We were a little skeptical because of all the negative reviews, but we had an amazing time and the ship is beautiful. I don't know how anyone could be disappointed.
ARRIVAL & EMBARKATION: We arrived very early at the Port of Miami, around 9:30, but I highly recommend this. We were one of the first two people processed. It took all of 5 minutes. Yes, we had to wait until about 11AM before they let us on the ship but we didn't have to deal with the lines. It was great. Plus we were boarding group number one. The night before we stayed at the Holiday Inn Port of Miami. It was just OK considering we paid $250. The room kind of smelled, but it was fine for one night.
We got on the ship before a lot of people and had the chance to walk around before it got crowded. The ship is beautiful! I don't know how anyone could complain about the decor or say it looks understated. The word that comes to my mind is "classy".
STATEROOM: We were in balcony cabin 11265. Great location right near the main pool. Originally we booked a room on the 6th floor with a balcony, but upgraded prior to leaving. We are glad we did. The ship has a new outdoor space called the lanai on the 5th level that goes around the entire ship, and the balcony rooms overlook this extended area. Depending on where your room is at, you may not enjoy being so close to the public spaces. Especially if your room is near the BBQ or hot tubs. It wouldn't be the end of the word if we had kept our room on the 6th floor, but we really enjoyed being higher up.
The rooms have plenty of storage space. We have no complaints. We never did see our room attendant though, but we don't mind. The room was always cleaned quickly while we were out during the day, and turned down at night.
SHIP SPACES AND CHAIR HOGS: We love the fact that the ship has so many different "areas" such as the Red Frog Pub, and the Ocean Plaza outdoor seating, and serenity. It never felt crowded. Of course, it was impossible to find a chair at the pool on a sea day if you got out there too late, but there are tons of deck chairs on the Lanai, so it was never a problem to find SOMEWHERE to sit. If you prefer to be by the main pool, then get their early. I did see the staff putting out the "chair time tags" if they saw someone trying to save deck chairs, but that never worked. I would see the people come back for 3 minutes and throw the tag away and then leave again. One chair hog lady actually was saving 10 chairs for her friends and family. She threw the tags away once. She saved the chairs for nearly 2 hours and nobody ever came to use them. THEN, once they did come they all left! That drives me INSANE. It's just rude. If everyone just used their chairs during the time they wanted them, everyone would probably have the opportunity for a chair at some point.
BREAKFAST / MARKETPLACE DINING: We didn't eat much in the buffet areas, except for breakfast. The powdered eggs do look disgusting, but no worries because there is an omelet station and they will make eggs to order. So not sure really why people act like their vacation is ruined over powdered eggs. We are early risers so we would hit the omelet station first thing. We never waited more than 5 minutes to get our omelet. Guys Burgers are DELICIOUS. The burrito bar looked good also, although we never got one. The pizza was good also, and I never stood in line for more than a few minutes. And Jimmy's C-Side BBQ is also delicious. Just get there before they open at noon, and you won't wait in line.
DINING ROOM: As far as dining room goes, I thought the food was good. Exactly what I expected. We did your time dining, which we really like. Sometimes the dining experience takes too long in my opinion, but the food was always hot. Our only complaint was the drink service at dinner. Sometimes the drink server never even came to our table. You're better off getting a cocktail at the bar prior to entering the dining room. So no big deal. We also ate at the steak house one evening, which was very good. I also heard the Italian restaurant was very good. Make your reservations prior to cruising, or no later than the first day. We also had an appetizer at the Red Frog Pub, which we really enjoyed. They had live guitar music there each night. It was a nice relaxed atmosphere.
ENTERTAINMENT: The only REAL negative I have is the entertainment, or lack of. It's really scaled back now compared to cruises in the past. The only show we had a desire to see (if even that) was the Diva's show and it was just OK. One of the two main singers was NOT GOOD. I was so surprised she was part of the show. The comedy club is great if you can get in and get a seat. They really need to move this to a different space. It's currently in the lounge, which is an ideal setting, BUT there is not enough seating. I think the lack of other shows causes EVERYONE to want to see the comedian. They do a few shows during the week, but we tried to get to two of them and couldn't get in either time. And we went to the line an hour early! The only time we got in was the second to last night at the midnight show.
PORTS: We went to Ocho Rios, Grand Turk, Nassau. Grand Turk is basically an upscale cruise terminal with stores, Jimmy Buffets, a nice pool, and a nice beach. Not much to do, but it was a fun and relaxingg beach day. The water is gorgeous. In Ocho Rios we did the Paradise Beach excursion. The water is ROCKY, but we did find a clearing just down the beach and for some reason NOBODY was down there. We thought it was great. So although we were disappointed at first, it also was a fun day. In Nassau we did our own thing. We want to cabbage beach. Got there early. Rented beach chairs and umbrella. Paid $20 for a coconut on the beach where they would refill you with different adult beverages :) all day. It was great. We typically don't like the group excursions, but in Jamaica it's a little scary just to wander around. In Bahamas it was easy to get a taxi. DON'T TAKE THE FERRY TO PARADISE ISLAND (which is where Cabbage beach is at. It's also where Atlantis is). We were told by the guy trying to get us to take a cab that it's a mile walk to the beach if you do. We weren't sure if we should believe him or not, but we overheard another couple at the beach saying they took the Ferry and they walked over a mile and they couldn't find the public entrance to the beach. They were really annoyed. So after we heard that, we were glad we just took the cab. It was the same price as the ferry $4 per person.
If anyone has questions about these stops feel free to contact me. I can give you an idea of what to expect when you arrive.
DEBARKATION: No problem at all. We set out our luggage the night before, although you don't have to - but we preferred to enjoy our last cup of coffee and breakfast on deck without dragging suitcases. It worked out perfect. Our group was called off, and we exited the ship in a quick and orderly fashion. Our luggage was on the carousel and out we went. We took the bus transportation to Ft. Lauderdale airport. We were at the airport by 10:15AM. Our flight wasn't until 2. A noon flight would have been perfect. If you are flying out of Miami you might be able to get away with an 11AM flight. They get you off the ship so early. I think we were off by 8:30ish.
Overall the trip was very nice and I'm grateful for being able to travel and do the things we do, so I can't really complain. You're on vacation, so don't sweat the small stuff!!