First, the value. We sailed in mid October, still in the heart of hurricane season, and after school is already back in session. We paid less than $60 per person per day including all food, entertainment, travel, parking at the port, service charges and accommodations. I can barely stay at home for that kind of money - and we ate like kings!
It must be a monumental task to cook for 2000 guests each day, all with different preferences. I thought the kitchen staff did an excellent job of pleasing those whose standard is fast food or frozen/microwave and at the same time satifying the foodies. Hot dogs, hamburgers and fries were constantly available except at breakfast. But the real gem was in the formal dining rooms.
They serve exotic dishes we simply can't afford at home and we were eager to try them all. Salmon Tartar, Escargot, Ceviche - everything was prepared wonderfully. I didn't discover the broiled salmon fillet on the previous cruise until the 3rd night at dinner, but it is on the "available every night" menu in the dining rooms and the best piece of fish I've ever had in my whole life. This cruise I ordered the salmon at every opportunity.
The service in the dining rooms seemed pokey at first, but I think the waiters are making a conscious effort not to rush you. After the first day, I told the waiter when we first sat down that we were trying to make a show after dinner and the service was always snappy and prompt.
Kudos to the crew. Their job must get pretty boring after 4-5 weeks at sea. But they always seemed happy cheerful and smiling. I thought the $12 per day service fee - which supposedly goes directly to the crew - was well spent.
Another aspect of the cruise was the entertainment. My wife and I were surprised that the exact same cruise director and same comedian were on the ship as a year ago. They both had exactly the same shtick as before, too. Every joke, every phrase exactly the same. It was all still funny and entertaining, just felt recycled hearing it for the second time.
The Sky Show Band was a standout. In addition to playing for all the Broadway-type productions, they often played at the Outrigger lounge as a jazz band. They have the most amazing guitar player I have ever seen. He's faster than Eddie Van Halen, then the next minute playing Mozart. My wife found out the whole band is from Ukraine. All classically trained, and all can read music. I guess you just can't find American garage band guitarists who read music!
I was a little shocked to learn that the Chef onboard was British, since England isn't exactly known for their culinary prowess, but I must concede that everything was prepared to perfection despite the oddities of baked beans being offered for breakfast or fried egg on a BLT sandwich. They even had English kippers in the dining room for breakfast, YUM!
Otherwise, I would advise anyone who has written a negative review of their time on this ship, that life is what you make of it. I haven't had a better experience than this cruise all year, and I plan to be back next year - provided they are still offering amazingly low fares in mid October.