It was very nice to drive to the port and leaving at the end was a breeze. There was an outbreak of the dreaded norovirus on the previous cruise and they had called us the night before to state that boarding was pushed back an hour, but did not tell us why. It took us about an hour and some change to get through the boarding process and I was initially annoyed by the jampacked folks in the windjammer, but we quickly relocated to the Viking lounge which was pretty and comfortable. We were not allowed into our rooms until 4pm, which I thought was late, but I wrote that off to the intensive cleaning due to the norovirus and we didn't have any outbreaks that I know of, so hats off to RCI there. What did disturb me though was the way they dumped our bags in the landing areas around the stairs/elevators. Finally around 6:30, as we had walked past them so many times, we just grabbed our bags and hauled them to our room ourselves. Not a big deal, but I found this was indicative throughout the cruise of their organizational skills, or lack there of. On Princess, we never saw luggage, it just appeared magically in our rooms, so I don't know if this was just due to the norovirus or if they normally handle it that way.
Our room, 2126 large outside, was small. When I first saw it I was dismayed. It did not match the picture, the picture showed a couch and ours just had a chair, but we thought this may have been possibly due to the fact it was a connecting room, though we did not request one, and the couch would have blocked that door. After we gave it a day though, it actually was large enough for the two of us and the storage was really nifty. Lots of nooks and cubbies and the closet was big enough. The shower though was a tight fit and no fridge which we had in all our previous cruises. The TV was also pretty tiny though again, we were not there to watch TV so not a huge deal and we have always had a least a balcony before on Princess, so it is not a truly fair comparison. Overall the room was quiet and comfortable and appeared to be in good shape, so I would give it a B + as it was the lowest outside room category and we did get it at a pretty good price. Our room steward we did not see until the second day and he was fine, but nothing spectacular.
We were notified later that first night that due to high winds, we could not safely depart Baltimore, and they hoped to leave sometime after midnight. When we woke up, we were told that it was around 4am that we ended up leaving and because of the delay they were going to push our first port call back one day and extend the time there but skip the 2nd port. As Key West was one of the reasons we had picked this cruise, we were pretty disappointed and it did not make sense to our group that we spent more time in the first port, one we believe was the least popular and then skip the second port, but it is possible
that RCI knows logistics better than me, I suppose.
We had the meet and mingle the first morning in the Viking lounge. The M&M would have been better with name tags which were not provided, but they really gave out decent prizes, and a lot of them, which Princess didn't do. They also provided snacks and some
non alcoholic drinks like lemonade.
We felt the at sea days were kind of boring, the activities were minimal and not very well organized. The leader was late, or had an A/V issue, or at one or two points was misleading and frankly came across as more smart ass than funny when we tried to get clarification on what the rulings were or whether or answers were correct or not so we knew if we had to continue guessing in the next rounds. Most of us have a good sense of humor, so I don't think it was just us being touchy there. We also found a lot of the lines going off and on the ship and just the way they handled communicating to be disorganized. Sometimes they would have two lines to leave the ship, but it looked like one in and one out, so no one would take the 2nd line and it would back way up then someone would yell there are two lines and we would know to use both. Coming back on, they made you sanitize your hands, show your IDs and remove your sunglasses hats and put stuff on the xray machine all at once. We though if they would just have moved the sanitize thingy back 10 paces, it would give people time to do that before they had to use their hands for something else. Nothing was major, but it was a bunch of little stuff that seemed some basic common sense could have moved things along a bit faster and been less confusing for folks.
On a positive note, I thought the ship was very attractive and well kept, particularly for her age. They had some really nice public areas that were pretty and comfortable, often that was hard to find on some of the Princess cruises we were on. The food was actually pretty good as well. The selections at the Windjammer were varied and most of it was surprisingly good for a buffet. We have found the food to be hit or miss on our previous cruises.
The casino was also a good size and latte-tudes, the coffee shop, was quite good too. Cheryl, who ran it most of the time we went, was really great. The drink prices were crazy high though, and while I do drink, we are not huge drinkers. I think one sea day, we may have each had 5 drinks total for the day, and most of the rest of the time it was 3 or 4 at the most, but we also had one or two coffees at the coffee bar, just coffee, nothing frilly, but wow. Our bill for coffee, drinks and the one bottle of wine was really something to behold. If I were a drinker, it would have been more than the cruise cost itself. The gym was reasonably furnished but was crowded everytime we went in, so I only worked out twice, but the machines worked and had what I would normally use and the view was great.
