First off, there were a lot of good things, but my wife and I both feel the Royal Caribbean PR Team deserves a standing ovation, for they "sold" this to be a lot better than what was actually experienced. Realize that what you ... Read More
First off, there were a lot of good things, but my wife and I both feel the Royal Caribbean PR Team deserves a standing ovation, for they "sold" this to be a lot better than what was actually experienced. Realize that what you see in brochures and on TV/online advertisements paint a picture that just doesn't live up. (Yes, most of what they show IS possible, but a lot of sacrifices - time and financial - will have to be made.)
I'm going to hit briefly on a lot of things... I hope you find the information to be helpful.
Months/Weeks prior to your trip:
Make sure to reserve shows and dining as soon as you are able on the RC Cruise Planner.
Royal IQ App: Useful, but not always reliable. Make sure to download this onto your phone/device before boarding.
Plan to arrive at the terminal at least 30 minutes prior to your boarding window... traffic is pretty bad at Cape Liberty due to the sheer volume of people involved in this process.
Once in the terminal, check-in and embarkation went quite smoothly, mainly because we did everything we could prior to arrival at the terminal. Check as much luggage as you can so you can move around the ship without the extra baggage. We boarded at 10:30am, carrying only a small bag, knowing our luggage wouldn't show up in our cabin until 1-4pm. Once onboard, we grabbed a quick lunch at Cafe270 (Deck 5 aft)... I will speak more to this hidden gem later. After a good lunch, we walked decks 4 and 5 to get our bearings before the ship got crowded, then headed up to decks 14, 15, and 16 where you find the pool, activities area, NorthStar, climbing wall, Solarium & Solarium Bistro, and Fitness Center among other things. The line at the North Star was really short, so we took advantage and got a great view of the NYC Skyline. (**North Star - What you see in all the pictures is the "pod" extended far off to the SIDE of the ship. They don't do that anymore. It will go up to the vertical limit, turn a few degrees to port, a few degrees to starboard, return to center, then descend. The entire experience is about 10 minutes. Worth it, but RC did not deliver completely on what was/is advertised.)
Staterooms were accessible starting at 1pm, and our bags were delivered at 2pm and 3:45pm.
Muster drill at 4pm went smoothly, albeit kinda a joke because people just don't shut up and the crew does not want to bother people as soon as they are onboard for their vacations, I assume.
The ship is huge, obviously, and quite well-maintained. My wife is an a high school art teacher and found the decor and art displays to be quite interesting and appealing.
We like having a larger balcony, so we selected a Deck 7 cabin that was more of a square shape then the thin/long tradition cabin style. It was awesome. No problems with the cabin or position of the ship. Port side of the ship had better views than the starboard side in NYC, Bermuda and San Juan. Starboard enjoyed better views in St. Maarten and Labadee. Milton, our room attendant, was wonderful.
The onboard TV options are very limited, so we went 95% of the cruise without it turned on. And really, if you think about it, you're on a cruise ship with plenty to do... why waste it watching TV?
Onboard activities are plentiful, from games to trivia, challenges to shows.
Entertainment is kinda all over the place. The large-scale productions - The Gift, Spectra's Cabaret, and We Will Rock You - feature some pretty great talent. The performers in the main productions are super-talented. (I'm the head of our school's music department and have quite a bit of experience directing musicals. Honestly, I'm not easily impressed, but I was after watching the shows.) Make sure to not only make advanced reservations, but be sure to arrive in the performance venues 20-30 minutes early if you want to get good seats.
The Gift was confusing unless you knew the storyline ahead of time. A quick behind-the-scenes on your cabin TV will give you a good look at this program.
Spectra's Cabaret is a mix of visual and audio astonishments... but as stated in the original Jurassic Park, "We were so focused on whether or not we COULD, that we didn't stop and think whether or not we SHOULD." Spectra's is kinda like that; perhaps a bit too much to be good.
We Will Rock You was phenomenal, especially given the physical limitations of the hull of a ship. Too bad "We Will Rock You" ran only a couple times the whole trip and more guests couldn't witness it.
Special appearances... Mo5aic, an A Capella group who appeared on America's Got Talent, was fantastic. There was a magician, whose name I can't remember, but he did a really nice job. We generally LOVE the comedy shows on cruises, but compared to Carnival, the comedians weren't that great. RC's comedians were just "ok"... Carnival definitely owns RC in that aspect.
Shops/sales/Art Gallery: Meh. Been there, seen that all.
Casino: Aside from the $5 freebie credit the give you on Day 7, we didn't gamble at all.
Photos: What we got was good; two pictures at $20 each. We couldn't see spending $200 on the "get 'em all" package. We do wish there would have been more locations throughout the ship to get pictures done. Smaller ships we've cruised had just as many locations/backgrounds for far fewer people.
Spa: We didn't partake in any of their offerings.
Fitness Center: We did appreciate how expansive it was. The only suggestion I would make would be to add one or two more "upright" stationary bikes. There were only four or five compared to the rows upon rows of treadmills. :-/
Sea Plex... a lot of cool offerings, but they were so limited in how many people could do it, it almost seemed like offering fewer activities would allow more people to get involved. Also, it almost seemed like more time was spent "changing over" the main floor from one activity to another that time actually DOING activities was very little in total.
North Star: Did that pretty soon after boarding on Day 1, and got to enjoy it again (because we reserved it prior to the cruise) at sea on Day 9. Cool experience.
iFly: If you haven't done anything like this, be prepared for a very unique experience. I've been skydiving, and while it did feel familiar, the fact that you're in a tube and have to worry about staying "centered", makes you realize exactly how much the movement of even ONE FINGER can effect your overall position/balance. Enjoy it and try to relax! It's also good to have someone to take pictures/video of you while you fly... but they can't be signed up in the same time reservation for iFly.
