My mom, brother, and sister were all going on a cruise to the Western Caribbean, so I decided to join them. Once I decided to go, there was such a level of excitement as I was going on my first family vacation with my mom, sister, and brother in over 30 years. This excitement led to multiple daily phone calls with my mom (and this alone thrilled her to talk to me so much every day). I flew into Ft. Lauderdale on a Friday night and stayed at the Ramada. They provide complimentary transportation from the airport to the hotel, as well as from the hotel to the port. We took the 11:00 a.m. shuttle to the port and it couldn’t have been easier. The shuttle driver unloaded our luggage, and the cruise staff was there waiting to help us and immediately took our luggage to the designated location. Next, we went through security, which was a breeze (on this cruise we could show our passport, government ID card, or birth certificate with driver’s license as our identification). We then went to the counter to provide our credit card information and get our “Seapass Card.” From there we boarded the ship: no waiting. Our rooms were not available until 1:00 so we decided to explore the ship a bit. I first stopped by guest services to have a hole punched in my Seapass Card so that I could wear it on a lanyard. Then I went to the internet room to pay for the internet. There are different options to purchase. The one I purchased was 500 minutes for $150.00. You need to first sign up for the internet in this room, but then once you are set up you can use any of your devices anywhere on the ship with the sign in information you set up. I also rented a Royal Connect phone here. This is not the walkie-talkie that you normally rent. These are iPhones that can be used on the Royal Caribbean ship only and it is like carrying a “house” phone with you all of the time. You can use it to call any rooms or restaurants, you can call anyone else who rented the same type of phone, you can text anyone who also rented this phone, but most important you can receive calls from anyone on the ship looking for you. They just need the extension of your phone and they can call you from any house or room phone or from their Royal Connect phone. It cost $30 per phone for the entire week. There were times when the phone would not call out, but it was minimal, and overall the phone was a lifesaver for keeping my family together on this big ship. Later in the afternoon of the first day, there is a mandatory emergency drill that everyone must participate in. The drill was very well organized and after it was over it was time to sail away. I went up to the top deck and watched as we departed Ft. Lauderdale.
There are a variety of shows to see and all of them were wonderful. It is recommended that you sign up for the shows after you book your cruise to be guaranteed your preferable time slot, but if you don’t you can always wait outside the theatre to see if there are empty seats available. The different shows included:
Hairspray – a 90-minute theatrical production. The costumes were great as well as the singing and production.
Frozen in Time – a wonderful ice skating show with amazing costumes. One of the side acts they had on during the show was a sand artist who created incredible images using sand (I had seen this done on America’s Got Talent and was blown away). This was just as fascinating.
Comedy Show – This show was hysterical. Mike Wilson and Rondell Sheridan interacted with the audience and had us laughing non-stop for the full 60-minute show.
Oasis of Dreams – An outdoor show with divers, synchronized swimmers, and gymnasts. Fabulous.
Headliner Show – Kenny James (the winner of the Star Search show in the 80’s) performed and boy does he know how to put on a show. He sang, danced, and entertained the audience. I especially loved that his son plays bass in the band and they performed a duet together that was beautiful.
Come Fly With Me – This was my favorite show. It was like a Cirque du Soleil show. The show had amazing choreography and miraculous stunts, and they used a screen image to enhance the different numbers. It was truly a fascinating show.
There are also shows where the audience can participate (and you don’t need to make reservations in advance). I went to a couple of them. The most popular one is Quest, where the audience is broken up into different teams and you have to perform tasks and try to be the first team to complete the task (e.g., a man has to wear a woman’s bra, someone has to wear pants inside out and backwards, etc.)….it was fun watching everyone do these crazy things to try to win. Another night was the Love and Marriage game show where they pulled 3 couples out of the audience and played their version of “The Newlywed Game.” The belly flop contest, as well as the sexiest man contest, was also entertaining, and so was Battle of the Sexes. It is so much fun to be around people who can let themselves go and just have fun. I have to say that Dave the Cruise Director really made these shows entertaining. He has such a great personality and really added something special to all of the shows he participated in.
There are a number of bars throughout the ship with nightly entertainment. I enjoyed hanging out at the Globe and Atlas Pub where James was singing and playing guitar. This was one of the most fun bars I have been to in a long time. The entire crowd was into his music so everyone was singing along. The On Air bar is a sports bar but they also do Karaoke at night. I was blown away by the talent of the passengers on the ship. It was so much fun to watch them perform. Bolero’s has live Latin dance music and Dazzles has live music for dancing as well. I also really enjoyed listening to Pedro play his guitar in Central Park.
