I had sailed on Carnival 4 times prior to this cruise, and this was my first time on Royal Caribbean. This was very last minute, as my dad booked this cruise 8 days before we sailed. I am 22 and he is 59. We live in Orlando, so it was a short trip to the port. We did choose to stay in a hotel the night before to take advantage of the shuttle to the port. Also, the cost of the hotel including the parking and port transfers was only a few dollars more than if we had parked our car at the port. We stayed at the Comfort Inn next to Ron Jon Surf Shop. The hotel was decent for the price paid but the shuttle to the port was a horrible experience. Apparently seats on the shuttle are first come first serve, so since we didn't check in until 9:00 at night we were last on the list. We were told to be outside at 10:45 for an 11:00 shuttle and we didn't get on a shuttle until almost 11:45. We also stood by and watched them fill up three shuttles, leaving us all alone as the last people at the hotel waiting for a shuttle.
When we arrived at the port it was easy to figure out where to go and the line wasn't too long. After we got through security and up to the desks the line was a little longer than I had anticipated but it moved relatively quickly. Crown and Anchor members get priority check-in, and while the Royal Caribbean website does not designate Gold members as having that benefit, there was a separate line for Gold members that circumvented the normal check-in line. We got on the boat a little after 1:00 so it probably took less than an hour from when we got off the shuttle to when we got on the ship. Since we got on so late our room was almost ready, but we went to the main dining room to change our dining time first. Waited for a few minutes and had no problem switching from Late seating to My Time, went up to deck 5 which is where My Time dining is and filled out a form to transfer the pre-paid gratuities to our My Time staff as opposed to the assigned seating staff. If you didn't already pre-pay the gratuities, the form would allow them to apply them, but since we had already prepaid it was just to transfer them so they got sent to the correct staff.
After that, went to our room to put away our carry-on luggage and check it out. Not overly spacious but plenty of room for two people. The balcony was nice. We didn't use it nearly as much as we should have but it was nice to be able to just walk out when you wanted instead of having to go up a few decks. Loved the shower doors, as opposed to the curtain on Carnival. Plenty of storage space in the bathroom and tons of storage space in the cabin. Lots of drawers and cabinets. After that, we went up to the Windjammer to eat lunch and they were selling pina coladas with a bottle of rum that they would just pour on top of it. These are more expensive than regular pina coladas but it's the (plastic) glass that you can take home with you. Also, they pour the rum on top of it, and my dad drank some of his and then made a comment about more rum and the server happily poured more on top so it was probably at least a double.
Now for the summary:
Room: Great! Flat-screen adjustable TV, interactive features were very handy to check onboard account, etc. Only messages received on TV were from spa trying to get you to buy things. (more on that later)Mark was our room steward and he was very friendly. Only a few towel animals, but I didn't mind much.
Ship: Very clean and pretty well laid out. Sometimes you had to go up or down a deck to get to the front or back of the ship but nothing too irritating. We were towards the back of the boat, and the walk to the front for shows in the theater wasn't bad at all. Didn't seem as large as it is. All of the artwork is nice and makes it look like a nicer ship. (definitely appears more high-class than Carnival, although I have only been on the Fantasy-class ships and have not sailed on any of the newer ships yet).
Shops: Seemed pretty well-stocked, and salespeople weren't too bothersome.
Selling Things: This was horrible, spa representitives were placed on the royal promenade and outside the Windjammer every day try to sell spa services. It was as bad as when we walked through Cozumel with every single shop having people try to get you to come in. There was a huge watch sale one day and an amber contest to win a free piece of amber jewelry another day. When they had there, they were set up in the middle of the royal promenade and foot traffic around the area was awful. Not the best set up. Also the free liquor tasting is an ok way to try a few different kinds of liquor but if you miss it you're not missing out on much.
Activities: The rock climbing wall is huge. I'm afraid of heights and expected to go about halfway but the guy that was belaying? for me (I think that's what it called) wouldn't let me quit until I got to the top and whenever I let go and gave up he would jerk the rope to scoot me up. It was pretty scary but I felt accomplished afterwards. I attempted the Flowrider as well and didn't do so well at that. I only tried the boogieboarding and the water sprays in your face. Since I wear contacts it was difficult for me. I'll definitely try the stand-up surfing next time. Also didn't try ice skating but probably will next time. The rink was kind of small but the people I saw looked like they were having fun. Went to the screening room (movie theather) one time. It was kind of small but there was a good amount of people in there.
