OK, first off, we are Americans living in Europe and as such are used to the way things are here. We could lambast every little thing and as such it would LOOK like it wasn't a pleasant cruise. On the contrary, we all had a blast.
We went on this cruise because the kids were free and it was spring break. Because it was spring break for the American bases in Germany, there were A LOT of Americans on board.
Since there were mostly Americans on this cruise, English was the 2nd language you'd hear for announcements-that was nice. So here is a step by step guide to our trip: We drove from Germany to Venice. We had no issues with getting our luggage checked in and just checking in was quick. Parking was not an issue. Embarkation seemed a bit slow and many were waiting. We were supposed to wait until our number was called.(it seemed that there were about 100 people per number)....but got pushed to the front of lines since we had kids, which surprised us since we didn't have a stroller or anything.
We got our luggage outside our cabin around 6, just in time for dinner. We did pack extra clothes in our carry-ons just in case, though. We had heard that the "vibrations" on the ship were horrible, but you're on a ship that's traveling at about 30MPH each night....and you're on a boat, not on land.
We did not buy "all you can drink" packages since it was so expensive but we did buy some water and soda packages and went through them all with nothing left over and nothing extra to buy. We did buy the beer package, but what they had on tap we didn't care for much. We bought all our other drinks(alcoholic) individually and enjoyed them very much even though they were a bit expensive compared to American cruise drinks.
Our cabin was nice...not too much in extras, not super decorated---much like any hotel, but it did have a small sofa. The kids loved the bunks they had. Would have been nicer to have more closet space, but I don't know where you'd put it. Dinner was nice and there were always the 'favorites' to order in case you didn't like the European food. My kids tried something new almost every night and only on the last 2 did they opt for the hot dog or spaghetti.
All the staff we had contact with spoke English. We didn't have trouble ordering drinks or anything while onboard. I really liked how the teens were able to get a "teen card" so that they wouldn't spend a bunch of money and we could keep what was spent in control.
Jr. Kids Club was awesome! They even kept it running if you didn't want to take the kids off the ship for an excursion. My 14 yr. old did complain that many of the kids didn't take advantage of the Teen Club so she was bored during the day sometimes. She did find a lot of kids that spoke English so that helped. She was the one who complained the most, but what 14 yr. old doesn't??
The pools were good but crowded. This was definitely a cruise for families this week. The Italians could be a bit rude and pushy when it came to getting into elevators, but that was really our only complaint about other people on the boat. Yes, it was crowded, but there are always places where you could be where it wasn't crowded. They had a nice card room, library, and during the day the lounges were almost empty.
The Lounges were fantastically designed. There just didn't seem to be enough to do like you would have on some Carnival Cruises. The Europeans liked their naps in the evening so that they could stay up later for the activities in the lounges. We never made it past 11 or 12pm!! We found some wonderful bar tenders who took care of us spendidly(Sydney in the Casino Bar was the BEST).
The shows were pretty good. They did a great job in having many shows that didn't need lots of translations(magic, broadway songs, dancing) They did have a 'puppet' show that the guy could translate in 3 languages so that was ok.
The Spa was EXPENSIVE to say the least. I think they should lower prices and they'd book up easily. The "gym" had machines and tread mills but no real heavy weights(my husband did complain abou that) and there were lines during some times of the day.
We had read that the food was awful and the same daily. Yes, it was the same every day(cheese, meat, rolls, warm food, cereal, oatmeal, fruit for breakfast, for example) but we found it about the same as any European basic restaurant/hotel we would stay at. The kids could always get hotdogs or hamburgers and fries. We did eat in the restaurant for lunch and breakfast a couple of times and that was good. Breakfast even had pancakes for the kids. Dinner was really good. A different theme of Italian food every night. No, there wasn't steak and lobster, but that's not what Europeans eat. There was always some kind of fish and there was always a good kids menu if they didn't want to eat off the menu. Desserts were good, too. We used our water coupons for water at dinner(yes, you have to pay for drinks at dinner---the only downside compared to American cruises). We had 1st dinner at 6:30pm and were usually done with chatting and eating by 8(just in time for our 7yr. old to head back to the Kids Club til 11pm)
There were places you could request your picture taken, otherwise, they weren't always visible like on Carnival Cruises. The pictures are expensive(19.95Euro for 8x10) so we didn't get any.
We never had any other real issues so contact with ship officers or crew was limited to saying hello to cabin boy and ordering drinks from the waiters/waitresses/bartenders.
Disembarkation was very organized. Yes, we had to wait til they called our color tag but that didn't take too long and we were at our car quickly. We decided to tour Venice after the cruise so we didn't have to wait in the really long carpark line to get out.
This was the best cruise ever!! I can't wait to do another one. One could always nit-pick but if you know how Europeans are and how the food can be, and don't expect to be treated like royalty, you'll have fun. It is not a Carnival Party cruise, that's for sure. We always felt underdressed as many Europeans dress nicer than we did. We hope we get to go on another one!!