PART I. (will be submitted in multiple parts)
Wow! Loved this cruise! The staff was terrific, the boat energetic, and all the ports but one (Puerto Rico) were great. Even better, for New Englanders, this trip came out of NY, saving us the need to fly to a destination port. Believe you me, only a 2 hour ride home made for a wonderful beginning and end to the trip.
Travel to the boat.
As a New Englander is very easy to get to this port. The ship departs and returns to Bayonne New Jersey which makes is a non-flight trip. Thus, we were able to drive two and a half hours to get to the boat and back (after the cruise ended) making the entire journey (to get to the vacation) almost effortless.
Parking and embarkation were incredibly easy. You pull into a loading zone and unload your luggage with your family. Then you circle around the building (next to the loading dock) and park your car. You take the keys and leave the vehicle. Then, you walk back into the building where your family with your luggage is waiting.
Security and Embarkation
After going through a security checkpoint/airport screening, you walk up to the counter. About 20-25 agents are waiting to review your information, and print/hand you your boarding documents/room key/card and other ship information (including your first cruise compass). Almost no wait; we came a little late (were there about 2::15). Decided from prior experience that we didn't need to be the first people on the boat.
So, with our newly minted cruise cards and our carry-ons, we took our pictures (for our ship id) and the "entry onto the boat picture". Then we boarded a bus, which drove 100 yards down the pier (can't walk there) and then boarded the boat.
Room 8354 (Outside Balcony, Aft Starboard)
What a pleasant room. Decor was attractive muted tones (corals/greens/mauves/taupes/etc...) and nicely decorated with a desk and chair, daybed/sofa, small coffee table and queen (closer to king size) bed. There is a faux half curtain to separate the seating area from the bedding area, and one flat screen computer screen/tv was placed on the desk shelving unit between the bed and the sitting area. Frankly, the curtain could have gone the length of the room so as to afford greater privacy for four people, but this was not really a tragedy.
The ship is broken up into six sections. First, the forward sections (those ahead of the forward elevators). Then the area between the two elevators (the middle sections) and then the aft section (behind the elevators). This room was a superior outdoor balcony Row that was on the outside of this ship behind the aft elevators.
Because we had four people, I was very concerned that the room would not be big enough because it was not a suite. Our ship was overbooked with 700 children so there was no opportunity to upgrade. My concern was wholly unnecessary. Our bed (claimed to be a queen) was overly large, almost as big as a king. The kids' daybed/sofa pulled out into a queen size bed. Although, when all the beds were made, left for little room for little else, but didn't seem to matter because we basically only slept in the room and spent little time in it otherwise.
We had a great room porter (Wa-'wan), whose name we couldn't really pronounce. Wife kept calling him boo-boo or mau-mau in error; we tried to correct her, to no avail. He did a great job keeping the room tidy and making the beds after all had left the room.
The bathroom in our non-suite was rather small. The size of a small walk in closet, it basically had a one person shower, a toilet and sink all within a small 5 foot circumference circle. If you want a bigger bathroom, get a suite.
The room is non-smoking, although you can smoke on the balcony which our neighbors (8352) did frequently. The balcony is a small 5 foot wide, 3 foot deep space that has glass shelves as the border with a polished wood railing. Can't tan on your balcony due to the roof, but was a pleasant place to sit and watch us come into/leave port. Did spend some time reading/relaxing there. Was much better (at times) than sitting atop with the masses.
Our room was about 100 feet from the aft elevators, on the same level as the internet suite/computers.
On the 11th floor, basically the windjammer is the casual dining on the ship. Set up similar to a large hotel casual buffet, the windjammer takes over the entire rear of the boat. Was a pleasant place to have a meal, but the food was just average. The servers did a fair job of keeping it neat and there was a nice variety/selection of food, but none of it was really terrific unless you took opportunity to enjoy the omelet bar (too few chefs) or pasta bar (only one chef); always a wait (about 10 mins) for both.
Pleasant decor (faux wicker chairs with comfortable cushions), the place reminded you of a beach hotel's buffet, with the best view off the ship (basically all glass off the aft). No shortage of staff helped you drink what you wanted (alcohol included) but there was basically (bad) coffee, juice, vitamin water, and water at breakfast (not including any kind of pop, alcohol, or upgraded (fresh squeezed) oj.).