This was our eighth cruise from our 5th port, our first time out of Bayonne, NJ. Bayonne is convenient for us living in NJ, but getting there is a little confusing. The directions on the RCCL website are not up to date; the name of the street leading to the port has changed, but the directions haven't, so be forewarned. Once at the port, signage leaves a lot to be desired, so watch for other cars who hopefully know where they're going. After unloading our luggage we parked our car ($19 per day) and checked in, which went fairly quickly. A shuttle bus took us to the gangplank, and we were aboard.
Compared to other RCCL ships we've sailed, this is large. Deck layouts are a little confusing, as the ice rink in the middle of Deck 3 ("Studio B") cuts that deck in half; you can't access the bow from the stern, and vice-versa. This also forces you to walk through the smoky casino more often than you'd like. This is a minor inconvenience.
After meeting friends along the Promenade we found our stateroom and our attendant, Mona Lisa. She was super nice and very accommodating. Our stateroom was kept perfectly and ML was always cheerful and happy to see us.
Sailaway was super cool, as the ship sails under the Verrazano Bridge with only 18 feet of clearance! If you go, try to get up to Deck 12 or higher to watch.
Dining room - we had main (early) seating after straightening out a little confusion with our dining reservation (mostly our fault). The food was adequate, nothing really special, but our waiter Siddharth (Sid) and assistant waiter Michelle were wonderful and made every meal special. Multiple appetizers and even entrees were no problem. Drink service in the dining room was efficient, and all servers remembered your drink of choice every night.
Cruise director Luke Aerowsmith and his staff kept the ship hopping with activities, which were all a lot of fun, from Sexiest Man to 70s Dance Party and of course the Quest, an adult scavenger hunt-style game show that can be really insane. However, the production shows and headliner entertainment were a big disappointment, with everything geared toward a 70-plus crowd (I would say the average age on this sailing was about 40-45). Also music in the lounges was not up to what we've enjoyed on other sailings. There were no steel drums on deck (the "party band" did play some reggae along with the usual "hot hot hot" and "who let the dogs out" junk), no blues in any of the bars. A highlight were the "Japanese Beatles" (I can't take credit for this name, a friend aboard dubbed them that), a band, actually Philippine, who played classic rock including Beatles and Santana. Music at the ice show was also more suiting the crowd, with songs by Alice Cooper, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and the like.
One very disconcerting note on the cruise was the smell of raw sewage wafting up the starboard aft elevator shaft. The lower you went on the ship, the more overpowering the smell. No explanation was ever given for this, and it never went away.
The ports of call on this sailing were overall quite good. San Juan was lovely - I do wish we arrived there a little earlier than 4:00 pm so we could have seen more of it. We had dinner at a Peruvian restaurant in town and had a great time. We did not book an excursion here.
Saint Thomas was beautiful. We book a ship's excursion for an eco-hike on St. John. We enjoyed a bouncy and fun ferry ride to St. John, where we hiked through the Virgin Islands National Park a bit and learned a little about the local flora and fauna. The hike was a little rigorous for some of the older guests with loose rock on the steep trail. After the hike we enjoyed a swim at Honeymoon Beach, a lovely white sand beach, and more hiking to the Caneel Bay resort for a ride back to the ferry.
After our booked excursion we shopped a bit in St. Thomas, then decided to take the skyride to Paradise Point ($21 each). I am not a lover of heights, but the skyride was smooth and anxiety-free. Once at the top we walked the short nature trail and saw mostly birds in cages - we did see some parrots flying around free, along with a a few hawks. The view from up here is worth the cost of the skyride, as are the drinks at the pub/restaurant at the top. Try a Bushwhacker - a drink too tasty to be so strong!
Samana is like a third-world country, so booking an excursion here, whether thru the ship or with a private tour operator, is essential. We did the Caves & Mangroves tour and got a very nice trip to Bird Island, caves with early native cave paintings, and a tour of a mangrove forest. The trip ended at Caya Levantado resort for swimming, which was very nice. However, the tour operator arrived at the ship nearly 1/2 hour late, which reduced our swim time at Caya Levantado to only 20 minutes or so.
Labadee, the RCL private resort in Haiti, was like paradise! Something to do here for everyone, from zip lines to jet skis to para-sailing - even an alpine coaster! We walked the nature trails, which were not very nature-y, rode the coaster, then enjoyed the rest of the day playing in the water. Beach is rocky as others have said, so sandals or reef walkers are a good investment here. You MUST try the special drink here, the Labadoozie - worth the ridiculous price.
Disembarkation was controlled chaos, but it could have been worse, I guess. We were able to wait in our stateroom until about 15 mins before we disembarked, so that was nice. We got a full breakfast before we left also, which other cruise lines don't all offer.
In all this was a nice, relaxing vacation, and I would do it again in a heartbeat, despite the little blips here and there. This was one of the friendliest ships we've ever sailed, and that can make up for a lot of other problems.