We booked our vacation with plenty of enthusiasm but were cautiously optimistic, due to the early flurry of less than splashy reviews. However, I made a point of leaving all my preconceived notions at the door and went into this trip with an open mind. My honest takeaway was - I couldn't have been more pleased with my trip on virtually all fronts. Here's why.
For ease of reading - I'm just going to divide my comments into specific sections. Please take a gander at whatever is most relevant for you and I hope you find the comments helpful.
We got there at 11:30 am and the lines were long, but not overwhelming. As a Latitudes member, I was surprised to see how long the line was for "priority boarding" but I guess they have a lot of repeat customers (always a good sign). After about a 15 minute wait, we were checked in and got on the boat. Not bad for the most part.
Our room was on deck 12 on the starboard side of the ship. It was a family balcony. It felt way smaller than what we were used to (we were on suites for our previous cruises), but strangely the room was very comfortable and cozy. The bed took up a bit of space but there was still room to walk. The bed itself was surprisingly comfy. I'm a horribly light sleeper but I slept like a log on this trip. Climate control was also easy - though note if you want to cool the room down make sure to keep your balcony door closed. After awhile you'll notice it gets chilly fairly fast.
Here's the big question - and yes, the closet is small. Plenty of hangers but not a tremendous amount of storage space. There were ample cabinets and shelves and also a save. There are lots of places tucked away that make up for the smaller closet - be sure to check under the sofa and also use the drawers under the table in the cabin (next to the fridge) - those were quite helpful. The bed can easily store 3 large suitcases or 2 large suitcases and some golf clubs/bags.
Decent sized for a regular cabin, with a helpful shower head that you can pull off and use to shower and also wash stuff if you need to (like your sandals, swimwear, etc). The sink worked fine, there were lots of shelf space and the toilet worked fine (just make sure to press the button firmly). Water temperature was also excellent and easy to control. All shampoo and soap are on dispensers on the wall/on the shower.
Yes it was small. You can sit two, but honestly if you want to stick your legs out you can probably only do it with one person sitting outside.
Channels are okay - nothing to get excited about. You get the usual shipboard channels featuring things like nautical info, stuff to hawk and sell, excursions, onboard events etc. There's also BBC, MSNBC, FOX News, CNBC, ESPN, Nickeloedon, and a channel for a featured TV show and a movie (usually it was older stuff like Dark Knight, Armageddon, Air Force One, Pretty Woman, Back to the Future, etc.)
NOTE - there are in HDMI and component inputs on the TV - BUT THEY ARE DISABLED - YOU CANNOT PLUG YOUR OWN DEVICES INTO THE TV. This really sucked, but it was fine since I ended up not staying in the room much anyway.
Burn the Floor - Great show. Definitely don't miss this. The dancers were phenomenal. The music and singing were also solid. They also do a smaller version of this in the Manhattan room on select nights, just make sure to check your daily schedule to find out when.
Rock of Ages - I've seen this 3 times before I got on the ship - but I found the shorter version of the musical just as entertaining on the ship. I was also impressed by the Broadway-quality of this show, from the cast to the set changes. It was cool for a cruise show. Tip: Don't bring kids here. Lots of swearing and adult themes. Also I noticed a lot of old people walked out of the show. Not sure if it's because they were offended, bored or heading to something else.
Cirque Dreams - Now this was worth the extra money. Very impressive acrobats doing some incredible tricks on a tiny stage that felt so intimate. Given it was a dinner show, it just felt like a very unique experience. Some of the tricks they performed were pretty jaw-dropping and I'm sure it was punctuated by the fact you're so close to the action. Just note, the food here was meh. (We were served a dry beef tenderloin and some shrimps - surf/turf). I wasn't that into it, maybe because I was too busy focusing on the show.
The Bars (That I went to or tried to go to)
Headliners - great place to catch the dueling pianos. Lots of great sing-along fun here. Honestly I spent a lot of time here simply for the fun factor. The mixed drinks were just okay. The mojhito was so-so and the caparihina was disgusting. Stick with beers and enjoy the fun!
Bliss - the dance crowd here was so so, so my wife and I turned back. We did however come here for the trivia games. They were only so-so. The games were disorganized and there weren't enough seats here for people so I don't recommend coming here unless you really love the 80's movie trivia nights. Also one time the DJ/Host actually didn't show up to one of the events, which was sort of lame.
