I took my 29 year old stepson on his first cruise. He has heard his Dad, me, and his half brother (15) talk about cruising for the last couple of years and finally got to try his hand at this kind of vacation.
RCI lacks Carnival's "wow!" factor (albeit in a Las Vegas, holy-cow-how-did-they-get-that-much-neon-in-such-a-small-space kind of way), but made up for it in the softer, prettier décor. The ship's giant clock that I had watched on the Discovery Channel special was right in the atrium and even more beautiful in person! The atrium area is lovely with lots of brass and wood. The gentle color patterns throughout the ship complete the image of a beautiful, old ship. The carpets are in need of replacement or better cleaning, but she has aged well.
We were on the "Tween" deck (deck 6) and got caught a few times when using certain sets of stairs (you arrived on deck 5 after walking down only ONE set of stairs from 7). Other than that, the floor plan is pretty easy and the ship itself is small enough that you can find your way around easily. There was an unpleasant slight "sewer smell" in our hallway throughout the cruise. It wasn't chokingly bad, but did make you wonder…..
Overall the ship is beautiful and the Viking Crown Lounge just HAS to be the best place at sea (on any ship) to sip a drink and watch the ocean slip by. We spent more time in this lounge than anywhere else on the ship. We even watched a little football on Sunday and the big screen TV's are located just perfectly to allow viewing, but not intrude on the ambience OR the great views.
The artwork in the staterooms was much more pleasing to this girl's eye than
Carnival‘s, but that's strictly a matter of personal taste. However, I was a little disappointed there was no amenities basket and that the dispenser in the shower was only conditioner, no shampoo. If you do any research at all before you cruise, you know that RCI has some of the smallest staterooms at sea. I don't spend a lot of time in my stateroom, so it's not a big factor for me, but it is awfully tiny and felt a bit cramped. The new bedding, including the luxurious pillows, was glorious, though. Our room Steward kept the room clean (at least twice a day, plus turn down at night) and was pleasant and friendly to boot.
I found bartenders to be friendlier than I ever experienced on my 3 past Carnival cruises and the drinks were the best I've had yet. I thought I would be disappointed there was not a "drink of the day" special, but the drinks were so good I didn't miss a drink of the day. Apple-tinis and Cosmos made by the bartender (sorry I can't remember his name) in the Viking Crown Lounge kept us coming back every night for more. The only complaint I had about the bar service were that drinks (the same drinks) were different prices in different venues. I paid $9 for a Cosmo in the Follies Lounge, as compared to $6 in Boleros. Staff in general were friendly and efficient. My massage therapist (Rachel) gave one of the best massage I've ever received. Tip big!
The buffet was, well…..a buffet. So in my book it really can't be that good. Food in the dining room was good for all meals. Service was excellent and it was such a relief to NOT have to sit thru the "hot, hot, hot" dance numbers that Carnival has every single night. RCI saved their dancing waiter routine for the last night only. Sorrento's Pizza was wonderful - don't go home without a slice of veggie. I didn't personally sample Johnny Rockets, but people were raving about it, especially the milkshakes. Ben and Jerry's was a nice touch, especially since they sell my fav ice cream - Chunky Monkey. Seattle's Best Coffee hit the spot several times when a regular coffee just wouldn't do. The buffet on Coco Cay was horrid. Almost inedible, truly. It was so clearly leftovers from the past nights, with some hamburgers and hot dogs (both cold, with hard as rocks buns) thrown in. However, the BBQ lunch served on deck on our Coco Cay day was FABULOUS, with perfectly cooked BBQ chicken, burgers, hot dogs and several pasta salads. All the meats hot and fresh, salads cold and delicious. At midnight, waiters would bring trays of hors doeuvres around to all the bars. Nice touch and tasty, too. Although we didn't order any big meals from room service, it was prompt, coffee hot, OJ ice cold.