Rock Climbing & Flow Rider... It would be nice if you could sign-up for those like you do for North Star and iFly. Sitting and watching the passengers partake in both (and wipe-out on the Flow Rider) was quite fun, though.
Running Track... it's so thin and along a crowded route, unless you go before sunrise or after sunset, it's actually dangerous for runners and sunbathers alike. The real runners know to go to the treadmills.
Pool areas... always busy, always packed, chairs are reserved with people's towels despite signs being posted that saving deck loungers is not permitted. Oh well.
The Solarium (16+ area at the front of the ship) itself was fantastic, much calmer and the Solarium workers were great. The hot tubs are pretty empty at night... 10pm and after. Enjoy!
Off-hours access to food and ice/water... this needs to be addressed. There weren't enough options, and because the ship is so huge, it can be a looming way from your cabin, depending on where you are.
We looked at Windjammer the first morning for breakfast, but ended up going elsewhere every morning after.
Again, looked at Windjammer once for lunch, but left once we saw how crowded/hectic it was. There are other/better options.
For dinner, we chose late (8pm) dining, which we don't regret. Shawn and Divina, our waiter and assistant waitress in Chic, were ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL! They both deserve to be higher-up on the food chain.
Cafe 270... we were constantly wondering why more people don't take advantage of this place for breakfast and lunch. FAR less crowded and much more relaxed than the Windjammer. A good variety of food options... definitely try the Kummel Weck, their signature Roast Beef Sandwich. (I feel like a drooling Homer Simpson just thinking about it. So good.)
Solarium Bistro is another "hidden gem" on the ship. Great food in a relaxed atmosphere. Definitely do dinner there (no charge) a night or two. They have food that is not available anywhere else on the ship.
Premium Dining: Again, and if you haven't noticed the trend, we chose not to partake in any of the four options offered because they all cost additional. We paid a good price for the cruise, which has all of our dining covered. I'm sure they're good and everything, but we would rather save our money for other things.
We would have done more, but (again) they cost quite a bit. If you do your research ahead of time, you can do much more for far less in each port. Case in point, we rented a car at St. Maarten. It cost us $62 and we were free for seven hours. Your three-hour van/bus transfer to Maho Beach (Plane Watching) was something like $50-55 per person. They priced themselves out of the conversation in that and MANY other situations.
Kings Wharf, Bermuda - We had onboard credit to burn, so we chose the Catamaran Sail. It takes you to a little cove where you can swim, snorkel, kayak and paddle board (two of each per 60-passenger catamaran), sunbathe, and cliff jump. We swam along the coast to some pretty cool caves and went exploring. Free rum swizzles on the return sail... they charge on the sail out to the cove, so we waited for the return trip. The catamaran crew was great! After our sail, you can walk to/through the market/shops in the vicinity.
St. Maarten - My wife and I have been there a couple of times, both pre-2017 Hurricane, so we knew what to expect when we got there and where best to go and spend our time. Just off the pier, keep left to get to the car rental place and get a car. Drive to the west end of the island to Simpson Bay or to Maho Beach. Maho Beach is still rebuilding, but sits at the end of the runway if you wanna see planes land and take off within just a few feet of you. Just around the airport/runway, there's a little place we love - Karakter restaurant, which is right on the water of Simpson Bay, butted-up against the runway. Super cool place to enjoy a meal, some drinks and swimming.
San Juan, Puerto Rico - If you are lucky enough to dock on the "good" side of the port, you'll get off the ship and be in Old San Juan right away... no need for taxi. Make sure to wear your walking shoes so you can explore the forts and Old Town. It's definitely worth it to walk, since you can pass through the markets and shops. The forts are run by the National Park Service, and don't cost nearly as much as the cruise line wants to charge you for an excursion. Again, do your research.
Labadee, Haiti - It's worth it to get off the ship early and find a good spot on the beach. We brought our own snorkels and masks on the cruise, and although there wasn't a ton of things to see, it was still exciting to explore. Super relaxing day, and complimentary lunch is served in multiple locations in port. Enjoy the day... head back to a nearly empty ship to do stuff there if you want... no worries!
Speaking of, while the ships are in port, most people go ashore, making the activities basically a free-for-all.
Rather than to the $14.50 per day auto-tip on your bill, we opted to have Customer Service remove the charges completely, so we could put cash in envelopes for the crew members who waited on us directly. (We didn't want a cut of our money going to workers in the Spa or the Windjammer, where we spent no time. This way, our room attendant, our waiters, etc. get their due.)
Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but, in our humble opinion the MAJOR downfall of RC is the unending uncharging for EV-ER-Y-THING!!! ... and I know many will think/reply, "If you've been cruising before, or know anything about how businesses work, you should have expected this. Stop whining." Ok, fine, part of that is true. We have cruised before, and we learned a lot about what other companies charge for their services. Disney Cruises cost more, but their service is above-and-beyond and they cover every little detail except alcohol. Carnival is cheaper and far less pushy. For what RC charged for this cruise, I was expecting more, quite frankly. I guess one could say we did get "more"... more/higher price tag for everything. A bottle of wine you charged $32 for is a $6 bottle at our local liquor store... I know because I drink that kind. Uncharging for profit is one thing, but 533% is ridiculous. $13 for A bar drink... plus gratuity on top of that? I mean, let's be honest here... they charge gratuity at the Bionic Bar where a ROBOT makes the drink. Really?!?!?!? No wonder I had no problem buying a few bottle of alcohol and some rumrunner flasks and sneaking a lot of stuff onboard in our luggage. ;-)
Bottom line, we enjoyed it, but it wasn't the right "fit" for us. We may try another RC cruise in the future, but if a comparable experience can be had on a different carrier, we will be going elsewhere. Read Less