We booked this trip a year ahead of time as a celebration for our 25th wedding anniversary. The ship was our destination rather than the ports. This was our 3rd cruise and 2nd with Royal Caribbean, our last being in 2006 with our kids ... Read More
We booked this trip a year ahead of time as a celebration for our 25th wedding anniversary. The ship was our destination rather than the ports. This was our 3rd cruise and 2nd with Royal Caribbean, our last being in 2006 with our kids and my parents on Explorer of the Seas.
We flew in the day before embarkation. We chose to stay at the Ritz Carlton Fort Lauderdale. It was only $50 more than most of the other hotels closer to the port at the time I booked and it was a an exceptional stay at the Rtiz! We Ubered to the port without issue and minimal cost.
Embarkation was super easy! We arrived at the port just before 11 am. No lines to check in or board, it was awesome. I always recommend boarding as early as possible, even though the cabins are not available until after 1, it just makes for smoother and quicker boarding. We grabbed a bite to eat in the Solarium Bistro and then walked the ship until our cabin was ready. Promptly at 1 pm they announced that all cabins were ready.
We were in cabin 6716, starboard side aft ship. It was a balcony cabin, well laid out and quite spacious. Our luggage arrived not too long after so I unpacked....ample space for all our things. We had an empty drawer and a few empty shelves in the closet. We did not have enough hangers, so we requested some from our room steward and he promptly delivered them to our room. I brought with us an over the door shoe holder for the bathroom to keep all our toiletries....it worked out brilliantly! The bathroom, while small, like any other cruise ship, was well laid out and spacious enough. There is a safe for your valuables and we had a mini fridge in our room. there is a code 'lock' on it, or so we assumed...so we ordered 6 cans sprite thinking that would gain us access to the fridge, turns out we didn't need to....the code 'lock' isn't really a lock. We had brought aboard 6 bottles of of water and I was able to store 3 of those and the 6 cans of sprite without issue.
SHIP: We loved the layout of the ship with the neighborhoods. We found it very easy to navigate and get around. We purposely chose deck 6 aft so we would be close to the Starbucks on board as we enjoy a daily morning starbucks. My husband was very happy with this decision as he said the coffee on board was horrible. I don't drink coffee...I'm a hot chocolate gal. Our drinks were more than ashore, but on par with what you pay at an airport. The staff at the starbucks was friendly, quick and made excellent drinks for us all week.
We spent a lot of time in the solarium as it is reserved for ages 16 and older. Being that we were traveling without kids, it was a nice reprieve from the kids on board. We were very pleased that nearly all guests respected that this is an adult space. The only time we saw kids was when parents were taking the out to the see the King of the World glass floor, as the only way to access this is through the solarium. There was never an issue with kids running around, being loud or hanging out in the solarium.
We very much enjoyed the water slides, zip line and Ultimate Abyss slide. While we did not partake we thoroughly enjoyed watching those who participated in the flow rider. We did not use the pools as they were often crowded and not desirable to us. We did use a hot tub once....I found it to have way too much chlorine in it, so we opted to not use them again.
Central park was a wonderful zone for a nice stroll, especially in the evening when it was quiet.
The promenade had a feel like an indoor mall that I didn't much care for, but I did enjoy the entertainment there.
The boardwalk had a nice feel and the small deck up where you access the rock climbing wall was a nice place to sit and enjoy the view.
The casino was okay....your typical casino and horribly smoky smelling...we are non smokers so we don't enjoy that atmosphere....much like going to Las Vegas, your respiratory system is assaulted when you are in the venue.
We saw the headliner and loved the show. So funny and excellent. We did not have reservations, so we waited in the que for open seating which begins 10 minutes prior to showtime.
Grease, we had reservations for but it was the 10:30 pm show and the date we chose we were exhausted and just could not stay up for it. So we caught it at the 2pm showing the last day at sea. It was just ok in my opinion.
Ice Skating Show: This was an 'eh production to me. The story was odd. It is amazing the talent it takes to skate and do tricks on a moving ship, but I didn't find it spectacular or anything. Unfortunately our seats provided a blind spot of the center of the rink due to the support beam in the center on the side we were on.
Comedy Show: We did not have reservations to this as when I went to reserve prior to boarding, they must have already filled the reserved seats as there was no option for reservations. We joined in the 10 minutes prior to showtime line, we ended up in seats around the corner in the back of the venue (very poorly laid out) where we couldn't even see the stage. They have a TV on the wall so you can see, but it really took away from the 'being' there fully experience. The opening act was outstanding. He was very funny and the room was roaring throughout his act. The second comedian bombed! he was horrible, not funny at all. People were getting up and leaving right and left. I very much wanted to leave, but my husband felt so badly for the guy, we stayed put and suffered through his act. So unfortunate. He needs some new material and a new way to deliver.
