We booked a cruise from cheapcruises at the end of August for sailing immediately after Thanksgiving. When we booked the cruise, there was some back and forth e-mails with the agent. About a month before departure, we got an e-mail telling us we needed to preregister. I delayed acting on this e-mail because I was traveling for work, but registered about 7 days in advance. The website said we missed the 10-day cut off to have luggage tags mailed to us, but that a porter would help. (We later found that no one got luggage tags mailed to them regardless of how early you registered). Then about 3 days before the cruise, we realized we never received details on the cruise, no communication from RC what so ever. We are experienced cruisers, but wanted some specific details. My wife called the 1-800 number for RC and talked to a lady. We asked about the number of formal nights so we would know how to pack. The service lady told us that Navigator exclusively had "My Time" dining and that it was all casual. My wife asked that we had requested late dining and was told that no longer an option. The lady again confirmed there was no other option other than my time dining. We also asked if we could bring a bottle or two of wine. We were told that absolutely no alcohol or any beverages of any kind could be brought on board.
We get to New Orleans and board the ship. As we were waiting in line to get our Sea Passes, we noticed another family with two large cases of water. Not sure if he made it on board, but we had already been though several checkpoints at that time.
Anyway, we get on board.
Since we don't normally spend much time in the stateroom, we normally just get inside staterooms on a lower deck. But, this ship had a promenade and we though we would give it a shot. We loved the room. Anytime, day or night you could look out and see people walking buy and enjoying drinks at the pub right below our windows. The artificial light in the promenade is matched to the real light outside. We thought it was really neat. The room is also the largest we have ever had with a 2 person loveseat in front of the window and a 2nd loveseat on the side of the room between the bed and the window. We were very impressed.
One disappointment. New Orleans is quite a ways up the Mississippi river from the Gulf of Mexico. I think we spent about 6 hours each way cruising the Mississippi. All of the travel was at night. I think it would have been cool to see the cruise down the river. A summer cruise where the sun sets later would have allowed this, but in November, the sun set as we departed port.
As we were sailing on the Mississippi, my wife was talking with another passenger and confirmed that traditional dinning was still available. She noted on our Sea Pass, that we did indeed have late dining and pointed out our table number. So, at this point we knew, the 2 formal night would be enjoyed in my "Formal Polo Shirt". RC lie #1.
When we do get to dinner, we are seated at a 6-top table with 2 other couples similar in age to us. One of the wives, Sue, was telling us about the wine she brought on board. I guess you are allowed 1 bottle per person (or stateroom not sure which). You just have to show it to security when boarding. RC lie #2.
Towards the end of day #2, a sea day, the captain got on the PA system and said that overnight 25 people had reported Norovirus symptoms, and that if we experienced vomiting and/or diarrhea, that we should call the desk for further instructions. By the morning, they were up to 50 cases, and at that point, we could no longer serve ourselves food at the buffets. As soon as you got up from a table, they cleared the dishes and cleaned with this stuff in a purple bottle. There was a crew of maybe 10 people that just roamed the ship, day and night, wiping down elevators, hand rails, and anything that might get touched.
By the end of the cruise, they had 180 cases (not all active at the same time).
Here are my thoughts. They told us the carrier was tracked down to a family of 5 that came from Australia. So, if you are sick, be honest with the cruise line. There are 4-5000 passengers and crew in a small confined area. Illness spreads exponentially. Out of respect for fellow passengers, just be honest. It is possible that they got infected on the flight and didn't know they were sick prior to boarding, so I can't blame them if they honestly didn't know.
Royal Caribbean, I think, did a great job of containing this. I enjoyed being served food at the buffets. This cruise had an older crowd and so many people would stand in front of the pan of fried chicken, for example, looking for that perfect piece. I thought the lines moved quicker because you got the piece of chicken they gave you. We had one of the couples at dinner get quarantined, two different people at an adjacent table, and at least 4 staterooms in our hallway had quarantined passengers (yellow square over their door). So, people were getting sick all around us, but luckily, we avoided it.
One thing I think RC did not do a good job of, was providing details of the illness, like how it is transmitted, incubation time, etc. If you are going to take a cruise, I would print out details from the internet on Norovirus and take it with you. I would also recommend watching the movie "Contagion". It is not the best movie I have seen, but it really drives home how these things spread.
The first two nights of dinning, none of us through the food was that good. There was some kind of seafood skewer that most of the table got one night, and the sauce on it tasted weird. However, friends of ours got that in early dining and thought it was fantastic. Apart from that, the food wasn't bad, it was just below average. The head waiter stopped by and asked how everything was going, and we mentioned that the food was sub-par. He apologized. For the remainder of the cruise, the food was very good. So, I don't know how all of that transpired, but they definitely took care of the situation.
Overall the on-ship staff was fantastic. The entertainment was very good.
One thing most of the passengers noted was that there was no way the ship was full. Usually we get to the shows early to make sure we get a seat, but we never saw the theater more than 1/2 full. We never waited in line for food and never had problem getting a lounge chair by the pool.
One thing I have said is that every cruise we have taken is worse than the one before. As the ships keep getting bigger and bigger and there are more and more ships, coupled with a declining economy, the cruise lines have to deeply discount fares, and that can only mean that have to cut corners. I am happy to say, this cruise broke the trend. It was not the best, but it did land somewhere in the middle, and cost about 20% of what the best cost us. The last couple cruises, the staff has been downright aggressive in pushing alcohol and photos, and they scaled back to an acceptable level. A bartender was available if you wanted a drink, but if you just wanted to lay by the pool and read or sleep, they weren't interrupting you every 5 minutes to see if you wanted a "Bahama Mamma" or whatever.
