I went on this cruise with my husband, and 16 year old daughter.
You would think a Texan port would be designed with a priority towards keeping people relatively cool and out of the sun.
I am a Texan, so obviously, I am used to being hot and uncomfortable outdoors for 8-9 months out of the year. I'm not a whiner. But geez. The port was awful. If I weren't from Texas, I'd have been 100x more disappointed and annoyed.
Outside there were lines for luggage drop off requiring people to stand in the sun, sweltering. Inside was barely air conditioned -- which is understandable given the open design -- but couldn't they have huge ceiling fans cranking at all times?
My recommendation: Priority boarding is your friend. If possible -- consider a Junior Suite if only to get the priority boarding. If that's not an option -- research and arrive at the best time for the shortest lines. Otherwise, be prepared to stand for hours, sweating and hating life.
On the plus side -- the terminal staff was friendly and helpful.
Also -- regarding parking -- I didn't realize until the last minute that the standard port authority parking lots that the cruise lines refer you to, are not optimal. First all all, you have to drop your luggage off at the terminal, then drive to the designated parking lot, then wait for a shuttle to take you back to the terminal. The shuttle for these lots will not accept your luggage. And the traffic to get to those port authority lots is awful. Long lines to drop off luggage, etc. Line to get to lot. Wait in line for shuttle. Confusion is common. Also, the lots offer no covered parking.
So we reserve a covered space in another lot in advance, online.
There are at least three that offer covered, that are close to the terminal. The cost is about the same. You can get a covered space, even inside a parking garage. And the lots have free shuttle service that will take you AND your luggage. When you drive to Galveston, you can bypass the heavily congested roads to the port authority parking lots and avoid spending an hour in traffic just to park.
We used LIghthouse covered parking. Great service. We were picked up in the lot, at our truck. And upon return to Galveston, the shuttle was waiting for us right where they said they'd be. No waiting. The shuttle drivers were friendly and helped us with our luggage.
Cabin 6694 in the aft section was awesome. No complaints really, other than the sofa bed.
But regarding the cabin -- this is not specific to the cabin itself but the accommodations in general --- my biggest issue was dirty, old, stained linens.
The sheets were clean – no stains. Not exactly high quality – but who expects high thread count on a cruise?
But quality aside -- the mattress pads and blanket were…well, shockingly stained and old. They were torn in places. And were covered in random stains of all sizes.
Thinking we had bad luck, and just needed a new set of linens – I waited for them to be changed. I didn't complain -- just kind of removed the linens in the morning. (I am not one to complain unless absolutely necessary. I just think, in the long run, to get better service, it's better to endure some things than be labeled "difficult") And guess what? New linens. More brown stains, different sizes, different locations.
Clearly, they need to invest in oxyclean, bleach, or new linens. The stains were dark, and appeared to be either blood or vomit – both organic so if laundered promptly – I think they could be removed.
So, bottom line -- if you are one to get grossed out guessing the sources of old, dark, stains on bedding – then be warned and spare yourself that OMG moment. Do what I did – try not to pull the sheets back too far to reveal the underside of the comforter, or heaven forbid accidentally pull an entire corner off to reveal dark brown stains on a dingy mattress pad. Just get your Lysol out, and remain blissfully ignorant. Or bring your own linens. Ignorance is easier though.
We are not food snobs. Do we like fine dining? Do we appreciate great presentation? Absolutely. But we are reasonable, and didn’t expect stellar dining experiences day after day.
And on the whole, we liked the food. It met expectations.
Main Dining Room:
But as far as the MDR (main dining room) – well, that was a complete disappointment.
First off, I don’t mind the dress code. In fact, I wear mostly casual skirts and dresses in the summer anyway. My husband doesn’t have a problem with a dress code either.
But, if I do bother to wear something other than shorts, casual skirts, sandals, and tank tops on vacation just to eat --- I expect the food to reward the effort. And the MDR fell far short.
Why? Great example is Day 2: We went to the Windjammer buffet for lunch. I had roast beef with mashed potatoes. Very tender, not too fatty. Impressive. Later on, we went to Café Promenade and had a coffee and a lemon tart served on the standard plastic little plate. All great.
That evening, for the MDR, I break out the spanx (ugh!), a nice dress, sandals with a heel (I know, I know, how lame that this was a big deal to me, but hey, it’s a vacation) – my husband donned dress pants, business shirt, jacket, tie -- teenager reluctantly wore something other than flip flops and shorts – and we went to the MDR.
