I generally dislike larger ships, but we were planning a multi-generational cruise for the holidays, and the itinerary worked with our dates. We were a total of 11 people, ages 13-75, and booked 3 Grand Suites. Getting to the port in Miami was a nightmare, as 6200 people were leaving the port at the same time that many of us were arriving. We had a private van that we had booked with American Transportation, thank goodness, but they wouldn't let him drop us anywhere near the check-in. However, once we cleared the mess, we boarded the ship quickly and easily. The ship was recently out of dry dock, and she was clean and beautiful.
We were on board just after 11 am and headed up to Central Park for lunch at the Park Cafe. Disclaimer: I'm a foodie! I found that the dining across the board was very average. We bought a specialty dining package and ate at 150 Central Park (by far the best meal we had), Chops (really average, same as I've found on every other RC ship), and Giovannis (the old folks loved this one, I just thought it was chain-restaurant quality food). Nine of us also did the hibachi dinner one night, fun but way overpriced and no different than you'd get at Benihana on land. We ate in our dining room just once and found the food there to be pretty much the same quality as the specialty restaurants, but the service was actually better. So next time I wouldn't bother spending the extra money on specialty dining. We had one dinner at the Solarium Bistro which was a buffet for appetizers and desserts but we ordered dinner from the menu. It was fine. We didn't think it was worth the $9.95/person charge at Johnny Rockets for a hamburger, so we didn't eat there. We watched the Orange Bowl in the sports bar but were annoyed that the snacks were an extra charge. I never once set foot in the Windjammer Cafe.
As suite guests we had access to the Coastal Kitchen and Suite lounge on deck 17, and we spent a lot of time there. For us it was a wonderful respite from the insanity of the rest of the ship. They offered sit-down breakfast every day, and the service in CK was much better than it was elsewhere on the ship. Buffet breakfast was also available there for those who wanted to eat on the run. Lunch and dinner were also available there, as was an all-day fancy coffee machine. Each evening they put hors d'oeuvres out at 5 pm. When it was sushi it was a very small quantity and usually gone within minutes. Wine and beer were available all day, though we had beverage packages so we were able to get upgraded wine and beer. The bar service in CK was slow and inefficient.
CK was also where the concierges worked. We didn't find them to be terribly helpful. We've dealt previously with the Disney concierge, and they were communicating with us well before sailing date. The Disney concierge also booked things for us but the RC did not. They gave advice and answered questions but didn't do any of the work of making reservations, booking things, or getting us into exclusive tours, etc.
Speaking of tours, RC charges an arm and a leg for any type of tour on the ship. In years past we were invited to do tours of the bridge, the kitchen, the theatre, etc. as suite guests, but these were incredibly expensive or not available so we opted out.
The pool decks were insanely crowded on sea days with not a chair to spare. There is a suite guest only deck, but even these filled up, and RC doesn't enforce the exclusivity of the area, so people jump the gates or let their friends in. We saw many people there who were sharing their friend's card to get in and out of the area. It was frustrating.
Wifi was included with our suites. They advertise their wifi as the best at sea, and I would say that's definitely true in my experience. This was obviously good, as we were keeping track of each other all over the ship. However, it did not allow me to turn off and unplug from my regular life, so I got calls from work and others intruding on my relaxing vacation. The Disney Cruise app allows communication via an intranet type system so you can keep up with people at sea without being available to others in the outside world, and I much prefer that system. The Royal Caribbean app was somewhat helpful but very often not accurate and also very quirky. We learned quickly to go get the old fashioned paper schedule each day. It did allow us to see our bill in live time at any given moment.
Once rooms were ready, our key cards waiting for us in the room. We also got RFID bracelets and were told that they would work just like the key card to open our door and work as our credit card on the ship. It's a nice idea, but in reality, it was a pain in the butt to have to take the bracelet off and give it to the waiter to take to the scanner in the back. They also didn't work on the island. The kids used them when they went to the pool, but the rest of us pretty much left them in the rooms. I think it's a concept they are still working out.
