I think we had such a great time in 2009 on Voyager of the Seas, that our expectations were very high for this one after hearing about the remodel, so we were a little bit disappointed about several things, but overall this was a really Fun cruise! We are pretty easy to please, but this was our 14th cruise, so we do have other experiences to which we compared, and so here ya go - just don't get the wrong impression that this wasn't a fantastic cruise overall, because it was!
Our itinerary was Galveston to Cozumel, Grand Cayman & Falmouth Jamaica.
We arrived at the port early and were able to get in the shorter check-in line for Gold members and up, which helped. But this was the 1st time in a long time that we've checked in for a cruise & not been able to just walk onto the ship. There is very little waiting/seating area in the Galveston terminal, so that was a bit of a pain to have to stand around waiting for hard-to-hear announcements, but they called Gold pretty quickly, and we were on our way.
The next thing that bummed us out was the lunch that was offered as soon as we boarded. We so look forward to a sit-down lunch in 1 of the main dining rooms when we 1st board a cruise, and this ship did not have that available. Very surprising & disappointing! We were directed to the Windjammer Buffet - yuck! The line was horrendous & the food was all dry and tasteless. It was inedible in my opinion & I refused to go to the buffet for the rest of the cruise. Our teens ate there on occasion though.
Our cabins were ready by the time we finished lunch, which was a pleasant surprise. The kids had an inside cabin across the hall from our balcony cabin on deck 7 aft, starboard side. After visiting the ports, we wished we'd booked the port side for more scenery. But it was still very nice. The balcony was large enough for 2 chairs & a small table comfortably. If you're next door to travel companions, the balcony doors can be opened & secured to make 1 big balcony area you can share.
The inside cabin was small but had plenty of storage space. Our balcony cabin was a bit larger, and the balcony was a great place to hang out with coffee or wine. (Remember: you're allowed 2 bottles of wine per cabin, brought on board with you. Hand carry it in your carry-on bag for safe keeping.) The kids said their beds were comfortable enough, but we had to ask our steward for a foam pad to put over our mattresses, because they were so incredibly hard, our hips and shoulders hurt so much from sleeping on our sides by the 2nd night. The foam pad helped, and we slept better.
The showers are good in the cabins. They're the rounded sliding door kind, instead of a wet, sticky curtain. I liked it. I only wish the bathrooms were set up like they are on the Epic. I liked the Epic's separation of the toilet in its own little sliding door room, and the shower across from that with its own sliding door. And on the Epic, the sink is in another separate area, so the mirror doesn't get fogged up for someone else trying to get ready while the other person showers. This ship has the old tiny bathroom set-up, but at least there's a shelf & medicine cabinet for storage (Hint: bring a hanging plastic shoe holder (the kind with many pockets) with you. Hang it from the hooks by the door of the cabin, so you can get all your toiletries, sunglasses, sunscreen, etc out of the way, off the tables & counter space.)
The ship is very pretty, but there are not enough shops in the promenade, and there are very few places to eat that don't cost extra. There's only 1 main dining room besides the buffet. The 3-story Sapphire dining room. And the only other free places to get food are Room Service and the promenade pastry/coffee place. Everything inside there is free. The starbucks & icecream is not. We were disappointed that there weren't any additional places to eat for free, like there are on ships like the Epic, which has O'Shean's irish pub for fish and chips, shepherds pie, cheese sticks, etc. Other cruise lines have little burger or pizza stands, etc for snacks. Not this ship. You're going to pay for Johnny Rockets and the other specialty restaurants, so we didn't do any of those. We were limited to the 1 main dining room.
Our assigned dinner time was 8pm. We had a table for 4 and the same wait staff each night. They did a wonderful job, and the food was very good. Not the best we've ever had on a ship, but very good nonetheless. And the service was wonderful. We were able to order 3 lobster tails on lobster night - yum!
The only time the dining room upset us was at breakfast every morning. We would arrive at approx. 9am or earlier, and there was usually a line, but rarely was it bad. The only day it was really bad was Cayman day. Deck 3 is the tender waiting area, and that's where the restaurant is for breakfast, so everyone must have decided to have breakfast there instead of the buffet that day, and it was crazy.
