Visually Appealing...Functionally deceiving
Like many people, I chose this ship for the convenience of leaving from NJ and it also helped that a friend and his wife and kids were going as well. I was going with my wife 3 year old daughter and 8 month old son, so I realize that this experience will be than different others... Getting on the ship was relatively easy and stress free, especially since I did the check in on line. Our room attendant Isha, was excellent, she did a great job with our room considering we had bottles, kids toys, and a pack and play to navigate around. I was surprised with how quickly the room was cleaned over the course of the trip. And like you've probably read the ship is beautiful and modern looking especially with Cafe 270 which was our favorite place to eat because of the ambiance.
That being said, the food was a major let down. While I know everyone has different taste in what good food is, I think most consider chain food places like Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, and Applebee's to be from OK to good. For the majority of the cruise the food quality was way below that. Our first night at Solarium Bistro I had the worst ceviche I ever tasted, I don't recall what my wife had but both of our entrees were terrible... And we were starving. American Icon Grill, was even more disappointing. I had the Mahi Mahi, and I've had canned tuna that was better. The waitress offered me steak because I didn't eat it the fish, she brought back a steak in one minute that looked like a microwave meal, like back in the 80's Hungryman Dinner meal. On top of that for the up to three servers we had, they seemed more interested in making silly faces at my son then making sure I had a drink. I realize that it's nice to wave and all to the kids, but it got to the point at most restaurants where I was gonna get a Frankenstein mask for my kids, so they could stop focusing on them and maybe a little more on the adults who actually paid for the cruise....I was even more surprised on how they did not enforce their attire policies. People in tank tops, backwards hats, bathing suits...just lacking the class I expected. Wear whatever in Windjammer but cmon .... Chic and Silk were both good, and Grande was the best complimentary restaurant. But we don't have Yelp on this ship so it shouldn't be on me to figure out which restaurant has the decent food. We ended up going to Jaime's Italian two nights because while I was making reservations it was the best one that had an early time for my family. The service and food at Jaime's is exactly what expecting on a cruise ship with this reputation.
And that's my main gripe with this ship. They know what they're doing, they serve you poor quality food in the hopes of you going to the specialty restaurants so you can spend more money then you already had. You can read the reviews on Cruise critic and see the "feeling like I am being nickeled and dimed to death" is a common theme. We were fortunate enough to have 9 days of beautiful weather so I won't be surprised if I see an "Excessive Beautiful weather" Gratuity paid to the sun from Royal Caribbean. Cause I think...and I am not even kidding here, there was a gratuity option to the damn robot bartenders, which is entertaining for the kids, when they work. They bottleneck the Main area, think it's called the Esplanade, so you can be sure to go by their heavily advertised one hour sales that make you feel like you're at the mall on Black Friday. No Thank you overly aggressive Cartier salesman, I don't need a $10K watch...Working technology that was so heavily advertised did not work properly. We missed the opening of "we will rock you" because they changed the time to 2:15 despite on the TV it said 2:45, there was probably some letter that I didn't get but why couldn't they fix the new time on every royal iq or other device that they heavily promote...
Look I had a decent time cause I was with friends and family and had awesome weather, but if you're reading this chances are you're already booked so research as much as you can and listen to the reviews. If you haven't booked it already I'd seriously consider going on another cruise line or RC cruise ship, because If there was anything that was consistent it was that EVERYONE at least 10 different people I talked to that was on an another RC ship be it Allure, Harmony, Freedom and of course the cruise ship that people talked about like you were entering the gates of Heaven....the Oasis, had a much better all around experience. Even though we were only 50 minutes away from Bayonne New Jersey the convenience of that was not worth the price of the cruise.
For the price I paid I expected :
more to do with people with young families. ...Better quality shows, although "we will rock you" was good...Workers NOT to do touch up spray paint 5 feet from me while I'm eating breakfast with my family...The ability to go on the Northstar, iFLY more than once...A Smoking section that is not right next to the pool....working elevators...not waiting 20 minutes for a drink from the waiters by the pool...
