We chose this Thanksgiving cruise because it was a renovated ship and had a port every day. There was a good mix of traditional beach & shopping ports (St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Barbados) and newer exotic ports (Grenada, Dominica). We were in port from 8:00-5:00 every day so we were able to sleep in on some days, get a full day in port on other days, and always make it back to the ship to sit down for a family dinner. I really like the predictability of the 8-5 port schedule. It's very easy to keep it straight in your head.
We really wanted beaches and relaxation so we did not book any excursions. There were lots of teens & kids on the boat so our daughters made friends and were excited to meet up with them every evening when we returned from port. There was a rock climbing wall, golf course and kids' pool, but the ship was still a manageable size. We were not overwhelmed by people or lost trying to find each amenity. Disembarkation was not a total zoo like it can be with the mega-ships. This ship has an indoor cinema and outdoor movies by the pool, which we love, but they repeated several movies over the course of the week. No movies on the "network" TV in the room (we really like that about Norwegian & Princess). All-in-all, the amenities were pretty good and the cabin renovation was nice. One thing I HATE about the renovations is the lack of outlets in the cabin! We always bring an extension cord. I like to unplug (we don't buy internet on the cruise) but we still need to charge cameras, iPhones, Kindles, etc.
Royal Caribbean does the best with service, embarkation, disembarkation and all the little details. The dining room food was a bit boring with the same menu almost every night, but I think they do that to push you toward the specialty paid restaurants. The buffet food was pretty good, but there were alot of "repeats" there too including Indian food all the time. I love Indian food but was a bit baffled to keep seeing it for lunch every day. Many of the buffet & dining room desserts were bland, but others were excellent. The buffet was not open all the time. For example, when you get back from port at 5:00 PM, it's not open. It did not re-open until 6:30 on port days. Also, there was not a continuously open burger/pizza place for the kids like most other cruises have near the pool. We had no issues with food availability, but when you have kids you expect to find that type of convenience food regularly available if they did not eat in port. We did LOVE that breakfast room service is still free on Royal Caribbean if you just do the continental breakfast. I love to relax in bed with my coffee and ease into my day. It's also nice to give the kids milk, fruit or a pastry while they watch cartoons in their pajamas. If you want hot breakfast (eggs, etc.) for room service, there is a charge. On Thanksgiving night, they did a HUGE dessert showcase in the buffet with chocolate covered strawberries and a chocolate fountain. We had our actual Thanksgiving dinner in the main dining room and it was underwhelming. We ended up going to the buffet afterwards.
The gym was pretty good with sturdy treadmills and plenty of machines & free weights. There were a few free fitness classes and a few paid ones. Not as many classes as on other ships, but there was always 2-3 classes every morning-- usually spinning, abs and yoga. The fitness classes were in an open area in the middle of the fitness floor which was annoying because you had to hear the spinning instructor SCREAMING across the entire gym while you tried to listen to music on your treadmill. One downside of the gym was no TVs on each treadmill/elliptical. Not a huge issue, but a nice feature on other cruises. Given that this was an older ship, the gym was still pretty large. It was much larger than I expected.
We did not do any posed family photos on this cruise, but it did look like they offered a variety of different backdrops.
Nice cabin with a decent amount of storage, fridge and small window. I had never been on Deck 2 before and I was convinced that it was the dungeon. But I was pleasantly surprised. We had a decent sized cabin with a window and it was on the same level as disembarkation so we did not have to wait for the elevator to go on/off shore. That was a nice convenience because this ship was in port every day (only one day at sea).
We stayed in the Condado area for 2 days before the cruise. It's really close to the cruise port and has great beaches.
We've done Payne's Bay and other beaches close to the cruise port. Great port.
This is a "developing" port so there's not alot of shopping or high-end shopping like St. Thomas or St. Maarten. We took the water taxi to St. Arse Beach and had a great day on the beach.
Our exchange student did the river rafting and had a great time.
We've been to St. Maarten several times before. We took a cab to Orient Beach. There is a nude side and a full-clothed side. We did the fully clothed side with our kids. There are lots of services, restaurants, amenities & a small grocery store nearby. Great beach.
We did some shopping in town during the AM and then took an open-air cab to Sapphire Beach. The view on the drive through the island is AMAZING. I love St. Thomas. It's definitely one of my favorite ports.