The port in Miami is efficient but lacks enough seating. I would not suggest getting there too early. Once you find a place to sit to wait to board the ship, don't get up or you will lose your seat. Embarkation was not difficult, but was delayed for our cruise for unknown reasons. People were still coming off the previous cruise after noon, and of course, new passengers can't embark until the ship is cleared. Our luggage was delivered to our rooms promptly. The ship departed the dock on time which was a pleasant surprise because of the delay in boarding. Muster drill is important, but we've learned, don't be the first to get there. You get packed in, pushed back to the wall, and it was hot and crowded.
As we left port, we went to the bon voyage party, what a view and a wonderful way to begin your cruise. A cocktail waitress named Teeni approached us and promptly delivered a bucket of Heinekens to us. She asked our names and remembered us the entire week. She works the pool decks during the day, and the theaters and public areas at night. She always had a smile and always seemed to find us. If you happen to see her, tell her Vince & Wally miss her very much!
There were 8 in our group, 4 adults and 4 kids 9, 13, 13 and 20. We had 2 rooms on the 11th floor Spa Deck, both with nice size balconies. Our rooms were very nice and comfortable. Our room steward was great. Our rooms were underneath Camp Carnival so we often were able to observe the children having lots of fun but a little noisy during the day. The Spa deck balconies do not provide the privacy of the lower decks so please beware you are being watched. The 12th deck is used primarily for Camp Carnival and for passengers observing the beautiful views of the ocean and ports and they can look right down on your balcony. Our younger kids found plenty of things to do and always seemed to be having fun. Our 20 year old found it a little more difficult not being old enough for the adult clubs and too old for the teenage scene and found that many of the people close to his age group were couples sailing together.
There were plenty of places to relax and people watch throughout the ship. Seats on the outside decks were always easy to find. Food was plentiful and always available. Rosie's Buffet is awesome, offering good food with an incredible array of choices, including the daily international cuisine. It has the feel of a great New Jersey diner. Don't miss the seafood bar on the 2nd floor. Good fish and chips and interesting seafood offerings. The pizza bar was open 24 hours but always crowded. The burger bars offered great tasting, large burgers, fries, onion rings and chicken fingers but also very busy.
We dined in the evening in the Lincoln Dinning room for the 2nd sitting. The food is very good but not overly generous so don't be afraid to order extras, but order all at once...(don't try an appetizer, then decide to order another as that makes it more difficult for the waiter and complicates the serving routine) Our service was extremely disappointing. After being made aware of our service issues, our Maitre d' Paul assured us the service would improve as the week progressed but unfortunately for us, it did not. He blamed it on training new staff and pairing new teams. Since our service was so poor, I spent a lot of time observing the dining room while waiting for service and food. It seemed to me that the waiters were competing for food perhaps because of the 1st seating ordering more than expected. Our waiter was not able to provide enough glasses for our table. We couldn't have both water and ice tea because there weren't enough glasses. After we complained he poured ice tea in smaller wine glasses but forget about getting refills. They didn't always have enough spoons and forks for our table. Several evenings we shared each other's unused spoons for desserts and coffee. From speaking with other passengers, some had great service, but we certainly were not the only ones with complaints about the service.
Scarlett's Restaurant is well worth the extra $30 a person. You should do it at least one night. The food and menu compares to the quality of a Ruth's Chris or a Morton's Steak House. Service is exceptional. Ask for a sample of the pumpkin raviolis and skip lunch so you'll have room for the incredible amount of food they serve.
Don't miss Togo's Sushi Bar, but beware it's only opened 5 -8 in the evening. Very good!
The midnight buffet was way too crowded and uncomfortable. If you've cruised before, I'd suggest skipping it as it didn't compare to others I've seen.
Our first stop was Freeport with very limited time made worse by our late arrival. Not enough time to do much but if you want to accomplish something like visiting Atlantis, plan well and get off the ship early.
Our 2nd stop was St. Thomas. We booked the Sea Blaster snorkel excursion, which was great, but it was a long walk from where we docked (some construction on the dock). You do have to clear customs before leaving the ship in St Thomas, so there was some waiting in the Eagle lounge. Take ID with you, your Sign and Sail card isn't enough! After snorkeling we ventured downtown for a little shopping. It was a very nice day.
Our last stop was St. Maarten. We took a cab ride to Dawn Beach ($6 per person each way) We enjoyed a great day on a baby powder beach with incredible turquoise water and drank 75 cent beers. My favorite day of the cruise. Simply awesome. Hair braiders are ready-$2 per braid for less than a full head, $1 per braid for a full head- so $50 for our daughter's full head, $44 for her friend's half...
The shows in the Ivanhoe Theater weren't very good. Too many shows featuring the Valor Dancers and their headliners are limited in their vocal range. The main entertainment couldn't hold a candle to the entertainment we've seen on other cruise ships. The American bar area in the center of the ship is quite beautiful. Music and dancing filled the area throughout the day. Don't miss the singing couple "Play That." They are a lot fun to watch and very talented. If you want a good laugh, request them to play Marvin Gay's "Let's Get It On", trust me, you'll thank me for sure. In my opinion, they are the best entertainment on the ship. I also enjoyed the classical music trio and the reggae band that plays on deck throughout the day. The cruise directors worked hard and were fun to watch on stage. Our daughter left the ship with a crush on the cruise director Ryan Fitzgerald.
Cigar lovers beware, Winston's Cigar Bar, the beautifully decorated bar, with inviting leather chairs is now non-smoking. We enjoyed a daily cigar on our balcony usually watching a beautiful sunset, eating sushi and drinking adult beverages. The ship allows you to bring a bottle of wine on the ship per adult. We enjoyed a bottle a day and saved a lot of money on our bar bill (we cheated with a bottle of bourbon too). Don't forget to pack a corkscrew.
Fitness center is OK, but very crowded in the morning, better later in the AM. The sauna and steam room have a beautiful view of the ocean.
We had a very nice cruise but as I stated, if you have cruised on other lines, you may be disappointed with some aspects of the ship such as service and entertainment. We certainly were, but the things we tend to enjoy very much, the dining room experience and then the show were definitely lacking.