Sorry that it took so long to write this review. We're planning our next cruise and as I'm reading reviews, I realized that I never did make my contribution to the data base from our last cruise.
We've cruised before but this was our favorite for a number of reasons. (1) We spent extra nights in Miami. (2) Back-to-back meant that we never had to worry about missing something on the ship because we could see it the next week. (3) Loved the ship layout, especially the Promenade and the Connoisseur Club. (4) My Time Dining was perfect for us: flexible enough as to time but still our choice of tables, dinner companions, and waiter. (5) Cruise Director Mike was really funny and brought something extra to the cruise. (6) We met a couple who will now be our life-long friends. Since we (and probably you) have cruised before, I'll focus on what made this particular cruise special for us.
Retired married couple in our mid-sixties -â€“ aged but not mature. We've cruised before on Norwegian (1x), Carnival (3x), and Celebrity (3x). We really liked Celebrity but decided to try Royal Caribbean instead because they had a dedicated lounge for cigar smokers, because we thought that we would enjoy the layout with the Promenade, and because it looked more family-friendly (checking it out for future family cruises).
Pre-Cruise and Post-Cruise in Miami
We were able to stay at the Intercontinental Miami for 3 nights before and 1 night after using Priority Club points. Our room was facing the water with a fantastic view of the cruise ships at dock (and leaving every afternoon). We were able to walk through Bayfront Park to the Bayfront Shopping Center where we ate most of our meals. Using the Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus from there, we were able to explore lots of Miami in two days. Our favorite stops were Vizcaya and South Beach. On our last day we took the Boat Tour which was well-worth-it. Customer Service at the hotel was excellent but we thought that the meals were very expensive so usually ate at Bayfront.
What I expect from Guest Services is that they get me on and off the ship as efficiently as possible and that if I have a problem that they fix it. There was a delay boarding so we had to stand in line for several hours. While the delay was exceptional and not their fault, we would have appreciated a little more information on our status. Also, we only found out after the fact that we qualified for a VIP line which would have made our wait much shorter. The turnaround for our B2B was excellent and the debarkation the second week was fine. The staff onboard was extremely helpful when we had minor issues: cancelled tours, credit for unused internet service, demagnetized room keys, and not knowing how to tie an old-fashioned bow tie.
I've been intrigued by the Voyager- (and now Freedom-) Class layout with the Promenade. Finally having experienced it, it exceeded my expectations. It was so open, especially when compared to most ships where you have to walk through the casino and down a narrow aisle to get from one end of the ship to the other. The snacking/drinking opportunities along the way were fine for a quick bite/sip. I really appreciated not having to go up to the buffet when all I wanted was a snack. It did get crowded during peak times (Parades, Captain's Parties, etc.) but still didn't feel claustrophobic.
The Advantages of a B2B
This was our first post-retirement cruise, so we decided to take advantage of all of our free time and do a back-to-back. This was great and probably the only way that we will cruise from now on. Once you're done the packing, arranged the pet sitters, paid for the air fare, etc., the additional cost for an extra week is well worth it. They are billed separately, so there is no savings there. The value is in how much more relaxing the cruise becomes. If we wanted to miss a show or a particular meal, we could pick it up the next week.
The turnaround day was great as well. We had a bag of laundry washed and folded at a very reasonable price so we were set for clothes for the second week. We kept the same room so no packing was required. We just had a leisurely breakfast in the main dining room and then went to a lounge to wait for everyone else to get off the ship. B2Bers are the last passengers off and the first passengers on. We just had to go down one gangplank and up another -â€“ we never actually went into the terminal. Off-and-On took just a few minutes and then we had the whole ship to ourselves until the new people started boarding. We were treated to a special lunch in the Main Dining Room that was not available for the new passengers.
My Time Dining
This was also our first time doing My Time Dining and it was perfect for us. We usually ate around the same time and very often with the same people. By the third night, we had found our favorite waiter and was able to get one of his tables most of the remaining nights. We were still able to make friends with our tablemates and eat together when it was convenient for all of us.
We thought that the food in both the Main Dining Room and the Buffet was good but not great. We tried to eat our breakfasts and lunches in the MDR because we enjoy being seated with new people. The daytime service is a combination of waiter-served and an optional buffet. Meals were repeated exactly the second week so we could order our favorites and avoid our disappointments.
