February has the least amount of rain in the Caribbean, and the one leaving early February had very few children onboard. The one AFTER that, leaving 2/18 was due to have 300 onboard! Must remember that for the future!
We are lucky enough to live only an hour and a half from the port. Sunday traffic is light, and we got into the port area at 11 AM despite inaccurate GPS directions that tell you to turn left into a cement median. I'd advise you to not get to the port any earlier because some people on the ship are still leaving, and the people who are picking them up will be in the same line as you are to get on, and you'll be waiting either way. We spent 45 minutes in the car before unloading. From there it was fast. If you park at the port, be prepared to spend $19 a day. This amount of money is ridiculous! The port area is nothing but a run down eye sore with boarded up empty buildings surrounded by marshland. This parking lot is hardly taking up prime real estate property. So for $228, our car was parked at the Bayonne dump.
----- (At the end of the cruise, if you use the Express Disembarkation, you'll have to carry all your own bags down onto the same bus you took to get there. The bags have to sit with you on the bus which is a little crazy because the bus ride is literally 500 feet to the Immigration area. All that heavy lifting of bags onto a bus is kind of crazy when it would be easier for people to just walk down to Immigration.)
Anyway, our cabin, 7288 was the perfect location---center of the ship for stability, yet closer to the aft which is where all the dining areas are, the computer room, and library, plus 5 out of 6 ports opened in the aft of the ship. Susan from Trinidad, our Room Attendant was superb!
My 4-cup coffee maker in my carry-on made it thru the scanner and I managed not to set the ship on fire despite the paranoid CC members who said I would do so. Perhaps their own lack of responsibility makes them overly critical of others who have more competent behavior.
Another excellent idea I had since flying wasn't an issue with baggage weight, was to bring a Brita water pitcher, which did an excellent job at filtering out the horrible chlorine taste of the tap water, and made it quite enjoyable. If you have city water, maybe you're used to drinking chlorine, but not us well water people. Plus I saved a ton of money by not having of buy bottled water. I also used this filtered water in my coffee maker, so along with Chock Full o' Nuts and heavy cream that we brought with us and restocked in St. Thomas, we had fabulously great hot coffee at the crack of dawn without leaving the room or bothering hardworking Room Service staff.
Although we were expecting rough surf on the way down, the Atlantic was smooth sailing. Coming back up (3 days) it got a LITTLE wavy, but not enough to make anyone sick or lose your balance. One of the sea days were a little rainy in the beginning, but it opened up to sheer beauty by the 2nd sea day.
Haiti, Labadee--It's basically a 7-10 acre self-contained amusement park with low-key "rides" that is absolutely beautiful and one of my favorite stops!! It has paved sidewalks, palm trees, a pristine sandy beach, and all your excursions were there. They have a wicked roller coaster that is controlled by YOU with a hand-held brake. A little scary and dangerous, but fun. No OSHA rules here! The longest zip line over open water was here too. You zip for a full 60 seconds. (People on the beach counted.) Be sure to take your good camera with you to the top because the view is post card perfect! The ship takes a pro photo of you at the end which we bought. We had a coupon for it anyway. We zipped, rode the coaster and went to the tiny "water park" which is floating devices you climb on and one slide for only one hour at a time. It was a fun time, and an hour was actually perfect because we were tired from swimming around! I bought a carved piece of wood that was a skeleton sitting on the stump. It's about a foot tall. He's actually adorable. The locals who made it were very gracious that we bought something from them. I wish I had bought more!!
Dominican Republic--Tendering s*cked, but what can you do. We did the Sea Lion Encounter which would have been worth the $135 each if it was longer than an hour or if it included free pictures. After the encounter, you're forced to stay on that beach and purchase food if you want it until the tenders start at 1 PM. You CANNOT leave earlier. So 2 and a half hours of time to kill. Not my favorite because lying on the beach is a little boring for me, but I loved the Sea Lions. The CD of our pics was $35, I think. You CANNOT take your own pics.
St. Thomas--our Mini Boat excursion was cancelled because the average cruise guest on a 12-nt. cruise is 100, so no one else wanted to do it. Royal has got to stop cancelling excursions. I will book with private companies for any "active" excursions because Royal always cancels them as guests get lazier and lazier. We went to the Explorations desk and asked the girl if we could easily rent jet skis on St. John if we did the "On Your Own" tour there. We had never been to St. John, but don't like to just lay on a beach. We wanted activity. She assured us we could "do whatever we wanted". Well, guess what--we get all the way over there and you CANNOT rent jet skis easily because St. John is a national park. You MUST take a guided tour which requires a credit card that we didn't bring. We could have rented a dingy, but they weren't available until after we were scheduled to leave. The Explorations desk should have been aware of St. John's National Park status and limits it has. We took a $28 taxi ride to and from a beach which was beautiful, but not our original plan. It was Cinnamon Bay, a free beach and very calm picturesque water!
