EMBARKATION: Approaching the ship in our taxi, we saw the monstrous superstructure of the ship in the distance. What a site. All other ships in the harbor, including the Norway, were dwarfed! From the sheer size of the vessel, we thought we were in for hours of long lines and hot irritable passengers. Embarkation, however, was a breeze - we were on the ship in 15 minutes. The process was very highly organized (and we went a little early - around 11:30 am). Kudos to RCI for this!
CABINS: We had 2 adjacent, inside cabins ("N" category - one for our children, ages 23, 18, and 14) on Deck 8. The cabins were immaculate, although not roomy. Storage space was cleverly designed, however, and we had enough room. We do not spend much time in cabins anyway, so this was not a problem. The room attendant, Kerwin, was fantastic - and yes, he created the much-discussed towel animals every night, which were great (and each one photographed by us). His services were flawless and he truly is an asset to RCI. Slipping in and out of the rooms when we were gone, the cabins were always clean and organized. We ordered room service once and the order was delivered in a very timely manner. Cabin corridor carpeting, unfortunately, is a light color and is already stained. Although we did not use the mini-bar much, I did take a couple of sodas out of there at night @ $1.75 each. Although expensive, I've seen much more expensive mini-bars in cities such as New York, Boston, and Chicago.
FOOD: Better than we expected given some of the reviews we read before we went. We ate only 2 dinners in the Carmen restaurant because the boys liked the Island Grill, Windjammers, and Johnny Rockets (for which we only experienced infrequent lines to get in) better. The Carmen had acceptable food, but nothing too out of the ordinary. There was, though, good variety and nice presentation in the Carmen. The on-board coffee was mediocre in the Promenade Cafe and actually terrible in Windjammers. They need to so something about this and I have read that RCI has signed a contract with Seattle's Best Coffee to provide fleet service in the near future, which should take care of this problem. Cafe Promenade always had pizza, nice sandwiches, and even deserts to stave us between meal hunger pangs. We did not go to Portofino's as the pp cover charge has now increased to $20 (why when you pay so much to begin with?) Island Grill had a relaxed, casual, buffet presentation and some of the food here was quite good - especially the deserts. Johnny Rockets had great fries and onion rings, various (and good) burgers, but one still has to pay for shakes (really good) and specialty sodas, which seems a little silly and serves to cheapen the RCI experience somewhat. In fact, there are a lot of little extra charges that add up by the end of the week. It does feel a little money-grubbing and "nickel and dimeing" and detracts from the overall cruise experience.
PUBLIC ROOMS/SERVICE: Awesome. All the rooms were graceful, pretty, and functional. As others reviews have mentioned, we never really felt crowded on the ship despite it carrying over 3100 passengers and 1200 crew. Only the elevators and Promenade were occasionally crowded, depending on shipboard events. We particularly liked the High Notes Bar (server Barbara from Chile was just great and will be fondly remembered) and the Aquarium Bar. Service in all the bars was quick and professional. Drink prices were "city average". The availability of draft Bass, Amstel Light, and Heineken was a plus. The mixed drinks we had were well done, not weak as rumored. Casino Royale was great - big place too. The slots don't pay like Vegas, but we did make about $80 some nights, only to lose it others. Fun all the same... La Scala theater was gorgeous, although we did not see the major production, "Dreamscapes" while on board. "Ice Jammin" was awesome in the skating rink area. The Pig & Whistle pub was much anticipated, but we found it not well-enough lit inside to give it that authentic English pub feel and there was a rude bartender in there, so after an unpleasant experience, we stopped going there. The library was nice and my son did some homework in there.
The Vault was okay - I went there once with two of my children, one 23 and one 18. The 23 year-old was particularly anticipating this as he is into and composes techno music, but found that The Vault's DJ played almost exclusively rap. More variety here would be appreciated.... Guest Relations services were professional and expeditious. Booking the tours on-line via the TV was a breeze and we could not understand why there were such long lines at the Explorations Desk near Guest Relations to book these tours - I guess people don't read.... Some of the tours themselves are a bit pricey - ex. $14 pp to get a beach chair and one drink and you still have to get yourself there and back via taxi! Come on....
PORTS OF CALL: HAITI - very nice day. Barbeque was great, weather was also. Nice beaches. A lot of drink selling on the beach, which was a bit annoying, but did not detract from the experience. Visited the Dragon's Breath blowhole, which was cool. OCHO RIOS, JAMAICA - Cloudy day in Ocho Rios, but we took the Rose Hall/Beach tour and it was semi-sunny in MoBay. Fun tour and good time had by all. CAYMAN'S - we did not go ashore, choosing to spend our time by the pool on the ship. RCI personnel told us that the Cayman's were very expensive. We heard others though that went and they said they had a great time... COZUMEL: We had booked the Tulum Mayan ruins and Xel-Ha lagoon tour on the mainland. We took a ferry from the ship to Playa del Carmen, where we boarded the bus for the tour, about a half hour away. Kind of rough seas that day and some ferry passengers were getting seasick. Playa del Carmen was stunning - beautiful azure waters and beaches. Clean town area. Vendors selling to you as you walk up the streets to your buses, but not too aggressively. Tulum was great, very educational. It was very hot, about 95 degrees that day, so after our guide was done showing us around, we dove into the surf on the beach to cool off. Then, it was off to Xel-Ha. This too was a fantastic place to visit. But better instructions are needed here, as by the time you find out where to do the things you want to do, your time at Xel-Ha is almost gone. Lots of people were snorkeling and swimming and there are adequate shops for those with hydrophobia. Clean park. The lagoon was warm and sandy - beautiful. The beaches, however, were rocky and appeared dangerous. Overall, Xel-Ha is a gorgeous place. Dolphins are there too!
DEBARKATION: As smooth as embarkation - we whisked through customs, grabbed a cab and were at the airport within minutes of stepping off the ship. Couldn't believe how smooth it all went. Again, hats off to RCI for this!
SUMMARY: This was the best vacation of our lives. We were so impressed, while on board Voyager, we booked a southern Caribbean cruise on the yet-to-be-launched, Adventure of the Seas (the latest sister ship to Voyager and Explorer), due for completion in October. Can't recommend RCI and their ships enough..