This was our fourth Royal Caribbean cruise after discovering cruising nearly 5 years ago for our 25th wedding anniversary. This was our third sailing on a Voyager class vessel so all the elements were there for our first mundane cruise, but we had a wonderful, wonderful time. Partly because of the wonderful weather and partly because, for us, Royal Caribbean has "cracked the code" on what appeals to us. We dipped a little deeper into the activities and shows offered and found ourselves engaged even more into the fun atmosphere that is promoted.
That doesn't mean there weren't some frustrations and negatives to be found, but they really were minor compared with the overall experience.
Some of the negatives were the embarkation in Galveston was delayed and somewhat chaotic. That port would do well with some display board when they are boarding by groups. Folks were all crowded in and when group numbers were called it was hard to make your way in. Once in, everything was great, but we were waiting a couple hours to board and had to stand the entire time.
Some of the crew seemed very tired and overworked. We had gotten used to such perky room attendants, but I felt so sorry for ours, he was obviously tired and was always working hard and kept our room very neat, but we never really had the opportunity to chat with him. He smiled every time he saw us and greeted us kindly.
Also, the waiter and assistant waiter were in constant motion and yet were obviously not keeping up with the demands of all their tables. Two of us cancelled wine orders because the asst waiter was filling water glasses, circling with bread choices and distributing wine. He just couldn't keep up. It looked to me that he was servicing at least 5 tables.
Like the cabin attendant, the wait staff was congenial and professional, but just looked like they were working too many tables. We left later than we ever had most dinner seatings. Our table cringed everytime near the end of dinner when that music would play and the waiters would have to prance around the room as they were trying to wait the tables.
Those are the negatives.
The positives were all the great choices we had at the Windjammer. OK, one more minor complaint. I couldn't believe the variety of concentrations of the non-water drinks they passed out (lemonade, orange juice and the occasional fruit punch). One glass would be so concentrated your uvula puckered and the next would be so watered down it just tasted like water in a dirty glass. That seems easily fixable.
I liked the options and the eggs and omelettes to order were fast and well made. The wait staff there was very good.
We can't say enough good things about our Cruise Director Mike Szwajkowski (sp?) was a hoot. He looks impossibly young for how slick and professional yet approachable he comes across. His jokes were spot on, as was his celebrity accent imitations (including Capt. Bang). He seemed very comfortable talking to passengers and really set a great tone in all his communications (including the 3 p's).
The dance team and singing team was astounding. We opted to participate in the "Gotta Dance" troupe and got to know 3 of the dancers just a little better and watched the dance shows a little more in awe of what they do every day. The singers were rock solid and very enjoyable. We loved the comedians as well as the magician. I can't remember all their names, but there wasn't a weak act on board in our opinion.
OK. One more complaint. A minor one, they had pretty good beer selection at the Pig and Whistle Pub, but really, the American craft brewing industry has been growing at a double digit clip even through the recession. At least get some Sam Addams on board! The Pub is a great atmosphere, though and the nightly singer was talented and very funny.
I'm a marathon runner so I don't think I can cruise on anything lower than Voyager class since they offer a 5 lap to the mile running track. It makes it easier to offset the calorie load if you get in a few miles each morning. But try to be off the track by 9 am. The booze cruisers start up then and it's not fair to anyone to try to zip around the track when folks are looking to enjoy this part of their vacation. If you're walking you can get away with a longer time, but if you want to run distance after 9, hop on a treadmill in the fitness center.
The return from Falmouth to Galveston took the last two days of the cruise. The weather was great and these last two nights were amazing. Even late at night walking on the 12th deck track looking at the stars was time spent with a comfortably warm breeze and not gale force winds as in past cruises.
I think Royal Caribbean does a great job these last two days with setting up events to make you leave happy. The Farewell Show at the end was just a blast and really helped you face the depressing end of your week in Paradise with a smile on your face.
Debarkation was an absolute breeze. We self assisted since one of our party had an 11:00 flight out of George Bush airport in Houston. They said we'd be off the ship by 8, we were. Through customs by 10 after, and on the shuttle to the EZ Cruise parking lot by 8:20 and on the freeway by 8:30. I don't know that you can count on things always going that easy, but after a slight negative experience during the embarkation, it was good to have debarkation go so well.
So all in all, we loved our cruise experience. We've already booked our fifth RCCL cruise for next year to see the Southern Caribbean for the first time.