We've never cruised before and didn't know what to expect. We wanted time away from work and the kids and were told that a cruise would be a good value.
I booked through an ad with Intercontinental Hotels Group. We received and upgrade to a balcony room and found that it was definitely worth it. We both had trouble getting a lot of time off of work, so we flew down from Newark to Ft. Lauderdale on Thursday morning, but arrived in plenty of time for the cruise.
Check-in took awhile but it wasn't bad. They kept everyone moving. They take your photo getting onto the boat, which seemed a bit ridiculous with us being all disheveled, schlepping our coats and carry-ons.
We settled into our rooms, freshened up, and went to visit the Vitality Spa for the tour. It seemed nice and I had wanted to get the husband a massage as a late birthday present (the trip was his actual present). He seemed intrigued by the hot stone massage and suggested that for both of us. I booked it. I didn't get the name of the woman who did the booking, but she was a very pushy salesperson who really pissed me off. Honestly - she was the only real negative on the trip. I'll get to that later, but when she handed me the slips for the reservation, I said "we both wanted hot stone, you have me down for Swedish." She replied that she had to put it in that way in order to get the discount. I also told her that I wanted both charges to be billed to me, not just mine. Anyway, after making the reservations we left and went to lunch.
The Windjammer was already hopping. Food was good. It wasn't gourmet, but I didn't expect that a buffet would be anything spectacular. It was good, though. We walked around after lunch, out on the deck, finally getting sun. BTW, my only minor food quibble: Jade is supposed to be Asian, right? Most of the food wasn't, and when it was, it was Indian. I really like Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, etc. A little more variety in the Asian department would have been nice.
We were in cabin 1532, a balcony stateroom towards the front of the ship on deck 10. It was lovely. we had a queen couch which folded out (we didn't need that) and the two twin beds were pushed together into a king. The balcony made the vacation for us, because there were many times when we just needed to chill and watch the water. I think the stateroom attendant came in and cleaned the room every single time we left, haha. She was fantastic. Yes, the bathrooms are small, but they are efficient, clean and definitely not bad. The air return in them is good, too, so shower steam and bathroom odors are quickly absorbed. I am fanatical about that and brought a can of Febreeze air effects, which helped to freshen the entire cabin at times. I had ordered a bottled water package and the water was there, all ready for us, when we boarded. This was another thing I won't do, since we barely used what I ordered. I think we went through 4 bottles, max.
DH had to bring his laptop for work and signed up for a wireless package. Work will reimburse him but damn, it's expensive and slow.
We tried to make it up to the Sky Bar to meet up with other Cruise critic members but didn't quite make it before Muster. That was hilarious. A couple of seasoned cruisers were complaining mightily about being away from their drinks.
There was so much to do, it was amazing. we showered before our massages, went upstairs, and waited. The husband was called in first. He thought we were doing this together and seemed a bit confused, but went off to have his massage. Then I was called and sure enough, it was for a Swedish massage. I didn't complain to the massage therapist. She was obviously young & in questioning her I found out she was new. I should have asked for the name of the person who had done the original booking, but I didn't. I did enjoy the massage and when it was over I met the husband outside. He was thrilled, felt relaxed and happy. We went back to the room to clean up & go to dinner.
We had My Time reservations in the Botticelli dining room. Our waiter, Ionut, and our assistant waiter, Abraham, were attentive, kind and helpful. I'm allergic to crustaceans but not other seafood, and they adjusted some of the dishes accordingly. For the most part, I thought the food was excellent. I had a steak the first night, duck on the second, rack of lamb on the third, and cod & scallops on the 4th. All were perfectly prepared. The appetizers were great, too. Loved the escargot, the tapas plate and the scallops. Some of the desserts were great, others were good but not great, but that's fine, I shouldn't be eating dessert anyway, haha.
