Between my husband and I, we have 7 Royal Caribbean cruises. I had reached Platinum Crown & Anchor status before this cruise but I don't think I'll be going up the Crown & Anchor ranks any further after this trip. First, the pros:
Embarkation/disembarkation: this was the smoothest yet out of all of our sailings. We got on the ship no problem, we got off the ship even quicker. My recommendation is to download the Mobile Passport app and enter your data. Those lines were way shorter than the regular customs lines on disembarkation day.
Ship: it's beautiful. I watched so many crew members cleaning (they would hold a flashlight up to the class and chrome to make sure they got it sparkling clean). There are so many options on board for things to do: multiple waterslides, regular slide, a Coney Island area with Johnny Rockets, a hot dog stand with hot dogs of all types of meats, a carousel, a green space (Central Park), as well as all the typical activities--casino, bingo, trivia, and various onboard activities/classes. New to me was the Rising Tides bar (a small bar that went up and down on hydraulics, the Bionic Bar where robotic arms measure out and blend the alcohol for you, an aqua theater for the high dive show, several more upscale restaurants (a Jamie Oliver restaurant), Wonderland, 150 Central Park, etc., the ice skating rink (the previous cruises I went on I never went to the ice shows), and two Flow Riders--one of which was specifically for knee boarding. This ship also had a jazz club and a comedy club aside from Boleros and the Schooner Bar. There really was always something to see and do and it was all pretty good.
Crew: these people are very patient and very customer-service oriented. These people WORK. We tipped extra to our waiter and our room attendant--they always worked hard and remembered our names (not easy to do when there are 6000 passengers). We encountered SO many smiling, wonderful, helpful crew members. This cannot be an easy job with so many people on board and so much square footage to cover.
Elevators: they worked surprisingly well. Of course, you have the usual rude people who crowd on before people can get off. But with 2 banks of elevators running quickly, we rarely took the stairs (which helps if you are a lady in heels!).
Rooms: they seem ever so slightly larger. The flat screen TVs built into the wall save space. The fridges were a little bigger. The best things, in my opinion, were having 2 closets (we had a large balcony room) and having a regular shower door instead of the semi-round "doors" or curtains we've had to fuss with in cruises past. Water seemed to get on the floor no matter what but the new showers did away with that. The balcony was larger too and we enjoyed using the deck furniture many times. This time, we got chairs that reclined a notch or two along with ottomans to put our feet up on.
Food: they seem to have stepped it up in the dining room. I remember what the lobster tail looked like in years past (warm water lobster--it's not the same as New England lobster), but this time, it was actually a larger Maine lobster tail. As usual, the dining room had some hits and misses, but overall, the food did seem to be better and more varied. The lobster tail was free on the last formal night and so was the champagne and chocolate covered strawberries--a nice touch. Sorrentos had excellent pizza (free), Johnny Rockets had great hamburgers, onion rings, fries, and milkshakes (even the salads were good)--it's a charge but for $13.95 all you can eat for 2? It's a great value. The hot dogs we had on the boardwalk were good. Café Promenade was just ok, but we have come to expect that from previous cruises. The Solarium Bistro was excellent--we went most mornings for breakfast to avoid the crowds in the Windjammer (and breakfast was just ok) but the dinner was where the bistro was really great. They have a regular menu to order from and then the sides and desserts are on a buffet. It was not crowded at all and the service was excellent. Park Café--don't bother. The food was the worst, especially breakfast (and there's nowhere to sit during the breakfast rush).
A tip--I made My Time dining reservations well in advance each night. They allot about 2 hours for dining. So I made sure I left an hour between when that 2 hour dining slot ended and any shows were about to begin. This was invaluable since the shows had lines. We had just enough time to change and get in line for the show after dinner. Also, I never had trouble getting into My Time dining...we asked for the same table (table 426 and we were on the 4th floor dining room, the table had ocean views). Every night we got the table or right next to it.
