Pre-Cruise - Stayed at the Miami Hyatt the night before cruise. Payed $45 through Priceline and was very satisfied. The hotel is nice, clean and served the purpose. There is a Starbucks and pastry stand in the lobby and a restaurant that serves breakfast with typical hotel food prices. We arranged for a van through the hotel concierge about 1 hour before we had to leave. The van was there by 10:45 and we arrived at the pier about 11:00.
Embarkation - When we got to the pier it was crowded with arrivals and departures. I stuck my hand up in the air as if I was hailing a taxi and a porter came right over - we had e-documents which we showed him along with our sample luggage tags and he had our luggage tagged and gone in 5 minutes. We had 12 bags and tipped him $2 per bag. When we got inside the first thing we were asked to do is fill in an immigration form for the Bahamas and then it was off to check in. Lines are separated by which deck you are on. This took another 5-10 minutes and then we waited in line to board for about 1/2 hour. I would say the entire process took about 45 minutes.
Cabin - We had Cabins 7620, 7618, and 7616. They were Category DB balcony cabins on the "hump" They were a little smaller than the ones on Carnival. The balcony was a decent size and had a small table and two chairs. Bathroom was tight - on the bright side, if you were showering and needed something, you could reach any part of the bathroom without stepping out of the shower! My sister-in-law had Cabin #7607 which was overlooked the promenade. Unfortunately, she was at the very end and didn't have much of a view.
Dining Table Assignments - One of the first things we did after checking out our cabin was to go to the dining room to see where our table was. We were satisfied with the location of our table. There were several people in line who were not so lucky and were told that no changes were being made because the ship was full. No exceptions! My advice would be to ask if the ship was full before waiting in line.
The Promenade - Looks like a small street with stores on either side. Stores included perfume and makeup shop, gift store, liquor store, boutique, and a few jewelry stores. There was also an English pub, sports bar and the Cafe. Please note: The sundries that the ship carries are limited so if you think you need it, bring it! The sports bar had several TV screens and showed mostly the ESPN international channel (lots of soccer) - some basketball was shown later on in the week as we got closer to Mexico. I never saw it that crowded. I personally think they would get a better crowd if they showed some footage of great sports moments (world series games, boxing, basketball championships, etc.) The cafe was open 24 hours and offered small sandwiches, 3 kinds of cookies, pastries, pizza and beverages. You could also purchase gourmet coffee and Ben and Jerry's ice cream for an additional charge. We went there often and never had a problem getting a seat.
Bars and Lounges - There were many. Our favorite was Dizzy's which is located on the top deck. It has large windows on one side of the room that overlooks the pool deck. Great place to unwind and people watch. We liked all of the bars and they all made nice drinks -several had drink menus with different tropical drinks and flavored martinis.
Dining Room - I didn't have one bad meal the entire week. The dinner menu offered about 5/6 selections each night and alternates in case you didn't care for the night's choices. Alternates were grilled chicken, grilled steak, grilled salmon and a vegetarian dish. The food was better than I expected and the servers were friendly and efficient. The room itself was beautiful - we were on the second level.
Pool Deck - Nice size pools - larger than Carnival. The upper decks were very windy every day, so if the wind bothers you, get up early and grab a seat on the main deck. It was pretty difficult finding a seat after 9:00 a.m. on the first two decks - being the ship was full it was pretty much what I expected. One morning I had an 8:30 spa appointment and noticed that there were already lots of seats taken by 8:20.
Spa - Nicer than Carnival - I had a hot stone massage and it was heaven. I had no trouble getting a spa appointment even though I called two days into the cruise.
Ports of Call - We were really just interested in laying on a nice beach so we didn't do much in the way of excursions.
Nassau - Took a taxi to the Radisson on Cable Beach. We just strolled right through the lobby and casino to the pool and beach area. There were no fees and there were plenty of chairs to use both on the beach and at the pool. There is an outside bar/snack area on the beach but it's expensive. Two hot dogs and two cokes ran about $18.00!
Ochos Rios - Walked off the ship to Margaritaville and spent a couple of hours there. Margaritaville is a restaurant with a small pool and beach in the middle of a shopping complex called Island Village. We were pretty toasted from the sun so we just spent the day relaxing over lunch and did some souvenier shopping.
Grand Caymen - We had to skip Grand Caymen due to rough seas - maybe next time.
Cozumel - Took a van to Paradise Beach - $4.00 each. When you get off of the boat you walk through a shopping area and then outside to a taxi stand. There are a billion people there trying to get transportation. Do yourself a favor and give one of the people calling the taxis a tip so you don't have to wait forever. We gave him $10 and had a taxi in no time. There were 9 ships docked in Cozumel the day we were there so Paradise Beach was pretty crowded. There are more people than chairs so if you don't see any available, tip one of the beach boys and they will come up with some. There was a group next to us that was moaning about no place to sit and didn't want to shell out a tip - they sat on the sand. Paradise is a very nice beach with a couple of bars and a restaurant, fee rafts and kayaks, lounge chairs and umbrellas - it was a very pleasant day.
Leaving the Ship - Disembarking was pretty painless. The night before, your cabin steward will give you colored tags to put on your luggage. The color represents what time you can leave. You can to wait to disembark at any of the public spaces on the ship so it's not like 3000 people are waiting in one room. We left the ship at about 10:00, stood in line for about 20 minutes to go through customs and then went to the luggage claim. Bags are on carousels and are supposed to be sorted by tag color but ours wound up on a couple of different carousels. We took two taxis back to the airport ($21.00 each). Please note: Earlier in the week you should get a card from your steward that asks how many pieces of luggage you have and what time your return flight is - make sure you fill this card out and hand it in to guest services by the deadline they give you - this information determines when you are called to disembark.
Gratuities - Again, you will get a card from your steward that allows you to charge your gratuities to your sea pass account. The card must be turned in to Guest Services by a certain time. We forgot to turn ours in so I put the tip amounts on my seapass card at the casino and was given cash to hand out in envelopes.
Carnival vs. Royal Caribbean - I honestly liked both ships. There are some things that I felt were better on RC than Carnival and vise versa - here's a short list:
Embarkation/Debarkation - Royal Caribbean - much more oranized than Carnival
Cabin - Carnival (Sorry RC fans) Remember: this is a regular sized balcony cabin that I'm talking about - Carnival's was bigger and had better storage space.
Dining Room - Royal Caribbean - I thought the food was good on Carnival but great on Royal Caribbean.
Pool Area - Royal Caribbean - Bigger pools, seemed less crowded, excellent band
Casino - Royal Caribbean - Nicer looking casino, a little larger and machines weren't as tight as Carnival
Staff - Carnival - Don't get me wrong, it was excellent on both ships but I thought that the Carnival employees were more friendly as a whole.
Room Service - Better menu on Royal Caribbean, quicker delivery on Carnival
There were a ton of teenagers on board which made my 17 year old's trip even better. For the most part, all of the kids were pretty well behaved. To sum it all up, we had a wonderful time and would travel with RC again in a hearbeat.
Things I wish I had brought:
An alarm clock
Extra sunburn spray - bring two cans! I burnt even with 30 sunscreen!
P.S. Don't miss Johnny Rockets - they even have a takeout window!