A little background first, then a bit long, but ultimately fair review. I am a 61 year old widower with a decent amount of cruise experience.This was my 2nd with RCCL (although the 1st one was some 25+ years ago) to go with 4 on Carnival, 1 on Princess, and 1 on NCL. I traveled with my 32 year old single son. This was also his 2nd on RCCL to go with 2 on Carnival and 1 on Princess (all with me). We try to go on these cruises as often as possible as we don't live together and we don't see each other as often as we would like.
We chose this cruise for many reasons...length, itinerary, and our schedules being the main reasons. We have been very happy with Carnival, but with RCCL having a good reputation we booked this 12 day repositioning cruise. Due to RCCL's reputation we expected a (slightly) superior experience than Carniva.This is where our disappointment originates. There were many areas that the cruise lines were equal, with Carnival superior in some areas.There were NO areas that we thought RCCL was better than Carnival. Plus there were several glitches/snafus that also contributed to this middling review.
Let me first say, even though the remainder of this review will have the negatives, especially compared to Carnival, we still had a great time and given the variables of itinerary, cost, etc. we would not hesitate to take another RCCL cruise. Also, our cruise last year on Carnival was on a similar ship (size, age, etc.) so that it is a fair apples to apples comparison.
Let me also say that the staff and crew were wonderful and faultless. All this being said, lets go to the review:
Transfer from airport to ship: We prepaid for this transfer. Landing in Boston we found no one meeting us. We asked at information booth where the RCCL transfer people were, and were pointed to a couple of ladies nearby. Introducing ourselves, they said our names were not on the pick-up manifest.After a very short, pleasant discussion they said it happens every now and then, and it was no problem to bring us to the ship...Glitch #1.
Embarkation/Check-in: Major line, very slow moving, took around an hour (maybe more)...in all of my previous cruises never more than 15 minutes. In later conversations aboard ship with other passengers, this opinion was pretty much consistent...Glitch #2.
Dining Room: In booking this cruise we arranged for a table for 2, we were put at a table for 8 with 6 other passengers...glitch #3. (fortunately it was a great group and we all became very friendly).
Informal (buffet) dining: While RCCL Windjammer buffet is basically adequate, Carnival has, in addition to the usual type buffet, "action" stations: Deli, Indian , make your own burritos, 24 hour pizza, a burger station (with tie in to Guy Fieri), a fresh Mongolian wok station, plus others...Major advantage to Carnival.
Main dining room: Basically equal to Carnival....reasonable quantity of choices, well prepared, tasty, etc. One difference with Carnival, which may or may not matter to you: Carnival main dining experience much more festive...wait staff usually in aloha-type dress (except on formal nights) with a silly, nightly dance and/or song number with the guests. RCCL dressed in informal dress twice (of 12 nights), and sang on 2 nights...personally I really enjoy the festivity of the Carnival dining room.
Room service: We didn't use it, but at the same time would have been disappointed to find out that except for the continental breakfast, it now contained a $7.95 fee... first time I've seen a cruise charge for room service . I wonder if the profit made on this will overcome the negative image it gives the cruise line.
Beverages:Again an area where RCCL takes a back seat to Carnival. First, soda ....Where Carnival charged $2.25 for a soda, and a bit over $5/day for its unlimited package, RCCL charges over $8/day for its package. I had no intention of getting the RCCL unlimited package until I discovered they were charging $4 per soda. So I bought the package anyway. Later on I discovered my preferred soda, Coke Zero, was only available in a few of the venues. (available at all Carnival venues)...a day or 2 later I complained and was able to cancel the package (prorated). As for alcohol...I'm not much of a drinker, consuming less than a dozen alcoholic drinks in a year. I usually will have a couple or 3 drinks on a cruise. Day 2 I ordered a banana daquiari....only to be told that RCCL doesn't do them.Really???, not exactly an exotic drink! I had a strawberry daquari instead, which was my only alcoholic drink of the cruise . For the remainder of the cruise it was the free lemonade and iced tea....no soda, no alcohol...
One plus for RCCL...they offered a 10 for $75 discount card for drinks, which my son bought.
Activities: On par with Carnival, however could be scheduled better to limit conflicts, with some venues underutilized and others overcrowded (especially the "Centrum", the main center atrium of the ship...Too many activities there with minimal seating/standing space.)
Entertainment: Another area RCCL inferior to Carnival. Where Carnival uses a lounge specifically for comics and each night has at least 1, and sometimes 2 comics, each sometimes doing a family show as well as an adult late night show...RCCL had I think 5 comics with only 1 doing a 2nd show for the entirety of the cruise, all in main theatre. The other "talent" is pretty much equal...a few "production" shows, a singer or 2, etc. Also, most shows only done once, creating conflicts with scheduling.
Movies: While Carnival usually showed 2 movies on the big outside screen nightly (usually themed, with popcorn available), RCCL rotated maybe 6 movies for the 12 nights (same ones in multiple venues). Also, except for the movies, some football games and baseball play-offs, big outdoor screen usually displayed screen saver...on Carnival, most "dead time" filled in with music videos.
Some comments on the ports, not really specific to RCCL:
St. Kitts: We just walked the port area, shopped a bit, had lunch ashore. Pleasant enough.
Antigua: Beach excursion with lunch included...pretty beach, adequate lunch, shopping at port. no problem.
St. Lucia: BIG PROBLEM: another beach excursion, no lunch though. Asked tour guide if it was safe to leave stuff on beach chairs. She said no, and told us to leave wallets on bus where driver would be hanging out. While returning to ship, my son and I discovered we both had cash removed from our wallets (we figure $100-$140 total). I suspect driver, can't prove it though.Reported it to guest services, filled out paperwork, interviewed by ship security, but I expect nothing will come of report. Another, more minor issue, locals selling cheap trinkets to the tourists. Every few seconds another "vendor" would approach with his/her wares.A polite, "no" would send them away, only to be pestered a few moments later by another.
Curacao: another beach excursion, prettiest beach of the 3...some more shopping, no problem.
Aruba: submarine excursion.Went 150 ft. down, around reef, sunken ships....awesome...pricey, but worth it.
Disembakation: went fine, no problems.
Surprised that RCCL gave me an inferior experience compared to Carnival, but none the less even with issues stated, had a great time, made new friends of former strangers sitting at table.
Great staff and crew. Won't hesitate to cruise on RCCL in future, but if all things being equal, still would lean to Carnival.....until RCCL steps up its game.
Inside cabin. Decent size for cruise ship.Adequate closet and drawer space. Clean.No mechanical issues, everything in good working order.