We just got home from our third family cruise in three years. This was the 4th cruise for my husband and I and 3rd for our children. Prior to this cruise we have sailed on Disney(1999) and Royal Caribbean Freedom (2011) and Independence (2012). This was the holiday cruise and was also my birthday on 12/21. Thankfully, we spent the extra money on a Haven suite, otherwise I would have been even more disappointed. The ship was incredibly crowded with 4,950 people on board not including the crew. When it came to finding a seat at the pool, it was practically impossible. I mean did you have to secure a chair at 5 am? Luckily we had the additional pool option at the Haven. This was our saving grace! This was nice because we could go to a pool and be able to sit in the hot tub without having hundreds of people sitting on top of us.
The Haven suite was very nice. We had a family suite and as ships go it was fairly large. There is the main room, a little side room and the master bedroom which was divided from the bathroom with a sliding drape. The bathroom had great storage, a nice shower with different settings and a steeping tub which my 8 year old son loved. The master bathroom also has a very nice view to the outside, but only if heights do not scare you. But if they do scare you there is an additional full bath in the other room, which is also nice. There were a few issues though with the room; the shower doors in the second bathroom moved and would make noises during the night and wake whomever slept in that room that evening. The 2 nights prior to the end of our cruise I figured out to put a wash cloth between the shower doors and the door to the actual bathroom to secure both doors and have quiet. Also the chandelier in the main room kept shaking during the night and it kept my 13 year old daughter up. Although we do not drink coffee there was a lovely coffee maker in the room. I also felt that without an intercom in the room it was hard to hear the announcements every morning. In fact, one night while we were there a person needed to be evacuated by helicopter and my husband who took our son to O'Sheehan's did not even hear the announcement. It was only the next day he heard the follow-up announcement in the Garden Cafe.
The elevators were HORRIBLE. Luckily my kids and I are in fairly good shape, we walked up and down from the 6th floor to the 16th where we were staying. I would say by floor 13 even my kids were getting exhausted. The service in the Haven was excellent, according to my husband. I don't think it was all that good, except for the gentleman who was our attendant. He made awesome towel animals and always made our room immaculate. We always had chocolate chip cookies and other treats in our room. I would thank them for my weight gain but thanks to my unwarranted step climbing several times per day I think I managed to keep my weight in check.
For the dining options, the Garden Cafe had some average choices at best. Personally, I found their selections to be limited. You could always count on burgers and dogs for lunch or dinner. We didn't get to many other restaurants. We tried Cagney's which my family ate steak. I had chicken which was so and so. It took forever to get the steak though, I thought they went to the mainland, killed the cow and came back. Then we also had dinner during the cirque show. My husband said his dinner was not great. I actually liked my dinner which was eggplant parm, because I told them I was a vegetarian. The children had limited choices. We also had dinner at Tempanyaki which was actually decent but kind of salty. I would recommend the Japanese Martini which was good.
Now for the excursions: At St. Maarten we did the America's Cup everyone in my family loved it. We got to ride on Dennis Connor's Stars and Stripes. Both of our kids had jobs as well as my husband and I. We enjoyed it but I don't know that I would spend $129 again to do it. I guess it depends on how cool you think the idea is. In St. Thomas we did the Screaming Eagle and Magen's Beach. The screaming eagle was pretty fun. We didn't get as wet as expected but it was pretty fun, none the less. Magen's beach was kind of dissapointing. We heard this beach was the place to visit. As a beach in general it had beautiful water and it was calm and had no seaweed. However, it was incredibly loud (not what most people want in a beach setting) it was so crowded, people were on top of each other. Finally the shows on the ship. The Blue Man group was great. They were very entertaining and if you get a chance to see them in the last sea day, take advantage, its an interesting session. The cirque show was very entertaining and even more unbelievable when the ship is shaking pretty bad. Additionally, there was the legends in concert. Steven Tyler and Elvis were probably the best. Having a 13 year old and 8 year old they even thought Katy Perry didn't live up to expectations. My son especially was taken with Steven Tyler. Second City was pretty entertaining and we had an opportunity through our concierge in The Haven to meet the cast.
To summarize, if you are going on this ship absolutely stay in the Haven. Otherwise, I would have to choose Royal Caribbean.