Day 1: Our family of 5 traveled from Philadelphia suburbs to Bayonne NJ for this trip. It took 1 hour and 50 minutes to get there in the rain on a Thursday morning. We arrived at 10:30 am and were on board at 11:55 am. Our first impression was WOW. The ship is in excellent condition for a 13 year old. We headed up to the 14th floor and walked our way through the entire ship in awe of all she had to offer. I had seen many pictures and videos but to be here! Finally! After exploring for about 40 minutes we headed to the Windjammer for lunch. We didnt have any trouble finding a table and the food was excellent considering they were serving 3000 people. It was hot and tasty. At 1:20 we headed to our staterooms and enjoyed exploring them. Our bags arrived piecemeal over the next few hours; every time we came back there was another bag there. We met our stateroom attendants. (We had one D3 superior balcony and one interior K room with Pullman bed.) Our kids were at a different muster station than us but they are all over 17 years old so we didnt worry. We were on the 6th floor and thought this was ideal since we were able to take the stairs for all the activities at the Palace Theater, Dining Room, Casino, Studio B and all the lower level bars. We were mid ship so very close to the stairs was also helpful. And during the rough seas our rooms were in a good spot. Our room was just aft of the hump so looking directly forward was limited but this really didn't affect our view at all. We almost missed sail away it was so smooth. I was expecting to feel something, Engines revving, a lurch, but nope. I noticed the land moving out our balcony! We headed up to the 12th deck and watched the ship pass under the Verrazano Bridge. It looked like it passed by inches but my DH says it was 20 feet.
DINING experience: Windjammer was consistently good and fast. Healthy options including fresh fruit and salads were always available.
Main Dining: when we booked only MTD was available so as soon as I could I booked 6:30 pm dinners each night online. I highly recommend this as many people were waiting at the dining room each night and we were always seated immediately. After the first night we were seated at the same table #501 which had sort of window seat (obstructed by lifeboats) but it was out of the way in the corner. The best thing about being at table 501 was our servers. After a few days they got to know you and knew what you liked. Bassem and Desmond were fantastic. The food was consistently good. It was always hot and if we didn't like something, Desmond would notice and bring something else. We enjoyed the main dining room for breakfast and lunch on sea days and were able to meet many nice people as it was usually at a large table for these meals. Cafe Promenade was good for a yummy slice of pizza or small sandwich when we wanted something light.
Meet and Mingle was on the second day, the first sea day, and was well attended. They gave out a few raffle prizes and my DH and DD each won something. (2 free in room movies and an hour of internet) Some of us went on a cabin crawl and we got to see Balcony, grand suite, family suite and junior suite rooms. After the Cabin crawl we organized a slot pull and each of us won 70 dollars with our first participant pulling 1000 dollars on the big wheel!
PRODUCTION shows and Games: Among the five of us I think we attended every show possible. The welcome aboard show had a little bit of everything and the comedian was good, Billy Garan. That was at 7:45 so we had to hurry after dinner. The other shows were very good including Tribute to the Temptations, Randy Cabral (juggler extraordinaire) and comedian and juggler Chris Bliss. These were at 9 pm usually. We also loved the Ice show, Spirit of the Seasons which we attended by muster station and saw this at 2 pm on the second to the last sea day. We also attended the Quest, Battle of the Sexes and many of the Trivia contests. We were able to watch the Love and Marriage game show on our TV after the actual show. (Plan your route to Studio B, it can only be accessed from the back of the ship by the photo gallery.)
PORTS of CALL Bermuda: We had one and a half very rough sea days before we arrived in Bermuda in the pouring rain. I understand that it is common to have rough seas during this route and we were forewarned. It was still unsettling at times and many on board were sick. I can't really review this port since all we did was ride the #7 bus from the dockyard to Hamilton and back again in the rain. It cleared up just prior to our sail away and we could see how beautiful Bermuda was and decided we have to go back there.
St. Maarten: We were so amazed at how beautiful this location is as we watched it get closer and closer. The ship made a complete Uturn as we backed into port here. I had booked a private tour with Bernard's tours and we were met by a representative almost right away just after walking down the dock. We got a 4 hour tour of both sides of the island including Maho beach for an hour watching the planes land and the Playa resort near Orient beach where we stayed and swam for an hour.
Puerto Rico:we landed here at 7 am and didn't have any plans. As we exited the ship around 8 am we were met by many private tour guides and agreed to a one hour tour of old San Juan for 10 dollars per person. We were dropped off at the Del Morro Fort and walked back through the streets to the port.(we had the choice to walk or get a ride back, we chose to walk to see more of old San Juan.) It was extremely hot and we went back early to the ship. We loved the feel of the old city and enjoyed walking the blue cobblestone streets.
Labadee: By far our favorite destination of this trip! Labadee is just beautiful. We were among the first off the ship this day waiting on deck 2 for the all clear. I knew we wanted to make the most of our time here. We got the all clear just before 8 am and off we went! Thanks to CC we knew to book a cabana early and to arrive early. We booked an over the water on Nellies beach and it was worth it. We had our own access to the water without the sand and we had shade or sun whenever we wanted it. We also had a ride to the cabana and a ride back to the ship at the end, all perks of the cabana rentals. Also with the cabana we had an attendant that would bring us drinks and he called the vehicle to pick us up at the end as well. We were the first in the water and it was warm and clear. We brought our own snorkel gear and could see many small fish and some mid sized fish. We were so happy to have an underwater camera and got some good videos and stills of the area. Note that the cabana water access included a ladder and probably elderly and handicapped should not be at the cabanas on Nellie's including 3, 4 or 5,6 ,7 , and 8. Our side (the west side of the beach) cabanas 4-3-2-1 had sun all day. The other side, 5-6-7-8-9-10 had trees and more shade in the early part of the day. We could always find shade beneath the roof of the cabana if we wanted. Lunch was at Barefoot beach and we enjoyed a tasty barbecue, but there were not enough tables to eat there so we brought our food back to our cabana. We were very sorry to leave Labadee. And look forward to another trip here.
Sea Days Our favorite hang outs were Dizzy's on the 14th floor, it was a great vantage point to watch the belly flop contest as it overlooks the pool and the front of the ship. It was rarely busy and we could always find a seat at a window.(note Dizzy's can only be accessed by the port side elevators aft.) And we enjoyed the Schooner bar as it was our trivia hang out and on off times was a quiet place with a window view with great bartenders.
DRINK package we had three of us over 21 on the package so it was very expensive. I would say that only one of us (me) got our moneys worth. It was nice to not have a big bill at the end, but in the future I don't think we would get it again. I hated all the little slips and thought we could do without them. Our tips were included. We did often tip extra, but still would prefer not to have to sign for each drink. I wished the package included more wine than the house variety, but the house wine was palatable anyway. we chose express check out and were worried about carrying all our bags off the ship but it went smoothly and we were headed off by 9:15 and home by 11:45 am. if we had done regular check out, our assigned tag number was for 11 am disembarkation. we were happy we chose express option even though lifting the bags onto the bus was hard. .
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS Things I was glad to have: 1. Cruise critic 2. Cabana in Labadee 3. snorkel gear 4. reservations for My Time Dining 5. lots of extra SD cards for photographs 6. Express check out Things I didn't use or would prefer to not have 1. command hooks 2.clothespins 3. soft sided cooler 4. extra wine (the house wine was fine) 5. over the door shoe holder 6.all those paper receipts for drinks