This was only our second cruise and it was our first with our two teenaged children. We were a little disheartened after having read some of the reviews on cruisecritic.com but were thankfully completely surprised by the quality of our experience.
Room: We were in a family balcony state room on the 12th deck. I was very nervous about having all four of us stuffed into a tiny room, but it turned out very well for us. The queen bed for my DH and I was more than ample...we are used to a king and we didn't feel squished at all. The couch pulled out into a commodious twin bed and another bed dropped down from the ceiling. Our steward performed all the transformations for us so it went really smoothly.
There was plenty of storage for the four of us to put all of our clothes and then some. We were able to store all of our bags (4 carry on, 1 full size, various backpacks and 4 snorkel gear)under the queen bed. There was a blow dryer, coffee maker and fixings, and a tv(unfortunately we were not able to hook our computer up to the tv for video viewing). There were plenty of mirrors on the walls so we never felt like we were vying for face time.
The room overall was unique and well done. The walls were curvy and pleasing, the lighting was ambient and green (the lights turn off automatically when the stateroom card is removed from the slot).
There was a sliding glass door to the balcony which really kept out the noise.
(in Roatan a very loud band was playing on the pier, when you opened the sliding glass door you could hear every word...when it was closed you could barely hear the bass...it was awesome). There were two chairs and two small tables on the balcony.
The biggest downfall of the room was the bathroom situation. As you enter the room, on either side of you is a shower stall or a toilet area..both are enclosed in frosted glass. While the set up allows for maximum space both in the shower (which was huge) and the toilet it is a little disconcerting to be so open (going to the bathroom in a glass room is a nightmare to me)...There is however a curtain that pulls closed so you are able to change your clothes etc..without being seen...not being heard is another story. Teenagers are not very kind. If however you are open and free with such things, the bathroom set up will be no problem for you. I found it uncomfortable, but not un-doable.
The ship itself was very enjoyable. On the 15th deck you will find the pool area, which although the two pools were not huge, they were big enough because of all the other water things to do. There were at least 5 (that I can recall) hot tubs, water slides, water sprayers etc..plenty. I had read that it was almost impossible to get a seat but we never had a problem and we went up there several times and our cruise was fully booked. There was an especially nice area for sitting in the shade towards the back of the boat (next to the ping pong tables). There was a variety of very large, cushioned rattan seats. It was in the shade with lots of fresh breezes blowing. Lovely. Also on the 15th deck was the Garden Cafe which was their wonderful buffet. We enjoyed many of our meals here, especially breakfast. There was also a teen center, an arcade, an adult only pool area with a great appetizer selection found at Spice H2O.
Deck 14 held the spa/fitness center. We worked out probably 3 times and never had to wait for a machine, all of which were top of the line and it was nice to exercise while you looked out over the ocean. We didn't use the spa (we went very cheap).
Decks 8-13 were only for cabins. But deck 7 starts the fun. We didn't really use much on this deck other than the bowling alley found in the Bliss Lounge. The attendant was really friendly and my DH bowled one of his best games. The shops were what you expect for a ship..and we really didn't waste our money in there...other than my daughter buying a clutch which she "had to have".
Deck 6 had more restaurants, bars, lounges, casino's etc. It was fun to walk through but got a little smoky. The epic theater was on this deck...let me tell you about the entertainment.
We saw the Blue Man Group, the Legends in Concert, Second City (twice) and the magician. I was very impressed with the quality of the entertainment. The Blue Man Group was wonderful and very loud. I could see how older people may not like this show, especially when the strobe lights started, but we loved it. Legends was well done but I was hoping for more of a variety...we only saw Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin and Neil Diamond...one song each would have been enough for me, but others seemed to like it. I do have to say that the performers looked and sounded just like the original artist. Second City was hilarious and the magician was very entertaining. Although there was no designated movie theater...there is a huge (I mean huge...two story)t.v. in the Atrium on deck five. We watched a couple of movies there and even though there was a lot of noise all around us we were still able to hear and enjoy the show. There were usually two per day.
Dining- I have to say that many of the reviews I read on cruisecritic.com kind of scared me about the food choices. But we only ate at one specialty restaurant and we didn't feel deprived in the least. There are five free dining options. Taste, Manhattan, O'Sheehans Neighborhood Bar and Grill, Garden Cafe and Spice H2O. We don't drink alcohol and only my son likes pop so we didn't buy any beverage packages. Like I said...we went cheap.