Every other day of the cruise, when we would ask the hostess for a table for 4 (we are not sociable, especially in the morning), she would give us an exasperated look, like Uggghhh, what a hassle, and tell the wait staff "table for 4". That person would then either try to walk us to a Giant table (all the Giant tables are by the windows, which sucks for us families of 4) & we'd have to say in front of all of those people "No, we don't want a large table", or they would escort us to 1 of the worst tables in the dining room: next to the serving area, right in the middle of a main walkway, or in the middle of a bunch of crying babies. That happened every morning. And 2 times breakfast was very busy, so the waiter was obsiously rushing us and then get our orders wrong. Breakfast needs to be worked on. They need to open the upstairs areas or something. Having everyone report to deck 3 of the main dining room was too crowded.
We like to order room service in the early morning and have coffee and croissants on the balcony. But Be sure to put the order on your door the night before, because there were a couple of port mornings when we were told they couldn't deliver to our cabin for 1-1.5 hour. If you place your order the night before, they're good about getting it there on time, if not early.
The English pub and the wine bar were nice areas to relax in the early evening. The pub offered $3 pints of Heineken. That's all they had on tap. Bottles of various beers were approx. $8/bottle. If you're a 2nd time cruiser or higher, check your ship pass, there are several 2 for 1 deals already loaded on your card. Each of us had a buy 1 get 1 beer/wine by the glass offer, and a buy 1 get 1 milkshake at Johnny Rockets, shopping discounts, etc.
The shows with singers/dancers were pretty generic. We enjoyed the comedian and the juggler. The Texas Tenors were amazing! The promenade parade looked cheezy. We didn't stay.
Shopping is a joke. They hold things back & announce very limited times for certain items to be available, and people crowd in acting like they've never seen a cheap piece of crap in their lives. Are they so desperate for entertainment/shopping that they don't care what it is? We avoided the shopping areas/times like the plague. I did like that inch of gold/silver was available most of the time. I usually treat myself to a piece or 2. They are pretty and can withstand swimming in the salt water.
The kids only enjoyed the Flow Rider the 1st day. They had a blast on it! But the rest of the cruise they wouldn't go, because they thought it would be too crowded, so I don't know. We spent most of our time at the adult pool, the Solarium, which was very peaceful. Our 18 year old was with us, and our 15 year old hung out with new-found friends at the teen club. The teens have their own special times at night for ice skating and flow rider, which I thought was cool. I was surprised my teens didn't take advantage of the rock climbing, skating, mini golf, etc. They were more chill on this cruise for some reason.
We never book excursions through the ship, because they're usually way too expensive, and they make them sound so much more exciting than they end up being. We can do much better on our own, and that we did for all 3 ports on this cruise.
In Cozumel, we took a cab ($11 each way) to Chankanaab park. There we paid $37 per person for entry, which included all the facilities, chairs & umbrellas, snorkeling, dolphin & sea lion shows, 1 beer per person & a free Tshirt per person. It was a great deal, and we all had a blast. There's a lagoon with walking trails around it and through a bit of the jungle, where you can go see crocodiles, and there are miniature ruins. We really enjoyed the snorkeling. The water was fantastic. If you don't want to snorkel, it's $21 per person for park entry and amenities. You can watch the dolphin experiences/shows even if you're not participating. It's pretty cool. There are cabs outside when you're ready to head back to the port. We docked at International pier. We hung out at Senor Frogs for a while until it was time to head back to the ship. Margaritas are a bit pricey, but our 18 year old enjoyed being able to order drinks. They have a small pool & beach area there for swimming/tanning if you'd like to just hang out there for a while.
Grand Cayman is a tender port, and the process was a bit of a hassle. You go down at 8:30am to get your tender tickets. On other cruises, we've been able to stay in our cabin and wait for our tender number to be called. But not here. You have to go to deck 3, actually 4 and up, until they call your tender group. Then you make your way to deck 3 & stand in line around & up & then down stairs to the gangway. It was crowded, and there's not enough seating in the public areas. They should let you stay in your cabin until your group is called. Once we were called, it didn't take too long to get on the tender and to shore.
In Cayman, we took a shuttle ($4 per person each way) to Royal Palms beach club on 7 mile beach. Entry was $2 per person, which included use of the adult pool with swim up bar, restaurant, restrooms/showers and beach. We paid $7 per chair & $10 for an umbrella. The kids jet ski'd together (2 people on a double was $100 for 30 minutes), and they had a super fun time! There were vans outside when we were ready to head back to the port. Shopping in town is safe and a relaxing, nice time in Grand Cayman. And then you just walk back to the ship area, which is right there.
