My wife and I stayed in San Juan, Puerto Rico Embassy Suites four days prior to the Cruise and Sheraton Old San Juan two days after the Cruise which made for a great much needed extended 13 day vacation. Embassy Suites was great with a wonderful pool and they had a great deal that included buffet breakfast, free internet, and a two hour free drinks/snacks Social Hour each night. There was also a supermarket around the corner,the beach is a five minute walk, and you can take the bus to Old San Juan for 75 cents. The Sheraton in Old San Juan was so-so, but there lots of nearby dinning options and free/cheap transportation to shopping and sites like the huge Fort that are worth seeing. We went on the Cruise with two other couples which made the trip more fun for us. Being a first time Cruiser myself, I was very iffy on the whole idea of a Cruise, especially in light of all the recent Cruise ship problems, but I have to say that Royal Caribbean did a great job and I recommend them highly and would definitely go on another Cruise.
Embarkment at the Pier was about as smooth as could be expected. There were long lines, but things went smoothly especially when you consider they are shuffling thousands of people of all ages with luggage etc. Plenty of staff to answer questions, vendors with water, and everyone was friendly and helpful.
Aboard the ship, we had an interior center ship cabin on the 9th floor. (the cheap seats) King sized bed, couch, desk area with large mirror, TV, large closet, ample built-in storage drawers/areas, tight bathroom with shower and more storage areas(but met our needs), and ample lighting throughout. All we needed and I was actually surprised and felt it more than met our needs. For me, why spend more for more room, a baloney, etc? We were never "hanging out" in our room and why would you when there are open decks with chairs, beaches at Port, a Ship Casino, and ample entertainment opportunities. There was also no noise transfer between rooms. Our Cabin Attendant was very accommodating and each day we were greeted by a spotless room, very helpful printed information on the next day's Port and activities, and "towel art" on our beds. Expectations more than met.
We ate in the dinning room for almost all of our meals and I highly recommend this as the meals were higher end experiences that offered a nice variety of choices for appetizers, Entrees, and desserts. This really added to our Cruise vacation experience. Service was excellent and meals served in well timed courses. You can order anything you wish and any number of items and we took advantage trying many different appetizers and desserts. I really felt the offerings were excellent and I "tried" dessert options more than usual due to the more exotic offerings available. We often ordered a variety of things just to try them. Prior to the Cruise I was a bit put out by the noted "Formal nights", as I like to relax on vacation, but these were only two nights, were not stuffy, and other nights attire was casual enough to include golf shirts etc. More casual dress is accommodated in the Windjammer Buffet and this is an option for any meal and open all day. We only had two meals in the Windjammer and this was a bit of a disappointment. A decent selection, great service, but some of the selections were a bit disappointing such as the omelets, but to be fair, a very tough job to do when you are preparing for thousands. This is a great option for when you are on the run or to send the kids to where they can stop and go all day if they wish. All in all the meal options were really Excellent and this was just another huge surprise for me on the Cruise. The service was always excellent and each night the dinning room would have some special presentation such as introducing the Chefs or themed Italian nights etc. all adding to the night. I also took advantage of ordering room service one night just because I could, lol. Two Ice teas and a nice Turkey Panini sandwich with fries that my wife and I split. Excellent. :)
Entertainment was ample and we participated in the available shows each night. Some were a bit cheesy, but all the entertainers were excellent. From Singers/Dancers, Comedy, and Ice skating shows, there were ample choices for all. We had our photo taken with "Bowzer" from Sha Nah Nah and he also did free autographed photos for anyone willing to wait in line. The couples Comedy show was hysterical and the Cruise Director did an excellent job on all levels. There were also nightly "events" such as poolside dances, belly flop contest, a 70's night, etc. We utilized the Ship Casino daily usually ending our night there and I even won 3rd place in the Blackjack tournament! Table games had low minimums of $6 and a variety of different options including Blackjack, Poker, and Craps. Plenty of slot machines and Bingo games too. There were also nightly bands playing in bar areas outside the Casino and offered a nice way to relax, enjoy some quality music, and have a drink.
There was also excellent gym options. I intended to utilize this, much like at home, but decided I was on vacation and was too busy with relaxing and other things. :) There were also plenty of kids options that I am not familiar with and other entertainment options as well. Something for everyone for sure.
Our Ports of call were St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Aruba, and Curacao. At each Port we didn't rush to embark and enjoyed a relaxed breakfast leaving around 10:30 and returning to ship 4-5pm to get ready for dinner. All Ports had wonderful beaches with Turquoise water and ample touristy shopping options. We found t-shirts we liked and I recommend doing a bit of "shopping" as often various vendors have the same items a few steps away for less. We were lucky enough to meet up with some friends in St. Thomas that have a sailboat there and they took us out sailing for the day to an island where we snorkeled etc. A great great day. We mainly relaxed and enjoyed the beaches at each port having a couple drinks at beach-side Cabana bars.
We photographed a lot of great moments during the Cruise and there are Ship staff photographer options readily available during/before/after dinner and other times where you can have your photos taken for free. They then print out the photos and display them and you can pick any you wish to purchase. They should come up with a better system for this however, such as going all digital, have larger digital displays for viewing, and perhaps offer a web site so you could make purchases at home after the Cruise if you have "second thoughts". They literally print off thousands of 8x10 photographs and display them and then throw them all away if not purchased. This certainly is not "Green" and I think they could save money, offer lower prices to encourage more purchases, etc. if they went to all digital. They are doing some of that, but there is a long way to go. Building a web site might also offer more options to mix trip and stock photos onto a DVD with music options etc. Seems like it could be way more efficient, be less wasteful, and end up making more money and more memories that could be more readily shared with family/friends resulting in free advertising for the Cruise line.
During the Cruise we only had one day with some sway and otherwise I rarely knew I was aboard a ship and had to remind myself we were moving about. I did have some initial reaction when first on-board the first day/night, but that was minor, never involved any need for motion aides, and quickly resolved the next morning.
I have to say that the staff aboard the ship were all outstanding. Everything was spotless with only a few exceptions of some odors at times in stairways etc., but these were always quickly resolved. With thousands on board this is very tough to accomplish. Staff was helpful, friendly, courteous and responded well to efforts to engage in discussion. Most are from the far corners of the world and I truly admire their initiative to take the opportunity for such employment far from home and far from their families. Most are gone for 6-7 months and return home after their long absence making the sacrifice to provide for themselves and family. You have to admire that and we did tip accordingly for their great service and admiration. In this day and age it is tough to find those that want to work and provide great service with pride. I enjoyed all our conversations with staff and some were real "personalities" on their own adding to our fun.
Disembarkment was equally smooth and we chose to avoid the lines and be among the last off the ship. They offered an option to meet this need and while we still had a line at Customs, this all went smooth and without huge delays. We stayed a couple days in Old San Juan after the Cruise and didn't need to hurry to catch a plane.
All in all Royal Caribbean did an EXCELLENT A++ job and I would definitely Cruise again. With all the recent negative publicity for a variety of serious Cruise problems, Royal Caribbean came through with no problems for my first Cruise experience. I have literally been all around the world: The Great Wall of China, Pyramids of Egypt, The Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, The Colosseum in Rome, etc. and I was impressed by what the Cruise experience offers in "tasting" each Port. This offers a very affordable option especially for families taking children with lots to do for all.