Just returned from our cruise on AOS to Florida and Bahamas. We are a family of 4 - me, husband, and 2 teenage sons 16, and 14. This was our 5th cruise with RC after previously sailing on Liberty in 2008 for our 10th anniversary, then ... Read More
Just returned from our cruise on AOS to Florida and Bahamas. We are a family of 4 - me, husband, and 2 teenage sons 16, and 14. This was our 5th cruise with RC after previously sailing on Liberty in 2008 for our 10th anniversary, then Freedom, Oasis and Allure over the years. We have been very happy with all our previous RC experiences and this one met and even exceeded our previous cruises in some ways. We initially thought of sailing on Harmony out of FL, but then chose this ship because it left from Bayonne, NJ and was recently refurbished adding the water slides. Being from the Philadelphia area meant we could get to the ship in 90 minutes and save tons of money on airfare so we went for it. I was concerned we would miss some of the amazing features the larger ships have (Central park, Water theater, 2 flowriders, Dazzles, etc) but while those are awesome, we didn't really miss them as much as I thought!
The biggest thing on this ship that was such a positive experience for us was the people. As to be expected, many of our fellow passengers were from New York (many from Long Island), New Jersey, New England and some from Philly. The ones we encountered and connected with were just so positive, cool and FUN! Some of our most fun happened in the Duck and Dog Pub with Carlo playing songs and the whole crowd singing along at the top of our lungs ("Alice Next door", and "American Pie" were song favorites!) and dancing in the Viking Lounge late night with other guests. The Quest adult game on this show was the best we've ever experienced on any ship mainly because of the guests - Everyone got so into the silliness of it to an extreme we never saw before! My husband loves the adult sport competitions like volleyball and dodgeball and these were hugely popular with passengers of all adult ages and very well attended on this ship...and highly competitive! Maybe its a carry over from the competitiveness of the professional sports teams in our area of the country but one of the crew members mentioned these games were some of the best they've ever seen.
A huge bonus this cruise was that my sons made friends with kids their ages the first night at the teen dodgeball event, and they roamed with them the entire week at different RC teen events or making their own fun. In fact, I rarely sat with our kids except at our mandatory family dinner in the MDR. They and their friends were everywhere together and because many kids didn't use their phones on the ship (we don't do the internet - chance to unplug!!) they actually TALKED and formed friendships fast as the week went along. Now that we're home they are still all engaging with each other, and planning a "reunion". That's priceless.
Basically, we've learned that beyond the ships appearance or the food in the MDR, the best experiences and memories come from the people (both crew and passengers) and atmosphere we surround ourselves with throughout the week, and this ship left us with some of the best memories out of all our RC cruises. After a day or so on a cruise, we find we see some of the same people over and over again (no matter what size ship we're on) because we tend to run on the same wavelength - from attitude to experiences we enjoy - and that happened again this cruise. Birds of a feather...
Pre cruise: Bayonne is easy, organized and has convinced us we'll be sailing from here as much as possible. Got there at 9:30 am, dumped our luggage, and parked. If your organized and have all your documentation ready ahead of time, the check in process is at most 10 minutes. Posed for the standard precruise photo with the ship picture and stats which we always buy, and sat and waited til the ship was ready to board. They announced boarding would begin at 11:30, but at 10:30 they announced since the ship was ready and we were good to go! We ate at Cafe Promenade and toured the ship. My kids always pack their swimsuits in a backpack, so they were on the Flowrider as soon as it opened. Cabins ready around 1pm.
Ship appearance/features: Clean, and beautiful. Freshly painted in many areas, public bathrooms clean, smelled great everywhere, absolutely no issues. Crew is constantly cleaning. CONSTANTLY. To us, it felt like a slightly compact version of Liberty or Freedom and we liked it! The kids thought they'd miss Sorrentos Pizza- which is separate restaurant on the bigger ships - but it wasn't a big deal as the cruise went along. I did miss the Solarium Bistro/Park Cafe that we had on Oasis/Allure, but it wasn't a make or break thing for me. The Cafe Promenade has pizza and boys grabbed it there along with all the other sandwiches, desserts, etc. The Lyric theater looked basically like the other theaters, as did the Royal Promenade, Windjammer, Pool/Sports deck and MDR. Again, everything was just a little smaller than Liberty or Freedom but not noticeable enough that you feel the losses. All ships feel "crowded" the first day or so because so many people don't know where to go. Since we've been on several, I know the lower outer decks are often undiscovered at the start of the week and I had coffee and my book on deck 4 gazing at the ocean without one other human being there for several days. By the end of the week others joined me out there with many saying they wish they knew about it at the start of the week. As the week goes along, no matter what ship we've been on, people find their spots and favorite locations and then there's whole areas that are uncrowded.
Deck chairs seem to be an ongoing complaint on all ships, but there were plenty, and you could find one, just maybe not in your chosen spot. There is a sun deck above the top pool bar area that had at least 200 chaise lounges that were often empty all day! If you don't mind the full blast of the sun, then there were plenty of places to lay out. To put it simply, if you want a chaise lounger in a premier chosen spot (in shade or near the kids area, or the Solarium) then get there early because 87 people also want that exact chaise lounger in that chosen spot. And they'll fight you to get there first. Survival of the fittest.
Cabins: We had 2 interior cabins (deck 9) side by side - 1 or us and 1 for the boys. Worked out perfectly. Interior was nice, with recently updated rug. I actually felt like we had more storage in this cabin than on other bigger ships because they kept the cabinets during the refurbishment and there seemed to be more storage in them. Bed was great, bathroom standard RC bathroom. No complaints. We had a balcony on Liberty which was beautiful, but since then we just get an interior to save money since we never are in our rooms except to shower and sleep. Literally. We loved our cabin attendant, who was out every morning and every evening, who worked extremely hard and did a great job. We had 4 bottles of wine we could bring on board because we had 2 cabins, and just grabbed wine glasses from Schooner bar or room service.
