Starting from the beginning, we did not receive luggage tags before embarkation day, this is possibly because we booked through an American company and they were not forwarded to us by the agent. We decided to purchase plain tags from our local stationers, however there are tags available from a table located outside the terminal building, before you leave your cases and proceed to check in. Check in was easy and stress free. The handlers had arranged the system so that there was a longer time waiting before leaving the car with the attendants, so that there were very small queues once inside the terminal building. We checked in, were given our boarding cards and preceded to the ship.Upon embarkation, there was a line of staff waiting with a tray of sparkling wine to welcome us onboard, which was most welcome! The atrium did however become extremely crowded as people were not moving on to their cabins as quickly as they might. After about 20 minutes we decided to find our cabins on the 11th deck, where our friendly steward was waiting to introduce himself to us, and he explained that he would be looking after our cabins for the duration of the holiday, and that our cases would be arriving shortly. In fact they were there by the time we got back from lunch in the Garden Cafe. (The Buffet restaurant) The storage space in the cabin was possibly a little on the small side, as there are not bedside cabinets with drawers, as we have had in previous years. We did manage to fit everything in, but perhaps not in as organized as a manner that we might have liked.
The food onboard was very good, particularly the speciality restaurants that we tried, although the Alizar and Grand Pacific restaurants were good if you wanted a sit down meal. The Blue Lagoon offered very good food 24 hours a day, serving classics such as tomato soup and fish & chips; we found this a very pleasant venue for lunch due to the large picture windows along the side of the cafe. In terms of the speciality restaurants we tried Papa's Italian Kitchen, Cagney's Steakhouse and Le Bistro. We did not rate Papa's at all, the food was broadly comparable to a Tesco ready meal, they did not offer a special list of Italian wines and there was no Italian ambience, although the staff were fantastic, and eager to please. We felt that you could tell it has the lowest cover charge. Cagney's was absolutely fantastic. The quality of the food was absolutely top class, the only problem was that none of the menu starters particularly appealed to us, but they were more than happy to try and modify the dishes to our personal tastes. The staff were absolutely fantastic again, and took the time out to speak to our daughter and her friend. Le Bistro also served excellent food, and once again the staff were fantastic. The cover charges ranged from $10 for Papa's to $25 for the Teppanyaki, which we did not try but heard excellent things about. Children do eat half price, but if they eat off the standard children's menu the cover charge was still applicable. There is a 2 for 1 offer if you dine before 6:00 in some of the speciality restaurants.
The ship was always kept clean, and there was always a cleaner somewhere onboard. Tables were cleared very promptly out on deck and the bar waiters were always offering service. We did buy the soft drinks package for our two children which we felt was a complete waste of money. On previous cruises we have purchased these for them and to get a fountain beverage all they had to do was flash the sticker on their cruise card. This was definitely not the case on this ship. Upon purchase of the programme were issued with a Coca-Cola promotional drinks flask. God help those who try to get a drink from the bar without this flask, the staff are very apologetic but say that they will be subject to disciplinary issues if they give you a drink in a glass under the programme. This was particularly an issue for our 16 year old son who felt extremely embarrassed carrying a cup around the ship in order to get a drink which we had paid a handsome price for beforehand (over $100). I recommended that you do not use this package and just buy a drink as you go, it would probably work out cheaper if you have a couple of soft drinks a day.In summary this is a beautiful ship, if a little garish in places, with staff that are eager to please and offer a better service than we received last year onboard Sea Princess on a similar itinerary. We felt that the corporate policies that were strictly enforced should not have been so as it goes completely against their concept of freestyle cruising. The twelve restaurants on offer were fantastic and offered a stark contrast to the two or three that we had become accustomed to on our 5 previous cruises with Princess, P&O and Royal Caribbean. We would certainly recommend this to people who dislike the formal aspect of cruising although we did miss this element and thought that there could have been at least one formal evening as a token towards the traditional side of cruising.