Well sailing from Southampton was ideal for me as I really don't like flying. It took me nearly 20 years to talk my hubby into a cruise as he has worked on ships all of his life.
We are a family of four, my hubby and I are in our mid thirties and 2 children who are 15 and 9 years old. So a big age gap always causes problems when trying to entertain them both.
Well it was impressive and a lot bigger than I expected, even my hubby got a shock. Check in was similar to airport check in, fairly organised. Then it was just great to board the ship and have use of all of the facilities. Being a first time cruiser, it certainly had the wow factor when we walked on board, it was just a floating hotel complex, with every facility that you can imagine.
THE FACILITIES - WHAT TO DO
We used the rock climbing, ice skating, surfing, crazy golf, pools and hot tubs on numerous occassions. The rock climbing was really well organised, they sometimes had speed climbing competitions on or teen only climbing. At times there was a queue so I think the longest we waited to climb was about 10 minutes. We used the ice rink twice, to be honest it was tiny and by the time that you had just got to grips with the skating you had to get off as you only got 30 minutes. They could only allow 40 people on at once, and to be honest I think that was still too many for the size of it. We had to book in advance, and the spaces filled up fairly fast as the rink is only open limited times of the day. The surfing was a great laugh, but this was very busy, you could wait up to 30 mins for a go. Crazy golf was tiny nothing exciting about it about 7 holes, nothing taxing, so only really used that if we had nothing else to do. The pools were very very small. There were 3 of them all of roughly equal size and to be honest they got so overcrowded it was bordering on being dangerous. You couldn't swim in them, and the kids were constantly told not to jump in them but they took no notice. The hot tubs were fine, could get busy but it was lovely to relax in them on a night time. There was also an adult only bit onboard with a hot tub, pool which was a decent size and comfy sunbeds. This seemed fairly quiet most of the time. There was also a games room were you could play cards, dominoes, board games etc, and deck games along with ping pong tables dotted around the deck. There were a load of sunbeds, but if you can imagine around 2500 people on board it gets really busy and really difficult to find a decent spot if you leave it too late to get one. And the rule about they move your towel if you leave it for 30 minute is a load of rubbish, you have to do that to get a sunbed or you wont get one.
We didn't go to every show but the ones we did go too in the theatre were really good. The downside of the shows is that they are only on for around 45 minutes. There was a queen tribute act that were fab, a couple of comedians and magicians which again were pretty good. Neither of my children would go to the kids clubs, which I didn't mind. There were 3 different kids clubs, 3 to 5 years, 6 to 12 years and the teens up to 17 which was basically a "club" that teenagers went too. They were always really busy, and the staff seemed great with them all. But can't really comment on these as we didn't experience them. You got a leaflet left in your cabin every day telling you what was on in the kids clubs, and there was plenty of variety. There is plenty that goes on during the day, they have pool games, sports court they have footy and basketball competitions, band that play etc..
There were jewellery shops, perfume, clothes and duty free shops on board. DONT expect any bargains as everywhere is over priced always. They put sale signs on all the time, but my hubby got talking to somebody who worked in the promenade and she told him that the sale signs weren't really legite, most of the time they advertised sales that didn't exist! I was honestly in shock when I went to get some presents, I have never seen anything so expensive and we have been to some expensive places on holiday but the prices on the ship were just the other extreme. But we did buy a couple of bottles of vodka, which were resonable to be told we weren't allowed to have any alcohol in our cabins until the last day. So any alcohol/cigarettes/tobacco etc that you purchase, you won't get it until you are due to get off the ship on your last day!! The food was fab, you had the more formal restaurants which we went to for the my time dining which we booked in advance, and went once. Can't fault the service it was fab, but probably a little too formal for us, we prefer something a little more relaxed. So most night we went to the Windjammer, which was the same place you went for breakfast, great food, but as my teenage son described it "loads of the same stuff" everyday. You could also get snacks throughout the day for free, from the Windjammer, the 2 restaurants in the promenade which was the pizza place and a little tea and pastry cafe style place. There were also some places that you could go to but at an extra cost to you, a steak house and italian, we didnt try either of these, they were an additional 30 dollars per person not including drink prices, and also Johnny Rockets which we went to twice as the waiters were really entertaining and the food was Amercan diner style/burgers etc which was an additional 5 dollars per person not including drinks. The drinks onboard again were so overpriced, you are looking at around 5 - 7 dollars for a litre bottle of water. You can get free water from some of the outside bars where you help yourself, but this can get empty quite quick and you get tiny glasses. My tipple on holiday is usually a Malibu and diet coke, spirits with mixers usually cost between 6 - 8 dollars depending on which bar you go too. Pints of lager usually the same price, can't comment on the price of wine as we aren't wine drinkers. We bought the drinks package for the kids, but stupidly read the small print after and didnt include bottles of water. It cost around 147 dollars for the two kids and it was unlimited pop basically. We didn't get the drinks package for us as we only had around 1 or 2 drinks in the evening and I think it cost 47 dollars per person per day for the basic drinks package so really wasnt worth it for us. There were plenty bars the karaoke bar near the ice rink always seemed empty. There was an english style bar, wine bar, champagne bar and a few others in the promenade which were always packed and now and again had a one man and his guitar style thing going on. We spent most of our time in the pyramid bar which had the odd gameshow on and a group called rock the boat which were good, but need to add some new songs to their shows, as they seemed to sing the same songs every night. There were a couple of adult only bars dotted around the ship too, but we never used these.
