This was my wife and I's very first cruise with any cruise line so leading up to the sail date I was full of excitement. Our cruise was an Eastern Caribbean cruise that had ports in Key West FL, Freeport Bahamas, and Nassau Bahamas from April 8-15, 2012.
To begin with we drove down the day of our cruise from Dallas, TX and really experienced little trouble with traffic. This may change if your cruise wasn't on a Sunday, but the only time we began to notice an increase in vehicles was once we were on Harbor Dr near the Galveston port. Since this was our first time ever checking into a ship we followed the traffic in the beginning which ended up being a waste of time sitting in some extra traffic for about 15-25 minutes, not a big deal since we were early for check-in. The problem was most people drive up to the curb and drop their luggage off with the port personnel in the blue Hawaiian shirts and then back track to the parking area designed for the cruise lines. We both felt more comfortable keeping our luggage with us until we handed the bags off personally to the ship. Once you park and pay the $70 dollar (price is related to your cruise length) you can hop on a free shuttle that takes you back to your ship so that you can board. Also this is where I think dropping your bag off would have helped since we still had our luggage you can only get on the shuttles that have bag room and I think there were only 2 going back and forth, not a big deal just slowed the process a little bit since there were quite a few people waiting for shuttles.
The boarding process was painless, just standing in a bunch of zip-zag lines, getting your picture taking, going through airport like detectors, and getting our sail and sign cards. I had read a bunch of reviews about certain items I can take on the ship such as beverages, snacks, and other things and after going through the process (granted your person could be different) I feel like I could have packed as much alcohol and such in my bag and I would have gotten through just fine. I also remember reading when bringing on drinks it said to limit your amount (no alcohol besides a bottle of unopened wine), we both saw some families with as much as 2 cases (24 packs) of waters and sodas and much more so I'm not really sure what limited means to them. We brought on some waters/Gatorade's and had no issues.
Once we arrived on the ship it was really an amazing first sight. Everything was so clean and very elegant looking. We grabbed ourselves the welcoming drink and decided to go on a tour of the boat to start learning our way around the boat. Since we had family that had cruised before and said we would gain weight from all the food we ate we made it our personal challenge to never take the elevator, I am 24 and my wife is 22 and we are in decent shape so this was no issue for us. I did notice lines would form often of people waiting for elevators. Also when you pushed the button to go one way it would light them up for all 4. I noticed on many occasions that a couple would be standing there waiting for an elevator and since you don't know which one is going to open you try to stand near the middle, but if one opened up and a group of people just round the nearest corner to that elevator they would all rush into it and leave the couple that had been standing there to wait for another, I guess manors tend to go out the window. After walking around the ship and feeling comfortable with the layout we went to our room for the first time an our bags were waiting for us outside the room. I think out of the 4000 passengers on the ship only 2 bags were misplaced (they put flyers on everyones door to find them). Our deck staff that cleaned the rooms were Awesome!! They always called us by first name and had a friendly smile on their face. A little fact about the room that I didn't know until I called guest services, they mini fridge will stay locked until you have departed and hit international waters because there is liquor and alcohol inside of them, so don't think they just forgot to unlock it like me. Also inside the room is a safe like in my resorts around the world, and it worked well to keep your personal belongings inside of it.
Now onto the food, it was AMAZING!! My wife leans more towards the picky eater side while myself will eat any type of food that you place in front of me, and we both walked away from this cruise saying how amazing it was (I think she could have used some ranch every now and again though). We ate at all of the specialty restaurants (Prime Steakhouse and Cucina del Capitano) and would recommend that you try them at least once because they were suburb! The Prime Steakhouse was $30 per and the Italian was $12 per, but like I said well worth the money. Everything we ordered was cooked and tasted excellent. The portions of food at the Italian restaurant were really on the border of to large, I honestly believe we wasted over half our main course. I ordered the captains favorite items and loved loved loved them!
