This cruise was my wife and my seventh Royal Caribbean cruise, and first since having children. We swapped to Disney for the previous 2 cruises since Disney sailed from Galveston for a time (Disney Magic), and we live around 45 minutes ... Read More
This cruise was my wife and my seventh Royal Caribbean cruise, and first since having children. We swapped to Disney for the previous 2 cruises since Disney sailed from Galveston for a time (Disney Magic), and we live around 45 minutes from the port. With Disney moving out of Galveston and Royal Caribbean bringing in a ship (Navigator of the Seas) that has a nursery and kids club for our 13 month and 3 year old, we decided to give Royal a try with kids.
We booked an Owners Suite, number 1330, the Hawaiian Suite, to give us a room with a bathtub and a curtain that would separate us from the kids so that when they fell asleep, we could stay up or sneak out on the balcony. There are two doors to the balcony on an Owner’s Suite.
The embarkation onto the ship was painless. We left after our younger DD’s morning nap and arrived around 11:15 am to drop off the luggage. We were eating lunch at the Windjammer by noon. There is a long road leading to the turn in for Terminal 1 (Carnival) and Terminal 2 (Royal Caribbean). The road backs up for around half a mile but there are multiple streets that turn right into old downtown Galveston. The area is a grid so a quick left and some stop signs brings you to the street you turn left on to pull into the terminal area.
We checked out the kids clubs areas after eating lunch. The nursery is significantly smaller than the one on the Disney Magic (maybe a third of the size) but the counselor we met was very pleasant, and we booked from 7 to 9 pm each evening, as our youngest DD normally goes to bed at 7 pm ($8 / hour). The thought being we’d all enjoy dinner at the early main dining room seating (5:30 pm), go to the room and change into pajamas, and then let her sleep, while the oldest DD would go to the play area for older kids, Aquanauts. There is a program where the counselors from the older kids play area will pick them up each night at 6:40 pm.
We viewed the larger play area, which had several main rooms, where I assume they split up the age groups. Our oldest DD was drawn to the mock boat and slide area in the front but there were also areas for drawing, for “cooking”, for playing video games, and for dancing. She asked and asked to go and play even almost throwing a tantrum, which made us feel promising regarding our plan. We dropped her off the 2nd night of the cruise to play and were called close to time to pick her up that she wanted to come back to the room. I think the issue was that she wanted to free play and the Aquanauts activities are set, i.e. story time, coloring time, cooking time, etc.
The Aquanauts program has many great fun sounding activities but no choice. Our oldest DD has gone to Mother’s Day out for almost two years and loves it so we were surprised she didn’t take to it. Talking to other couple’s in the Concierge Lounge, most kids under the age of about eight didn’t enjoy the kids clubs. I went into this detail in case you are thinking that you will have a supervised activity your children will love while you and your spouse get some quiet time. Didn’t happen but we made the best of it as we love hanging out with our oldest DD, and it was special as she has had to “share” us with her younger sister.
Overall the cruise made us realize Disney offers a much better experience for people with kids. However, it goes beyond this as we were excited this cruise would make us Diamond, and we’ve had several “dream of the future” conversations where we’d sail with Royal Caribbean when we retire some day.
- Concierge Lounge = petit fours were tasty, bartenders were very attentive, and people were pleasant, even with us toting two small children with us for a pre-dinner drink each night. Was a bit worried seeing the comments on Cruise Critic but most had children and enjoyed “playing” or talking to our kids. My DW and I enjoyed Capuccinos from the machine as it was the only drinkable coffee on the ship, other than paying for Starbucks.
- Suite Benefits = we took advantage of the Playstation 3 to borrow a controller and have movies from home while we got dressed or sun screened up. The before mentioned Concierge Lounge. I grabbed a donut for the older DD several mornings when getting coffee. Once we discovered how nice eating breakfast was in Chops, we ate there every morning (no fighting the Windjammer crowd, looking for a high chair when there weren’t readily available, and options expanded = Eggs Benedict, Omelet, etc). There was a lunch for Suite Guests that featured food from each of the specialty restaurants that was attended by all of the ships officers. The Captain was very personable. Ricardo contacted us before the cruise and booked us a reservation for Sabor for the last sea day. Finally, we used the suite section at the pool deck multiple times throughout the cruise.
- Spa = my wife thoroughly enjoyed a one hour Swedish massage, and the prices weren’t that different that a shore massage.
- Ports = we’ve done them all before several times and with little ones, this time we focused on getting off the ship to eat lunch where we ported and then do a bit of shopping. In Jamaica we ate at Margaritaville (crowded and confusing on how to get a table / long wait for check / very humid but music and food were good), Breezes in Grand Cayman (ridiculously slow but it was slammed due to spring break), and Senor Frogs in Cozumel (best of the bunch due to music and nice breeze but very pricey).
- Swimming on Ship before lunch = spring break cruise so folks staying up late slept in giving us an almost empty pool.
- Windjammer = ate there the last night and for a couple of snacks while younger DD was in nursery. Nightly ice cream with different toppings.
