Sailed: 12-19 December, 2010
Cabin: Central Park Balcony (CP2) #11631 (aft, but closer to mid-ship)
Overnight Hotel (pre-departure, 1 nt): Hilton Marina, ICW Ft Lauderdale
Ft Lauderdale Restaurants (pre-departure): Bimini Boatyard; China Grill (Hilton)
Arrived Ft Lauderdale, by air, Saturday afternoon 1430. Able to check into hotel immediately; upgraded (Hilton Diamond Mbr) to lovely tower room overlooking marina. Beautiful property, but did not take advantage of any amenities except restaurant, China Grill, for following morning breakfast buffet. As Hilton Diamond Members, we had received 2 FREE continental breakfasts but had to pay a $6/pp upcharge for buffet, which was worth it (food was yummy!) but might not be such a good deal at regular menu price of $17/pp! Dinner Saturday night was at the Bimini Boatyard, chosen for it's close walking proximity to hotel. No wait (but we showed up at 1815) and the food and cocktails were wonderful! Together we had the Stone Crab Claws (appetizer), the Churrasco Steak (Brazilian style) w/ mashed potatoes and wood-grilled veggies, and the Blackened Wahoo w/ Basmati Rice and Brocolini. Large portions, fair prices and yum-O food...I found myself wishing I could take home the leftovers!
These folks have got this process down to a science! We arrived at the ship early (1130) hoping to board, only to be told we couldn't until 1400. We were directed (and I mean this literally!) to a waiting area upstairs in the terminal but, surprisingly, waited less than 10 minutes before they started boarding the ship (although we were told we could not access our stateroom until 1300). They moved 1,500 waiting passengers onto the boat in under 15 minutes! 5-stars!!!
Disembarkation was even smoother...we left our stateroom Sunday morning @ 840 and arrived at Ft Lauderdale International SEVENTEEN minutes later! Never have we experienced such an easy exit! (of course, we were faced with a lengthy wait at the airport due to this speedy exit, but that was not the cruiseship's fault.)
Outstanding at every turn; although I did notice a hint of attitude on the parts of a couple Cruise Director staff members by the end of the week, but since it wasn't exactly directed toward me, no harm, no foul. ;-) I do have to give two shout-outs to folks who went above and beyond: first, our cabin steward 'Derique'(?) [pronounced Derek], and second to the bartender in the Viking Crown Lounge who made me those delicious 'Natural' Frozen Mojitos (I think his name was Roy...or was it Ray...or Bob??? Well, I did say they were delicious!)
Cabin: (CP2 (Central Park Balcony) #11631 (Deck 11) Aft (but really more toward mid-ship)):
While there is nothing like a new ship, we rank the stateroom at only 3-stars. Pretty standard in it's design and offerings; lovely 'overlook the Park' perk but overall poor design in placing the Kid's Aqua Zone directly above Central Park! During the day, you were forced to listen to screeching children if you wanted to enjoy your balcony (a closed balcony door DID extinguish noise!) Would NOT recommend this category to those who like to dine/ relax on their balcony!!!
Cannot honestly speak to overall quality of MDR, as we only ate lunch there one day, but that experience was underwhelming. We arrived late and were told by our waiter they were shutting down the salad bar and we had only 5 minutes if we wanted to order from the kitchen! In a time-crunch panic, I ordered 2 meals (knowing if I didn't like what I had originally order, I would not be able to order a substitute meal): the quiche & salad combo (good, but the quiche was tepid) and a (supposedly) Mediterranean Lamb Pita...ACK! I took one bite which I had to spit it out in my napkin! I honestly cannot say what that was!
Windjammer - eh, what can one say? If you are a fan of the twelve-dollar AYCE buffet, you'd like it...otherwise, not so much. The selection is good, the food is fair, and the floor service is almost non-existent...overall rating, 2-stars.
Park Cafe, Boardwalk Doghouse, Johnny Rockets, Chops & Giovannis: Stellar, 5-stars!!!
Izumi: Lovely dining experience...we did a couple 'Hot Rock' dishes and a sushi roll appetizer. But BEWARE, it could get pricey with their a la carte menu pricing! It wasn't too bad for just the two of us...including the $5/pp cover, we ended up with a $65 bill (1 highball, 1 beer, 1 Lobster Roll appetizer, and 2 Hot Rock entrees + additional 5% gratuity), but can't imagine what the family of six at the next table spent!!! Rating: 3-1/2-stars.
Rita's Cantina: Save your money! Blah food, even at $7.95 for AYCE...1-star.
Did not dine @ 150 Central Park, Vintages or try Wipeout Cafe (although I did check it out, seems adequate for non-picky kids).
Blue Planet = AWESOME, 5-stars
Oceanaria = highly entertaining, 5-stars
Ice Shows = good (seen one, you've seen them all), 3-1/2-stars (sadly, Allure did not have the 'sand painter')
Comedy = laughed a lot, so I guess they did their jobs! 4-stars
General (Love & Marriage, Battle of Sexes, Trivia, et al) = 5-stars; Cruise Director Rush has a rapier wit, love him!!!
The ship is beautiful, as you have all read a thousand times by now, the cleanliness factor was phenomenal considering the number of people constantly milling about. The overall layout design works great, most especially the 'You Are Here' touchscreen kiosks liberally placed throughout the ship, and the dual exit/ entry arrangement for port stops...an end to the long wait! Yea!!! Lots of speedy-lift elevators (6 fore, 6 aft, I believe) so the only times you had a wait was right after a show let out, or something similar.
If you are a fan of the spectacular and over-the-top cruise experience, I'd DEFINITELY recommend this ship! If, however, you enjoy more the anonymity of a solitary deckchair coupled with a good book, perhaps you should search further.