I can go on, but look at the other ratings for other ships, I thinks it's fair to say it's pretty consistent. That 4.5+ average rating the other RC ships are getting are there for a reason. Me and my wife were looking to leave this ship saying, "Wow that was great I can't wait to do it again!" But it's more like "I am not going on a cruise for a while"
Some tips if you're going:
I did Flowrider lesson at 8am which is great, more space and less crowded, I didn't know they offer an open time for it so I ended up paying, but at least I didn't have to deal with the crowds. If you have Neck or back issues I would seriously consider avoiding the surf board, I saw some people take some brutal falls.
-I actually liked North Star more than I thought I would but if I could make one recommendation it would be to do it at a port, because unlike the commercials the arm doesn't go over the sides at sea and after seeing the ocean every day doing this at port would be more scenic.
-Try and take elevators towards the rear of the ship, it was much less hectic. If you don't have kids with the stroller or some other health issue don't waste your time waiting for elevators to go two or three flights. And they close fast, so as soon as you hear that bell you better run to it.
-if you're looking for a good or at least a quiet breakfast I would head to Café 270 or try and make the sit down breakfast at chic you may have to wait on a line but it is worth it. The breakfast at the Windjammer was usually hectic and hard to find a place to sit down. To me waiting that long to find a seat and then waiting even longer just to get an omelette didn't make any sense. If you're looking to find a seat but don't care as much about the quality of food solarium Café, usually had a bunch of places to sit down.
-The pool... again I was traveling with my young family so I did not get to try the adult only pool section by the solarium. As you will read in most of the reviews the other pools are very hectic. If you are going with kids you'll also have to deal with the pool staff that changes it's mind on what the rules are every other day. There are no sprinklers or anything like that for the kids to run around in. So again if you are going with kids three are under I would not recommend this ship at all. On top of that they have a whole smoking section right next to the pool so you have to avoid that cloud every time you come up onto the pool deck.
-I did get the wristband that they sell, because it did make it easier for the moments I wasn't carrying my sea pass card. It's pointless at a restaurant where they would ask for your seapass card for every drink (very annoying by the way ) but when you are carrying drinks or holding your kids it makes it a lot easier to open the doors to your room then having to reach into your pocket. If you do decide to get it I would bring a magic marker to identify your individual band so it's not mixed up in a group if you have different drinking packages.
-make it a habit to just put the drinking cups that they give you for drinking packages in your backpack or whatever you carry for most of the day. It was a pain to have to remember to carry those two big cups and go back to the room but if you're in the wind jammer and you want a drink you're going to need them. I think it's kind of ridiculous that they do that there should be an option to just use your sea pass card to fill up a cup.
-avoid the arcade if you can. It's not even a good arcade but you know how kids are when they see all those lights. And make sure you look at your bill when you use the arcade because they do overcharge you if you're not paying attention.
-Pack stuff for motion sickness because this boat does rock a little more than what I expected. And that was a complaint from other cruises as well
-don't worry about towels on excursions they will provide them when you get off the ship.
-if you can afford it obviously get the room with the balcony besides the view it was pretty large and we were able to put our luggage there and free up some space in the room.
-excursions: I did the aquarium excursion while in Bermuda it wasn't bad because with kids we weren't going to spend time on the beach all day but the aquarium is pretty small... It really depends on what you're looking for we ended up going to snorkel Park beach after, which actually had good food, or great compared to what Anthem was serving it is a little bit more of a live crowd and you would definitely have to wear water socks because there are pieces of glass around the water. I didn't go to Puerto Rico because we were there last year but did go to Saint Maarten we ended up taking a taxi to bikini beach because the kid friendly Le Galion beach was closed on Monday. I had a great time doing jet skiing while in Labadee Haiti.
Food and Dining
Service and Staff
Cabin / Stateroom