To start off, this was the best vacation I've ever had, and it was my first cruise! There was so much to do and see. My friend was not looking forward to sea days, worried that she would be bored. On the contrary, we were trying to find time to rest since we wanted to participate in all the free activities. On the other side of the coin, on our way to our next adventure, I would see people who were perfectly content to just sit in a lounge chair doing nothing, and there were plenty of areas for that.
The entire staff was amazing on the ship. We didn't have many requests but we were never told no, and everyone had a smile when they greeted us. In all honesty, I'm not sure how they maintained it. I work with people everyday, but not all day, and I have trouble maintaining a smile all the time. I was very impressed with everyone. Out of all of the times that I have stayed in a hotel, I have never met the hotel director. On the ship, you can't get away from John, he's everywhere, haha!
The food was pretty good, considering they are cooking 3-5 meals (depending on how much each person eats) for 3,000 people every day. The only thing I was disappointed in were the desserts at the buffet. The majority of the selections were gelatinous, and they weren't the jello choices. I was never disappointed with the food in the MDR, however, my friend was once. The waiter immediately brought her out something different, without fuss. My favorite dish was the corned beef hash at the buffet (also served in the MDR for breakfast). It was my port day go-to food. A big helping of that and I stayed full with plenty of energy!
My favorite activity was karaoke in the pub, even though I don't sing. It was more like a group sing-a-long (be sure to go after 9:30, that's when it really picked up)! I attended the embarkation show but was either too tired or involved in something else all week to attend another one. I heard the game shows were a riot! I did go to the game show on the final night and had a blast.
My biggest tips to first timers:
You don't have to do everything, it's ok if you miss a show or event, just relax!
Take a bottle with you to fill with ice water before leaving the ship, and everyone was happy to do it. Some excursions may provide you with one bottle of water, and then sell you any additional. Having my own water bottle saved me everyday!
Take a lot (and I mean LOT) of singles with you. It is not a requirement to tip on vacation, but trust me, the service is so outstanding you will want to!
The boards were a great help in planning my vacation, but don't let anyone tell you that an activity is a waste of time. Although they may not have enjoyed it, that doesn't mean that you won't.
On board account...I have a very low limit CC which I was able to use to establish my account. My friend had $3 less available on hers and it was rejected. She used her debit card instead. Obviously I don't know how that worked out for her, that's her personal business, but I paid down my account every other day with cash as I went. There was never a line for the purser's desk so it was very easy.
I am 100% addicted to cruising now. It is the most convenient vacation! I have no idea where I would get food, lodging, entertainment, and a variety of locations for $60-ish per night.