Backround info...40 something parents with a 13 year old daughter. This is our 2nd cruise, our only point of comparison is RCL. We chose this cruise because we wanted a spring break vacation, and it was extremely convenient to our home. No flying - just drive 30 minutes to the port. We approached this cruise with the mindset that it would not be as good as RCL; we had heard that Carnival was inferior to RCL. Honestly, the cruises were around the same price, with RCL being cheaper but we had to fly to Miami, and it was a 4 day cruise. This is a 7 day cruise, so you could say it was a better value. Ships that depart from Baltimore are not as large as other ports because of the bridges on the Chesapeake - so the RCL Navigator out of Miami had a few more amenities (ice rink, rock climbing wall, interior promenade...just full of features) I'd also like to add that we are not vacation snobs, and we are laid back. We could also afford to go anywhere, but we like value and convenience.
Embarkation: arrived at cruise terminal at 1:30. It could not be easier to get there. It was Easter Sunday. From the moment we entered the lot, it took 1.5 hours to get on the ship and have a drink in my hand. Everyone at the terminal was extremely friendly, helpful and organized. It was Easter week, so there were a lot of kids and families embarking. If I had to do it over again, I'd probably have someone drop us off to skip the parking/baggage drop line, and save $100 in parking. In short, super smooth great experience.
Our room: 8J class, room 5121, extended balcony, two twins put together, and a day bed for our 13 year old. Very comfortable, clean beds - and my husband is like the princess and the pea...even he liked it. I think this room is probably a little more spacious than what we were in on the RCL Navigator. Bathroom - small, but a good vanity. No glass enclosure on the shower, just a curtain. Balcony had paint chips on it from somewhere. The glass railing had pollen on it. The ship needs its windows cleaned, but I am not sure when they would get an opportunity to do this. We really enjoyed the balcony. We got the sunsets on this side of the ship, and sunrise on the way back. We brought a bungee cord for propping the door open - you just hook it around the handle and then to the diagonal piece that divides your balcony from your neighbors. We loved having the balcony door open and hearing the ocean. Overall, the room was quite nice. I brought tons of clothing because I was unsure of the temps. I wore all of it. I also brought the clothing on hangers and I am glad I did that because there are not that many hangers. As others recommended, we brought a power strip - and we needed it for charging mobile phones and laptops. I used the hair dryer in the vanity. I think that if I had long hair, I would have brought my own. It is not much of a hair dryer. Some wine managed to find its way into my checked baggage also.
The only drawback of the end of Deck 5 is that you can hear base coming from the Taj Mahal. This did not bother us and we slept very well. We could not hear any neighbors.
The dEcor of the ship is a bit strange - Munsters meets Michaelangelo. We did not mind it - there is a lot of comfortable furniture to sit on in public spaces. Some of the spaces depart from this theme also, and I found several of them to be pleasantly decorated.
The people on the cruise were a huge mix from every where (but primarily East Coast) and all walks of life. You will see tattoos, logo tee shirts, side capped kids in wife beater tees, Lily Pulitzer, Brooks Brothers, khakis, ball gowns, suits and ties, and jeans. Everyone was nice...I saw license plates from NY, NJ, WV, MD, OH, PA, VA, MI, DE, NC in the lot. There were more than 900 people on board who were under 21, and you could see that it was primarily a family cruise. No poorly behaved college students or teenagers.
The staff seemed particularly nice and happy, though not always easy to understand. Our steward and wait staff were great.
Mermaids Grill - hit and miss. It was sometimes difficult to find a table, sometimes not. The food ranged from quite good to average. Nothing BAD, just not fabulous. RCL does have this cruise beat in this buffet dining category. But, the Normandie restaurant is very good...just skip Mermaids and plan to eat there. The waiters at the Normandie sang and danced in addition to giving great service. Chocolate melting cake - you've heard it over and over...to die for. Yep. Bread pudding was memorable also. The pool deck food is fine - it's just pool food. Pizza from Mermaids was fine if freshly baked. We tried the sushi at the sushi station (not in a restaurant) - it was good. David's was memorable and worth the price for us - but the music coming up from the atrium did not match the atmosphere (Elvira, Cocomo, etc). See if you can sit off the atrium. Room service was fine for some coffee to get you going in the morning, a little yogurt, fruit, etc.
The pools were quite chilly to start off with, but by Tuesday had warmed up significantly. The air in the covered pool was warm and it was wind free. That is where the band is also - I don't know if everyone would like to hear that on and off all day, but we enjoyed it. We noticed a fair amount of drinking - it might have been more than on RCL, but I can't remember. There was nothing going on that stood out behavior-wise.
Our planned excursions were to Sea World, and the Atlantis Aquaventure. Both were very good, but quite expensive. We found them to be worth the price, especially the Atlantis. Freeport is a very short stop, and we were quite tired by then. We took a cab in to Lucaya for $5/person. We shopped (junk - but stuff our daughter loved), and then meandered on to the beach for an hour or so. The beaches there are quite nice. No one seemed to notice we had no wrist bands, and that we were not Radisson or other hotel guests.
Our 13 year old enjoyed the Circle C activities. She did not attend everything, just picked and chose what interested her. It was enough to keep her happy and occupied. We did notice some kids that seemed to be unsupervised, but the problem was not too noticeable.
We never took in any shows - just Bingo once.
All in all, I'd say this was a pretty great cruise. However, I am sure the weather and the seas are coloring my opinion, because both were spectacular. I can't imagine how awful it would be to be cooped up with bad weather or rough conditions.
Debarkation: we chose self assist. Again, smooth process. We were home by 11AM. What more could you want?
I don't know what this cruise is like other weeks, or times of the year, but it exceeded our expectations. I am sure the crowd varies, but last week was great. In some respects, it beat our experience on RCL.