The Fine Line: We were astounded by this show! By far the best show we saw and had us awestruck! We had reservations for this show, so we were able to procure good seats. Unfortunately the show time I booked (months ahead of the cruise) was the same day and time as the 50's party, which we very much wanted to attend and had brought fun outfits for. Given the popularity of this show and the dependance on weather conditions, we didn't want to reschedule or miss it. Glad we did, just bummed we missed something else we really wanted to do as a result.
I am NOT a fan of having to reserve shows months prior to boarding the ship. I appreciate the spontaneity of choosing which show to go to while I'm ON the cruise. I don't know what I will have a choice of any given day on the ship, how tired I may or may not be months prior to boarding. It would be nice if they would go back to the first come first served way of doing things.
Service: While we didn't experience any poor service, we did not feel that the service lived up to the level we have had on previous cruises. With the pre paying of tips commonplace now, I feel that the staff sort of 'calls it in' anymore. Our room steward was friendly....more so towards the end of the cruise and always made sure to say hello when he saw us in hallway. We are chatty people so we always made sure to ask him how his day was and chat with him when we saw him, i think this helped bring him out of his shell. As for the service in our room, it was average. I was highly disappointed that there are no longer chocolates on my pillow at turn down....that was always such a wonderful touch on previous cruises.
SPA: We took the spa tour as I wanted to enter for the $500 spa raffle. DONT DO IT! It was a hard sell service by service.....then you have to be present to win....so that required coming back at 5:30 for the raffle....which was after another sales presentation....which I didn't bother to stay for. Frankly it wasn't worth my time for the slim chance of winning the raffle AND they offered raffle tickets to people who just showed up and never took the tour!
I did book the red carpet blow out at the tour though for the first formal night. It came with extras and a reduced cost. My stylist was a fun guy, Jeric....I really enjoyed him and he did a nice job on my hair. He presented me with the products he used, as I know they make most their money on the products they sell, but he wasn't pushy at all and totally ok when I declined. I did tip him an extra $20 on top of the included gratuity as I feel the deserved it and he was VERY appreciative of it.
Our embarkation day was Super Bowl Sunday. We were thrilled to watch the big game at the aqua theater and enjoy the spread of Super Bowl food they had out for us to enjoy.......not at all pleased that the food was EXTRA CHARGE! COME ON! Talk about being cheap and totally taking advantage for a money grab. It's not like it was steak and high end food....for goodness sakes, they were offering hot dogs for $6 plus 18% gratuity where you could walk maybe 50 ft to Board Walk Dog House for a free hot dog....the SAME hot dogs they were charging for in the Super Bowl buffet. We just found that to be in poor taste.
DINING: When we did our cruise planner we wanted set seating, but that wasn't an option when I went to book it. All that was available to me was My Time Dining, which we have never cruised before where this was an option. So, by default we ended up with My Time Dining which I made reservations for a 6 pm time each day. I wasn't aware that we could request the same table/wait staff each night.....had I known we could, we would have. As a result, we only dined in the main dining room for dinner 3 times, each time at a different table with different wait staff. Our biggest disappointment with our cruise was the food. We found that the quality of the food they served to be far less than what we enjoyed in 2006 on Explorer of the Seas. We are not foodies, gourmet eaters....we are pretty simple eater, but be appreciate, expect and provide ourselves with QUALITY food. We did not find that on this ship. My most favorite item that I found to be outstanding was the lasagna that I had once at lunch in the main dining room and the last night we ate dinner in the main dining room. I was disappointed there was not a pasta dish offered every night, as that's usually a good alternative if there is nothing else I want. I have a shellfish allergy, so that did eliminate several dishes each night as well. The salt content in the food was very noticeable as well, which we did not enjoy. Our previous cruise, the juices were fresh and wonderful. Fresh squeezed OJ was the standard, what they served on this ship was horrible....and to charge $8.25 for a single glass of fresh squeezed OJ is just ridiculous.