There are quite a variety of restaurants to choose from. Many of them are complimentary but there are a few restaurants that are “specialty” restaurants that you pay an additional fee for. For dinner you can choose the early seating (6:00), the late seating (8:30), or anytime dining where you can just call and make a reservation that day at a time that is convenient for you. Be sure to request your dining time when you book your cruise to get your desired time preference.
Main Dining Room – The Main Dining Room is available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We ate there for dinner almost every night and each meal was wonderful. I love appetizers and they are fine with you ordering as many appetizers as you want. Jonathan and Elizabeth took care of us the entire week and they were fantastic. Anytime you asked for anything their reply was “no problem.” The food was wonderful and I enjoyed trying so many different dishes. They would even have our drinks on the table waiting for us when we got there. There were two formal nights, when the specials of the evening were prime rib one night and lobster the other night. It was so nice seeing everyone dressed up for dinner. We also ate in the main dining room a couple of times for breakfast and lunch. You can order off the menu, but they have a buffet set up as well.
Windjammer – The Windjammer has a buffet set up. I went there once for breakfast but didn’t care for it too much, as I prefer omelets or bagels and lox for breakfast.
Wipeout Café – I went to the Wipeout Café for breakfast one morning. You order your omelet inside, choose various items from the buffet, and then they bring your omelet out to you when it is ready.
Park Café – Park Café, located in Central Park, was my favorite place to go for breakfast as they have a wonderful bagel bar (similar to a salad bar, but they put everything on it for you, and they were not skimpy with the lox). For lunch they are known as having the best roast beef sandwich, and I have to agree. It was really tasty. They also have a wonderful salad bar for lunch, as well as Panini sandwiches.
Johnny Rockets – Breakfast is complimentary but lunch and dinner have a surcharge of $5.00 per person. They offer made to order omelets as well.
Solarium Bistro – located by the adult pool, they serve healthier food choices. I would go there during lunch for a salad since it was so close to the pool.
The only specialty restaurant I tried was Giovanni’s Table, located in Central Park. This is a wonderful Italian restaurant served family style. They offer great service and delicious food.
For a complete list of the dining options and breakdown on which ones are complimentary and which ones have an additional fee go to this site.
Activities to do on the ship:
There are so many different things to do on the ship. I had fun going on the carousel and riding the zip line (who would think a ship would have these things?). There was also the Flowrider, where you can surf or boogie board (I was not brave enough to try this but it looked like fun). Additionally, there is a basketball court, ping-pong tables, miniature golf, shuffleboard courts, ice skating rink, fitness room, jogging track, arcade, and a massive rock-climbing wall. And let’s not forget the casino and spa. There are also a variety of pools and Jacuzzis throughout the ship. The kids will love the kids’ pool with all of the water play items and adults will love the infinity Jacuzzi…so peaceful to sit in a warm Jacuzzi and overlook the ocean. I enjoyed spending my days on the top deck next to the railing, reading as we glided across the ocean. There is also an Adventure Club for kids ages 3-17, with age-specific activities. For the littlest ones, there is the Royal Babies and Royal Tots program for babies and toddlers ages 6 months to 36 months (this is a pay per hour program).
Haiti was our first stop. Royal Caribbean has a private island in Haiti so once you dock, you can walk along the path to the beaches or you can take the boat that will give you a ride to the private island. Once on the beach, it was very easy to get chairs and shade covers. You can just tip the guys that work there and they will bring you what you need. I rented a mat for $12.00 and it was wonderful to just float away in the water. There is an artesian village on the Island where you can buy clothes, jewelry, and crafts. There are a couple of different areas set up on the island with a BBQ buffet hosted by the ship. Be sure to bring your water shoes as there is seaweed and rocks in the water--with the water shoes I didn’t even notice. You do need to walk back to the ship but if you have trouble walking they have wheel chairs to help you get back.
Jamaica was our second stop. When you depart the ship there is shopping within the port, a lot of jewelry stores and souvenir shops. Once you walk out of the port there are street vendors selling their stuff and they can be quite aggressive in calling you over to see their merchandise. I walked around for a bit but decided to just go back to the ship and enjoy the quietness while everyone was gone.
