My husband and I have been on 8 other cruises (Princess, Celebrity, Regent and NCL) but this was our first RCI cruise. We really wanted to like it because for the first time we were travelling with 20+ of our friends and family, mostly couples in their 30s with kids ranging from 3 to 9 years old. Unfortunately, while we did have a good time being together on the ship, it did not compare well to other cruises we have been on.
Embarkation - very quick and easy. We were onboard by 12:30 and in our cabin around 1 pm. Parking is plenty and lines are short.
Cabin - we had a large ocean-view cabin in the middle of the ship (one of the new cabins added when the ship was cut in half). It was a good size, similar to what we have had in the past. It seemed dated but was clean, the bed was comfortable and had enough storage.
Ship - definitely an older ship with hardly a wow factor as far as decor goes but it was kept very clean and there seemed to be enough public areas to accommodate all passengers especially since this was a cruise with lots of sea days.
Food - unfortunately this is one of the areas where we were very disappointed. I did not expect 5-star cuisine but this was way below my expectations. One of our biggest disappointments was the opening hours of the dining venues. Since this was a relaxing cruise for us with barely any ports of call, we did not feel the need to wake up early in the morning. MDR closed at 9 for breakfast and the buffet closed at 11 am. This meant that when we woke up around 10 am we had to rush in order to get any breakfast. Windjammer was just terrible, worse that I have seen on any other cruise line. At 10 am it was impossible to get a table for 4 and we ended up circling around for at least 10 min until we saw someone leave and we had to throw ourselves in their direction to get the table. Staff started cleaning and removing items around 10:45. The line to get eggs was usually 10-15 people long, bakes beans always looked like a bean soup and salmon was only available upon request. Pretty soon we started having just cereal and fruit to avoid the hassle. Compared to Princess where the buffet was open 24-hours with barely any lines this was a disaster. Lunch in the windjammer meant more of the same lines plus terrible food (think of the $2.99 buffet in Las Vegas) so we ended up going to MDR most of the time. However, MDR closed at 1:30 pm so we pretty much had to rush to finish our breakfast by 11 am and then have 2 hours free and then rush to make lunch. I am definitely not a person who only goes on cruises to eat, as a matter of fact I do not really pay attention to the food on most cruises as there is always something when I'm hungry, but this time I felt I really had to plan our eating in order not to starve. MDR had a few good items for lunch every day and an awesome salad bar where you could make your salad but there was always a very long line to get a table and even though half of the room was empty we were always required to sit with other people at a large table. On several occasions we wanted to dine with others from our group but were made to wait until they physically arrive in order to be seated, which has never happened to us on other cruises. Dinners were fine and our waiter from Mauritius was funny and efficient. Food was just fine but he made up for it with his personality. Both MDR and the buffet closed at 9 pm so if you wanted a late night snack you were out of luck. We stay up pretty late dancing or talking with our friends and would have appreciated a midnight salad or some fruit or a nice dessert but the only food available after 9 was pizza and hotdogs in the Solarium. I'm sorry but not everyone enjoys junk food late at night.
Kids Club - another huge disappointment. We have a 5 year old son and have cruised with him ever since he was a year old. He loved the kids clubs on Princess and since all of our friends had kids we were looking forward to evenings spent in adult company. Our frustration started on the first day which was New Year's eve. We received a flyer advertising a "great kids New Year's party" from 10 pm to 2 am. It cost $6 per hour per kid but we felt it was money well spent. We dropped off all the kids at 10 and went off to party. Right before midnight we went to pick them up so we can greet the New Year together and found a large group of bored kids sitting on the floor coloring and some kids running around. No music, no party, no funny hats. We felt bad for them. The next day we had more time to look around the "club" which basically consisted of a large empty space separated in two rooms (3 to 5 and 6 to 9 age groups). The rooms were empty short of a few tables and a TV in each room. There were a couple of counselors assigned to each room and while they all seemed nice and pleasant there was really nothing for the kids to do. We have seen many other kids club and they have always had some gym-type structures, video games, space to run and lots of toys. I'm sorry but this bare room was no kids club. We did take the kids to the club a few more times but unfortunately none of them were really enthusiastic about going so we had to keep this with us all evenings which kind of put a damper on things. I'm sorry but I thought RCI was supposed to be the most family-friendly cruise line?