Taste: Very casual, easy to get a table and serves the same food as the Manhattan room.
Manhattan Room: More formal (meaning that men had to wear at least jeans, no shorts, and they had to wear close toed shoes). Same food as Taste. At both restaurants there were two sides to the menu. On the left is the daily specials and on the right is the every day menu. I would encourage you to eat from the daily specials...we had some great dinners. Although my son loved the calimari on the right side of the menu...in fact one night he ordered a triple order of calimari and they very kindly obliged. The cheesecake is very good.
O'Sheehans: your typical English pub food...nothing to write home about but great when you want something greasy (I loved the mozarella sticks) and they are open 24 hours.
Spice H2O- This was in an adult only area (although the kids had to go through it to get to the basketball courts etc)...their grill opens around 6 pm and they have some really great appetizers...but be prepared to wait. It took us 30 minutes to get some chicken satay, noodles and sweet potato fries (all were well worth the wait).
Garden Cafe- This is the buffet and we were very impressed, both with quality and variety. Several days there were fresh crepes made to order. For breakfast you could get an omelet made to order or eggs as you like them. For all of the meals there was something for everyone.
We only ate at one specialty restaurant Cagney's Steak House. We were impressed with the filet mignon but found the sides and deserts to be no better than those found in the free restaurants. I don't think it was worth the $25 per person cover charge.
As you can see we didn't spend a lot of money on food or drink (I think we bought one round of virgin pina colada's while we watched a show, cost $22.50) But that was much less than a weeks worth of beverage cards for the whole family. I really don't think you have to visit the specialty restaurants to have a good cruise. We love food (we try a new restaurant weekly) and we thoroughly enjoyed our INCLUDED options.
Shore Excursions- We didn't use any of the ships excursions.
Costa Maya we followed the advice of other cruisecritic.com reviewers. When we arrived we took a taxi to the beach area...when we were dropped off we walked almost to the end of the pedestrian area and parked ourselves for free in front of the Pez Quadro restaurant. We ordered a couple of rounds of virgin pina coladas and a couple orders of chips (8 drinks, two chips around $45 including tip). I also had a wonderful hour long massage given by Flor for $20. I was a little embarrassed by the way other travelers were talking to the locals. Instead of bargaining they were demanding prices and quite rude. We went back to the ship around 2:30 and had a late lunch. This is a very poor area of Mexico and could really use our patronage.
Roatan- We got off the boat and went in search of a zip line tour. We used the South Shore Canopy tour group, cost of $235 for four people. This would have been cheaper if we had booked it online before the cruise. It was an absolute blast, and the South shore guys were so nice and funny. Then we went with the other family that we shared the van with to a Resort (not AI) called the Mayan Princess...we paid $10 per person to use their pool/bathrooms/shade/beach. My DH and I snorkeled out to the reef (just don't snorkel in the channel...we got yelled at). We could have paid a boat to take us out to the drop off and we would have probably had better snorkeling but we'll save that for our next trip. We also bought food (chips, chicken fingers and bottled water at the restaurant) It was around $43.
Cozumel- We went to the Chankanaab national park for $19 per person to get in. This was not AI, but it allowed you to use their facilities, there was a sea lion show, and the reef was really nice. The food wasn't stellar, again we just did virgin drinks and chips that held us over until we returned to the ship.
All in all we only spent around $555 on shore. Not too expensive.
The teen Scene- my kids are not really into this scene. But there were definitely lots of options for kids who want them. Funny note: my son did a disappearing act and we were looking all over the boat for him. As my husband was searching (it was about midnight) he overheard one twelve year old boy say to his buddy, "I can't promise you I'll get you a girl...but I'll try really hard". Too funny.
We didn't use any of the children activities but there were certainly a lot of little people on the boat. The only time I found it irritating was at dinner one night...there was a screamer next to us. Other than that it was fine.
The crew and staff were friendly and helpful. We really appreciated the ice cold water and cold wash cloths that were available on the pier when we returned from each excursion. Lovely.
I loved the freestyle of the cruise. The only other cruise I'd been on was Holland America which was much more traditional. I'm very casual so I loved not having to get dressed up all the time. Other people seemed to enjoy getting fancy though and it was fun to see.
I would recommend this ship to anyone and everyone. We had a lovely time. There could be the feeling of being nickle and dimed to death...but we didn't fall for it and had a rather cheap cruise. You don't have to do anything extra and you can still have a wonderful time. I would go on this cruise again any time and probably will after I've tried the Oasis.