The first sea day we booked the fire and ice pedicure. Frankly, it was terrible. The woman was lackadaisical, the massage was non existent, though my polish was nicely applied. For 70 dollars I felt ripped off and even slightly violated. By far the worst spa service I have ever had.
Overall, we found the service to be just average. There were some that were very, very good, but overall it was OK. Only a few complaints but nothing to write home about and on Princess, all three cruises, the service level was consistently outstanding or very close to it, with few exceptions. Had we not had Princess to compare to, we would have probably thought it pretty good though.
Another issue we had was the kids, or lack of much in the way of no kids zone. We were surprised to see kids in the bar areas, particularly in the evenings like in Viking. But I do believe they may have been so many kids they didn't have enough room for them all in their usual place (what we call kid prison, AKA, the kid zone), so that wasn't really that big a deal. Apparently it was spring break in the New York schools. But I was annoyed by the kids in the solarium and in the hot tubs, especially the much younger kids who were often unaccompanied. They told us there were like 600 kids on this cruise, and just for comparison, the next cruise only had like 40. So I think it was not that bad when you take that into account.
RCI does not have self serve washing machines, Princess does, which I was initially not too happy about, but we did the all you can stuff in a bag once and then added in a few slacks and shirts and it wasn't too expensive. They did a nice job and we got it back at the end of the next day so I was happy enough in the end with it. It was more than do it yourself, but it was also kind of nice to not have to mess with it.
The last port day was at RCI's private little island, CocoCay. It does not appear on the drop down so I could not include it in the port section If you like beach/snorkeling and various other, water activities, this was really nice and we enjoyed it. There was a small sunken ship, or some facsimile thereof, in the little lagoon area and tons of fish that swam right up to us. Again, a bit crowded with all the kids but we had no problem finding chairs. They served a free lunch, burgers, hotdogs, chickens, but the flies were pretty bad and so I opted for a beer for lunch. If you do not like the beach/water, then there is nothing for you here, so just stay on the ship as two of my friends did. This was tendered though and it took us awhile to get off the ship. We thought if we waited until a little bit later, like 10:30, we might miss some of the crowds but I actually think we would have been better off going in earlier.
We did not hit much in the way of shows, we attended some of the trivia and games and they did help pass the time but mostly it was a lot of down time, playing cards and hitting the casino. They had a saxophonist that was pretty good, but we didn't stay for all of it. Not something I would normally sit and watch, maybe to have on in the background would be nice. They did have a fantastic classical guitarist named Lorenzo who played in the two bar areas a few times. I was amazed by how beautiful just the one guy playing a guitar could be. And we did like the violinist and piano player as well. I heard the full scale shows were hit and miss, some got great reviews, some were walked out of.
Disembarking was fairly easy, as we had driven to the port. My friends had signed up for the express disembarkation without telling us, where you take your own luggage off and leave first thing, but we did not so got assigned to one of the last groups. However, as we all drove in together, clearly that was not going to work. We discussed it and agreed that the express was not such a good idea, thinking that the parking lot would be a mess with everyone trying to get out and plus we were driving to Northern VA, so the Baltimore DC traffic was going to be at its worst. We spoke with the service desk and they had no problem immediately switching us to one of the earlier regular groups off which was scheduled to disembark between 9:15 and 9:30, and we were in our car and driving off by 10. It was literally less than a 5 minute walk to our car. Major thumbs up here.
All in all I would do RCI again, in fact I had already booked a July Med cruise with them before this one. It will be interesting to see it without, hopefully, the norovirus aftermath and weather issues and not quite so many kids. Plus, as that cruise is so port intensive, the activities/sea days will be a much smaller impact on the overall cruise. I thought the service/food were good enough to quite good and the ship was attractive and comfortable, so I am looking forward to and expect a great cruise with RCI this summer. Just have to watch that bar bill!