As soon as we got back to St. Thomas, we ate in the always fabulous Windjammer and went back out to find jet skis. We asked the taxi driver and she took us to a small place with jet skis on one side of the road in a wavier area, and a smooth beach with crystal clear water and tons of fish to feed on the other side of the narrow road. It was perfect! The jet ski cost us $60 for 1/2 an hour and we saw a sea turtle out there. We snorkeled across the street for $10 each rental equip. It was a wonderful time! I have a lot of faith and trust in the taxi drivers who service the ports, as they have yet to steer us wrong.
St. Kitts--We did the Zip line Tour which is only 2 years old. I didn't see it advertised on the website in November. We booked it from our TV in the cabin and are very happy we took this tour. It was absolutely wonderful and very high--taking you across canyons of trees into openings revealing picturesque views of the ocean. It was well worth the price and the experience. It was built near the rain forest area where all the beautiful trees are tall and glorious. I had my camera and took great video of zipping to and fro.
Antigua--We did a private tour called Segway Antigua-- the only one on the island. Fabulous tour! Segways are so much fun and for only $110 ea, we were the only 2 on the tour along with the 2 guides. We toured fruit farms, a chicken farm, saw beautiful beaches all on the Segways! We also sampled local fruits including tamarind, which is now my personal favorite. Snag some from the locals before you leave this island because it's delicious. We had some private time to Segway on the beach. I think it was Fryes Bay or Valley Bay beach. They all run together. Then we ate an inclusive lunch. The coconut shrimp was to die for! We could then spend as much time as we wanted on our own at the beach (not riding the Segways at this point) which has calm water that is the kind of light blue that nearly hurts your eyes because it's so light and beautiful! So we rented a jet ski again from a "guy on the beach" for only $45 this time for 1/2 an hour. It was an incredible tour and so much worth the price! We had a WHOLE day of fun for only $110 each minus our jet ski rental, when ship tours for more than that are over in an hour! The taxi man, Edgar, who was also included, picked us up from the beach when we were ready to go. He was an excellent narrator of all we passed along the street.
St. Maarten--We did a private tour with Scenic Tours--Horseback Riding. It was on the Dutch side, and we were picked up at the pier along with 2 other riders. We went to the ranch where others joined us and the ride began. My husband and I both had 2 beautiful white horses from Lucky Stables. The horses walk pretty slowly as the tour is suited for beginners and all other levels, but caters to beginners. We rode up and down hills around the area, always having a beautiful view of the ocean, and it was a lot of fun. At the end we rode the horses into the calm blue waters on the beach up to our waist. The horses loved the dip and the water was so warm! My horse pooped in the water though after being the perfect lady all along the tour--oh well!!
Six island days of sunshine--who could ask for anything more?!
We saw some of the shows. Action/comedian Rick Novell was a riot and SO talented with skills of perfect balance and juggling swords while on top of a straight ladder AND also riding a 6 foot unicycle! The ice show is colorful and entertaining, and the dancers and singers are marvelous!
We preferred to eat in Windjammer for nearly all meals, as it's so much faster than the main dining room, and the food is to die for. We were sure to go to the Main Dining Room at the end to give our Waiters their much deserved tips.
We LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Windjammer with it's huge selection of food, fruits, vegetables and desserts. They are so quick to clear the tables to seat the next group. The ice cream machine outside of Portofino's always had a line because it's so much fun to serve yourself.
The gym is incredible and the jacuzzi there between 6 and 7:30 PM is always empty!
Any problems? Not besides the St. John jet ski incident. The adults also need a slide, not just the kids. Adults should be able to use the slide between 6 and 8 PM. Just put a weight limit if you're afraid someone will break it.
There were many different countries of origin on the ship, not just Americans. You find that on longer cruises, and it's always a welcome experience. The very few kids made it even more enjoyable!
For people on these boards who complain constantly about food, service, or the attention you didn't get, I highly suggest you shell out $25,000 for a cruise on Crystal Cruises where I'm sure you'll get all your nose hairs trimmed evenly and your belly rubbed nightly to ease digestion.
We'll always sail Royal and look forward to an Alaskan cruise in 2013.