First, the cruise was very relaxing and stress-free. It did wonders for rejuninating our spirits.
A few notes: stateroom 8286 with sea balcony was in great shape and the view is unobstructed. Our stateroom attendant "Kennie" provided great service.
Since we were seeking relaxation as far away from the action as possible, we appreciated the 8th Deck location with easy access to the Central Park restaurants and bars. Marvin at the Trellis Bar in Central Park was a wonderful bartender and Howard in Rising Tide was an all-pro waiter.
On the first night we enjoyed dinner at the Chef's Table (with Chef's Table Package) the first evening. This small portion "tasting" experience with pared wines turned out to be the best meal of the trip, shared with 11 fellow passengers. We were given an autographed cookbook after dessert that made a nice souvenir. Dinner with Chef's Table package includes a free dinner (no surcharge) at two of three specialty restaurants. We selected Chops and 150 Central Park. Both were okay, but the eating spots seem to be more about "positioning" than real food quality.
Chops was quiet and the side dishes were the best parts of the meal. These were portioned "steakhouse" style, with one dish serving up to three people. The filet was flavorful but tough. The NY strip was both tough and poorly flavored as if it had been tenderized.
The team at 150 Central Park was a bit aggressive pushing specialty martini's ($30 surcharge for a shaker full), another cookbook (unneeded), exotic waters (ship's water is fine), and a gift box paring of bottles of French wines - a good deal at $25 for two bottles, but we had no way to bring them home in our luggage.
About wines: we purchased the diamond 7 bottle wine package and this was an excellent purchase. Be sure to ask for the wine and dine brochure and look for the wines on the diamond list that do not appear on lesser packages. These are all good wines and make the diamond package worthwhile. We found the Conundrum white to be a good value, as well as the Charles Krug Merlot. Both were priced at about 120% over retail - very reasonable for restaurant pricing. Another good wine buy was at Vintages. Although not part of the wine & dine package, the Tuscany Marchesi de Frescobaldi ( dry red that came out "tight" but opened nicely) at $49 USD was a good value - retails at about $29 and it can be hard to find in many parts of the US.
Dinner in the main dining room was by far the best approach when compared to the specialty dining options we tried. We wound up without a table assignment and the dining room staff was more than accommodating setting up a table for two at the from of the main floor next to the piano riser. The wait staff could give lessons to finer restaurants. As my wife observed, they were attentive, enthusiastic, well informed and willing to assist at 110% levels. We wished we had used the main dining room more. A total of 4 meals wasn't enough.
Regarding entertainment: The Hairspray show as very well done. Some who saw the musical in theaters commented that this version was condensed, but as a first experience, we were very impressed. The "headliner" show started out without much energy and them took off like a rocket. It was one of the best one-man-shows we've seen in a long time. I have no idea who the feature performer was, but I'd pay to see him again.
By far, our favorite evenings were spent at Jazz on 4 - a quiet club that featured a Canadian quartet led by Bruce Gordon. The band performs covers from Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and other great jazz club singers. Gotta tell ya, Bruce's rendition of "The Shadow of Your Smile" may be better than the original I heard sung by Tony Bennett in a Chicago club years ago. Jazz on 4 is really hidden away and is wonderful place to relax in over-stuffed upholstered chairs and be taken back to a time when you could understand the words to songs that had meaning.
Regarding drinks: The Wine & Dine package with 7 bottles provided wine for our lunches and dinners. We used the complete package and bought two more bottles "Ala carte". Cocktails varied in price. Be sure to ask the cost if you do not see your drink of choice on the cocktail menu. Planters Punch was $6. Dewers and soda $5.75. White Russian w/ extra vanilla $6.50 and a basic Mojito $6.00. Pretty reasonable. But go a little astray and the price can jump. The basil and herb Grey Goose martini at 150 Central Park - $30. And a muddled bourbon Old Fashioned with Makers Mark was $12 - go figure. Ask first and avoid surprises. Overall, we thought the prices of what we enjoyed were reasonable - exclusions noted.