This was our first cruise ever and we had a great time! I understand from seasoned travelers that the dreadful lines at embarkation were unusual, due to the Mardi Gras traffic/parades/crowds, so I'll not comment further on that aspect.
We missed lunch entirely, but there was a nice bowl of fruit in our room (8630 Aft, reviewed elsewhere), and BAGUS, our butler, arrived soon after with a plate of snacks to hold us over until dinner. We explored the ship and left him to unpack our bags - what a treat that was! We also had a lovely flower arrangement of roses, daisies, and mums on the table and a bottle of champagne on ice. Bagus brought sandwiches and sweets every afternoon, as well as an invite to early-view the chocolate buffet (which was WOW to see), an invite to meet the officers for cocktails in The Haven, priority tendering instructions, etc.
CONNIE, our steward, was truly outstanding - a real gem. She kept the room continuously spotless and supplied with plenty of clean towels, Elemis toiletries, and the cutest towel animals. My fav was the little mouse peaking out from under the pillow on our last night. We had a concierge assigned to us but we never utilized her services, although when we chanced to see her here and there she was quite friendly. We'd already made dinner reservations and show reservations were completely unnecessary.
Our Cruise Critic Meet & Greet was held Saturday morning in the Star Bar. We met the several of the ship's officers and were treated to cookies and lemonade. It was nice to meet the people we'd been chatting with on the Roll Call.
We visited each of the bar locations at some point and our favorite was The Great Outdoors, Deck 12, Aft. The Spinnaker Lounge was lots of fun - late night parties especially. The Fyzz Lounge was another favorite and we tried to catch Duo Luna wherever they played. We paid for a "Beer Tasting" which was fun but the beers were a joke - a beer tasting that includes Miller Lite? That still cracks us up.
We'd purchased the Ultimate Dining Package (a great value @ $120 each) and made dinner reservations prior to boarding for a specialty restaurant each night. We went to the Restaurant Reservations desk in the Crystal Atrium on Deck 7 to get UDP stickers put on our cards and change a few reservation times. We never got around to eating in either of the main dining rooms, but we did eat a few times at the Garden Café, which is the gi-normous buffet - nice omelets to order. We passed through the Blue Lagoon dining room where people seemed to be eating nothing but chicken wings and enjoying them enormously. :) Breakfast and lunch at Cagney's was included with our suite, so we ate many meals there. The breakfasts were especially wonderful, the service attentive, the coffee quite good, and the atmosphere was blissfully peaceful. Towards the end of the cruise we just kind of got tired of eating 3 squares a day (!) and skipped a few.
Le Bistro on Sunday night was a WONDERFUL way to kick off our first cruise. We had salads, mushroom soup, escargot, duck, steak, chocolate Napoleon and crème brulee. The crème brulee is NOT to be missed. The steak and duck were as good as we've had at many nice restaurants in New Orleans and the service was excellent. In fact, the service was excellent at ALL of the specialty restaurants.
Monday night was at Chin Chin, the Chinese restaurant (or Asian fusion as they call it). It was practically empty the entire cruise - they should probably be re-thinking this one. The food was just okay, honestly - not really even as good as our fav local Chinese restaurant. Excellent service, but ho-hum food.
Tuesday night was at Teppanyaki, the hibachi-style restaurant. What fun! I'd never been to one before and was just delighted with our chef and his routine. The seating is limited to 32 at a time (divided into 4 tables of 8), so make your reservations early. The food was very good and the only thing I wasn't wild about was the green tea cake and ice cream dessert. That must be an acquired taste, however I'm glad I tried it.
Wednesday night was at La Cucina, the Italian restaurant. The brochure pics make it seem like it's just a pizza/pasta, family-style place. In reality, it's fine Italian dining, and plenty of romantic tables for two. We had ossobuco and pork (not veal) marsala. Everything we tried was yummy.
Thursday night was at Cagney's, the steak house. We had salads, steaks, baked potatoes - a great meal! Dessert was raspberry crème brulee. Not my cup of tea at all - too much raspberry crème by half. We prefer traditional crème brulee, but you have to try new things, right? The upcharge for Cagney's is $30, but we think Le Bistro ($25) is really the best of the specialty restaurants.
Friday night was at Moderno, the Brazilian churrascaria. You start with a trip to the excellent soup and salad bar, followed by the parade of meats, accompanied by 4 side dishes, including garlic mashed potatoes. There were 3 desserts to choose from, including cocoanut flan, but we opted for grilled pineapple topped with cinnamon - delish!
Saturday night we were back at Le Bistro with a special bottle of wine we'd brought on board for the occasion ($15 corkage fee). Salads, the most exquisite scallops we've had in a long time, escargot again, onion soup, and steak again. A delicious apple tartine and surprisingly just okay profiteroles for dessert. A lovely meal to mark the end of our vacation.
We went to the "big show" every night (7:15 or 9:15) and agreed that The Comedy & Magic of Jean-Pierre was hands-down the best show of the cruise. We also attended a smaller Saturday morning show he did with mostly card tricks and several children from the audience. Great fun!
Other shows were Band On The Run, Le Cirque Bijou, a comedian, and a musical review where each entertainer did a song or two. We didn't go to Deal or No Deal, Bingo, or the casino, etc. I would have enjoyed a few trips to the casino if not for the smoke, UGH. One thing to note is at least some (perhaps all) of the previous night's entertainment was shown throughout the day on TV. Jamie de Souza, the cruise director, is hilarious!
We didn't indulge, but the pools were well attended, and the poolside barbecue looked scrumptious from our upper deck perch. Looks like lots of fun for the kiddos with Sponge Bob and company and a decent enough water slide. The Carnival water slide on the ship next door kind of put ours to shame though, hahaha.
There were lots of opportunities to do stuff throughout the day and night - something for everyone really. Does a pastry or sushi demo float your boat? How about towel animals and napkin folding? Learn to cha-cha or the choreography to "Thriller", participate in the karaoke, contests, and raffles - there's entertainment everywhere. We went on excursions (reviewed elsewhere) at each port, so "relaxing" was done on our balcony, with the exception of the Costa Maya port where we spent the day at MAYA CHAN. That was the BEST day of the cruise as far as we're concerned. Definitely look them up.
Disembarking was easy. We packed our bags and placed them in the hall before going to bed Saturday night. Sunday morning we had a nice breakfast, walked off the ship with our hand-carry, met up with our bags outside of Customs, spent about 3 minutes in line at Customs, and rolled our bags out of the building and onto a shuttle to the Fulton Street parking garage (covered, $12/day in advance). Easy peasy!
One side note - we thought we'd bring bottled water and Coke Zero but changed our minds at the last minute - and it turns out we didn't need it anyway. The water on board was fine and there was bottled water included on several excursions so we rarely had to buy a bottle. And I pretty much cured my Coke Zero habit by not drinking it for a week, which is not really a bad thing!
We really loved our cruise vacation and can't wait to go again.