We had the wine, beer and soft drink beverage package. I enjoyed a glass of wine with dinner each evening. I have no alcohol tolerance and I'm not a drinker, so I think we could have saved the cost of the package and ordered a la carte. I don't think the husband had more than 3 glasses of wine or a couple of beers on any given day. I did drink a lot of diet coke & sprite zero, but not enough to justify the package. My one guilty pleasure: the protein shakes on deck 11. I'd get a mango or strawberry shake with 70 grams of protein, perfect for someone who has had weight loss surgery.
Even though we were tired, we wanted to participate and see what was going on. The 70s dance party on the Promenade was great! We really got into the energy of the evening and enjoyed dancing in the "street." The cruise director, Jerome, and his staff were all great and very high-energy. I think we fell into bed after midnight, very happy.
We were at sea all day. We had breakfast at the buffet, hung out a bit in the hot tub, and participated in some of the day's events. We attended a trivia game about movie characters in the Schooner bar. We went to the shopping talk by Kelvin (seemed a bit of a hard sell to certain very expensive, high-end stores). If you're looking for basic souvenirs, this is not the talk for you. If you're looking for expensive jewelry, watches, gemstones, etc, go for it.We walked around quite a bit, exploring the whole ship. We went to a bunch of different activities and I can't even remember them all! It was formal night and we dressed for dinner. It was great to see so many people dressed up. We weren't exactly formal (he wore slacks and a sport coat, I was in a cocktail dress, but we didn't seem out of line with anyone else.
One thing I really enjoyed: we went out to watch The Hobbit on the big screen, sitting on the deck chairs. He gave me his sport coat (I was chilled) and we just had a great time.
Day 3, Cozumel:
We had tickets to Chankanaab for the Snorkel tour. Oscar, our guide, was very pleasant. I think we had a bit of a late start. Other than the one family with the extremely whiny kids, it was a very pleasant experience. I've never snorkeled before, and thought it was great. I loved seeing the fish, the lobster, the sea urchin and the other things under the water. After snorkeling we had lunch, and attended the tequila tasting (ick) and the Sea Lion Show (great). Then we went back to the pier, and headed out to the shops. Of course all the shops are very high pressure. I think the places recommended by the ship were out of our price range. The one we really liked was Alberto's, a silver place where the guy makes it himself, so it's not all the same stuff you see in the other jewelry shops.
We picked up presents for the kids. On the way back, we were in one jewelry place and stopped to look at some stuff. Somehow he was talked into buying me a pair of Mexican Opal earrings. I can't complain about that, they are lovely and I was extremely touched that he did that. Money is tight right now and I thought that was out of our budget but he did it and I love them. Love him, too. OK, enough mushy stuff, lol. Back to the review.
At the pier we bought a mug, a couple of t-shirts, a couple of bottles of tequila for friends, and we stopped at the Humane Society booth to make a donation. The adorable puppy up for adoption was soooo cute! She was an adorable terrier mix. Considering the amount of critters we already have, I wasn't adding another to the mix, but boy, was she cute. If anyone gives you change in pesos, consider putting that into the donation jar.
The Love & Marriage game show in the evening was an absolute laugh riot. I haven't laughed so hard in ages.
At sea again all day. I got up extra early to get sunrise pictures, and I saw a dolphin! I was thrilled. We went to a lot of trivia games during the day, hit the pool & the hot tub, and had a blast. We went to the Encore! ice show, it was great. They have some really talented people there. By the end of the day I was dragging! At dinner we heard that we'd be going back to snow in NJ, so we weren't thrilled about that, haha.
After dinner we went back to the casino for a bit. Then we went back to the room to get ready to go to Saturday Night Fever, and, well, I fell asleep. :( We missed the show. I'm disappointed about that but hey, reason to go back, right?
Got up early. We went to breakfast, packed and did a final walk-around. We opted for self-carry at 10 (but left at 9:30) because my Dad was picking us up. We left (well-deserved) tips for our waiters and our cabin attendant. Took a long time to get off the ship but once we were off it was fine.
I have to say, I'm really glad we had a balcony. It made for some very nice quiet time, where we could sit, talk, watch the ocean and relax. We had so many special moments, it was truly a time for us to reconnect. We'd like to go back with the kids, but for now, we are glad that we had this interlude.