I've never written a review before but I've read many. I think I'll start with just the basics so you won't have to read through my day by day account unless you really want to. This was the first cruise for me and my husband, celebrating our 23rd anniversary. We live about 30 minutes from the port so we drove to Galveston the morning of the cruise.
Embarkation - we arrived at the terminal at 11:30 and the traffic was heavy because the ship was still unloading. A porter met us and took our checked baggage. I waited about 20 minutes for my husband to park the car and get back in the shuttle. Once in the terminal we walked straight through and were in our stateroom by 12:30. On-line embarkation forms, passports, and having everything ready to hand over made it go really fast. The lady at the counter said "I can tell you've done this before" - Actually I heard that a lot on this cruise. Thank you to everyone posting on Message Boards!
Ship Overall - Very Elegant. Every lounge, the theatre, dining room, Windjammer cafe - very comfortable and well decorated. The sculptures in the stairways were gorgeous. Favorite places on the ship besides our balcony - outside Windjammer, the Centrum with the music, the Schooner Lounge, the Dining Room, the decks on 4 & 5, and the theatre. They were replacing carpet on the stairways and many floors have beautiful new carpet. They had not gotten to Deck 7 yet, but it wasn't terrible. We rarely used the pools, but everyone else seemed to be enjoying them. I don't think I ever saw a problem with a lack of deck chairs - there were always some available. I never heard any complaints about the pool area except when it rained. We didn't spend much time in the casino - I heard about lots of people winning in the first few days of the cruise, after that it seemed to slow down.
Stateroom - We were in 7652, a Cat D corner aft cabin with a huge wraparound balcony. The room was great. With just the two of us we had plenty of room and never felt crowded. There was plenty of room for everything. The only problem we experienced was the electrical circuit to our plug would go out sometimes - no big deal. I will book cruises from now on based on getting a room like this - the aft is wonderful! Best tip I received before sailing was the over-the-door shoe holder - it made everything so organized. We kept all our toiletries and medicines in it - everything was handy. The cabin attendant was great - he kept the room in top shape, refilled the ice bucket a couple of times a day and generally took great care of us.
Food - We ate most of our evening meals in the Dining Room (first seating). The food was excellent! My favorites here were the lobster, prime rib, all the appetizers (even escargot) and the flourless chocolate cake for dessert. Service was top-rate - the head waiter even stopped by a few times to chat and serve some of the dishes. We tried the dining room once for lunch thinking we would be able to go in and get a small table. It was very regimented - they seated us at a large table with some who seem to have known each other - just less than comfortable for us. Most of our lunches were at the Windjammer. The pasta was always my favorite - a new dish every day and very tasty. They also had lots of fresh fruits. We always enjoyed our meals there. Sometimes we ate breakfast at the Windjammer, but a lot of the time we ordered from room service. Room service was prompt and the food arrived as ordered. Dining Room, Windjammer (inside) and Room Service coffee were very good. We brought our own little coffee maker and that saved us when we would wake up before our breakfast arrived.
Entertainment - wonderful!! We really enjoyed the Mardi Gras du Monde show. The singers and dancers are very talented professionals. The comedians were great. One of the best shows (which I'm told is under contract for 3 years) is the magic show with LaRaf. This happened in port at Key West - it is one not to be missed. Then there was Susan Anton (remember her? Baywatch, Dudley Moore's girlfriend back in the 70's). She did an incredible show - had everyone dancing & singing. I think she's on the Rhapsody, then the Explorer this week. If you have a chance to see her, do it. The games onboard the ship were a fun way to meet people. We managed to get together with the same group for many of these and enjoyed it thoroughly. Our favorite-Rhapsody Mania (aka "Quest"). It is amazing what the crew can get ordinary people to do. I do have one comment about shows in the theatre - If you have young kids with short attention spans (my kid was like that!), it would be really nice if you would sit in the aisle seats so that you can make a quick easy escape if the child starts getting noisy. It wasn't too bad on this cruise - there were very few youngsters, but it would be really considerate and a lot less disruptive for the other guests..
