We stayed in South Beach before the cruise. We took a $20 cab to Port of Miami and arrived at 11am. Embarkation was slower than I anticipated- we boarded at 11:45, rooms were ready at 1:30 (bags arrived at 2). Went to the buffet at 3 to eat lunch and it was crowded, but we got a table outside near the Oceanview bar.
After the first few days we did not feel the pampering and top rate service that we expected from X based on cc reviews. However, we reported our problems and they were very well handled (see below part about the MDR). Even so, service was inconsistent (great cabin steward & activities staff, but other crew were cold).
Oceanview cafe (buffet): Very good. It's a buffet, so no gourmet experiences were expected or delivered, but we were impressed with the variety offered, the easy traffic flow even during busy times, and cleanliness. X does very good breads, cookies, and ice creams we discovered.
Aqua Spa Cafe: This is a very small venue (few tables) located near the solarium pool. It's not open for dinner. At breakfast there are tons of different types of delicious rolls and real yogurt parfaits, at lunch I enjoyed the salmon burgers and the herb-poached fruit bar.
Q'sine: This was the only specialty restaurant we tried. It was worth every penny and certainly lived up to the hype. Truly excellent service! We had a reservation at 6pm and left at 9:30! Try the kobe tacos with make-your-own guacamole. This was a real highlight of the cruise.
Room service: surprisingly good! We used the TV to order. The "quantity" doesn't mean one serving it means one item so we pushed one French toast...but what came was one slice, one pat of butter ... Everything was delivered fast and hot.
Moonlight Sonata (MDR): Worst part of the cruise. On night 1 my partner opened the wine menu and a big, dead bug was squished in there! Our server was not very friendly and rarely came by. The escargot and the steaks from the everyday menu were bad. On night two things were worse. Our orders came out wrong multiple times; the lamb was quite good, but frustrated we bailed without dessert. We boycotted for two more nights dining elsewhere then went to guest relations to report the issue. They responded very, very fast with phone calls from the Maitre D, a nice letter and bottle of white wine in our room. The Maitre D met us at the MDR entrance the next night and he took us himself to a new table in another section. Our new server was excellent, the sommelier brought us complimentary champagne and the assistant waiter was really good. The MDR manager came by to check on us. That night we enjoyed the short ribs, meatballs, passion fruit cheesecake and pastry cigar. We had good MDR experiences from then on, but we never liked the menus as much. On a side note, we enjoyed the 1st sea day brunch there very much (chocolate fountain).
*** We only ate in the MDR on the first formal night, the food, decor and service were no different than other nights. Most guys wore suits and ties followed closely by those who, like me, wore sport coats and ties with slacks. We only saw one or two tuxes.
Cafe Al Baccio: This is a nice cafe and you don't need to spend a dime. The coffee drinks all cost extra (not much more than Starbucks though), but the pastry case is free and full of delicious finger sandwiches and treats.
This ship is beautiful (even the bathrooms) and it does not feel very big or crowded. The public areas are lush, mod and classy. The outdoor spaces are nice too, spa-like, but the casino and art gallery are the only tacky parts. Everything is gleaming and new. We were very impressed by the boutique hotel vibe.
Pool deck - I fell in love with the 4-poster hammocks on the pool deck! Yes, there were a lot of people on the pool decks on sea days, but we still got chairs on the inner deck of the main pool. Surprisingly, the adult-only indoor solarium pool was always more crowded, though we could get seats in there too. These areas are very nice.
Gym- We found the gym to be quite nice. We didn't have to wait for equipment. The locker rooms (well, the men's) were really good. We enjoyed the sauna and the fact that they had shaving cream and razors.
iLounge- This place is cool looking, but it's too small. The staff is overwhelmed too. The net was often down because too many people were using it. There was a lot of frustration over the Internet packages. Don't buy one if you can help it.
We were in a cat 1A, # 7290. This is on the aft angle of "the hump." We loved our cabin! The dEcor is upscale and understated, there was plenty of storage for two people on a 7-nighter (big luggage fit under bed), and the bathroom was very nice. The balcony on this cabin is one of the extra large ones, it is about 50% of the total room size. The table is eating height and chairs are comfy. We found the bed super comfy too. This was also a great location, right near the middle elevators/stairs still it was really quiet. We liked the TV and how it works for many functions (facial recognition with the photographers is cool and it shows your pics while the radio feature plays) and were pleasantly surprised with the channels, which had current sporting events and lots of free, pretty recent on-demand movies.
We did have a couple odd moments in there - the divider between ours and our forward neighbor's balconies once came unhinged. And beware the main door - pull them hard, the door was hard to close all the way and lock.
In some ways what people say about X is true, entertainment isn't their strength, but in other ways we were pleasantly surprised.
Activities- I did go to some scrapbooking sessions, they give you a free, nice kit with materials to make one project. We also went to "Name That Tune," which was fun (we won easily and got lots of loot-tee shirts, pillows, playing cards, pens, medals). We also did the galley tour on Thursday (2nd sea day). This was ok, but be prepared to wait around in the upper MDR waiting for your group to be called. Unfortunately I could not understand a single word our chef/guide said because of his accent.
Celebrity theater shows-
It's a mixed bag. The first night is a preview show of sorts. You get to see some of the dancers and the instrumental groups you'll see onboard all week. EDGE (Tuesday night/St Martin at 7 and 9pm) we are split on. He found it too cheesy, but I thought it was fun. It was a musical revue with four main singers and many dancers set to digital light show. They covered Sting, Journey, The Beatles... cool, but not exactly current. If you like the show Glee, you'll like this one.