The dancers and singers were wonderful and did a particularly good job in the big production show on the last night. There was the usual assortment of games both around the pool and at various locations around the ship. Dueling Pianos was a WHOLE lot of fun, so don't miss it in Boleros. We went for the 2nd night of Dueling Pianos to discover it was really the same show, with lots (and lots) of the same songs. The comedian/juggler (I'm not a big juggling fan) made the act very watchable. He was funny and a really good juggler to boot. Regular comedian (from NY) was hilarious. The String Quartet wasn't that great, but not bad. Mirage, the band that played mostly on the pool deck was passable. It did strike me as kind of odd that the string quarter played hymns in the atrium area on Sunday morning. Not really objectionable, just odd.
What can I say about Nassau? I've been 3 other times and was ready to see something new. And I tried. We skipped the shopping (my stepson wasn't EVEN interested) and took the water taxi to Atlantis. A local pointed out houses, told a few stories and asked for his tip. Atlantis was a bit of a disappointment. Big, beautiful, almost over the top resort. Looks like a lovely place to stay. Unfortunately, we have the world's largest aquarium right here in Atlanta, so the aquarium wasn't a show stopper for us. After about an hour (and yes the casino is big and beautiful, but ultimately is just a casino - just like on the ship but much larger) we headed back to downtown Nassau. Stopped in the straw market for a quick visit, but it didn't hold our interest either. My stepson's observation is that every 4th booth had the same thing all over again: jewelry, carved stuff, handbags and hats, t-shirt, jewelry, carved stuff…..). We had fun taking some pictures and then headed to Senor Frogs. I had forgotten just how awful the drinks were at Senor Frogs and with the drinks on the ship being so delicious we decided to head back.
What a delightful little island. It has a bit of everything - straw market shopping (small), drinks, food, hammocks in the shade, plenty of lounge chairs both in sun and shade, my new best friend (the man hawking Coco Loco's - the island's signature drink), snorkeling, wave runners, parasailing, kayaking….on and on…..We decided to snorkel despite the warning from the person handing us our gear that the water had "some jellyfish today." Turned out she greatly underplayed the "some" part. The waters at the shoreline and for quite a way out over your head were murky. It looked as though someone had dumped a big load of milk in the water. In order to get to clear water (and the sunken plane and ship that comprise the created reef), you needed to snorkel quite a ways out. I pooped out (being a bad swimmer who had made the wrong decision to leave her flippers on shore) and headed back. My stepson kept swimming but soon realized it meant swimming THRU the hoards of jellyfish. While a guy next to us kept showing me his jellyfish stings and saying "It is really worth it!" my stepson disagreed and soon returned. Almost everyone we saw snorkeling that day had a jellyfish sting. Not my idea of a day in paradise. We decided if we visited Coco Cay again we would first parasail and then spend the rest of the day on our floating beach mat (which we did). Nice place.
My biggest surprise:
I had heard so many people talk about how "comparable" RCI and Carnival were with each other. Food, entertainment, ships, etc. all pretty much the same. I had heard an equal number of people refer to Carnival as the "Wal-mart" cruise, slightly less upscale than RCI. Even though this was a 3 day cruise (my first - I've done a 4 day and two 7 days) and therefore supposedly a bigger party crowd, the difference in the guests from this cruise and my previous 3 Carnival cruises was instantly apparent. Here's how I summed it up for my husband who has been on 2 of my previous 3 cruises: You know that guy with a mullet, several missing teeth, who reeked of alcohol, wore a tank top EVERYWHERE AND EVERYDAY and only had one volume (high) that he used to yell "Hey Honey, can you believe this s**t?" about everything on ship, good or bad? Well you know how on Carnival he has lots of friends just like him? He was the only one on my RCI sailing!
Truly, it was just a little "nicer" group of people. I'm far from a prude or a snob and like to party with the best of them, but I appreciated the slightly more upscale feel in general that RCI seemed to offer. I will most definitely cruise with them again (and again). I also don't plan on leaving Carnival in my wake. It's truly the "fun ship" and is a great value. But I am glad to have discovered RCI is another product that I can truly enjoy.