So after reading many negative reviews about this ship, I was of course hesitant, but was going to go in with an open mind anyway. I will try and make this review as simple to follow...
1. Embarkation - was the easiest and fastest embarkation I have been on. This is my 7th cruise (5 with Carnival, 1 Princess and 1 Royal Caribbean). We arrived at the Miami port around 10:45am, was on the ship by 11:30-11:45am. When you arrive at check-in you receive a zone boarding number, corresponding to when you will be able to enter the ship. We were zone 10. Maybe 15 minutes passed from when they started boarding passengers to when our zone number was called. FYI - it's done on a first come first serve basis, so the earlier you arrive at the port, the earlier you'll be allowed on the ship.
2. Ship Decor - I thought the decor on the ship was very nice. I thought it looked much better than the gaudy/vegas look of the past Carnival ships I've been on. It has a very warm, tropical feel from the moment you walk in, to the Lido deck pool area and lido deck dining room. Personally, the decor doesn't matter a huge deal to me, as I'm not spending my cruise admiring the ship.
3. Cruise Entertainment -
At night: My boyfriend and I did not go to any big shows, although I know they offered them a few nights (Divas, Brits, Motown). We really enjoyed the live singer and band that played in the Ocean Plaza a few nights, as well as the two guitar players that played in the Piano Bar and Red Frog Pub. They were very personable and entertaining and also accepted song requests. Ron Pass, the usual at the Piano Bar was out for 4 out of the 6 nights of the cruise due to dental work, but we saw him the last night and he was very good. We saw one comedy show (Tony Esposito). He was very good as well. Only negative was how crowded the theater was. We had to stand during the show. Wasn't a big deal at all though. We saw the 10:30pm show...when that got let out around 11:15pm, the line for the 12am show was very, very long! So I guess we could have gotten there early if we really wanted a seat. We went into the dance club a few nights, and it was always crowded past 11pm. We are not huge club people, but we still had a good time. We met a few other couples and had fun dancing for a few songs. Oh, and the first night they played the Oscars on the big screen on deck 10. We watched about an hour of it. The towel hut offered very comfortable blankets which was a very nice touch.
During the day: They do the usual games around the pool: Men's Hairy Chest contest, Miss Breeze USA(?), and the Red Frog vs. Blue Iguana challenge, where 4 or 5 guests made their own drink concoction. The winner got to have their drink featured throughout the rest of the cruse. All were entertaining to watch. Although we never got lounge chairs around the main pool area (where these games took place), we always were able to sit or stand at the edge the pool with no problem. I don't understand how people are complaining about how there are no places to sit. If you can't find a chair in the main pool area, venture to the 11th or 12th floor and you'll find plenty (if it's before 10:30-11:00am)...or check the 5th floor too-we were also shocked at how many lounge chairs there actually were.
We also saw the Hasbro Family Game Night show twice which was very cute. I though the first show was better, but it all depends on the contestants and the games they decide to play that time. We saw the Game of Love (Newlywed Game type show)...that was fun as well. Typical questions that I've heard on previous cruise ships before, but still funny and a nice break from the sun.
4. Food - Overall, I thought the food was very good. For breakfast, my boyfriend and I always grabbed something on the 10th floor Lido Deck dining room. They have the usual continental breakfast, with cereal, yogurt, fruit, eggs, sausage, bagels, breads, etc...My boyfriend got an omelette from the omelette station a few days and he said it was very good. Only downside was that the line was sometimes long (but what do you expect, going on a ship with over 3,000 people!?...deal with it and be patient).
For lunch - there are SO many options for lunch, I could never decide what to have! I loved the burritos and tacos from the Blue Iguana Cantina and had those three times! Boyfriend had Guy's burgers twice or three times which he loved as well. There was also a regular buffet in the Lido Deck dining room, with many options. Always a fresh salad bar, deli, pizza, Indian. The Italian restaurant offers a dine-in free pasta selection, but we opted to try it, due to having lasagna for dinner the night before!
For dinner - we ate the in Sapphire dining room on floor 3 for all 6 nights. Overall, we both thought the food was delicious and exceeded our expectations. All the food was always served hot and fresh. We usually sat down for dinner around 7:30-7:45, and was finished around 8:30-8:45pm. Service was above average, wasn't anything to rave about, although some waiters were more friendly than others. Just be kind and courteous and you will receive the respect.
5. Ports -
Grand Turk - Had to wait on line to get off the ship, which took maybe 30-45 mins. Was a little annoying due to how crowded it was, but once we were allowed off the ship the line moved fast. I had been to Grand Turk a few years ago, and the port looks exactly the same as it had. We laid on the beach overlooking the ship, which was beautiful, and then ventured over to the pool area with Margaritaville. We couldn't find a lounge chair to sit on, but that was OK, since we just wanted to go in the pool anyway. We stayed around the pool area for an hour or two, then walked around the port and went back onto the ship to eat lunch. Had to be back on the ship by 1:30pm anyway, so decided to save our money and wait to eat lunch a bit later.
Ochos Rios, Jamaica - Here we decided to do a shore excursion - Dunn's River Falls and River Tubing. For $75 a person, we were brought around the Island to both of these sites. Unlike other tours I have done in the past, this felt more like a taxi service, rather than a knowledgeable tour of the island. Dunn's River was fun, although very crowded. Not sure if it will be good for small children, as well as passengers that have trouble walking/climbing, but definitely consider it you are able. The River Tubing was very fun as well. We did not book the excursion through the cruise line, by the way. The name of the tour was called KnowJamaica.
Nassau, Bahamas - We took a $4, well $5 cab ride to the Atlantis in the morning. We weren't planning on doing one of the packages they offer, so we were only able to walk around a very selected area of the Atlantis grounds. It was pretty cloudy and not a great beach day anyway, so we were happy we didn't waste our money on buying one of the packages for pool/beach access. We took a cab back to the port area, and walked around the town for a little while. In the straw market all the vendors sold basically the same items (bags, picture frames, shot glasses, little trinkets)...so if you want to buy anything try to bargain with the women before saying yes to a deal. I got the bag I bought lowered from $25 to $12. We walked over to Senor Frogs, although we did not stay for a drink. Took some pictures, walked around some more, and got back on the ship.
Debarkation - Went smoothly. Put our bags outside our cabin the night before. You can either do self-assist (where you bring your bags off the ship yourself between 7am-8am) or you get off the ship by your zone number. We decided to do the later, as we had plenty of time to spare before our flight later that afternoon. Found our bags quickly, despite the exorbitant number of people/luggage in the port terminal. Waited on a quick line for US customs, then sadly, debarked back to Miami airport :(
Overall - We had an AMAZING time. We met lovely people who we hung out with every night during the cruise. Maybe we are easy to please, but my advice is to go in with an open attitude and you will have a great time. The staff was extremely friendly and always willing to help. Just be respectful. I had many great conversations with our dining staff, a woman at the casino tables (from Bulgaria - I forgot her name!), our room steward, and many more. They are hard working people, just like you and I and deserve appreciation. If you are hesitant about taking this cruise, loosen up, and go for it! I can 99% guarantee that you will have a great time! It is your vacation, after all!