Ready to read the most detailed review ever?! I used topic headings to make it easier. ;-)
In a flash sale, my mother invited me to cruise with her for 9 days through the Caribbean to Haiti and the ABC Countries I hadn't yet visited. Any Caribbean experience in February is bound to be warmer than staying in NYC, so I booked flights to the Miami port, which were surprisingly more expensive than usual, and made it happen. One thing that was not clear online was that when I thought I had reserved excursions and on-board experiences in advance- I actually had not reserved any without officially checking out with full credit card payment in advance of being on the cruise- so definitely know that you need to not just reserve in advance, but fully pay and check out in advance for those reservations to be valid before getting on board.
I used the Lyft app to hire a car ride from an Airbnb location in Miami Beach for about $12 to reach the Miami Port cruise terminal. I carried my own carry-on luggage and backpack on about 30 minutes after the initial boarding time started. I didn't realize that I had a Gold category sea pass and was able to use the Gold sea pass lanes- but it really wasn't necessary as there was hardly any wait during the early embarkation time. The only problem once on board was where I should put my luggage, since I decided to carry it on early, but rooms weren't ready until 1:15pm, and the attendant staff was very strict about sticking to that. I decided to spend that early time taking advantage of spa services on board, where my luggage could just hang out with me until the cabin was ready.
The Vitality Spa signature services that they try to upsell frequently are often about double the price of the regular services, and in the end, only worth paying for if you decide to book enough to get one free. I requested a deep tissue massage and pure sole pedicure which ended up being less than booking two of their signature services, and I received 10% off for being a Gold sea pass card holder in addition to a reduced rate for booking on the first day. The spa services are both salon hair and nail services as well as massage, facial, teeth whitening, and a type of skin firming treatment services. The heated bamboo used for the deep tissue massage felt good at first, but ultimately left me more sore than if I'd just had a deep tissue massage with hands. I probably would request they not use the bamboo the next time. The Pure Sole Pedicure was an excellent foot scrub along with nail care and nail paint- which was much needed after a fall and winter of keeping my toes covered. I was given some complimentary eye treatment product while having the pedicure done as well.
Fitness Center / Lockers / Sauna / Steam Rooms:
Before getting into your room, you can still use the fitness center lockers, locker room sauna, steam room, and showers if you want to use the hot tubs or pools right away. They have a basic body bath/shampoo inside the fitness center showers in case you need to do any manscaping or ladyscaping in something a bit larger than your cabin bathroom. The only thing I don't quite like about this set up is that the Sauna/Steam Rooms are gender segregated into locker rooms, which means you can't enjoy them with your opposite sex friends/partner. There's also only one bathroom in the female locker room and it is supposed to serve both the spa and the fitness center classes, which means it's often in use and insufficient. The spa and fitness staff forget to remind people about the next closest ones in the pool area that can be used as well. I signed up for 4 Pilates Classes (all sea days) for $10/ea. which was a much better class deal than I get at gyms in NYC. The same deal applied for Yoga and other classes as well- a good incentive to get up and do something healthy before being a sloth at the pool and windjammer buffet all day.
Cabin w/ Virtual Balcony:
The idea of a virtual balcony seemed pretty odd before experiencing it in person, however, once we had it in the room, we actually really enjoyed having it as part of our interior room experience. We actually came to really appreciate having an outside view in the mornings and evenings as we decided how light it was outside for walking around the ship, and what kind of sounds let us know how close we were to the port without looking - much like having a window open without actually having a window. The only time it was disappointing was when we didn't have a remote to control the amount of noise or volume, and the occasional times when it wasn't working due to a technical blip- but overall it was a great addition to the interior stateroom experience. This particular cabin room had two twin beds, a large vanity and desk with plenty of storage, two night stands with storage, a chair and ottoman with storage, and a plenty large closet with storage. Once we stored our empty luggage under the beds, we found that we still had plenty of storage space to spare in all of the drawers and vertical spaces for smaller items.
If you prefer fast food service, or have kids that can't sit still for more than 15min, you'll likely find yourself dining more frequently in the Windjammer than the Sapphire Dining Room. The Windjammer Buffet was great at all times of day with plenty of food options to choose from and heavily staffed for regular drink service, clean up, and maintenance. It was probably the most heavily staffed location on the ship most of the day. Great and friendly service at all times and I never had a concern about cleanliness or safety at the buffet. You may struggle to find a seat at peak breakfast and lunch times (usually 9am-10am, and 12:30pm-1:30pm) but most guests were happy to share tables when they had extra seats or people took their plates back outside to the pool and lounge areas elsewhere.
