So this was our nineteenth cruise, but only the second with Royal Caribbean. We joined nine friends, five of whom were keen RC cruisers, so me and my wife tagged along.
It was a B2B cruise from Ft Lauderdale to Puerto Rico, St Maarten and Labadee the first week, then Labadee, Jamaica and Cozumel the second. Labadee was the only place I had not visited before and was pleasantly surprised.
Our pre cruise stay was two nights in Miami’s Loews Beach hotel which was well worth the high nightly cost. The buffet breakfast at $41, and a $32 daily resort fee were a con though.
Fully recovered from jet lag we got a mini bus to Ft Lauderdale to board the beast! I’ve seen the Oasis class ships from afar but up close it is just huge and unattractive, particularly after cruising on Celebrity’s Edge last December. Boarding was probably the fastest I’ve ever had, but once inside I was so underwhelmed. The décor just looked dated and the Royal Promenade brought back memories of why I didn’t particularly enjoy our IOTS cruise 10 years ago.
As the cabins would not be ready until 2 pm we did a quick tour of the various venues before stopping for our first drink of many! We all had the Deluxe drinks package and we certainly had our money’s worth many times over.
We all had cabins on deck 8 forward which turned out to be a brilliant location. No stairs or lifts required to get a drink or something to eat as Central Park was on the same level. The Café was our morning meeting point for breakfast and the Trellis Bar for a late afternoon drink or three before getting changed for the evening dinner. Kareme the Trellis bartender was an absolute star and really looked after us. He got to know our names and favourite drinks. He would even ensure there were some cold Peroni beers put by for me as not all the bars stocked them.
We were on second sitting in the main dining room and ate there every night except when we went to Chops Grill and 150 Central Park. The food in the MDR was good and variety sufficient as the menu was repeated the second week. Our table waiters Riko and Iputu were a great pair. So much so we insisted they follow us to the new table we had the second week on the next floor up.
Service in the MDR was pretty quick and once the wine waiter got the measure of us our wine glasses rarely fell empty before a refill appeared. What disappointed me though in the MDR was the lack of respect by fellow diners to attempt to adhere to the suggested dress code. Shorts were seen all too often particularly on formal nights and on one casual night I saw a guy in shorts, vest and baseball cap! We always dressed formally and I don’t care much what others choose to wear but did question the Maitre’d why this guy was not politely asked to change or suggest the Windjammer. His reply was that Head Office said it was no longer something to be enforced!
We ate at Chops Grill on our first week, but was hugely disappointed. At $60 per head I was expecting an upscale meal with service to match, similar to our speciality meals aboard Princess and Celebrity. The restaurant ambiance/décor was nothing special and whilst my beef steak was very good the menu choices were poor. The desserts were just a repeat of those offered in the MDR. Service was particular poor as the waiter failed to provide enough fries for the eleven of us. When he eventually did, I had completely finished my meal and a pathetic apology was not well received.
Our visit to 150 Central Park the second week was considerably better in all respects and more on the level I was used to on previous cruises.
Generally, the food on Allure in all restaurants etc was good and mostly hot, but the variety was somewhat limited compared with Princess and Celebrity. I probably ate more burgers and pizza on this cruise than any other. I missed particularly the freshly cooked pasta choices offered by Celebrity in their Ocean View café. Desserts were also a major disappointment. No imaginative grand cakes to cut into. Just slices of coloured cake, potted creamy desserts and boring cheesecakes.
Perhaps where Royal Caribbean scores better is with the onboard entertainment. The Cruise Director and his activities team really try their best and I can understand why RC is ideal for families. After a 10 year absence I managed to master standing up on a flow rider board for more than a second before being wiped out. Not wishing to be out done, the other guys swore they would have a go in the second week but strangely there never seemed to be the right time for them to try!
We saw three shows in the Amber theatre but the stand out one was Mamma Mia. Never on a cruise ship before was a show so long that there was a 15 minute break half way through. The whole performance was excellent and had most people dancing on their feet at the end.
Sadly, that was the only dancing we did on this cruise. We enjoy Ballroom/Latin dancing so Bolero’s was our “go to” venue. The music however just didn’t suit our dancing style so we watched mostly instead. There’s a dance floor in Dazzles too but it just wasn’t big enough once a few people got on it. There was some dancing on the Royal Promenade but it wasn’t for us with people walking back and forth. The night club was always lively with a nice vibe and was fine for bopping about but nothing else.
Having been to all the ports before except Labadee we opted out of the excursions others in our group went on. We did however all go to Maho beach on St Maarten to see the aircraft land and take off. The beach itself was really good and the bar on the left hand side provided great service and food. A note to the wise. The toilet was free here but on the other side where there are many bars you had to pay to use the restrooms. Watching an Air France A340 land over us was quite spectacular and the jet blast from a Boeing 737 taking off was pretty intense with many people running back into the sea to get away from it.
We went to Labadee twice. The first week most of us guys did the zip line ride laying flat out (Dragon’s fire I think it was called as opposed to Dragon’s breath where 4 go down at once in the seated position). Then we all went on the jet skis. The safety briefing went on for ever so I thought the ride would be tame. When asked who wanted to go fast I was first up and therefore became the leader’s first follower. I went flat out following him but could not get above 39 mph. Every time I got close he would pull away so I asked if he had more power than me. He gave a knowing smile! Those slower were not left behind as there was a follower ensuring no one got lost or disorientated out at sea. We all had a brilliant time and even got some air time when we hit the rolling sea swells. The second week were all booked to go on the Amega Island escape excursion but it was cancelled due to excessive sea swells. There were no jet ski rides either so we were all really pleased we had done them the week before. Instead we just laid out in one of the beach coves which was OK but not what we had planned. Snorkelling in the cove was disappointing too. I saw just two fish in a half hour swim as the visibility was so poor.
Cozumel however was amazing for snorkelling. The crystal clear sea meant you could see underwater the furthest I can ever remember. The variety of fish was amazing too. At one point I felt like I was in a fish tank when I became surrounded as people at a nearby restaurant threw food in for the fish.
Our last sea day was much like the other five. Empty sunbeds were easy to find on the upper sun deck 16 for all eleven of us together. The pool deck below however was very crowded and the three main pools packed out. Not a pleasant sight and therefore uninviting. Late lunches in either the Windjammer or Central Park meant we could easily find a table without too much searching. Free seats were harder to find however at night in the Champagne and Schooner bars for pre dinner drinks. The Royal Promenade at night may be buzzing and particularly lively when the CD and his activities team are working the crowd but it was all lost on me. I much prefer ships with an atrium at their heart, not a shopping mall walk way.
Nothing about this ship would allure me away from Celebrity or Princess. First time cruisers like the four in our party loved it and can understand certain attractions but the little luxuries found on the premium cruise lines were missing for me. It was a relatively inexpensive cruise and therefore good value for what we paid. I will however be happy to pay much more for higher standards and an overall greater onboard experience. I certainly won’t miss or forget the last night in the MDR with the waiters dancing and passengers waving their smartphones with torches on to the song “Leaving on a jet plane”!