And guess what? I was served the same roast beef, the same mashed potatoes as I had eaten earlier at the lowly buffet – albeit with a less fancy presentation. The lunch version of this meal was fresher though. And my husband has the same variation of food he had eaten at lunch as well. The kicker? The lemon meringue pie was the same lemon tart from the Promenade served on a red plastic plate, but with a dollop of “meringue” and a wedge of chocolate added for show. My daughter had the cheesecake, which – you guessed it – was available elsewhere, all day long – they didn’t even try to “jazz it up” or make it look different.
There are some unique offerings – like lobster on “lobster night”, shrimp cocktail (which was, literally, three sad little shrimp in a fancy glass filled with wilted shredded lettuce) but on the whole, in my opinion, the MDR isn’t worth the effort.
Add to it, our waiter was kind of odd. He gave us a long speech (and I mean LONG) about the dangers that lurk in Cozumel, identity theft, muggings, etc. Yes, all true. But we are educated travelers, well informed of the risks. And it was just a weird thing coming from cruise staff -- like he wanted people to stay on the ship rather than explore the ports via RCI excursions. He left my teenager filled with anxiety and talking about staying onboard .Not a discussion I wanted to have at dinner.
We did get some wonderful photographs out of the MDR experience. And our table was next to a lovely window. So, I would recommend it for that alone .
But one can have a nice family dinner, with nearly the same or more options, in the Windjammer without all the faux formality and weirdness. The food there was always fresh – lots of variety, great salad bar, wonderful French toast, fresh fruit, roasted chicken, burgers, fun dessert station (fresh beignets with whipped cream and fruit). The staff was friendly and helpful. Was it a 5 star dining experience? No. But it was decent and consistent.
We also ate in the Mexican restaurant, Sabor. Wonderful food and great service.
On the final night, we dined at the Italian place. The service was wonderful. Great risotto and gnocchi. But my chicken was dry and rather luke warm. The bread was stale. My daughter had shrimp ravioli – and she loved it. My husband had some kind of fish with shrimp on top --- and he enjoyed it as well. Overall, good – but nothing to get too excited about.
The snacks and Cafe Promenade were decent. Nothing to rave about -- but solid little sandwiches and pastries (which you will see over and over again in the MDR and also, Windjammer). We would have a cup of fresh coffee and a snack in the late afternoon.
We also ate at Johnny Rockets. We loved it. The staff was friendly and service was quick. The burgers were great with standard fries and onion rings. I got "cheese fries" which were the standard velveeta covered fries. Nothing spectacular here -- burgers are kind of hard to screw up -- but none the less good quality and a great value. My husband got a shake and it was great.
RCI could improve it's entertainment options on board. Or at the very least, they could improve their communication about the entertainment.
The Calypso-esque group that plays by the pool was awesome. The lead singer has an amazing voice.
We saw one show -- a comedian. Honestly --- IMO it was awful. Just awful. And I wanted to like it.
I would have loved to see the ice show, but we missed the notice that you had to get tickets on Sunday, the day of embarkation. I visited guest services to inquire and was told that it was unlikely we'd get seats without said tickets so we gave up.
The gym was nice. Lots of equipment, space to stretch or work with fitness balls. The locker room had steam and sauna, with showers. (Ok, full disclosure -- on day two, I was going to shower, walked up to one and noted the clear presence of vomit all over the floor. I informed the staff -- and they were nice enough. The entire locker room was closed immediately, the hot tub as well. But -- OMG. Wear flip flops.) And in the center of the gym area was a huge hot tub that was quiet and usually empty.
We got a couples treatment package called "Five steps to Heaven." We booked it while onboard after seeing a flyer with a "special" offering 5 different services, foot massage, back exfoliation, deep tissue massage, facial and scalp massage for $159 per person.
It was great -- not perfect but overall fun and relaxing. I was not in "heaven" however. Mainly due to high pressure sales pitches. It is hard to go from the zen of a massage, to a hard core product push. Kind of ruins the entire thing for many I'm sure.
