Transportation: we drove from Indiana to New Orleans to catch the cruise. Going down, terrible rain resulted in a 14 hour trip. After the cruise, the weather was fantastic and because it was New Years Eve, the roads were empty - no truckers. We got home in a little over 12 hours.
Hotel: We stayed 2 nights prior to the cruise at the Hampton Inn Convention Center in New Orleans. This is not your typical "chain" hotel. Local ambiance, great fitness center, breakfast was wonderful, self laundry, exceptional proximity to pier - we walked to it. Valet parking only - $29 per night. Less than a mile walk to French Quarter.
Parking: We parked at Fulton Street parking garage for $12 per night for cruisers. It is a 1 block walk from the hotel to the parking garage. It is 2 blocks from the garage to the cruise port. Easily walkable with rolling luggage.
Cruise Embarkation: So very easy - took perhaps 15 minutes to get registered, etc. Waited for about 15 minutes to be allowed on the ship - we were in the first group to board the ship. Went right to Windjammer and "camped-out" while we ate and explored the ship. Note: the stateroom hallways were blocked off 'till 1:00pm. We could explore all of the public spaces though. It was way too cold to use the swimming pools, but we saw a few brave souls in the hot tubs!
Security/Luggage: Luggage did not arrive prior to first seating dinner. We got 4 of the 6 bags around 8pm. I packed a clothes steamer on one bag and held my bag. I scoured all of the travel documents and nowhere did it state that I couldn't bring a steamer - it says no irons. I was so angry that I didn't get my luggage because of this. The security people wanted to keep my steamer, I said No Way! I told them that I use it for medical reasons to steam my nose and they let me have it back. This is a completely stupid rule from RCCL and is a reason that I may not travel with them in the future.
Cabin: Small, inside, no natural light. This is exactly what we paid for so we were not disappointed or surprised. There as so many cubbies and places to store stuff. Our family of 4, over-packed, and still fit everything in the small room. We stored our luggage under the bed. We took giant trash bags to keep our dirty clothes in. Made great use of the in-room safe. The coffee table was in the way so we just stored it in the closet and gained additional storage room by doing this. Took command 3 storage clips to hang on walls for extra storage but didn't end up needing them after all.
Cabin Attendant: Wonderful! So nice. The first day he met us and even presented us with his business card. We got towel animals every night. He had to work extra hard because we had an accident on the bed. No problem, he took care of everything and told us not to worry about a thing.
Food: MDR food was not so good on the first few nights but got better at the end of the week. Best meals were, Garlic Tiger Shrimp, Onion Tart, Angel Food Cake with Strawberries. Overall, the appetisers were great and the desserts were not so great. The main meals were hit and miss. Did not eat lunch in the MDR. Ate breakfast in the MDR 1 day - not so good, we preferred Windjammer for breakfast. Windjammer had typical buffet food. Totally enjoyed the french fries! Also, on one afternoon around 3pm they had chocolate croissants that were great - never saw them again. Promenade: learned late in the cruise that on level 5 during lunch they have lunch stations. We enjoyed the Nachos, Ribs, and Bananas Foster! Yum. The Cafe Promenade is open 24 hours a day. This place is really strange. You can self serve for drinks but have to ask for someone to give you muffins, pizza, pudding, etc. One guy who worked here in the morning was a total jerk - the only employee that we came across the whole week who was like this.
MDR Service: Exceptional! No other way to say it. They work so hard to please you. Could not have been any happier! Best part of the entire cruise was the service we received from the MDR staff! Great Job!!!!
Drinks/Ice/Ice Cream: Wish you could access water, tea, lemonade at more places around the ship. We drink tons of water and had to go to Windjammer or Cafe Promenade to get it. Also, we like ice in our stateroom - you get this through room service - sort of strange to do this. Coffee stations at the ends on floor 11 ran all day. We get up really early, like 4am, and had to go to Cafe Promenade to get coffee. Ice cream stations also at the ends of floor 11 - for some reason these are only open from around 11am to around 6pm or so.
Bar service was good. Servers continually walk around the pool decks to get your order. Drinks were good - average price.
Entertainment: Really bad. Most shows say that they were produced by the Cruise Director so perhaps he just isn't that great of a producer or something. Ice skaters were ok. Movie musical review was horrible. Last night performance was really bad. I've seen tons better at Club Med!!!
On-board Activities: Sports court: Always busy, this place could use some love and refurbishment. They need drinking stations here. The water fountain is useless when the boat is moving the water just sprays in the air and not in your mouth. Rock climbing was the best. Basketball courts were always in use! The putt-putt is in need of renovations and is a bit dangerous when small kids don't know how to play. They can and do drive the ball from the putt-putt course clear to the rock climbing wall. They had a funky roller blading area that was never open when we went there. Demonstrations/Talks: We attended the napkin folding session - was pretty lame. The talk with the crew was really good though. Ice skating rink was cool, really enjoyed this. Santa came to visit, this was a nice touch and all of the kids got a little present while the adults got loaded on eggnog! Arcade: Always busy and fun. Children's club: Easy enough to register for, my son just didn't want to be there much - he went 2 times and had a good enough time.
Getting off the ships for ports-of-call: Cozumel and Jamaica both have piers so it is easy and quick. Grand Cayman uses small boats and let's just say that RCCL needs to improve this whole process. First, you have to wait in line for an hour to get a "number" to get off the boat. Then, you have to go sit in a public space for over an hour before your number is called. We were in the 2nd boat to leave the ship and we didn't get off the boat 'till after noon! This should and absolutely could be a better experience for all.
Disembarkation: We took our own luggage off the ship. They began letting this group off at 7:15am. We were through customs, met by the Fulton Street van, driven to the parking garage, in our van and exiting the parking garage at 7:36am. So easy!
Would I cruise on this ship again? Probably not - we've been there done that now. If I ever cruise again it would probably be on one that has more ports of call like Alaska. With 3,600 guests and over 1,200 employees, it was a crowded cruise. Too much time waiting around and hideous on board entertainment. I was happiest when I was at the port of call.