We ate at the buffet a couple of times for breakfast/lunch but never for dinner so I really wouldn't know what their dinners looked like. There was always plenty of selection items such as omelettes, cereal, toast, pancakes, bacon, fruit, and much more. You can tell they try to accommodate for all nationalities and some foods were a little odd to us but I would try most anyways like I stated before. For the people wanting to stay more towards french toast and pancakes they serve that where they serve the hot dogs/hamburgers near the main pool, we didn't find that out till later. Other then that they also server breakfast at the Southern Lights restaurant which we tried twice and it was just normal breakfast foods as well, plus it was nice to see that restaurant since our dinning was in the Northern Lights.
For the evening dining we chose Dine at your Time 545-930 but we always seemed to go around 600 so that we could catch all the shows and performances. We never had to wait once for a table at this time, and loved every dish we ate. My wife order the chocolate melting cake for dinner every night and loved it every time, I always order the didja appetizer (odd ball food items like shark/frog legs and such) and it was always really good. The staff was always really friendly and provided great service. Since we didn't have a specific dining time we would sit in a similar area but at different tables every night and some of the staff that served us from the previous nights would come say hello and remembered us by name which made us feel special. That tables are all very close so just come ready to know that you may be sitting close to a stranger and listening to their diner conversations, I am a talker myself so I took part in many diner conversations with strangers who we knew well by the end of the evening. Also at about 700 each night the staff would put on a mini performance each night in the Northern Lights which was always enjoyable to watch. Other places I would recommend trying are the Deli in the back of the boat on deck 10, sushi on deck 5 near the ocean plaza, and the pizza which is 24 hours but was still pretty tasty.
The performances and shows were out of this world, I really can't state enough that you need to attend as many shows as possible, and if you only want to go to a few I would recommend the magic show/illusionist, the legends show towards the end that features passengers on the boat, and the comedy shows (they have family and adult versions) they were all amazing! I really thought it was just going to be mediocre stuff but was shocked at the quality of each performance, they really spend a lot of time and money in giving you a good show!
I think the let down of our trip was the Ports, Key West was fun and we went to the Hemingway house which was neat to see along with seeing some 6 toed cats. We also ate at Sloppy Joes which was the local hot spot so seating was a little rough to find. The Bahamas was the interesting one, we had heard the ports were ok but not great and really would agree with that. If you were to choose one port to just hang out on the boat and enjoy most people off for a day I would recommend Freeport, it is an industrial port and it takes you about 20 minutes by taxi to get anywhere close. We did the little shops and stuff at all the Bahamas ports but don't really enjoy being bombarded by shop people trying to sell items or 420 (drugs). There a decently close beach in Nassau you can walk to from the port that they walked to in about 15 minutes and seemed pretty safe to walk since its all on main street, you just need to head south of the port and keep following the sidewalk and it takes you right to it, the water is beautiful and crystal clear!
Just a few things I noticed;
--We had read before going that it was really hard to find lounge chairs by pools and long lines, but our boat was almost at full capacity and we never had that problem once. We noticed at the back of the boat on deck 10 near the pool seemed to be a little more mellow then the main lido pull and always had open lounge chairs. Also the Serenity area (adults only) was always a good spot to relax and suntan away from kids if you are wanting that.
--Show up about 15-30 minutes early to shows to make you get a good seat, on a couple occasions we missed out on a comedy show because the Spot Light Lounge was full already 5 minutes prior to a show, also certain seats in the Showtime Theatre (main stage) were bad with poles in from of you to block your view so you don't want to be stuck behind those views.
--Be ready to spend a few extra dollars on excursions and drinks. My wife and I do enjoy a beer/mixed drink every now and again. The prices are very comparable to restaurant prices so they don't over charge it can just rack up on your sign and sail card very fast. Excursions are a tad pricey in my opinion we both wanted to go try the water park at Atlantis in Nassau but for 6 hours and $159 we decided to just play at the beach for the day.
I would honestly say if you go into this cruise with an open mind you really will come away with some amazing memories and a great experience! This was my wife and I's 1 year wedding anniversary and we had such a great time and will definitely be cruising again in the future!