This was our first cruise, I am retired Navy so this was my first civilian cruise. This was also a first family vacation for us. We brought our 3 year old daughter with us, and she had a blast. Being I poured over all the reviews from this site before I booked some were biased, some were positive, some were negative it was kind of hard as a first time cruiser to really gauge what I was getting my family into, so with that being said for those who may read this and are new to cruising I will take it from the top.
Boarding and pre-boarding: We flew in to MCO or Orlando and I had rented a car, I also had pre-booked a hotel room at the Raddison in Cape Canaveral. We flew in a day early in hopes of spending an evening kind of puttering around Cape Canaveral, and getting to know the lay out. By flying in a day early this helped us out because believe it or not our flight was delayed by 2 hours, and the rental agency (not going to name names due to mistakes happen) did not have my car ready so we ended up spending another 35 minutes at the car rental in the airport. Its an hour drive and we went through 2 tolls, to Port Canaveral, we arrived at our hotel around 830pm we went to Grills (awesome restaraunt) then went back to the hotel, and woke up at 730, checked out of the hotel I dropped my wife off at the terminal, the porters took care of the luggage tags, I drove the rental back around 1000am they had a shuttle which got me back at the terminal at 1045. Boarding we had our passports and such present, took us about 15 minutes to 20 minutes to get through security, get sea passes, and make it to the Windjammer and be seated. So to those who do not like waiting or long lines my advice would be to get there a bit early and you can zip through the boarding process pretty quick. If you are catching it at the last minute or show up an hour or 2 later you can expect a long wait..
The food: MDR great food not something you will find in a 5 star restaraunt, or a meal prepared by Chef Ramsey, but if you keep your expectations reasonable and grounded you wont be disappointed. There were a couple of meals I had there that were truly amazing. The specialty restarunts I tried Ben and Jerrys banana splits were amazing! Portofino was ok... I live outside of Chicago and I must say my expectations for an Italian restaraunt were a bit high, it was ok dont get me wrong... but not worth the price in my opinion, Johnny Rockets was a cheap alternative for food and was very good especially if you want to catch a sunset, the rest were complementary places Sorrentos I hit up more then I should the pizza was great and no wait times, the cafe had great coffee, and we did frequent Windjammer a lot, which was ok meals, buffet style but great for breakfast and lunch.
The service was second to none, only found a few folks toward the end who were a little rude or unhappy but we are all human everyone has a bad day, the majority were amazing our waiters in the MDR Imade and Iputu were short of amazing, those 2 were always smiling very friendly remembered how I liked my steak, knew everyones name, and would always have a to go plate of chocolate chip cookies made up for my daughter after dinner.
Atmosphere on board: Lot of family, there were some folks who were pretty rude but hey you find that every where now days. They were mainly being rude to the staff which I personally found uncalled for but for some passengers they may feel if they paid for the cruise being rude to the staff or belittling them was an entitlement of the price they paid. The ship was very large we were able to find lounge chairs everywhere, we were not really bothered by kids there were 750 on board according to the cruise director, longest line I waited in was maybe 5 to 10 minutes that was at the MDR one time otherwise everything moved fluidly.
Housekeeping was really awesome, and to this day I don't know how they managed to keep a ship that big so incredibly clean with all the kids and people.
hope this helps out.