Background: My wife and I had sailed on RCCL many years ago. Our most recent cruises have been on Princess and Holland America. When we decided to take a family Christmas cruise we decided to revisit RCCL since we wanted a shorter cruise and wanted to sail out of Tampa. We booked three inside rooms for ourselves and two of our children. One son is married and he and his wife in their late twenties to early 30's. Our daughter is married and his two boys, ages 2 and 5. Another reason we chose RCCL was because we wanted a line with a good children's program. Before sailing we were notified that my wife and I had received an upgrade from our inside room to a superior outside room with a balcony! Now that is what I call an upgrade!
Embarkation: We arrived at the port at about 1:30pm. Dropped off the luggage and parked the car at an off port lot. The cost was about 1/2 that of port parking and they took us right back to the port. Very easy. When RCCL says boarding begins at 1:30pm, they mean it. You had to line up outside and go through security to get to check in. It was no big deal since it was a beautiful day, but had it been raining it would not have been fun to stand around while you had to get through the security. RCCL will not allow you to bring on board any water, soft drinks or wine. They will take it. After getting through security, the check in procedure was fast and painless. Very nice people. Once on board we checked the kids in and they were issued writs bands and we went off to find out rooms. There were no escorts or guides, so I would suggest you know where your room is before boarding.
Rooms: The two inside rooms we had were on deck 4 and were standard inside rooms. About 160 sq feet. Very similar to Princess inside rooms. The bathrooms had no shampoo or lotion. There was a hair dryer, safe and refrigerator. Plenty of drawer space and closet space. I would say the room was similar to a Princess inside room. Even had a small couch. The balcony room was the same size, but had a nice balcony with two chairs and a small table. We had room for another chair or two and since we knew we would have visitors, we asked for more chairs and were told no. Our room steward was fine, he seemed most interested in us understanding that we could only reach him during his hours, which were 8-1 and 3-6. When he failed to place a day's schedule in the room and I didn't find out until 8 pm, it was too bad. I had to get one myself. The kids said their steward was great. The rooms were clean.
Ship: It is a really nice ship. Dramatic atrium that goes up at least 6 or 7 stories. Not very wide, but has several cozy sitting areas that surround it. The ship is well designed and has some very nice features. The pool area is a bit crowded and often had to find a deck chair. The adults only sanctuary is a great feature and we enjoyed it as a place to get away from the kids. No charge for use. Their are only 5 elevators in the center of the ship and they are always crowded. There are another set forward that do not receive much use. The Safari lounge is a really beautiful room. Not enough goes on there. The ship has been maintained very well. It just seems a bit crowded with a full booking and we were full. Lots of families and children on board.
Dining: This was a real mixed bag. The food and service in the dinning room was some of the best I have ever experienced. Our waiter and assistant waiter were really good. Reminded me of service that one used to receive on cruises. Always there, never had to ask for beverage etc after the first night and the waiter even asked for and REMEMBERED our names. The selection on the menu was not as extensive as Princess or Holland America, but the quality was as good as any I have had in the last few years. Just outstanding every night. The same can not be said for the Windjammer Cafe or the Seaside Cafe. The food in the Windjammer was the same every day and the most of it was just bland and had had been sitting out too long. The pizza was the same I can buy in the frozen food section of the store. No table service at all. You have to get your drinks and refills etc. The hamburgers are often cold or not even there. There is food out with no labels (maybe they don't know what it is) and often selections are empty. Not a good alternative. Because of its design, it had to be closed at 9:30 pm so don't expect late snacks. There is a cafe called the Seaside Cafe. Who ever is in charge of it should be fired. They have a limited menu, but it takes forever to get any food. You have to order it and then take a number and maybe in the next 30 minuets food will arrive. We are talking hot dogs! Service is really not good. However, I did see something I have never seen on a ship before. One day the Captain was walking by and saw a bunch of trash that had blown off the tables, he actually picked it all up! Wonder if that will cost someone their job? Like I said the ship was clean!
Room service was nice, it is free until midnight then there is $3.95 charge. Food was OK. Had breakfast on the balcony and the food came at the requested time and was fine. Wished that all the food had been up the standards of the dinning room. Oh, the dinning room had the best sugar free deserts I have ever had!
Kids Program: A real disappointment. Seems that it is really designed for kids 9-15. Ours were 2 and 5. There is no place for a 2 year old to do much. The pools are all off limits unless they are potty trained. They would not let our 5 year old go in 6 year old program and all they had for the younger kids was watching movies. One of the things that attracted us to RCCL was the hype on the website about their kids program. They were suppose to be available to pick our grandson up at dinner and take him upstairs-- nope. It might be a nice program for older kids, but there was not much or the younger crowd and there was a crowd. They should have someplace for little kids to splash around if they are not going to allow them in the pools. Even the water slide was only open very limited hours. I would have to think long and hard before taking a 5 year old on RCCL again.
Entertainment and Activities-- The shows were pretty good. The singers and dancers could both sing and dance. The show room was big enough that you could always get a seat. There are not a lot of places on board to dance and the activities each day seem about he same. the last sea day was the best. Again not much directed at the kids that were on board. Missed the entertainment in the centrium that Princess has. The cruise director was pleasant enough and they were not always trying to sell you something.
Ports: We went to Cozumel and Costa Maya. In Cozumel we went out to Paradise Beach. Very nice place. Can ride is $28 for 6 and be aware that in addition to the $2 charge to get in there is a $10 per person min. for food and drink.
In Costa Maya were went to Maya Chan beach resort and had a great time. This is a wonderful place to go for a beach break. They pick you up at these ship take you to the beach, give you a private hut with chairs, etc and feed you have an open bar and take you back. They have lots of water activities that are included. Highly recommend.
Disembarkation: We were off the ship and out of Tampa by 8:45 am That says it all. Painless and professional.