Disembarkation - I had heard so many horror stories about the Galveston return, I braced myself for the worst. Actually it wasn't that bad. We had breakfast around 7, were called to immigration check-out about 7:45 then we went back to the stateroom. Our cabin attendant let us stay in the room until they called us to leave the ship. We went down when they called us, found our luggage, my husband picked up the car and we were on the road out of Galveston by 10:30.
Things I'm glad I packed: The over-the-door shoe holder Highliter for the daily Compass Yellow stickie notes - used these a lot when we were on the balcony and couldn't hear the door. Hooks with suction cups - just made it easier to keep things off the floor Collapsible cooler and backpack for day trips at port Champagne in our carry-on for sail-away Binoculars
The rest of this is excerpts from the journal I kept during the cruise. You can stop here if this is getting too long or boring.
Day 1 We went to our stateroom, "oohhed" and "ahhed" over the size of the balcony. John's first innocent question "And who do we share this with?" We unpacked our carryons then went exploring the ship - first stop - the Windjammer for our first lunch aboard. We spent the rest of the day just wandering around. We stopped by the library and picked out our reading material for the week. Luggage arrived late afternoon. We unpacked then popped the champagne for sail-away. What a thrill - people lined the docks and waved. Had our first dinner that evening with table mates... 2 other couples from Texas, 1 couple from Oklahoma. We hit it off right away. Went to the first show (comedians), then relaxed on the balcony, finished off the champagne and fell asleep pretty early.
Day 2 (at sea) Got up around 8 and after coffee on the balcony, ate breakfast at the Windjammer. We hit blue water midmorning and I cannot describe how beautiful it was - the deepest blue! John worked out at the gym, I sat on the balcony reading & writing. After lunch we attended the first trivia game and Name That Tune. We didn't win, but met some cool folks from Cincinnati. After that we attended a wine-tasting. I had never been to one before so it was really fun and interesting. We chose our wines for dinners for the rest of the week. This night was the first formal night. Everyone looked so good! We invited our table-mates to join us on our balcony for drinks after the show. They all came - very pleasant company! One thing I remember ... During the day, the special drink was called "The Love Connection" - a huge concoction. I never got one of those but that morning I did see one table of elderly couples, each with their own huge drink.. Reminded me of The Love Boat - very cute.
Day 3 (at sea & Key West) Woke up early (for me) before 7 and ordered breakfast from Room Service. Spent a very lazy morning relaxing on the balcony and wandering around the ship. We visited the RCI rep (Dean) for the first time and started making plans for another cruise. Arrived in Key West around 3pm and everyone except us (it seemed) got off the ship. Since we had visited Key West before, we decided to take advantage of the empty ship - no one at the pools. Later played Trivia and Majority Rules. We didn't win, but hooked up with our 'games' group for the rest of the week. By dinner most people had returned from Key West. They said it was hot & muggy, but they had a good time walking around and shopping. Being this relaxed, I had to force myself to stay awake for sail-away out of Key West at midnight. I'm glad I did - it was beautiful! I fell asleep on the balcony - trudged off to bed about 1:30am.
Day 4 (at sea) Slept till 8:30, had breakfast at the Windjammer. relaxed on balcony and read all morning. After lunch we did the tour of the theatre which was very cool (I'm a techie at heart). It is so amazing that they can have a state-of-the art theatre nestled in a cruise ship. We admired all their light & sound systems, met one of the dancers and enjoyed talking with the stage crew. We went back to the cabin and I took a nap - right through dinner! I was up in time for the Cruise Critic party at 7:45. It was very well done ... The 'light snacks' included caviar. I loved it. They had a drink special for us, but not free. It was so much fun meeting friends from the online community. We had a visit from cruise director, Tom Canosa, and RCI rep, Dean. My only complaint is that the party wasn't long enough. They scheduled it between dinner seatings so people were rushing in from dinner, then rushing out for late-seating and the show. I think it would have been better during the day when schedules are less pressed. We really enjoyed hearing from the staff, but it didn't leave us much time to visit. My husband was really surprised that so many people knew who I was.
