The ship is absolutely breath-taking. I think I've seen the term Feng Shui used...and I would agree with this. Doesn't have the Las Vegas look that we've become accustomed to on so many other ships.
We arrived at the port around 11:30AM, and had to wait in line about 30 minutes to get to an agent for check-in, and we were CC. The CC & AQ lines enter the cue at the same place, with a small divider. Go to the AQ line if its shorter! The lines end at the same point with the same agents, and the security person at this end point just alternates taking the front guest from each line, sending them to the next available agent, all from the same pool of agents!!
Once on board, we were greeted by the staff with Champagne and mimosas. We were also told that the rooms were not ready and to proceed to the Oceanview Cafe for lunch. I headed for the Aqua Spa Cafe hoping to avoid some of the crowds, but it wasn't open. What was open was the Mast Grille, portside, one level up from pool. The OV was crazzzzy, as expected. At 1PM on the dot, there was an announcement made that the cabins were ready.
We went to our cabin, 1676, Aft on deck 11. We had an incredible stateroom attendant & assistantBernadeth & Raymund. Two very fun & engaging staff members, and extremely professional, dedicated to their duties. They really made our week special.
Cabin 1676 is aft. The bed is closer to the bathroom the first time we've had this arrangement, but honestly made no difference to us. This is the smallest aft deck that we've ever had, but our past cruise history is mainly RC. There is somewhat of a soot issue, but not enough that I felt I needed to complain about it they rinsed the decks off daily. It's enough of an issue that they've placed a door mat just inside of the sliding doors to protect the cabin carpet. But, I would still choose this cabin again, soot & all, over a side cabin.
The closets and drawers were completely adequate for our needs. The bath was lovely, including the sink! My husband used an electric shaver and never complained about the sink. For the ladies, I found washing my face to be easier than ever with this sink and fixtures. A small recommendation for future guests...in the closet, they provide you with many wooden hangers in the closet if you don't use all of them, take the empty ones down and store them somewhere (floor, under bed, where ever!)the hangers rattle all night as the ship rolls. You'll have a much quieter night if you do this right away!
Dining: We ate in Murano on the first night, and determined that we were very happy with this choice for a couple of reasons. One, we didn't care for the MDR menu that night, and two, if we didn't like our assigned MDR table, it wouldn't get changed until the next night anyhow. The service was very nice, quite formal, a great way to start the cruise. I had the filet mignon, and husband had venison he says this was his favorite meal of the cruise. We both very much enjoyed, but felt the atmosphere was a little too "stuffy" for us.
We also ate in Tuscan Grill on Wednesday night (the day we were at St. Kitts). This was my favorite meal of the cruise. I had the filet mignon here also, and really liked this one. I had a hard time deciding what to order here, and the server was so much more accommodating let me try a little of whatever I wanted. The servers and atmosphere were much more relaxed than our experience in Murano.
Main Dining Room: We were very fortunate right off to be assigned to a very nice two-top, as requested. We were at table 430, which is on the upper level (4th floor) port side. This table is not one of those that is 2 inches away from the next two-top (we were afraid of this from previous posts). It's not at the window, and it's not on the rail overlooking the lower level, but it's a great table. The servers, Henry, and his assistant, Olga, were absolutely wonderful, and made our evenings in the Grand Epernay very memorable. I'm not going to get into the food/menus, because it's just too subjective.
Room Service: We used room service on most mornings for coffee & juice. It was always correct, and always delivered promptly. It was delivered by Bernadeth, our stateroom attendant, and we always gave her a cash tip upon delivery.
Pool & Sun Decks: Just as you would expect, it was more than crowded on sea days & chair hogs were in season. I love to get some sun...so this is my experience/advice (given the sun position in January!). On the first sea day best place to go is starboard-side Lido Deck, one level above pool, just forward of the Mast Bar. Not on the rail, but inside, and under a canopy. You'll be a little shaded early in the AM, but by noon, you have prime position! On your last sea days, same spot, but port-side Lido Deck, just forward of Mast Bar. Above all, don't be shy about tossing aside the token flip-flop or magazine that was left behind by the chair hogs.
Ports: Another area that is really subjective. But here's our opinion: San Juan is a port that we spend minimal time at. If you're into shopping, this port has some name-brand shops that you won't find at the other ports: Coach, Burberry, Dooney & Burke, Ralph Lauren, etc.
St. Kitts was a new stop for us. We arranged an island tour on our own with Royston Tours. We had a full day tour with Royston, and would do this again. I recommend booking some kind of a tour if you're a first-timer to St. Kitts, as the port shopping area is much smaller than what you might be accustomed to in other ports. It kind of reminded me of the port at Grand Turk, if that gives anyone a point of reference.
St. Maarten this is one that we've been to many times. We love to have drinks and appetizers at Toulula Mango Grillit's right on the beach. Just go to the right as you exit the water taxi pier. The restaurant is open-air, and had a band stage on the beach-side of the sidewalk in front of it.
A new discovery for us on St Maarten is Pinel Island. Pinel Island is north of Orient Beach. It's a $25 one-way cab fare from downtown. You will get dropped off in parking lot for the "ferry" over to Pinel Island. The ferry (more of a little dinghy) runs every 30 minutes, and costs $7 pp, round trip. The last ferry returns from the Island at 5PM. Pinel Island has only 3 restaurants/bars, and the beach is gorgeous with very calm waters. The nicest thing is that it doesn't have all of the hawkers trying to sell you stuff. Just decided which bar you're going to drink from, and set up a tab for chairs, umbrella, drinks, etc. We loved it, and will most definitely return on our next visit. If you want more info, just google search Pinel Island there's some great pics.
Other ship "stuff:" We didn't use the spa, so cannot comment on this. We liked the entertainment and live musical entertainment, and very much agree with the comments shared by CC member SNOPLS on this. Disembarkation was much slower than we expected from previous CC reports. Based on our experience, with disembarkation and the FLL airport on a Sunday, our recommendation is to NOT book a return flight any earlier than 11AM.
I am happy to answer any questions!