So, be prepared for the massive product push at the end. And the people act kind of miffed if you decline. This is not just something that happens with the masseuses -- my daughter had a mani/pedi and we got the same hard core sales pitch for random products. Needless to say -- it's kind of annoying to have to say repeatedly "no thank you I'm not interested in the $85 bottle of massage oil. No thank you but $150 for capsules filled with moisturizing oil is not in my budget." They don't take "no thank you" for an answer.
FTR -- my "favorite" product push was the $48 stiff bristle brush that you use to brush your skin to rid yourself of cellulite and toxins. This was the thing they used to "exfoliate" my back (Which, truly, is not an area I need to exfoliate. And when they, without warning, scraped those stiff bristles over my sunburned skin, back and forth, over and over -- holy cow. NOT pleasant).
Aside from my obvious skepticism as to the product's utility in these regards -- it was literally a $3 scrub brush you could buy at Walmart. The profit margin alone is appalling to me.
Some of the RCI staff was great. Some were beyond unprofessional.
For the most part, the dining/restaurant staff were pleasant and helpful. There were exceptions -- such as the surly man serving at Promenade Cafe. He seemed unhappy every single day.
The photo gallery -- the worst. Honestly, it was so bad customer service-wise, it was a bit shocking. Case in point -- I ordered prints and a flash drive. The computer says pick it up tomorrow by 10:30 a.m. So I arrive at 10:45 a.m. the next day, only to be told by a disrespectful young man that "nobody told you 10:30. That's not possible." Uh, ok. why would I lie? Seriously? Then I was told, come back at 3:30.
Then at 3:30, I was told "10:30".
Then at 10:30 p.m. -- they don't have the prints, but they have the flash drive. So, come back in the morning and the entire package will be ready.
I come back the next morning (disembarkation day), and they have lost or misplaced the flash drive, and the prints are nowhere to be found. Deep, heavy sigh.
I stand around for 30 minutes b/c they tell me they can make a new flash drive. I stand there forever it seems, only to have them come out and say "the system is down" and they will email me a link to my photos. In a week. A week has come and gone -- no photos via email.
Keep in mind we paid over $200 and got nothing. So, I call RCI, who tells me they are not responsible for the photo "vendor" (I'm not even going to discuss the absurdity of that pitch both legally and logically when RCI received the money for said photos as documented on my invoice). They gave me a phone number to call the photo vendor, who is only open monday through friday 8-5.
Other service issues: After reviewing our account statement -- I noted several double charges. E.g., at the bar, we had one order of drinks for $37. But on the invoice, the charge was entered twice, plus two other identical charges. We bought two drinks for $37. But were charged 4 times totalling over $100. Same thing with the spa -- there was one legit $68 charge. It was entered twice, and then an additional mystery $38 charge was added to it.
These charges were readily refunded. Yes, mistakes happen. But when the RCI customer service rep said "we will talk to these employees. this is not supposed to happen" I kind of got the impression that it was a regular occurrence. If so, not cool. So check that invoice! :)
I booked all our excursions privately, ( I found that even including cab fare -- it was more economical) so I can't speak toward any RCI sponsored activities.
In Cozumel, we took a cab to Mr. Sanchos. Awesome place.
In Cayman, we went to the Westin. And in Jamaica -- we went to the HIlton Rose Hall. Love both places.
I got up early and got a tender ticket for our arrival in Cayman. So, we were able to board the tender in group 9, almost right after the RCI excursions. We waited about 15 minutes, which to me, wasn't much of a delay . So, not getting on the tender first wasn't that big a deal for us.
Overall, we are pleased with our trip. But I admit -- the three days of sailing juxtaposed to the excitement of the ports was kind of a let down. If you are not a big drinker, and are active -- i.e., don't like to sit for hours in the pool, hot tub, on a chaise reading -- a more port heavy cruise may be a better choice.
Also -- even if you are not a big drinker, but think you and your spouse/partner might enjoy one or two drinks at the pool or wherever --- I think you should consider paying a bit more for a drink package. The cost of the drinks is ridiculous. E.g., I had a weak, barely alcoholic pina colada that cost about $10 at the pool. A mojito and appletini at the Schooner bar cost us --- kid you not -- $37.76 -- and that's NOT with an extra tip. Two drinks for nearly $40? And FTR -- the appletini was nasty. Insult meet injury. ;)
My point is: I saw lots of people walking around on disembarkation day with long faces holding their statements. I heard one woman moan "why didn't we get the beverage package!" Even for a occasional drinker -- one or two here or there for fun can add up. Read Less