Embarking and Disembarking:
We arrived at 1:45pm for a embark time of 2pm, and the line was huge. We got to our cabin at 4:30pm. The first two hours was without water, restrooms, or a place to sit. Over an hour of the time was spent in a line pushing our luggage forward. If we could have just dropped off our luggage, then it would have made standing in line easier. They did not match luggage and ID, so drop-off would work. I think they were controlling how many people went into the building where health check and sea passes and security were being done, so I couldn't tell where the primary bottleneck was.
Disembarking was more comfortable but more worrying. We all filled out forms about our departure schedule but the disembark organizers didn't seem to pay attention to the forms. My parents, with a 1pm flight, were in a later meeting group than us, when we were staying over a night. My parents had to stand in line to request the 9:50am group. They figured the 9:50 meeting with a written estimate of 40-50 minutes before getting off, would leave them with 2 Â½ hours to get to the airport--sufficient. However we waited and waited--comfortably, unlike for embarking, but worrisomely--and got out at noon. My parents missed their flight. The primary bottleneck was US Customs.
My sister and family chose the 7am carry-your-own option. There were delays at Customs, but not severe delays.
Bright notes: it was easy to find our luggage in the warehouse--the luggage for the 9:50 meeting group was in a nice line so it was easier than on a luggage carousel. It was easy to reclaim a held knife, taken during embarking. Getting on and off the ship at a port sometimes had a short wait and often had no wait.
The new policy is that you may bring in 2 bottles of wine per cabin at embarking. You may bring on liquor and it is sold in the embarking area, but it will be stored until the end of the trip. You are forbidden to bring on alcohol or any beverages or perishables at any point. I saw some people having their sandwiches confiscated. I routinely went through the checking machine with water in my water bottle and no one cared.
We had a set of ocean-side staterooms with balconies and they were very nice.
Bathroom: Some people had trouble figuring out the shower hot water. To get hot water, as opposed to tepid (in the tropics, I am fine with tepid) you have to press the magic red button on the nozzle. You can set the shower temperature and volume independently, which is a good thing. There was enough room under the counter, once I moved a couple things, to fit our wet scuba bag.
Refrigerator: The refrigerator comes filled with their stuff, but I can took it out and stored it, leaving a note in the refrigerator saying where it was, and put it back at the end. Someone else in our group had them take the stuff away and another person was told it could not be taken away.
Room: The bed was two singles fitted together and the crack was mildly annoying. I really liked that the room did not smell of cleaning products. There was enough space for our stuff once empty luggage and warm clothes went under the bed. It was small but quite sufficient. Three in the room would have been inconvenient.
Balcony: It was great having a balcony. Our room steward said not to leave anything flammable on the balcony when we weren't there. Someone else said they were told not to put towels or laundry out at any time. We picked the first rule, of course.
The Main Dining Room presents you with a 3 course menu, but you do not have to pick one from each column. I had the appetizer fruit plate for dessert one night. One night I shared 3 appetizers with my sister. Another night my dessert was seconds on the wonderful if light grilled shrimp.
All seafood ranged from excellent (the grilled shrimp, a seafood salad, a bouillabaisse-ish soup in the Windjammer lunch) to good (salmon benedict, lobster tail, clam chowder). The pastas ranged from so-so to poor. The beef was good, although the "rare" prime rib varied among our large group. Every night they offered a cold fruit soup, which seemed odd--but it turned out to be a good fruit smoothie served in a bowl. The breads were quite good and there was, on request, gluten-free bread that people really liked. They did not have plain fruit for dessert.
In general the food was Euro-American with other influences. Even if a dish said it was non-Euro-American, it was only lightly so--the harissa soup was quite good, but not very harissa-y. Within the Euro-American area, they did well: wonderful rotkohl and duck, wild mushrooms en croute, kippered herring (breakfast in MDR).
The Windjammer: Unlimited bacon for breakfast. Excellent pineapple but not exotic fruit--no mangos, guavas, or such. The Windjammer lunches were mixed. The hamburgers were sad looking. The stews were usually quite good, and there was a biryani that was spicy and good. If I worked within the steam table limits I ended up happy. And of course, after scuba or snorkel, all food is good. You can also take food and drink away--a snack in your room or lemonade by the pool. Sometimes the Windjammer was jammed, although even at its worst we only had to wait a couple of minutes for a table to clear.
We mostly hung out with the group on various balconies and drank red wine. We went to the ice dancing show and it was great fun--heavy on lifts and light on jumps to accommodate the ship's movement. You need to get your tickets at 7-8am the first morning, and you can return them if you change your mind--but they disapprove of just wasting the tickets. The 13th deck bar has a great kinetic sculpture but it only runs occasionally. The hot tubs were usually occupied but rarely full. There were always deck chairs available when I looked. The little children's pool area was popular and was well equipped.
All of the staff were cheerful and helpful. Our primary waiter, Merilyn, was great. Our assistant waiter, WenWen, had limited English and limited experience--but was smart, hardworking, and perceptive. Our room steward, Rafael, was very attentive and worked hard to keep people happy.
Internet was 65 cents a minute and available only on parts of the ship--and the business room was not a hot spot.
Lots of Spanish speakers, who were all very kind about my efforts to practice Spanish. Some passengers were annoying (do you need to spend so long selecting a roll? Why do you let your kid press extra elevator buttons when it is so crowded?) and some were delightful (so what does your Basque identity mean to you?).
Would I do it again? It was wonderful for the group. Subsets did various things during the day and then we all dined together and hung out. The cruise gave a framework that would be hard to beat. But for just the two of us--no, cruises are not my thing.