We drove to Fort Lauderdale from Melbourne early on the 22nd, arriving about 10 a.m. Parking was easy, though a little inconvenient for pedestrians. DH brought his mobility scooter, so I got dropped off with the luggage and he parked. The luggage handlers were nice and efficient; we tipped $1 per bag for 3 bags. Boarding was almost immediate and quite simple and fuss-free. Our carry-on is a wheeled laptop case, which was easy to handle. We immediately went to the pool deck (11), where the Windjammer is located, for coffee and cigarettes. Heat Wave was playing good calypso music. Most folks were already swimming and sunbathing. Sail Away was cool - EIGHT ships! - it sure looked like there would be a couple of crashes - it's incredible how maneuverable those big ships are.
I can't remember who took us to our stateroom or what time it was, but we were happy to find all of our luggage there, along with the first Cruise Compass, our onboard credits, and lots of other informational materials. Muster drill was no big deal. It was in the Aurora Theater and was quick and simple.
After Muster drill I went to check out our dining assignment and make spa reservations. Our table for 8 was right at the foot of the stairs where the Rosario Strings played every night. Only 10 actual strings (a guitar and violin), but absolutely terrific music. Those two guys are extraordinary. I made a reservation for a manicure and pedicure for 9 that night. Neither was worth the exorbitant prices, but the technician was very nice, and there's no other place to get it done!
Our room, 7502 forward, was excellent. It was much more spacious than we expected and had more storage than my own bedroom. It was great having a window overlooking the bow, and seeing our window from the bridge on TV was fun. I just wish we could have opened it. The bed was VERY comfortable, but that darn blanket was meant for the Arctic and NOT the Caribbean! The intercom speaker in our room did not work, so we had to listen carefully to the announcements from the speaker in the hall.
We finally met our steward, Francis, on the second night just after turn-down. Sweet man, excellent steward. Our room was always in tiptop condition, our ice bucket was always full, we never had to ask for anything. Every time we left Francis would come in and straighten up. He was great.
Here I am, only on the second day of an 8 day cruise, and my report is already long! Gotta get myself under control.
DH played a lot of poker. He liked the dealers, but was disappointed that there weren't more poker tables. He said that the odds were not great and the slots were very tight. I played bingo every chance I got. Of course, I bought a bingo dog. Altogether I won almost $1000 over the cruise, which, with DH's poker, meant we broke even on gambling. The bingo was a lot of fun, especially with the kids allowed to play. Gio, Ricky, and Woody were great.
We paid absolutely no attention to any of the shops or the art auctions on board. The prices that I did notice were definitely not bargains and there was nothing there I couldn't live without.
I went to one show; the guy with the Spanish guitar. It was weird. Otherwise I was in our room reading at show time. I watched a little of some of the other shows on TV, but it's not something we care to do much of.
We did not go to either Chops or Portofino's or to any of the trivia games, dances, or seminars - except for Quest. Quest is one of the funniest things I've ever seen and I'm really glad I went. My team won. We all laughed so hard and so much that it became painful. Oh my gawd, I can't believe the lengths people will go to! SOOOOOO funny!!!!! The band in the Colony Club was BORING!
We were both very happy with the food everywhere, and we cleaned our plates at each meal. I don't recall anything really spectacular, but everything was quite good and nicely presented. We both loved the sandwiches and soups at the Sea View Cafe. I loved the crepes at the Solarium Cafe. We did not try the pizza. The food in the dining room and at the Windjammer was pretty much the same most nights, with a much wider selection in the Windjammer. The second formal night (the night at sea before Nassau) was lobster night in the dining room and there was plenty of lobster for everyone.
The ports were San Juan Puerto Rico, St. Thomas USVI, Antigua BVI, St. Maarten NA, and Nassau Bahamas. We went ashore at each port for a couple of hours to buy souvenirs for our grandchildren. I did a mini sub excursion, which was great - lots of fish, turtles, sharks, sponges, corals, etc. Well worth the cost. Booking it directly from the provider onshore cost a lot less then booking through the ship. We didn't do any other excursions; we're not really fond of tours and we don't do snorkel or scuba or waverunners, so we couldn't have cared less about that stuff. The ship was nice and peaceful while in port, which we enjoyed. As far as we are concerned, if you've seen one Caribbean cruise port, you've seen them all! BTW, the Straw Market in Nassau is easy if you keep moving and don't make eye contact until you really want to buy something. Everyone has the same stuff anyway. For the prices and the aggression, it really doesn't pay to stop and examine things closely. They're all fakes, they're all the same, they're all flea-market quality. Walk through fast, decide what you want, and get out of there.
Debarkation was just as easy as embarkation. DH's obvious handicaps and scooter got us off the ship very quickly without us having to wait for our color to be called. Walking up and down the unbelievable rows of luggage to find our 3 pieces was a pain-in-the-butt, but the porters were numerous and helpful, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been.
It was a great experience, all in all, and we will certainly cruise again.