- Room = ordered a pack and play (crib) well ahead of the cruise and confirmed multiple times it would be set up upon arrival. Wasn’t there and so went to guest services, who stated earliest arrival would be 5 pm. By then our youngest DD missed her afternoon nap, making for a cranky customer and a rough first night. Could be due to room attendant who was kind of bad, considering we splurged for a suite.
- Room Doorbell = spring break cruise, you’d expect some kids to ring it every once in a while. Turns out our main offender was a woman in her 40’s who was ringing it late at night (between 1 am and 3 am), which woke up our youngest DD and again caused a rough night. Our room attendant then informed us you can turn it off.
- Room Side of Ship = don’t expect to enjoy your balcony out of Galveston with your room on the starboard (right) side of the ship. Sun was blazing after around 10 am and made afternoon enjoyment not possible. Also on the wrong side to view anything but ocean on all 3 stops. Somehow amazingly even on the trip back it was too hot to stay outside for long.
- Room Balcony = from prior cruises with Royal Caribbean, one being in a Grand Suite, we skipped a stop and stayed on the balcony. There was a cleaning crew that came and scrubbed the glass and handrail daily. This cruise, the glass was so dirty you couldn’t see through it, the deck furniture left filth on your clothing, and each day they’d wash down the upper deck down onto your balcony. We had standing water each morning with cigarette butts, used straws from drinks, and even women’s hair (my oldest DD stated look, there’s a mommy hair one morning). So if you’re thinking of splurging for a balcony, don’t.
- Room Inside Cleanliness = bathtub had to be cleaned by my wife and I prior to giving our daughters their first bath. My oldest daughter had various items in her hair after rough housing with her sister on the floor.
- Drink Prices = we splurged with a room service Mimosa that was 50% or better orange juice for $12 a piece before the 18% tip. My favorite RCL drink is the lava flow but not at $12 pool side bar (which I decided to splurge on a second and found out we’d been overcharged the first time as the 2nd was $10).
- Main Dining Service Speed = even had my oldest DD wanted to go to the play area, we’d never have been done by 6:40 pm without skipping dessert and some cases the main meal. Disney kicks Royal Caribbean out of the water for kid service, offering to make literally anything your child wants, having their drink of choice already table side when you arrive, and understanding you can’t serve a bowl of fruit to kids and then expect them to wait over an hour for their “dinner” to arrive. Our oldest DD filled up on bread by the time her dinner arrived.
- Main Dining Food = some positives but definitely a downgrade to the recent Disney Magic on food quality. Soups used to be a highlight but I didn’t finish any this cruise. Lamb dish was so starving for meat, that I was hungry 15 minutes after eating. We skipped dessert to make the 7 pm nursery time twice and headed to the Windjammer for the last evening. Lobster was pretty good and we splurged on a Chops Filet, which was tasty. No meal stood out that I’d wait in line to order at a restaurant. Quality overall less than Olive Garden to give a sense.
- Pool after Lunch = again Disney Magic wins over Navigator with a splash area. Navigator has a shallow area for kids out of diapers, as it connects to the main pool. On Navigator, there’s the Solarium pool, two 5’ deep pools, and the shallow area. After lunch, there are organized classic games that take out the shallow area and one of the 5’ pool from around 1 to 3 pm each sea day. The other pool becomes so crowded as to be unsafe to swim.
- Coffee Anywhere on the Ship other than Concierge Lounge / Starbucks = lousy, undrinkable. Very acidic in taste. I drink my coffee black these days and only way to make drinkable is 4-6 packs of sugar and a bunch of milk. I think they are trying to drive folks to purchasing coffee at Starbucks by making the “free” coffee terrible. We used to enjoy an afternoon cup on the balcony daily from room service but didn’t order after the first couple of trys.
- Auto-tips = service has overall suffered. We are the ones that would pay the tips and a bit extra. The only “Wow” personnel were the nursery personnel, the Concierge bartenders and the Chops waiters. Disney blows Royal Caribbean away on this. Like comparing a Gold medalist to a 60th place finisher in a race.
- Towel Animals = ridiculous that it's no longer daily. Cost cutting to the point of stupidity. Our oldest DD would ask where's the towel animal on nights without them.
We skipped the shows due to having the little ones but did catch the ice show. It was as good as we remembered and the kids enjoyed. That’s another suite benefit = don’t have to get tickets. As mentioned above, we ate at Sabor and it was good but not worth the entry price. The stuffed chicken and tortilla soup were the highlights other than the desert tray, which offered some tasty unusual desserts. I wasn’t impressed with my overcooked fish or DW’s shrimp dish, though she thought it was one of the bet of the trip.
We hit up Johnny Rockets, which was worth it as it has been in the past with yummy burgers, fries / onion rings, and shakes. They missed on the order a bit and no longer dance (which we thought the girls would like).
All in all I’m left with a conversation I overheard when disembarking (yet another suite perk, as they walk you to the front of the line). One gentleman stated that this was his family’s 5th and last Royal Caribbean cruise. The other gentleman responded with this was our 1st and last Royal Caribbean cruise. I don’t think Royal Caribbean is going to win over repeat business for newcomers or loyalists unless they up their game and make the value received match the ever increasing prices.
For us, Royal Caribbean gets one more shot to “Wow” us in 2016. After that it’ll be Disney or land based vacations.