Entertainment - I have to be fair and say that they did have plenty of entertainment. We are not production show people but we really enjoyed the Quest Game, the Love & Marriage game and some of the trivia games. They also had comedians, piano man, magician and a lovely band in the lobby that had us and our kids dancing a lot each evening.
Pools - another disappointment here. This was a cold weather cruise and even when we got to the Bahamas the weather was in the high 50s so the outdoor pools were unusable for all but one day. I understand some people like their quiet time in the solarium but I feel that the ship should have found a way to better accommodate the children on this cruise which were forced to stay inside for most of the 7 days. The Solarium was open for kids for two hours a day only on sea days and during those times it was impossible to get a seat. We had to leave our stuff on the ledge of the pool. In addition, when we finally found an empty hot tub and decided to enjoy it for a bit with our friends we were quickly told by a staffer that there can be only 8 people in a hot tub and some of us had to leave. I have never had this happen on a past cruise and there were no signs posted anywhere. Unfortunately between the pool only being accessible to kids for 2 hours a day and the crappy kids club there wasn't anything for kids to do on sea days so we just ended up finding quiet spots and letting them run around while we attempted to have drink or an adult conversation. We also saw a person throw up on the ledge of the Solarium pool and a staffer stood there for 15 minutes before cleaning it up which I found disgusting.
Ports - in Cape Canaveral we had rented a car from Thrifty and it was the best decision we made on this whole cruise. For $40 we could do whatever we wanted for the day so we went to Camp Holly for an airboat ride and I highly recommend this place. We waited maybe 10 minutes and were taken on a lovely 40-minute ride on a small airboat (only one other family) and were able to see 4 alligators and multiple other swamp animals and birds. Our son loved the ride and the people working there were super friendly. We then drove to Orlando and played mini-gold at one of the Disney gold places that my son loves, and had dinner in downtown Disney. When we got to Nassau it was a freezing 50+ degrees outside and we literally had to put our winter jackets to go outside. We took a cab to Atlantis and just walked around the resort for a bit, it was too cold to do anything else. Due to high winds we had to skip Coco Cay and spend an extra day in Nassau which turned out to be a warmer day so we took all the kids to the local Zoo which was actually really nice. Lots of birds and other animals were allowed to roam free in a tropical environment and the kids loved feeding them and playing with them. We then went across the street to a row of local fish restaurants where we had a lovely fresh fish lunch.
Service - unfortunately service was hit or miss throughout the ship. Our cabin steward was the worst we have ever had. This guy did not smile once for the 7 days. I had to ask him three times to pull my son's bed from the ceiling on the first day and he always had an excuse why he didn't do it. We had to ask him multiple times for various items missing in the room and he sometimes did not get to cleaning our room until after lunch-time. In taliking to some of the others in our group, some had really good stewards and some were not so good. This goes for MDR as well. Our waiter and assistant were awesome, always taking care of us fast and with a smile. But some of the others in our group had very slow and grumpy waiters which did not make for fun dinners. Usually service is the one thing onboard a cruise that I take for granted but unfortunately not this time. We did notice that a lot of the personnel were from the Caribbean, US and S. America, compared to almost all Asian staff on other cruise lines so I'm not sure whether it had anything to do with it.
Disembarkation - fast and non-eventful. Walked to our car and drove home.
All in all, we did enjoy the time with our friends and family but unfortunately I do not recommend going on this cruise especially with kids. I think we will stick to Princess or Celebrity for the future as they provide a lot more for the money. I would only do this cruise again if I can find a super cheap price and need a few days of relaxation.