First some background: I'm a relatively "seasoned cruiser". This was my 6th cruise, having previously cruised with Norwegian (1), Royal Caribbean (1), Disney (1), and Carnival (2 times). We are from Rochester, NY area and typically cruise during our school's February break, which is the week of President's Day. For our February, 2011 cruise, my daughter and I took the Carnival Pride for a 7-day cruise out of Baltimore. It is an easy 6-hour drive from Rochester to Baltimore, and we agreed that for future cruises we would prefer to drive to Baltimore rather than fly to other ports. The Carnival Pride cruise was fantastic, but we wanted to give Royal Caribbean a try this year (having heard that it was "much better"). We were excited to find that the 10-day Royal Caribbean Enchantment of the Seas cruise was approx the same cost as the 7-day Carnival Pride cruise. The itineraries were similar, but the RC cruise also included stops in Key West and Coco Cay.
We booked our hotel thru Stay123.com. If you are driving, be sure to check out their website. We drove down on Friday, stayed at the Holiday Inn Express (on Russell Street, near Stadium) on Friday night, enjoyed a very nice complimentary breakfast, shuttle to/from port, and 10 days of gated parking for under $100. You can't beat that, since 10 days of parking at the port would cost more than $100. The only downside is that there was a bit of a wait for the shuttle, but nothing we couldn't deal with. Overall, they seemed pretty organized -- better than our experience at the Comfort Inn in 2011. The driver took care of transferring our luggage to the ship, so all we had to lug on board was our carry-on with a few essentials.
Boarding the ship was quick and easy. Although the website tells you that you can't board before 1:00, you can actually board much sooner. Because I had cruised with RC once before, I was considered a "crown & anchor gold member", which meant expedited check-in. We were whizzed right through while others had to wait in line. Amazingly, the entire process took less than 15 minutes.
If you have read other reviews for this cruise, you may already know that our itinerary was altered due to engine problems. We were late leaving Baltimore, and arrived a day late to Cape Canaveral. We were not able to go to Key West or Coco Cay, and our stay at Nassau was altered. Once we learned that we were getting a full refund, I was VERY HAPPY to have a "free vacation" and had no complaints. We simply decided to make the best of it, and come back again next year. The weather was cold/windy for most of the way to Cape Canaveral, but we had nice beach weather for Cocoa Beach and Nassau. Out of the 10 day cruise, we had 3-4 days of warm weather (sufficient to head back home with a bit of a sun burn). You could make the case that if we had stuck with our original itinerary, we may have had more time in warmer weather, but all in all, we couldn't complain.
Comparing RC to Carnival:
The food on RC was good, but we liked Carnival better for the following reasons:
- Carnival has free ice cream 24/7. RC had frozen yogurt late morning to afternoon. They advertise that they have Ben & Jerry's, but it's $2.50 for a small cone. On principle, I refuse to pay for ice cream on a cruise.
- Carnival has food 24/7. You can get pizza and sandwiches all night long. RC has late night food in the solarium, but only until 2:00 am. (Not that I really needed to eat between 2 am - 6 am, but it's nice to know it's there.)
- When they "stretched" the ship to accommodate more passengers, they should have enlarged the dining area. There was a serious shortage of seats in the Windjammer buffet area. Perhaps if weather had been nicer, some people would have eaten on open deck.
- Desserts weren't so great. Most looked better than they tasted. I have a rather active sweet tooth, but by the end of the 10 days, I really didn't care to try any more of the desserts.
- We really enjoyed lunch in My Fair Lady dining. The tutti salad (salad bar) was a big hit and I'm not normally a big salad eater.
My 17-year old daughter felt that there weren't very many teens her age, and that there wasn't much to do. Part of the problem may have been too many cold "at sea" days due to the changes in itinerary. However, I believe Carnival attracts a younger crowd, so if you are traveling with kids, keep that in mind. My daughter considers our 2011 Carnival Pride cruise to be our "best vacation ever", so it was hard for RC to meet her expectations.
There were definitely a lot more "older people" on this ship. I'm 51 and I was one of the younger adults. I'd guess that the typical age was 60-75. Everyone I met was very, very nice. Some of the adults wondered why there were "so many kids" out of school. If you are not from the northeast, you may not be aware of February break. If you don't enjoy cruising with youngsters, you should try to avoid that week.
The entertainment was outstanding. Much, much better than Carnival. I LOVED the comedians. Very funny, and the humor had the older audience in mind. The comedian on Carnival Pride was rather raunchy in comparison. We went to the 8:45 shows, and discovered that you had to arrive at least 30 minutes early to get a seat. For most shows, there were people standing in the back or sitting on the stairs.
We always go for the ultra-cheapo room (inside lower cabin). If we had known we were getting a full refund we would have gone first class - haha. Joking aside, we didn't choose well. The heads of our beds were against a wall that separated us from a utility room. Around 5:00 am we would wake to sounds of things bumping against the wall in the utility room. Also, our bathroom, especially shower, was very, very small. The bathrooms on Carnival were much larger.
My very favorite spot on the ship was the Solarium. The water in the pool was very warm (had to be close to 90 degrees). Even on the cold days, it was very pleasant to sit in there and read, and take a dip in the pool. If you have young children, you should know that children under the age of 16 are not allowed in the solarium, so that didn't leave a lot of options for the kids on the cold, windy days. Also, no kids in diapers, etc. allowed in ANY pool which would be a real bummer if you were traveling with toddlers. They had a nice children's spray pool on the open pool deck, but I only saw that operating once. Also, didn't see anyone on rock wall or trampoline. I believe you can only use them while the ship is in port.
Despite the changed itinerary and cold/windy weather, we both had a nice time. If I were cruising with older friends, I would try RC again (for the entertainment and solarium). However, for our next mother/daughter cruise, we will choose Carnival Pride (for the younger crowd and ice cream!).