I went on this Cruise with a group of 31 people, lots of young Nieces and Nephews among them. We disembarked from San Francisco and we all live in the South Bay so we all pitched in for a bus to pick us up and drop us off for embarkation and again when we returned. We just walked off with our carry ons and the bus went onward to drop our luggage off at the luggage terminal for us. All of that went smoothly. We arrived on time and our bus was on time to pick us up when we got back as well.
The process for getting on the ship was slightly annoying, employees kept yelling at me to get my passport in my hand, yet it was in a sling pouch in a nice tight open pouch pocket with the top sticking out right where they could see it and I just can grab it and slip it out, no zipping or opening of anything to get to it was necessary and they could see this was the case but seemed to not care about logic, one of them even told me to pull over out of line and get it in my hand before moving on and I just kept walking, in retrospect that was probably a bad idea and I'm probably lucky I got away with it, as frustrating as it was just say "yes sir" and keep walking if you have one of those nifty passport pouch slings. It was frustrating because I was already carrying my backpack, rolling my carry on with one hand, and carrying a bag for my blind mother in the other as it was...
Eventually I had to fill out some sort of medical pamphlet along the lines of "Have you had a fever recently?" .. "Have you been around sick people" .. etc etc. After that I finally got to a long desk area where you wait for the next available employee to hold a number up (Think checking out at fry's electronics) and they get you your cruise card when you show them your boarding pass, the lady I got at this point was warm, welcoming, and friendly. It was a breath of fresh air from the chaotic 10 minutes before this point. After that they now wanted you to have your cruise card in hand, np, that's exactly where mine was until I got to my room. We got onto the ship and waited on elevators, this was a mistake, unless your physically unable just take the stairs. The elevators were already full from floors below, and the one we finally got onto stopped at every single floor before it got to ours...
One thing to note and think about at this point, my Cousin bought a drink right after we got our stuff situated in our room, and he later found out he had to pay SF tax since we were still in port at the time... lol!
Yay, we're finally on ship in our room, woohoo! I immediately headed to the Horizon Court, there just so happened to be a drink package stand right at the top of the stairs when I looked over, sweet! I went and got my Coffee Card for $30something bucks and that was all, I don't drink Soda, and I don't drink $50 worth of Alcohol everyday so I had no need for the others, the only thing was the Soda + package gets you the milkshakes and ice cream cones... but you could still get free soft serve ice cream so I was like "meh" and didn't bother getting it, there's no way I could drink that many milkshakes to make up the daily cost cover of that card.
After my Coffee Card purchase, I proceeded straight to the Horizon Court, I hadn't eaten since 7AM, and it was just past 11 so I was slightly hungry. There wasn't many people there yet so I got in quick and found a nice window seat by the pool area just outside the Court. It got very crowded within the next 30 minutes as more people got situated in their rooms most were coming up hungry for food and this is the only real food spot open at this point. The food was good, much better than I had expected, to be quite honest everyday the food quality was higher than your average Bay Area restaurant which I certainly didn't expect from a buffet.
After that I explored the ship a long while and went back up top for disembarking, it was pretty awesome being up there as we passed under the Golden Gate bridge, a buncha people were up on the Golden Gate bridge waving as we went by, luckily no trolls were up there dumping drinks on us or anything like that.
After that I made my way down to the International Café, this was immediately my favorite place on the ship, open 24 hours with a limited selection of treats, and with the exception of morning a few select salads for the health conscious folk. It was right next to vines bar where if you ordered a glass of wine you could get Sushi with it, and I love Sushi, it's a shame you had to order wine to get it but whatever. The staff all around this area was pretty awesome with the exception of 1 guy, I didn't catch his name but he was balding on top and had slightly long dark hair in the back, he carded me every single time I asked for my tea, after number 5 I leaned in and said "One of these days you just might catch me without this" as I flung my card up in his face, ahahahaha. The next time I saw him he finally didn't card me! lol. The rest of the staff only carded me once, basically the 1st time they saw me, after that they were all cool and chill, I would often pass jokes back n fourth with them, except the 1st guy I mentioned, I'm not sure he knew what laughing was, let alone how to smile.
The Bar Supervisor was named "Prince" he was often in the area and helping his crew out as needed, he was from Jamaica and super cool, always asking "How joo doing today mon?" The 2 cooks on the pastry side were really cool too, they don't say much and often have this serious look on their faces but they were really cool, it was because they were constantly working on new pastries between serving them to you, and I believe they were also the Sushi Chefs for Vines and just walked over there as necessary while a Barista would cover the Pastry case briefly, so they didn't exactly have a lot of time to talk. The Vines bar workers were great as well, 1 girl there was from the Ukraine, I never looked at her name tag, she was always chatting it up with my fellow cruisers. The other guy working with her most times, same thing, really friendly and chatty.
Dining. After that was Dining time, my whole Group had the traditional 1st seating at the Amalfi dining room. I skipped it the 1st night and just had a light snack, trying to get my sea legs under me. I hit it every other night though except once when I hit up Crown Grill. As strange as it may sound I think the Horizon Court buffet was slightly better food wise, many nights the options seemed lacking at Amalfi, one thing I really did like was the food portions, they were perfect, I was expecting huge plates of food but that wasn't the case. The appetizers, salads, soups were all very small and the main course was nothing like your used to seeing at an average American restaurant. I imagine many would complain about this, but I thought it was great, I never wasted food and was always able to finish. The 1st time I went I just ordered a main course, expecting it to be huge, but no, after that I went ahead and ordered appetizers too, it was great to be able to finish all my food without over eating.
