This was my first cruise. Even though I spent a lot of time on cruisecritic.com. I did not know what to expect. I thought I would leave some observations for other newbies.
It turns out that eating is the main activity on a cruise. On lobster night everyone asked for seconds, and the staff are happy to oblige. If we had trouble deciding on dessert the staff would bring us all of the desserts. The staff want to make you happy, don't be afraid to ask for what you want.
After reading reviews suggesting there were long lines we decided to get the Chef's Table dining package. This was a lot of fun and a lot of value for the money. The dinner at the Chef's table was really special (Jacques is an awesome sommelier). I liked all of the specialty restaurants. Having said that, the "My Time" dining in the Edelweiss would have been perfectly acceptable and a good way to save money. The room is very nice, with china, a fine dining atmosphere, great views and outstanding service.
Be prepared to determine your standing reservation before you board the ship.
Our state room (a junior suite) was 8564. This was a surprisingly large room. While others looked for public places to relax and read, we were quite comfortable in our room with its beautiful view. The bathroom and balcony were also surprisingly roomy. There were lots of drawers and closet space. We had more places to store things than we needed.
The room did not reflect a modern style. Though the bleached wood furnishings and ugly painting were not impressive, the room was VERY clean and comfortable. Friends of ours had a suite as well, but it was much smaller.
When we first saw the balcony we thought we were going to have coffee on the balcony every morning. But, it was very cold out there. Most of our trip was cloudy and the temp never got about 60. With the wind from the ship it was just too nippy to spend more than a couple of minutes on the balcony.
I also had dreams of doing a lot of running on the deck. What newbies don't realize is that it is very windy on deck when the ship is travelling full-out at sea. Still, it is possible to run on the deck, you just need to get used to strong headwinds running toward the bow and lots of tailwind running to the stern.
The fitness center was small but functional. I went to the free stretching class a few times and my wife took paid yoga classes. Lots of treadmills, ellipticals and free weights.
There are tons of activities. Simple things like bingo, line dancing and trivia. But, people came out in large numbers for these events and they brought the same enthusiasm as if they had mid-field seats for the super bowl. That is what I love about cruise goers and it was something I learned early. Your level of enjoyment is driven by your attitude. Likewise, the staff on the ship (almost entirely from nations that don't participate in the G8) are incredibly friendly. If you learn their name and treat them well they will give you excellent service and lots of great tips (e.g., stay at the rear of the ship at the glacier and you will have the best view when the ship turns around).
So, the incidentals on a cruise can be significant. We probably spent another $2,000 on drinks, specialty dining, spa services, excursions and other stuff. I am OK with that, but there are some areas that I would not due if I were trying to maximizing value. Our massages were good, but on the expensive side. I also pre-purchased water, and never drank most of it.
There is a large theater with some decent entertainment. The shows are typically 1900 and 2100. We found that our dinner time (dinner was usually 2 hours) would prevent us from making most of these shows. Something to think about when choosing your dining time. We loved the Temptation tribute. The comedian was entertaining. Unfortunately we missed the headliner, Gary Mule Deer.
I am still trying to figure out how tipping works. I wish the cruise operator would address that more clearly.
I was also not pleased with the muster drill. All of the instructions were given via overhead speakers which are difficult to hear. On top of that there was a crane operating outside of our station. I never heard a single instruction. This is unacceptable. But that is my only true complaint.