In the past we've done Stingray City 2 different times in Grand Cayman, and it never disappoints - so amazing! The 1st time, we booked online with Moby Dick tours & had a wonderful time snorkeling at the reef & then swimming with/feeding the stingrays. The kids were approx. 7 and 10 at the time and loved it. The last time, we walked out to the pier area & booked with Captain Marvins. It was the best so far. They took us to 2 snorkel spots, the reef and coral garden & then we spent a good deal of time with the stingrays. They help you hold/kiss and feed them, then they take photos of everyone, which they then sell you on a personalized CD (no pressure). You get a bunch of photos of you & your family/friends with the stingrays, holding them, kissing them, with them on your back, etc. Great poses. And it also includes some other beautiful scenic photos of Cayman. I think it was $40 for the disc, but it was completely personalized & better than us trying to take pics with water cameras. The crowd was so much smaller and more relaxed than the ship excursions. Give them a try. They're great!
Falmouth Jamaica was a real disappointment. It's a new port, and you don't have to tender, which is good. But there's nothing around, so it's extremely expensive to get off the ship & try to find something to do on your own. The ship's excursions are pricey, but unless you book something through them, you're going to be shocked when you get off at the pier & walk over to the cab stand & see the prices. For example, a cab for 4 to the beach 15 minutes away is $20 per person round-trip. Then the beach would cost another $10 per person for entry, not including chairs/umbrellas, etc. We said no way! Other places, such as hotels and shopping areas were even more expensive trips via cab.
Do yourself a favor and just stay at the pier. The shopping area is huge, new, clean, safe, and very pretty. There's plenty to look at. Get yourself a beer, do some shopping and just spend the day at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. It's large and there's a pool, several restaurants, bars, etc. That's what we did & it was lots of fun. Actually we left the port area for a short time, walked across the street and got a local beer for 1/2 the price of what they charge inside. But we didn't feel all that comfortable outside the port area, because salespeople were swarming us, "What you looking for? What you need. I get it for you. Come look at my shop. You need a cab?" and such. We didn't feel like we were in danger, we just don't like the high-pressure sales tactics. We got our beer and went back to the port shopping area immediately. So for Falmouth, either book a cruise excursion or just plan on hanging out at the pier all day. Or just stay on the ship and enjoy everything it has to offer with smaller crowds around.
The sea days were relaxing. We just spent time around the Solarium adult pool for the most part. There are plenty of pools and jacuzzis on this ship. There's music and all kinds of activities going on around the pool. There are art auctions, sports activities, spa specials, etc. You won't be bored. The entertainment staff has all kinds of games and shows and activities going on all day & night for all ages. That's just not our thing. We like to relax and get some sun.
The debarking process was a little more of a hassle on this ship than we're used to. We like self-debarkation, so we did not put our bags out the night before and ignored our colored/numbers tags the steward gave us. We went down to the guest services desk & claimed 1 of the self-debarkation tags, which had a letter and the expected time of exit on them. We chose C so we'd have time for a quick breakfast before exiting at 8:30am. After breakfast, we were told on our tickets to go down to deck 3, the metropolis theater. When we arrived, everyone was lined up & making their way in a long line upstairs, around and around deck 4 & then out the door and gangway to the terminal. The line moved fairly quickly, but once again I didn't understand why we had to report to a particular location. Why couldn't we just go get in line when it was our time? If we wanted to wait in our cabin until an announcement that could have been made over the television or speakers, why not? That's the way it's done on other cruise lines.
The pier is much more organized than it was when Galveston first opened. We used EZ Cruise parking, and the shuttles run non-stop. We did not have a wait before or after the cruise. That was $60 for 7 days.
Overall this was a wonderful cruise & we would totally do it again for the right price!
We are not loyal to any 1 cruise line. We look for the best bargain leaving from a port we can get to. Galveston is an easy port for us, since we live north of Houston.
There were people from all of the world though, and they were taking advantage of touristy things to do in Galveston and Houston before they left. If you've got time, check out Pleasure Pier in Galveston, have some delicious fish & shrimp at Shrimp & Stuff, or if you've got a car, make your way to the Kemah boardwalk, where there's an amusement park, shopping, lots of restaurants, etc.