This was our first Royal Caribbean cruise and we were attracted by both the opportunity to be on one of the largest ships at sea and by the . Before booking and then for almost every day before sailing we researched the ship, looked at other reviews and spoke with the travel agent about what to expect.
We were concerned about a number of reviews that referenced a tired ship and about Royal Caribbean's reported practice of "nickel and diming" guests to extort as much additional money as possible. I absolutely have to address these issues because they are absolutely not our experience.
The ship is overwhelmingly big but it is in beautiful order. Yes there is some upgrade necessary. If you are the type of guest who will obsess about handrails that have been bleached by the sun and are in need of sanding and re-varnishing then look elsewhere because your holiday may be ruined! Otherwise, have no fears - it's spotlessly clean, the staff are friendly and attentive and there is much to do. Not once were we approached about upgrades or trips, nor were we pushed for additional tipping or anything else.
Embarkation is about a good as you will ever get - we were onboard enjoying our first drink within 15 minutes of reaching the ship and the staff were simply brilliant at their jobs.
Reviews have also mentioned that Royal Caribbean have selected the itinerary for our cruise based on ability to make more money for transfers. We are talking about one of the largest ships at seas - it is naturally limited by the availability of ports to handle its size. We started at Barcelona, went to Palma, Marseilles, La Spezia, Civitavecchia and Naples. We paid for a bus transfer at Marseilles and at Palma and the charges were reasonable based on the journey and the fact that the service ran every 20-30 minutes throughout the entire day. No transfers are necessary at La Spezia (other than a short, free bus ride through the port) or Naples (the ship practically docks in the main street!
Reviews we have seen have also criticised the Windjammer Restaurant (the main buffet restaurant) for quality of food and limited space. The quality and range of food in our experience was as good as that in the main dining room. We also, always, found somewhere to dine. Speaking with other guests it was clear they had similar thoughts and experiences. Perhaps the quality of the Windjammer explores its popularity? We thoroughly recommend that you try it - steaks, fish, seafood, curries, paella, cold cuts, carved meats, soup, burgers, fruit, stir fry, you name it, it is available and delicious. We tried to vary our venue for breakfast between Windjammer and the Solarium (deck 15) where exactly the same fare is available but with access restricted to over-18's. The Solarium is beautiful and often quiet so again no problems with the lengthy queues some reviewers have reported.
Entertainment was great - we attended the Comedy show (an absolute must) and the diving show (very impressive). Less entertaining was the daily regime around the pool areas with a band playing a range (always the same) of reggae tunes. Tuneful this wasn't - the singers were woeful at the harmonies and the drummer was clearly building a shed. Contrast this with one day where we were treated to a genuine talent in the form of a violinist who was brilliant and who established an immediate rapport with the crowd, covering a range of tracks. She also played at night, sometimes solo and sometimes with a brilliant guitarist in Central Park - worth an hour of anyone's trip just to experience how good they both are.
I have already mentioned the food - Windjammer excellent, main dining room equally so except for one occasion when my fish dish was clearly overcooked. We also dined in Sabor, one of the pay options - lovely food but enough to feed a small army! Sorrento's is excellent if you want a slice or two of pizza - it's on the Promenade deck (deck 5).
Alcohol was a bit hit or miss - beers, wines, liqueurs and some cocktails were very good or excellent, but too many drinks were spoiled by excessive ice and flat mixers and Royal Caribbean really needs to step up to the mark on this - a glass full of ice and flat mixer spoils an otherwise excellent range of spirits.
I appreciate that coffee can be a personal choice (and we are not into Starbucks at all), but this was disappointing. The cast majority of places simply offered coffee from a pot and it was dishwater. The exception was the Park Café on deck 5 - proper speciality coffee served with a range of sandwiches (try the turkey or the roast beef) and pastries - excellent. Again a few more places offering the same on a ship this size would be better.
We did not take any of the Royal Caribbean excursions - we have previously visited Rome, Capri (Naples) and options for Palma and Marseilles are easily self-sourced. Marseilles is a must visit - the old port is spectacular. La Spezia was a real surprise - great shopping and dining and after a morning spent on these activities we took a private boat ride (23 Euro per person) to Portovenere followed by a boat ride of one hour around three neighbouring islands - fantastic and Portovenere has to be seen to be believed. Palma is excellent and we spent a great half-day wandering round the shops.
We also took a hop on hop off bus ride round Naples - two routes for 23 Euro per person and lasting around 3 hours in total - a really great opportunity to see all of the city.
Our cabin was an inside cabin on floor 9 - perfectly good, clean and bet and linen excellent.
I enjoy running and can thoroughly recommend the Spa and Fitness area - I have seen reviews saying that it is disappointing that there are only portholes for viewing purposes - they are big portholes and if you want a view perhaps you are not putting enough effort into your exercise!
All in all this was a fantastic holiday and we would go back tomorrow. We hope others have a similar experience, and if you are scheduled for a stay on this, in our experience you will enjoy every minute - do not believe everything you have read!
Perfectly good - clean, excellent bedding and shower and very quiet.
We just used the shuttle bus to access the city. Grat to see it again, particularly around the Cathedral area - our first visit back to Palma since our honeymoon 32 years ago and well worth the wait - beautiful city
Again we only used the shuttle bus to do our own thing. The old port is an absolute must - this is a seriouisly vibrant city and we would recommend that you spend a day getting to know it
We did our own thing in La Spezia centre before taking the boat trip to Portovenere and the 3 islands trip - Limoncellos in the shade in Portovenere is to be thoroughly recommended!
Again we did our own thing with the bus ride - you must see Posillippo - breathtaking views over the bay of Naples and Vesuvius. The Centro Storico is literally two streets beyond the castle that is the first thing you see as you leave the ship - shopping is fantastic - more Limoncellos and some excellent (and cheap) pizza