The good, the bad, the weird, the, sure!
Written by Bethany Wilmoth
For our birthdays this year, we decided to go back to our “normal vacation,” and go on a cruise.
We were incredibly anxious to cruise again, however, there were two reasons we decided to go on this adventure.
- When Royal Caribbean began canceling cruises for the pandemic you had two options: a) push the cruise out and receive cruise credit or b) get a refund. We chose to simply extend the date of our cruise. We found out that RC decided that they would not extend this offer past 2022. After a substantial amount of cruises being pushed back, we scored a mini-mansion (link below to YouTube video tour) on this cruise and didn’t want to lose that opportunity.
- Royal Caribbean is still requiring proof of vaccinations and a negative Covid test within 48 hours* of sailing. As we watched the world open up more, mask mandates being dropped, etc, we decided to take the cruise while vaccines were still required (not saying they won’t be required in the future but, better safe than sorry).
We began packing and got our first ever Covid tests. We hopped on a flight to Florida and caught the ship the next day. We did choose to wear our masks for the flights and Lyft, even though we had our negative results.
We got up super early on embarkation day because we had learned of a mythical word that got us on the ship super early in the morning: “Suite!”
This is our first photo on the boat, post stop at a bar for a champagne toast for ROB’S BIRTHDAY!, time stamped at 11:11am. We had about 3 hours before the ship began feeling populated. It was amazing!
The best part about the cruise, other than our amazing room, Suite staff, and our fantastic travel agent, was our itinerary. Once we boarded the ship, we had a full day to explore before we left Orlando. Our next day was at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island. The best part is that because it’s Royal Caribbean’s island, we knew that all the staff and passengers were vaccinated. The next day was a sea day, so again, we were feeling really good that we were around the same people and hadn’t heard of any issues with Covid. The next port was St. Thomas, followed by St. Kitts & Nevis, and two additional sea days.
St. Thomas was where it got interesting. We didn’t learn about this until later in our sailing but the cruise had picked up new crew for the production, “Grease.” It turned out that some cast members that arrived from St. Thomas had Covid. Based on feedback we’ve since heard, this was one of the first times that new crew boarded a ship and were not quarantined for 14 days. We got our first hint of trouble when the shows began getting canceled and we found out (from sources not disclosed) that the entire crew had gone back to quarantining when they were not working. Now all that is hindsight, so what was it like on board?
For starters, after everyone got back from St. Thomas, we chose to wear masks on the ship from then until we disembarked, 4 days later. While most people were accepting and didn’t make a big deal, I do believe that some people truly believed they could kill is with their death stares – eh, whatever.
Unfortunately, based on a Facebook group from the sailing, with voluntary feedback, many people came home with Covid.
The extroverts become introverts. This cruise was very different for us because we did not participate in any of the onboard activities. To begin with, we find the mega ships to be overwhelming. We’re much more spontaneous on cruises than in real life so the idea of having to schedule events on board will always be a no-go. Second, if we’re being honest, it was the people factor. We spent 98% (or more) of our time on this ship outside, in our room (seriously watch the video above), or masked up walking around. We decided not to do any trivia or even formal pictures, very out of character for us. Which will lead us to our last paragraph, as to whether it was worth it but first, the FOOD.
Everyone knows that the food on the cruise is where it is at! We ran the math and it was actually cheaper for us to do the 3-night speciality dining package and add two additional restaurants ala-cart versus doing the ultimate dining package where all the fancy shamancy restaurants are included. #math For the package we selected, 150 Central Park, Chops, and Wonderland. For out of pocket we went for Izumi (because it’s always ala-cart even with the package) and Sabor. This means we skipped Jamie’s, which after a bad experience I had on another ship and an internet poll from Crown and Anchor members, we just decided to forgo that one. Coastal Kitchen is also an option for Suite guests only so we planned a few nights there as well!
Izumi – WOW! If we decide to do specialty dining we always do Izumi on night one. The staff was very welcoming and our server was hilarious! He was very quick, answered all our questions, and was just a delight to be around. We got the Champagne Lobster roll, a Rainbow Roll (we both agreed it was one of the best we’d ever had, and we eat a lot of sushi!), sake, & edamame.
Chops – Night two (we thought was formal night but it’s actually your first sea day, not day 2) met expectations. Every ship has Chops and the food is always fantastic. Is it mind blowing? Maybe not after the 3rd or 4th time you have it. Is it delicious? Always. They’ve set the bar very high for this restaurant, and it always delivers, but it is consistently the same, which is not a bad thing.
