I'll preface all this by saying I didn't particularly want to take this cruise. Christmas away from home sounds (and is) depressing. But the in-laws wanted to take the cruise. They're both walker-bound and it was their 50th anniversary, so I had to take one for the team. I tried, honestly, to keep a positive outlook. I kept hearing I'd be treated like royalty and all about how magnificent the food would be. So honestly, by the time we arrived to board, I was optimistic in my expectations. I was amazed at how creatively Royal Caribbean turned it all into a disaster. It was like they were inspired to wreck the vacation. I'll never sail with them again, and I would suggest that nobody sails with them.
The ship itself should be seized by the Coast Guard, towed offshore, and sunk by naval torpedo fire. We got there to a confused train-wreck of people who were denied clear communication by the agents at the terminal. Arriving at 12:40 PM, we were told by the porter that things were "slow" that day and we may as well go have coffee and come back "in a couple hours." So we rode over to a McDonald's and had lunch, and waited the time with patience.
We got back to the terminal to find no progress, only a bunch of buses and nobody telling us doodly squat about what was going on, but we were told there had been a contagion on the ship and the delay was because the ship was being disinfected. Yeah, right. I got four different stories from three different agents before someone finally told us "they're doing everything at the convention center." Well, if I'd known that I would've simply ridden over to the convention center. For Pete's sake, the McD's where we had lunch wasn't but a mile from the San Luis where they were doing all this! But anyhow, we had a very difficult time getting mom-in-law onto a bus (she's got terribly arthritic knees) and then rode to the convention center to find nothing short of pandemonium, and nothing better to eat than SACK LUNCHES. That should have been a huge warning flag to just go home and forget this debacle, but by this point we were all in.
We got registered easily enough and choked down the awful sack lunch sandwiches while again we waited until my patience ran out and I found another agent (they seemed none too bright or interested in being helpful) and got my in-laws to the bus. But mom-in-law wasn't able to board the bus to head back to the terminal. Her knees were shot by this point. They wanted to call a taxi, but were told no they could not do that. Finally they told my wife and me to take our son and head on over to the terminal and they'd get there somehow. By this point, it was late and our son (who is only 2 years old) hadn't had a nap all day and was cranky. Mind you, this was about 7pm and we were supposed to have been boarded six hours prior.
So we got on the boat. It was our scheduled dinner time, but they decided to have a drill instead of feeding us. After an injury sustained in 2007, I get around on a cane and had been too long on my feet, and collapsed to the deck during the fire drill. In any event, they decided then to feed supper to people but my wife and I were so disgusted by then that we simply repaired to our cabin with me muttering "never again" and far other more dire imprecations. And so ended Day One, debarking at about 8:30 pm to begin the cruise.
Breakfast and lunch were uninspired, and I learned at breakfast that they were always looking to gouge an extra buck from us however they could when I was greeted by a man running an orange-squeezer, who asked if I wanted fresh orange juice. Silly me, I asked for three, one for me, one for my wife, and the third for our son. They delivered them to our table and I was pinged for thirteen dollars, I think it was. In any event, the breakfast was little better than I could have gotten at any IHOP ashore. We ate lunch once at Windjammer, which was, kindly, uninspired. The lunches available at Rhapsody in Blue were better, but again, nothing to make me write home. Bleh. The suppers, I have to say, were magnificent, one and all. Now, before you all go thinking I'm just a negative person here, I've got to say that the lady we saw at our breakfasts, "Eliana," was really sweet and friendly, and our waiter at supper, "Reynaldo," was tremendous, as was his assistant, "Maamar." They all really seemed to love our kid and were the soul of courtesy and brilliant service, and we offered gratuities accordingly. But at the end of the day, only one of the three meals offered was really amazing to me. There were a couple times I was tempted to go to Johnny Rocket's, but after paying this much money to be on this boat, I was really peeved at paying even more to get a burger and a malt, and so I never darkened that door, nor any other "pay to eat" place on the boat. As an aside, this ship was rife with children and toddlers, and the kids' menu at supper time seemed only to have chicken tenders or macaroni. Surely this four-star dining room could have done better than that, yes?
By the second day, the norovirus panic was out again in full force, but none of us grew ill. Later, we would talk with a young man whose tale horrified us. He was sharing a cabin with his grandmother, who was subsequently diagnosed with the virus. They quarantined her to her room and evicted the young fellow, offering him no accommodations for two nights. I decided then and there that if I grew ill with anything less than Ebola, there was no way in the world I'd go to the medical spaces about it. My heart went out to this guy whose Christmas cruise was ruined by the high-handed behavior of Royal Caribbean.
Mind you, many ships docked at these ports, and I had opportunity to talk with passengers from the other ships. NONE of them reported norovirus issues, not even Carnival's Magic, which shares a terminal with Mariner of the Seas. This tells me the ship is the problem, despite "Captain Per" insisting incessantly that the passengers were to blame. But if we all come from the same population pool, why was only one ship infested, hmmm? By then I doubted (and still doubt) that they did much of a job disinfecting this ship, and I think I'd have been happier riding a rowboat to these destinations. My in-laws were remarking often about how much better they'd been treated on Holland America on their several cruises with that line. By then, I'd decided I'd never again sail with Royal Caribbean. But the hits just keeeeeeep on comin', you know.
Another thing that had begun to irk me was the closed-circuit TV, much of which seemed to be indoctrination and brainwashing about how lucky we were to be cruising with Royal Caribbean. One commercial that notably irked me was one about "Freedom of the Seas." A hot blonde in a green bikini told us just about hourly about some surfing ride on that ship that was one of a kind and the best of the best. I started seeing the subtext as "Don't you see what a great time you'd be having on a ship that doesn't utterly suck?"
The details are immaterial, and I think I've given you enough of a sampling of it that you get the picture. We docked back at Galveston again but RCI was far from done mistreating us. Not by a longshot. We waited patiently and forever in the Bolero Lounge for them to bring wheel chairs for my in-laws to debark the boat. As best I could tell they were the very last ones to be afforded wheelchairs. Once in the terminal, instead of letting them keep the wheelchairs, my in-laws were unceremoniously deposited into a pair of folding chairs to wait for a porter to come after our luggage. I find it sad that the most courteous people we found that day were our porter and Officer Kubiak at Customs.
Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean lost one piece of our luggage. It was nowhere to be found when my wife went with the porter to round up our items. So the next day, I get a call from them saying they had a piece of our luggage. Now, I've had airplanes misplace luggage before and when it happens, they deliver it to my door at no charge. Even the most ghetto airlines like Delta provide that amenity when they screw up. Royal Caribbean, not so! Oh no, I was told my choices were either (A) come get it between the hours of 0900 and 1200 at a travel agent in Texas City, or (B) give them a credit-card number to pay for delivery to my door! "Royal" indeed! Yeah, I was royally Pee Ohed, and royally screwed by these clowns.
Frankly, if you read this review and then choose to sail with these clowns, you are a masochist. For me, never again. It'll be snowing in hell a hundred years before I ever again board a Royal Caribbean boat.