We are a family of four and this was our first cruise. We were hesitant to book a cruise since my husband hates crowded conditions and waiting in line, but the price was just too good to be true!
We live in Florida so we drove to Fort Lauderdale. Our online agent recommended arriving at 1:00 at the terminal even though embarkation was at 2:00. This worked out well. Embarkation was organized and not crowded, it took about 45 minutes. We checked out our room which was an outside cabin with a window. We were supposed to have a double bed and couch with a bunk over the couch, but instead had two fold down bunks over the double bed. This made it inconvenient to get in and out of bed when our children were in the bunks, but was tolerable. The room was very clean and we had plenty of storage. We stowed our bags under the bed. The bathroom was small but very efficient. Cabin service was excellent.
The ship was beautiful. Everything looked like new. The common areas and bars were well designed, beautifully decorated and quite luxurious.
The outdoor decks were beautiful for walking and enjoying the view, but there were not enough deck chairs. If you failed to put towels on chairs early in the morning, you could not find a place to sit later in the day. Documentation claimed that chairs could only be left empty for 20 minutes, but this rule was not enforced. The pools were surprisingly small. Even though I read that children were not allowed in the hot tubs, they were often filled with children of all ages, including a baby in a swim diaper (yuck). I did not use the hot tubs.
Dining was the highlight of the day - mostly because of the experience of choosing from numerous offerings, and dining in a beautiful setting than actual food quality. You could choose either cafeteria or sit down dining for each meal of the day. I thought the food in the dining room was superior to the food in the cafeteria, but it took quite a long time to be served. On days when we were going ashore, we chose the cafeteria.
The cafeteria dining tables were next to floor to ceiling windows which provide a terrific view. The buffet had a wide selection of items and everyone in our family found food they liked, especially the pizza. For breakfast, look for the cooked to order omelet station. The omelets were delicious. My husband enjoyed the various smoked meats, such as prosciutto, that were always available.
Evening dining times were either 5:30 or 8:30. We chose 5:30, but found that it was too early. We also felt quite rushed to order, eat and leave. Our fist table assignment ended up being at a crowded circular booth with no view. Our waiter had to hand plates to me over my shoulder. I feared that sooner or later the food would end up on me! The next day, husband requested a table with a view and we were given a nice table for 4 directly in front of a port hole window - beautiful! The service at this table was far superior to that of the previous table. My children were offered a children's menu, which my son (age 11) liked. My daughter (also 11) preferred the adult menu and was always encouraged to order whatever she liked off of that menu even though children cruise for free.
I enjoyed being able to choose appetizer, soup, salad, pasta, main dish and dessert, though many times I was too full from lunch to order more than salad and a main dish. I was disappointed in many of the sauces (tasteless, bad consistency) that accompanied the pasta dishes which I found surprising for an Italian ship. The meat was often a little tough. Although I normally love fish, I found the fish dinners inedible. But, any time we did not like something it was cheerfully replaced. My husband had a veal chop which he thought was one of the best dishes he'd ever eaten.
The children's program was a disappointment for my 11 year olds. They did enjoy being able to meet and play Foosball and ping pong with other children, but the activities (such as making a flower from a straw and crepe paper) were more suited to younger children.
We enjoyed the performances. Several evenings had gymnasts performing amazing feats. Costumes and sets were well done. We typically do not attend theatrical performances so this was fun for our children.
We did not book any excursions. We walked along the beach in St. Martin and did a little shopping. On St. Thomas, we took a ferry from Red Hook to St. John and rode the city bus across the island to Salt Pond. On Nassau we walked around the city on our own.
We had a wonderful time on the cruise. All staff members I encountered were cheerful and friendly. Our dinner waiter, Guiseppe, was wonderful and greatly enhanced the dining experience. The ship was comfortable and luxurious. Overall, an exceptional value.