Embarkation at Southampton took about 40 minutes. I think we arrived at peak time about noon, so could have avoided queues if slightly earlier or later. It was generally stress-free and we were on the ship fairly quickly - then: the first surprise. There was a huge line to get into the Windjammer for lunch, followed by crowds of people inside searching for tables. Not a relaxing start to our vacation!
Thankfully our cabins were ready by 2 pm so we went to drop of our bags and explore the ship. The cabin was in fairly good condition considering they are due for a refit soon, and was nice and clean, although I noticed there were none of those special freebies you usually get - cutbacks I suppose.
Our room steward did her job very well and sometimes chatted with our four year old, but was not perky. This was another thing I noticed about many of the staff (mainly waiters and stateroom attendants) - a general feeling of depression. Maybe all these UK guests are refusing to pay their gratuities? Whatever the case, many of the staff did not seem particularly happy, but worked very, very hard.
Room service was disappointing - orders were wrong, wait times of 40 minutes - this did not meet the standards we have experienced with other cruise lines. I did not think the room service menu was good either - as a vegetarian my only choices were an extremely cheesy pizza or some odd spinach dip …
Another disappointment was the activities, or lack thereof. We are used to having TOO much to do on a cruise. This time we were searching through the Compass to see if there was anything at all worth doing to fill a day at sea. We had to resort to sitting in a smoky nightclub watching kids play with a plastic bow and arrow. All the quizzes were packed (nothing else to do) - in the tiny bar there was nowhere for people to sit so they were all perched on the stairs and standing around trying to join in. Absolutely ridiculous in my opinion.
The ice rink was only open for the first two days. You had to arrive early to get a space which we failed to do. The pools were shut 90% of the time, along with all the other deck activities. Of course I understand they have to close these things down when the wind/rain makes it hazardous, but they remained shut all day even after the sun came out.
The children’s club was oversubscribed - they knew how many children were going to be on board yet had to turn many of them away because it was "full”. Not really fair for those who have paid yet miss out due to a lack of staff.
If you are going on this ship anytime soon, I would recommend getting tickets for on board (free) shows and activities asap before they all sell out. Of course the paid Portofino/excursion etc. options are always available. Be prepared to pay $10+ a each for shuttle busses in ports which are a long way from any civilisation. I think Royal Caribbean made a fortune driving passengers into town in Gijon and Bilboa - but there were no other options other than an even more expensive taxi.
In the future we will probably avoid Royal Caribbean - the only thing which could tempt us back is curiosity to see one of their new innovative ships. They have gone too far with the cutbacks and should treat their staff better. We were not fooled by the Cruise Director asking us to constantly applaud them and their hard work for the last two days of the cruise. They would probably prefer higher wages.
Balcony stateroom - in a convenient location near to restaurants, bar, children's club and Windjammer Cafe. Quiet as it's between two decks of cabins. Large structure to the right of the cabin very slightly restricts view. We would be happy to stay here again.