This was the first-ever cruise for the wife and I and overall we were very pleased. My wife thinks she has found our vacations for the rest of our lives.
Embarkation: very organized and speedy. The line we were in must have been at least a quarter of a mile long and snaked back and forth across the hall about twenty times. However, it was always moving and in 10-15 minutes we were checked in and headed to get our key cards, which were immediately available. Our cabin was available within minutes of boarding.
Cabin: We were very satisfied with our obstructed oceanview cabin. We had a mostly clear shot between two lifeboats, but the daylight was most welcome. We were surprised with the roominess and amount of storage. We had entire shelves that went unused and extra hangers. Room stewards were always prompt, efficient, and courteous. The water temperature in the shower seemed to wander, so be careful if you like it hot, because every other minute or so it suddenly goes scalding. After my first shower, the drain was very slow and left a couple inches of standing water. We reported it to our steward and it was addressed immediately. We were directly above Fyzz lounge and a fair amount of noise and music passed through, but it never went too late.
Public Spaces: Thoroughly adequate, but not exceptional. Many chairs seemed designed for stability and style rather than comfort. Fyzz lounge and the library come to mind. On the sea days, the deck loungers were snapped up faster than free donuts at a cop convention. I don't think the ship should need to provide 2500 deck loungers, but the lack seemed to bring out the worst in many people, i.e. never giving them up, saving them for friends, or even grabbing loungers and running away. I'm not sure what the solution is. On the second sea day, we ended up walking up and down the deck looking for someone who looked like they might be leaving soon, asking them if we could have their loungers when they were done, and then sitting in the bar waiting for them to open up. Everything seemed to be in very good condition.
Dining: It is definitely nice to have the variety of choices. The garden cafe buffet was a great alternative and especially towards the end we gravitated towards the convenience of the buffet. The two main dining rooms were adequate and no more. The food and service neither great nor bad. We tried Cagney's once and went to the Sushi Bar three times. Cagney's was very decent and a nice change of pace - top notch service. The sushi bar only served the greatest hits, but was very good and never busy so we always received great service. We really appreciated the many screens around the ship that detailed how busy each restaurant was at that moment.
Entertainment: Truly top-notch. A huge variety of acts and venues, we never could see as many as we would have wanted. 60280 is a really talented group. Get your seats early for the Stardust theater shows, it fills up fast. We loved the comedy shows.
Shore Excursions: tendering at Samana turned out to be no big deal, although my excursion group made sure to be first in line to get tickets and we were on the first tender. All the other stops were at dock and on and off was very easy. We will probably not book any ship-arranged excursions in the future. We did two ship-arranged and three on our own, and we felt better about the days on our own. It is much too easy to walk off the ship and get exactly what you want, rather than tying yourself to a group. I wish there would have been more updates when we arrived at ports. Usually there was a single announcement that you could now leave the ship. It would have been nice to hear that there was a delay and be given a new expectation when everyone is anxiously waiting.
Disembarkation: a total mess. The day before, the cruise director gave a disembarkation talk and specifically asked everyone not to form a line - it would only slow things down. the next morning, the crew is asking everyone to form a line. Due to the customs delays, this turned into a quarter-mile long line and everyone walking around looking for the end of the line. There was no communication about what was going on and how long the process would take. Many people were frantically trying to update their travel arrangements to accommodate the delay in getting off the ship.
We were happy to have perfect weather on 8 out of nine days and the sea were uniformly flat. The food was not "wow", but the entertainment certainly was. A great first-time cruise experience.