This was my first cruise, so I don't have a point of comparison other than what I have read here. But my overall impression was good. Galveston is unfortunately pretty far from the nearest airport, so if you are not driving in, you will have to work out how to get to port. We ended up flying into Bush a day early. We stayed the night at the Country Inn and Suites by Carlson. It has a shuttle from the airport and another to the port. It is located right on the southern beach near the pleasure pier and a bunch of other restaurants, so it is a good place to stay if you plan on coming in early. It is one of the only ones in Galveston that has an airport shuttle. We arrived at the port the next morning a little after 11 am. There was a porter ready immediately to take our bags and when the rooms opened our bags were already waiting for us. Embarkation seemed fairly painless. We were on the boat and eating in the buffet well before noon. We were not really impressed with the Windjammer and after eating lunch there the first couple days, we just stopped going back. Rooms opened a little bit after one. Our room was clean and everything worked, our room attendant, Golda, was very friendly. She came and introduced herself the first day and knew our faces and names after that and was always friendly and accommodating every time we saw her. She left us two towel animals, a snake and a dog (even incorporating the sunglasses I left lying around into our dog). The view from the balcony was nice and we felt the movement of the ship a lot less in our room than other places on the ship.
We were part of BGG@SEA and we spent a lot of time in the conference room. It was nice, although hard to get to. You can only get to it from the forward stairs. If you go down the wrong side, you have to go back up to the fourth floor and then over through the casino. The casino was always packed and there was no easy way to get from one side to the other. Plus, this is one of the only areas where people are allowed to smoke inside the ship. I'm sure it is convenient for those who do smoke, but it is pretty gross to travel through if you do not. And the smoke bleeds out into the bar areas on either side sometimes since it is not enclosed in any way. I honestly never went to the casino, in part because I couldn't breath for all of the smoke in there. There are a lot of different bars on the ship (about 15 in all). They all have a different feel and each has their own specialty drinks (as well as being able to make all of the usual ones). Most people tend to find one or two they like better and frequent regularly. We tended to go to Two Poets (an English style pub) and R Bar, a kind of zany looking little bar. For food, we primarily stuck with the Main dining room and café promenade. We always enjoyed the food in the main dining room and the menu changed every day so we never got bored and never ate the same thing twice unless we really liked it and wanted some again. Our waiters Leonardo and Atarulla were wonderful and we stayed in their section all week. They were very accommodating to a surprising degree. My husband mentioned he was debating between two food options, the waiter gave a recommendation, he ordered and then the waiter brought both out for him to try. He was always willing to bring out extra at the slightest hint that we wanted it (even bringing an extra lobster out to us on the 2nd formal night, which was the last port day without a word from us, just because my husband was excited to eat lobster). We did my time dining and we got a table to ourselves unless we wanted to go with a big group and then they sat us together. Overall the main dining room was one of our favorite places on board.
Café promenade has snack food like little sandwiches, cookies, etc. (the muffaletta is really good). It is attached to a starbucks and a ben and jerry's which are both good options if you want them, but they do cost extra. Overall they tend to overcharge you for anything extra you buy (normally two mixed drinks would run us a little over $20, two frappes at starbucks would cost about $10, etc). Overall the only food we weren't super thrilled with was the Windjammer, but it worked if you just wanted to dash in, eat and dash out again. It was always busy so I guess most people liked it. Because we were with a group, we did not do too much of the normal on board activities.
The adult pool was frequently empty with a lot of people lounging around it but the hot tubs were super packed. We did go to the Quest and the Love and Marriage game. Both of them were very fun and we laughed a lot. The director and his comments really added a level of humor to each event. The only thing we were not very happy with was the shore excursions and disembarkation.
Since this was our first time cruising, we stayed with all RCI excursions. In Jamaica, we did Flavors of Jamaica. It was about an hour drive each way to the plantation. Our guide on the bus was very nice and we learned a lot about Jamaica from her. The plantation itself was very pretty (although they have a lot of very large spiders all over the place, so this may not be the best tour if you are an arachnophobe like me). The guide that showed us around the plantation was really mean. The group in the back couldn't always hear very well, at one point, she called us out for "not listening" and then pulled us to the front of the line like bad children. Then as punishment she wanted us to dig through a pond searching for a bullfrog to catch for her. I refused since I am afraid of spiders and there were some big ones on the lily pads. She then had us go wash our hands, ad held my husband back so I would be by myself when I had to go by this giant web filled with spider webs. He didn't realize what she was doing until I jumped when I saw it and she laughed. Overall she was very mean and ruined this excursion for me. The food itself was very good, but there was some miscommunication at some point and the plantation did not realize how many people there were and did not have enough places for everyone. So it was delayed by quite a bit while they had to try and figure out how to squeeze in the extra people. There was not enough food for everyone and some people did not get everything. The group that came in after us ended up having to cancel their excursion because it was so delayed, but not until they spent an hour or so, standing there staring at us and complaining that we needed to hurry up. Overall we were not thrilled, although, the food when we finally got it was very good and the chef and our bus tour guide were very nice.
We were going to do the stingray city sandbar through RCI, but they cancelled it (due to high winds, I guess they were afraid a wave might knock someone into the path of a boat) and didn't tell us until we got to the pier. By the time we found out, the other tours we wanted to do were either full or had already left since this was one of the later excursions. RCI ended up just refunding our tickets, but they made no effort to try and help us find another excursion. We just ended up wandering to the different stations, trying to find something else to do. We were very disappointed in how RCI handled this. We ended up going with a local one that was doing the stingrays anyways. It was called Kelly's watersports and it was in this big round both at the end of the pier. Overall, I would not recommend them either. They crammed a bunch of people on the boat. And they only had one handler and one stingray for the whole boat of 50 plus people. They ended up just having us crowd around this one poor stingray to feed it and then to take pictures with it. There was no line, it was just pushiest people got to go first. If you went first you really had nothing to do but float around, and if you went last you spent the whole excursion waiting for your turn. Very disorganized. They charged us extra for the tour because they knew we were in a bind, and then charged us another $40 for five pictures if we wanted the pictures we waited for, but they didn't tell us the price until the end. They were supposed to email us the pictures and we still haven't received them. I would go with moby dick tours instead, they are also on the pier and were much better organized and less crowded. When we got done with the picture fiasco, we went to their area and they let us interact with the stingray like we thought we were going to get to. Finally in Cozumel we did the island tour and mayavn ruins. This one was a lot of fun and we learned a lot about the mayans from this tour. We wished we had a bit more time at the tour, especially to look in the little shops afterward. As part of the tour, we went to a mayan chocolate factory which was fun and we learned a lot about the way they used to make chocolate before Europeans got a hold of it. This was really well done and well organized and everyone was friendly. They even recommended a local restaurant, La Choza to eat at afterwards and it was very good. This is the only tour I would really recommend to anyone. Disembarkation was very long (especially for those with visas rather than passports). I would recommend taking your bags down yourself, picking them up again is not very streamlined, and they actually lost our friends bags, or someone else grabbed the wrong bag, there was no process to check out the bags back to you. Anyone could have grabbed any bag. Better to keep your bag with you and know you will have it. It was a very long wait in the lounge and then a very long line when they finally let you leave the lounge.
Our cabin was clean and well maintained with a good view. It was midship so it did not rock very much. Our room attendant, Golda, was very nice and helpful.