Sabor – I truly thought formal night was always nights 2 & 5 of a 7 night sailing, nope! Welcome to TACO TUESDAY in a formal gown! Just kidding! We got pretty-ish and then changed before dinner. If I’m being completely honest, I was a little underwhelmed, which has never happened at Sabor. The table side guacamole, was the processed green goo from windjammer buffet. The chicken soup was tasty but because Sabor is on the boardwalk and it was 90° outside, it was rather uncomfortable. If I’m being honest, we can’t even remember our entrees. It wasn’t that it was bad, it was just ok. I’m not dismissing Sabor by any means, it’s typically one of my favorites, but this was just off.**
Coastal Kitchen – THE BEST FOOD & SERVICE ON THE SHIP! Hindsight 20/20, I wish we hadn’t done the dining package at all. The food at Coastal was mind blowing. It was the best food we had on the ship, our entire trip! I was so surprised because it has always been good but never super impressive. I’m still drooling thinking about the truffle tortellini! The servers were also phenomenal. I wish we had spent more time here. Also worth noting, the menus online are very outdated. They have expanded this menu to have unique dishes every night.
150 Central Park – I’m honestly not even sure what happened here. Our favorite part of 150 has always been the delicious cucumber martini, simplistic food, and ambiance. When we arrived, on formal night, only 3 tables were seated. Our server came over and asked for our beverage order and any food allergies. We both excitedly ordered the cucumber martinis and said we couldn’t eat pork and we have a nut allergy. He came back, after we reviewed the menu and asked if we wanted his recommendations, to which we of course said, yes. He then proceeded to recommend every appetizer, entree, and dessert on the menu that was either pork or had nuts! I kid you not. We ordered, food that wouldn’t kill us, and reminded him of our allergies. Once our order was put in the system he came over and made our drinks – we had been there for about 20 minutes by this time. Sadly, the martini is not the same as the one we’ve had on Allure. It was fine but it was definitely not the drink. By the time the appetizers came out and then the entrees we had been there for over an hour. We canceled our dessert order and left. So disappointed.
Wonderland – I appreciate everyone who told us to try it but, it was a one and done for us. We were prepared for unique food but, once again, you could really feel lapses in the service. We had already finished our appetizers (two courses) before our drink order was taken. We had been there for an hour before we got our drinks. At around 30 minutes we had to request water! It was a unique dining experience, but not something we would do again. The deconstructed ahi tuna in the mini cone was the star of the show.
Side eateries – Every issue I write below was addressed by the culinary staff. They addressed each mishap and we saw changes immediately. Royal Caribbean has always been AMAZING with culinary issues, it’s just the pits that we seem to have any issues at all.
Sorrentos – I LOVE Sorrentos! Who doesn’t!? Harmony even has a nice hot veggie/Italian treat section before you get to the pizzas. We saw that they have an entire section dedicated to gluten free pizza and that if you order a slice, you get a pie! But, why is there always a but?! We went for lunch one day and we were watching the pizzas get pulled. Out popped a sausage and since neither of us can eat pork we waited for the next. Cheese! WIN! They used the same slice cutter for both. <Sad trombone for cross contamination here> We mentioned this to our Suite Concierge and the next day we saw they had multiple cutters out *and* the dining staff called us and asked if we wanted to meet. No, I wasn’t trying to be that person, but I did truly appreciate their prompt response and willingness to discuss what happened with us.
Park Cafe – As a rule on the mega ships, instead of beelining for Windjammer when we first arrive we would go to Park Cafe. This was the first time that we ate lunch, pretty much exclusively at the Cafe. They had their standard array of soups, the roast beef station, pre made generic sandwiches, a salad bar, and nicer sandwiches/quesadillas that they would heat up for you. Once again, we had a cross contamination issue – that was quickly addressed by the dining team, but still! I know this will seem like such a small detail that most people wouldn’t have been phased by, but I get violently ill when I eat and beef or pork. I asked the gentlemen who was preparing the salads if I could have a veggie quesadilla. These are prepared on fresh parchment paper in a panini press when ordered so I felt pretty safe with this decision. Once I ordered he began looking around and it was clear the person who was suppose to be on that station wasn’t there. The gentlemen creating the roast beef sandwiches (freshly shaved and dipped in au jus) reached into the fridge, grabbed the quesadilla, and put in the microwave. So, not only was I served a soggy glob of cheese mess, in place of a crisp quesadilla, I couldn’t even eat it because of the cross contamination from his gloves. Overall, it was a great experience and nice to be able to get a huge salad every day, because I no longer even tried to get anything else.
Taco Bar – We did eat here a couple times. It was never super crowded, had outdoor seating, and you could get them to hand you the food. The food was great.
Windjammer – The most divisive paragraph. After reviewing a couple Facebook groups on cruising, it is quite obvious that this is still a hot topic. Windjammer is Royal Caribbean’s buffet style food venue. Recently, it opened back up to being a full buffet where crew members were no longer serving guests. A positive, they redesigned the layout so that you must walk through a hand washing station before entering. That’s the only positive. I’m not going to dwell on this, but with the amount of people we had from our sailing testing positive, and the fact that the US reached 1 million Covid deaths the same week we sailed, we were not impressed by Royal Caribbean’s decision to go back to buffet style. We did not eat here.
