For the most part, this is an experience I would repeat in a heartbeat, but that is not to say that there isn't room for improvement. We were a group of 7 ranging in age from 73 to 2 (My husband, myself, our married daughter with her husband (both in their 30's), their 2-year old child; our son (also in his 30's), and my sister-in-law who is 73). We all had cabins with sea view but no balcony.
GREAT: Customer service, whether online, by phone, or in person on the ship was exceptional. We had special health needs in our party and every possible accommodation was made to make our trip comfortable. A few days into the cruise, they phoned the cabin to see if everything was fine or if we needed anything else. I saw many people in wheelchairs, there were braille markings on all doors, we saw on the special health request form that was e-mailed to us on request that accommodations were offered for a very wide number of needs, including dialysis, blindness, deafness, mobility issues, etc. The Guest Services personnel on board are patient, cheerful, and very well informed. I have stayed in 5-star hotels and the customer service is equal to or less than what we experienced with Royal Caribbean.
GREAT: Service personnel everywhere. Two of our cabins were serviced by Cecilio who couldn't be more helpful, efficient, and downright nice. With the constant turnover of customers, week after week, I can't imagine how he can remember all our faces when he meets us in the hall, but he made us feel as if we were special and not just a cabin number. My daughter on the 3rd floor had a similar experience with her attendant, Glenville. The ship is constantly being cleaned and everything sparkles.
GREAT: Our dining room experience couldn't have been more heavenly. We were fortunate to be assigned to a smaller room to the side of the main dining area (apparently family groups of a certain size are often placed there as that seemed to be the situation with all our neighbors). Our table, 603, was given such personal service and our every whim satisfied that it wouldn't have mattered if we had been served Purina — dining there was a pleasure. Each and every person paid particular attention to our grandson, aged 2, and this made it possible for him to sit still and calm for the duration of the meal—which also helped us have a leisurely time.
GREAT: I had been concerned that there might not be enough on board to keep a two-year old entertained. Not to worry! Between the carrousel, the play areas, the mini-golf course, the H2O zone, the sports car and 2-level bus outside Johnny Rockets, and the two boats to climb on across the way he was thoroughly entertained. He also loved the dreamwork characters at the special breakfasts (you must reserve) and finding them randomly here and there. The parades were a little overwhelming for him. I can safely say that there is never a dull moment for a child of any age, even as young as 2.
GOOD: On the whole, I was VERY pleased with the food. The main dining room, which is where we had most breakfasts, some lunches, and all our dinners provided ample variety of choices for every taste at every meal. Dining in the Opus dining room is the kind of experience you want for a vacation. The food is well-prepared; well-presented; the wait between courses is not long; the serving size is perfect (not too small, but not too large); and the quality of the cuisine is amazingly good. Some dishes were outstanding and some just good, but nothing was bad. Note: When you see the key lime pie on the dessert menu, order 2!
When we didn't have the more-than-an-hour it takes to eat in the main dining room in a leisurely manner, we either ordered room service (which is a limited menu, but very tasty & efficient) or ate at either the Promenade Cafe or the Park Cafe for their tasty roast beef sandwiches or made to order salads. Snacks were available everywhere, either free or costly, some venues were open 24 hours a day. My grandson adored the freshly squeezed orange juice (at almost $5 a pop), which was, really, delicious. The "free" orange juice is a watery orange-colored liquid that really doesn't qualify as juice. The "free" coffees everywhere will keep you from getting a caffeine withdrawal headache, but provide no pleasure whatsoever.
Since this vacation was our "together" time, we had all our meals together. For this reason, we usually opted for the dining room where we could relax, plan the day's activities, and compete for baby-sitting privileges. The smaller tables in other venues didn't suit us very well, so I can't review many other food venues. I can say that the donuts were mediocre, the pastries (same ones appear everywhere) are a little low on salt, the cookies are generally good (toffee and chocolate mudslide are particularly good), the cupcakes were good but a little dry for my taste, but I know everyone has different preferences in cupcakes.
