This was my husband's first cruise as well as the boys. It was my third cruise but the first I had taken with anyone other than my mother. The experience did not disappoint any of us.
EMBARKATION We left from New Orleans. It was smooth, organized and we were onboard within an hour. After purchasing "bottomless bubbles" for the boys and "drink of the day" for my husband and me, we went to the Lido deck for lunch. The boys were overwhelmed with the offerings and my husband and I headed to the grill.
STATEROOM Surprise! I had the boys cabin "decorated" for bon voyage (score one for mom!) Their inside cabin was across the hall from our balcony cabin, 8369. Both cabins exceeded our expectation in size. We never felt cramped. Both had three closets, adequate drawer space, three mirrors, shelves, a safe, small refrigerator (mini bar) and a bathroom larger than I recalled from previous cruises. There were shelves on either side of the bathroom mirror which comfortably held all our toiletries and included a rail for stability. The bathroom lighting was good. We made good use of the pull-out line to hang wet suits and the hooks on the back of the door for towels, robes, etc. The step up and down to the bathroom was awkward and I never got used to it but it didn't bother anyone else. Be aware your neighbors can here everything you say on the balcony.
After relaxing on the balcony our luggage arrived and immediately there after, the room stewards. We had different room stewards for the two cabins. "NiNi", the boys' steward, was their favorite staff member of the cruise! They would hang around when they knew he would be coming by just to see him and collected the "towel animals" most days for a menagerie picture at the end of the week. We kept an erratic schedule throughout the week but both cabins were always cleaned. I requested extra hangers, pillows, glasses, and that they empty the mini bar in the boys' room. This was all done before we left for dinner. I had also brought a large ice bucket and our room steward, Angel, kept it full. Both stewards were prompt, pleasant and called all four of us by name.
FOOD Our dinner seating was at 8:15 and I was pleased that we were seated at a table of four. Our head server "Peter" was immediately a hit. He made recommendations when asked; encouraged the boys to try new foods (and eat vegetables); and frequently checked with us to see if we wanted different or additional selections. The entire staff was prompt, courteous, and worked well together as a team. By the third night they anticipated our preferences. They inquired about the boys when they did not eat with us and asked them about their alternate activity the next night. "Peter" greeted us pleasantly when we passed on the Lido deck and inquired about our satisfaction with the food there as well. We all felt like valued guests.
My husband and I ate in the main dining room ever night and twice during lunch. The surprise food highlight of the week was the soups! Between the two of us we had: gazpacho, French onion, sweet potato, cream of spinach, cream of mushroom, cream of broccoli, pumpkin, asparagus vichyssoise, and cool cucumber. The prime rib was delicious and not over cooked. We all enjoyed the variety of starters and main courses, especially the lobster. The boys became willing to try new dishes and discovered they liked frog legs, escargot and oysters rockefeller. We were disappointed that the steak and burgers were overcooked and dry. The desserts were tasty but nothing spectacular. The cheesecakes were not good and resembled jello. I had the cheese plate several times and although good, it was the same every night. I would have enjoyed a larger or rotating variety. None of us every left hungry, which is significant since the portion sizes are not as large as most restaurants.
The boys frequented the buffet on the lido deck and never found it lacking. We all enjoyed the grill (hotdogs, fries, chicken nuggets and juicy burgers). Even when the line was long, it moved quickly. The grill was not open late, which would have been nice. The deli was open later than the grill, usually had a line and was reliably good. The pizza (open 24 hours) was better than most chains and we all stopped by daily. Room service options were limited, prompt and fresh but did not include pizza. We all ordered room service daily, especially for breakfast. The last morning we had omelets with bacon on the lido deck and wished we hadn't waited until the last day to try them! Good coffee in the MDR and room service. We did not go to the sushi bar or steak house.
ENTERTAINMENT We spent our evenings on our balcony - heavenly - or in front of big screen by the pool watching a movie. It was chilly (and sometimes windy) but blankets were available when the sun started setting. Popcorn at night was a nice touch. We never had to look for someone to bring us a drink, including soda for the boys, even while watching a movie. The boys spent most of their shipboard daytime in the pool, playing basketball or playing cards with friends. None of us participated in organized activities or attended the shows, instead enjoyed doing our own thing. Television channels were limited but that didn't bother us. The boys rented a couple of "pay per views" and they were more reasonable than hotels where we have stayed.
PORTS OF CALL: Montego Bay, Jamaica; Grand Cayman; Cozumel
DISEMBARKING: As smooth and organized as embarkation. It seemed to take longer due to lack of excitement but it actually didn't.
CONCLUSION It was a great choice for a family vacation. The ship is bit dated by cruise ship standards but that did not impact our experience. And it was clean, which is more important to us. The staff was always cleaning, everything and everywhere!