Cozumel was our final stop. I was invited to visit Playa Mia Beach and Water Park for the day, and what a great day it was. It is a 10-minute taxi from the port (cost is $16 for 1-4 people and $32 for 5-8 people). Once there, you have the option of purchasing a day pass only for $30 or an all-day pass with an unlimited international buffet for $45. For an additional $15 you can include the open bar all day as well. This is a great place to visit with or without kids. The kids will enjoy the water park, a special area for kids with a pirate ship, water cannons, water sprays, animal slides, and the 200-foot long twin twister waterslides. They will also enjoy the floating park, which is like an obstacle course in the water, complete with a trampoline. You also have full use of the non-motorized equipment such as paddleboats, kayaks, water bicycles, and sailboats. I preferred just to hang out on the floating mats. The water is so calm and warm. It was pure heaven. There are plenty of lounge chairs on the beach so that is where I hung out, but there are also pools to hang out as well. The buffet was set up all day with everything from fruit and salad to tacos and hot dogs. It was such a wonderful way to spend the day and relax. I will definitely be returning here.
This was only my second cruise but I did a lot of research to prepare for it and found great tips online. The first thing I did was sign up on www.CruiseCritic.com. There you can sign up for “roll call” for the date you will be departing. You can then ask any questions or communicate with those who will be on the cruise with you. Royal Caribbean will then host a meet and greet event for you to see everyone you have been talking to online. It was great to see these people and their wonderful energy. I would then see them throughout the ship so it was great to have that connection.
Other tips I learned:
Check in online before you depart to make the check in process faster and smoother
Bring a small carry on bag with you the first day with your swimsuit, as you may not get your luggage delivered to your room for several hours.
Bring water shoes for the different ports as some of the beaches can be rocky or have seaweed
Bring magnets to decorate your cabin door (the doors are magnetic and it helps to find your room)
Bring highlighters to highlight the activities on your compass that you want to do every day (bring different colors for each person in your family)
Bring an extension cord and a power surge – there are only 3 outlets and they are all at the desk (no outlets in the bathroom or near the bed)
Bring a lighted clock if you like to know what time it is at night. The only clock is built into the phone and you can’t see it at night.
Bring clothespins to hold your towels on the lounge chair. It can get windy while the boat is moving
I found the cabin had quite a bit of storage space but if you need a lot in the bathroom bring an over the door shoe holder with pockets. Then you can put all of our items (i.e., curling iron, brush, make up, jewelry, etc.) in the holder and leave you more counter space.
Bring your own hair dryer. The one on the ship you have to hold the button down to keep it on which can get tiring.
Rent the Royal Connect Phone for the week for $30 per unit (not to be confused with the walkie-talkies they rent). There is a limited supply so go there right when you get on the ship to rent them.
Call your cell phone carrier and set up a ship plan (I was able to buy 50 minutes talk, 100 text, 100 mg data for $120 (all incoming texts were free with this plan).
Call your credit card ahead of time and let them know you will be traveling to avoid a fraud alert hold on your card
Use the touch screen menu located at each elevator to discover the quickest way to get to your desired location on the ship.
Every morning take a picture of the daily compass (showing the date) or the elevator floor (which also shows the day) so when you take pictures you will know what day you are on.
Luggage Valet Service--if you are flying out the day you arrive at port, see if the ship is offering Luggage Valet and Onboard Check in Service. They will pick up your luggage the night before and take it to the airport for you and check you in. The next morning they will provide you with your boarding pass and your baggage claim. They only charge $20 per person for this service (not including what you are required to pay the airline for your baggage). This is such a great service. I didn’t have to worry about my mom lugging her suitcase to the taxi and airport on her own.
Upon returning to Ft. Lauderdale I decided to spend the night in Florida before flying home to L.A. I stayed at the Hilton Ft. Lauderdale Marina. We had a beautiful room overlooking the Marina. It was located near the port as well as the beaches and Las Olas. I enjoyed hanging out poolside. Demitrius was the pool attendant and he was so on top of things, always making sure everyone had what they needed. There is a locker room near the pool that you can use to shower off if you have to check out of your room, and the hotel also offers complimentary shuttle to the beach.
Just outside of the hotel on the water there is a water taxi that you can pay $20 per person for unlimited off and on access throughout the day and night. We took it to Las Olas during the day. Just riding in the water taxi along the beautiful homes was so much fun. While I loved the concept of the water taxi, it wasn’t something we could rely on. After waiting 45 minutes (and calling 3 times) we finally just hopped in a taxi to take us back to the beach. The water taxi manager explained to me that if the boat is full they won’t even stop at the dock to pick people up so I would not be comfortable waiting around not knowing if it was actually going to show up or not.
I would definitely recommend taking a cruise with your family and extended family. It is so easy to travel via the cruise ship, as all of your meals and activities are right there. There is something for everyone on this ship and memories to last a lifetime.
I would like to thank Royal Caribbean for offering me a discount and providing me with internet service while cruising, and Playa Mia Beach and Water Park for hosting my family for the day.