If you prefer to have a guaranteed seat at a table and to be served with professional staff, you can have breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the Sapphire Dining room. In general, this is a much slower level of service and is much more limited in the hours of availability. The food selection is much more limited for breakfast and lunch than what you'll find at the Windjammer, however, breakfast does offer more granola options with yogurt, and lunch offers a few more greens options for salad. We had booked a Mystery Theatre Dinner in advance and a 3 Specialty Dining Package in advance, then we choose Johnny Rockets one night, so we only ate in the Sapphire Dining room 4 of the 9 nights of our cruise and tried it once for breakfast and once for lunch. We didn't develop the same relationship with our dining staff that you would if you were in the dining room every evening, but after we came back a second and third time, the service did improve and the staff remembered our special requests- which always feels wonderful and special. While a water glass might stay full during dinner, many dinner guests decided that ordering alcohol at a bar elsewhere on the ship and bringing it into the dining room was often faster than ordering a glass of wine with the dining staff in the dining room. This is likely due to the distance and hassle the servers must go through to obtain the specialty drink or cocktail- so this could definitely be improved.
Booking the 3 Dinner Package and the Mystery Dinner Theatre gave us a taste of all the speciality restaurants on board- and they were all worth stepping away from the dining room for. Even if we hadn't made the advance dinner package reservations, the restaurants never seemed too full to accommodate a last minute request for an early or late dinner time. We often got in around 6pm and found that each restaurant was usually only half full around 7pm. Each restaurant has its own specialty menu with items you really won't find elsewhere on the ship. The $30 fee ($75 for 3 advance commitment) included everything you'd want to order except alcohol. Izumi was great even if you aren't a sushi person- just get the hot rock grilled meat skewers instead of the sushi options. Definitely get the guacamole, empanadas, and dessert sampler at Sabor. Ask for multiple sauces with your steak at Chops. One tip that most people don't consider is that you can actually have more than one appetizer and even more than one entree if you'd like. So if you don't see an entree you like, just try several different appetizers instead- it's all included in your flat rate. At Johnny Rocket's they just defaulted to giving us a plate of onion rings and fries when we sat down, as anything except milkshakes are included in the $6.95 fee. There were a few funny mishaps with the Italian kitchen alarm going off during the Mystery Dinner Theatre- which would have been more entertaining if they'd improved and worked it into the show rather than continuing and everyone being alarmed by it. Chops had a similar situation with someone trying to fix the plumbing during dinner which made the most terrible noise and disruption to the atmosphere, but my drink was complimentary in exchange for the disturbance. Izumi definitely has the most special environment with its location at the top of the ship away from everything else happening.
Don't miss the Ice Show. Wow. They held the show 5 times during our cruise, so if you don't make it the first time, they'll likely offer another on a longer cruise. It was the best show on board, and I would have expected to pay $50 a ticket to see that show on land. I heard we missed an amazing comedian show from other passengers. The Royal Caribbean shows were very nicely done with talented performers. A few more recognizable songs for the audience to identify with might have captured the audience a bit more when it comes to staff productions, but even without that, it was still decent entertainment every single night. If you can catch the orchestra/band playing live Jazz elsewhere on the ship - that's also a great experience. The other pool and lounge performers were great as well, mostly playing covers or themed music for the lounge experience.
All of the ones that invite other guests to participate are quite hilarious. Cutty, the cruise director, especially seems to enjoy a bit of guest torture and has a talent for picking guests who are more than willing to participate and go all the way. If you can stay up late for those, you will likely laugh until you hurt- even if you're the one participating. Another guest-participant experience would be Karaoke, which attracted a crowd when it was just for fun, but fewer people were interested in participating when it was intended to be a game-show elimination style event.
