Pre-Cruise: We stayed overnight at a nearby La Quinta after flying into Ft. Lauderdale airport the day before departure. We parked our car there for two weeks and got the complimentary shuttle to the port. Although we had initially been told by a desk person AND the driver of the shuttle upon dropoff that we'd be picked up at the pier, we were informed when we called back that there was no pick up and that we'd have to get a taxi. A taxi from the port to Hollywood, FL where our hotel was cost right at 23.50. Still better than the $10/pp the shuttles wanted.
Embarkation: After taking the 10am shuttle to the port we were ushered through check-in in about 15 minutes and only had to wait another 15 or so before we were allowed to board at about 11:30am. The agent, Margie, who helped us was a pleasure. They are very strict about where you sit and how you line up once you are checked-in while you wait to board if the boat hasn't been opened yet, so keep that in mind.
Ship: I'll separate the ship into several sections since doing otherwise seems like it would be a disservice.
1) Central Park- a very pretty area with tons of foliage. Houses most of the specialty restaurants, which were all reported to be delicious. Park Cafe is a heavy favorite here since it is complimentary, and it is quite good. I'd recommend the Chihuaha quesadilla and well-known prime rib sandwiches. Though the prime rib sandwiches are on rolls which had a bit too much salt for me, though it is easily flicked off. At night there are live musicians who play classical music, and the area can be very relaxing due to its quiet nature and comfortable seating.
2) Boardwalk- a much more energetic area than central park by design, this area is very good for kids. It houses the aqua theater, which not only had live performances but served to show the NBA finals and had rotating trivia as well as movies. A nice place to go with the family. The donut shop is here, and contrary to reports we thought the donuts were good (though only after the first day). We ate at the seafood shack, and I regret to say that the bit I got was pretty mediocre to bad and the service was awful (looking at you Pedro). Johnny Rockets is in this area, and surprisingly to me so were the rock climbing walls. All in all one of the main three places to spend time outside of booked shows.
3) Dining Room- the Opus dining room is beautiful, and our waiters Ana and Anthony were the best waiters we've had on any of our previous cruises. The food here was overall good, and the lobster was much better than we'd had on Freedom of the Seas. Unfortunately this next week is Ana's last, but Anthony should be around to bring the fun for a while. Yea mon!
4) Promenade- the heart of the ship. All of the shopping here is pretty standard rip-off shopping. I couldn't help but laugh at people who thought they were getting a great deal on the 20 dollar watch sale, or that those watches actually normally sold for 80-100 dollars. They had a nice $10 t-shirt sale, but strangely there were a ton of shirts from the other itinerary. We saw quite a few disheartened people walk away wondering why there weren't more shirts from our itinerary for sale. Overall a beautiful area.
5) Entertainment Deck- the area with the casino, studio B, Blaze night club, the comedy club, and the jazz club. A lot of time will be spent here for shows and gambling. This ship has a fantastic casino, and definitely the largest I've seen at sea.
6) Sports Deck- the sea days during our cruise were somewhat overcast, but this area is very active overall. There was never a lack of deck chairs, but the pools do get very full quite quickly on sea days. If you don't like crowds, then it may seem more packed than it is, but chairs were always available. The hot tubs were very popular with teens at night.
Room: We stayed in a class Q interior stateroom. For the two of us we thought it was perfectly spacious, with ample closet space and drawers for everything we brought. Our stateroom attendant Wongyu was great, and had our room cleaned and turned down every time we left.
1) Hairspray: Very good. The cast really gets into it. There were one or two obvious instances of mistiming or lines being flubbed during our showing, but the cast did an excellent job of playing off the situation in a comedic and non-disruptive manner. Rating: A
2) Oasis of Dreams: Was rescheduled for 2 nights worth of showings (4 times). Tried too hard to be Cirque Du Soleil in my opinion, and suffered for it. Rating: B
3) Splish/Splash: I hadn't heard of this beforehand, and you don't need to make reservations, but this was much better than Oasis of Dreams. It is a comedy diving/water show, and has a more cohesive feel to it. Great for kids.
4) Summer Breeze: 4 of the main cast of hairspray gets together to sing you some supposedly uplifting songs. This show was easily the worst, and there were quite a few people leaving early even though it was only 30 minutes. The singers were not the problem, the song choice was just abysmal.
5) Come Fly With Me: A great show. The aerial acts were superb.
6) Frozen in Time: The ice skaters were hit or miss. A few skaters consistently missed their marks and wiped out on multiple showings while others always made their marks. The ice show on the Freedom of the Seas was better overall from a story standpoint. The sand artist was amazing, and easily my father's favorite part. Rating: B
7) Headliner Show: We had a surprise headliner due to an unforseen change, and I thought he was very good. This performer, Tony Killman, had a good mix of humor and singing. Rating: B+
8) Comedy Show: Supposedly hilarious, though I was unable to attend.
St. Thomas: First off, Magen's Bay is astonishing in every way. The water is crisp and beautiful, and the sand is alright (though not as powdery as I'm used to). We did feel a bit cheated that the only way to get there is a taxi for $9/pp one way, so it cost us nearly 100 dollars for the 5 of us to go round trip just to get there in the back of a dinky pick-up. There is no negotiation. Once you get to Magen's Bay it is $4/pp to get into the park. Towel rentals are 4.50 and chairs are 10; they make you pay full price for them up front and repay you once you're done so be aware (14.50 for the towel up front). Bring your own towels and head to the far end of the beach for free picnic tables in the shade to save money. Paddle boards available for $30/hr or $20/half hour. You can have multiple people use them though, so it's probably best to just do the hour.
St. Maarten: St. Maarten is just as pretty overall as St. Thomas. The weather was great on all of our port days, so we got the full effect of the island's greenery. We decided to rent a jeep for $65 including insurance from a place on the right side of the pier. Unfortunately it the brakes started seizing up on us half way around the island, but they held out until we got back. Supposedly they were replaced the day before, but if true someone messed up badly. Even with 8.00/gallon gas the jeep rental was cheaper than the $9-11/pp taxis to the major beaches and you got it for the day. This is a good island to rent on since they drive on the right hand side (St. Thomas doesn't even though it's a USVI) Maho beach is tiny, but very pretty. Sunset Beach Bar has reasonable drink prices and pretty expensive food, but it's a great place to watch the planes land right over your head.
Nassau: We'd been to Nassau before and did the Atlantis tour. Atlantis is great for gambling, the water park, or dolphin swims, but if you've already done it there doesn't seem to be too much of interest other than snorkeling or wandering the shops nearby. A good time to walk lazily around the town looking for deals.
Overall this ship is beyond amazing in every way, and the crew and staff always seemed eager to please. Definitely experience it once just to say you have.