We never did eat in Chops, but we did eat twice in Portofino's. Both times were special meals, rather than their regular menu. We did the Murder Mystery Dinner one night and it was fantastic! I felt like I was in an Agatha Christie novel. The cast was great and it was a lot of fun sitting together at our table for 12 with great food, wine included, and lots of clues to discuss. There were at least 50 participants all together.
On another night, we did the Wine Tasting Dinner which was a disappointment for us. There were five couples sitting at tables for two. Four of the tables were together, so they could interact. Our table was behind a partition so everything was explained to us separately and our food always arrived late. I blame the Maitre' D for the bad planning.
We both drink wine and purchased a wine package which we were able to use over the two weeks, saving a substantial amount. My husband likes to smoke cigars and the ship had an excellent cigar lounge, the Connoisseur Club. The couches were comfortable, it had a good exhaust system, drinks were available right there from a dedicated server and the conversation was great. Best of all, he was able to indulge himself in comfort without bothering anyone else (or being bothered). Finally, I love playing poker and they had an electronic Texas Holdem table in the casino. Besides a tournament, it was also available for a cash game every night that usually started after the second dinner seating.
Our favorites were the Ice Show and The Quest. The rest of the shows were worth the time except for a "Fairy Tale" show which is no longer being done. Mike (the Cruise Director) did a slide show during one of the sea days which covered a lot of behind the scenes stuff.
We found plenty to do on our sea days. In particular, I really enjoyed the Jewelry Making Class. We never got around to doing the Rock Climbing or Miniature Golf. Surfing was never going to be an option. They had a variety of Cooking Classes which we will certainly do on our next cruise.
Our first week was Eastern Caribbean: St. Maarten, private island on Haiti, and San Juan. It was our first time on St. Maarten so we did an organized tour that included the Butterfly Farm. Since we're not beach people, there didn't seem to be much else to do. The income inequality was depressingly obvious but the market was fine.
On the private island, my husband did the zipline and then we just wandered. There is an indoor market in about the middle which was okay but farther along are market stalls that we did not like at all. The vendors were very aggressive (the worst of the entire two weeks) and this is on RCI private property!
In San Juan, we docked right in Old San Juan so we were able to walk on our own to some of our favorite places. (We've stayed in San Juan so we have our own favorites -â€“ especially the Tapas Bar at El Convento.)
The second week was more port-intensive and our first cruise to the Western Caribbean: Costa Maya, Belize, Cozumel, Grand Cayman. Since we are still not beach people, we booked excursions through the ship. In Costa Maya, we did two different mayan sites which was interesting if you like archeology. It took the entire day but there didn't seem to be much else to do there.
In Belize, we did the Cave Tubing which was fantastic and included a great lunch with semi-authentic local food.
Our guide in Costa Maya suggested that we skip the Mayan ruins in Cozumel. (Why see one pyramid when you've just seen at least a dozen?) So, we got the last two spots in the Mexican Cuisine and it was our favorite excursion ever. We were bussed to an all-inclusive beach resort and escorted to a special building with 4-person cooking stations on the first floor. Over the course of the next two hours, we did hands-on Mexican cooking from Luis, an excellent chef who has been to a famous culinary school. Then we went upstairs to eat the meals we had prepared ourselves. Then to the white sand beach with more unlimited drinks and shops where the vendors were eager to help but certainly not overly-aggressive as they had been in Haiti.
In Grand Cayman, we did the excursion to Historical Sites with a Sound and Light Show. For us, this was not a very interesting port.
I must say that the people we met on this cruise were, for the most part, extremely pleasant. I've been on cruises before where people were rude, disrespectful, overbearing, and/or over-served. Not on this cruise. People just didn't seem to have much to complain about, which is, I think, due to the fact that the ship was generally very well-run. Another plus for us was that there was a range of ages and nationalities on board. There were several hundred extremely well-behaved children on up to active seniors. There were a lot of Canadians doing a B2B, escaping their January weather. With something for everybody, nothing seemed too crowded (except the unavoidable waits for the tenders).
We will certainly cruise on Royal Caribbean again, especially on this class of ship. We are now addicted to back-to-back and will do it from now on, even if the ports do not change.