Greetings - here is my preliminary review. Once I finalize it - I will post it with the other reviews. Wanted to at least give you guys an idea of the trip. If you have any questions or comments - email me. Hope it is not too long! I didn't describe the ship in detail because several before me have. Pictures will come as soon as I can afford to get them developed!
Sailed December 8 - 15th on Explorer of the Seas.
I booked this cruise at the last minute - about 3 weeks before the cruise. I needed a break and decided to take advantage of RCCL offering "single rates" - only charging the price of one person for the entire cabin, not 150% or greater. My travel agent (NancyB) booked an aft cabin for me in Category DB - Cabin 6688. She knows I like aft balconies and this cabin looked marvelous.
Just some background - this was my 5th cruise and my first on RCCL. I have sailed Carnival Fascination, Sea Princess, Grand Princess and Celebrity Millennium before this.
Right before I left, I looked on RCCL's site and there were tons of "suites available". I mentioned this to my TA and she said that RCCL is doing a lot of "pier upgrades" for around $200. A friend of hers was upgraded from D8 to a CAT A for $200 on the same ship just weeks before I sailed. She told me to ask at the pier.
Arrived in Miami the day before. I booked my own air and everything went smooth. I took the Super Shuttle to Miami Intercontinental Hotel near Bayside - cost approx $11.00. Received an amazing rate of $109 at the hotel. This was a 4 star hotel and was simply beautiful - decorated in Miami Art Deco style. My room had a huge king size bed, large marble bathroom and plenty of space. I did not utilize the pool area but it also looked wonderful. I would not hesitate to stay at this hotel again - it was top notch.
My room on 12th floor faced the pier and cruise ships. Actually - I believe half of the rooms had this amazing view. The hotel was also a short 5-10 minute walk to Bayside. I met up with a friend at the hotel and we walked to Bayside for dinner and shopping Friday afternoon/evening. We ate dinner at Bubba Gump's Shrimp restaurant. It was excellent - though I was starving and anything would have tasted good at that point. Also walked around the shopping area, listened to holiday music and then headed back to the hotel around 8 pm. Very tired after getting to the airport at 5 am that morning.
On Saturday - woke up early to watch the cruise ships come in. Included with my room were (2) complimentary breakfasts, which we enjoyed - cost was $18/per person for the buffet if we had purchased it. The buffet was one of the best breakfast buffets I have experienced - fresh squeezed orange juice, several chefs making eggs and omelets for people, etc.. . Very good.
Took a taxi to the pier at approximately 10:30. Taxi fare was approximately $6. Arrived at the pier at approximately 10:45. We were lead into a room with about 10 rows of chairs and people waiting. We were in one of the last rows with approximately 100 people arriving before us. There were RCCL people present telling us what forms to tear out of our packet and handing on Bahamas immigration forms. We did not wait long before we were allowed to enter the check-in area.
Once I checked it, I asked about a complimentary upgrade. I was told no complimentary upgrades are given at the pier but if I was interested to go to the pier coordinator. I then went to the pier coordinator and was told that I could go from my DB balcony to a Cat A suite for $200/per cabin. I promptly paid. A friend of mine went from an inside cabin to the best balcony (D8 I think) for $300/per cabin. We were both very pleased.
We had to wait another 1/2 or so before we could get on the boat. We could see people still disembarking from the ship.
Once I got on the ship - I went immediately to my cabin. I was told that my room may not be ready yet but thankfully it was. I met my room steward - Julius. I informed him that my luggage would probably go to my old cabin and he assured me that he would find my luggage for me. After meeting him - he greeted me each time by calling me "Teresa girl" with his Mexican accent. It was so cute! He was an excellent room steward.
My "Owner's Suite" Cat A cabin was excellent. It was the "Barbados Suite - Cabin 1292". When I first walked in, there is a bar and a small glass table that I could eat meals from. Next, I had a huge living room with an L-shaped couch and glass coffee table. Off of the living room was my balcony. Between the living room and bedroom was a counter of some sort, which held a 48" flat screen TV that swiveled between the living room and bedroom. The bedroom area had a huge closet, large bed (king?), desk area and comfortable chair with ottoman. The marble bathroom was large, had a Jacuzzi type tub, separate shower area and two sinks. Once in my cabin, I immediately called my travel agent to ask if she thought that was a good cabin (sounding very naïve). She was very happy for me. Next, made some other calls because I was so excited!
Next, wandered around the ship. Just some general observations - The ship is just a year old but looks brand new! I thought it was very well kept, very well cleaned and maintained. As with most ships - staff was constantly painting, polishing, cleaning every spot of the ship. The pool area is simply beautiful. The pool and Jacuzzis are open from early in the morning until midnight. The pool and Jacuzzis in the solarium are "adults only" and there didn't seem to be a problem. Solarium is beautiful. It seemed to have shade and was quieter than the regular pool area.
The Royal Promenade is a fascinating idea - I am surprised that other ships have not thought of this area. It is like a street with shops on either side, along with sports bars, other drinking establishments and a café. The Promenade Café served pastries in the morning, pizza and snack sandwiches for afternoon and evenings along with cookies, cheesecake and other desserts. This appeared to be open during all of my waking hours. Coffee is complimentary here but other drinks cost. There was an ice cream stand just a few feet from the Café Promenade, which had ice cream most of the time.
