Embarkation was strange -- you had to stand in line to check your luggage which took about a half hour. Then you had to get in another line for security clearance to get into the terminal -- another 15 minutes. Then you got your cruise cards, approved credit card, etc., which took only about 5 minutes. Unlike other cruise lines, they didn't take your picture at this time. Then up the escalators to board the ship, but wait, halfway there you had to get your picture taken. Another 10 minutes waiting in line. Finally onto the ship.
Went to the Windjammer buffet for lunch (we'd been traveling since 2:00 in the morning with only a snack for breakfast at the airport). Food was decent, but not great; Then toured the ship.
The promenade area on deck 5 is really nice and varied; the usual shops selling jewelry and merchandise with the ships logo. They had a sports bar with numerous TV's, but I never saw them have more than one channel, ESPN International with lots of soccer, rugby, etc., They even had promenade Cafe which was open 24 hours for coffee, pizza and snacks at no charge. Beside that was a Ben & Jerry's, which did charge for their Ice Cream. Also in the promenade was the Duck and Dog pub which looked out on the promenade and allowed smoking inside, but not sitting outside in the promenade. They actually had a number of locations where you could smoke on the ship, but I never smelled smoke. You couldn't smoke in your room or on the balcony and I didn't detect anybody smoking on the verandas. There were an abundance of bars on the ship with good music.
The passenger mix was good, with very few people over 70 -- mostly in their 40's or 50's with some children, which were well behaved. There were a total of 3280 people on the cruise. We had a Cruise Critic "Meet and Greet" which was attended by 70 people. We had an active message board leading up to the cruise. They even had buttons to wear and signs for your door if you wanted them. One of the highlights was a "cabin crawl" where we viewed 10 different cabins that various passengers had booked for the cruise. Some of the suites and penthouses were unbelievable. That group, the Solarium Lovers, did a great job! They also had a poker game where you paid $10 a person if you wanted to, and then you drew cards from 7 different cabins. The best poker hand won 80% of the pot and the lowest hand got 20%. Once again, really well organized.
We ate breakfasts both in the dining room and the buffet. Food was better in the dining room, but slow. The omelette line in the buffet really long with only one omelette station. In general, they tried to overcook almost everything. Desserts and baked goods were excellent throughout the ship. Dinners were OK to good -- they gave you a full-sized lobster tail on lobster night and extras were readily available. We had the early seating for dinner. Food in the main dining room was OK, but not as varied or as good as on some other lines.
Johnny Rockets on the 12th deck was a 50's style hamburger and shake place with a $4.95 cover charge plus extra cost for all beverages including the milk shakes. The waiters danced to some of the songs on the juke box. I was really impressed with one of the passengers who joined in the dancing -- then found out a day later he was a dancer in the shows.
The two production shows were very good with the Las Vegas show excellent. There were always seats available in the theatre. The singers seemed better than on other lines. The Ice show was really good and they had open skating on a couple of days.
The Blue Moon bar on the 14th deck in the round area near the smoke stacks that are the signature of Royal Caribbean really had great views and good salsa type music at night. The casino was busy every night and the last night was smoke free, but the air circulation must be really good, I didn't notice smoke odor at any time.
They had lots of Hot Tubs and some were open 24 hours. The solarium area got crowded, but the area around the outside pools always had a few open chaise lounges.
The ship is in good shape. There were a few stains on the curtain to the veranda, but other than that, everything was fine. It is going in for refurb in 2014.
Service was just OK. Very slow in the dining room. Our waiter and assistant had 3 tables with 26 to 30 people at them. Cabin steward never cleaned the room until noon or after. Never could find her before then. Bar personnel were fast and seemed happier than the room or dining room people.
All in all a very good cruise and we would go on Royal Caribbean again, although we prefer Celebrity for their food, wine and better service. Royal Caribbean has a little more pizazz.