GOOD: The entertainment options. We liked Hairspray. The performers were very professional. The musical, while entertaining, is a little simplistic and without any exceptional songs—which pretty much defeats the purpose of a musical. It's fun to watch, but not worth getting a CD for the music. It's not one of those shows that stays with you after it's over. We reserved online and had no trouble getting seating for anything. We took our grandson to the Dreamworks character breakfast twice and he loved it. The ice skating show was over his head, but kept him entertained for a little while (I loved it.) It rained the night we had reserved for the diving show so we didn't go, although the show went on. I would say that there are many and very good entertainment options offered, but we preferred to relax rather than enter into the scheduled summer-camp-like madness of going from event to event. But if it is your wish to be entertained and stimulated to the point of exhaustion, the choices are endless and varied. Every night you will be provided with a circular showing all activities available the next day in 15 minute increments. Every night, I read it. Every day, I ignored it and we did our own thing.
GOOD: The dEcor is not too flashy or garish and generally sedate, if a little overdone. It might not be what I would have selected for my home, but it is functional and well planned and well coordinated. It is a bit commercial but conservative and well integrated. I do, however, feel that the decorator missed an opportunity to use the dEcor to help orient people a little better. When on a ship this huge, it is very easy to become disoriented. If, for example, walls on different sides of the ship were painted different colors, you could at least know which side you're on (an important consideration since sometimes the two sides don't connect). Some visual hinting could also be used in the now uniform elevator areas. If everyone knew which elevator they needed to take, it would alleviate elevator congestion since you'd get to the right place the first time. This small concession to practicality would not affect the cohesion of the dEcor, as the multi-colored carpeting would still pull everything together.
GOOD: The cabins are of adequate size for two people and the bathrooms are functional and of adequate size. There is excellent space for storage and enough hangers. The suitcases fit under the bed. The bed is comfortable. The dEcor is neutrally attractive. There is TV, a hairdryer. The curtains allow for total darkness, since they are lined and cross in front of each other not leaving a slit. This is good if you want to sleep past dawn as the Caribbean sun reflecting on the water is very bright. The ceiling is low (I'm 5'3" and can touch it without effort. In the modular bathroom, which is a small step up, it's a bit lower still. To me, this adds to the coziness, my 6'son and husband didn't find it uncomfortable. Each room has independent temperature controls, and you always have hot water and good water pressure. The artwork in the room has low-voltage lighting that can be left on if you want a night-light feel. The water from the sink is drinkable and there are many places to get water and ice so, if you bring a water bottle, you don't have to buy water at shipboard prices. (Look under AWFUL for other room comments).
NEUTRAL: The same cabins have different layouts. Neighboring cabins are reverse images of each other. My cabin had the most comfortable and functional layout: bathroom on right as you come in, followed by vanity/sofa area, then bed, then porthole window with a window seat (no cushion). The other family cabin, next door had the opposite layout (bed first) and the flow wasn't as natural and it had no window seat. It's the luck of the draw.
NEUTRAL: The play area for toddlers is fun for kids and a big help when trying to wind down an over-stimulated toddler. It's cute, colorful, and full of Fisher Price toys, which are cleaned regularly. But, in some aspects, it isn't well thought out. There is only one chair for adults (who are required to be there supervising their kids). One of the times I was there, there were 5 adults with 7 children. The chair was yielded to the oldest lady there, but everyone else was standing on sitting on the floor. When I asked an attendant if there were other chairs that could be brought in she said there weren't any. Also, she took toys away from children who wanted to play with them because they belonged in another room.
NEUTRAL: The ports are commercial and touristy and their main (maybe only) virtues are the beaches. The much-heralded shopping discounts are minimal at best. You can do just as well in the States with a little research and with no pressure. We had been to all before so weren't particularly interested. If you stay onboard, it's a pleasure to have the ship to yourself and it's a great time to take photographs.
NEUTRAL: The pool areas are clean and well maintained; however the sheer size and capacity of the ship makes for a public pool feel that isn't at all pleasant. There are probably thousands of pool chairs; at any time there are hundreds of people of different ages and girths wondering around or laying there. The children did seem to be enjoying the splash zone set aside for them to burn off energy in, including my little grandson who enjoyed the danger-free area full of people his own size, even though he was limited to the diaper zone. Older children had the run of the whole, well-planned areas.
