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  1. Thanks for the detailed review! Your cruise sounds remarkably similar to our Magic cruise at the end of August. We had a cove balcony (first) and it was our favorite cabin ever & that includes a 12th deck Spa balcony. We liked the privacy and the closeness to the sea. We enjoyed the ship & ports, having never been to any of these ports in our 25+ previous cruises. At Amber Cove we hung out with some of our new friends that had a poolside cabana. At San Juan we also walked. And walked. We actually made a big circle and wound up back at the ship. I was looking for a cab and then noticed that the ship was right in front of us (downhill too). At St Thomas we took the lift up to the point. It was very quiet up there & we took a few pics and back down to walk a bit then back aboard. Grand Turk was also my favorite and we spent most of the day at Jack's. The ship was in great shape and we agree that the entertainment was good. We do not go to shows, so we are speaking of the atrium and bar entertainment. There were long lines at the buffet. They really need a better design but we did not go hungry. Main dining was not great for us - slow service and cold food so we opted out most nights. The Steak house and Italian were well worth the money. We had a bit of a problem with the spa double charging my wife for her massage and guest services did not have much interest in trying to correct it. It was eventually resolved after we were off the ship. Someone asked about bars & we found that the Red Frog on the promenade was never crowded in the daytime and they do have inside & outside seating. Serenity never seemed crowded either. Despite a few hiccups we thoroughly enjoyed the Magic and would gladly do it all over again tomorrow!
  2. Our son wore his military dress uniform when he was on active service. I am not sure whether he would now but i suspect it would be more an issue of it fitting than anything else. We used to dress up in tux, formal dress, etc. but for the past several years have not done so as much. We were disappointed at first with the formal evenings becoming more casual but began to enjoy the comfort. On our most recent cruise we did dress up a little more to get some new photos since it has been years since we did that. I think I can say that it is nearly impossible to be "out of place" any longer on formal nights. You see the full range from shorts to tuxes and everything in between. When we dress down (khakis and short sleeves for me) nobody seems to notice. If we dress up, the same except for maybe a compliment or two (nice). Be yourselves and enjoy. I am betting the dress blues will get at least a dozen "thank you"s.
  3. I was told by Carnival a couple of months back that I my wife could get a Dr. note and I would be allowed to purchase separately. This was for a cruise on Aug 25. I decided not to get the package myself and we did not bother with the note. If you have a similar situation I would advise calling Carnival rather than relying on Cruise Critic. Myself included.
  4. Just returned Saturday from cove balcony 2285 on Magic. Best balcony cabin we have had and I am including a spa balcony on Sunshine. It was very nice but we prefer the privacy of the cove and the closeness to the sea. Do pay attention to what is above you. We were essentially under guest services and it was quiet.
  5. We have never been on the Magic but will be in 11 days. In our experience all ships can feel crowded at certain places and at certain times. This is a function of lots of people wanting to be in the same place at the same time and not necessarily of the ship's design although that can be a factor. We learn to avoid peak times at the public areas and are prepared to execute plan B if we find that we have picked wrongly. Even on full sailings we manage not to stand in line a lot by making our schedule a little off the norm.
  6. Correct in that you pick a check in time. The time that they actually open the doors varies depending on how quickly the arrival/customs clearance takes but it is normally well ahead of the earliest check in time slot. We tend to get there early and rarely have to wait outside very long if at all. We have found that if the lines are not very long and are moving smoothly they will pass you on through regardless of your appointment time but that is not guaranteed. If you feel like chancing it and don't mind the possibility of waiting to check in then go for it. This will anger some of the more rule bound folks but if the cruise line wants to get the ship boarded and the lines moving so they enforce the check in times at their discretion. Royal Caribbean does not have this check in time policy even on their much larger ships and they manage really well without it.
  7. My son and I rented a Hobie many years ago at Coco Cay. I had been on them before and knew just a little about sailing so I figured we would give it a try. We struggled to get any sort of speed or control going and eventually brought t back in. The guy checking us in looked and the rigging and said it was all messed up by whoever set up the boat. He fixed it and offered to let us take it back out but we were tired and declined. I always wanted to try it again with a properly rigged sail but they seem to have disappeared and I have not seen them for years. I can say that they definitely were Hobie Cats though.
  8. Agreed. We were very loyal to Royal for many years, mainly out of habit and the fact that we were satisfied with the product and knew what to expect. We started to cruise with Carnival last year and have been equally satisfied. We find many more similarities than differences and both lines have positives and not very many negatives as far as we are concerned. We have a future MSC cruise booked as well. Never been on NCL but that could change in the future. Bottom line is that we have no issue with "loyals" nor with the "variety" types. We do wonder why some feel it necessary to bad mouth those who see things differently but such is the nature of free speech and we would not want to have it any other way. By the way, I spent a lot of time in South Jersey working several years back. Around Swedesboro. Loved that area.
