This is our fifth cruise, first on Royal. We've been on Pullmantur (two European), Carnival and Norwegian (both Caribbean) previously. We are two adults - no children.
Embarkation was super smooth - out of the taxi and on the ship in probably 20 minutes.
Muster was painless - we've been on ships that make you stand out on the deck, packed in like sardines for far too long. Muster this time was seated in the dining room while someone went over the safety protocols. I did see some people on deck, but they did not seem uncomfortable.
The cruise overall as very good - service from everyone on board was excellent - with one exception, which I'll get to. We got the specialty dining and the beverage package - both excellent. Best bar selection of any ship I've been on. The specialty dining was also very good.
Dining - We did two nights at Giovanni's Table and one at Chops and one night at the Chefs Table (not in the dining package which was different than what we heard). Both Giovanni's and Chops were very good - excellent selection and well prepared. We did Giovanni's twice because of the service - Leslie was great! We had a very good time at the Chef's Table (two other couples, one couple no showed). Service was great and wine parings were very good, but I probably would not elect to go again - the food was not great if I'm honest. If I'm paying a couple hundred dollars for a meal I do have a much higher expectation. And this leads to the one exception in service. Since we were at the specialty restaurants, we did miss consecutive nights in main dining. Without letting us know, they gave our table to a different party - so we went down and had a seat, ordered drinks and meals and then were rather rudely asked to move tables. I understand the move but it was handled very poorly and the "manager" was rude to the server (who was excellent) when he offered a different empty table. I let the manager know that the way it was handled was in appropriate and could have been the rudest experience in any restaurant I've been in. They offered a bottle of champagne, which was declined. For the food in the main cabin - breakfast was okay, we do not eat the usual waffles and pancakes - they looked very good but we did not try them. Eggs were probably borderline in the danger zone in terms of temperature breakfast in the Windjammer buffet was better (and I think that's the first time I have EVER said a buffet was better than table service). We did the pizza place a couple of times because they had a gluten free option - the first was very good, they got less 'done' at each visit. In their defense - they are almost always very busy, a line every day. I will say they do move folks in the pizza place and main dining very quickly - but there was a line 90% of the time. They did have really good gluten free options in most places including pasta if you requested. Surprising and very grateful!
Cabin - we were in cabin 8642 - spacious balcony. And it was spacious. This was our first balcony room and it was probably twice as big and any other ocean view room we've been in. David, the room steward, was attentive and provided great service. I had read previous reviews that commented on the bed being hard - and they were right, but it was not horrible.
Although we did not travel with kids, there did seem to be a good array of activities planned for them. There must have been some kind of contamination in one of the kids pools because they had to rope and net it off about midway through the cruise. We saw someone cleaning on the last day dressed in bio-hazard gear.
We missed all the shows so I cannot comment on that, but we did sit and watch karaoke a couple of nights - always entertaining. We also watched the poolside entertainment, did what it was supposed to do - keep you entertained.
They had the climbing wall, flow rider, basketball and mini golf to help keep you up and active as well. The gym on this boat is better than most we have on land! Huge, and they had a good array of classes (in addition to the deck side classes - Latin dance, yoga, etc).
First stop in St. Thomas, we got off the boat and went shopping – there is a TON of jewelry stores there – and had lunch (Greengos – tacos were very good, they gave you three, I could barely finish two – and a couple of margaritas…) There were some guys offering private tours of the island, so we hopped on one – they spent a couple of hours driving us around showing some of the history and sights before dropping us back at the ship. The charge was $25 per person – and we thought well worth it.
In Curacao, we got a taxi to take us to Jan Thiel (I think that’s how you spell it) Beach (drivers recommendation for a ‘very nice’ beach). The driver was very nice told us a little of the history of the island. The beach was not at all what I expected. I was thinking white sand, rolling waves. This is like a sea wall thing – you walk down the stairs into the water. The people were very nice and very quiet and subdued. If you want to lay in a chair and just chill, you’d probably enjoy this. We didn’t and called for a taxi back to the boat earlier than expected. The other thing here is that the taxi is very expensive. And the ‘nice’ beaches are a distance – maybe 30 minutes from the dock to the beach at $40 one way. If we come back to this island, I’ll take an official excursion.
We only got one Royal excursion - on Aruba, the air-conditioned tour of the best of Aruba. Bird, the driver was very good, told us about the history and made a few stops from the highest point on the mountain back down Eagle Beach. Which is exactly what I thought a beach should be – white sand, rolling waves, people enjoying themselves . The only downside to the beach is the jet skis and boats - they come right up to the shore in the middle of a crowd of swimmers. Make you wonder how many accidents there are. The jet ski's are rentals, as are the boats. The boats are driven by the folks operating them so more safe - the jet ski's are rentals so I'm betting some of them need more than a couple of feet to safely navigate around people and kids.
In St. Maarten, we took the water taxi over to the boardwalk area – for shopping, beach and lunch. They are still in serious recovery mode here. I think I saw more police here than on the other islands combined (minus San Juan). I would probably have spent more time here if there weren’t people constantly asking you to come in the store or buy something – at the same time I understand these guys in need so we did buy a couple of trinket and a painting from one of the local artists. We had drinks at Burger Madness. The owner of the place had disagreement with another party of customer, and it got a bit uncomfortable. I think the disagreement had more to do with misunderstanding/communication between the them. But you do not have to get loud and obnoxious – everyone there is either at work or on vacation. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
San Juan, we got off the boat – not painless, but not as bad as some other experiences. The taxi stand was a free for all. Someone said they saw a fistfight earlier between drivers and a passenger (glad I missed that). Issue here was they had one taxi stand for a couple thousand passengers. Not a good scene. But we did manage to get a taxi relatively quickly (just go up to one of the folks with the pad of paper and tell them where you’re going – NICELY – and they will partner you up with others going in the same direction. If you’re not nice, do not expect to get a taxi soon.
We stayed a night in San Juan and walked around the forts and old town – very nice. I’d definitely go back – this was probably my favorite stop. I loved the people, the food, the music!
Oh – last thing – the Casino – we really enjoy table games - poker varieties and roulette. It is a great way to meet people and be social. No different on this ship. Except no one was winning. The dealers were not the most jovial sorts either – it’s a cruise ship – we want to see everyone having a good time (and we understand that not everyone wins).
I am not sure I'd go back on a ship this big - definitely no bigger, the crowds get a bit much to manage.