DAY ONE: EMBARKATION
We arrived early (We all spent the previous night at the Hilton Garden Inn at Dania Beach), and got on board with practically no waiting. Special mention to John Steele of John's Car Service (www.johnscarservice.com) for getting us down to MiamiWe all reconvened for lunch at the Windjammer, and then some ship exploration. Kids were in the pool and at Flow Rider ASAP. This was a big football day, so the ship set up The Sphinx for viewing both games. Better part of the day was spent there.
DAY TWO: AT SEA
The usual day at sea activities went on poolside. We claimed a spot early and except for using the pool, or going in for lunch, we stayed put. (I would never save 13 chairs!) Flow Rider was a big hit with the four kids in our group. The main pool deck was full, but there were chairs available here and there at the kid's pool and at the Solarium.
DAT THREE: COSTA MAYA
Through "ShoreTrips" (www.shoretrips.com) we arranged a beach day at " Luna de Plata "(www.lunadeplata.info/mahahual-majahual-costa-maya). We walked through the portside shopping village, where we picked up taxi vouchers and were off. This small hotel has a beach with cushioned lounges under umbrellas. A kayak and snorkel equipment was included. Our particular package included drinks and an appetizer each. Since we were 13 people, we received waves of appetizers during the afternoon and never felt the need to order lunch as we planned. The staff was at first a little overwhelmed by the size of our group, but everything smoothed out and was great. Locals selling trinkets and wares were evident but moved on and were not obnoxious. Massages on the beach were available for extra (very negotiable). When we were ready to leave, the staff called for a taxi van and we were back at the pier.
DAY FOUR: BELIZE CITY
This tender is a good twenty minutes. We were met by our guide for a private cave tubing experience (again through ShoreTrips). It was an hour ride to the caves, but Clarence and Junior were very engaging and provided us with a comprehensive history of Belize. We arrived at the site, where we were outfitted with life vest, hard hat with light and a tube. We then had to walk a trail to get to the caves. This is a forty five minute walk. The walk wasn't strenuous so much as awkward. Since I am under 5'2", it was very hard to carry the tube with a diameter the same as my height. I literally had to hold my arm above my head to carry it. This got old very fast. However, once we were in the water, it was unbelievable (it was like an Indiana Jones Movie) . Our private group was clipped together for the voyage. (Non private tours had many, many people who had to link feet under the arms of the person in front of them. You may not even know this person.) Clarence and Junior explained the Mayan rites that were performed in the caves. They also held our group back at points so we wouldn't be overwhelmed by the larger tours. They also had to literally stand up and pull us through the shallow areas - butt's up!. We also went through one more cave than the larger tours. At the end of the ride is a large rock formation that you can jump off into the river. It was a big hit with the kids. After that we changed and left the site to go have lunch. We went to a local spot called "Amigo's". This was a colorful spot and the lunch of stewed chicken, beans and rice, and cole slaw was good. We got back in time to catch the second to last tender. We all (sans kids) had dinner at Chops that night and everyone enjoyed it. It is worth the cost because the pace was slower and the food was hot (a problem, for obvious reasons, in the main dining room).
DAY FIVE: COZUMEL
Some in our party took a taxi to a private beach, some chartered a fishing boat (apparently there are no fish in Cozumel), and the rest just visited the nearby shopping. Senor Frog's was okay. The staff works very hard to make it look like you are having a good time. Very steep check came at the end because the prices are not in US dollars. A margherita ended up $15.00(US) and not at all boozy.
DAY SIX: GRAND CAYMAN
Much better tender than Belize. Another great Shoretrips excursion to Sting Ray City. We were once again our own group. The van driver let us stop at a liquor store on the way to the boat where we picked up beer and rum (to spike the fruit punch). The tour provider didn't have a license to sell, but we were told we could carry it on. The crew put it on ice for us, no problem. It was great to pull up to the sting rays in our group of 13, and watch masses of people coming off cruise ship sanctioned excursions. We had such great individual attention. Big kudos to Capt. Carlos, Dayton, and Jason of "Tours Cayman". After the stingrays we moved to a snorkel spot. Back on land, a van ride back to the pier, and we moved on to "Margaritaville" for a late lunch. Just average. The burger was a frozen patty and the fries were frozen shoestrings. I would have no objection if it wasn't so expensive. By the way, the pool inside the restaurant looked filthy and at least one parent in our group wouldn't let their daughter go in. If you have kids, avoid the place, so you can avoid the drama if you nix the pool. We should have gone to someplace native.
DAY SEVEN: AT SEA
More pool lounging, more flow rider. My husband and I did a "ChefMasters" class. You didn't really prepare a meal as much as you stirred prepped ingredients together. It was fun to go inside Portofino's galley though, and the chef was very nice. He answered all our questions, even one's about worst kitchen disaster, etc... He is classically trained and far away from his family in Australia. We left with our cloth aprons, and the bottle of champagne that greeted us for mimosas.
DAY EIGHT: DISEMBARKATION
Pretty easy. After breakfast at the Windjammer, we waited in the theater until our number was called. Walked off, spent one minute at customs and went down and picked up our luggage.
The main dining room food is just alright. Not hot enough, but understandably. If anyone was late to the table it sent the servers over the edge. Nobody was ever more than five or ten minutes late, and with a group our size, I consider that an acceptable variable. The wait staff always wanted your order the minute you sat down. Too rushed for my taste. I know people complain that The Windjammer serves the same food every day, but it is varied enough that you don't need to repeat. Also, the lunchtime featured hot entrEe was different. We had breakfast in the main dining room one morning. It was exactly, down to the placement of the parsley garnish, as room service breakfast. But it was good to be out of the hectic atmosphere of The Windjammer at breakfast.
A big hit with our party was the daily trivia in the Schooner Bar. We attended both the 5pm and 8pm and had a blast. On nights when it is "name that tune", it gets very crowded. Arrive early. "Quest" was fun. A good nighttime show. The production shows are just so-so. Maybe I have watched too many RCCL shows to be impressed anymore. I could not follow the theme in "Up in the Air". The underwater sequence was good, but the rest was mishmash. Never used the spa. Had fun in the casino. On the last day at sea the slots were loose in the afternoon, but much tighter at night. Play early, leave early. Some in our party complained the roulette tables were too crowded and they should have opened more up. Lastly, what is the sewage smell? We had the same problem on deck 6 in May, and this time on deck 9. The steward and the crew were dismissive of the complaint. Obviously, it is a problem and RCCL should be upfront about it and address it. Maybe the week in dry-dock will fix it.