Entertainment: this seemed like it was on a higher level, as well. I didn't care for the aqua show as much as I thought I would. They have one of the performers spin around in an odd outfit consisting of a mostly bare chest and a "skirt" that flares out. He literally spins for about 10 minutes and that is the entire opening of the show. It seemed to be following in Cirque du Soleil fashion, but they weren't nearly the same caliber of performers. Again, though, it was different and way out of the box compared to the typical entertainment offerings so I give RCCL kudos for the variation--the performers were also highly athletic and when they exhibited that athleticism, there were plenty of oohs and ahs. The comedy headliner was ok (his opener, a RCCL employee, was much better), the ventriloquist was great, the ice skating was impressive (on a small rink, no less), Grease was just ok to me (disclaimer: I'm not a fan of musicals), and the Quest game show was funny as usual. The jazz club had a great jazz ensemble, the piano players in the Schooner Bar were very talented (they sang, as well), and we listened to a classical guitar player in the Central Park area one night who was excellent.
Shore excursions at St. Thomas and St. Kitts: excellent. We did a pirate ship sail out to Buck's Island off of St. Thomas where we then snorkeled with sea turtles (we saw about 12!!) and off a reef with a lot of colorful fish and urchin and coral (beware the fire coral). In St. Kitts we took the Fairview House rum tour and it was also excellent. As for Nassau? See under cons.
A note aside--most of the time, the ship did not seem terribly crowded, despite it being a full ship. I will give RCCL props for the design and the elevators. Other than the first day and waiting in lines for shows or bingo, we felt like we were on a smaller ship as far as the crowds. My husband used the slides and Flowrider--he didn't wait in terribly long lines for those, either. However, the mini golf seemed a little crowded most days so we didn't get to play.
- Too many (misbehaved) kids. We went the first week in May. I thought April school vacation would be over--not so. There were plenty of young, elementary school aged children on board. Parents had young kids out until 1-2 am and in the Quest adult game show (yes, there was a child under 5 at the adult game show despite all disclaimers the cruise staff makes that it's 18+--the parents hid her under a blanket to avoid being noticed). We saw them in the clubs at 11 pm dancing crazily like you might see on a family wedding dance floor. They ran up and down the halls at all hours. We learned that there were roughly 1200 children on board. So if you are looking for a quiet vacation, forget it. They were even in the specialty restaurants at all hours....crying and exhausted, more often than not.
- Don't ever expect to find a seat in the Windjammer Café. This was a disappointment for us since we usually do eat there at least a few times. And especially do not expect to eat there on the first day. Even though other dining options are open at the Royal Promenade, the Windjammer was by far the busiest. We finally relegated ourselves to sitting at the Windjammer bar to eat instead of a regular table. We boarded at approximately noon, by the way. I'm not sure what time everyone else got there, but it must have been early in order to get a seat in any of the common areas. You are probably better off boarding at 1 pm, when your state room is open.
- There is no Solarium pool. If you want to use a pool, be prepared for a ratio of 1 adult per 5 children since there is no adult pool area in the Solarium on this ship. On the Harmony, they have hot tubs and a spa type tub (bigger than a hot tub, smaller than a pool and "above ground) but no pools.
