no one bothered to announce that they were holding the event. The second had more guests, but we were told about it by our waiter after we had finished eating dinner, so didn't really have room to eat much more. I would suggest they list the nights they are going to offer the chocolate buffets in the event newsletter or at least announce it over the loudspeaker or something. They prepared some extraordinary ice, fruit and chocolate sculptures and many wonderful cakes, etc. There is a little no charge "cafe" on the 13th deck that serves hot dogs, soup, salads, etc., but it is not open 24 hours a day as is the similar cafe on Norwegian. Nothing great, but had some nice appetizers one afternoon and an OK salad at lunch on another day. Wines and beer seemed overpriced and a bit more expensive than we experience on our 3 Norwegian cruises, but may just be a price hike cruise lines wide--not sure. We selected "My Time Dining" and had made reservations online before we left home, only to find out that one really does not need to make reservations at all, as the host just seemed to take people as they showed up without too much of a wait, if at all. My Time Dining is located on Deck 5 while set time dining is on Deck 4, with an open area in the middle that opens up to the dining room above, and there is a stairway connecting the two dining areas, although you don't enter either dining room that way. The Tides restaurant offers a good choice of entrees for lunch and has a "chopped" salad buffet we tried one day that is quite good. You select which type of greens and extras that the servers place in a bowl and then they chop them up and add any shrimp, chicken, etc., to the bowl along with dressing.
The entertainment in the theater on this cruise was worse than terrible, except for one night that featured a tango troupe from Argentina. They need to do something about this, as the cruise spends several days at sea and you need something you can really enjoy on those days especially. There was an OK bar singer in the main Centrum bar, but the dance bands were not too hot either. Canned music was an improvement once the bands took a break.
Pools are much smaller on this ship than those on the Norwegian Sun and especially in comparison with the Jade. The water in the Atrium pool was way too hot, but the outdoor pool was kept at a nice temp. People tended to put their things on the deck chaises to "reserve" them much longer than the posted signs suggested. No one sought to do anything about that problem, so finding an unoccupied chaise was nigh on to impossible if you wanted to sit anywhere near the pool. There is a nice little child's pool area with a slide well separated from the rest of the ship's activity. There is also a locked child's and teen area with video games, etc., plus a card room where they held bridge lessons and have various board games for use.
The fitness center is well outfitted with quality equipment. Did not use the spa, even though they kept offering specials and hawked them incessantly throughout the voyage. The shop on this ship is pretty well stocked with clothing, jewelry and sundries, plus all kinds of liquor at bargain duty free prices. Staff is helpful and friendly. The casino was never very lively and slot machines seemed not to pay off for anyone very often. Did not watch anyone playing any other games there, so not sure how people did at any of the gaming tables. The machines take regular currency, so no need to get tokens or buy a card to insert that has a prepaid amount, which was nice. They have a number of penny slots for those who just want to have fun and not spend too much money doing so.
There is a nice little miniature golf course and a rock climbing wall in addition to the other normal on board deck games.
The ship is lovely and well maintained, although I detected a very strong urine odor in the hallway outside a suite on the 10th deck as you enter the stateroom hallway near the elevators in the centrum (middle) area of the ship. I finally mentioned it to a cabin attendant and she later told me they shampooed the carpet. However, it took a couple of days for the odor to disappear.
The tours for the ports were well priced and you really need to purchase one for some of the ports, especially in dicey Colon, as safe and decent transportation in the ports is almost non existent and there isn't much of interest that you can reach easily on foot in Colon or Limon. You can easily hail a taxi when you exit the port area in Cartagena, although you need to make sure you only use the blue shirted drivers, as they are certified by the local authorities. The cab ride from the ship to the old walled city was $20 each way, so nice if you can share with another couple. American dollars are accepted in all the ports we visited on this cruise. The port of Labadee, Haiti was developed by Royal Caribbean, so is completely separate from the rest of the island and is staffed by Royal Caribbean employees or companies associated with the line. All the food and bottled water is brought in from the ship, so there is no health problem. The ship puts on a nice barbecue in a covered outdoor area. There is a nice cove beach that you can reach via a little tram along with the larger beach area close to the dock that has rougher surf, but is nice for sunning.
While we enjoyed the cruise, my husband and I probably would not choose to cruise on this ship again, largely because we missed more varied food venues and better entertainment, plus feel NCL offers more for less money. We also really feel it is time for all ships to stop formal nights, largely because of having to pack more clothing in this era of having to pay for checked luggage.