My wife and I had never been on a cruise before, but friends of ours were well-seasoned in cruising and decided to set up a group trip with us and another couple (6 people in all). We all had a great time, with a few negatives peppered in. But, overall, it was very enjoyable and we can't wait for our next cruise!
Embarkation was flawless. We drove the 8 hours from Atlanta the day before and stayed at the Radisson. They have a great deal available where you book a stay for just one night (rooms are about $100) and you get free cruise parking and complimentary shuttle to and from the port (literally a 5 minute drive away). Perfect and well-oiled process. Just be sure to book the shuttle when you make the reservation, as certain times fill up quickly (we were told shuttles between 11am and 2pm for 4pm embarkations are typically filled months in advance...we booked the 10:30am shuttle about 3 months in advance).
Once at the port, it was a quick process. We got there relatively early, had very little wait at check-in, and were able to immediately get on the boat (around 11:30). Had lunch, explored, and the checked bags were in our room by 2:30pm (we were allowed in our rooms at 1:30pm).
We stayed on the Riviera deck in a double porthole room toward the front, which was spacious (relative to newer ships from what we were told) and clean. Our steward Osnell was great, remembered our names all week, and was extremely responsive to our requests. Upon inspection of our bathroom, I noticed the shower had not been cleaned all that well (hair on the walls), and he took care of it immediately and also gave us a $60 credit toward expenditures on our Sign and Sail account! Not expected at all, but a gracious gesture! We were very pleased with the friendly steward staff all week. They did an excellent job. My wife even reported that she saw them actually move the bed to vacuum at one point. The bed in the room was nice and comfortable, so no complaints there. Only issue is with the room being in the front, you may feel the 'sway' a bit more and there was some noise, especially when arriving and leaving in ports (probably ballast pumps). Also, the bathroom did have a bit of a 'sewage' odor once in a while, but I guess that's common and not much can be done about it. Wasn't overpowering, but noticeable here and there.
The ship is on the smaller side, but plenty of room to spread your legs. I must admit that our cruise was probably only at half capacity and there were very few kids on board as well. From what our friends told us, a more crowded ship and a higher population of young kids can hinder and enjoyable experience. The public areas are a bit dated, regardless of the 2009 overhaul/renovation. Everything is in decent condition though. The Blue Sapphire Theater shows the most age/wear.
The food on the ship was good. Not great, but not bad either. Desserts in the dining room was a highlight, but the rest of the food, including the buffet, was enjoyable. A few items of note though are occasionally served soup was warm/cool instead of hot, the buffet eggs are a bit 'runny' (not undercooked, but not cooked all the way, probably to avoid overcooking on the line), and on 'fancy dinner' night, my requested medium prime rib was a scraggly piece served very medium well (replaced upon pointing it out though). Aside from that, selection was pretty good and quality wasn't bad.
Staff was mainly great. Didn't have one bad interaction the entire week (though buffet staff aren't exactly warm and inviting, especially in the morning). I must take a minute to mention that Joseph, our Super-charged matre d', was awesome! I can see how some may be put off by his comedic and boisterous attitude, but we loved it! It was a high point of our cruise, and that's no joke! He was always friendly and made a point to go around and talk to each table. His attitude was infectious!
On-board entertainment is where things kind of puttered out. The comedy shows were pretty good. Brian McKim from Last Comic Standing was great, the other guy (his name escapes me) wasn't as good, but not terrible. Karaoke was fun to watch, but was always the same people (ship regulars) singing the same songs. The dance club was alright, but since our ship leaned toward the older crowd, the club was never packed and was relatively empty most nights. The casino isn't our thing, so can't comment there. The deck parties were also pretty lame due to the older crowd. Nightlife in general was non-existent, as the ship felt empty after 11pm each night. The pool is small, but was never packed. Hot tubs always had people in them though, even on the cloudy/overcast/cool day at sea. The ship also had some 'game-show' type events where they give away not great prizes, and then bingo, which they charged extra for. There's just one winner, and the games typically lasted 10 minutes, give or take.
The one aspect of the entertainment that stands out as horrible were the broadway-like production shows. Motown and The Brits were just awful. Bad lip-synching (I'm sure it's a pre-recorded track not even sung by the current cast), OK dancing, and cheap props/costumes. There was no entertainment value whatsoever and the shows were just boring, plain and simple.
I'll touch upon the ports. Freeport is a good beach port, but not much else to do (you'll need to cab it to the excursion regardless, as there's just a small Straw Market at the dock). We went to Junkanoo Beach, which was great (chair and umbrella was $5, restaurant, beach vendors, and they had beach waiters as well). Looks for the guy selling super-fresh Conch ceviche...awesome! Nassau is a busier port, especially if you like to shop. We chose to check out Fort Charlotte and then hit up cable beach. Not bad, but the beach is relatively empty with a bunch of guys pestering you about renting their jet skis. Also of note, cabs are expensive, but you can take the public buses fro $1.25 to just about anywhere. Just find a map and go for it. Not the cleanest, but super cheap transportation. Our favorite port was Key West though. The Southernmost point marker is fine, but you'll probably need to wait in line to take a pic. I highly recommend the Ernest Hemingway house tour. Excellent and well worth the $13. After that, we bar hopped, which was a great time. Free train-shuttle to-and-from the dock as well. You can rent bikes, scooters, or electric cars, but the island is walkable if you're able.
And, finally, disembarkation was smooth as well. No problems with any of it.
Again, overall, we had a great time and will definitely be taking more cruises in the future!