The staff were fab, never had an issue with them. You finished your meal they were there moving your plates. Always made sure that you had a drink and always walking around during the day selling drinks. The people, well.... there were a few kinds. We met some really down to earth funny people on our level and were really friendly and had a laugh. Then you got the ones who I really don't know why they brought their kids with them, they either dumped them in the kids club 24/7 and sometimes up until 2am!!! Or they just let them wonder around the ship all hours and I'm talking about kids who are 4 or 5 years old up and down the lifts, always on their own. I think some people forget that your on a ship, not a place for kids so young to be wondering around on their own! And they you had the stuck up rude arrogant kind, and I am afraid there are a few. Look down their nose at you, they make it very obvious they have a lot of money when they are piling loads of notes into waiters and barmans hands, but don't have the common decency to have some manners. I actually can't believe how ill mannered some people are and at times I had teeth marks in my tongue, if it wasn't for having the children with me, I think a few times I would have spoken my mind to a few people. One thing that the staff do though which is a little annoying is make annoucements at all times of the night for people to ring the customer services and you are talking 11 or 12 at night. And a couple of occassions they made announcements into your rooms as people had lost their kids after midnight.
Our room attendant who cleaned our room was excellent, he was called Terence. He kept our room spanking clean and nothing was an issue for him. Every other day he left a towel in the shape of an animal, the kids loved them. We left him a little extra when we left as we paid our gratuities up front but we thought he deserved a little more as he was just great.
We stayed in room 2678 outside cabin, deck 2 sea view. God was I disappointed when I seen it. It was the same size as the cabin my hubby stays in when he is away at sea, but there was 4 of us. It consisted of a double bed and there were 2 beds that pulled down from the ceiling that were above you when you slept for the kids to sleep in. Tiny little bathroom and honestly I thought for the money we spent we would get something more, but if you are looking for a little luxury from your rooms and you are staying in a inside or outside room, you won't get it. The balcony rooms were a lot more expensive and I mean thousands more hence the reason we didn't get one and have no idea how much the suites were. I know your room is only for sleeping but 4 of us one room.. tiny.. very very basic, so disappointed.
This cruise cost us over Â£6,000 its probably something that we won't do again as we are a working class family as many others on there were, and its a lot of money. On top of that we probably spent around 2k on spending money and we come back with nothing. We went on 3 excursions, they were fairly pants, nothing exciting at all about them. We done the Pisa excursion, (a little boring), Lisbon Zoo (which was ok) and Rome (again a little boring). All of our excursions that we have done in the past have been through Thomas Cook and you have the options of doing something a bit thrill seeking, you know something a little different, but unfortunately you have to have external companies that the ship uses for the excursions and they really don't have an awful lot of imagination to them. There is also a salon/beauty treatments, but again we didn't use them. I use a reputable clinic in the UK to get some beauty treatments done... so when I looked at the prices on the ship to get the same procedures done you are talking treble in cost. The gym is great, my son is an athlete so he had to keep up his routine on holiday. He was underage for the gym, but the staff were great and after we showed them his routines he had to do and reasons etc... they were fab and let him use it.
Its a cashless ship also. You get a card for each person including the kids so all your spends go on that and you pay at the end. (You need to give them your credit/debit card details to do this) they then just bill you at the end. Theres an arcade where the kids can put money on their cards (dangerous I know but thankfully they were sensible haha) and use it there usual arcade games, they can collect points etc etc. Keep a check on your bill though as they are quite notorious for sticking things on your bill that you didn't spend. Also make sure you return your towels after sunbathing as they charge you 25 dollars for unreturned towels.
You can't take travel irons on board with you and they dont supply them its a health and safety thing, you have to pay to get anything pressed. You also cant bring alcohol or tobacco onboard from different ports, we were told that we would get fined?
There was 3 formal nights, the usual penguin suites for the men and lovely dresses for the woman. They made a big thing of it, pictures taken, captain joined you etc..etc.. you don't have to go dress up, not everone did. They have smart casual and casual nights too.
And make use of the room service its free up until midnight and then its only just over 3 dollars charge.
So overall would I do another cruise... no... was it worth the money... probably not. Only got back yesterday so fairly deflated as this was something I have wanted to do for 20 years. And maybe I had "bigged" it up in my mind too much prior to going on a cruise, but really not what we were expecting.