Firstly, my cruise was free because my best friend won it from a casino (of course this was for an inside room and we had to pay taxes, gratuities and fees), but my mom wanted to come so she gave us the gift of a balcony upgrade. "Upgrade" is a term I use lightly. The balcony was tiny! I've been on the Norwegian Sky, a much older and much smaller ship and our room and balcony were significantly bigger!
Embarkation was stress free for us because we got to skip the lines as special customers due to winning the cruise from the casino. Other customers were not so lucky! The computers broke down and people had to stand in unorganized lines for hours! The Manhattan terminal is very poorly organized. I guess I was spoiled by how pristine the Miami terminal was!
I've only sailed out of Florida in the past, so I didn't realize how choppy the seas could be when sailing from New York. Luckily, I don't get seasick, but I would NOT recommend this for anyone who might have an issue with motion sickness because this ship never stopped rocking (and supposedly it has these amazing new stabilizers that are supposed to make the movement less detectable). We weren't even able to go to the private island because the sea was too choppy to lower the tenders to take us over to the island. I've seen it before, but my it was my friend's first cruise and he was really disappointed.
There is far too much space allocated to private areas such as the Haven, as well as a private beach club ($50 a day) which no one knew existed. As a result, there was only one small adult pool which was NOT heated! This ship only travels from New York so you lose 3-4 days of pool time because even if the sun warms the pool during the day, they drain it at night and it's icy again the next morning! The hot tubs aren't even hot. There is a lovely adults only area at the rear of the ship, Club H20, but if you don't know it's there, you won't find it. You have to go through the kids' arcade to get to it. Who designed this ship?
The food in all of the "free" restaurants ran from mediocre to terrible. The service was even worse. We found the majority of the staff, in all locations and ranks, to be unfriendly or cold, at the very least. The friendly staff luckily included our steward, Tre, who also took great care of our room, the sweetest waitress at O'Sheehan's (the only 24 hour eatery, other than room service), several of the bartenders at Club H20 (Wade) and exactly ONE server in the casino (the rest couldn't even manage to smile and then wondered why they didn't get extra tips!). I should also note that if you choose to pay extra and try the premium restaurants, you will find the friendliest and most efficient servers, as well as the quality of food you're used to on a cruise! We liked the Moderno Chiascurria so much that we paid for it a second time. We also enjoyed the Teppanyaki grill but once you paid the additional service charge, it cost the same thing as a local HIbachi grill, and that doesn't include what you paid in the price of the original cruise. These restaurants had a flat fee, but several of the others had a fee, plus additional fees for certain menu items. You want a filet? $$ Lobster? $$$$ As a matter of fact, the inclusive dining rooms (of which there are three, which all serve the exact same food) never even offered a filet or lobster on the entire cruise. The buffet was a joke. Most food was cold and over cooked. There was rarely a carving station and everyone who worked there just seemed pissed off all the time!
I really hope this isn't a new trend in cruising because it took me a long time to ever go on one and now I'm hesitant to go back!