This was the first cruise for me and my family (wife, 21 yr old daughter, and 16 yr old son. We live if Fort Worth and are big baseball fans, so drove up to Houston the day before our cruise departure. We spent the night at the Courtyard Marriott in downtown and took in a baseball game. The hotel was 10-12 blocks from Minute Maid Park, where we watched the Astro's and Cardinals. We got up early on Sunday in anticipation of our first cruise and finished our 45 minute drive to Galveston, arriving about 9:00. Never been to Galveston before, we went down to the beach and had breakfast.
Embarkation: After breakfast, we headed to the cruise terminal, arriving approximately 10:30. After dropping the wife and daughter off at the terminal with our bags, son and I parked our car at the EZ Cruise Parking lot. We felt very comfortable with this arrangement, as the lot is only a few blocks from the terminal, the car is in a fenced in lot, and there is a shuttle to and from the terminal. After getting back to the terminal and meeting up with wife and daughter, we started the process to getting on the ship. The whole process took may 45 minutes and we were on-board by 11:30-11:45. We had a little wait when we first entered, as customs was not ready to open up the ship. After getting through customs and obtaining our sign and sail cards, we had another 15 minute wait to get our pictures made (travelers were placed in groups, to avoid creating mass confusion). Overall, I felt it was pretty well organized. Once onboard, we were able to take our carry-on luggage to our cabin, but that was it. They did not really want us to unpack as they were still in the process of cleaning up the cabins. The rooms were not offically open until 1:30. We dropped off our luggage and headed to the Lido deck for lunch.
Room: Our room was able to accommodate the four of us fairly comfortable. We had a balcony room in the back 1/3 of the ship on the Empress deck. Our son slept on drop-bed from the ceiling and surprisingly, he had plenty of room. Daughter had the sofa bed, and wife and I had the two regular beds pushed together. Except when we were all trying to get ready at the same time and moving around, it was not to cramped. We felt very little motion from the ship. We did take some Ginger begining on Saturday and did for just a couple of days, more for precautionary reasons rather than a need. The bathroom is acceptable, small but met the needs.
Service: Overall the service throughout the ship was acceptable, no complaints. Staff was pleasant and accomadating when talking to them, but did not overwhelm you. I think we actually saw our cabin steward for a grand total of 15 minutes (including when passing him in the hallways) for the whole cruise. Although it was clearly obvious that he was in and out of the room a couple of times each day. Rooms were always cleaned and prepped up each day.
Food: There was definitely plenty of food to eat and found it to be pretty good. Some selections were great, while others were just good. Had no complaints, regardless of where we ate. Usually we had the buffet for breakfast with plenty of options. Lunch was on Lido deck if not in port. Sometimes it was the burger or pizza bars, while other times we went to the buffet in the Cezzane Restuarant. We had a late dinner seating in the Monet. As stated above, some nights were better than others, but no complaints about the quality or options offered. Of all of the ship personnel, our most memorable experiences was with our waiters Arnold from Phillipines and DeWa from Indonesia. They became like family to us, addressing us as we walked in, sharing stories on our adventures, them sharing their life stories, and a lot of kidding and joking between us. They took our kidding and gave it right back. They were just awesome. One night, the wife and I did have dinner at the Point. While it was nice to get away from the kids and it was quiet at dinner, I did not find the food spectacular or anything. Not to say it was bad, as the food was good. I just did not find that it was anything supper special or really worth the extra money, unless you consider the peaceful setting.
Cruise Director and Staff: Wee Jimmy (Ralph) was our cruse director. He was extremely excited, makes the cruise fun (even with his corny jokes) and overall very good. His staff including Hennie, Sally, Allison, and Chicken were all energetic and exciting. Although I have toe admit, Hennie kinda creeped me out in a fun sort of way, with some of his actions.
Entertainment: The entertainement was good each night and we enjoyed ourselves. When they say the comedy and ventriloquist shows at night are "R" rated, they were not kidding. Wife and I were okay with it, but there were times I was laughing, thinking "he/she did not just say that". The magician/illusionist was awesome and the best show out of all of them. I scratch my head on how she does the things that she does.
Casino: We did not play much in here, but can say the machines for me were extremely tight. We are not big gamblers to begin with so I did not lose much. However, my daughter's first exeperience in a casino was wonderful as she won $300 on the penny slots. Would stick to the table games if you plan to do much gambling.
Jamaica: We did ziplining in Jamaica and I will say it was exhilirating. The staff was extremely funny and safety was their top priority. Would love to do it again. Overall found Jamaica to be very pretty if you can get past the lower economic conditions. It is clearly not as developed as the US. Although, I heard a few people were offered drugs on the beaches, we never were. After siplining we went to Margarittaville and Jamaican Bobsled Cafe. From there we walked 15 minutes to the shpping area around the bay. Never felt we were in danger, but we were on major path and did not go deep into Jamaica. Did do some shopping at the stores recommended by the ships' shopping expert, Kathryn.
Grand Cayman: Swimming with stingrays. Another aswesome experience. If you have not done it before, it is a must. Unbeleiveable time. Afterwards, it was time for shopping again. The whole family came home, with some new "bling-bling".
Cozumel: Spent the day at Paradise Beach and relazed. I t was very nice and there are enough water activiies to have additional fun with jet-skis and parasailing available for an additional charge. Food and drinks were good and admission was fee. We got there early and got a couple of loungers withe an umbrella.
Debarkation: Clearly more hectic than boarding. However, personally I think there is equal blame for this between the ship and the passengers. Getting on board, they have controls in place to monitor movement. Getting off however, they advise passengers when they can get off, but everyone still does what they want (some with good reasons)
Since we were able to carry all of our bags off oursleves, we were able to get off with the early groups. After getting though customs, shuttled to our car, were offically back in the car on the highway for home by 8:30. The biggest issue I see with the debarkation is the funneling of the stairwells and floors which creates the conngestion. Overall I can see how it would upset people, I had a good experience.
Overall this was a great trip and we look forward to our next cruise. We are thinking of doing the Eastern Carribean next year (although I am not too thrilled about the itinerary) or doing the Western again and try a few more excursions that we hear are awesome as well.