Looked to book this cruise at final payment time and got what we considered to be a great deal... We planned to book a minimum room category and pay minimum fees to simply be on the ship and away from the cold MN winter. We were offered a state/age discount and booked through an on-line agency providing $100 OBC for any category cabin.
This was our ninth cruise... only second on RCL. The ship was very nice! Our first time to sail with the option for a Royal Promenade View Cabin... which we took it as it was only $10. more per week, per person... sort of a no brainer.
We arrived a day early and stayed at the Hilton Riverside, which we booked through a last-minute-travel agency and got another great rate. Nearly a fourth of the rate listed on the website for the same room/date!
We arrived at the peer at about 11:00 with no significant traffic issues. We were on-board within 20-30 minutes, with the most significant delay being the fact that we were in one of two lines that were feeding into one security station. (The other two lines each had one security station each...)
The ship is beautiful! True, it isn't new, but it was truly very nice and kept up well. Yes, we could see things indicating we were not sailing on a new ship, but then again, we were not paying a new ship price.
There was a band group called Nik-L Beer on board with us. The band and their fans accounted for 600 passengers. They were celebrating Mardi Gras, I suppose, as on our last sea day the band played for a couple hours on the pool deck and their fans were dressed in wild, crazy colorful outfits and masks and were giving bead necklaces all throughout the ship. A new experience for us as we had not been too familiar with the Mardi Gras activity. It was fun to observe all the excitement!
The first two days on-board were fairly cold and windy. We were able to make use of the pool deck for a couple hours on both Sunday and Monday, but there were certainly on "Chair Hog" issues. The ship was doing some minor rocking... occasionally, the most we had ever felt on a larger ship. We like the rolling motion though, as it confirms for us that we are on a ship and not at a hotel somewhere.
The winds were calming down by Tuesday morning, but still stirring up the waves too much to allow for a docking at the Falmouth Port. Instead, we docked a bit further down the shore at Montego Bay. Not bad in our estimation, as we are not much into shopping and knew that that may have been the only downside by not docking at Fulmouth. While we normally do not book our excursions through the ship, we did so for this port based on several comments/suggestions we had learned from this website. We took the excursion to the beach in Negril followed by some minor shopping. The excursion was nice other than one of our ship mates was too drunk, or something, and caused us to return to the ship 30 minutes later than planned... causing to miss our assigned dinner time. (Just another disadvantage of booking directly with the ship... on our own, this would have never happened!)
Wednesday was Grand Cayman Day. What a beautiful island... certainly our favorite of this cruise! We booked independently through Moby Dick and did the Sting Ray City and Snorkeling activity. Very enjoyable experience and professionally ran! (If a concern were to be addressed, it would be the fact that we had to wait roughly 45 minutes after our meeting time to leave, but that was truly minor as there was plenty to do at the port while we were waiting.) The snorkeling was nice and I would compare it to a couple of great experiences in Roatan. The Sting Ray City venue was very enjoyable! To have wild, free-swimming creatures come up to you from the open ocean and eat squid right out of your hands was a truly unique experience. A must do... in our opinion!
On Thursday, another visit to Cozumel for us... It had been a number of years and we were surprised to see how difficult it was to find a truly "free" beach. Maybe we were overlooking something, or didn't do enough planning in advance for this port since it was a been-there, done-that visit for us. We ended up taking a taxi to San Francisco Beach. We were given access to an umbrella and lounge chairs, but in return we were obligated to pay a $10 fee each which could be put toward food/drinks at the restaurant. Not a big deal, but different than planned. The taxi rates varied... $15 for the two of us out to the beach and $12. for the return trip. I think we could have done some negotiation on this, but we didn't even try.
We were very pleased with our cabin attendant and dining room wait staff. Very attentive, friendly, helpful, polite and engaging. The food too was very pleasing! There were many options and most were very tasty. We are not very big eaters, however, on a cruise... why not? We would generally select three or four starters for our dinner meal and on two or three occasions two entrees were ordered. Deserts were never missed. The portions seem to be getting smaller over the years, but to never be discouraged from ordering ample amounts makes the experience more enjoyable and memorable. There was an "all chocolate" breakfast offering on Friday morning, in the main dining room. This was a bit different for us, but that too was enjoyable and quite tasty. Lobster night was on Thursday evening. We enjoyed dining as a couple at a table for two which was confirmed in advance, based on input and suggestions from members here on cruise critic after communicating directly via email with the folks at RCL. Nice! (We love enjoying our meals with others, but there is always that occasion that, well... just to be safe, we prefer to be on our own, where reasonable.)
The entertainment was nice... our favorite was the ice skating show! Very professional! We were able to get our tickets for one of the four shows in the casino during the afternoon of embarkation day. There were a couple comedians as well as a singing group called "The Unexpected Boys" singing Four Seasons hits, performing throughout the week. ("The Unexpected Boys" group is similar to the group "Oh What A Night", which we felt were a bit more polished/professional, but none-the-less, very entertaining.) The ship's singers and dancers were nice and entertaining, but not quite as top notch as one would have expected... All in all though, the entertainment was very enjoyable!
The weather for the three excursion days and the remainder of the cruise was absolutely perfect! Although, as we arrived in New Orleans on Saturday morning, we were greeted by wind, clouds and fog. We looked at this as though it was preparing us for our arrival to MN, which was listed as having a temperature of "1" when we checked in for our flight at Delta to come home.
This was yet another great cruising experience... we will continue to recommend Royal Caribbean to others as it is a great value for the money! Good times were had by all!