Our trip began in Michigan, with 23 inches of snow in the days before we left. Needless to say, we were anxious to get away! Our group travels every year, usually around the last week in January. This year we were bumped due to Ships & Dips booking the entire ship. We just cruised from Feb 10-17th.
Our travel agent warned us there is no such thing as a good hotel in Miami. Due to the hurricanes and humidity, they are all musty and someone in the group is always unhappy. We ended up booking the Haddon Hall hotel in South Beach. It cost around $150 and was in a superb location. The beach is across the road, shopping is all around the hotel and there are several restaurants in the neighborhood. Overall, we were very happy with the hotel. The price wasn't too steep and the kids loved the pool area. The adults sat around the pool drinking a few cocktails (which we purchased ourselves at a nearby store), while a few others went out to one of the clubs nearby. The hotel room was kind of musty smelling, but we brought along air fresheners after reading another review. The hotel staff was VERY RUDE. We only dealt with them during check in/out, which was more than enough to see they aren't happy with their jobs! They take a copy of your license & credit card at check in, and weren't thrilled when I asked for mine back.
Transportation - We booked Ft Lauderdale Shuttle. They were the most reasonable we found and although reliable for us, I recommend paying with a credit card. After spending some time in the van listening to their phone conversations, they frequently over-book themselves and if you pay in cash you have no recourse.
Embarkation was a breeze. Seems to be a lot easier and less hassle than it was a few years ago. We got there at about noon, went through security, and waited in line for about 20 minutes before getting on the boat.
When entering the boat, we went straight to the lido deck for a buffet lunch. Since it wasn't our first time on the ship, we felt no need to explore. The kids wore their bathing suits and were swimming before we ever left Miami. Because the rooms were blocked off and the casino wasn't open, the lido deck was quite busy. I've seen several prior reviews complain about long lines. This is true if you go during the 30 minute peak time for lunch. I never waited in line for more than 5 minutes for anything!
The chair savers are out in full force on this boat and if you don't get up by 8am, then you won't have a seat! Individual seats are much easier to find then groups, though. I like to sit by the pool, so I can watch my kids. Every day I'd get up at 7am and go snooze by the pool till my hubby brought the kids up.
Cozumel was fairly typical of your Mexican ports. I've been to several and they are usually a little dirtier then the islands. We managed to go off the beaten path, down a side street and had a much more enjoyable time. I can't remember exactly how many ships were in port, but there were at least 4 or 5 and the streets were packed! We found a small restaurant with outdoor seating on a side street and had a very enjoyable lunch. Some in the group rented mopeds and said that was the way to to. The price definitely varies, depending on how close to the ship you are. My brother paid $40 per moped, and was charged an additional $10 per moped for gas when he returned. But my cousin that went to another spot, further down the road paid $20 per person and $5 for gas.
In Grand Cayman, we had to tender into port. This was a beautiful port! The shops were nice. They were a little higher priced than other ports with less haggling for deals. There were tours you could book through the ship that took you by the governor's mansion, 7 mile beach, the turtle farm and hell. They lasted about 2 hrs and cost roughly $45-$50. When you get off the ship, there are people standing around offering this tour for $20. We thought this was still kind of high, so we walked outside the gates of the port and it was $10!! This was a really good tour on an air-conditioned bus that holds about 20 people. We even stopped at a rumcake store that gave away all the rum and rumcakes you wanted. The rock formations in Hell are a must see! Overall, this was my favorite port of the trip.
Ocho Rios was only worth a stop at Dunn River Falls. There is probably a lot of really nice stuff to see, but the locals won't stop bothering you long enough to enjoy it. A friend and I inadvertently separated from the group to shop. While we were on our own we had several different men approach us. Some wanted our phone numbers and one actual called us nasty names as he walked by! We had booked the Bamboo Beach Club through the ship for $45 per person. A few people in our group who didn't book in advanced just paid $3 admission as they walked in!! A $42 difference!! On each side of the Beach Club, there are better places to go and they too charge $3-$5!! Two had water trampolines and other stuff for the kids to use. The Bamboo Beach Club did offer food and drinks all day long, with local girls waiting on you hand and foot.
My best advice...if you want to experiment while in Jamaica, don't try to bring it back on the boat! They go through your bags before you get on and guy didn't make it back on the boat! There are guys offering drugs EVERYWHERE you go...walking down the street, shopping at the straw market, dunn river falls, the port, the beach club, etc... Also, we saw dogs sniffing through the hallways before we disembarked in Miami.
The entertainment on the ship was good. They had a couple of funny comedians and from what I heard, the Legends show is a "must see". Karaoke was fun the first night, but we had a couple of guys with beer goggles on who sang the same songs every night. Our last trip on this ship, the piano bar was the place to be. This time, the guy didn't want to take requests that weren't on his list and generally didn't get the crowd involved. The kids really enjoyed the magic show. Karaoke Under the Stars was a first this week. They tried Karaoke on the Lido deck (which is my favorite place)! It worked really well and I hope they make it a regular thing! The big screen was too loud on occasion, but it was a good addition. We enjoyed the Pink Floyd show they had on it a few nights ago.
The food was average. I'm not picky at all, but the steak in the dining room was really tough. Our group only ate there 1 night! We were seated on the first floor of the Pacific Dining Room, along the back windows of the ship. Before going, I was sooo excited about these seats, thinking they were the best in the house. Boy, was I wrong! Even those who don't get seasick were feeling nauseated by the rocking. I'm not sure if that's typical or if it was rough waters. For the rest of the trip, we stayed on deck 9 to eat. The pizza was good and the salads are awesome! You could always find something that you like.
Some things I learned on this trip: There is anchovy dressing on the caesar salad at the pizzeria (which explains the fishy taste). And you can order garlic bread from the pizzeria. At the omelette stands, you can order eggs cooked any way you like. The 1 hour massages NEVER last an hour...more like 45 minutes! I booked a 1 hr massage which began at 5:45 and I was out walking on the lido deck at 6:25. By the time I realized it, I didn't think it was worth going back to complain....I just know for the future, I won't book another massage on the ship! This was my 4th onboard massage and they're always cut short.
Well, I think that's it. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.