- Noise--this was the worst for us. This was a noisy ship....and I say that having had a cabin under the running deck once. Unfortunately, we were sandwiched in between two families: a single mom with 3 children under 5 years old she couldn't handle (we witnessed the little boy picking his nose, eating it, and then putting those same fingers on the stair railing while we were all waiting on the stair landing for our staterooms to open the first day--unfortunately they ended up next to us, mom was on her phone most of the time, we noticed). I was in room 11608, by the way. And then on the other side, a Russian couple whose toddler starting screaming at 5:30 am daily (not crying, but screaming). The family with 3 children got up at 6 am every day and opened/closed the slider repeatedly, wrestled/jumped off furniture (we could hear the mother admonishing them for this at 6:30 am), and moved the deck furniture around. We didn't hear anyone above us but we could hear running in the halls and the families on either side. We complained several times but there was no way for guest services/security to make it go away. We could not take a nap because the kids would return to the cabins several times a day and the antics would continue. Apparently, we weren't the only ones to complain (we learned from our stateroom attendant). RCCL should think about being more strategic in where they place families vs. solo travelers or couples traveling without kids--perhaps a family wing and a separate "quiet" wing or floor for those traveling without kids. We left our 6 year old kid at home, by the way. So before anyone thinks I'm a kid hater...I'm not. But it's pretty bad to go through an entire vacation sleep deprived. This is our first experience with this high of a noise level on a RCCL cruise. We did not get offered much in the way of compensation, either. Guest services called us every day to ask if the noise had gotten better--we said no every time. We even called them once at 6 am when it was going on and they said there was not much they could do?? Also, when my husband asked the Russian father to please quiet his child after over 1 hour of screaming, half of it on the deck, the Russian father wanted to meet my husband in the hallway to "fight him." What?! Who says that?? I had to call security to come talk to the guy. They stayed away after that. Anyways, RCCL first offered us a bottle of wine for our troubles (we don't drink wine) and then offered us 15% off our next cruise if booked within a year. I don't think we'll be booking again any time soon, though.
- Lines: there are major lines to get into the shows. Actually, be sure to book your shows and shore excursions and specialty restaurant reservations as far in advance as possible (I did so about 6 months out). There were major lines for those who had reservations AND those who did not, especially when it came to the shows (not so much with the restaurants). We witnessed elderly people duking it out because there was some confusion where the reservation line was! There was actual hitting (we overheard (and saw) the ladies were 84 years old and were hitting a man about the same age because they claimed he cut them in line). This was our first experience with lines and advance reservations but you need to get in line early to get a good seat (we'd get in line 30 minutes early and were always in the middle of the line, never at the front) and you really need reservations. This goes for bingo, too.
- Specialty restaurants: so these are minor complaints but we ate in Chops Grill on the Brilliance and it was excellent. On the Harmony, not so much. My husband's short rib was so fatty and gristly, he couldn't eat it. My 6 oz filet was very good, however. We did not get appetizer plates. We ordered an appetizer, but we had to use our bread plates--which wasn't ideal because the appetizer was a piece of bacon that was more fatty, like pork belly. So there was grease on the plates afterwards that our bread sat in...no biggie, though. It's just not something I'd expect for paying $40 per person. Also, we ordered some cheese tater tots...I cut into mine and there was a hair baked into it! A short, thick, black hair. I tried a small piece of my husband's and I wasn't missing much, it was fairly dry. The service, however, was excellent. We also ate at the Mexican restaurant one night. That wasn't so great. We had reservations (on Cinco de Mayo), and although there weren't many people in the restaurant at the time (roughly 3 other tables occupied), there were several dirty tables they hadn't been cleaned off. The line started to build behind us as we waited to be seated because the hostess was cleaning off our table and others. The hostess had to go over and get the workers at Johnny Rocket's to help out. The table was finally ready about 15 minutes later. The weirdest thing was we couldn't put our feet down on the ground--the tables have these huge triangular bases that take up all the floor space beneath booths and tables alike. So you are left trying to place your feet on the upwards angle of the triangle with your knees bent into you like you're bracing for impact. Weird. Anyways....we paid $15 each to get in at time of reservation. The food is more on top of that, unlike Chops. We got "replacement" margaritas after we were finished with our first ones that we never asked for but had to pay for. And the worst was a group of 5 drunk people were seated behind us and kept yelling "Ole!" at the top of their lungs with each sip of a drink. All the people in the restaurant kept turning around to stare...it was SO loud...ear piercing for me since I was directly on the other side. But nothing got done...so we just left as quickly as we could. The food was so-so, by the way. I would recommend going elsewhere.
