I thought I'd share my first time cruise experience.
This cruise was given to my wife and I as a honeymoon. We're in our mid-twenties, and neither of us had even been on a cruise before. We pictured laying out near the pool, drinking mai tais and enjoying the sun. Reality was quite different.
We arrived in Long Beach at 11:30 for early check-in, to be herded into an hour and a half long line on the Queen Mary. This annoyed me from the start. We were later told by a couple that we met on board that they arrived at 1:30 and got on the ship within 45 minutes.
We got on the ship at about 1:45, and went to the Mermaid Grille for lunch. We had been told by some family members who cruise often that the food is great, so we naturally expected good food. My first reaction upon seeing the buffet was "What the hey?" Where is all the spectacular food we were told about? This looked like mediocre fare at best. This first impression was quickly confirmed upon tasting the "food." Ugh. Mass produced, this reminded me of summer camp food. Also, my wife's stuffed bell pepper had a long curly black hair in it...lovely.
Ok...off to the cabin. Pretty nice, with a balcony. We got there, unpacked and looked around the ship some. The ship is nice, very gaudy and lots of lights. The cruise crowd on this ship seemed mostly to be middle-America family types and TONS of kids.
Getting up the next morning, we were looking forward to a fun-filled day of activities. Unfortunately, the only activities scheduled for the day were Bingo and a hairy chest contest. We both thought this was a joke...but not so. Since it was overcast, the only thing to do was...lay around in the cabin and read.
We went to dinner in the formal dining room that night. Food was horrible...oily and cheaply prepared. There's nothing worse than massed produced food, and this seems to be the only thing to get on the ship. From that point forward we ate only sparingly to avoid the terrible food. This was sad, but at least we didn't indulge in six meals a day like most other passengers seemed to.
The second day at sea was similarly dull. With seemingly nothing to do but drink and eat (neither of which we wanted to do), we ended up just staying in the cabin and reading some more. We went up to the pool briefly when the sun came out, but we couldn't handle the millions of obnoxious kids running around. At night we went to the casino and killed an hour or two. We also went by the disco, which was populated by every 18 year-old on the ship and was playing MC Hammer and similar garbage to the delight of the drunken throng of t-shirt wearing guys and sparkly-topped hoochies.
When the ship reached Puerto Vallarta, we disembarked and immediately flew back to LA, practically kissing the ground when we got off the plane at LAX.
In summary: This is a canned-vacation factory. They cram you on board like cattle, then milk you for every cent they can (the cabin steward tipping himself $20 a day, $2 can of coke, etc...). The entire experience can be most aptly described as hokey and contrived faux-luxury. If you have ever actually stayed at a 4 star resort or eaten in a gourmet restaurant, you will notice this immediately. If, on the other hand, you are not too picky about what you eat, and you enjoy binge-drinking as an all-day activity, this experience might be for you. Also, don't forget to bring all of your noisy kids, and please don't worry about supervising them.