This is our family's 3rd cruise. Our first cruise was in 2006 on the Carnival Celebration. Our second cruise was in 2009 on the Carnival Fascination. While those ships were good starters for first time cruisers, we have decided that we love the higher quality (in our opinion) of RCI. We planned our cruise with 25 of our other friends and family. Personally, I travelled with my wife and 19 year old daughter. My wife and I booked an Oceanview cabin and we split and Inside cabin for our daughter with her friend's family so they could stay together.
We arrived the day before and stayed at the Radisson inn near the port. They had free cruise parking included with the $134/night room. We took the morning shuttle to the port. Make sure you carry some small bills so you can easily provide tips to the driver and the porters at the terminal.
Check in was seamless and fast. We were on the ship within 45 minutes of arriving at the port. We headed straight to the Windjammer for lunch and stayed there until 1pm when they announced our rooms were ready. Our luggage arrived to our rooms by late afternoon. However, my suitcase never showed up. I eventually got a call from security. They had held my bag because of my clothes steamer. They said I could not have it and they'd hold it until the end of the cruise. This ticked me off because I swear I read that clothes steamers were okay (3 other families in our group had one). This was my only gripe.
The ship itself just shines with class. On the Carnival ships we previously cruised on, we felt we were on a floating "Las Vegas" (flashy neon, cheesy colors, big party atmosphere, etc). That may be okay for some folks, but not our cup of tea. The ship is huge! The Royal Promenade feels like an upscale mall/hotel, the Arcadia Theater is extremely professional and feels like a theater as opposed to the bar lounge feeling of the Carnival theaters. Our cabin was extremely clean and our room attendant, Al was very attentive providing ice daily and making sure our room was made up before we came back from breakfast and dinner. He always had a smile on his face and wanted to make sure our cruise was going well.
We chose the early seating (6pm) dinner and ate together with our group each night. The main dining room....WOW! Very classy! Our waiter, Sharline (from Jamaica) and Kabo, her assistant were very professional and after the first night knew our preferences (tea, etc). Prince Charles, the roaming bartender came by nightly with a variety of drinks to try. He was entertaining with his poems and rhymes and made purchasing drinks fun. The food every night was extremely well presented and excellent. We were not disappointed any night. If I wanted extra servings, no problem. Sharline knew our names by the second day and called us by them when she spoke to us.
We chose to go see the magic show with Drew Peterson, the stage show musical (Once Upon a Time), Graham Seymour's (the CD) stand up show (adult rated), the Freedom.com ice show and the last night finale. The professionalism of the shows was incredible for a cruise. I'm a musician and theater fan and speak from my experience in the field. I recommend all the shows that we saw. You are doing yourself a disservice if you choose to miss them. I wish we had gone to the Marquee show earlier in the week.
The cruise director is extremely funny and engaging. I can't believe he isn't on TV or working outside the cruise world. His morning TV short on the ship network is something you'll want to tune into each day for information AND entertainment. If you like British comedy, you'll appreciate Graham. His stand up comedy show is definitely adult but not vulgar. If you're lucky, maybe you'll get to hear him sing the last night. He also has a very good voice.
We aren't gamblers but did budget a few bucks to throw at the slots. We didn't win anything but one of our group won $1200 on the slots.
We got the drink of the day every day but one and were quite happy. We're not normally alcohol drinkers, but the mixed drinks were always pleasing and good.
I was able to keep my weight gain to just 1 pound by using the fitness center every day (ran on the treadmill 4-5 miles each day). It also was beautiful to see the sunrise from the windows of the ship.
My biggest complaint is not RCI's fault but a pet peeve of mine with other cruisers. If your kids are too young to sit in their seats during dinner in the main dining room, take them to the Windjammer or better yet, book a Disney Cruise that caters to the younger age. A couple families at the table behind us had kids under 5 years old that kept getting up from their seats during dinner, running around, bumping our chairs during dinner and kept getting in the way of the servers. I was impressed that our waiters kept their cool. They could have easily tripped or dropped hot beverages on the kids by accident.
Overall, we had a fantastic time. It was a time to decompress from work, separate from the electronic world and enjoy the warm Caribbean sun. 7 nights is about the max we can handle with a house hold of pets at home that we missed. We will definitely sail with RCI again. Carnival is just not up to the level of service we expect nor to our taste.
PORTS (Haiti was not listed in the Port Review section)
Our first port on Tuesday was Labadee, Haiti which is the private resort owned by RCI. We all disembarked for the beach. We didn't do any paid excursions. It was beautiful, but we felt harassed by the vendors which lowered our enjoyment of this port.