After 37 cruises, number 38 was my first sailing from New Orleans. I have been to New Orleans before, but never for a cruise departure. I think it is a great port city and if you are sailing from there you should consider either a pre or post package.
We opted to take a later flight on our return and purchased the ship's post-cruise shore tour in New Orleans that ended at the airport. This was a great choice! We learned on the way in that a taxi from the airport to the pier is $28 plus tip for two people. The post tour cost $38 per person and included a two-hour tour that went around the city and to the cemetery and garden district. It also included 2-½ hours of free time in the French Quarter before we had to re-board the bus to go to the airport. This gave us just enough time to go to Café Du Monde, Central Grocery, and do some shopping while not having to worry about our luggage. If you are interested in this tour, it is for people with flights after 4 p.m.
Check-in at the pier in New Orleans was pretty busy when we arrived. If you are a Platinum or Diamond past passenger with Royal Caribbean, there's a separate check-in line. Also, if you are interested in getting a paid upgrade at the pier, the person to see is the pier coordinator. Most of the sailings from now until the end of year are not sold out, so if you are interested in upgrading, you must check in first and then get in the line for the pier coordinator.
The cabins are very nice on this ship. There was plenty of storage space. The bathrooms are small (but that's nothing new). The balcony cabins have small refrigerators; regular outside and inside cabins do not. The cabin has a small 13-inch television that showed ESPN, CNN, TBS, movies on two channels, the report from the bridge, the shore excursion talks, and my favorite -- the view from the bridge with music. The cabin also has a safe. I was not crazy about the safe because instead of a combination they wanted you to swipe your credit card to open and close it. Thus if your roommate does not have the same card as you, then you have to be there to open and close the safe. (There is no charge to use the safe.)
The more I cruise, the more I see this area change. The cruise lines have realized people are looking for alternatives and freedom in dining. Although I signed up for the second seating, I only went to the dining room for dinner twice (both on formal nights). As it turned out, 8:30 for dinner is very late and 6 p.m. is too early for me, so we found ourselves wandering by the Windjammer buffet around 7-7:30. We quickly found out the menu in the Windjammer is almost the same as the dining room -- soups and all -- and you can sample and take as much as you want. Also, the food was hotter getting it this way then in the dining room. There are waiters and waitresses in the buffet to bring water, coffee and desserts, and take away plates. There is even a carving station there every night.
The only reason we went to the dining room on the second formal night is because the Windjammer did not have lobster. They list both menus (one for the dinner buffet and one for the dining room dinner) outside the Windjammer every afternoon so you can compare and decide. We only had room service once for breakfast; it was quick and they got everything right. This ship does not have any paid alternative restaurants. The only other food was the hamburgers and pizza in the solarium area; however, starting in the next few weeks they will unveil a new Ben and Jerry's and coffee house area that will have a charge.
Cozumel is one of my favorite ports, and the best shopping port on this itinerary. The downtown has some construction going on, but all the stores are open and happy to see you. Lunch at Poncho's Backyard was great as usual.
Grand Cayman: It has been years since I was in this port. The shopping is overpriced, and other than rum cakes there is not much to buy. Seven Mile Beach is nice. This is a tendering port. They call tender numbers for about the first two hours of the morning. If you are not in a hurry to get off, after a while they announce that tender tickets are no longer required. I recommend finding a shore excursion that interests you so you will have something to do.
Costa Maya: We kept referring to this as Disneyland for cruise passengers. The ship docks here and after you walk down the pier you are in a purpose-built area for cruise passengers. The area has two pools, beach chairs and umbrellas, stores and markets, an Internet café, and some restaurants. We did left this area to go by taxi into the town of Majuhaul for $3 per person one way. But forget it -- it is a one-street town with very aggressive people trying to get you into their shops and a small beach area with bars. Next time I would just stay near the ship. There seemed to be some biting flies or fleas around, so some bug spray might be a good idea too.
The days at sea at the end are relaxing. We had great weather on the first day at sea and could lie in the sun and walk around the deck. The last day was windy and overcast as we approached the U.S.
The ship offers some craft sessions, bingo, and cooking demonstrations. The wine-tasting was well done and informative. It costs $9.95 but if you are a past passenger you will find a coupon for it in your booklet. The onboard Internet café is 50 cents a minute! It is not compatible with AOL, so if you are on AOL, make sure to have an alternate email you can use. The Internet café in Cozumel was $3 for 15 minutes and in Costa Maya is was a better price too. Also, in Costa Maya at the Internet café they had phone service to call the U.S. for $1.50 per minute. Since this is the last port before two days at sea, it is a good time to call home.
A word about tipping: Royal Caribbean does not add this to your bill automatically like Carnival and Princess. They offer you the chance to charge tips to your bill and receive vouchers to hand out. The problem is when you start eating in two different areas. The tips are not pooled like on the other lines, so if you tip in the dining room, the waiters in the buffet don't get tipped. When I went to the desk to ask if I could buy a voucher for the cabin steward, since I wanted to tip all the different waiters that served us directly in the dining room and in the Windjammer, I was told that you could not separate out the cabin steward for a single voucher -- so I just ended up tipping everyone in cash. The tipping system seems like such a mess to me and I am sure some service people are loosing money.
Here is my list of things to be sure to bring on your cruise to make it more enjoyable: binoculars, walkie-talkies, CD player with speakers and CDs, extra batteries, extension cord and chargers for anything that needs them, and a pillow from home. I also brought a small fleece blankets that fits a twin bed. I read in a review that the blankets were scratchy and I loved having the fleece blanket on top of my bed to lie on. It turned out that the blanket they use in between the sheets is scratchy; we asked the steward to replace it with a velux one and he did, but I was still glad to have my own pillow and blanket. We left the blankets on board and gave them to the cabin steward. Also, bring a travel clock, an air freshener for the bathroom, a water bottle to fill up with iced tea or water from the buffet, and a night light or flashlight for seeing in the room at night to find the bathroom.
As for clothes, be prepared for any kind of weather. Have a jacket or rain poncho or umbrella for rain, a sweater for cool air conditioning and windy weather, sunglasses and a hat for sun, gym shoes or closed-toe shoes for walking or shore excursions, and water shoes for the beaches or snorkeling tours. (You can buy them at Wal-Mart for a lot less than on the ship or in port.) Be sure to have a bag to carry everything you need into port.
If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email. C2Cmarci@yahoo.com