We just completed our Spring Break cruise on FOTS. We traveled with a group of twenty-three, including three of us couples celebrating 25 years.
Prior to our stay, we spent a couple days at the Hilton Cocoa Beach. We simply love that place. It is beginning to show some age, and could use a few updates. But the staff are second to none. We, quite literally, had the run of the place.
Before I cover anything else about FOTS, let me just say go to the ice show. Sorry, GO TO THE ICE SHOW! The mere fact that it’s on a moving ship is impressive enough. But what they do on a mini-rink rivals some professional shows. Don’t miss it, seriously.
BOARDING: Had we let it, this easily could have ruined our whole trip. Seems RCI picked our day to start some new kind of system for moving people through during check-in. We were shuffled four times from one place to another before check-in. It would have been more, but we refused after that. Check-in itself was quick and efficient. Then we got moved another four times after we checked in. Hopefully they have the system improved by now, and you won’t go through that. But I could see the ship, and knew we were only minutes away from fun, so we just tried to roll with it.
THE SHIP: Three weeks out of dry dock, so we expected essentially a new ship. Not really, still some areas that need maintenance, but nothing that would turn you off. No one can argue it is a beautiful ship. Of the upgrades, the cupcake shop is fun, and really good – something unique. I agree with dlfortmyers ; the big screen is a nice touch, but not a reason to pick this ship. All the ships have them now. Watching sporting events at night out there is quite enjoyable. Speaking with fellow cruisers, this seems to be the Goldilocks ship – not to big, not too small, just right. One of our fellow passengers says the Allure, while laid out better, is almost too big.
Maybe I am just a big kid, but every time I stand in that promenade, I simply marvel that I am not on firm ground, but a vessel moving at 20 or 30 knots. I spent hours walking around the ship, just to find things I hadn’t seen yet.
CABINS: This time we sprung for the Junior Suite. I was dreading paying the extra money, but am very glad I did. Between the extra space, walk in closet and giant blacony, we are officially spoiled. On more than one night, we had six to eight people in the room, with four or five more on the balcony, and weren’t the least bit crowded.
Cabin service exceeded all our expectations. Our steward Ben had some kind of freaky ESP thing going on – every time we got close to the door with our hands full, he popped out of nowhere with his key to open it for us. Spooky. We had ordered wine to the room ahead of time, and it was always on ice for happy hour.
DINING: I only have other RCI cruises and Carnival to compare it to, but this was our best dining experience to date. We ate breakfast in the dining room most days; decent food, great service. They don’t have eggs benedict on the menu every day, but will make it, so just ask. I wasn’t sure about sticking a buffet in the middle of the dining room, but it works out well. If I wanted just that extra slice of bacon or a little fruit, I didn’t need to bother my waiter. Lunch we had in the Windjammer (buffet.) Pretty standard buffet fare for a ship, but a very wide selection. The biggest difference between our RCI and Carnival experiences was in the buffet. Every meal in the Carnival grill was long lines, shortage of tables, and surly service. In fact, my wife felt that eating in the Carnival grill was like a fight for food. None of that here. All our trips to the Windjammer were relaxing and enjoyable food. One trip to Johnny Rockets was fun. Heavy greasy food, but that’s the point, isn’t it?
Dinner service in the dining room is where there seems to be the most variation in reviews. I have read good and bad reviews of the service and food on this ship. Maybe I just don’t eat at places as nice as these reviewers are used to, but this was the highlight of our trip. Remember, you need to keep it in context. They are probably serving 1200 people at the same time as you. The service was phenomenal, again given that our waiter probably had six other tables at least. There were some missteps, such as improperly cooked steak or forgotten drink orders. But, when pointed out, and I am not exaggerating here, the head waiter appeared instantly with the waiter, assistant waiter, and bar waiter. I swear they seemed genuinely appalled if we were not happy. The food was exceptional I thought. I had a tender prime rib. The lobster tails I know are small and typical, but the accompanying shrimp were cooked perfectly. And since they would bring you more, who cares how big they were? I had the best leg of lamb I have ever eaten anywhere, period. My sister in law is Italian and has eaten with family in the old country, and even she was impressed with it. Desserts were just average.
DECKS: As everyone else here pointed out, the “no saving chairs” thing is joke. On the two sea days, you will only get a chair next to the pool if you are up and out by 8 am. Otherwise, there are more than enough for everyone. Deck 12 has plenty of room. I don’t hold RC accountable for the chair thing, I blame the passengers. I come from the customer service business. At some point you have to ask yourself if it’s worth alienating a potential return client for a chair. But don’t put that dumb sign out there if you don’t mean it.
ENTERTAINMENT: With the exception of the ice show I already mentioned, it was typical. Stage shows better than some, most live performers fair to tepid. But here is one of my few gripes: learn how to use a sound system. Louder is not always better. I have no problem with loud music, I have done the big concert thing since I was a kid. But it has to sound right. The live band Vibes may be a decent reggae combo, but I have no freakin’ idea because of the terrible sound.
ACTIVITIES: If you can’t find something to do, you just aren’t trying. If nothing else, you can catch a movie, they play all day and night.
PORTS: We stopped in Labadee Haiti, Falmouth Jamaica, Cozumel, and Georgetown Grand Cayman. We are simple folk, and just like relaxing. Labadee was our favorite stop. You don’t need to spend anything at all really. They bring you food from the ship, and since the ‘island’ is private, it’s only you and your fellow cruisers. Make sure you go up to the point and hear the dragon’s breath. There is a very large beach area, but it is rocky. If you have kids or want to just take a dip, you should go to the small cove area where the jet skis and inflatables are much better. The Tulum ruins I wrote on another review, but I would pass on that. Our daughter swam with the dolphins in Grand Cayman. While quite fun, it was too short.
CROWDS: I agree with other reviewers, you don’t really notice them except at the elevators. But again, I don’t blame RCI, I blame the passengers. For gosh sakes people, why can’t healthy and able adults go up or down one flight of stairs! The kids on this cruise were rather out of control. The captain had to warn parents over the PA system that they would be held accountable for the kids’ behavior. For that too I blame the parents, not RCI. I think other cruises will be better, since this was Spring Break. I you don’t like kids, go during the school year.
On the flip side, most of the passengers are friendly and will strike up a conversation over just about anything. When I wore my college hat or favorite team jersey, I chatted with all kinds of people about it. That was truly fun.
DISEMBARKING: This is always such a depressing day. No more great service, back to work, but this was our most painless one ever. We drive, so as not to have to spend our last day of ‘relaxing’ running around like idiots to make a flight. We chose the last gorup number, ate a nice breakfast, and walked right off. The customs folks in Port Canaveral are great. Hard to imagine they keep their good humor under those conditions.
We would definitely take this ship again. The outstanding service and friendliness of the crew outweighs any complaints I could come up with. If you have never cruised before, I would absolutely recommend FOTS for your first cruise.