Day 5 (Grand Cayman) We arrived in Grand Cayman around 7am, had breakfast from room service and went to the tendering dock around 8. We expected a big crowd, but there were very few people there. A tour group was leaving at that time so we tendered in with them. Our excursion with Captain Marvin was scheduled at 10am, we were to check in at 9:15. We turned left after getting past the dock and walked several blocks (it was further than I thought). We were there so early we went to a Bakery just past Captain Marvin's place and had another breakfast. I noticed they had Internet terminals for $1.50 for 15 minutes - much better than $.50 per minute on the ship. Captain Marvin's is the best snorkeling tour we've ever done. We had a group of 22 and weren't crowded on their boat. First we snorkeled at Coral Gardens and thought that was beautiful. Then we went to Stingray City - I loved the critters! Played with them & petted them for about half an hour, then went to the barrier reef. This is the most incredible thing I've ever seen - huge schools of fish - the reef was amazing with all the types of coral. Sometimes it felt like we were in a cavern. I just can't describe it except to say it was spectacular. We headed back to the ship, ate lunch then took a nap. Again, right through dinner (I'm thinking maybe early seating isn't the best for us). Ate dinner at the Windjammer, then went to the Swing Show in the theatre. Again, it was great. We sat out on the deck outside the Windjammer until around midnight, then headed back to the cabin. This was the first time we felt ANY motion at all on the ship. I noticed it a lot more towards the bow. It was pretty stable in the aft in comparison.
Day 6 (Cozumel) I was up in time to see the sunrise from the balcony - beautiful! We ordered breakfast from room service and watched as the ship docked right next to the Voyager. That is one huge ship! We had a great view of their aft cabins but they seemed really closed-in compared to ours. We went ashore about 10:30 and took a cab to Chankanaab. It poured rain on us as we arrived at the park, but cleared up very shortly. The park wasn't crowded at all. We snorkeled for an hour, then ate lunch at the restaurant there on the beach. It was a bit pricey by Tex-Mex standards, but the food was delicious. We took a chance and ate conch ceviche. No serious repercussions from that adventure. We walked through the botanical gardens admiring the beautiful plants and landscaping, met a couple of iguanas who were nice enough to pose for some pictures. We snorkeled for another 45 minutes and headed back to the ship around 3:00. John took a nap and I headed off to visit Dean again. John later asked if he should be worried about all my meetings with this guy - I told him "Absolutely! Think about all the cruises I could take if I ran off with him!" Seriously, Dean is a wealth of info about ships, ports, itineraries that would appeal to individual interests. I ended up booking a 10-day Western Caribbean on the Splendour out of Galveston. It's the best itinerary for snorkeling and diving (I'll be certified by then!). Went to dinner and had an awesome time with our table mates - these folks became our best buddies. I had two appetizers this time and THREE lobster tails. The food was superb! Shopped a bit after dinner then went to Susan Anton's show. After the show was the much-awaited Rhapsody Mania. I won't tell everything (like how my dear husband was in the middle of the dance floor waving his trousers and my bra) but I will say that it was a sight to behold. We stayed at the Shall We Dance Lounge through the 50's/60's sock hop. A grand time that night.
Day 7 (We hooked up with Fay at sea) I just found out this morning that there was a tropical storm off the coast of Galveston. We took it easy all morning, then we rocked and rolled for pretty much the rest of the trip. John read a lot - trying to finish his huge book from the library. I decided to play bingo for the big prizes. In the morning, I didn't win. No one won the $8,000 so they were having another bingo game that afternoon. I played again for the $10,000 prize. The man sitting right next to me won it. Bingo was held in the theatre and the motion was VERY noticeable there. It rained and rained. The wind blew hard. At one point the ship was hit by lightening. That got my pulse rate up a bit. I was very proud of myself though - I never felt seasick at all and I was never afraid. As a matter of fact, it is good that we had so much motion that day - it was the only time you could tell for sure you were on a ship! We went to dinner and said our good-byes to our friends, exchanged addresses & e-mails, then spent the rest of the evening packing. I stretched out on the bed around 10pm and felt the rocking of the ship - it was so soothing I drifted off to sleep. Woke up at 4:30am and decided to stay awake till we made Galveston. The weather had calmed down and the sun broke through just as we entered the channel.
Best vacation ever.
I posted some of our pictures at http://community.webshots.com/user/sheriew