This was our seventh cruise in a 30 year span for two senior citizens. I entered the cruise very apprehensive of good expectations due to the numerous critical reviews I read. Overall, however, things were not as bad as the reviews might have indicated. Be aware that cruise lines, like airlines and hotels, are going to nickle and dime you to death......that's how they make their profits.....not on your ticket or room cost. Embarking with that understanding will help you enjoy your vacation much more.
$$$$. Costs were a mixed bag. Drinks were not as bad as I thought.....about $6 for a beer and $7 per glass of house wine, or $24 six pack bucket of beer and $22 bottle of house wine. Of course there is 15% added to all those purchases. On the outrageous side were some of the spa costs.....like $195 for a message. I stayed away from the shops....not sure how they fared. The Internet was on the high side for what you get. 75 cents a minute for dial up speeds is high. Averaging two drinks a day, four premium dinners, service charges with no excursions or shopping came to over $500 for the two of us.
Embarkation, disembarkation. Leaving the ship was a breeze. We carried our own bags and walked all the way to the street....without ever having to stand in a line. Be aware that your rooms will not be ready until around 2:30 for occupancy. We arrived at the ship around 11:30, went through the ticketing process and then sat around until 12:45 before they let us board. We were able to drink and eat while waiting on board.
Rooms. We had a Family deluxe balcony (which has been renamed some sort of mini suite for next spring) and it was very nice. Storage space was more than ample for two people. The bathroom setup was strange....but not bad. Strange was getting out of the shower and stepping into the main cabin. The sink did splatter a bit, but not a problem for us....towels were plentiful. The space between the bed and cabinets was small enough so that two people could not get by each other.....otherwise, space was not a problem. The bed is a curved queen, so if your over 6 foot tall, you may be hanging over the edge a bit. Bring a small extension cord if you have small electronics or need charging. The only two outlets are inside a cabinet and one is used for the coffee maker. The balcony was ample for two people.
Dining. Premium dining is not necessary.....unless you want more variety in your menu. Taste and Manhattan both offer good food for no extra charge, but the menu is standard except for a few nightly specials. It also appeared that both restaurants had the exact same menu each night. The Garden Cafe has a decent buffet, but it seemed like the same items every day. Our group tried Le Bistro, La Cucina, Cagneys and Cirque Dreams for premium dining. Cagneys was the consensus favorite, but I hestitate to tell you that because they may up the price......as they did to us at Cirque Dreams.....now $30 premium up from $20 before cruise.
Entertainment. Overall excellent....best part of the cruise. Did not have any bad experience at any show. However, Cirque Dreams is in a small two story theater and they do a lot of acrobatic and gymnastic acts that use the height to second story elevation. If you are seated in the perimeter of the first floor, you will not see all of the show. The acrobats were terrific.....the music and comedy fillers left a lot to be desired. Also be aware, that you can pay for premium seats.....and still have your back to the main show.....difficult to eat that way. Get on line early and choose your seat carefully.
The ship. Very nice. Took about five minutes to walk from front to back. Had no problem with the lack of mid ship elevators. Interesting that no matter where we went.....we would have to go through the casino, shopping area or the spa. There were some places that were quiet enough to sit and read....just had to search for them. I used the fitness center quite often. Interestingly, you had to navigate through a series for rooms.....through the spa.....to get to it. Not easy to find. The casino is huge, takes up almost the entire 6th deck. There are plenty of games for everyone, and unlike other ships I have been on, there always seemed to be a $5 table available somewhere. As others have reported, it is smoky. No matter how many smoke diffusers they use, the smoke would still bother my eyes and throat. It's a shame, because you have to go through that area to get to most of the venues.
Service. Very good. Cabin steward, waiters and drink takers were all very pleasant and helpful. I saw no problem, despite the way the service charge is handled.
Overall view. Good. Not sure that Freestyle is our cup of tea, but others seemed to like it. The ship, rooms, dining and entertainment are fine. There are always limitations. If you understand that cruising is not as "all inclusive" as it once was, and are willing to spend some money to have a good time.....you will enjoy this trip.