This may be a little long but I will try my best to make it informative and helpful. We were a small family and friends group, 7 people, ages 18-79. The booking process was extremely frustrating. If you add up all the hours I was on the ... Read More
This may be a little long but I will try my best to make it informative and helpful. We were a small family and friends group, 7 people, ages 18-79. The booking process was extremely frustrating. If you add up all the hours I was on the phone trying to get things booked correctly, choose nearby cabins, book shows/dinners, etc....., it would add up to several days, mostly waiting on hold or getting transfered around! Although I'd booked directly, I finally brought in a travel agent to help (mostly because I wanted to know the moment the dinners and shows opened up for reservations). It didn't help as much as I'd hoped (you don't need a travel agent unless they REALLY, REALLY have some secret or special knowledge or experience!) Also, while RCCL allows you to do this, they must hate when you do because once there is a travel agent on the booking, they really don't want to talk to you at all. I suspect you get much better service when you book directly and don't use a travel agent.
We chose this cruise for the ship; I'd been wanting to sail on the Harmony (or at least one of the Oasis class ships) almost since they came out, especially for the atrium balcony cabins (overlooking Central Park or the Boardwalk). 2 of our group had Central Park balcony cabins and the younger group chose an oceanview balcony. Both were pretty standard cabins and we enjoyed both views. There was a little bit more noise during the day in the Central Park cabins than we expected (and this would be maybe even more true of the Boardwalk view cabins) because both are open at the top so you do get some of the sounds from the pool deck (music starts pretty early). Because they're open, you can also still step out on your balcony and get an idea of the weather before you leave your cabin. We'd book these cabins again.
The staff is obviously trained first for professionalism and secondarily for fun so they are all very good and friendly but if you enjoy the playful, fun room stewards and waiters that you might have experienced on other cruise lines, it may be hit or miss on this one. My mom and sister had a great room steward. Our other two cabins were serviced by someone whom we rarely saw and so it was a little disappointing but for the most part, our cabins were adequately serviced. The same is true in the restaurants. One of the specialty restaurants and one of our main dining nights, the waiters were sort of just going through the motions but the other nights, it was good. Don't expect them to make a big deal of your celebration though. We told every restaurant that this was a celebration cruise and specifically told two of them that we'd like to do something special for our celebrant (High School graduation) but we never got anything. The best you can expect is the waiters singing "Happy Birthday" but we weren't celebrating any birthdays.
The worst source of frustration onboard was the shore excursions! They do not have an adequate number of the most popular excursions so if you have something particular you want to do, do NOT wait until you're onboard to book! We got to do almost nothing that we wanted and because it rained in St. Thomas, we didn't even get to do those at all. While they do use third party excursion companies, RCCL needs to take more responsibility when things go wrong. We had one tour take off extremely late, costing us a chunk of the tour and when we got there, the biggest attraction wasn't work (and we waiting in line for 45 minutes to find out!) One St. Thomas excursion was cancelled up front due to the rain but the other forced us on a bus, drove us 30 minutes to a shack in the middle of nowhere with barely any cover where we spent several hours huddled in the few dry spots watching a monsoon like rain! Even the path to the restrooms was not covered so you had to dash through pouring rain to get the the restrooms and then the roof was leaking so the restroom had about 2 inches of water all over the floor (gross!) We also went without lunch that day because they grill was also out in the open so they weren't even making food! Royal Caribbean's standard compensation if anything goes wrong is 10% off. We had to fight tooth and nail for 50% off the first shore excursion and a full refund on the last one (the one that got cancelled was automatically refunded).
The food is OK, a few random dishes that we loved but mostly just good, not necessarily great! The best specialty restaurant is Wonderland for sure! You have to do it as it is truly an experience. Izumi Hibachi was also worth paying extra for. I could have skipped Jaime's but my sons like Italian; however, it is RUSTIC Italian, not our style, so be prepared for that as you will not get traditional Italian dishes. Chops Grille was pretty good but our steaks weren't all prepared as we asked and we didn't have time to send them back. I didn't care for the shareable sides and would've just preferred that each person got to get the sides they really wanted (we wasted a lot of food because the waiter brought out two of every side that anyone ordered even if only one or two people wanted it).
The Entertainment is enjoyable but it will be very hard to get anyone to help you to plan your daily schedule to make sure your shows, dinners, and whatever else you want to catch at night all coordinate. You absolutely have to book as soon as the reservations open up to have any chance of getting the dinners, shows and other days or times you want for activities! Even then, they will not help; they are just order takers so plan to spend hours on the phone arranging your daily calendar (if you care) because you may get a few days booked and then realize there's no other day to see a show or get the dinner you want and you'll have to start rearranging (I was crying by the end of it all, very difficult!) While I know some people prefer to eat later, as do we, I'd actually suggest booking the earliest dining times that you can so that you can fit in more of the nightly activities. Most of the shows and other entertainment happen starting around 7pm until about 10pm so if you have a dining time of 6pm or later, you will miss some things (again, if you care).
So, overall, the best thing about this cruise is the ship itself. It's beautiful and large and has more bars, restaurants, and activities than you'll probably even have time to fit in! Royal Caribbean tries to position themselves right in the middle of the "mid-class" cruise lines so it isn't as fun as Carnival nor is the food as good as Norwegian but it's a good compromise if you don't mind the middle ground. If you are stuck between a couple of itineraries, choose Carnival if fun is most important, Norwegain if food is most important, or Royal Caribbean if the ship itself is most important.
Pros: the Ship; the Staff (mostly); the Entertainment
Average: the Food; the Cabins; the Shore excursions; embarkation and disembarkation
Cons: the booking process for EVERYTHING! Problem handling. Lines. and the disconnect between all the different departments. You will have to kick, scream, cry, yell, make a scene if RCCL or their partners make any mistakes because they are all about the $$$ and really don't like to have to refund any of it.
Tips: *Do book absolutely everything ahead of time, including My Time Dining, shows, shore excursions, and specialty restaurants (reservations open up about 90 days out)! *Book at least a year in advance for the best cabins, especially if you are going to have more than one and want them nearby, even farther ahead if you want connecting staterooms. *If you want to do Rising Tide bar, notice the "departure" times. Sadly, you'll have to schedule it just like anything else but it won't be in your daily planner. *Get to the shows no less than 30 minutes ahead to get good seats, more for the "open" seating shows. *Everything at On Air will probably require you to get there about 1 hour prior or require you to stand and watch for the people who are leaving before the activity you want to do (there'll be a mad dash for the tables/chairs as they clear). The room is grossly inadequate in size for many of the things they schedule there! *Get in line on embarkation day for a wrist band. It's worth it if you don't want to carry your key card everywhere. *Disembarkation: night before-decide what you're willing to miss to do your packing or if you want to just carry all your stuff off yourself. The porters will have all bags cleared from in front of the staterooms between 10p-midnight and the activities don't stop until about 2am! Day of... you can wait to get off the ship; they don't really enforce getting off by your station numbers -you can sleep in longer and you won't have to stand in line so long but all the restaurants will be shutting down around 8 or 8:30am so make sure you get any food or drink by then (check the Cruise Compass for exact times). *Transfers are cheaper if arranged separately; we used T/I Tours and were very happy with them. Read Less