On to my area of self proclaimed expertise, Alcohol! Wife and I had the package. She isn't a big drinker but on vacation she likes to relax and do things she doesn't get to at home. Mimosa's in the morning, something refreshing by the pool, etc. On the other hand, I am a royal pain in the butt for the bartenders and I know it. When I am on vacation I want to try new things. I walk up to the bar and tell them to make me any drink, on this cruise I used the line "make me the greatest drink ever made" (long story as to why that line was used so I will skip it). Some bartenders completely embrace this and make great cocktails, others just sling any crap in a glass and call it a day. In most cases they all start with the standard drinks, daquari's, Mai Tai, punch, etc. However the next drink I order I tell them to make something else. You can imagine how this can be a bartenders worst nightmare on a 12 day cruise. My usual hang out is Northstar bar and the 3 guys up there were receptive of the challenge I had laid out. Ironically after they had run out of ideas of drinks to make me and they started to make up new things is when the drinks really improved. Ironically not a single one of them made me a tequilla drink for 10 days until I pointed it out. I am not good with names but Sorin, Budi, and Treasure at Northstar bar deserve a shout out. Not only did they deal with my BS all cruise but they were outstanding with my son. They did whatever they could to make him smile and laugh. Mom and I really appreciate that. It gave us a chance to sit and have a cocktail and relax. Also worthy of noting was the "boss lady", Dzenana at NorthStar.
The bourbon selection was terrible onboard. I think they had whistlepig, rittenhouse, and a few others that clearly weren't worth remembering. I miss the days of Blantons and other good options onboard. This leads me to a bigger theme I didn't like. Rccl has really cut back on the items available to their bartenders. They no longer use island oasis mix, which I couldn't care less about, but the new brand has much less selection. Banana, strawberry, mojito, peach, mango, pina colada, and dessert mix I believe were the only ones available. they also had very few creme de _________ available. Last two trips the bartenders had a ton of those at their disposal which made for a wide variety of drinks.
Speed bullets about the bars/drinks:
- didnt like the beer selection at all
- martinis in boleros were excellent ( chocolate or espresso)
- too many bartenders had to look up the recipe for a signature drink offered in the drink book
- based on cocktail prices, RCCL is pretty much pushing people to get the drink package
- view from Northstar bar is still the best on the ship
- don't let the Jamaican accent confuse you, when the bartender says the drink is called "sex lotion" he is really saying "sexy ocean". When you go back and order a "sex lotion" from a different bartender they look at you funny.
Overall we thought the food was good to very good. As always opinions varied dish to dish and meal to meal. We did find the meats to be over cooked often. Ironically I found the sliced meats (prime rib, etc) to be over cooked, but the unslided (strip) to be right on the mark. I found this odd because you can see the inside of the meat once sliced! I was very impressed with windjammer. We did this most mornings for breakfast and it was much better than 3 years ago. Waffles and pancakes are recommended. The bakery had some very nice options. Plenty of omlette stations. Enjoyed windjammer for lunch too and we went in for dinner one night to get the kid a snack to hold him over and was impressed with what I saw as well. Overall I thought windjammer was much better than last trip. Dining room breakfast was also good. Eating with a kid is tricky. Some nights ours did great in the dining room. Other nights......not so much. We requested a table away from heavy traffic areas with a spot that we could pin him in so he couldn't escape. We got just that and had problems getting that table every night. I really wish RCCL would come up with some sort of standard for the dining room or get rid of the suggested attire entirely. Gym shorts, t shirts, and flip flops were a common sight. We will continue to dress up because my wife looks stunning and the munchkin was killing it in his tux.
I did find many of the dishes to be too bland. Cocktail sauce was essentially ketchup. Escargots could use more garlic. I am guessing the older demographic doesn’t like spicy. I understand that but wish it was offered.
Kid tip #2, each night my wife or I would look at the menu ahead of time and tell the other what we wanted. Our dinner was 715, one would go at 715 and order for both of us. The other would show up around 730ish with the kid. At that point the food was coming out so he could eat and then when he was done he could look all over. Many nights that saved us from "I have been in this chair for too long" breakdowns.
The ports on this trip were great but we were limited in what we did due to traveling with the munchkin. San Juan we went over by the forts and let him run all over place. He loved all that green grass to just stretch out and run. A friend recommended a bar he knows about called “La Taberna Lupulo”. It is a very good beer bar. Enjoyed stopping there and getting a real beer because I hated the selection on land.
St Maarten we did not do anything. I ran to a liquor store while the kid took a nap. The rest of the day we let him splash around in the kid’s pool. He had a blast and we got to relax. With the drink package I find less reasons to get off unless there is something I really want to see/do.
Antigua – Beachlimerz, everything that has been said on the boards is true. Great time.
