My husband and I joined his brother, sister-in-law, and their daughter (18) on what is our first cruise. My brother-in-law has been asking us for a few years to join them as cruise vacations are their first choice and have cruised 5 times.
The embarkment process was a breeze. The port was crowded but the process in which they have you enter the ship is smooth.
We had rooms on the 12th deck located very close to the elevators/stairs. We each had a handicapped accessible room (we are not handicapped)next two one another. We each had a balcony and the stateroom attendent took the glass petition out so we were able to enjoy eachother's company on a very large balcony. Having a balcony is AWESOME!!! We all loved sitting out there in the morning with our coffee and sitting out there in the evening to watch the sunset. My husband was very interested in watching the massive vessel pull in and out of port. Our room attendent was very friendly but not overbearing. He was kind and the kids loved the "towel" animals he would leave when he came in at night to turn down our beds.
The ship itself is massive and there is always something to do. The activity manager, Ricky Matthews, is full of energy and funny. He introduced and closed all the shows. He really knows how to get a crowd excited. The shows are AMAZING!! Top notch! The parades are energetic too but the promanade (deck 5) gets very crowded. If you're into parades get there early and you can sit at Starbucks :-)
The food is good and the food service is excellent. We had a great waiter and he was very experienced and entertaining. He taught the kids a few magic tricks over the course of the week. Dinner was always an enjoyable experience in the dining room. We had "My Time Dining" and I did make reservations prior to the trip based on the reservations I made for the shows. We never had to wait for our table and we had the same table and wait staff every night. The Windjammer was great for lunch. I loved to make a huge salad for lunch but there was so much to choose from especially if your adventurous. We ate breakfast in Windjammer 2 times and the rest of the days we ate in the main dining room. The fruit and pastries were yummy and there's no limit on how much you can have. The pizza place, Sorentos, was pretty good too. My husband got his first cup of coffee and my tea from the Promenade Cafe' every morning and we'd sit out on our balcony before the kids woke up. I did find that I became very thirsty on the ship and the "free" drinks were not conveniently located. We ended up spending about $30 in bottled water in our cabin refrigerator. My son had a soda package and would grab me a soda every once in awhile but he wasn't always with us. The water and ice tea were good and my daughter enjoyed the lemonade all week. I just wish there were more drink stations around the ship. As far as alcoholic drinks, there is a drink of the day everyday and it comes in a cup you can keep, the fancy drinks cost approx. 6.75 but a beer was 4.75 which isn't too bad.
The pools and hot tubs get very crowded but you can always find a lounge chair it just might not be in the spot you'd rather be. We found coming back from the ports early was well worth it b/c we could eat our lunch on the ship (so we didn't have to pay) and we had the ship to ourselves. We went with the motto 'early off early return' for our ports. We did one major excursion and that was in Cozumel. My husband, son, and brother-in-law did the Tulum Mayan Express tour (6.5 hours). They said it was excellent and loved the ruins, however getting there was not very pleasant (45 min ferry ride and a 1hr bus ride both ways). My husband was glad that my daughter and I didn't do it with them. He said the bathrooms at the ruins were awful!! My daughter and I along with niece and sister-in-law went to swim with the dolphins @ Dolphin Discovery in Changhank (sp)Park. The Dolphin experience was very good yet they don't let you have a camera and they charge $35 per pic or $199 for a CD with all pics on it. I just bought one pic of my daughter kissing the dolphin. They try to make deals with you but I just stuck to my guns. The park itself is very nice, white sand beaches but the swimming isn't good b/c you have to walk over rocks. I guess the snorkeling is good there but we didn't do it. We walked around and headed back to the ship around 1pm.
The kids loved the ship and were amazed by it's size and beauty. However, the age groups didn't really work for my kids. My daughter will be 12 in 2 weeks and she wasn't interested in hanging with kids 6-11. My son is 14 and will turn 15 next month so he wasn't interested in the 12-14 age group. My niece is 18 and she wasn't allowed in the 15-17 age group. However, my son did manage to hang out in the 15-17 year old club and stayed out most nights til 1am. 1am is when kids 17 and younger need to be back in their cabins.
Overall, this was a top notch vacation and would love to do it again someday! I highly recommend it.