We were ominously greeted with a letter informing us that on the previous sailing they'd had an outbreak of gastroenteritis, and we had the option of cancelling our trip for full credit towards a future cruise. We didn't worry too much and just hoped for the best. Embarkation was delayed for extra sanitation measures, but we still boarded by around 12:30. We went straight to Tsar's for lunch (a friend said the buffet was a madhouse -- thank you Cruise Critic!) Service was a bit slow (and we were told as much before we entered) but we were happy to be onboard and our rooms were ready by the time we finished.
We were in mini-suite 11552 with Winnie as our steward. My 8-year-old son just asked me to mention that "Winnie was awesome!" She did take very good care of us. I was a little concerned in the final weeks before the trip that the mini-suite would be too small for all four of us, but I think it worked just fine. My sons, 14 and 8, shared the pull-out bed with no problems, and the only time we had a major bathroom traffic jam was right after Great Stirrup Cay when everyone wanted to shower at once! (Our friend in another room let me come over to use her shower, which relieved the back-up.) But other than that we didn't have any trouble. I was surprised how much more spacious the mini-suite was than my friend's regular balcony room, especially the bathroom. The thick curtains between the two sides of the room and between the room and balcony allowed us to divide it into three sections when needed for privacy.
MEET & GREET:
We had our M&G on Sunday morning, and it was pretty low-key. Thanks to Linda for stepping up to organize it -- I know you didn't realize you had volunteered to be our "group coordinator!" The best part was that Richard, the cruise director, was there and talked to my boys. They had seen him on stage the night before and had decided he was a real celebrity, so they were ecstatic that he talked to them, and then remembered their names for the rest of the cruise (and even recognized them by name from the stage one night.)
Unfortunately, I don't have much info to offer. My 14-year-old visited the teen club for about 4 minutes the first night, said that it was full of "surly older kids" and never went back. My younger son just wanted to hang with family, so he never even checked out the kids club even though he's usually pretty social. But we were having lots of fun together, so I didn't mind!
We did a lot of family games, including the digital scavenger hunt, the regular scavenger hunt, and several trivia and game show activities throughout the week. These were all run by the "regular" entertainment staff, as opposed to the Nickelodeon staff, which drew a younger crowd. For the grown-ups, we did all three martini tastings over the week, which were a lot of fun and definitely a good deal. The first one was run by Ed who then left for vacation. Orrestas (sp?) and Dino did their best on the other two tastings, but Ed clearly was a lot more comfortable in front of the group. The new guys admitted to being quite nervous, but we all still had fun. Volunteer for games -- they give away free extra shots!
We went to shows a lot early in the week and sort of wore out by the end. We enjoyed the welcome aboard show very much, and based on that came back to see David Naster's comedy and Jean-Pierre's comedy/magic, which were also fun. Band on the Run (typical cast singing/dancing with 70's theme) was OK. The boys loved the Pirate-themed acrobat act (my partner, Mike, and I used that night for a romantic dinner opportunity!), and my younger son and I only caught the end of Cirque Bijou, but it looked like it was a big hit. We made sure to catch the end so we could see the crew invited on stage and cheer for them.
We had our first dinner at Azura, and decided that we liked the atmosphere so much that we never actually had dinner at Tsar's. The food at Azura was good quality hotel-style food. Nothing to do back flips over, but very satisfying. We were not planning to do as many specialty restaurants as we did, but after enjoying the first two so much, we were eager to try more things. We went to Mama's, Le Bistro, Moderno, and Cagney's. All were excellent, and you definitely noticed the upgrade. We thought Mama's and Le Bistro were by far the best values -- Mike had Osso Bucco at Mama's that he thought was incredible (he's the foodie of the family) and I loved my seafood fettuccine as well. Le Bistro was our couple's dinner, and it was every bit as special in both ambiance and quality as I would have expected. Moderno was very good, but I thought $20pp was high for the meat-on-a-skewer concept. We had a very light lunch that day and I still couldn't finish all the samples of meat. My boys asked me to mention that they thought Moderno was the best meal of the cruise. Cagney's was also very good, but I wasn't sure why it was priced higher than Le Bistro, as I had an excellent filet there as well and the overall experience was I thought better at Le Bistro. Of course, Cagney's was the last night and I think everyone was getting a little punchy from being together 24/7 all week, so please take my lack of extreme enthusiasm with a grain of salt. Also, we had the a la carte sushi one day as a light lunch, and found it delicious with prices much lower than what we pay at home.
We did breakfasts in the Great Outdoors, the Garden Cafe, Tsar's, and the Blue Lagoon. The cafe had the most selection, but you had to put up with the hordes of people. Tsar's was a little slow but decent. I asked for one substitution one morning and did not get it, but ordering off the menu as written the food was fine. The Great Outdoors and Blue Lagoon had the best atmosphere (read: quiet and not as crowded, especially Blue Lagoon) but more limited selections. Lunch for us was in the buffet or Blue Lagoon every day except that first day in Tsar's. So over-all, our take on the buffet is that most of the food was good, and occasionally we came across something that we didn't care for. I'd give it 85% good and 15% "never mind, I'll go get something different." But with so much to choose from, we all found food we liked at every meal, and I personally never felt like I had to go back to the same choices again because there were plenty of good options. For most of the week there were servers at the buffets and you couldn't touch any serving utensils due to the previous outbreaks. People complained about it taking longer, but I actually missed the service when they removed the high alert status mid-week. We did order one $5 pizza to our room right after we got back from Nassau, and it was quite good.
The best desserts we had all week were the Chocolate Fondue and Vanilla CrÃ¨me Brulee at Le Bistro, the Apple Crisp and Raspberry CrÃ¨me Brulee at Cagney's, the Key Lime Pie at Azura, and the Brownie Sundae at Blue Lagoon (available 11am -- 5pm only.)
We chose the latest time slot for our luggage tags and took our time eating breakfast in the buffet. Afterwards we tried to move to the Crystal Atrium, but deck 7 midship was a zoo, so we hopped right back onto the elevator and went up to 12, walked forward past the pool area (a little chilly for us to stay out there, but some people were) and went to the card room for a game of Yahtzee that lasted until our tags were called. We took the forward elevators down and didn't even have to wait in line to leave the ship -- customs was also pretty well cleared out and we went right through.
Hope you future cruisers found some useful info! Like I said before, this was an awesome family vacation and worth every penny, even at the higher Spring Break prices. I would do it over again in a heartbeat. :)