This trip was just me and my son, age 5, and we had a great time. Our first two cruises were on Royal Caribbean (also loved) but we loved sailing from New York, close to home. We did make a stop on the way to ogle the Explorer of the Seas which was leaving from Bayonne the same day, then moved on.
Embarkation: We arrived really early, and were at the pier by 10:30. There were still people getting off the ship so we hung out on the top level of the parking garage looking at the view and checking out the ship (note: if someone is dropping you off, it's $25 no matter how short a time they're parked-woo!). Inside the port, there is a small area with chairs, and we wound up in the last few rows, thankfully. Most of the people who arrived after us had to stand for over an hour. Not a great system but we were on the good end of it so I am not complaining. We went through security, checked in, took our embarkation photo and were on the ship a little after noon. Though cabins were not available until 1:30, the sheet they gave us said we could drop our carry-ons, which was fantastic, so we scooted down, dropped them off and went to the Lido deck for some lunch. So great to not have to wrestle bags while you eat lunch. We had our checked bag before sailaway, too, which was great.
Stateroom: We were in 2216, a category 1A with portholes on Deck 2, Main Deck with 1 double, 1 sofabed - perfect for a parent and child. We'd had balconies on our two previous cruises with my husband, but this was better under the circumstances. My son loved sitting in the window looking at the view but I didn't have to worry about him getting on the balcony while I was in the shower or something. A couple of times it sounded like someone was dropping hippos on the floor above us; I figure it was waves hitting the ship - and we definitely knew when they dropped anchor when the ship reached port, but were already awake by then so no problem for us. I gave up one of the much coveted picture window 1As after booking because I was worried about having him sleep in an upper, and never looked back; much preferred having two beds on the floor. Plenty of storage space, loved the little basket of amenities in the bathroom, and the beds were as comfy as promised. I peeked into a lot of other rooms during the week and they all seem to be about the same size (except, of course, the suites).
Dining Reservation: Biggest complaint of the cruise: dining time nightmares for many people. We were assigned to late seating though we'd requested early seating. There were several huge groups on board and the rest of us often were shunted off in favor of them - one was a big group of 900 people from a volunteer organization. They took a whole dining room for the early seating so the rest of us were left with leftovers, even those of us with small children who had requested early seating. After a trip to the maitre'd, waiting in line with tons of other displaced dinner people, a bit of stress as I was very upset about the whole thing, it was worked out by night 2 (though we had a table all to ourselves, so he didn't get to eat with the camp kids or I'd have been alone), but on the whole, really unnecessary to put people through all that on vacation. Surely the cruise line knows how many people have requested each seating and should be able to tell you, much in the same way they tell you with staterooms, that your requested dining time is not available. Why do you have to wait till you get on board to find that out?
Food: No complaints about buffet lines from our side; maybe we don't eat at popular times but we never had to wait more than a few people to get to our chosen station, even on sailing day. Loved the fresh made omelettes in the Lido; only sorry we did not discover until day 3. The dining room food was as good as it gets when you're feeding over 2500 people in 3 hours, with a few standout dishes and a handful of stuff was either flavorless or over-salted - standard banquet fare. I did enjoy the lobster, the tuna tartare on the last night, the famous warm chocolate melting cake, and a few other dishes. We loved both breakfast and lunch in the dining room on sea days. Kids menu was aces, offering all kids' favorites: chicken nuggets, hot dog, hamburger, cheeseburger, pizza, etc. - and there was also a kids special every night for the adventurous. Mostly, I enjoyed having hot meals brought to me and subsequently cleared away. Our waiters were very kind to us and service was pretty good, though since we were at a table for 2, I always noticed the bigger tables got everything served first.
Ports: This trip was really more about getting away, with the ship as destination, but we also enjoyed the ports. In St. John, we enjoyed the one-hour horsedrawn trolley, booked through the cruise line, as well as the St. John City Market and the New Brunswick Museum. Highlight of the latter for my son was not the big whale display as I though it would be, but playing checkers in a turn-of-the-century train car re-creation, and the playroom upstairs. Little things. For Halifax, we booked the Harbour Hopper on our own (also 1 hour, just enough to see a bit and not so long as to be boring for the young set) and also enjoyed the Maritime Museum and Pier 21. The multi-media presentation at Pier 21 was truly memorable and had even the 5-year-old spellbound. We did lots of research in advance, so we felt really prepared to make choices when we got to each port. All of our CC friends helped a lot.
As noted, it was COLD. And rainy. We expected that, so packed accordingly: fleece/sweatshirt, windbreakers, gloves, umbrellas, hats. I'll bet this itinerary is a whole different ballgame in August.
Shipboard activities: The shows were good; the female lead singer in particular was great. I enjoyed the magician but agree with another reviewer that he should not have been billed as "family" - I was very glad my son was at Camp Carnival. "Mommy, what's a male prostitute?"
Speaking of which, we loved Camp Carnival. I asked my son, now a veteran cruiser with two RCCL and one Carnival under his belt, which he liked better, and he said, "both." I agree; both seemed to do the job, though the RCCL playroom was a bit larger. Loved the phones that the 2-5 parents were given, and the name tags that each kid wore.
I'm not a big gambler but did feed the slots a bit and played two games of Bingo. Not to continue the comparison, but the Bingo was considerably less expensive to play than RCCL - though the payouts seemed smaller.
We loved afternoon tea and the galley tour on the last day, very fun. We also played mini golf - which given the size, gave new meaning to "mini." We were a little disappointed that the children's outdoor play area I'd seen on the deck plans was gone and replaced by some silly extra-charge water game. The kiddie pool was still there, though.
Another small negative: The captain's reception was a nightmare, taking place in four lounges that were variously packed, and smoky. (Note: I am an ex-smoker, and normally really don't mind, sometimes even enjoy the smell of smoke, but on this cruise, found a lot of times where it was just overwhelming). Tried to get drinks for us but the one waiter who came close enough to us just hissed "Sit!" Rude, rude, rude. (But one of only 2-3 not nice employees we met all week. Would have been much better to hold the reception in the large bar area on the lobby level that's more open.
Miscellaneous: On this trip, little things made the week: the phone for Camp Carnival, having self-laundry so we could bring less luggage, being able to bring my own bottle of wine for a glass with my book after my son went to sleep, two little porthole windows to look out at the ocean...etc.
The ship had the green, over-the-top dEcor that was promised, but was comfortable and offered us plenty of fun, and great value for our vacation dollar. Would I go back to Canada? Yes...in August.