We had 3 grand suites: 6660, 8654, 8260. All were nice, though the family in 8654 had limited contact with their cabin steward and never got their bathrobes. I was personally in 8260 and liked the location and our lovely cabin steward. It was smaller than grand suites on other RC ships we've sailed, so when all the beds were out for the 5 of us it was hard to move around. Bathroom was nice, the shower had great water pressure. It's not at all friendly for anyone with mobility issues, as the tub is quite raised. We spent lots of time sipping wine on the balcony. When it was originally booked it was billed online as a "one bedroom suite" but it's not actually a suite at all. There is not a door but a curtain that separates the king bed from the rest of the room. So privacy is limited. The room was quiet and cool, and I slept well.
The Aqua80 show was the standout event of the week. It was probably the coolest show I've ever seen on a ship. Basically, it was a dozen dancers and a handful of divers, and they put on an amazing show to a great medley of 80s tunes. We saw it twice. I would definitely not miss this. Cats was the Broadway headliner and was actually very good. The other main stage show was called One Sky... and it was probably the WORST show I've ever seen on a ship. It was really, really bad. No plot, lame choreography, and generally just a big waste of time. People were leaving in droves. I would for sure skip that one. There were 2 comedians onboard, one was hilarious and the other just vulgar.
New Year's Eve was really fun, and there was a huge music party, countdown, and balloon drop at midnight. The entertainment in the promenade was always good, and the cruise director Michel, was fun. I didn't know about 70s night or I would definitely have brought some dress up clothing! There were some other theme nights, but we didn't partake of any of them.
The bar service pretty much everywhere on board was very average, which seems to be a general problem with all RC ships. I guess because most people have the drink package there is little incentive to do a good job. We hung out a lot in the English pub in the promenade, and they seemed to have the best beer list, though they had a bad guitar player in the evening with a way-too-loud amp that drove everyone out of the pub at night. It was sad to see all the empty seats when he was playing. Schooners was fun with the piano player, and we rode the Rising Tide elevator bar a few times, which was fun. The Robot Bar was fun to watch, but none of us actually liked any of the cocktails we got from it. I guess we needed to do more research on which drink to order.
The Boardwalk was consistently crowded so we didn't spend much time there. One person in our group got to zip line but the hours were inconsistent and they didn't move people quickly. A few had fun ice skating. My personal favorite pastime was listening to the classical guitarist in Central Park or the jazz band in the jazz club.
Ports of call:
Labadee, the private island. We spent most of our time on the private suite guest beach, and they drove us there in a golf cart. I thought there would be waiters taking drink orders at our chairs, but we had to walk to the bar each time. Floaties were available there without a charge (I think they were for rent elsewhere). Some of us went to the blow-up water slide/play area which was an upcharge (of course!) but they had fun. There were some local musicians at various points on the island, singing and dancing, some in costume. Unfortunately, we were told that we would not need money at all at Labadee because it was the cruise ship's private island and our Sea Pass would work. All of these musicians had tip baskets out, and I would have liked to tip them. Hopefully the cruise line is taking care of them!
Jamaica: some went zip lining, some went tubing. The tubing group's bus broke down and they were very late, so the ship had to be held for them. Thank goodness they booked it through the cruise line! The terminal in Jamaica is very clean and safe and there is some limited shopping.
Cozumel: We've been here a dozen times. Our group split up into 3 excursions. You are forced to walk through the shops to get back to the ship. Senor Frog's is right there and just as loud, cheesy, and overpriced as always.
Disembarking in Miami: we were able to be escorted off from the suite lounge so we didn't have to get into the insane elevator queue with our luggage. Once again, the port was a nightmare, and it was not well-organized as far as where pickups occur, etc. We had hired a private van to take us to FLL where some of us flew directly home and the rest got a nearby hotel for a Monday departure.
We all had fun, and I would probably sail on this ship again. Royal Caribbean does not do fine dining, exemplary service, or luxury well, even at the suite level, but they provide a solid experience. It worked well for our multigenerational group.
For a family of 5 it's very small, and it's a room with a curtain and NOT a one bedroom. Pullout couch does not become bunks. Nice bathroom, easy access to aft elevator and Coastal Kitchen/Suite Lounge.
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Floating/swimming area was small and there were people kayaking into the area over the ropes. No waiters taking drink orders from beach chairs. Good view of ship. BBQ was average.