First let me begin by saying I have never cruised before and I researched extensively and read Cruise Critic a few times. I was told about cruises, either you love them or you hate them and I am most definitely in the hate them category. But let me say, I cruised with my two children; 11 and 6 who LOVED it. So if you have children and want THEM to have a good time then a cruise of for you.
Let me start with embarkment. We drove to Florida and parked with Cruise Parking of Port Canaveral which was wonderful. Great people and affordable prices. Embarkment was fine, long lines, but that was expected. Once aboard we met family and friends at The Windjammer which was PACKED. As soon as we walked in we were greeted with Pina Coladas and then quickly asked for our SeaPass card. That is when I realized this is what my whole cruise was going to be about.....the CONSTANT UPCHARGES for everything. They shoved the Pina Coladas in our faces and even gave *virgin* ones to my kids and before I was even on the ship for a few seconds I was charged with four Pina Coladas. Then I was told to sign my kids up with the Soda Package; more money, and give them an allowance for the arcade that they can charge on their SeaPass card; more money............ I started my trip paying $4,000 for four of us and ended up with $3,000 in upcharges and excursions costs and tips (which is a whole other disgrace) so my entire trip costs $7,000. For $7,000 I would have rather gone to Hawaii!
First day we were at sea and the boat was so crowded it was uncomfortable. The lounge chairs on the pool deck are literally butted up next to each other so if you are trying to relax and get some sun you are likely to be arm in arm with the hairy, sun-lotion ed guy on the seat next to you. Ewww! My kids did not want to do the Kids Club because it looked boring, glorified babysitters really. The flowrider was nice but the lines were ridiculous. The kids waited on line, sometimes for close to 30-45 minutes to get a 2 minute ride on Flowrider. Not worth it. Same with the rock wall. So my 11 year old spent most of his time at the arcade charging up his Seapass card.
First Port was Labadee, this place was nice. The beach was all rocks so again they charged $15 for a float, they charged for the Aquapark and they charged for the Dragon Coaster. They say they include lunch which is over-cooked hamburgers and hotdogs that you stand on long lines for. If you walk over to the beach where the Aquapark is, it is nicer, but crowded. Never really got a chance to sit and relax because after the Aquapark and Dragon Coaster and standing on long lines to eat you had to go back to the boat. They also had ziplining which costs $100 per person!! Ridiculous!
Next port was Jamaica, we didn't do any excursions here because the prices were outrageous. They have a cute little port for shopping but no beaches unless you wanna pay $$$$ for them to take you to a beach.
Next Port was Grand Caymen and this was by far the worst experience we had. I have been to Grand Caymen on my honeymoon and was excited to visit this island again. We booked the StingRay City excursion with snorkeling, Seven Mile beach and lunch. Cost over $450 for the 4 of us. We were scheduled to leave the boat at 7:15AM. Grand Caymen does not let the ships dock so you are tendered to the island. This was a nightmare with long lines and unorganization! I am glad we woke up at 6AM only to get to the island at 10AM!! There were four other ships there and we were told that equals 12,000 cruisers dumped onto this tiny island at once! So you can just imagine the absolute chaos. We felt like a heard of cattle. (I can't not for the life of me understand how people enjoy this!) When we got to the port it was crazy and we had no idea where to go. Carnival and other cruise lines had sign and meeting points but Royal Caribbean, nothing! Not one sign or Royal Caribbean staff to tell us where to go. We had to ask around and finally ended up on a bus that was going to the wrong place (along with other RCCI cruisers) so we got off and had to wait around for another bus. They finally got us to a boat to take us out to StingRay city. Once there it was so crowded with boats! Remember 12,000 people were just dumped on this island trying to see StingRays. There were boats lined up around the sandbar and boats waiting for spots, just chaos. Our boat finally got in, they rushed us off the boat and only let us swim with the stingrays for 15 minutes before they said we had to get back on because other boats needed a turn. (remember I paid $450 for this excursion and my kids got 15 minutes with the stingrays!) Of course there was a women who was taking pictures and charged us $40 for a picture of our kids with the stingray. So then they took us to Coral Gardens and again only gave us 15 minutes to snorkel. Then back to the dock where again we waited like cattle for a bus/shuttle to take us to Tiki Beach. Finally got transported to Tiki Beach where lunch was included so they herded us to another long line to wait for, you guessed it; hamburgers and hotdogs. Then told us the last shuttle to the boat was at 2PM and it was 1:30, so much for time at the beach or shopping! We ate and spent two minutes at the beach and then had to go back to the ship. I was so disappointed as I was looking forward to visiting Grand Caymen again and had the worst experience. Back on the boat I spoke to a family that told us they never book excursions with RCCI because it is such a rip-off. They did StingRay City with a local company and paid $25 per person for the same thing I paid $119 per person for. That is shameful on the part of Royal Caribbean, to rip off their customers that way.
So our final destination was Cozumel. This was our favorite island. Much more organized here. We booked the Dolphin Encounter at Chankanaab Park. The locals were lovely and helpful. The ride to the location was short and organized and comfortable. The only thing I did not like was they did not allow you to bring your cameras where the dolphins were and then they charged you $30, yes THIRTY DOLLARS for one photo, so if I wanted a photo of each of us I would have had to pay $120 for four photos. Needless to say we did not buy the Dolphin photos. We saw a Sealion show (for that they wanted $15 per photo) and they had a pool for our use and a lovely beach where my children snorkeled and said they could hear the Dolphins when they were underwater which was adorable. We spent the whole day there until we had to catch the last shuttle back to the ship at 5PM.
Now to the food. Windjammer was nice, good buffet and we ate breakfast here every morning and they had a huge selection. We ate at the dining seatings for dinner each night. The first couple of nights the good was good and then started to go downhill to the point of us sending back food that was awful to finally just eating Pizza for dinner for the few final nights.
I didn't like the fact that we chased the clock the entire trip. When to get to breakfast, when to get off the boat, when to get on the boat, when to get to dinner, when to get to this show or that show.......... just tiring. The only show we saw was the Ice show which was nice enough.
Then to the pictures, they take photos of you everywhere. Constantly cameras snapping in your face. The pictures end up generally being very nice but again the price for 10 photos is $150 or $20 per photo.
And finally the tipping. This STUNNED me! They suggested you tip; your room steward $5 per day per person, so do the math. They expected you to tip the guy that made our bed once a day $140!! Then they suggest you tip your Head Waiter (never saw this guy but supposedly they were the red jackets), your Asst. Waiter , your Waiter and your Bar Maid! They suggest anywhere from $3.00 per person per day to $5.00 per person per day. So after we added everything up we were expected to tip out $320!!! And they make you feel very guilty if you don't. So basically RCCI doesn't pay their employees well and puts that off on their customers to do so. Shameful!!
So overall I did not like it and have realized I am NOT a cruiser and have no idea how people enjoy being herded around like cattle, but oh well. Next time I will spend $7000 on a all inclusive resort somewhere tropical and find some relaxation. My final excursion bill was a little over $1000, my final SeaPass bill was over $900 and my final gratuity bill was $320. I am truly most disgusted about how RCCI takes advantage of their customers with all the upcharges and the EXHORBATANT prices they charge for excursions you can get for a quarter of the price.
Absolutely never again.