This is a review of the ship, not the ports we visited. A little background:
There were five of us spread over 3 cabins – hubby and me, our BFF’s and my brother. Hubby and I have sailed 14 times on various cruise lines – Premier, HAL, RCCL, Princess, Celebrity and Carnival. We chose this cruise for the fabulous deal on balcony cabins and because I’d read that this ship had terrific entertainment. It was a fairly last-minute decision, as we booked mid-February.
Embarkation: We were at the dock at 12:40, parked in the port garage across the street from the ship. Check-in was very smooth and organized with plenty of stations open. As we entered the terminal, there was coffee, juices and water offered, which I thought was a nice touch.
As soon as we boarded, we headed to the casino bar and collected the drink vouchers we had pre-ordered. This took only a few minutes. Our cabins were ready before 2 PM and our luggage had arrived when we returned from lunch. Sail-away was late, after 8 PM, but we enjoyed sitting in the Garden Bar area listening to lovely music from Joel Nunez and seeing the beautifully-lit skyline of Miami. Our 2nd dinner seating was pushed back to 8:45 this night due to sail-away, and there was only one performance of the Frank Sinatra production show (8:15) which we sadly missed. But we were relaxed and enjoying the evening and it was a nice way to begin the cruise.
Cabin: We stayed in #12169, a cat. 11 superior balcony. It was perfectly located, just off the central elevator bank and stairways. The décor was very upscale with large padded headboard, wonderful room-darkening drapes, plenty of closet space and drawers and a very comfy bed. The mini-fridge actually kept things cold. The bathroom was pretty small, but we appreciated the under-sink cabinet for storage as well as three shelves to one side of the sink. Great water pressure from the rain-head shower. The cabin seemed a bit noisy, possibly due to our location by the stairs/elevators and the large number of children on this sailing – over 500. Our balcony was a nice size and our steward opened the divider so we could access our friends’ balcony next door. We used the balcony a lot on this cruise.
Buffets: This ship had the most extensive breakfast buffet we’ve ever seen. Everyday there was bacon, sausage links, corned beef hash, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, several types of omelets, hard-boiled eggs, hash browns, hot and cold cereals, delicious croissants, pain au chocolat, muffins, doughnuts, Belgian waffles with mixed-berry topping, pancakes, every kind of fruit imaginable (even kiwis). And amazingly, they never ran out of bananas, a first for us! Coffee was delicious and there were many types of juices available, including orange, cranberry, pineapple and white grapefruit. There was a section for more European-style breakfast staples such as herring, cheeses, cold meats, broiled tomatoes and beans.
Lunch buffets were also wonderful, with a different meat carvery each day (beef, turkey, pork loin, veal), assorted pasta dishes, half-a-dozen types of pizzas, little sandwiches on buns (tuna, egg salad, salami and cheese), soups, salad bars, etc. There were also the pre-made burgers, hot dogs and fries. I liked the variety of drinks available from the machines – different fruit-flavored waters, tea, lemonade. At both breakfast and lunch, the buffet stretched for nearly half the length of the ship on both sides, very impressive! We always looked for a table near the rear of the ship and despite the huge number of people onboard (over 4100) we always found one for the 5 of us.
Dinner buffet was the only one that fell short. One evening, several of us didn’t feel like being in the MDR for several hours so decided to try the buffet, but there was very little to choose from. There was only a very limited area open, mostly pizzas and pasta, which one of our picky eaters doesn’t eat. He was forced to have the burgers and fries, while I had salad and pizza.
Main Dining Room: We had 2nd seating, 8:30 except for first night which was 8:45. The first two nights were extremely slow – we didn’t finish until 10:45 the first night, which was way too late for us to have eaten. Even though our waiter seemed to be in a mad dash most of the night, there were long waits between courses, although this improved a lot by the third night. Food was generally good, especially the pasta courses. There were 4 entrees to choose from, usually a seafood, fowl, meat and vegetarian. The vegetables that came with the entrees were well-prepared and varied. The pasta course had two options and these were always very good, in fact I had pasta as my main on several evenings, as they were very generous portions. The alternative menu was very limited, Caesar salad, baked chicken, steak and possibly one other item. Unfortunately, it wasn’t available every night, such as on the first gala night, and this caused a little problem for our picky eater who eats absolutely NO sauces, only plain meat and potatoes. But he survived. Breads were delicious and offered at the start of the meal. You could ask for more later. Water glasses were filled at the beginning and again later in the meal. We ordered a glass of wine some evenings and never waited longer than 5 or 6 minutes for it to arrive.
Entertainment: Outstanding is the only word for it! The talent in the production shows was simply amazing – the singers, dancers, gymasts. The costumes and makeup were spectacular. We loved the entertainment team, who kept the audience occupied and laughing before the shows and who were so fun and energetic at all of the special dance parties on the ship. The various entertainers in the different lounges were also wonderful – The Elegance Trio and Igor in the Atrium, who played all evening long, Dueling Pianos, Joel Nunez, Trio Latin Mambo, Duo Devotion, sax-man Nello Russo. I loved all of the special parties, like White Night, Italian Party, Flower Power, just so much dancing and fun.
Activities: The only ones we attended were Italian lessons and the various dance lessons, which I really loved. Other times, we relaxed on our balconies to escape the hordes of kids who were on spring break!
Service: I loved that I could get a bar drink from any server pretty quickly, but they were never pushing drinks in our faces. Kudos to all the bar staff. Also really loved the drink vouchers – they allowed us to try so many different cocktails and it really added to the fun. We loved this option! Our room was very clean, but used or half-filled old glasses were seldom removed. Maybe they are instructed not to remove anything from the rooms? It was a minor issue and didn’t really annoy us. Room service in the late afternoon (for our private happy hours) was usually there in 10-20 minutes. Wait staff in the buffet area were very attentive and friendly, as well as in the MDR. If you’re expecting wait staff or room stewards to know or call you by name, this won’t happen, and there are no towel animals or chocolates on pillows in the evening. For some reason, these silly little things seem very important to some passengers, but not to us.
Overall Impressions: This is a beautiful ship with a high-energy sophistication and a European flavor. I felt like I was in Europe at times but didn’t have the long flight or the high airfare! It only added to the feeling that I was truly away from it all. I loved interacting with people from all the various countries and observing the little cultural differences. I don’t believe I’ve ever had so much fun on a ship before. Each night there was so much to look forward to, with the incredible shows and the parties. I’d love to sail it when it isn’t so mobbed, but I’ll take it anytime. I would have liked something like a grill with fresh hamburgers or fried fish, or even a tex-mex place in the outdoor pool area, and it would be very nice if they could just switch the lunch buffet selection to dinnertime with a few more "American" options.. But really, these are the only suggestions I could make. All of us loved it and would definitely choose it again.