Our first night in the main dining room the head waiter came over to chat us up while we were eating. Not an issue being asked how our service was, if we were enjoying our cruise so far, etc....but then he went into a sale pitch for specialty dining! That was a huge turn off and we were not at all happy to be cornered in to a sale pitch while we were dining! We had made reservations for Chops Grille for the Friday night....but after my husband ordered a Chops steak for an extra charge in the main dining room that was horrible, we canceled that reservation. For the $140+ charge to eat at Chops ....we can dine at several outstanding steak houses close to home for that price or a bit more, which we know the level of service and quality of food will be on par with what we expect.
We went to the windjammer once to see what there was....we were not impressed.
We enjoyed the Solarium Bistro many times.
Mini Bites was HORRIBLE! I was craving some nachos, I was utterly disgusted that their nacho cheese was watery....so gross!
Breakfast we found to be best in the main dining room ALA CART! Buffet was okay and you could get fresh made waffles there....but ala cart allowed you to get made to order eggs, omelets and they had the best french toast, hands down, on the ship! The buffet/room service scrambled eggs were all 'eggs in a bag' scrambled eggs that were too wet and disgusting. I found them to be completely unpalatable.
The cookies at cafe promenade, I always look forward to those.....especially the chocolate chip. This time, we loved the chocolate cookie and the coconut cooke (which i actually thought was an oatmeal cookie), but the chocolate chip cookies were horrible! They tasted like imitation vanilla and had a very fake appearance about them.
I also was not impressed with the doughnuts/pastries on board. They all appeared to me to be what you would see at a continental breakfast at a best western or something. They were obviously taken out of a cellophane bag and not made fresh. With the pastry/dessert chefs on board, you would expect to have fresh baked, outstanding pastries. Many of the desserts on board were amazing....so it was a huge disappointment to not have fresh pastries.
We had been to St Maarten twice before, so we planted ourselves in beach loungers and enjoyed a very relaxing beach day. We spent a great deal of time floating around in the water and just enjoying the serenity. We did very little light shopping. I'm a big fan of Alex and Ani bracelets, so I was thrilled to see they had a store in town and took the opportunity to pick up some special St Maarten pieces.
We had been to san juan twice before, so we knew where to go. I really wanted to see and get some good shots of the umbrellas over Calle de la Fortaleza, so we went there straight away and I was able to get some fabulous shots with the street void of any people.
We went to fort El Morro, paid our $7 each to tour the fort, which we had never done....it was amazing and we loved it. Best part is that $7 each gets you into both El Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal. We took the short walk over to San Cristóbal and toured it as well. since it was a short (too short in my opinion) time at that port we had a quick bite in san juan and it was time to board the ship again.
first time at this port and we really enjoyed the resort feel. We secured beach loungers at Nellie's beach and made that our home base. We floated in the water a great deal there. We had a beach attendant that was very attentive to us (my husband tips well ;)) he came to let us know they were serving lunch, so we walked over pretty early into lunch service. They did a great job setting up the spread i felt, but the food just fell short on quality for us.
After lunch we headed to our only excursion we booked, the dragons breath zip line. Due to the high winds, the weight limit was dropped from 275# to 200....unfortunately for my 205# husband, that made him ineligible to go. I'm deathly afraid of heights and didn't want to go without my husband, so they said they would refund us. We inquired if the winds died down could we still go, he said yes, just bring the other half of our ticket to go. From there we went to check out the shopping. I was really interested in the artist's village as I knew this is where the Haitian people would be to sell their items. Given how extremely poor they are, we wanted to be sure to spend our money with them and not the cruise line's store. Unfortunately, the local artisan's made that impossible. The aggressiveness they possessed and the harassment made it unbearable to shop their stands. They were pulling us from stand to stand.....when they tried to separate my husband and I, that is when I began to feel extremely uncomfortable and unsafe. We quickly exited that area and didn't return. I have since written to royal caribbean sharing my experience and hope they will address it. No one should be made to feel unsafe on resort property or harassed. Plus, the locals would do much better if they would just allow us to shop.
We noticed after shopping the winds had died down and we went to check on the zip line...the weight restriction was raised to the 275 pounds, which allowed us to go. I was scared to death waiting on that platform for our turn and the initial release letting me fly freaked me out.....but I TOTALLY enjoyed the experience and would do it again in a heartbeat! I'm so proud of myself for overcoming my heights fear to do something so fun!
While we had a great trip, relaxed, enjoyed each others company and disconnected from our daily lives....I think this will be our last cruise for a long time and most likely our last cruise with Royal Caribbean. The fundamentals of cruising have changed drastically since our first in 2000 and even our second in 2006....I just don't feel that I'm getting my money's worth anymore and would rather do land based vacations at upscale resorts where I can choose the quality of places I dine. Read Less