Eclipse the Show (Thursday, 2nd day at sea, 8:30 and 10:45): It was a good show. There was a real set and a cirque du soleil-like show with tight rope walking, aerialists, and contortionists. This was far better than any of the other shows we went to.
Celebrity Chefs Cooking Show (Friday, last sea day, 10:30am): This is a cute, iron chef-like contest between two ship chefs, each paired with an audience member.
Hot Glass Show up on the top deck is good and you learn a lot about glass blowing; we went twice for afternoon shows on sea days. It was standing room only, but they make a new piece every 20 minutes or so, so if you arrive and can't get a seat, wait around ad then swoop in and like us you'll be able to get seats when the next piece starts.
Masque and Motown- Both were good and surprising. Masque (Monday/San Juan night at 10:30) was a goofy, fun little show with dancers in Marie Antoinette garb set to songs from Rocky Horror and pop music in the grand foyer. We could see well from the aft stairwells and it was neat to move around deck 5 seeing it from different angles. The Motown party was also good, but I didn't like it quite as much as Masque. One thing we loved was that some dancers set up shop in the elevators dancing as they ride up and down and occasionally catching unsuspecting cruisers in there.
*** we HATED the ubiquitous pool and grand foyer band, D'revelation. Every time I heard their female vocalist start I'd think of Simon Cowell on American Idol and how his biggest cut down is to tell someone they sound like a cruise ship singer. This was bad wedding music level: the Macarena? Love Shack? I'd take a Caribbean band or a jazz band by the pool over this any day. The one musical act we did like, though it's not our normal cup of tea, was an all-female string quartet from the Ukraine. They played "Back in the USSR!" - I think they were called Del Canto Strings.
Overall, X isn't the greatest for entertainment if you're looking for something honestly current, let alone cutting edge or unique, but especially when it didn't involve singing, it was better than we expected.
Ports- Disembarking in ports was painless - there were never any lines or waiting.
San Juan (Monday)-
The sail in was gorgeous. In this port we opted out of any tour and stayed in Old San Juan. The bad thing about this stop is that being there on a Monday means a lot (all museums) is closed. All the street vendors on the Paseo only work Tues-Sun. We walked left off the pier up to El Morro fort, which is very nice and it was only $3pp. There are great views and photo ops everywhere. We took a break to try piraguas - PR's snow cones, wandered the streets going into tacky little shops and such, and visited the famous, divey diner, La Bombonera, where two people ate for only $20.
St Martin (Tuesday)-
We booked privately with Bernard's tours (group tour, $35pp in an air-conditioned van with all the bottled water, sodas, rum punch and beer). Our guide/driver was Thomas. We stopped for 20 minutes at the very tacky, but funny Rima's souvenir shop. Then, despite being told we'd do 3 of these, we stopped at our only scenic look-out for a photo op. At Maho/Sunset beach, the famous beach near the airport, I started to dislike the tour. In order to "avoid traffic" Thomas changed the order of the itinerary we'd been given. As a result we were there when no planes were set to land or take off - I felt gipped. We went to the open market on the French side in Marigot and the famous Serafina's French pastry shop, Yum! Our last stop was Orient beach. We paid $8 each for an umbrella chair and a drink (any), but we had very little beach time (less than 90 min). We got dropped at Front St. in downtown Philipsburg where we wandered around in the many jewelry shops and walked the boardwalk before we walked back to the ship (15 min). Overall, the tour was ok and the price was definitely right, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it.
Like I did for St Martin, I used to ports of call board to select a private tour operator, Thenford Grey's Island Excursions, but I booked a private, custom tour. Our driver for the day was Don. So we had four people, each paid $37.50. This tour was GREAT. We got a full driving tour of the island, Don was amazing and very informative, we got out once for pics, drove to the southeastern peninsula past the Frigate bay area where we saw incredible homes and resorts. We went to the Caribbean side to Shipwreck beach bar at South Friar's bay beach. WOW! This is almost untouched beach, in a valley, with just the one bar. We felt totally safe leaving things on our chair and paid $18 for two chairs with a palm shade. Unlike St Martin, we weren't harassed by people selling stuff. We rented snorkel stuff for $10pp. The reef is extremely close to the shore line. We saw a variety of fish and a sea turtle swam under us. Don then drove us to Ottley's Plantation Inn. What a view! We had an easy lunch. This was by far our best port and excursion.
Disembarkation: On the last morning we ignored our assigned lounge and time and had our last breakfast in the Oceanview buffet until at 8:45 they called our group. Just as we arrived they made an announcement that there was a customs delay so no one could get off yet, so we nabbed seats in the photo gallery to wait until at 9:15 things started to move and we were quickly off the ship. We found our luggage in the (ugly) terminal pretty fast and customs was a breeze.
OVERALL/what we learned:
As first-timers we learned a lot from this experience. We were glad we took a travel power strip, but never used our refillable coffee mugs. Surprisingly we liked sea days and never felt bored. We were too shy at first. If you have any issue tell guest relations ASAP, we would have been happier if we resolved our MDR issues earlier and also if we were more social - once we started talking to people we had more fun. As 30-somethings we were on the younger side of the passengers (most couples in their 50s and 60s, but we saw all ages including young kids), but if you're looking for relaxation vs. athletics, noise, or a nightclub vibe, it won't bother you.
We would grade this cruise a B. Would we sail X again? Certainly, but we had really high expectations, some were met while others weren't. If we go again we'll go Aqua Class and hope that Blu is more akin to eating specialty every night. I would recommend X (S-class specifically) to others, but advise they try AQ if dining is very important to them.
full review with pictures: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1325230