The only reason I'm giving this a "Very Good" rating is because there isn't a grade between very good and excellent. We chose this cruise because the itinerary and the timing worked perfectly for us, our son and his ... Read More
The only reason I'm giving this a "Very Good" rating is because there isn't a grade between very good and excellent. We chose this cruise because the itinerary and the timing worked perfectly for us, our son and his girlfriend who were both on Spring Break. The ship was also a big consideration. My wife and I hadn't been on a cruise in about 20 years and this was our son's first; his girlfriend was taking her fourth or fifth. We chose Royal because of the exceptional experience we had on their ship the last time we cruised.
The ship itself is enormous. We have read that until several years ago this was the largest ship on the seas. We can't imagine how huge the Oasis class ships are. As large as the ship is, though, it is quite manageable. And, immaculately kept. Servicing 4000 people isn't easy, and the crew of this ship keep the public areas as pristine as the moment you embark on the ship. Seas were a bit rougher than I remember although we suspected that (that) was due to a series of weather events that plagued South Florida all the way down to Mexico. But, it wasn't anything that caused any kind of disruption and it was mostly a gentle rocking; more so at night. The only complaint we had is that the announcements were frequently inaudible. Minor, but they really need to work on that. We would recommend this ship to anyone!
Embarkation was, for the most part, very easy. The porters were fantastic, efficient, and very friendly. The only negative critique is that at Port Everglades (Ft Lauderdale) they have mostly seniors in the check-in hall to direct you to the various lines. It would be helpful if they could all be on the same page. We were Gold status members and headed to the line which was clearly marked only to have a guy more or less become very snarky with us by directing us to a different queue. A colleague of his said no, go to the Gold line whereby the two of them argued with each other. Truthfully, he should be reminded of customer service skills. It is a good thing the counter staff was terrific, efficient, and friendly. Otherwise the overall review would have taken a serious hit as that was our first face to face interaction with RCCL staff. Disembarkation was curiously somewhat similar. Our designated time was 8:15 and we were to assemble on level 3 or 4 of the Arcadia Theatre. At 8:10 we were on our way to the theatre and were intercepted by a staff member who basically said, "No, you need to depart now." and we were directed to the gangplank. It seemed a bit curt to us. Which raises a couple of interesting points. As welcoming as 99% of the staff was on Sunday (departure day), the staff seemed to reverse their enthusiasm for the guests from about Thursday on. It wasn't my imagination as every member of our party thought the same and we heard other guests indicating the same sentiments. The staff needs to work on that. In fact, it would be a very nice touch if a member of senior staff or entertainment were present at the disembarkation point to thank the guests and welcome them back again. Disembarkation itself was easy and seamless. Truthfully, we expected tighter security measures from US Customs. You picked up your luggage and simply showed your passport. However, that aspect of the trip had nothing to do with RCCL.
The cabin(s) were nothing short of spectacular. We had originally booked outside staterooms. They upgraded us to Panoramic Ocean View Rooms on the 12the floor (the top floor that has staterooms) near the front port side of the ship at no additional charge. There are no words to describe the room or the view. First the room was immaculate and was kept that way. The cabin service was efficient, friendly, and incredibly hospitable. Sean was our room attendant; we can't say enough about him. If a spacious bathroom is what you are looking for, don't cruise. The bathrooms and showers aren't exactly large. But the trade off for a very spacious living and bedroom area more than offsets the tight quarters in the bathroom. We have stayed in standard hotel rooms where you felt far more cramped than this. We won't ever settle for a smaller room! Thanks RCCL!
Dining gets mixed reviews from us. The quantity was just fine, but we were a bit disappointed in the menu selection in the Main Dining Room. We actually only went to the MDR one night out of the six. The other thing that caused us a bit of disappointment was in going to the MDR the first night we had anticipated a table for four and was placed at a table for eight (or maybe it was ten). The maître d was very accommodating but not until night #2. Combining that with the lack of interest in the menu and we spent most evenings in the Windjammer. Based on people watching, there were many families that appeared to have gone to the MDR only to end up at Windjammers. The Windjammer is where the buffet is. Enough said; if you can't find something there to eat, there is no pleasing you. Is the quality five stars? No, but preparing food for thousands of people will cause a bit of a setback in overall quality. Still, it was very, very good with a huge variety. And that compliment applies to all meals. A word about the alternative food locations that are included in the price. Sorrento's Pizza is ok. If you are looking for a pizza chef flipping dough in the air, forget it. The pizzas are based on premade dough shells; nothing exciting but not terrible. There really isn't any other way to service that many people. Ditto the coffee place. As for the upcharge restaurants, our son and his girlfriend went to Chops Grille. They said it was ok. Certainly not Ruth's Chris; more in line with Longhorn. One night we opted for Johnny Rocket's. Truthfully, this should not be an upcharge. The burgers are largely what you'll get at the Windjammer. Hardly worth the $9.95 per person upcharge. It would be a nice touch if it was included as an option like Sorrentos. The one thing we found annoying about the Windjammer was the incessant soliciting for their upcharge restaurants while you were having breakfast. To be honest, at 8:00 in the morning, I haven't even thought about dinner yet.
