Embarkation - This was a fantastic experience for us. We got priority boarding, not really sure why. We were on Deck 11 so maybe that was it. The only complaint I have about Sydney's terminal is that there wasn't really too many places to sit. I think they need more chairs around, especially for the more mature crowd. Plus it wasn't really very 'nice'. I say this because other terminals seem to be a lot nicer in decor and newer I guess. Anyway, I don't know how we managed this, I think just in the right place at the right time, but suddenly we were headed onboard the ship and we were the first ones on. I don't know what happened with the people behind us but we were the only ones on the ship for about 15 minutes. Nobody behind us. How exciting! We were greeted onboard and it kind of felt like royalty. The ship was impressive and the decor whilst loud was really really nice.
Our Room - We headed straight there so we could watch others boarding. We had a balcony cabin on the left side of the ship (sorry don't know what this is called). Our cabin was huge compared to the other ships we had been on. So much cupboard space and drawer space. The queen bed was great. I have never had the problem with two singles put together like others have commented on. I only have two negatives about the room. The first was that if your cupboard door came open like ours did a couple of times, whilst someone was in the bathroom, they couldn't get out. Luckily for us my husband and I were almost always together in the room so noone was stuck in there for long. The second was that the aircon was hot for all of the trip. It was fine the first day only but that night was horrible. We complained about it on many occasions and they came to look at it many times. On the 4th day finally a tech came and said that it was set to 24 degress and that was the lowest it goes to even though the dial said it could go colder. Why bother having a temp gage if you can't change the temp? Our cabin steward was fantastic and well worth the tip we gave him. More about tips later.
Dining - Ok I am not a fan of anytime dining. You don't get to know your waiters and they don't get to know you. Plus there are almost always lines waiting to get into the dining room. Mind you they moved quite quickly but I still prefer having the same table each night. The food was great in the Waterfront. I never had a problem with it. Always hot and fresh. We generally prefer to go to the dining room than eat in the buffet. Just because we don't like having to search for a table and then get up and down all the time. Much prefer the service. Getting drinks in the Waterfront was horrible. We always had to ask for the drinks server who didn't always come. One time they asked everyone at our table for drinks except for us. When we had set dining, our drinks waiter knew what we wanted and it was either waiting for us when we arrived or not long after. I missed that. Menues were pretty repetitive but delicious none the same. A few items were changed each day for variety. Also be prepared to pay for all your drinks. I think they should offer a drink with the main meal or offer a soft drinks card.
The Salt Grill was delicious and I wished we had gone back there a second time. We actually had our meal there on Valentine's Day. I thought it would be decked out especially for it but it was no different to any other time which was a little disappointing. The buffet area was beautifully done with valentine hearts everywhere. The food though was outstanding and I have to recommend the gnocci and the chocolate dessert. Yum! Worth the $25 extra we paid per head.
Staffing - Didn't notice a lack of these anywhere like other reviews I have read. There was always a drinks person wandering around taking orders or with a tray full of the drink special. We don't drink so didn't really affect us much but I did see them everywhere.
Tipping - Tips were automatically added each day to our account but you can have them removed and tip as you see fit. This is what I did and what I recommend. I don't see the point of tipping people who don't do good or exceptional service. I noticed though that after October 2010 tipping will not be automatic anymore which I think is a much better idea.
Entertainment - I thought the shows that we did see were great. The only issue I had with some of them is that they were very very late and we missed them because of this. Like the comedian. Some of the shows were at 11pm or later and we never were able to keep our eyes open at this time. The first night the circus show was at 10.30pm and I thought this quite late too especially for the kids I saw with their parents all bleary eyed waiting for it to start. Fallon - the singer they had I disliked from the start. Great singer but about 15 years older than his photo in the daily paper. Wore tight pants and shirts unbuttoned and seemed really sleezy. Told old old jokes and didn't appeal to me at all. The older crowd seemed to love him though. The other singer/comedian was great and well worth seeing. Jokes much better. Magician was good too, unless you have watched the show on TV that shows you how all the tricks are done! I was really disappointed with the ice carving. Didn't get to see it because they did it down on the deck (same level as the crowd watching) so you couldn't see it unless you were in the front row. The deck above was totally filled with people and again you couldn't see unless you were in the front row. They should have put the guy on a stage and then everybody would have been able to see no matter where you were standing. We loved the trivia games. They were funny and fun. We even won a few prizes.
I don't have much to say about the ports as we didn't go on any excursions. Just too expensive and our main goal on the trip was to enjoy the cruise. We found on past cruises that we were rushed when we did the excursions and were amongst the crowds waiting to get off the ship, especially when there were tenders and we didn't feel like doing this, this time around. Having said that, the waters in the ports looked amazing and seemed like everyone was having a good time.
The Health Spa - Yes, the prices were terribly high. But here is a tip. We went to the art auctions each day as they often had a special going and one day they offered a hot stone massage for $70. You can't beat it.
Pros - We had a blast. Loved the food. Especially the Salt Grill. Also the lamb rogan josh was delicious on the lunch menu. Rooms quite big.
Cons - Aircon didn't work well. Take a fan if you get hot at night. The sell sell sell attitude. Everything seemed to cost extra.
All in all we loved this cruise. Heck we love any cruise. Go with an open mind and you will enjoy. Don't sweat the small stuff.