We choose this cruise for our January girls cruise based on itinerary and price. Mainly because the Empress was scheduled to go to Virgin Gorda (notice the word "scheduled").
Upon arrival at the pier at check in we were informed that due to high winds and rough seas we would not be going to Virgin Gorda but to St. Croix instead. In addition, they changed our day in St. Thomas from Thursday to Wednesday which complicated the fact that I had a rental car booked for St. Thomas. After several attempts to reach the rental car company I was successful in changing the booking by one day before we ever left Miami.
The ship is very small but very well kept, the furniture and rugs were in good condition, the bedding was also good. After boarding with very low expectations we all came to love the Empress over the period of our 8 night cruise. The amount of public space was wonderful and we loved the little lobbies with furniture outside the aft elevators. Since the rooms are quite small we spent extra time in our personal lounge but by mid trip others were taking advantage of this great space.
The food and service in both the windjammer and dinning room were excellent - way better than we experienced on the Explorer just a few months ago. Even with such a tiny space the windjammer offered a great selection of food. The omelet station was wonderful and you never waited more than a few minutes for a great omelet - once again very unlike our experience on the Explorer where a wait of 15 min was short to get your omelet.
We had rough seas and high winds the first few days so the deck was pretty empty and many people were sick. It didn't bother me, I guess I was one of the lucky ones.
We had one sea day then we visited Labadee, a personal favorite of mine. We spent the day at Columbus Cove and had a great time. It was a bit crowded since the Independence was also there that day.
When we left Labadee heading towards San Juan once again the seas and winds started up - according to the captain we were experiencing 5m waves (or about 18 feet) not choppy but very large swells coming at us at an angle. The captain slowed us down to 14 knots to try to ride it out a little smoother but the ship was really moving around. We didn't see very many people out and about. Due to the slower speed we didn't arrive in San Juan until 6 pm rather than 3 pm. The one thing we wanted to do was the Forts and they were closed before we could get off. There were five ships in San Juan and the street right along the piers was packed.
We sailed overnight (much calmer) to St. Thomas - we docked at Crown Bay right next to our biggest sister - Symphony of the Seas. It was kind of neat to see the smallest ship in the fleet next to the biggest. We explored the island with our rental car and ended up at Brewer's Bay because everywhere else was packed (once again five ships in port!!). If we had arrived the next day as originally scheduled we would have had only 1 other ship in port with us.
We spent the next day at St. Croix, the ship docked in Fredrickstad. With such little notice we didn't really plan on anything that day just took the shuttle to Rainbow Beach, it was crowded but we had a great time. We all wished we had more time to spend and wished we had rented a car there so we could have explored a little more.
The two sea days back were great. Still a little choppy (2m) but not bad at all.
The cruise director Steve was great and all the staff on this littlest of RCI ships is excellent. Best service I've experienced on Royal for awhile. It is like the staff is all family and they work hard and work together really well.
The only disappointment (beside missing Virgin Gorda - which I understand was necessary due to weather conditons) was the lack of Diamond Lounge on the ship. I knew this before choosing this ship but if this ship continues to be part of the fleet - Royal Caribbean needs to add or designate a space for the Diamond Lounge.
Was skeptical at first but would sail on her again anytime.
Inside cabin on the 9th deck aft. The cabin was tiny but we knew that going in. Not much storage but we made do. 3 drawers under the TV, 3 drawers in the desk. Nice storage space in the bathroom. Make sure your luggage will fit under the bed because if you put it in the closet you won't have much space to hang your clothes.