  9. For us the answer is a definite yes. Not only that, we have already done so! We were loyal to Royal for many years, mainly out of habit and were always satisfied and saw no reason to change up. Last year (June) we tried Carnival and have taken 4 Carnival cruises since then so obviously we liked them. We have upcoming cruises on Magic and Royal's Brilliance of the Seas booked this year. We have wanted to try MSC with the new Seaside and so we booked that for next May. With our matching loyalty status from Royal we will be at their top tier which is Black. We also got the included unlimited drink package. All in all, it is a great bargain. It is very aggressive marketing from MSC as they try to break open their presence in the US market and I do not expect these promotions to last forever. We never buy the unlimited packages on any line because we don't consume enough to justify it but my wife sometimes gets the soda package. We do have a bar tab though and it can run on up there, but it does not equal the cost of the package. We probably would not have gotten the package on MSC if it was not included, but having it will save us the money we would have spent on a single pay basis so it does have value. As previously mentioned, it is a very basic package with limited selection and you can upgrade for $12-20 per day if you want to. The included package is fine for us. Now, to the OP's question. A few weeks after booking the MSC cruise we saw the schedule for the Sunshine out of Charleston and being that we really liked that ship and live 3 1/2 hours from Charleston we have booked a Sunshine cruise for later next year. So yes, we will cruise other lines, probably including MSC, in the future Now that our kids are grown we can afford to go more often and we find we like the variety. We still shop for great deals regardless of line. As they say, price is not everything (but it is important!).
  10. There are plenty of places to eat in Nassau from Senior Frogs all the the way to the famous Fish Fry area. You can google Fish Fry Nassau for more info on that. There is plenty to see and do within walking distance of the pier or their are plenty of cabs and horse drawn carriages as well. There are several beach areas within a short walk of the pier as well, just go right out of the gates. The beaches are public but there are bars and tiki huts where you can rent chairs & umbrellas and some have drink packages as well including "all you can drink". Be sure to have some cash, as there are no ATMs out that way and some places do not take cards. Eating on the ship is always a fine option but if you venture out it may not be that convenient. As with all ports, be sure to allow plenty of time to get back to the ship before sail away. If not, be sure to have your camera to get some good shots of Ecstasy sailing out of Nassau. :D
  11. Agree that some airlines do this with the actual boarding groups, seat preferences, etc.. Our experiences with both cruise lines have not shown any actual increase in the efficiency due to the arrival appointment process though. Granted, we have only been on 4 Carnival cruises but only once did they even look at the check in appointment time and on that one there were huge issues due to the ship arriving late and some customs issues so everything was behind schedule. We do understand that the times are enforced when there is a backup at the terminal to ease congestion. We have no issue with the boarding group concept after check in since that allows for more orderly boarding, again like the airline boarding groups. On RCI, even before we reached priority status, we never felt like things did not go smoothly enough without the arrival appointment process. However, I do agree with you that the paid priority may be the way of the future due to the revenue aspect.
  12. We have been cruising on Carnival some lately and are aware of the FTTF program but have never used it. With it comes priority boarding, early cabin availability, priority tender boarding, and a special customer service line. Carnival has these annoying "check in time appointments" that you get when you complete your online check in. If you do your online check in early you can get an earlier time with the earliest I have seen being 11:30 AM. We try to do our online registration as early as possible (90 days out) and get the early time but have not always been able to do so due to late booking. That said, from our experience we have not always seen those check in times enforced which is fine with us. If the line is moving along, then why not let people through? When you get through the check in line you are put in a numbered group (1 - whatever) and they board their Platinum and other priority guests first, then FTTF, then start with group 1, etc. Even though we are pretty much early arrivals we usually seem to wind up in group 4 for some reason. I have timed things on our last few cruises and even in group 4 we are on board no more than 15 minutes or so after the FTTF group. We do not care about priority tenders or cabin availability (we have learned to travel light with carry on items) so it is not worth the money to us. However, some people are happy to pay the extra money and can even get upset when it sells out and they can't get it. Over on the Carnival forum there is much debate about it and even some resentment among the higher tier loyalty members about people having it and getting in front of them if they arrive after boarding begins. There is also some controversy about whether cabins are actually ready for early access. RCI does do more for suites and higher tier loyalty members than Carnival. I have no doubt about that. In summary, We like RCI's system of embarkation better. Who knows if RCI will follow suit on the paid priority system. It does seem to be a revenue generator for Carnival and we know how the quest for revenue goes.
  13. We were on Liberty last October and it is one of our favorites. I really liked the decor and the color changing lighting everywhere. Trivial, I know, but we liked it. The serenity area is nice on this ship but get there early. One "secret" is the barbecue place where the Fish & Chips used to be above the main buffet area. There are stairs at the rear of the buffet that go up there and early in the cruise it was mostly empty since most people had not found it yet. We thought the food was pretty good there. Not as good as your favorite place back home probably, but very good. It is also a good place to find a seat during breakfast or lunch when the buffet area is crowded. Also, right at the foot of those stairs that go up is a small buffet area. We found that during the breakfast rush this one was usually not crowded and had most of the breakfast staples including bacon. You can get a good basic breakfast there if you want to avoid the lines. I am not sure if they are still on board but the string trio in the atrium was one of the highlights. These young people are amazingly talented and we listened to them for hours, especially in the evenings before and after dinner.
  14. We used to book our next cruise on board with Royal Caribbean almost every time. They did have significant benefits for doing so. It did often take up a lot of time though since they usually had one person doing the bookings and they were either very busy or not there at all. We have not been on Royal lately so I am not sure what the policy is now. When we fist started cruising Carnival we had a hard time finding the "future cruise" people at the kiosk but found that we got some really good offers when we got home. We have wound up booking a new cruise within a month or so of getting home each time and I have to say that we like Carnival's system much better. As previously stated, it does not take up your time on the ship and you have more time to browse and decide when you get back. I think you did fine.
  15. Bob, looking at the deck plan (and using my not so great memory) it appears that they took the retail space displaced by Playmakers and moved it up to the other end near the dining room and bumped shore excursions and next cruise over where the Champagne bar used to be. Overall, it is a nice layout though. It also looks like Schooner bar got a remake with the piano moving out near the walkway and a new bar on the outside wall.
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