Meals: We did not do any premium dining at the restaurants, and this worked out fine for us. We ate at Chops and some of the other places on previous cruises, and they were great, but this time we kept it simple and stayed in the MDR. We ate all dinners in the MDR and other meals at Windjammer and snacks at Cafe Promenade.
MDR: We did the My Time Dining as we had our sons' activities we wanted to work around. I booked reservations ahead of time online and they ranged from 5:30 to 7:45 on various days. We always see how the servers are the first night, and if we like them we request them every night for our reservation time. Rakesh and Roana were awesome, for me a nice combination of friendliness and professionalism, and we had them every night but one because we changed our time last minute and their section was full. We got Wilfredo and Adrian that night and they were awesome. The head waiter seemed concerned we moved servers and stopped by to ask if we were ok. Twice. Explained it was just a timing thing, and not personnel and he was visibly relieved.
We think the food is pretty good. Some entrees we liked better than others depending on what we each picked, but food is subjective. The Ahi tuna was amazing and a pleasant surprise. My husband turned lobster night in surf and turf by ordering lobster tails and the NY strip. Then asked for additional tails. It was all the proper temperature, and portion sizes are perfect. Not too big or small. My husband and kids often ordered several entrees because they couldn't decide. I think most nights my sons had 3 apps, and 2 entrees and 2 desserts. No one left hungry or disappointed the whole cruise.
We were in the MDR for both formal nights, a nice experience - I would not miss this. Some are in black tie, some are in suits, some in the same attire as every other night. We dress up because it's not something we get to do too much at home and we like getting pictures as they are our favorite souvenirs. We celebrated our 20th anniversary the second formal night and the staff sang to us and brought out a special dessert. Very sweet and kind.
Windjammer: We ate here for everything else except dinner. Breakfast is amazing. Constantly see reviewers complain and say the options never change for breakfast day to day, but that leaves out a key detail that there are at least 150 options to eat for breakfast available every day! It's not like its only 5 things over and over. Every type of breakfasty meat option - pork sausage, chicken sausage, ham, then salmon, etc, eggs made to order as omelets or any other style you can imagine, ethnic breakfast options that rotated (Indian egg creations, Mexican too), potatoes in various forms, European breakfast options (muesli, and yogurts, etc), Carb creations galore (a variety of pancake options, french toast, etc), cereals, tons of fruit, muffins/Danishes/scones. That's only half of it. We thought it was fantastic.
My husband and I often missed the lunch hours and instead did "tea" from 3-4 which was a smaller crowd but tons of great food choices and healthy salads, etc. This worked out great on days we had a later dinner and we always had a window seat to enjoy the view.
Nighttime Entertainment: Every cruise for us has been different in where we choose to spend our time after dinner. Since our kids were MIA most nights til their 1am ship curfew, we spent a lot of time at the Duck and Dog Pub singing with Carlo, cocktails and dancing at the Viking Lounge and the different special events like Quest, 80's party, Silent Dance (Everyone wears headphones and dances to their own music choice. Wasn't sure what to expect but we loved it!)) Adult karaoke was popular in the Imperial lounge as well as various game shows. We saw the first headliner comedian who was awesome, but this time didn't do the other Lyric shows. Ice show in Studio B continues to amaze from ship to ship. Outstanding.
Like the comedian said one night the crew deserves reverence and awe to which the audience cheered loudly. He reminded us that most of the crew does not get a single day off for 7-9 months straight. Not one day off, and they continue to do their job with a smile, patience and warm conversation to all who pass by them. If you take 10 minutes to ask them about their day or their lives (which we do) you will learn many leave their spouses, or their children with family back home, in order to financially provide for them at a level they simply can't do in their home country. Many have tattoos of their children's names to remind them of why they are working so hard. They work tirelessly and continue to be polite and kind even when passengers were less so to them. Passengers can be messy and do things with dishes and glasses and trash on a ship that they would never do at home simply because they're on vacation. And then imagine what drunk ones are like. Again the staff tirelessly picked up after people behaving poorly.
We didn't get off at Port Canaveral but opted to stay on the ship. Tons went to NASA but we decided to relax and hang out.
Coco Cay was beautiful as always. They started a new system for tendering starting at 8:30am. You went to Deck 11 to get a tendering number (First come first serve) and then you left for the tenders when your number was called. Very easy and organized. No lines. We plopped ourselves on chaise lounges at the beach and everyone ran around doing what they want - mainly snorkeling in the pristine water. Stingrays, and all sorts of fish were spotted. Lunch on the island was awesome from build your own burgers to 5 spice chicken, roasted pig on a spit, seafood, gyros, and about ten salads of all kinds. Cookies laying around too and other desserts. We were one of the first tenders over and did the last tender back to stretch out our day there. Paradise.
Nassau - We did the Blue Lagoon Beach day excursion which we did before on another ship. Loved it. Beautiful beach and water. Explored the whole little island with hidden beaches and scenic spots, and dolphin habitat. Lunch was great there too. Excursions are always chaotic getting off the ship and to the right spot. Especially with 4 other big ships there from other lines. The first cruise we took I was freaking out worried about the crowds and dismayed at the organization system for excursions once off the boat, but by now we just go with the flow. It always works out and they get you where to need to go...maybe not at the pace I'm used to back at home, but it gets done so "When in Rome...".
Getting off the ship was easy and uneventful and we were in the car and driving home within 30 minutes. We are loyal to Royal. Have been given no reason to try other cruise lines. They meet our price point, and provide experiences, itineraries, and memories we all enjoy cherish.
Already looking into our next one. Read Less