Here's my short version: This cruise is for people who like to have fun, enjoy sun and sand, and aren't expecting world class cuisine at every single meal. You will, however, have wonderful staff who will do their best to make sure you have an enjoyable experience. Read on for more details......
This cruise was intended to be a last hurrah before beginning my master's degree. I sailed with my boyfriend who was a first time cruiser. I have only sailed one other cruise before and it was with Cunard. Because I had been on one of the classiest ships in the world, I wasn't sure what to expect and was afraid that the bar had been set too high. I went back and forth between whether to go with the more affordable carnival or with the more recommended Royal Caribbean. I was NOT disappointed. Royal Caribbean was FANTASTIC!
Transfers: We booked our flight with Southwest into Ft. Lauderdale. We booked our transfers through RC and I'm glad we did. From the baggage area, we were greeted by happy RC employees. The transfer was seamless to the port. The bus driver handled all of the loading and unloading of the luggage.
Embarkation: When we arrived at the port from our transfer, the line was LONG. Having our travel documents already filled out and ready to go made our process faster but the line was still very long. Through reading other reviews, I knew that we would be served buffet lunch upon arrival but had read about the very long lines. We did not have this experience. We found the buffet easy to get to with plenty of seating.
Stateroom: We were in an unobstructed ocean view room on deck 5 with a "picture window." We had a queen size bed that was pushed up to the wall on one side and had very little room to walk on the other. Please understand, although the room and bathroom were small, it was clean, so by no means am I complaining. The fact of the matter is that we were really only in our room to sleep and shower so although it was cramped quarters, it served it's purpose. Our room had it's own temperature control which was nice. The room is equipped with a vanity area, hairdryer, safe, shampoo, and two bars of soap. Our room attendant, Alex, was WONDERFUL! At one point we needed a pair of scissors and he happened to be in the hallway. Even though we had requested that he come in and help us, he still stood in the doorway and asked if he could come in. So polite, so helpful and willing to do what he can to help. The towel animals were so cute. I was worried about noise but honestly, we didn't hear a thing!!!
Entertainment: The singers and dancers were typical cruise ship singers and dancers. They weren't the worst in the world but it certainly wasn't like seeing a broadway show. We only saw one show with them. I was glad we did but didn't have any real desire to see them a second time. The second evening the entertainment was a juggling comedian. He was very funny and I'm glad we went to see him. We went to several events in public rooms such as the "Love and Marriage" game show, "Battle of the Sexes" and "Majority rules" which were all very funny and entertaining. We also participated in "The Quest" which is an adult scavenger hunt. By far this was the most hysterical game. We LOVED it. We also saw the adults only comedian who was funny. Participated in some trivia games, which we won! Woo hoo!
Casino: I liked that there was a smoking section and a nonsmoking section of the casino. We aren't smokers so not being surrounded by a plume of smoke was nice. If a table is empty, the dealers will teach you the game. Again, the staff are so eager to please and be helpful.
Pool area and bars: The pool is also on deck 11 at the aft end of the ship. I found it to always be clean and towels were always available. I was worried about quantity of lounge chairs but there are plenty!!! Bar service throughout the ship was not lacking. There were plenty of waiters who were prompt with drinks. I found the drinks to be reasonably priced. It was no more expensive than if you were drinking at a football or baseball stadium.
Food: We ate dinner every night in the dining room. Without a doubt, the service makes up for any shortcomings of the food. I thought that the variety was nice and the portions were ample. (not the type of size like in restaurants nowadays when you take half of your entree home) I can not say enough about the dining room staff. Our waiter, Romeo and assistant waiter, Roche were so wonderful! After the first night, they knew us by name, knew what we liked to drink, and had good recommendations for dinner. Every night after dessert, Romeo showed us some sort of magic trick. (which i thought was above and beyond) The second to last night, the entire wait staff did a dance and the last night, they all sang. It was truly entertaining.
Food in the windjammer (their casual buffet area) is on deck 11 at the forward end of the ship. We ate there only for breakfast as lunch was always out at a port of call. I found that there was plenty of variety but that it was typical buffet food. My favorite part of breakfast was the omelet bar where you have a custom made omelet.
Spa: We booked a couples massage which was absolutely wonderful. The therapist, names Mikaela was wonderful! She listened to what it was that I wanted and needed and delivered it well. Truly a relaxing and enjoyable experience. They did try to sell products and more services at the end but it was totally obnoxious.
Ports and Excursions: Please understand that we did not pick this cruise for the ports but simply to relax, have fun, and get some sun and sand. We achieved what we wanted to. The three ports were Nassau (which I had been to before and knew only to expect one nice street), Cococay, and Key West.
We did not book any excursions through RC or on our own. We're adventurous types and know how to make our own fun. We had to tender to Cococay but I found it a pleasant experience. If you don't like sand, sun and water activities, you will not enjoy Cococay. There's plenty to do between snorkeling, parasailing, jet skiing, kayaking, and an area with a floating trampoline and other playground type of activities on the water. The food was mediocre. The waiters served a delicious frozen adult beverage called "Cocolocos." If you're a fan of frozen fruity drinks, it will not disappoint. We were served a buffet lunch with hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, ribs and various sides. There was ample picnic area as well as beach lounge chairs. Even though I knew that I was sharing the island with 2500 other people, it did not feel crowded at all. The water was beautiful and it was a pretty awesome experience to be lounging on my floating raft and see a sting ray swim under me.
We only had 7 hours in Key West. I would have liked to have had more time to explore there but it was still an enjoyable day.
Every time we got off this ship at the ports, there were no lines and getting on and off was easy. There are cruise ship photographers at every port of call so there are plenty opportunities for professional pictures. The photographers also went around every night at dinner to take pictures and could be found with backdrops on the formal night.
Disembarkation: I found the process to be simple. It's really just a matter of following directions. From the time we were called to get off the ship to the time we had gathered our luggage and were through customs was a matter of 40 minutes which I found to be easy and reasonable.
Again, we had a transfer to Ft. Lauderdale which was seamless again.
I recommend paying for as much as you can before you get on the ship. It makes life much easier. We did prepaid gratuities, booked a massage, and bought drink packages before ever getting on the ship. It was so nice to have so little to worry about!
So, if you've read all I've written so far, hopefully you found it informative and helpful. Again, in summary, this ship is for fun people, not fuddy duddies!!!