I wanted to say something about the drink packages. We opted for the Refreshment Package which includes pretty much all drinks except alcoholic beverages. There is a code on your SeaPass card that tells the bartender/servant what you are entitled to. The SeaPass card also has coding that links to your overall reservation. Here is my point. On many occasions I went up to a bar, etc. to get four drinks (one for each member of our party). I was told "you can only get one or two". This became incredibly inconvenient. And it applied to everything; whether it was bottled water, soda, a mocktail, or a designer coffee. I do understand that there are people who scam the line by purchasing one package and then proceed to take advantage; but, with the amount of embedded coding that is on that SeaPass card one would think the server could readily identify that your entire reservation (and those linked for the second stateroom) had a verified and paid for Refreshment Package. The other thing I wanted to point out is that since RCCL (and others I imagine) are getting out of the business of having midnight and late night buffets in favor of these standalone restaurants (e.g. Sorrentos), then they absolutely NEED to have these fully stocked until their closing time (usually around 2:00 a.m.). On several occasions, there was no more bottled water (or it was warm), the Coke or Diet Coke dispenser was empty. After all, people are leaving shows, lounges, or the casino; and carrying around the souvenir cup is clearly inconvenient. Overall, the Refreshment drink package was a bargain. In what I hope is a helpful note, the all inclusive alcohol package may not be cost efficient on this particular cruise as there are only two full days at sea. If you are leaving the ship for excursions, you will likely find that you will lose money on those days in port.
Entertainment is fantastic on this ship. The Cool Band is a must see; their range of music library is extraordinary. What I will say is this; there needs to be developed a flexibility to change in midstream for certain events. The calendar is so tightly scripted it results in what is a great time being cut short because of that tightly scripted calendar. Case in point. They had a 50's/60's party on Thursday night. The Star Lounge was packed, the dance floor was very crowded, and the Cool Band was flawless in the way they played everything from Elvis to the Platters, to the Beatles (considering the band members are Mexican, you never noticed the fact that they didn't have a Liverpool accent, much less a Southern drawl). But at a break, the party ended. When the band returned, it was their standard program. The place emptied. At the pool there were several planned events (most notably a Meringue lesson) that were canned because of a lack of interest. Why not be able to extend a party if it's successful? The schedule is loaded and you'll never be able to attend everything; especially if you like to go to the pool and enjoy the sun. Which has us thinking that there really should be things like bingo held in the evenings as well as in the middle of the day. I know they design bingo for the older crowd, but there are many who would partake of it if the times coordinated with their dinner schedules, etc.
Service? A++. Nothing more needs to be said.
This cruise stopped in Grand Cayman, Costa Maya, and Cozumel. Grand Cayman was terrific although it was mostly cloudy and it rained. We opted to do our own tour over to Royal Palms Beach Club; this was a smart move given the weather as the cab cost about $40 round trip and the entrance fee was only $2 per person. Had the weather been good it would have cost an additional $10 for each chair and about $15 for an umbrella if so desired. Seven Mile Beach is a must see and we can only imagine what it would have been like had the weather cooperated. The food and drinks there, while a little pricey, were outstanding. Costa Maya was the second stop. Meh. We did not do an excursion there and went into the little town to shop. Very contained, some nice shops, some pretty good places to catch a cold one. And we believe it may be contained for security reasons. We did an excursion in Cozumel through RCCL. It is interesting to note that a significant number of shore excursions were cancelled due to the unrest and issues with ferries currently going on in Mexico. We did the Deluxe Playa Mia waterpark excursion. At $75/pp it is overpriced even though it is "all inclusive". The food isn't great, the drinks, meh. There is a very good shopping area when you leave the dock area and get through Mexican security. Do not be alarmed by the drug/etc sniffing dogs Mexican security uses (unless of course you have cause to be worried!). Interestingly enough, there are no dogs sniffing your packages and backpacks on the way back to the ship. Moral of the story? Mexican authorities care a whole lot about what you're bringing in; and they could care less what you leave with. Overall, for shore excursions, I would rate this slightly above average.
We traveled with our 19 year old son and his 19 year old girlfriend. It was my son's first cruise. He loved it! She did as well, and they appeared to have a great time (especially watching this old guy (me) challenged by the obstacle course at Playa Mia!). There was plenty for them to do onboard although it seems incongruous that there was no problem with the kids playing in the casino (my son hit for about $100), but they couldn't order a beer. Rules are rules, though, but when there's a will, there's a way (I won't elaborate). Actually, having no alcohol package kept their indulging to a bare minimum knowing that we would expect them to pony up when we got home (It's fine when it's on Mom and Dad's dime, but they readily recognized that they could incur more expense than it was worth). My son is already looking at the next possibility for Spring Break 2019.
As to whether we would go again, I will say this. We 100% would go on Royal Caribbean again, no question. We would want (as noted above) at least the room category we had (we will never go "backwards"). We would absolutely sail Freedom of the Seas again; it is a beautiful ship. But, we do want to experience some of RCCL's bigger ships. As for the itinerary, we would absolutely go back to Grand Cayman, but both Costa Maya and Cozumel would be a fairly low priority. Read Less