We enjoyed the view of the Promanade. There were a couple parades that started about 10PM and you could hear them though the glass, but really, why would you be in your room and not enjoying the parade? However, apart from that, the room was quiet. We had a room about mid-promenade. I would recommend that. I was fun to watch people come and go in and out of the shops. The rooms at each end overlooked the big stairwells.
This is the biggest room we have ever had.
I think this ship is now in dry dock, or nearly so, and the refurbished ship is supposed to have ship-wide wifi. When we cruised, they only had wifi available in 5 locations. However, being on the promenade, we were able to get wifi in the room, although the rates we too expensive to use it.
One disappointment, both with Carnival and Royal Caribbean, is that they have their own "private city." So, if you just walk off the ship, you are really just shopping in RC company stores. If you want to shop or drink in "real" Cozumel, you need to take a taxi.
We rented scooters with another couple and made a lap of the island. We had a great time, stopping at beach bars and strolling on the beautiful beaches. We also toured the Tequila factory that is inland. If you are a decent motorcycle rider, I would recommend renting scooters (or a jeep) and just heading out on your own.
We walked off the ship and about a block to the public bus station. Their we boarded the local bus and they took us to 7-Mile beach. The bus ride was $5 for the couple, while the taxis were charging $5 each. On the beach, we rented beach chairs and Jet Ski's. We have a great time, but I have to say that every island in the Caribbean is like every other island in the Caribbean. The water and beach here was just like Cozumel. We had a good time, and if we go there again we may opt for an off-ship excursion to Stingray City. We had at a beach restaurant. My wife and I each had a sandwich with fries. I had 2 beers and she had a coke. The prices listed on the menu were in Grand Cayman $, not US $. So, when our bill came, it was about $50. I guess you expect to pay a premium for eating on the beach and watching the crystal clear waters crash on the white sands, but this seemed like a rip off.
On the way back (again public bus. There is a bus stop across the street from the beach) we stopped at "The Rum Stop". This place seemed to have the best Duty Free prices on the entire trip. We bought a couple bottle of "Big Black Dick" rum, which was fantastic, and a huge bottle of Crown Royale. That also qualified us for a free Rum Cake. Mmmmm.
The only other issue we had was with an excursion. Typically, we don't book excursions on the ship, by the US State Department said that Jamaica is a dangerous place and not to stray from the group. So, we did our own thing at Cozumel and Grand Cayman, but booked an excursion in Jamaica. Most of the excursions were coupled with a climb of Dunns River Falls. That is highly recommended. One thing to note, they will not allow you to hike the falls with sandels (which is a valid concern) or tennis shoes (I don't understand this). I wore Crocs and others wore Aquasocks. If you didn't have those, then you were required to rent aquasocks for $7 or buy them for $17. That got about 1/2 of the people on our tour.
From there we went to Dolphin Cove. Again, this is recommended. However, this is where I have to ding RC. They had 3 excursions, Dolphin Cove for $89, Dolphin Touch for $109, and Dolphin Swim for $155. We have swam with Dolphins before, so we chose the cheaper one. In the brochure it clearly states that you will not interact with Dolphin. We knew that going in. "Enjoy a Jamaican buffet while watching Dolphins at play." We expected some kind of a Dolphin show like you would see at a zoo or Sea World. What we got was watching to other two excursions. Most of the people in our tour were fairly pissed off and what we saw. Also, we were not told that you could mix and match the tours. So, my wife could have done the Dolphin Touch, and I could have done what I did, and then I would have at least been watching my wife. Despite being different excursions, we could have ridden the same tour bus and enjoyed the rest of the excursion together. Really what this excursion was, was a cheaper alternative for parents or grandparents that didn't want actually get in the water an interact with the Dolphin, but wanted to watch their children do so. I think the description should be changed to reflect that.
The other part of the excursion was a shark show. Again, from the brochure, "View the rambunctious and hilarious shark show" So, let me describe what we saw and see if you agree with this description. There was a pool with 5 nurse sharks in it, and 5 trainers came out onto little platforms with some fish. The sharks each went to a trainer, and the trainer rolled the shark on it's back and gave it a fish. Then a man and a woman FROM ANOTHER CRUISE LINE came into the water and got to pet the shark and gave it a fish. Then the man and woman put on snorkels and swam a bit with the sharks. This lasted 5-10 minutes. That was it.
When we got back on board, we went to the excursions desk and complained. The guy at the desk did not have the authority to do anything for us, but argued that we should have known that we wouldn't get to interact with Dolphins. We could not get the point across to him that we knew that, but we didn't expect our excursion to be watching other have their excursion. He said he would have a supervisor call. A day went by and no call, so we went back to the desk. Another person was their and we explained that we never received a call. She looked in a little notebook that they write reminders in and our cabin was not listed for a callback. So, the first guy never intended to have a supervisor call. A few hours later, the supervisor did give us a call. Again, she was thinking our complaint was that we didn't get to interact with Dolphin. When I convinced her they just needed to update the wording, she said she would take it under advisement. She also gave us a 25% refund.