NEUTRAL: I thought I knew what I was getting into by choosing such a large ship, but you don't really know until you experience it. Not only is the ship huge to the point that it doesn't feel like a ship, the volume of people you share the space with is enormous. The public areas feel (and actually, are) like shopping centers. There isn't a maritime theme, it's very cosmopolitan, very commercial, very landscaped. My first couple of hours on the ship were full of "what have I gotten into" moments. The elevators, especially on the first day, are just barely enough and you often have long waits or full elevators you can't fit into. (Of course, at off times, there is no problem).
On the first day, before anyone has their rooms ready, it's a madhouse—thousands of disoriented people wondering around aimlessly. Maybe because we sailed on a holiday weekend and there might have been extra security, our suitcases weren't delivered till well after 4pm. There are moments, such as shore days or rainy days, where the crowds really get to you. The ship has a central cavity to accommodate the malls and neighborhoods in the center, and the elevators are at either end. This means that you have to walk the length of the ship to get to your cabin if you take the wrong elevator. My sister in law knew right away which way was front and which side we were on, and which elevator we needed to take. I never got the hang of it and spent hours wondering around and looking at interactive maps since there are no physical differences (same carpeting, same color walls, identical elevator lobbies, etc. on all decks, both sides). On the upside, I walked so much that I didn't gain a pound on the trip, even though I ate and snacked twice as much as I usually do.
BAD: Ship board prices tend to be astronomical. A 24-count bottle of aspirin is $9.99; sodas anywhere are $2.50/can; photographs taken by ship photographers are expensive (8x10 is $20.00 ea). However, I was pleased to see that neither the photographers nor the waiters hawking drinks were aggressively pushy, just always available.
BAD: I thought it was tasteless and greedy to have flea market like tables set up in the public areas hawking $10 watches, clothing, and other cheap merchandise. The environment is commercial enough as it is, but at least you have the option of entering or not entering stores, but this in-your-face commercialism is a bit much.
BAD: Smoking is allowed on the ship and, while it is in limited areas, cigarette smoke or smell still lingers in the air. Of the 3 entrances to the casino, two require going through smoking areas.
AWFUL: Number and location of plugs in the cabin. If they are only going to provide two, at least make them accessible! You need to get on your hands and knees to reach both. Next time, I'm taking two power strips so I only have to crawl around once.
AWFUL: Wi-fi/Internet access is atrocious and exorbitantly expensive. If you don't buy a package, it is $.65 a minute, if you do buy a package it goes down, but very slightly. But, since they are charging you by the minute, they make it S L O W. Replying briefly to one e-mail took 5 minutes and cost $3.25. My 56-K modem back in the days of Windows 95 was twice this fast. This vessel is, in every other aspect, in the cutting edge of technology. There is no excuse other than greed. Wi-fi should be free.
AWFUL: Cabins are excellent for double occupancy; however, parties of 3 are EXTREMELY cramped. There is no difference in square footage or storage between the cabins. The only difference is that the sofa in that room is a sofa bed that opens for the 3rd person, thus limiting the ability of everyone to either reach the door, or bathroom or open the drawers. A cabin for 3 costs $500 more PER PERSON including the 2-year old. That is $1,500 over and above what I paid for and an identical cabin with a sofa that doesn't open. I recommend you do the math and, if it is possible for you to bring a Nanny or an older cousin to stay with the child in another room (maybe an inside room across the hall) it might be something you might want to consider.
--We took walkie-talkie's to keep in touch. They were 16-mile range, good quality, name brand units. There is so much metal and so much interference on the ship that you don't get good reception. Skip it.
--Take standard sized post-it notes to leave notes to other family members either on the door or the mirror as to where you are or when to meet where.
--The phone will connect you to other cabins on the ship.
--Notice that when you purchase any food product, the tip is included, but a window pops up asking if you want to leave a tip (minimum suggested tip amount: $1.00)—a bit ridiculous if you're purchasing one can of soda.