I should preface this review by saying that the draw for me to take this cruise were the ports and the ports only. I am not one of those who takes tons of cruises - I wanted to take this cruise for the chance to get to see several ports in Italy and the chance to have that experience is what made the vacation a great one for me. As long as the ship experiences were not completely disastrous, they didn't really factor in for me.
But I have tried to write this review from the point of view of what someone who is more interested in the ship experiences themselves would want to know. I hope I have been successful in that regard...
I flew in a day early so as to acclimate to the jet lag and stayed in a wonderful little hotel in Rome just steps from the Spanish Steps :) I took the express train from the airport to Termini station in Rome, then the Metro subway from there to the Spanish Steps and then a short walk to the hotel. It was very easy and do-able (although transferring at Termini took a while to figure out) but definitely a struggle to do so with 1 large bag, 1 carryon and a backpack and thus was happy to have other private transfers arranged for rest of trip.
Embarkation: A private transfer the next day (with some fellow CC members) took us from Rome to Civitavecchia smoothly. I was very impressed with embarkation - it took maybe 15 mins, if that! No lines! Again, I am not a veteran cruiser, but my other cruise experiences in the US had me expecting the worse for this part and I was bowled over by how smoothly it went. Disemarkation was also smooth in my experience - I did the "take your own bags off" option with no hassle. The new muster drill routine was a huge improvement over having to stand around in a life jacket!
Entertainment: Mixed bag here. I saw 1.5 of the big Encore shows - missed the first one, saw the Dancing one and walked out halfway through the Country one. Dancing show was pretty par for the course as far as ship entertainment goes, I believe - E for effort. The Country one was boring and oddly US-centric, for a ship traveling in Europe with many non-USians aboard. Obviously done for the Caribbean audience in mind. However, I loved the comedy shows and think they are a much needed addition for those who are not the right demographic for the big theater shows. Disappointed that the piano bar allowed smoking - from what I heard passing by, it might have been a good option but the smoke rolling out of there always stopped me from getting near. I did not see the other entertainment in the lounges or karaoke, laser shows, outdoor movies, etc. Did not take part in the other activities arranged by entertainment staff.
Ship spaces/amenities: The Serenity adults-only area seemed very nice and I bet will be a huge hit in the Caribbean. Given this was a European cruise in the fall, there were few kids on this sailing and little need for it. Fun hub computer spots: the attendants there were always very helpful - unfortunately, one often needed their help. Service was very slow and often would leave you hanging, etc. The various "sales" offered in capers on computer time were nice and definitely worth taking advantage of. Other: Ship shops had some nice specials on fragrances, jewelry. But no options in shop for toiletries, other small things forgotten. For being a new boat (this was only the 2nd sailing), it was disappointing to see stains on the cabin carpet already and other signs of wear. Think the extra public outdoor space on level 5 was a nice addition. Did not visit spa on this trip.
Dining: "Sushi" bar: Disappointed that they rarely served sushi, but have to say I enjoyed all the various nibbles they did serve. Coffee bar: Did not use myself, roommates did and said they were almost always swamped and unable to keep up with demand. Lido deck: Just okay, I don't have a lot of expectations for a buffet. Tandoori/Deli/Pizza: Delicious (and better, in my opinion) options to the Lido buffet; seemed like the pizza was always "5 mins to be done" when I stopped in, tho. Pasta/burrito/mongolian bar: Didn't try them. High tea on sea days: Very nice change of pace - big plus. Dining room: We were in late seating in the aft dining room and our tables were literally at the aft windows. While both our waiters were nice, I have to say that the service really was poor, with the exception of the assistant waiter, who seemed to be the workhorse and knocked herself out nightly. We had very long waits for food that was sometimes not very hot. We were told that our tables were the fartherest from the kitchen and I can cut some slack for that, but it doesn't explain the poor service once the dishes were at the table. The head waiter was often confused and disorganized - he frequently served wrong dishes to the wrong person or served incomplete dishes. I once ordered a glass of wine when I sat down at the table that did not arrive until my entree was in front of me. The waiter never bothered to learn our names, which is neither here nor there to me except that the exceptional waiters on cruises do that, right? The maitre'd was a smooth operator who sang each night but, honestly, his time should have been better spent on training his staff or otherwise working out the kinks in service.
Cabin service: Despite having told our steward at the beginning of the cruise that we needed ice service day and night (due to trying to keep meds cool), he missed a couple services towards the end of the trip. Additionally, we were interrupted as we were in the midst of getting ready for dinner a few times by the steward wanting to do the turn-down service. They should know that we were on the late seating and time their service accordingly, right? Not related to service at all: Loved the bed - not overly soft and pillow-top-y as seems to be the trend lately. Our neighboring cabinmates must have been chain smokers in both the room and on balcony as we were constantly smelling smoke in both places - yuck. We were on 9th floor and were not bothered by any undue chair-scraping noise from the lido deck above us, but this was a port-intensive cruise...who knows if it will be an issue in the Caribbean? Have to second what the previous reviewer said about the shuddering while docking - we felt it on the 9th deck!