Shows: Once Upon a Time was AMAZING! The magician was fantastic. The welcome aboard show isn't anything too exciting. The comedian comes out for a few minutes and the aerial performers did as well. Marquee was really good as well. The comedian's adult show was not as good as I expected but it was still pretty good. Love And Marriage Show was great! Allan Brooks was a GREAT cruise director and he was hilarious. The Quest was also awesome. My friend had told me a story from when she went so I kind of had an idea of what would happen but it was better than I thought. Next time I'll definitely participate though instead of just watching. The ice show was also great! The skaters stumbled a little bit but I could tell it was difficult to perform on the small rink and the boat was rocking a lot so it was understandable.
Dining: The main dining room for dinner was pretty good. Some meals were better than others and the desserts left a little to be desired, but overall it was great. Our server Raj and assistant waiter Maribel were great, remembered our names, what kind of bread we liked, remembered my Coke (I had the unlimited soda option). Ate at Chops Grille twice because it was so amazing. The filet was one of the best I've ever had, the butter and the pimento cream cheese spread served with the bread were amazing (the butter was actual butter in a dish as opposed to the foil-wrapped pats served in the MDR and Windjammer. Portofino was alright, but I'm not a fan of Italian, and I probably should not have ordered the seafood since it's not a favorite of mine. Breakfast in the MDR was good but service was slow and I preferred to eat breakfast in the Windjammer because of the options available. Usually ate lunch at Windjammer as well but sometimes I just grabbed a couple of slice of pizza at Sorrento's. Tried a cupcake, wasn't that great but I'll try another one next time. Didn't have Ben & Jerry's because they didn't have my favorite flavor and didn't try Johnny Rocket's.
Pool: Went to the Solarium a few times. It wasn't what I expected (I remember reading something about a retractable roof) but it was pretty peaceful. I went on a port day so it was easy to find a chair. People came by offering drinks sometimes.
Ports: Didn't get off the boat in Labadee but I wish we had. Falmouth, did the Dunn's River Falls Express. It was perfect for me. I didn't need the additional activities they try to bundle with it. We got back to the port with time to shop (my dad did but I went back to the boat), and climbing the falls was AMAZING! I recommend it to everyone that is physically capable of it. My dad couldn't do it, but people of all ages were on it. Grand Cayman we just walked around and shopped a little, I'm not much of a shopper but it was a much more enjoyable experience than in Cozumel. In Cozumel we were told to take a taxi to the forum shops that costs $7 for 4 people so they recommend getting two groups of two together if you're only 2 people. We waited in a line for a few minutes and then were put on a van holding 8 people. They dropped us off at Langostino Pier and we soon found out that the forum shops were another two miles away. The taxi driver should have taken us there and it still would have been $7 but we didn't know any better so make sure they are dropping you off where you'd like because anywhere in that area is the same price. So we walked the 2 miles to the forum shops and were acosted the entire way. It seemed like there was no break between the shops and the people trying to get you to come in and look around. Then walked back to Langostino Pier and took a taxi back to our pier (International Pier). Tortuga rum cake is the cheapest in Jamaica and slightly more in Grand Cayman, but the only rum cake we could find in Cozumel was Rainforest Rumcake. I've never had Tortuga but Rainforest was delicious. My dad likes tequila and was trying to find some Porfidio anejo(the one with the cactus in the bottom of the bottle). Found it for $85 in Grand Cayman and it was $120 in Cozumel. Not sure how all of the other liqour lined up because I wasn't shopping for any, but he definitely regretted not buying the rum cake in Jamaica and the tequila in Grand Cayman, so when you find something, but it because it will probably cost more at the next port. Also, the ship has price matching so if you have a camera and take pictures of prices, if they sell it on the ship they will match the price so you can check prices in multiple ports and then just get the cheapest if you'd like to do it that way. However, they only had the small Tortuga rum cakes on the ship and my dad wanted the large one, and his "fancy" tequila wasn't available of the ship so it wouldn't have helped him at all.
Debarkation: Not the smoothest. We were group 18 out of 25 and were supposed to be called between 8:30 and 9:00 I believe. We were about half an hour late getting off the ship and then stood in a pretty long line to get through customs. Then we got up to the counter, the guy took the paper, looked at our passports and that was it. The luggage is on carousels like at the airport and it only took a few minutes to get ours. A porter helped us out to the buses where we caught our shuttle back to the hotel.