The main reason I am writing this review is because of the way RCI handled our hotel package and transfers (or should I say, DIDN'T handle them at all)!! I called RCI directly more than one month before embarkation thinking it would be the easy way to handle the accommodations the night before the cruise and the round-trip transfers to and from Port Canaveral. I asked the representative to book the Hyatt and two round-trip transfers. I had looked up the hotel and rack rate and saw it was 5 minutes from the airport. So when she told me the price for two people with the hotel and transfers was $282, I thought this was a fair deal, considering the price of each transfer was $72 per person. I thought booking it this way would just be easier...boy was I fooled!!
When we got to MCI at 10pm the night before the cruise, we were obviously tired, as we had traveled from Palm Springs, CA. As we were told, the Hyatt was 5 minutes from the airport, we got our luggage and walked over to the Hyatt at the airport. We were told we were not booked at that Hyatt, but the one that was 30 minutes and a $60 cab ride away. So we got a cab and went to the hotel and checked in. The following morning we went to catch the shuttle bus for our transfer to the pier...and guess what? Our names were not on the bus driver's sheet. Luckily, I had a printout of Royal's receipt showing they charged us for the pre-cruise package, so the bus driver was cool enough to let us on.
Everything was a breeze after that. Since we are Diamond members and staying in a Grand Suite with Concierge Service, we had our own door for embarkation to the ship (with no wait line). I felt so sorry for all those hundreds of people waiting in line to check in. The cruise went great! No problems, until the last night. As I had noticed previously getting on the bus to the pier, people were presenting vouchers for the transportation, so I asked our concierge to make sure our name was on the list for the transfer back to the airport. Guess what? It was not. Apparently the representative at Royal did not put our names on the list for either transfer. In fact, I was told, we did not pay for the return transfer at all! So, our concierge graciously took another $72 from us for the return transfers and presented us with a voucher. When we got to the airport obviously we were not very happy so we called Crown & Anchor to complain, and to find out what we had actually paid for. The rep. told us we had paid for one night at the Hyatt and transfers to the ship, but not back to the airport. I asked him, how could that be when the rack rate for the hotel is $129 and each transfer is $72, which comes out to a total of $201. Obviously, Royal is making a lot of money on that deal. The guy continued to argue with us so we asked to speak to a manager. The Post-Cruise manager got on the phone, we told him our story, and he was totally rude. We asked for some kind of compensation, but clearly he was not giving us anything. We ended up hanging up on him. Needless to say: Don't book your pre-cruise packages with Royal!! Next year when we take this cruise, we will book our own hotel and transfers for a lot less!!
Cococay, Bahamas: This is the private island that the cruise line owns. Basically, it's a day at the beach with a barbeque. If it wasn't for my husband who had never been there, I wouldn't have got off the ship. It was really hot and humid and you have to get on a tender to get there. There is nothing special about the private island unless you like water sports. I would much rather have spent my time at the adult pool in a comfortable lounge chair.
St. Thomas: As I have been to St. Thomas numerous times and my husband had not, we decided not to go on an excursion booked through the cruise line, as they can be costly. Instead, we went on a bus tour ($25/ea) that took us to many destinations all over the island and up to the top of the mountain to see the view of Magan's Bay. It was 2 hours and well worth the money. As always on St. Thomas, the shopping was great. You can deal a little with them on prices, but most prices, at least on jewelry, are fixed. All in all, a great day!
St. Maarten: Since I had done my shopping on St. Thomas, we decided to spend the day at the beach on St. Maarten. We took the ferry ($6 p/p r/t)to the beach and were greeted by several natives selling various beach day packages that included lounge chairs with an umbrella, a bucket of drinks and restroom facilities. They range anywhere from $10 to $20/day. We chose David for $15 and he did not disappoint. Before we left, we had lunch and drinks at The Blue Bitch Bar & Grill. Don't miss this place...they make a mean blue margarita and the food is excellent!!
Food: Since we had Concierge service with our Grand Suite, we had the option to order the full menu in our room, so as a result, we only visited the dining room once. We do not like the 2 hour dinners in the dining room...too much sitting and waiting to be served. Also, our waiter was not very friendly (this was the first and only time we've had an unfriendly waiter). The food on this ship was better than it had been on any other ship in the past. It was really excellent. I ordered a steak from Chops off the room service menu one night and it was excellent! We went to Portofino one night and as usual, it was excellent! I highly recommend everything at Portofino...everything is top-notch. And as always, the Windjammer is my husband's favorite for breakfast and lunch. The salad bar is very good, and there is always a variety of different foods for all different tastes. Also, Sorrento's for pizza is a great late-night snack.
Entertainment: The late-night comedian was very funny on the second to last night (we had seen him on another cruise). He is a great impersonator. As for the shows, they are what you would expect on a cruise ship, just average. However, the cruise staff is very entertaining during pool hours, with the likes of the Sexiest Man contest. They do a great job. Also, we really enjoyed the Reggae Band that played at the main pool. Also, don't miss the "Love and Marriage" game show...it is always hysterically funny!
In spite of all the trouble we had with the pre-cruise package, this was truly the best cruise ever! And yes, we will be back next year to sail again on the beautiful Freedom of the Seas.