Fat Cats - my favorite bar on the ship - simply because of the awesome atmosphere. Slam Allen was fantastic. The guy can play, he can sing and he can jam the blues like no tomorrow. The crowd here was always very lively and it's a great spot to grab a beer. I really also enjoy how you can still hear the music (and see him through a window) if you sit out on the waterfront.
O'Sheehans - Loved grabbing a beer here in the Irish Pub setting. This sure beats the old Blue Lagoon on the older ships. The wings here were okay but stay away from the spinach dip, it tasted like watery cheese. Lots of fun things to do here, including plenty of arcade games, darts, basketball hoops and a mini-bowling alley.
Ice Bar - REALLY wanted to come here but never had a chance to, but it looked like a lot of fun. Seemed to be fairly crowded at night, judging by the number of coats that are out of the hangers.
Manhattan Room - Such a great place. The supper club atmosphere is nice and the open dance floor with a live band (and live performances at times from the cast of Burn the Floor) is a nice touch. It's a really great spin on the MDR experience. The food here was generally okay, though personally I thought they were at their best on the first night whey they served Surf & Turf. Stay away from the onion soup, it's really kind of gross.
Savor/Taste - They are two distinctive restaurants - of sorts. Essentially they are two smaller MDRs that serve similar menus. I personally really enjoyed the shrimp caesar salad, and definitely hit up the panna cotta dessert here. It was so light, divine and was by far my favorite dessert of the trip. These are great places to grab lunch.
Garden Cafe - I didn't love the buffet on the Jewel, and the Breakaway buffet didn't exactly blow my mind either. While they had lots of stations, many of them were repeats and I found the narrow corridors somewhat annoying. The seats are off to the side, with a partition between the seats and the food stations. Problem is the stations are so close to the partition, it gets really crowded during peak times. Nothing here was particularly memorable though I didn't mind the Indian and Chinese food here. Everything else was just okay. I ate here mostly for breakfasts (the omlettes are okay) and late night snacks.
Teppanyaki - Surprisingly the food here was quite decent. Definitely recommend the Seafood combo as the lobster was just excellent. The land & sea combo is good too - thanks to the fresh succulent jumbo shrimps they use here. The guy was fun to watch, typical of the cheesy stuff you get at a Benihana.
NOTES - LeBistro was booked up a LOT so make sure you reserve early. For some reason even though it said Ocean Blue was booked up, it never looked full. I skipped Cagney's this time around, will go back again on the next cruise.
Shopping - Lots of options here, with plenty of duty free items at the Tradewinds shops on deck 8. The duty free liquor selection is good, but if you want something nice (like a Johnnie Walker Blue, Platinum etc) you better buy it early as people sweep in and get the good booze early. Lots of other obligatory t-shirts, mugs etc sold here. Also photo booths are here too. I like how everything on this ship is digitized, it makes it easy to find your photos.
Bingo - Definitely more fun here than the bingo game on my previous cruises. The game show director is great and she keeps the game moving. My only beef is they make you sit down first, listen to a long explanation, wait on line to buy the tickets THEN they start the game (as opposed to buying the tickets ahead of time). Otherwise it was fun and moved along quickly.
The rock wall was fun - challenging.
Mini golf is fun - but most times it was way too windy to play
Basketball hoops were very cool, I was glad to shoot some baskets on the ship
Jogging track is way too narrow and short, also too much pedestrian traffic
Rope course was great - walking on the plank is a must-do, so is the zip line
Jacuzzi/Hot Tubs - really nice but the water never felt very warm
Swimming Pools - generally not too crowded, but the last sea day was packed.
The Spa - seemed pretty crowded. We tried to make an appointment but ran out of time to go, will hit it up next time.
Library - quiet and full of books. Not much else to say
Card Room - full of Asians playing mahjong when I walked there
Elevators - actually didn't get nearly as jammed as I thought. Only beef are the annoying kids who keep pressing all the buttons. I think it's from the same pack of untamed beasts the whole time.
Of course ... the Casino
Loved how most of deck 7 was a casino
Didn't find it TOO smoky, to my surprise. There were smokers though.
Never felt too crowded but was busy pretty much all the time during peak hours
Lots of fun tournaments - I played the blackjack tourney and had a blast
Overall we loved the total experience because the ship was new, the crew was well-organized, the cruise director Julie was excellent, and all in all it looked like a lot of care was taken to ensure our trip on a new ship was something to remember. Despite the fact we detoured briefly due to a medial emergency on the ship, the boat always felt like it sailed smoothly and things were always going on everywhere. It's a great ship if you're looking for everything from a family vacation, a getaway for couples, and if you enjoy the nightlife.