Flew in the day before and rented a car from Hertz at the airport and drove over to the Holiday Inn Bayside. No complaints about the hotel, the location was very convenient to the port, Hertz downtown return location and Bayside was just a walk across the street for restaurants and shopping. Our room was clean, the staff was friendly and we had a great view in the morning of the ship waiting for us. The parking lot is small, but we didn't have a problem finding a spot. Now during Spring Break or summer vacation that may be a different story. We didn't eat at the hotel at all, so can't comment on their food. We ate dinner over at Bubba Gump's. It was our first time there and honestly a bit overpriced in my opinion. It was $150 for dinner for the 4 of us and 2 of us don't even eat seafood and had hamburgers.
Embarking the ship went fairly smooth. It probably took around an hour total from arriving at the port to stepping on the ship. We arrived later than we normally do, probably close to 12, so by the time we got on it was 1 and we were able to go to our rooms and drop off our things before we headed to the Windjammer for lunch. The ship was huge and very impressive. Our first cruise was on Radiance and our second was on Enchantment so this was a pretty big difference with the promenade and flow rider and ice rink and everything else.
Along with the bigger ship came more people and it definitely felt crowded at the buffet most of the times we were there. We always found a table though. There were about 550 kids on the ship and overall I felt they were pretty well behaved and they could have taught some adults about manners! We experienced people at the buffet as well as in the hallway corridors who just walked right down the middle and didn't feel obligated to move to the side when others were approaching. Also congregating in the hallways and not feeling the need make room for people just trying to get to their rooms. Have to say, I haven't experienced that on a cruise before. And it wasn't teenagers, it was adults! That would have to be my only complaint.
Our cabin was great - we were in D1 - 1400 a corner aft. This was only our 3rd cruise (within a year - yes I've become bit obsessed after the first one last March) and we've managed to snag a corner aft on all 3. I honestly don't know what I would think of not being back in a quiet corner with a huge balcony - we've definitely been spoiled. This D1 is large (about the size of a JS) with plenty of room and a normal sized closet and bathroom. The kids were across the hall in an interior and did a lot of sleeping since you can't tell day from night in a cave. But it was the same price for them to have their own cabin as it was for 3rd/4th passenger so for the extra bathroom alone we chose this option. Our cabin steward was great. We're pretty easy to please, just let him know on the first day that we needed an ashtray for the balcony and ice 2x a day. We never had to look for him and ask for anything all week. My step-daughter was slightly sick the first couple days of the cruise and every time I saw him in the hallway he would ask how she was doing. And he knew all of our names and would greet us each time we saw him. His name was Buddy.
We ate at the windjammer everyday for breakfast, a couple of times for lunch - tried to get to the dining room for lunch a couple of times and I would recommend this. It's such a different experience from the buffet. We dined in the main dining room every night except for San Juan night. We were impressed with our waiter, Carmen, she was awesome. She cut up my son's food for him and fed him the first bite. He wouldn't admit it, but I think he liked it! She was great.
The shows we attended were the late night comedian (good), the Love and Marriage show (hilarious, but dirtier than we've seen in the past), the ice show (good), In The Air (yawn - sorry), the Quest (our first time, kind of confusing - everything went so fast you couldn't tell what was going on. We chose a safe seat in the back and just observed - didn't participate, but it was funny!)
The kids liked Sorrento's and Johnny Rockets. They stopped for a slice of pizza frequently throughout the week. We went to Johnny Rockets twice - on Day 2 and Day 6. Day 2 wasn't too crowded, but on Day 6 there was a 30 to 45 minute wait. They give you a pager and you have to stay on Deck 12 for it to work I think. Food was good overall and yes the charge is now $4.95 per person instead of $3.95. I think our sailing was the first for the price increase. Save room for an Oreo sundae and forget about your diet!
We seemed to end up in the casino each night after dinner for some blackjack. The dealers were all nice and overall we probably came out even. Up some days, down some days.
San Juan we were scheduled to do a Segway tour, but our plans changed (due to the fact that there were none available for our reservation???) so my son decided to go back on the ship and go to Adventure Ocean and my husband, myself and my 20 year old step-daughter (who was 1 week shy of her 21st bday) went to Senor Frogs. We started there, had 1 drink (LARGE yard drink) and then headed up the hill for some shopping. Stopped and had another drink and some guacamole and headed back down the hill to Senor Frogs again for a couple of more drinks. We've done the Senor Frog thing before, but our daughter thought this was the coolest place ever. After a couple of conga lines, shots and yards later we went back to the ship. It was our first time to San Juan and I wasn't overly impressed. Being a night stop (3 to 10) I think your options are limited. I would like to go back for a day stop some time.
St. Martin was beautiful and awesome. We booked an ATV excursion through Island Marketing and they picked us up at the pier and we were driven to our starting point just about 5 to 10 minutes away. We drove the 4 wheelers on the road with traffic (which was a bit scary at times) and stopped at a few different look out spots for pictures that turned out amazing. We also had a 1 hour stop at Orient Beach which was quite refreshing. We had about 2 hours riding time and this excursion was well worth the money spent.
Labadee day we were rained out....we had a jet ski excursion booked for the morning so we took an early tender over hoping it would clear up, but it didn't all morning. I think it did for a bit much later in the day, but at that time it wasn't worth going through the tender process again to be over there for just an hour or so. That just means we'll have to go on another cruise that stops there someday soon, because we've never been there on a nice sunny day!
Sea days were spent lounging, shopping, eating, ice skating, people watching at the flow rider (which my son LOVED) and just enjoying ourselves. The weather probably wouldn't have been considered the best by most people, but comparing to what was waiting for us back in Chicago you didn't hear any complaints out of us! We actually caught a down time at the flow rider one night after dinner. There were only about 4 kids in line, so my son was able to get in a lot of turns and a lot of practice. During the day the line was MUCH longer.
We weren't in a big hurry to get off the ship since our flight wasn't until 2pm but we got up and ate in the Windjammer and before we even made it to our waiting spot in the Platinum theatre our color was called so we went straight from the Windjammer to the line. This whole process probably took close to an hour also and then we were off in a cab to MIA. $24 for a cab for 3 to MIA, our daughter was headed back to FLL because she works for Southwest and her free flight was out of FLL so we scheduled her a shuttle from SAS Transportation for $15. Got to the airport by 9:30 and were able to get on an earlier flight going standby on American.
Overall it was a great cruise and it will be hard to go back to anything less after this. We're considering Oasis, but will wait til she's been around a while to get everyone else's take on their experiences. We're considering Navigator over Thanksgiving for a quick getaway, I just wont tell my son ahead of time that there's no flow rider!
We booked Liberty early for this trip (on our 1st cruise back in March), but by the time the cruise came there were several significant price drops. When I look at Freedom class rates for 2009 / 2010 they are much higher and of course I compare to what we just paid. Even the 3rd/4th passenger rates are significantly higher...so I will keep watching cause I think we would like to try Independence 8 day maybe.
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