Rather than focus on upgraded cabins, pre-boarding privileges, Neptune amenities this will be written from a first-time cruiser that just did the basics. One thing to remember, with rare exceptions, everything on-board the ship is available to everyone.
Can't say enough about the service crewmembers on-board. While talking to them discovered that it's not an easy life for them. Most live on-board 10 1/2 months, with yes, "free board and room", but average pay is just $1000 a month. That money is sent home, frequently to provide an education for their children. Yet, there was hardly a time when they weren't smiling. The antics of the crew's special dinner presentation were particularly great. We were always surprised when they specifically remembered the four of us, and our beverage selection, even though it had been a day or so since they last saw us. Or the case when one of the Signature shop staff, remembered that we had mentioned this was our anniversary/husband's birthday and the next day he made a point of greeting us in the buffet line, offering his handshake to my husband, and gave me a hug.
Then of course the food. The first two days, as has been mentioned in other reviews, the servers passed out the food at the buffet line, but they were very willing to give extra helpings if you wanted more. And at dinner in the main dining room, again, they freely gave a second helping [of king crab]. We enjoyed the "as you wish" dining option, but always were able to get reservations when we wanted.
Only point of disappointment was that the stewards, at this cruise at least, were allowing diners to enter even though not in compliance with the so stated dress code. Eg, my husband pointed out the number of male diners in jeans [while I had insisted he couldn't wear jeans in the MDR] Or even a few men that were wearing colored sports shirts for formal night. It detracted from the "special event" feel for the evenings.
The decor and the cleanliness of the ship were flawless. There always was someone cleaning the bright work; reminded me of my 2 1/2 year "cruise" on the USS Lexington. Had to watch out for wet paint, and wet varnish signs on the outside decks. And the stewards always seemed to know when you weren't in the room to come and clean, including vacuuming or bring ice etc. Speaking of ice, our steward finally found a large wine cooler in which to bring our nightly ice ration as we had to frequently refill the small ice bucket since we use a full glass of ice with our drinks.
In regards to shore excursions, we found there were plenty of opportunities to get just what you wanted once you got into port. And there were tours that were not offered by HAL. Important to the locals who were seeing such a dearth of travelers since the head tax imposed by Alaska -" in Anchorage where they don't get cruise ships" They sincerely appreciated our business.
There's so many more memories to share, if you would like to see some pictures, enjoy this link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUTlBbgGA7Y