This was our family's second cruise with the prior being a 5 day Carnival Cruise.
We drove to the day before cruising to enjoy what New Orleans had to offer... some shopping, trip to WW2 Museum, some cajun food and some night life. It would be nice if there were more cruise options out of New Orleans.
We boarded the ship quickly around 12:30 and went right to the Windows dining hall since our rooms were not ready. The food and service was good at this very large ship restaurant.
Our room was very clean and slightly larger than expected. The bathroom and especially the shower was also larger than expected. Our stateroom was cleaned and well serviced various times a day. We also found a well made towel animal every night. The beds were plenty comfortable.
We went with a total group of 4 families of 4 so we had a group of 16. Each family had 2 kids with the kids ranging from 6 to 10 with one older 15 year old.
After reading the various reviews it sounded like this ship was run down with below average cruise food and service. We certainly did not feel or see this on our cruise. The ship is well maintained. It certainly is not new but by no means did it feel old.
The food was good to great. We paid extra to eat at Cagney's steak house the first night since we had a half price coupon for the first night. I think most of us thought it was worth the extra $10. Be aware if you have kids that we thought that since our kids ordered kid meals that there would not be an extra charge for them but that was NOT the case.
For the most part our group liked the freestyle dinning experience. Our group made reservations every night for the next day's dinner and we tried various restaurants. Each restaurant has a different feel and themes. Overall the food was very good to great and the service was also very good. Our favorite restaurant was the Garden Room as we liked the smaller size/feel and thought the service here was slightly better than at other "non-upcharge" restaurants. We did not have a bad experience at any of the restaurants. As others have mentioned some portion sizes are somewhat small but our group just ordered an extra main course, appetizer or dessert from time to time with no hassle whatsoever.
The only food disappointments was that we missed the formal day feel and the chocolate buffet. Many cruisers really didn't dress up to the occasion on formal night. So you have dinners dressed to the T's sitting next to casual dressers. The late night chocolate buffet looked good with decorative chocolate models and a spread of chocolate cakes, pies and desserts but the food really did not taste very good. For me the best thing I ate at the chocolate buffet was actually the vanilla ice cream.
Our stops included Roatan Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, and Cozumel.
We arrived late to Roatan leaving us only a couple hours of sun time. We walked past the gates and turned right toward a small pier to catch a boat to a beach area that had good reviews called Fins and Flippers. After a very short boat ride we paid our small fee and spent the late afternoon enjoying the beach and sun. We also spent the early evening darkness in their fresh water pool. We wish we had more sun time at this resort is was clean, safe, and had good food and $2 beers. The return boat trip took us right near our ship making the reboarding very easy. The main disappointment of this stop was the arriving late because of engine trouble and that Roatan is very poor with beggars asking for money as you pass outside the cruise ship gates. If we went to Roatan again with more time and with our kids (6 & 9) my guess is that we would probably do Fins and Flippers again.
We arrived at Guatemala on time. The cruise ship area was more developed and larger than Roatan with shopping, food court, and traditional entertainment all available under one roof. We spent some time here shopping and watching the show which was somewhat entertaining. We talked about doing an excursion and talked to some of the folks at the excursion booths. In the end we decided to do our own thing and walked outside the cruise area gates in search of local downtown shopping. This is not for the faint of heart as the security and overall feel changes a great deal outside the gates. However for us this turned out to be a great experience. We hooked up with a local named ORLANDO who for $40 was willing to drive us wherever we wanted. We went to a nature reserve checking out some local plants/trees and some beautiful waterfalls. I think we did not miss out on much shopping since after having a chance to drive through town on our way to the falls we could see how poor this area was and that the shopping would have not been all that good.
Belize is a great port to visit and we enjoyed this stop. The shopping is good, there are some nice beaches and resorts although some travel time is required to get this beach time. Belize also had the best bar we visited on our cruise called the Iguana Rana which is just outside the cruise shopping area gate. This bar has shirts from previous travelers hanging from the ceiling and hands down made the best Pina Coladas we tasted on our whole cruise. If you stop there look for the Louisville shirt we left and say hello to owner Roque! Most of our time on Belize was spent on a barrier island beach I think it was named Banester Cay and shop in the main shopping are near the dock. The island we visited was about 20 miles offshore and we had to pay for the boat ride there and back. Many on the boat were going on to do some snorkeling which we did not do. The island was primitive but had a small restaurant, bar, bathrooms, changing rooms, and floats to rent.
Our final stop was Cozumel. This port is very well developed and busy. The downtown is modern and shopping and restaurants areas are extensive. After a few hours of shopping we spent most of our day at Chankanaab National Park. We had to pay for a $10 cab rid to get to Chankanaab National Park and there is also an entrance fee into the park. At the park you get safe, clean, and modern beach areas, snorkeling areas, and various food beverage options. We just enjoyed hanging out at the beach doing some snorkeling, watching the kids play in the sand, eating some tasty food and sipping some buckets of beers in the hot sun.
We had two sea days one going down south to the ports and one heading back north to New Orleans. Here are some likes and dislikes...
We liked the kiddy pool at the back of the ship. This kiddy pool area and the kids club was fun for the young kids we had in our group. The ship is definitely family friendly. On our cruise there really was a good mix of young singles(some college age spring breakers), old, and families.
The workout area on the ship was smaller than expected and seemed overly hot the couple of times I visited it. The workout area does have two aqua swim(jet pools) that takes up alot of space which no one seemed to use. I think this space would be better served with more comfortable workout room.
There is a small painted running track at the top of the ship. There is also a walking track around the main deck 7 which measured 4 laps equaling 1.4 miles. I enjoyed getting up in the morning drinking some coffee and taking a few laps around deck 7 as did many other early risers. My wife ran laps both on the top and on deck 7 although technically deck 7 is for walkers. If you get up early enough when few are up and out you can run on deck 7 with little problem.
At various places on the ship and every time you go to eat they have sanitizers for your hands. We all liked the idea of having this available and we had no problems with illnesses but at times it seemed over the top. Some complained of their hands drying out a bit from using the sanitizers too often. You don't have to use them but they do make you feel guilty if you don't.
We did the beer tasting in Henry's Pub. This is a nice smaller ship bar with many beers from around the world. If you're a beer drinker visit Henry's Pub.
The casino is near the front of the ship. Some in our group tried our luck with the Texas Holdem tournaments which were well run. One was a $60 buy-in and the other was a $40 buy-in both with re-buy options. Nothing really sticks out about the casino. The casino seemed too out of the way in that you don't ever walk by it and feel the energy you pretty much have to plan to go there to participate or see the casino action.
Overall the ship, ports, food, weather, service, and at least as expected. We had no problems with food, service, and truly enjoyed the cruise. Our group is already looking for next years cruise destination and we are seriously considering taking this cruise again next year 2009.