We drove from the SF Bay Area and stayed the night before in San Pedro. We got a great deal at the Crowne Plaza, including parking for 15 nights. We expected the town to be a dump, but were pleased to find a cute little town with a great restaurant scene. We even got free breakfast and a welcome drink at the hotel.
On Sunday morning, we bypassed the mob scene for the shuttle bus at the hotel, and had our cousin drop us off at the port (2 mins away). We arrived at about 12:15 and found no lines. We were on board within 15 mins. Once on board, the cruise staff greeted us at the door and then we entered the Piazza atrium where they had carolers dressed up in old English costumes (nice touch!). The ship's common areas had recently been upgraded and they were beautiful.
We then checked out our room. Unfortunately, it hadn't been remodeled. There was a big coffee stain on the carpet and the bedspread had definitely logged the miles. But there was ample storage space for our two weeks of clothing and the double-sized balcony was great. Our cabin steward, Emmanuel, greeted us upon arrival. He told us that this was his first cruise, but you would have never known it. He was so well trained, and we needed for nothing. Emmanuel was delightful. Everytime he saw us, he made us feel like that was the best moment of his day. He learned our names, he would ask about our day, and he genuinely seemed interested in our activities. He would even give us the tip of day.
We had anytime dining, which was slow at first. We chose to eat at around 8 p.m. at the Bernini Dining Room (there are two anytime dning rooms), and on the first couple of nights we had to wait 15 to 30 minutes for a table. This was fine, however, as we had a drink in the Piazza just outside the dining room. Since it was just the two of us, we wanted to eat by ourselves, but we could have avoided the wait if we dined with others. By about the third night, the wait had disappeared. The maitre'd, Alfredo, was incredible. He knew most of the diners and their preferences. Most nights, we had Iulian and Misha as our waiters. Our usual table was in the area where they did the chef's dinner, so there were three nights when we had other waiters. Although they were good, there was something special about Iulian and Misha...they were like family.
We used the gym almost every day. It was very nicely equipped. We heard that it was very crowded in the mornings, but we went either at 1 p.m. or 5 p.m. and found it to be manageable. We signed up for a class about getting fit abs. This was a scam to try to sell you expensive health products. We truly felt shnookered!!
My husband thought the food was really good, but generally "middle America basic." He particularly liked the homemade sorbets and ice creams for dessert. I thought the food was just average. It was a bit bland at times, but there were a few meals that were very nice. I really liked the afternoon tea, and the scones were to die for. We went to Sabatini's for my birthday...it was a great deal. For only $20 more, you get an incredible 15 course dining experience. The food and presentation was fantastic. Ask for Simona...she had to be the loveliest person on the ship. We just wanted to take her home, as her delightful personality and enthusiasm was infectious!
The cruise director's staff was great, although the cruise director himself was nearly invisible. The Aussies -- Jayson, Chris, and Andy -- were so much fun! But our favorite was Alex. He made us feel like family. The sail away party from L.A. was fun, there were so many activities around Christmas (including gingerbread house-making and Santa Claus), and New Year's was a blast! We didn't take the kids on this cruise, and were sorry we hadn't when we saw all the fun the children were having! We rung in the year at the bottom of the Piazza, and the atmosphere was so festive. We heard that the sail away party from Honolulu was among the best, but we didn't make it because we were exhausted from our extended day in Oahu and we had an early day in Kauai the next morning. We thought that such a party would have been best as a sail away from Maui. Don't miss the cruise director'staff talent show!
We met many wonderful passengers on the ship. The cruise director's staff also hosted several LGBT get togethers, which made us feel especially welcome.
We thought the entertainment was pretty good. Don't miss the show that was music from the movies. It was incredible, and with a few unexpected surprises. We loved Skywalker's, the disco on top of the ship, but thought the DJ was lame. The place was packed on Abba night, but most nights it was request music. This meant that one song would be Lady GaGa, the next Hip Hop, and then next Michael Jackson. The place was empty most nights because request music means you please no one. They would do much better with more themed music...Disco Night, Abba Night, 80's night, etc. Trust us, it will bring in the crowds.
We didn't do any excursions...they were so overpriced, and you could do better to book them yourself. We rented cars in every port. The best deal was Enterprise in Hilo. You can take the Alamo bus from the port, and the car was only $35!! We even saw Air Force 1 parked at the Hilo Airport. We used Budget in Kauai and Maui, and found them to be dependable and reasonable.
Finally, the atmosphere of the ship was nice. Since there were many days at sea, we were glad that there was plenty of deck space/chairs, a variety of refurbished public areas, and plenty of activities. We like that the smoking sections were limited. We did find that the hallways around our cabin were very smoky. We also hated that we had to inhale others' smoke on balcony, which really limited our enjoyment.
The announcement-free disembarkation was a bit confusing. We elected self-carry off, so we went to the Vista Lounge with our luggage at 7:30 a.m., the allotted time, and there was mob scene. No one knew what we were suppose to be doing. In frustration, we went to a different part of the ship and ran into our cruise staff buddy Alex who saw that we were confused. He ushered us to the exit, and we were on our way home in minutes. Thanks, Alex!!