I ate in the "Degamma" dining room at table 444. This was the middle level of the dining room. The dining room was beautiful with the 3 levels but seemed to be very loud. We were also close to the piano and other entertainers, which may have accounted for the "loudness". Our waitress and asst. waiter were excellent - always willing to please. Cannot think of anything they could have done to improve their service - there were that good. Food - this is the one part that I believe Princess excels over RCCL. I much preferred Princess menu and their food. I felt that Princess offers more options on their menus and the overall food quality was significantly better. Though by no means did I think that anything I ate was bad - it was all-fine, it was just "not outstanding or great". Dessert is also better and there are more options on Princess.
Food to mention - the chocolate crème brulee and the chocolate flourless cake were exceptional. The beef dishes were not that great and the mashed potatoes (an "always" option) were excellent. The sirloin steak was only "OK" - again, the beef dishes were not that great. The Cease salad was also very good. The major disappointment for me at dinner were 2 women at our table who consistently showed up "very late" to dinner - about 35-60 minutes late each night. I wish they had closed the door at the dining room after 15 minutes.
Johnny Rockets is a 50's style restaurant that serves hamburgers, malts, hot dogs, cherry coke, onion rings and sandwiches. They only charge for malts, sundaes and sodas. The malts came to $4.11. I ate here twice. When you first arrive - they bring you French fries and onion rings right away. Both times I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with chocolate malt. In both cases, my hamburger was burned to a crisp (on the grill for way too long) and the malt was really thin. I heard from others that theirs were very thick. Also, my French fries always came first, and then the hamburger (I couldn't find the waitress to get a refill on the fries), and the malt after I hate the hamburger. I could never get all 3 together at the same time. Johnny Rockets is open from 11:30 a.m. To 1 a.m. I believe. I ate there both times for lunch.
The windjammer and island grill buffet were done very good. There was a great selection of food there for lunch every day. The first day I saw "papadan" (sp?) - and Indian cracker that I love. They also had an Indian curry on the buffet line. Many different types of food were served here every day - very impressive. The design (layout) was better than Horizon Court on Princess because it was spread out/not as cramped. Every time of the day that I entered, there was lots of food (even during off times like 3 pm). Late afternoon, the buffet was not as large as lunchtime but it was still very good. Tea and lemonade were served here after breakfast until dinner. Not sure what was served during dinner hours - I heard it was "ala carte meals".
Did not eat at Portofinos. Actually didn't meet anyone who did.
Ports - when I booked this cruise, I didn't care about the ports. I wanted to try RCCL and wanted to try the Eagle/Voyager class ship. I also wanted to relax on this trip so if I had stayed on the ship the entire time, my cruise would still have been excellent.
In Nassau - I took the Atlantis Resort tour. This included a boat/harbor ride over to Paradise Island and the tour of the resort. This is one of those excursions that I can say that I am glad I did but won't do again. The Atlantis resort is amazing but I would rather cruise than pay the $200/night (up to $25,000/night) for the resort. The aquariums are amazing along with the pool area and casinos. There were "too many" aquariums for me. After the guided tour, we could wander around ourselves. I actually had enough of the resort so I went back to downtown Nassau area. Walked around briefly but was not that impressed and headed back to the ship.
St. Thomas - this was my third time here. I had booked an island tour of St. John for the afternoon and had decided to go shopping in the morning. My plans quickly changed. I made it into the town in the morning only to find rain downpour (I did have my umbrella thinking that this may happen). I bought the few items I promised to buy and was back to the ship by 11:30 for lunch. It was still pouring rain at noon when I went to find the shore excursion people. They informed me that it wasn't pouring in St. John but because I wanted to cancel - they refunded my money. The tour did still go on. Spent the afternoon relaxing on the ship.
San Juan - Walked around new and old San Juan. I really like this city. Second time here. Weather was great for this port. Second time to this port.
Labadee, Haiti - My only experience of private islands is Princess Cays. Labadee was entirely different from Princess Cays. This island has lots of foliage (tons of large bushy trees) and lots of mountains. The island was more "adventurous" than Princess Cays with more trails, stone "items" built into the island (don't know how to describe this), etc. . The water is not as clear as Princess Cays and the sand is not as smooth (sort of shellish) as Princess Cays. The private island part of Haiti that RCCL uses is beautiful. I did not snorkel but was told by several that the snorkeling was awful - apparently the Haitians have over fished the area and there is very little ocean life left in the area. I also heard the comments that there was too much sand where you snorkeled so it was difficult to see anything.
Entertainment was great from the shows I saw. Yakov Smirnoff boarded the ship in San Juan and presented a show one night. Great comedian - glad he still can make people laugh. He made a lot of fun of his parents who happened to be in the audience with us. He also opened up to questions from the audience and had great responses to their questions. Definitely quick on his feet.
The ice show was phenomenal! There are no bad seats in "Studio B". The show was more dance/choreography that complicated skating but the complicated jumps they did do - I was amazed they could do it on that small of a rink. The costumes and routines were great. I would have loved to have seen this twice.
Comparing this cruise to the Grand Princess - I find them very comparable. I have to give Princess the edge for having better food in the dining room and better menus. Have to give the edge to RCCL for having better entertainment. In all other categories - I find the cruises equal in the "enjoyment factor". I found the staff excellent in both cruises with Princess being a bit more "professional" and RCCL being a bit more "fun". It is difficult to compare cabins because I had an inside on the Grand and the Owner's Suite on Explorer - of course the Owner's Suite wins as being my preferred choice
Overall - I was very pleased with RCCL and plan on sailing the Radiance this summer to Alaska.