Crown Grill. This place was great, we all had vouchers for 1 free meal at a specialty restaurant and chose to use it here. But let me say, for $25 per person it would have been worth it to go without the vouchers. I ordered the Filet Mignon and it was fabulous, someone with me ordered Lobster Tail and let me try some, OMG was it good, the appetizers and deserts were also incredibly good. I wish there was a $25 Restaurant around here with this food, wow!
British Pub style lunches. These were interesting and mostly disappointing. I'm not sure what oil they used to deep fry the Fish n Chips or the Prawn n Chips but let me tell you, it wasn't very good. This was also only featured 3 times total, all on sea days, which seemed rather odd, I figured they would have it on every sea day.... I went here on 2 of the days it was open, but missed the 1st day because I went late and the line was out starting to wrap around the Piazza. You never saw a line like that again, probably because the food just wasn't that good and everyone figured that out the first time, lol. The crew working this place was challenged as well, you would ask for more water and it would never come, one time half our orders got lost and we were sitting there 15 minutes and finally asked someone to look into it, we realized people coming in after us were getting their food before us.. lol. On 2 occasions they took paid drink orders and forgot to get them, I figured if they were going to remember an order it would be something you paid for, but nope, very unorganized and bad service. This was the only place I experienced this on the ship and it was both pub lunches I went to, what was odd was I saw waiters and servers from other parts of the ship working here, and they didn't perform this badly elsewhere.
Ship Entertainment. There was definitely something for everyone. There was trivia, ball room dancers, a string quartet, some guy singing and playing a Piano, seminars of sorts, one of the coolest things was passengers that took part in a Flash mob dance on the last sea day, they spent all the early days practicing every so often. Of course it wasn't a typical flash mob since the time was leaked and everyone was in the Piazza waiting for them to show up, lol, but it was great, 1 of my group was in it. Really cool. I really enjoyed the Naturalist lectures by Greg Wheeler, it was one of the few seminar/lectures on the ship where nobody tried to sell you something (More on that next paragraph). Sometimes the Princess Theatre on decks 6 & 7 would have Movies, very cool if your bored on a sea day and like movies. The Movies under the stars up top on deck 14 were often crowded, but you could still grab popcorn and walk elsewhere with it.
Seminars. These were the ultimate low point of the Cruise. The 1st sea day I saw an Acupuncture seminar scheduled up in the Wedding Chapel. I love alternative medicine, so I went. The Acupuncturist, Martina, was pretty amazing. She said things that I often tell people and they look at me like I'm nuts. For instance, she was saying how a healthy diet can prevent/cure 90+% of diseases. A bold statement! But very true! I was intrigued and was so excited to talk to her after the seminar because I rarely meet anyone who knows this stuff. We have a whole generation of Westernized Medical experts hell bent on masking your symptoms rather than curing them, they think your genetics are destined for whatever disease you get yet don't realize it's typically the environment you subject your genes to that causes them. So afterwards I stood last in line to ask her questions and just talk, what a mistake, she was distant and cold, when she realized I wasn't interested in signing up for her $150 Acupuncture appointment she pretty much ignored me and said "Ma'am do you have a question" to a person still sitting in a chair, right in the middle of me speaking, I think I got about 45 seconds worth of chit chat and that was it. I was crushed, oh well.
That was my first Seminar on the ship, after that i went some "Speed up your Metabolism" Seminar and low and behold, the guy was selling a $45 test. I went to the jewelry seminar and again, sales pitch, I went to the Culinary show and low and behold the ship sells a cook book, I didn't bother taking the Kitchen tour provided afterwards because I knew what was coming... "Please buy our book sir!" I even went to one of the Comedy shows and at the end the guy was selling his $25 stand up dvd.... Are you kidding me? Annoying. Oh well, they only do it to maximize profits and people buy it all up, guess I can't blame 'em.
Laundry room on Caribe deck. I had to make a note about this. The Laundry rooms are horrible. I was surprised to go in there and find a washer off with wet clothes inside, he finally showed up 25 minutes later and someone had taken his clothes out (rightfully so) and set them on one of the sinks in the room. With the limited Washers and Dryers it's hard to believe your fellow passengers are void of enough abstract thought in a situation such as this, boggles my mind. As a result this guy started his dryer load late, then 1 dryer died, and there was suddenly a huge backlog of clothes to be dried, on top of that, these dryers weren't very good, my load of clothes, 4 pairs total, didn't finish drying all the way and I had them sitting out in my room for the next 8 hours to air dry. I had half a nerve to go to the front desk and ask for my quarters back. On top of that while I was in there the Dollar to Coins machine ran out of coins, and the Laundry dispenser machine jammed. Later on someone told me after I had left a 2nd dryer had died in there... what a nightmare, I was lucky to avoid most of it. If I ever cruise again I'll be tempted to bring enough clothes to not have to use the Laundry facilities.
Kids. While I don't have any kids yet, 8 of my group were under 18. From what I heard the Cruise overall had an unusually high amount of kids under 18. They all seemed to have a blast and took part in a lot of the kids activities. Scavenger hunts, game nights, etc etc. They all made new friends and even some exchanged phone numbers and emails, this was definitely a good Cruise for them.
Overall Summary. I felt the Cruise was quite enjoyable for my 1st time ever, the price seemed decent for the service and the amount of employees on the ship. I enjoyed it enough to certainly want to go on another Cruise but I'll most likely try a different Cruise line next time, hopefully one with less selling onboard.