Just got back from my first cruise (did it with my wife and two teenage girls). We were on the 4 day Sky (March 29 - April 1)
First off it was great and I hated to get off the ship, what a bummer.
Second, I got some great tips from reading this board. I almost felt like I knew what I was doing from the moment we boarded. Although some people seem to be very harsh in their reviews, we tend to be a bit more flexible.
We had no major complaints.
We flew into Ft. Lauderdale and used SAS to take us to the ship. It was easy and cost effective.
Getting on the ship was easy. Yes they took pictures but we never felt hounded to buy. In fact we did not even buy any until the last morning.
The only problem we had was when we received our room keys. They did not have the soda sticker on them. We had pre-paid for that and luckily brought our receipt with us. The front desk told us that we would not be able to get them to the next day (which was unacceptable) and finally told us to go the the cafe by the internet cafe and they would give us the stickers. Went there and they wanted to take my receipt, I told them they could make a copy but I was keeping those receipts. They said they didn't have a copier and finally put the stickers on our cards. Luckily this was the worst problem we had and everything turned out fine.
We thought the food was good. I greatly enjoyed the omelets at breakfast as well as the fruit and salmon. My wife was not particularly fond of the coffee. We did Lunch in the Garden Cafe most days and it was good (you had to know what you thought looked good at the lunch buffet and what did not look good). We all enjoyed the sandwiches, salads and fruits. We all stayed away from the hot dishes. We had dinner at the MDR on 3 nights. We did not feel the need to do the speciality restaurants. We looked at the menus and decided that since we live in a large Metro area we could eat at those type of restaurants at home for about the same price. I liked the MDR also as a way to try new foods. In general service was good.
Boy, are the rooms small. We had two balcony rooms which was nice to have the fresh air. Also the showers are tiny. These are not meant as complaints, just observations (small observations, LOL).
We didn't really do any excursions. We went to Freeport and Nassau and did the beach things but nobody wanted to snorkel. I was just as happy to get back to the ship and nap... (hey it's a vacation).
We stayed on the ship instead of going to GSC and it was quiet and peaceful. It was the only day I was able to grab a spot in the hot tub.
We thought the entertainment was good. Matt Baker seemed to really enjoy his job. I think being a cruise director and maintaining your energy level cruise after cruise has to be difficult. On the last night it was a variety show and he had a segment where he told us some questions that people on the cruise asked. I won't give it away but thought it was quite humorous.
The best tip I could give anyone who hasn't gone on a cruise is to follow this board but take things with a grain of salt. There were some people who said the food was horrible and inedible. Not true. It wasn't the best I ever had (although the watermelon was great) but it wasn't the worst. I am not a gourmet but I do like good restaurants. I felt we got what we paid for.
We are now trying to get a group of friends together and go on another cruise.
I want to thank many of the people on cruise critic for the tips and insights I was able to gather over the last few months!!
Another tip is you need to be flexible and set your expectations. It has been mentioned many times, but there are 2000+ other people on this ship (some ships are 4000 and up). When you are serving that many people there are bound to be service hiccups and the food not that of a gourmet restaurant in NY, Chicago or San Francisco. If you are looking for 5-star dining you will be disappointed. But if you are looking to eat outside and have great views of the ocean you should be happy.