Our group consisted of myself and my husband both 55,and three boys 18, 19, and 23, and one girl 21. The kids are somewhat jaded as they have cruised and traveled since they were very young. We always take the least expensive cabin, preferring to save money so that we can cruise more frequently and we figure who does more than sleep in the room anyway. We had three inside cabins on deck nine. I do not remember our stewards name but he was great.
We flew to Rome on Sunday the day before the cruise and stayed at the Holiday Inn Express San Gioivanni. It was a reasonably priced clean modern hotel with a very decent breakfast buffet for the money. It was a bus ride to central Rome ( not too convenient) and in a safe but slightly scruffy area. The good part was that the hotel was a block away from the Tuscolana stop on the FR5 regional railway that takes you to Civittavechia, its not the Metro its the Railroad. The main stop for this railway can be caught at Termini the main train station in Rome as well.
If you can handle schlepping the suitcases up the steps to the railway station you will save a huge chunk of money by avoiding private cabs, for the six of us it would have been hundreds of dollars as opposed to 5Euros on the train which is pleasant and comfortable and the quickest way to the port. We saw many people on their way to the ship on this train. When you get to Civittavechia you are about a 15 minute walk to the shuttle bus to the actual ship location but if you have wheels and a pull up handle on your cases its doable for those who are healthy. Just take one big suitcase which is enough and you will manage fine.
Embarkation-- not done well, but then again this is Italy. We were herded into a tentlike place which was stifling hot and slowly let in to the embarkation terminal. At that point when RCCL was in charge it went quick and smooth.
Cabins--- as stated above we book the least expensive as we dont care as long as its clean and comfy and quiet and it was. We are RCCL Diamond Plus so I dont know if the service given was better but I doubt it.
Service-- All the service we received be it the steward, food service staff, purser, etc, was terrific, loads better than the supposed "Legendary White Star" service we got on Cunard.
Food--- Surprisingly good, sometimes great, never below par. MDR we only ate in at Dinner. We choose AnyTime Dining. Our waiter was Adi from the Phillipines and Jessica from Italy. They were some of the best servers we have ever had on a cruise. The food was not gourmet but rather equivalent to a decent restaurant or a good home cook. Whoever cruises on a mass market line like RCCL and expects gourmet dining is really naïve, which is why we spend as little on the room as we can. If you are going to fork over close to $6,000 for a suite and eat what us inside people are paying $900 per person for, go on a premium line like Crystal and get gourmet food for your money. What was surprisingly good was the quality and freshness of the meats, vegetables and fish. Even the alternative steak choice while critized on prior posts was very good on this cruise. The baked goods were very good.
The breakfast in the Windjammer was always fresh, hot and good. The eggs cooked to order were very good, the smoked salmon was great quality, but the bagels were frozen and bad. Lunch in the Windjammer was not at all equal to the breakfast or dinner options, it was like cafeteria food .The Jade Asian section entrees were usually good and the nitely sushi was acceptable at times and icky at other times. We ate at Chops on the first evening because it was half price nite for $15p/p. It was very good but slow. Was it Mortons or New York Prime, no, but it was $15p/p.
Entertainment--- Simon the cruise director and his staff were very good, pretty hip and very funny. Probably the most enjoyable entertainment staff we have had on a cruise. We liked the Beatles and the Motown cover shows, missed the other ones due to dinner being late and slow but we don't like those production shows as a rule anyway. All the music venues were very good, we have professional musicians in our group and they were impressed. The biggest surprise was the ice show. We have been on other RCCL cruise with the corny ice shows but this was really good a sort of Circ d Soliel style. The talent was incredible.
Ports---We chose this cruise for the ports, Israel, specifically. We rented a car in Haifa, ( don't use Avis)and drove to Jerusalem and spent the nite there, not returning to the the ship until late Friday in Ashdod . We saw the Old City, the souk , Masada and the Dead Sea. ( Very dumb move on part of RCCL to dock in Israel on Thurs and Fri because everything shuts down in Jerusalem by Fri afternoon for Shabbot and we had to ditch the car at the airport on Friday evening.) Rhodes is very nice, Crete left too early to explore anything, Kushadasi /Ephasus is great if you like ruins and shopping for junk you don't need. Athens is dirty and crazy but you have to see the Acropolis or if you have already been to Athens take a ferry to a beach island and forget Athens. In every port where it is possible we take public transport and tour on our own. We almost never take the ship excursions, they are a major rip off and generally not as good as what you can do on your own.
Childrens Activities—Have no young ones so cant comment.
General Activities - My boys played Basketball, Dodgeball and soccer as much as possible and loved it. Also ping pong was very popular. Adult Pool and Jacuzzis were very clean and quiet.
The Passengers--- Crowd was very congenial but Americans and Brits were barely the majority and there were a lot of Italian and Spanish passengers who had their own entertainment staff and their own level of courtesy or lack thereof. I think the concept of personal space or waiting your turn is alien to some of them ,not that I haven't encountered boorish Americans as well.
Disembarking was fairly smooth but as soon as you left the ship the usual chaos of Italy took over at the port.
Summation--- We all had a really great time and thought that RCCL has really elevated their product.