GETTING ON AND OFF THE SHIP
As many reviewers have noted, RC has embarkation down to a science—from the moment our shuttle pulled into the Cruiseport, the process was easy and fast. The only time we really felt how many bodies there were on the ship was at St. Thomas, when the ship was late arriving in port. A large group of us sat for over an hour in the ice arena waiting to exit for our excursion, with no information about the delay. We were then shuffled like cattle slowly off the ship and had to figure out where to go to find our tour operator—we're still not sure why we were sent to the ice arena in the first place!
As for disembarkation at the end of the trip, in future we'll be taking our own bags and getting off the ship early. Sitting in a theatre and waiting for our number to be called is tedious at best, and an anticlimactic end to a great vacation.
We saved a bit of money this trip by getting an inside cabin. I missed the balcony (and the natural light to wake me in the morning), but the room was well maintained and our attendant was great. The room was sufficient for two adults, although two others in our party had the same room with a slightly different floor plan and found it awkward.
This is a stateroom, not a hotel room, so folks should plan accordingly: pack light and organize well. Some smart tips we gleaned from earlier reviews:
1. Get a cheap over-the-door shoe holder. You can use it for shoes or for organizing other small objects that tend to get misplaced, like sunscreen.
2. If you use electronics that need regular recharging, bring a short extension cord, as the outlets tend to be awkwardly located.
3. Some sort of shower organizer would have helped—razors and travel-sized items tend to fall off the small rack provided.
Because I'm new to cruising, we scheduled excursions at all three ports: a tour of Atlantis at Nassau, a snorkel/swim stop at St. Thomas, and a beach afternoon on St. Maarten. These were all fun, but the vendors' descriptions of the activities lacked some key information:
1. "St. John Sea Safari by Powercat" takes you right from the port to Christmas Cove for a bit of snorkeling, followed by a visit to a quiet cove for swimming. The crew consists of young and enthusiastic Americans who know how to throw a party, and the boat trip was fast and fun. The snorkeling was well organized, but there wasn't that much to see. The reef area isn't particularly colorful, although there were some interesting fish. The biggest surprise, though, came when we arrived at the swimming beach: nowhere in the description of the tour does it mention that you'll have to SWIM TO THE BEACH. That's right—even though the accompanying photo shows a Powercat parked feet from the shore, we were expected to jump into the water and then swim to shore. We had a great time, but were a bit surprised. Even if I had remembered to bring a towel from the ship, I couldn't have gotten it to the shore to lie down on the sand.
2. Some other useful information: the afternoon visit to Orient Beach turned out to be on the Atlantic side of St. Maarten—lovely water, but rougher and containing quite a bit of seaweed. Still a good time for the price.
The shows were excellent—particularly Hairspray! As others mention, book your reservations as soon as possible online. If you decide not to attend a show, they'll just give your seat to someone else, so there's no reason not to pre-book. Be sure to arrive 20-30 minutes early; another cruiser recommended sitting at the front of the middle section, just beneath the balcony, in the main theatre. The Headliners show featured Mosaic, who were excellent. Come Fly with Me was also good, as was the ice show. (The sand artists were remarkable!)
The aqua show was enjoyable, but due to technical problems had been delayed several times, which meant far too many of us were trying to get into a single show. This was not handled particularly well—one of just a few errors by the crew.
POOLS & DECKS
The pools are quite nice, but the only adult only pool is a small one in the Solarium, which tends to be a bit stuffy when the weather's warm. We'd love to see another of the small pools on the main deck designated as adult only, particularly considering the size of the kids play zone.
Our group included some sun lovers and a few smokers, as well, who had little difficulty finding a good spot to hang out on the main deck. While chair availability was generally good, there's definitely some chair hogging, so if there's a spot you want, keep an eye on it to see if the folks are actually coming back in a reasonable amount of time—and don't be afraid to talk to a crew member if someone seems to have gone off to the Windjammer leaving all their gear behind!
We had dinner in the main dining room several nights. Our waiter, Serhan, provided excellent service! The food was good, though not to everyone's taste, which is to be expected when appealing to such an international crowd. As always they were very generous with second helpings and accommodating individual requests. The dessert choices seemed more limited than in the past.
There were lots of places to get complementary snacks outside of meal time without hitting the big buffet. Sorrento's Pizza was great, both for a quick slice and for ordering your own custom pizza. The Park Cafe was good, as well, with fresh salads and roast beef sandwiches among other offerings. I appreciated availability of flavored waters as an alternative to paying for soda. And of course the self-serve ice cream and frozen yogurt stations on the pool deck were extremely popular and quite good.
The Boardwalk includes Johnny Rockets (good as always for a small fee), along with a donut shop that some in our group enjoyed, and an ice cream shop that was good but overpriced.
We did miss the fabulous midnight dessert buffet, which would have provided an alternative to the club events late at night. Perhaps providing a small buffet at those late-night parties would attract a few more people, as well.
CLUBS AND BARS
Our effort to organize a one-night pub crawl failed miserably, simply because there were too many spots to visit! The Viking Crown lounge was elegant and comfortable, with a nice view. The jazz trio was great, and we enjoyed watching the dancing couples. Blaze, however, was unattractive with not much activity—it didn't seem as nice as dance clubs on other ships.