This was the first time we cruised and boy what a way to be introduced to this wonderful holiday option. We flew from Manchester, UK airport on Sat. 23rd Sept. Flight was delayed by over an hour so we only just made our connection in Atlanta to Orlando, (Cruise companies take note, DIRECT FLIGHTS ARE SO MUCH BETTER AND EASIER FOR US TRAVELLERS)but we arrived safe and sound and were greeted by a Royal Caribbean Rep. A storm was raging as we arrived so after being dropped off at the Crowne Plaza we decided to eat in their bar rather than use the free shuttle bus to restaurants in the vicinity. The food was plentiful if a little expensive and we enjoyed what we had. The room was very comfortable, spotlessly clean and quite luxurious. We ate breakfast the next morning in their restaurant and it was very good for the price. We chose the buffet breakfast and there was plenty of variety of both hot and cold food and drinks. Very filling and delicious!
Our coach picked us up at 11am and we were off on our journey to the ship. When it came into sight my jaw dropped at the sheer size of it! Because we had our disabled son with us, who was in a wheelchair, we got through the preliminary checks fairly quickly and didn't have to queue for any length of time so I can't comment on that but there were lots of desks open and everybody was working quickly to get people on the ship.
We went straight to our cabin on the 9th deck as we wanted to see where we were living for the next seven days. I was very surprised how much room there was in the cabin and very impressed with the overall cleanliness and facilities. Our room attendant came to see us and he was very nice, very friendly and polite. Our cases hadn't arrived at our room before we went for dinner at 6pm but luckily first night is casual dress so we just went as we were.
The food in the Main Dining Room was delicious. The menu wasn't very varied but there was always a meat, fish,vegetarian and low fat choice and you could eat everything on it if you wished. Our waiter was extremely helpful, he made the effort to find alternative starters for our disabled son who didn't like the ones on the menu and every night he cut up Jamie's food so he could manage it better. For us, it was these little touches that made a difference. We never went away hungry although the portion sizes were not large. There are four courses to eat from and some nights our waiter brought us extra portions if he felt there was something we should try but hadn't ordered. We didn't use the wine menu, just drank the water which is constantly topped up.
We ate in the Windjammer at breakfast and the variety was excellent. Being a buffet restaurant you could really eat as much as you could manage. Again the waiters were very helpful and friendly and the place was kept very clean and tidy. Breakfast finished at 11am but they kept at least one food station open with breakfast food until around 12pm. The lunch menu was different every day with a different carved meat each day as well as curries, pasta and other meat dishes, rice and vegetables, sandwiches, salads and pastries. Afternoon snacks went on at 3pm and these consisted of salads, nachos, burgers, hot dogs, tortillas, sandwiches and pastries. We didn't eat here at night but I'm sure the menu was just as varied as the rest of the day. You could take your food out to the pool or to your cabin if you wanted which was handy in the afternoon when you didn't want to risk losing your deck chair.
One caution I would mention is don't be fooled into buying the Drink of the Day. It costs $8.95 and they let you keep the cup but the cup is just a plastic tumbler with lights in the bottom. Do you really need 7 plastic tumblers to take home? And as you enter the Windjammer on the first day it looks like they are offering them free, not so. Don't be tempted to pick one up.
And something for the teetotallers, buy the soda package on the first day. You receive a large cup which you take to any waiter or bar and have it filled with the soda of your choice. Saved us lots of money. We bought one and me and my son shared it between us. Also the frozen drinks, Pina Colada, Daiquiris etc all can be taken 'virgin' i.e. without alcohol.
The shows were all very professional, the Ice Show is a must see for everybody and the Headliner show was so funny. It was Ron Lucas the ventriloquist on our cruise and he was hilarious. I booked our seats online before we left and it means you get into the theater 15 mins before those who haven't so you get a bit more choice at seats. However the shows are on twice so if you can't get in on one you'll get the next. The entertainment is very good on board ship. There is a good variety of classes and lectures and even scrap booking during the day so most people should find something to do.
I had a facial, manicure and pedicure in the salon which I thoroughly enjoyed although I think all the treatments are overpriced. The girls do try to sell their creams and lotions but if you tell them no they don't push anything.
We had three shore excursions. The first was to Coco hay which we didn't go to as it was a tendered stop and my son couldn't manage it. We knew it was simply a beach anyway so weren't bothered about it. It was great to have the ship virtually empty. We had a choice of where to sit and could swim in the pool unheeded, which is not possible on sea days.
The second stop was St Thomas. We decided to do our own thing so had no real plans when we got off. However, there were taxi reps waiting and we were offered a tour of the island in an air conditioned van for $25 each which we decided on. We were taken all round the island with three stops for picture taking and browsing around. Our driver was very informative about the island giving us lots of history. He asked if we wanted to be dropped back at the ship or at town for shopping. We chose the ship as there is the Haven side Mall there which has virtually the same shops as the town and is only a five minute walk from the port.
The next day we docked at St Martin and again went to the taxi rank and took the circle tour which lasts about 3hrs and cost $40 per person. Our driver was very friendly and funny and gave us a good talk about the places we saw. We had a 20 min stop at Maho beach and managed to get a photo of a plane coming in, three 5 min stops at places for wonderful views and photo opportunities and a 20 min stop at Oasis beach. We finished with a 45 min stop at the town of Philipsburg where there was an open air market and shops. Our driver dropped us off back at the port in plenty of time to get back on ship ready for sail away.
Sadly we had to disembark after our seven days of sun, sea and relaxation. We had breakfast in the Windjammer and then waited until our number was called to disembark. We only queued for about 15 mins on leaving and again it was all done very efficiently and as quickly as possible. Coaches were waiting to take us to the airport and we waved a sad goodbye to our ship.
All in all this was a wonderful experience for us, as first time cruisers. We loved the whole thing and was not disappointed by anything except the fact that it ended far to soon. The service was exceptional, the cleanliness of the ship was remarkable, the entertainment was professional, the shore excursions were interesting. It was a relaxing yet exhilarating time and we will definitely be doing it again next year.