Suite Pool Deck – This is where we lived. The main bartender, Herbert (Herbie) was fantastic and so was Garry. It was never super crowded. He had cool towels on hand. Made a mean drink, drink, drink, drink… you get it. We sat in loungers and read for the majority of our vacation. Where some may think that was a waste of time, after two years in the same walls, just being in paradise with a book was perfection. We met some of the most amazing people as well. All in all, the highlight of our trip.
Crew shortage! – Those two words pretty much explain every single complaint that we had on the ship. Royal Caribbean went back to full capacity of passengers but doesn’t have the staff to support it yet. The Covid outbreak didn’t help either and further reduced staff. Was it noticeable? Yes. We’ve never waited a half hour for a beverage in speciality dining, let alone a full hour like we did on this sailing. Regrettably, I saw some Facebook polls in the aforementioned sailing group that asked if people would cruise again, and No’s out weighed the Yes’s. We even agreed that if this had been our first cruise, we weren’t sure that we would return. THANKFULLY, we know better.
Million dollar questions:
Will we do a mega ship again?
Ask me today, no. Ask me after we get off Grandeur and I’ve had the Centrum for a week, maybe. The Allure (pun intended) of a larger ship is always there.
Is it fun being hangry on a cruise ship?
NO! Oh man, that was one of the hardest parts. I’ve never felt hungry on a cruise before but because we chose not to eat at Windjammer and the other establishments had set hours there were times when hangry was found. Yes, I chose not to eat at Windjammer. Yes, I understand it was a choice and I didn’t have to be hangry. No, I will not ever shake your hand or eat at a buffet again.
Was there anything else weird?
Bananas! It might seem like a small thing but I typically eat a banana for breakfast every day (next time I’ll pack potassium supplements, hello leg cramps!) and we take another one for a Breakfast Banana Smoothie. The ship wouldn’t give out any bananas until the third day. Why? They said they were green, and boy were they! They were literally Kermit the Frog green! Oh, and the best part, completely rotten on the inside! They were clearly frozen prematurely and for too long. So, the bananas we did finally get had one or two bites…maybe.
Planning our day – we found this incredibly frustrating. The cruise compass (list of activities for the day) is no longer broken out by time but my types of activity. This means you have to read through everything and see where you’ve double booked yourself in the end. Also, the app has things to do that the compass doesn’t, so you have to cross compare. It was a total mess and we rage quit after the first few minutes. Maybe that was their goal? I honestly don’t think we’re mega ship people.
Room Service – This was a first. Everyday we get 1 thing delivered to the room (it is free after all). Care to guess? COFFEE! When you order you select a 30 minutes time span for it being delivered. They would give us a courtesy call before they arrived. On the first day, they called 30 minutes before our slotted time and arrived 30 minutes after. The rest of the trip didn’t get better after that. It was the first time that we had been awoken that they were coming and then had to sit and wait for it to arrive. Something about beverage service on this cruise was not working! A positive, he did sneak us 1 banana on day two, because we kept asking, and sadly, it was already rotten.
Will be cruise on Royal Caribbean again?
Yes, we’re already booked. I’m grateful we did this trip to know that we really only want sea days. Our next one is on a smaller ship and there’s only one port, on the last day, so much less anxiety for exposure. I’m so thankful that we know this isn’t Royal Caribbean’s standard. We will try again in the Fall and see how that goes. Having said that, I’ll reiterate, if this had been our first cruise it very well may have been our last.
A friendly PSA on how to disembark if you’re Suite class.
Yes, many people are getting off the ship beside where they’ve told you not to move. Yes, it seems like hundreds of people are getting off the ship before you, do not move. WAIT for your concierge. All of those people are going to a queue to stand, for hours, to go to customs. Trust your concierge and follow him or her out where they direct you, around that entire line, to Face ID custom check in, and out the door. This may be the one time in our lives that we display an abundance of patience.
*Covid test – Yes, this rule is a little Silly Billy. How many tests did we take? One.
Did we get tested before we got on an airplane? Yep! Did we get tested before a hotel stay? Yep! Did we get tested before we took the shuttle from the parking lot to the airport and then from the hotel to the port. Yep! Is it safe to say we could’ve easily gotten Covid from any of these outings? Yep. So, is it a bit of a silly rule, yes, however, we were masked for all of the exposures above and just had to drink away our worries with a champagne toast that we had committed to taking this vacation while being very much aware that others played this game as well.
**Sabor on Oasis class is hard because you’re eating heavy Mexican food outside. It’s the same as Izumi on Adventure for us. If you try to eat at Izumi, later in the cruise, you can get smoked out. On Adventure, Izumi is at the top of the staircase that leads down to the casino so after a few nights at sea… The way we eat Sabor isn’t conducive to being in very warm weather.