- Nassau shore excursion to Atlantis, half day beginning at 8 am: don't do it. We paid $130 per person to do pretty much nothing except get the whistle blown at us all day long. The tickets for the excursion say to line up outside on the dock at the designated area at 8 am. There were so many people doing this excursion we waited until about 8:45 am for everyone--then they marched us to shuttle buses to take us to Atlantis. We get there and as one large crowd, we are led through the resort. We were in the middle of the crowd so we couldn't really hear the guy talking as we went by marine life lagoons, etc. We got to the swimming portion of the resort at about 9:15. NOTHING was open except that. We could rent a locker ($16 for a small locker, they only take credit cards) and get a towel and swim in CERTAIN pools but that's it. The waterslides, lazy river, and aquarium didn't open until at least 10 am. We had to be back on a shuttle by 1 pm since that was the last one. So you essentially got about 2/2.5 hours at the resort. By the time the waterslides opened, much of that was spent waiting in line. I waited 20 minutes or so for my husband to go down the Leap of Faith slide. While waiting, I went to go sit down on a block of concrete on one side of the pool where the water slide participants come out, but I got the whistle blown at me and was told not to sit there. Prior to that, we tried getting the floats that you use to go down the lazy river but the lifeguard blew the whistle because we were at the end of the ride, apparently, and it didn't open until 10 so we couldn't touch the inner tubes (this was at about 9:50 am). We tried to use a pool that wasn't overrun by kids but were told we couldn't use it because it was $100/day to do so (and this thing was tiny). The beach wasn't a beach...it was cut off by rock formations (blown out coral?). They had put the chairs BEHIND the rock so if you wanted to get to the water, you'd have to climb over it, but it didn't look like you were supposed to do that. The other beaches were man made. Nothing in the way to eat was open yet, either. I'm actually still kind of upset we spent $260 on 2.5 hours on 1 waterslide, a little time in one of the ALLOWED pools (things aren't clearly marked or signed so be prepared to be told "no" a lot), and a quick walk through the outdoor marine pools and aquarium. NOT WORTH IT.
- Drinks were pricey. My husband and I only have about 1-2 drinks each per day so the alcohol package wasn't worth it for us. But if you don't get it, prepare for the prices. Two pina coladas plus a service charge will cost $26. ONE drink at the Bionic Bar is $14. And the alcohol is measured so it's not like you are getting an overabundance. We tipped very minimally for the drinks since the service charge seemed to be the tip.
- Souvenirs were pricey on board, too. A thin shirt started at $40. We bought a small magnet for $7. The types of stores they had on board were Cartier, Kate Spade, jewelry stores that contained Bulgari watches, a Sephora-type store replaced the regular sundries store so if you wanted the odd bottle of soda one day or water...you can't get it. You can, however, get plenty of perfume and L'Occitane products.
- Bingo is expensive. The highest package is $69 and they don't thrown in the shirt for free like on other cruises--on this cruise, the shirt was $10 and part of the package. I got charged $2 for a dauber (in hindsight, I should have used a pen). I think the lowest package starts around $38 and doesn't get you much.
-The bars: this is a minor complaint but on other ships, I felt like I was really in a bar or lounge. The Schooner Bar, for instance, is usually completely enclosed and goes fairly deep. Boleros usually has a decent sized dance floor and is also enclosed with a sunk in area for seating and the dance floor. On this ship, the bars are small, flat and open to the promenade. It made you feel like you were at a food court at a mall.
I can't really recommend this ship to anyone because my feelings on it are so mixed. We booked over a year in advance and were excited every day to take the trip. Then, while on the trip, we were sleep deprived because of higher than normal noise levels, we witnessed a lot of rudeness (more than average), we stood in long (and, at times, hostile)lines, and had subpar experiences that we paid a lot of money for (I'm thinking specifically of $260 at Atlantis and $80 at Chops for a hair in my food, not to mention the money for the cabin we couldn't sleep in). I realize that most of this is just happenstance but it's a lot of happenstance that equaled just an average trip for us. And at well over $3000, I think we should have gotten more than an average trip and more than 15% off any future cruises for 7 days worth of sleep deprivation. But this is just my opinion. We will cruise again, but probably not on RCCL. If we DO go on RCCL again, it will definitely be on a smaller ship--they seem to be better all around. Out of this ship, the mid-sized ships and the smaller ships in the fleet I've been on, I'd say stick with the mid to smaller sized. For whatever reason, it's just a lot better. Read Less