We were really looking forward to this cruise. It was the first one for our 4yr old and our first one on RCI. We came with a VERY large party, reserving 6 cabins for our group alone. All in all we paid 1.5 times the amount we normally pay with Carnival per person but thought we were getting a better experience with RCI since we had done all the Carnival cruises by now. Baltimore was beautiful and enjoyed the night we stayed there but the vacation quickly went downhill once we boarded the ship.
The ship really shows her age and smells it too. The carpets were dirty, chairs looked very worn and overall just very aged. Even on the pool deck things weren't much better. The staterooms were smaller than we were used to but seemed to be the cleanest place on the ship. We were on the ship 9 days and not once did we see anyone cleaning the common areas. There was a handout in our rooms warning us of the signs of Norwalk virus or "Norovirus" but from past experience we had never had any issues with this. I guess that should have been a warning sign right there. Within the 9 days, 15 of our 17 members with our party alone had contracted Norwalk including our 4 yr old, 2 got pneumonia/bronchitis and 3 got pink eye. If you haven't had or heard of Norwalk, google it now. You can't kill Norwalk with hand sanitizer. The virus is only killed by bleach and washing your hands. It's VERY contagious. RCI's solution to cleaning was to place hand sanitizer stations in front of the common dining room areas and to have a person standing there telling you to sanitize. During the trip, we noticed the only people cleaning were in the Windjammer (which I have complaints about that later) and they were taking a dirty rag and going from table to table without bleach or any other cleaning agent. You can guess what they were spreading from table to table... and it for dang sure wasn't good cheer.
Speaking of staterooms, our room attendant was awesome! Seriously only person on the entire ship that wasn't rude. He was interactive and friendly with our children and was very accommodating. He was definitely one of two good parts of this ENTIRE cruise.
We decided with such a HUGE group all together we would use the "My time dining" feature. To do so you had to prepay all your gratuities which we did. On the first night we just hung out and ate at the windjammer but the second night we decided to check out the dining room. We called to get reservations that morning for dinner that night and were denied. We did get in the next night after complaining to the customer relations who turns out have NO customer relations at all. Dining crew was nice after we finally got to see them. Food wasn't that great though, had better on Carnival. We ate in the dining room a total of 3 times in 9 days and were not satisfied with the quality of food any of those days.
Now to the Windjammer. My BIGGEST complaint about it is that it closes. Who has EVER heard of a cruise line without 24 hour, eat all you want, stuff your face style food?? I mean, most jokes about people who cruise are based around lines at the buffet! However, we found ourselves hungry at 6pm waiting for the windjammer to open. Try explaining that to two 4 yr olds who are used to eating dinner around 5pm. The food was boring and tasteless unfortunately. We generally ended up getting hot dogs which were sometimes cold or hamburgers which were just bland. The drinks were non-existent unless you were buying alcohol at every meal. They served o.j. from the beverage stations yet offered to SELL you fresh squeezed o.j.? No thanks.. I'll just stick with the free stuff. Every beverage station had broken ice machines and they were few and far between to start with. The staff couldn't decide if they were going to serve you drinks or allow you to get your own. I left this cruise being more thirsty than I have EVER been in my entire life. There wasn't enough seating for everyone who wanted to use it and with the food quality in the main dining room... I think the entire ship wanted the windjammer. Leaving out of Baltimore during November didn't help this problem because it was VERY cold outside the ship so everyone on board was bunkering down in the windjammer or the formal dining room IF they got in! So your dining choices were VERY limited which leads me to the solarium which was advertised as your 3rd included dining option or your late night dining option but even that was closed before windjammer was open or after. We found it open a few times when we were very hungry and just took the food to our room. Room service charges a fee after midnight and if you called 2 hours before midnight you didn't get your food till after. Sneaky sneaky. We waited 2 hours for food several times and ended up falling asleep before it even came. The other times we just hung up and didn't bother because they kept you on hold for almost half an hour.
The entertainment staff was great and the shows were nice. The children's program, Adventure Ocean is the second of 2 good things on the ship. They were great. Both my kids wanted to be there the entire cruise and came back with crafts or faces painted almost every night. We even watched them come through the casino in a giant chain making faces at the casino patrons and screaming their little heads off. They made everyone laugh and really seemed to be having a good time. If you have the misfortune of going on Royal Caribbean, I definitely recommend Ocean Adventure. If I could change things around, I would put them on Carnival Cruise Line and the world would be right.
The ports of call are honestly what you make of them with any cruise line. We had been to San Juan before with Carnival and docked in practically the same spot. Best thing to do there is walk around a bit to see the city then go back and eat dinner on the ship to reduce costs. After dinner we visit Senor Frogs for a bit of fun. We generally stumble back to the ship, retrieve our children from the kids program and sleep the night away. The next port was St. Thomas which again we had been to before. Nice shopping, beautiful island, no complaints. There is a beach if you like beaches, there are shops if you like shops and there are of course excursions if you are into that. After that was Samana, D.R. That one was special. While some would see it as dirty and poor or not your typical tourist style port, it gives you an honest view of the world outside the U.S and was a very good teaching tool for our 10 yr old who is the typical American kid. We toured around and sampled the local fruits and vegetables, ending up at a beach that was beautiful with the ship in the background. Lastly was Labadee, Haiti. This was RCI's leased area and was beautiful of course. The beach itself was quite dirty with trash and very rough sand/shell but is still a beach. Has all the amenities of the ship right outside. The local shop area is confusing and a bit pushy but is typical of any shopping you do off a cruise ship. We purchased the roller coaster excursion there and really enjoyed it. Would recommend this to anyone.
In all honesty, the entire cruise just felt like a chance to up sell you. They weren't satisfied with your cruise admission, they wanted more and more at every turn. I expected to pay for alcohol and extra dining services but was very disappointed to feel like I was getting sub par service because I wasn't shelling out an identical amount of the over priced admission ON the ship as well. On previous cruises we have always left feeling like we had just stayed at the nicest hotel you've ever seen and eaten the finest food anyone has ever made and that was not the case with RCI.
In conclusion, this was honestly the worst cruise ever and our party of 17 wasn't the only one with this lasting view. We will NEVER use RCI again and will tell everyone we know to use another cruise line. You shouldn't leave a vacation with trips to the emergency room for Norwalk Virus or Pneumonia or pink eye for that matter. We needed a vacation from our vacation. After getting off the ship and visiting hospitals and doctors offices for our children it took us two additional weeks to get everyone healthy and back to normal. So I'd like to say thanks to RCI for warning us about Norwalk but not being knowledgeable enough about it to correct the issue or take steps to combat it and to tell the people who were boarding the ship 2 hours after us that we are so very sorry. I'm sure they contracted Norwalk too due to not having the ship clean and sanitary for the next cruise.
If you are looking for a first time cruise line and just want to enjoy the experience without worry or sickness or rude staff, go with Carnival. We sure will.