Each bar has its own kind of drink menu based on a particular set of cocktails or liqueurs, so if you're a fan of Gin, you'll likely end up most nights at the Schooner Bar. If you're a fan of whiskey, you'll likely end up in the pub most nights with fellow whiskey lovers. You can always grab things from one bar and head to another, but the only full bar on board with all selections seems to be the Windjammer bar just outside of the pool area and the Metropolis Theatre bar if you're in the front lower part of the ship before or during a performance. Most sea-days there was a $1 mimosa drink special at the Casino bar -and veteran happy hour attendees would often order two and combine them into a larger glass with ice.
I'm not much of a pool person or a crowd person - it often seemed packed during the day - so I only went to the Solarium or shady areas around 2pm when everyone else was done with the pool for the day. I don't think I actually ever got into a pool or hot tub while I was there, but I did use the Sauna, Steam Room, and Showers in the Fitness Center Locker Room which often felt like private areas since very few other people used them. I ordered one fruity drink from a pool bar and found a lounger in the shade looking out at the ocean for reading in the Solarium a couple times. I never used Flow Rider, the Rock Climbing Wall, the Mini Golf, the Basketball Court, or the Shuffleboards on Deck 4, but I did frequently walk Deck 4 after dinner, and the walking track in the morning during sunrise before people were at the pool.
Most educational classes around fitness, health, pampering, art, or shopping had something to sell as part of the educational experience, which meant that they really weren't that interesting to attend after a while. Even when they gave things away as part of the class, it all just felt like a bit sales pitch after a while. However, there were a few exceptions: a watercolor painting experience which required no additional fee and didn't sell anything but was restricted to 50 ppl was the most attended. I think there was a Meditation class offered as well that was free and heavily attended too. There were a few free fitness classes that weren't listed on the Vitality Fitness Menu, but were mentioned in the daily Cruise Compass- like a fit dancing class at the pool- and that was very well received and well attended. Not everything was a sales pitch, but when it was, it often made the experience less desirable than if they'd just been more educational and less sales-pitch-based.
Excursions I took:
- Haiti: Labadee Traditions Tour - an excellent look at local life and history beyond the Royal Caribbean property (see photos), then spent the rest of the day at the beach. Only wandered briefly into the Artists Market which had a lot of people hustling for customers and wasn't the greatest browsing or shopping experience. The good news is that there's another low-key artists market with locally made goods in a little building in front of the Artisan Market where you can buy things without being hassled or bothered during your browsing.
- Curacao: Fascinating Curacao Tour - visited an herbalist's garden and took a tour of the original curacao liquor factory, then went on own to the African Museum & Boutique Hotel and had a frozen lemonade at the Governor's Restaurant with a great view of the canal.
- Aruba: Landrover Off Road Tour - visited the Alto Vista Chapel, Gold Mills, Natural Bridge, Lighthouse, and Arashi Beach along with some off-roading bumps and hills - locals call it the "shake & bake" tour, but it was a great way to spend half the day with the rest in the city on the Trolley in the shopping area.
- Bonaire: Kayak & Snorkel - this felt like it needed another 30 minutes snorkeling in the water to make it feel like a quality experience with some time to take a break on land before going back in again, however, because there were no bathroom facilities at the beach, it likely needed to be 2 hrs to avoid too many other difficulties. It felt like you didn't see much of the island though because the kayak and snorkel all happened while still being within sight of the ship the entire time. I might choose something that snorkels on a different part of the island further from the ship for a more expanded experience of the island. We spent the rest of the day in town at the artist pop-up market and at the new museum. The town was actually the most enjoyable of all with a few small businesses and plenty of people willing to sell you an experience rather than a trinket, which was a nice change from other islands.
Would I Do It Again?
Overall, this was a great cruise and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the same itinerary. The ship had plenty to do- sometimes even feeling like too much to do- but you can always choose to sit back and relax instead of keeping up with it all.
Bonaire was one of our favorite islands. The tour was okay- we didn’t kayak very far from the ship for snorkeling, but you don’t have to, and I think my mom was glad it was a short kayak. We enjoyed spending more time after our tour on shore going into town where a market was happening with local food vendors.View All 171 Snorkeling Reviews
A shopping heavy port with a few cultural gems hidden along the way. Beautiful painted home scenery.
Loved getting outside of the pristine Royal Caribbean resort and into the land a little to learn about the traditional use of the Lime Kiln, see a performance of VooDoo practice, learn about different indigineous herb uses, and see Norm’s Place- a more local version of a resort.View All 57 Haiti Cultural tour Reviews