We drove less than an hour to Port Liberty and I can't even imagine having to take a flight to a cruise again. It is such a pleasure to leave from Port Liberty if you are within driving distance. There was no line to leave off our luggage, no line to go through security, only one line for check-in but it moved quickly. We arrived at the port at about 1:20 and we were on the ship by 2:30. Unfortunately we did not pack our swim suits in our carry-on, because the pools were open and practically deserted. Who knew! But we did head over to the Windjammer (along with everyone else) for lunch. It was very crowded, and hard to find a table. I was worried that it would be crowded for the whole cruise but it was never crowded again after that.
We had ocean view cabins on Deck 3. If it had been just me and my husband we would have upgraded, but we had 3 kids along so we economized since we needed two staterooms. But the staterooms were not bad at all and had more than enough storage for 9 nights. Very comfortable beds. No complaints there at all.
Dinner in the dining room was great the first night but was hit-or-miss all the nights after that. This is a minor complaint though - overall I was very happy with the food. And of course, if we ordered something we didn't like we could have just ordered something else, but I can't bring myself to waste food like that, so I didn't do that. The appetizers were almost always exceptional. Desserts were mediocre. The portions are small, which is deliberate so you can feel free to order several things. One other minor complaint - it took a long time to get a drink at dinner. Our server (who was otherwise great) never asked us what we wanted to drink. When I did order from him, it took a long time to come, and would arrive quite some time after my dinner arived. I suspect this was not his fault, but was due to long lines at whatever bar he had to go to to get our drinks. After a couple nights of this we learned to just get our own drinks at the Crown and Kettle pub on our way to dinner so we already had them when we sat down.
We never ate at the specialty restaurants because we didn't think it was worth the extra money. Plus (I think) Portifino's only takes guests over age 13 and we have a 10-year-old. Johnny Rocket's just didnt' seem to be worth the cover charge of $4.95 per person, so we skipped it. To be honest, the food in the Windjammer for breakfast and lunch was really good - especially the Indian and Asian food. The selections didn't change much from day to day, but there were so many different things, that wasn't a problem.
We bought the kids soda cards on the first day and we're glad we did. It gave them independence. They could also order shirly temples using their cards. It was about $40 per kid (I think?) and well worth the money. Alcoholic drinks were ridiculously expensive but what can you do - we just forgot all about the mounting bar bill and drank our fill! I found a Shiraz I liked that was about $7 a glass and stuck to that most of the time. Fruity drinks were about $8.50 but I can only handle one of those per day anyway. My husband is a scotch drinker and I think most of his drinks were in the $8 range too. I think you just have to accept that your bar bill is what it is and not think about it.
The activities on board were great! We LOVED the trivia games they have, we went to as many of those as we could. We took a couple of dance lessons but unfortunately we couldn't really find opportunities to dance. The shows were ok but I'm not really a show person. My youngest (10yo daughter) was in the show on the last night - she was in a group of about 10 passengers who did a short dance on stage. Anyone could have been in this, it was announced on the second or third day and they had three rehearsals during the cruise. She loved being part of that show, it was a highlight of the cruise for her.
The pools on deck were very crowded from 12pm to about 5pm, when it was wall-to-wall people. Before and after those times, they were very relaxing. We learned to hit the pool in the morning by 10am, and finish up by 12pm, then go back after 5pm. This worked out great for us since we had the late dinner seating. There were lots of people reserving deck chairs which was annoying, but even so we never had a problem finding one to put our stuff on. We are not the kind to lie in the sun so we just needed a chair to dump off our stuff while we were in the pool. If you are looking for a lounge chair in the sun during peak hours you could still probably find one, but it might be farther away from the pool.
The kids did the rock-climbing wall and they enjoyed it, but there were times when there were long lines there. We went in-line skating and ice skating, and they were not too crowded. The kids enjoyed playing mini-golf, ping-pong, foosball, and they also enjoyed the arcade. My sons (14 and 16) did not take advantage of any of of the teen activities, but there were several things they could have done like teen-only ice skating, volleyball, basketball, etc.
We did the express disembarkation which was great. We went to breakfast early in the Windjammer where we watched the ship dock, then we went back to our staterooms and carried our own luggage off at about 8:45am. They had a shuttle bus waiting for us which took us to customs - no lines at all anywhere. We were literally in our car within 20 minutes of leaving our staterooms. We were home less than an hour later.
I fully plan to take this exact same cruise again in the future. It was a great family vacation.
In Burmuda we bought bus passes right on the pier. They had a shuttle bus to take us to the actual bus but we just walked, and wondered why they bothered having a shuttle bus since it was literally a 5-minute walk. We took the bus to Horeshoe Bay beach which was gorgeous. The beach was free. It was very crowded at the entrance to the beach, but it was a very short walk up the beach to get away from the crowd. There were cool rock formations that the kids loved climbing on. The beach had a bathroom with showers but they were pretty dirty - you have to be able to look past that. There is also a small snack bar where we got some lunch. Then we walked up the hill to the bus stop. I have read a lot of reviews that recommend taking the van up the hill for $2 per person, but we walked it and it wasn't that bad (I'm 47, in lousy shape, and even I had no trouble getting up the hill).
In Puerto Rico we were only docked for a few hours so we did a self-guided walking tour and went to El Morro fort. That was interesting but it was very hot! I think if I had it to do again I would just stay on the ship for the day and skip Old San Juan.
In St. Maarten we did a kayaking/snorkel thing that was super expensive but we all loved it. We got on a catamaran right at the pier, which took us to a beach where the kayaks were waiting for us. We kayaked a little ways to another beach, then went to shore and went snorkeling. The kids loved it. My son saw a sea turtle. We snorkeled for maybe 45 minutes then kayaked back to the first beach, where they had cold drinks (soda and beer) waiting for us. Then we got back on the catamaran to the port. On the catamaran ride back they also gave us complimentary fruit punch or rum punch. It was very convenient, laid-back, and the guides were great. I would recommend this excursion although it is pricey.
In St. Thomas we took a boat from the pier that took us to a bike tour of Water Island. Our tour guide was a resident of Water Island and it was very interesting listening to what life there is like. The bike tour was fun and a nice workout (keep in mind that I am in lousy shape so a 'nice workout' for me might be nothing for someone else!). It was followed by a swim at Honeymoon beach which was delightful. I can not get enough of that warm caribbean ocean. Then we got back on the small boat which took us back to the pier, and we walked to town (about 20 minutes). We ate lunch at a small place overlooking the water which was very expensive. I'm sure there are better places to eat but we were tired and starving and not willing to look around. We did some shopping at the Vendors fair before taking a taxi back to the ship.