We arrived at Bayonne about 11:30a, and waited for at least 20 minutes in line to get to the loading/unloading area. There were still people departing as we arrived. The process is not as smooth as others I've experienced. It seems like a very small area given the size of the ship. We had to wait about 30 minutes for my husband to park the car and return to the terminal. Fortunately, since we had a suite, we were able to bypass the long lines and check-in within 10 minutes before boarding the bus which took us to the ship. We entered the ship and went to the Windjammer for a bite. What a surprise to see Santa at the next table. Seriously, this guy had the hair, beard and suit. He wore red and green all week. He also sat center stage at most of the shows which put the comedian off a bit. Our room was ready by 1:30, and one of our three bags was waiting for us. The rest of our luggage arrived by 3:30p and we were completely unpacked by 5p. I heard others were still waiting at 7p for bags.
I was struck by the pushy sales tactics we were bombarded with upon entering the ship. Annoying to say the least and not the best way to start a vacation. They were not only in your face, they caused traffic jams. This trend of pushing for extra money is really off-putting.
Our room was spacious, with a great walk-in closet and plenty of hangers. More than enough cubbies, drawers and cabinets to stow our gear. The mattress wasn't great, and some of the linens were threadbare. Although we asked our steward to change the sheets mid-week, they were not. The "mini-fridge", aka cooler did not work, unless you want to warm your beverages. The cooler was warmer than the room.
The shows were good overall. The highlights were the ice show, and a singer/impersonator. The lowlights were the two comedians. I noticed the events we wanted to attend often did not coordinate with our dining time, or other events. On other cruises, it seemed the production shows were timed to allow everyone a chance to see them. Perhaps the dining service was too slow, but we had to race to or from the MDR in order to see the shows. We were unable to see one movie all week, and they were not shown on the TV as we've had on other cruises. Also, there seemed to have been a lot of seminar type events which required a fee.
The public areas seemed sufficiently large enough to accommodate the passengers and this cruise was nearly sold out. I didn't feel like I had to be in the theatre, or promenade 30 mins prior to an event in order to get a decent spot. I didn't think the promenade was a great place to hold a "party" as the acoustics made it difficult to understand the speakers/singers. The only traffic jams occurred on day 1 and day 7 at the elevators. I also noticed some of the elevators were in disrepair and out of service which added to the traffic issues.
The dining was much improved on this cruise. The new menu was debuted the week we cruised and all the managing chefs from the home office were on board overseeing, and training. The food was excellent overall with just a few flubs (eggplant parm, baked alaska, caesar salad.) The bread pudding was amazing! The escargot was a big hit at our table with one of our companions eating multiple servings every night. We ate at Portofino one night and had a wonderful meal which took nearly three hours. We ate in the MDR the remaining six nights at the late seating and were usually there until 10:15 or later. Hopefully this will get better as the kitchen staff gets comfortable with the new menu.
We arrived at our one and only port of call, Bermuda, on time despite Hurricane Raphael. It was lovely. On the first day, we had a private taxi tour which I booked via email about a week before our trip. Our driver was Dennis "Skipper" Hollis. He is a native of the island, and shares much of his knowledge in the 4 - 5 hr tour. He charged us the standard $40/hr for 1-4 passengers. His Toyota SUV was comfortable. This was a good option as we were traveling with my 80+ yo in-laws and they don't get around well. Dennis met us just outside the terminal. Later that first day, my DH and I checked out the Dockyards before the shops closed curiously early around 5p. Day two we took the ferry to Hamilton, and a bus to the Aquarium/Zoo. The zoo was amazing. We got there early, and decided to work the tour backwards so we wouldn't be outside when it was hotter. This also worked well as we were the only people walking through the animal enclosures. The lemer/fazzo enclosure was fantastic - the lemers were like cats. They walked right up to us with no fear. We also got an unexpected show in the tortoise area - I never knew tortoises sounded like cows when they're frisky - yikes! On day three we took a ferry to St. George which turned out to be a good plan, because there were very few people there.
One negative we experienced almost immediately upon arriving in Bermuda was the maintenance crew passing back and forth in front of our balcony all three days. The first pass was made while my husband stood looking out of the window with a cup of coffee and not much else - very embarrassing. We could not dress in our room without drawing the drapes. I wasn't comfortable relaxing/sleeping in our room, because they passed by so often. When I called guest relations, I couldn't get a call back or anyone who thought this was odd. The guest services mgr said regular maintenance was normal. I have never had this happen on any other cruise ship. If it was one day and we were notified, I could understand, but three days, all day - I don't think this is reasonable. We couldn't relax in our room or balcony. One of the managers said he wouldn't allow me to speak to the Hotel Dir. When I did finally speak to the Dir, he said he hadn't heard of any complaints, but given the Mgrs were not escalating the calls, I'm not surprised. I heard many guests complaining of the same thing.
We met many great people on our cruise. We like eating in the MDR for breakfast and lunch which allows us to dine with and meet several other people during our trip. This is always a lot of fun. The luncheon salad bar is my favorite - I always ask for smoked salmon (from the b'fast menu) and add that to my salad - yum. The service was spotty for b'fast and lunch, sometimes quite slow or not timed well, having some people finishing as others are being served at the same table. I had a soda package and this proved to be a problem over the course of the cruise. The servers were almost annoyed that they had to serve the soda - refills were nearly impossible to be had in the MDR.
We enjoyed the Karaoke, trivia and mini-golf. However, the love and marriage and quest shows need to be updated. They were almost identical to our cruise in Jan on the Enchantment. Some people in the audience even came prepared with props for the quest show - come on people, it's just a game.
Next trip I need to remember to bring a portable clock, night light (broke a toe in the dark), an extension cord, hair dryer (the dryer provided is tethered to a very short cord which cannot be moved), and duct tape.
While we enjoyed the trip overall, we're going to try another cruise line next time and see if we enjoy it more - happy cruising all.