I went on this cruise with my daughter. It was her Christmas gift to me. Neither of us had been on a cruise before. This made a great introduction to cruising for us.
We flew in on through Fort Lauderdale airport. We stayed at the Rodeway Inn. That is a low cost hotel and it is like they say--you get what you pay for. Shabby rundown hotel. It was clean (more or less) and the breakfast bar was OK. We used SAS shuttle service to the port. Great service and much cheaper than the other services.
I had forgot to pack one item. The shuttle driver pointed out the shopping mall across from the port. Since we were early we left our bags with the porters, hopped in a cab and went shopping for an hour. Then we took a cab back to the port.
Once we actually started through the check in, it was very smooth. We had done the on line check in and had our forms printed out and in hand. That saved a lot of time. The only hold up is that we got put in line behind a large family that had not done the on line check in and did not have passports for everyone. It was only a minor delay and then we sailed right through.
We went to our room and were pleased with it. We had expected a very tiny room and though it was small, it was so well layed out that we fit all our things in easily. The bed was made up as a queen size and we called room service and asked for it to be made up as two twins. We took all the food and water bottles from the "mini bar" tray on the desk and set it up on top of the desk shelf out of the way. I had brought extra hangers and that was good. The bathroom is very tiny, but served our needs well. The room was clean and the beds were comfortable. We had brought earplugs as the various cruise packing list recommendations suggested. We never needed them. There was some engine noise and vibrations, but it never bothered us.
We never had time to do all the things that were available on the ship. We went to the shows each night, but that was about all we got to. Our dining time was 9:00 and there was a long line of people changing dining times when we came on board. So we just left it at that. We only went to the main dining room two times. The food was great and the service was great. My daughter ordered a bottle of wine to have with her meals. It was a very low quality wine, but not bad enough to ruin the meals.
We ate most of our meals in the Windjammer buffet. They serve the same menu as the main dining room, plus lots of extra stuff. They have selections for all sorts of dietary and cultural preferences, it is much less of a hassle, and you can go whenever you like. I would recommend the Windjammer for anyone who wants to just fit in meals around a busy schedule and for anyone with special special diet limitations. It would also be a good choice for families with little kids who might not like the offerings on the menus in the main dining room, or who get restless with a long drawn out meal.
As for the shows--they were all excellent. We went to all the shows and it is hard to say which was the best show. I guess the musical review show on the last night was my favorite for the energy and enthusiasm of the performers.
A few comments on the ports we went to: First was Nassau. We didn't do any of the tours or excursions because of cost and because I wanted to shop. Big mistake. The shops are crowded and full of cheap junk. The straw market was worse than the reviews make it out. Just a bunch of tiny pitiful booths overflowing with gaudy trinkets in a stifling shed building. The people who run the booths are aggressive in trying to sell there goods. Aggressive is really too mild a term. We did have fun and just tried to keep laughing and keep in a good mood. We found a Starbucks shop right by the pier. We paid $3.00 for an hour of Internet. That was much better than the price on the ship.
Coco cay: this was a great stop on the cruise. We rented a paddle boat and enjoyed riding that around. My daughter jumped off the boat to swim out to rescue her hat that flew away. Oops! We got a mild reprimand for that. Don't think about jumping off your boat. Strictly against the rules. After that we found loung chairs in the shade and relaxed with tall, cool "Coco Loco" drinks. We went back early because I was getting a bit heat sick.
Key West: this was my favorite port. We took a tour trolley around the island. Hint: take the grey trolley--it is much cheaper and goes to all the important historic stops on the island. We found another Starbucks and enjoyed free Internet. We ate pie at the Key Lime Pie Factory and wonderful doughnuts at a shop called Glazed. We did lots more shopping. Big Hint: just off the pier you will find several $5 shops. They are great shops selling everything for five bucks. They had all the same T-shirts and dresses that we saw at Nassau, only cheaper and no high pressure sales tactics. We also went to a great toy shop called The Toy Factory and a sea shell shop called The Shell Warehouse.
The last morning of the cruise went very smoothly. We choose to handle our own luggage and that seems to have been a wise choice. We sailed right through Customs and out to the shuttle pick up area. I almost forgot to go pick up a toy pirate sword that I had bought. Security had taken it and was holding it at the door where you go in when newly arriving for a cruise.