We took pretty much this same cruise in January 2010. It was our first on RCI. We had mostly sailed on Princess and a few others before, but the convenience of Bayonne was too much to pass up. The last cruise had some pros and cons but we decided to try again. We went in a balcony cabin last time and decided to go with a grand suite this time. A wise decision.
Unless they make significant changes, Bayonne will never be my favorite terminal. The traffic can be horrible. It took close to 40 minutes from the time we reached the port entrance until we actually got out at the terminal. 10 minutes longer than it took to drive to the port. We used a limo since the cost was almost the same as using the parking lot there.
We got our bags out of the car and had no problem getting someone to take them. This part is done in essentially a large unheated tent. Not so bad getting on the boat but not so good when you are waiting to be picked up.
You then walk into the terminal building and have to go through security. Lots of people waiting for this. I don't know how they could improve this unless they added more x ray and metal detector machines. Once you got past this, your time as a suite guest greatly improved.
First time we stood on a long line to get checked in. Then we were given numbered tickets for the bus that would take you to the ship. You waited until your number was called.
This time they sent us to a small check in area and then directly to the bus. No waiting.
The balcony cabin was nice, but the suite was better. Probably about twice the size. We thought it was a good value. The same cabin on Princess would probably have cost about twice as much. The extra space was great. Plenty of room to move around without ever bumping into anything.
The suite perks were sweet. Instead of having them swipe your seapass card when you wanted to get towels at the pool, all you had to do was show it. This also meant that you did not have to stand in line to give the towels back. You could just drop them in the container and leave. In fact, after a few days the towel attendant didn't even ask to see the card.
We didn't have to get tickets to the ice shows. Just got there a few minutes early and went to a reserved seating area. The main theater also had a reserved row but we only used it once or twice when it was busy and we had gotten there late.
It was nice to have the concierge lounge but we didn't use it very much. The concierge, Carlos, was very nice.
One of the best parts was the private beach in Labadee. It was like a gated community. We met Carlos after we got off the boat and were driven there. We opted for one of the standard cabanas and it was great. Make sure you have water shoes. There still are rocks to watch out for. Seemed like every time we left the cabana the attendant was in to sweep out any sand we may have left behind. Kind of like a land based cabin steward. Lunch was pretty good. The did have steak and grilled shrimp if you wanted it. When we left to go back to the ship, they called for a golf cart to take us back.
If RCI wanted to do something to make suite guests feel special, they certainly did it on Labadee.
On days that we went to lunch in the Windjammer, we were able to sit in Portofino. This was very nice when the Windjammer was busy. We could also order anything that was on the dining room menu during the hours the dining room was open. This is important to remember as you can't do this if the dining room is not open.
One morning they had a reception with the captain. We thought it was a little early for drinks, but again, it was something that did make you feel special.
Unfortunately, our wait staff in the dining room last year was not so good. We were in the deck 5 dining room. This year we were on deck 3 and had the staff that served the captain's table. Our waiter was "Waiter of the Year." What a great difference and what a great time. I think it even made the food taste better.
Our cabin steward last year was great. This year was just as good or better. I had a little sand on my water shoes that I never notice. DW pointed out that I should clean them before I got sand on the carpet. I forgot about it, but when we returned to our cabin later in the day, they had been cleaned. I would call that above and beyond.
We were very lucky with the ports. Except for St. Martin, we were the only ship in the others. Shopping in St. Thomas when you are the only ship is great. Stores were actually empty. A lot different then when 5 or more ships are docked.
Debarkation was also nice. We met in the Chamber where they had coffee, juice and pastries. We were a little delayed getting off as they were still cleaning up from a snow storm but once we got off, our luggage was right in front and getting it and going through customs and immigration took less than 10 minutes.
Waiting for our limo was less fun. That tent is cold so make sure you have some warm clothes.
All in all, a great cruise and one we would do again.
There has been a lot of mention of what you can and can not bring on board. We put a case of bottled water in a backpack and checked it. It was delivered to our cabin with no problems. Saved a lot considering what they charge.
There are washcloths in suites as well as bars of soap, shampoo and the like (but we bring our own).
They do put chocolates on your pillow at night (Ghiradelli).
Every other afternoon they deliver hors d'oeuvres to your cabin.
Every other evening they do make up the towel animals. The turtle with my sunglasses was our favorite.