St Lucia – We just did a quick tour through someone outside at the pier. Kid’s nap time was coming and we didn’t want to be gone long. It was actually a very nice tour, worth the $25.
Barbados – Harbour Lights. A few years ago when we came here it was nice a quiet, well that secret is out. It was crowded but we had reserved chairs and they had people come around and offer drinks and food so we didn’t have to get up for anything. A very nice day.
St Kitts – The kid loves animals so we brought him out to hold a monkey on the pier. The monkey went to go back to its owner, the kid didn’t want him to leave so he grabbed hold of the monkey. Monkey retaliated by biting the kid on the arm. Didn’t break skin but munchkin wasn’t happy. Parents of the year winner right here. Took my kid to a foreign country and let a monkey bite him
We did not get to do as much as we would have liked on the islands but we needed to monitor the sun for the little one. He loved the beaches and the sand and had a blast everywhere we went.
Kid’s Day Care (Royal Tots or something like that)
He loved it. He spends all day at day care at home so this was nothing new. Also they had the secret weapon that we did not have in the cabin…..Elmo. They have access to better TV programs and he can watch Elmo all day long. I hated a few things about the day care though. Signing the kid up was a nightmare. They only let one family in at a time. When you get in there they hand you a few papers to fill out and then they wait for you to finish. Why not give them out to us while we are waiting and this way when we come in we are all set to go. Seemed foolish. Also we got there around 3:00 to sign him up. After they told us the wrong place to go we went down to the right place at 3:30. At 4:00 the lady just left. Said they close at 4 and come back later. There was a line of about 5 families waiting. I thought that was very poor taste.
At his age you need to reserve times. On our cruise this was not an issue. We always got the time we wanted. They told us there were only 49 kids onboard under 3 so they were slow. I am not sure how well it would work with a bigger crowd. I also hated that everytime you dropped the kid off you had to answer about 6 questions and the answers are always the same. He was just there yesterday, do you think he magically developed an allergy overnight. They could use some process improvement in this area but at the end of the day, he enjoyed it and that meant Mommy and Daddy could hit the gym, relax in the hot tub, have a drink, enjoy dinner or whatever else without having the kid for a few hours. We normally put him in for about 4 hours a day.
Kid tip #(I lost count) Budget for some day care costs if under 3. It was really a life saver for us. Even if your little one flips out when you drop them off, most of them stop before you make it to the elevator so don’t worry.
On black Friday we got the ‘all digital picture package’ for $120. It was a great value to us. We tried to get a few pictures each night with him before he lost his interest and ran away or flipped out. Ended up with about 220 pictures and they range from perfect smiles to full on temper tantrum. At that price I highly recommend it. Don’t leave the ship without your pics though. It has been almost 2 weeks and still no email. Additionally there is a way to download them to your phone. I had to click each picture individually to download it and wait for it to complete. Luckily I had some bar time to sit there and click while I had a cocktail.
The fellow cruises were older on this trip but all age groups were represented. For all the people that my son cut off or crashed into, I apologize again for it. For those that helped out with getting him to smile for a picture or you stopped to say hi to him because he was grumpy I truly appreciate it. Sometimes that helping hand, even if only for 5 seconds, makes a world of difference to a parent. For the most part everyone was very nice and we appreciated all the comments about our little guy. For those that cut us off and then stopped in the middle of a walkway or pushed in front of us to get on an elevator and I ran over your heels with the stroller, you are welcome. You deserved it.
So I have sprinkled some thoughts throughout the review but here are some other items that can really help.
-As you walk around take note of anything that flashes, beeps, moves, shines, etc. When my kid got moody those things come in handy.
- The light switch wall by Boleros is hours of entertainment for a kid. They should have a bar next to that thing for the adults while the kids play. The same can be said of the fireworks screen across from the light switch wall.
- There are poinsettias all over the ship for the holidays, while pretty they can be deadly for young kids. Keep an eye on the little one.
- my son loved dancing at Bolero’s and Music hall. Second floor of music hall was a great place to let him run around.
- The over the door shoe holder works really well to keep your bathroom organized. I also brought the magnet hooks people rave about. Didn’t find them as useful. I did bring some string.
- Stroller wheels did get a little noisy, sticky but a quick spray in the bath helped. I coated the whole thing in wd40 when we got home. Not the best option to shower your stroller but I was working with limited assets.
- The kiddie pool is outside and not open on bad weather days. This is a design flaw. My son wasn’t happen when he saw older kids in the indoor pool and he had no pool he could play in.
Most important piece of advice: Every cruise will be different, I spent the first few days wishing this cruise was the same as my last one. This will never happen. Every trip is different. Make the best of this trip. Traveling with my son was the most fun I have had on a cruise. By no stretch of the imagination was it easy but it was a world of fun and I can’t wait to do it again.
I am sure I will think of other things to add but for now enjoy reading the textbook and let me know about any questions you might have.