Introduction. We are your average family, working guy, housewife and two children aged 14 and 11. We enjoy trips in this country and love our trips to Florida (Disney). I have never been on a cruise ship before, but spent 8 years in the merchant navy, so have a fair idea of life at sea. We were very apprehensive about cruising, would we fit in?, would it be too snobby? etc....After reading some of the reviews on here about it being "Butlins at sea" made us even more nervous, (even though I went to Butlins on holiday as a kid, twice, and loved it). All I will say straight away is DONT WORRY, some people have very very very high expectations (far too high). If Butlins was like this then I will be booking to go there every year, because its Fantastic.(the cruise not Butlins)
Embarkation. You drive up, they take your luggage, you park your car, book in and get on the ship. How easy do you want it to be. From getting rid of the luggage to stepping on board was approx 1 hour and that was waiting for the ship to be ready for us.
The Ship. Is jaw droppingly good. Its immaculately clean and the facilities are first class. Everywhere you go staff are cleaning the ship, a speck of dust would not dare to land on anything here. That goes for every public room I went into. I lost count of the amount of times I went to the toilets and found someone cleaning them. The bars are excellent (and I tried a few). All the public areas, pools etc are also well maintained, but when you have 4000 passengers on board there are bound to be times when it may get a bit messy, but that doesn't last long.
Service. Is first class, every member of staff has a smile and a word to say to you, bar staff are very helpful and get to know your names very quickly as well as your tipple. Your stateroom staff work tirelessly and the cabins are spotless. nothing is too much trouble and all problems are dealt with very quickly. The same can be said for your waiter/ess they always have a smile, are very helpful and very polite.
Dining. We read a lot of reports criticising the Windjammer. This has an enormous amount of people going through, so at times is very canteenish, however, the food is fantastic, loads to choose from and it is all very good quality. We never had any complaints about the food. We never had any problems getting a table anytime but I would think if you were in a large party (more than 8) then you may have difficulty sitting together at busy times. The main dining rooms were first class, very clean, well organised and the service was brilliant. The food was fantastic, not the greatest variety but the quality was superb.
Entertainment. We only went to two shows in the main theatre and two ice shows. (they are not our thing) They were however fantastic, especially the ice shows, not to be missed. Each bar has entertainment and theses are very good, We stayed at the Schooner bar most nights watching a great pianist/singer called Kory Simon. (I would strongly recommend popping in and spending an hour or so listening to him). The other bars also had some great entertainment in them (from jazz to easy listening). Don't miss the street parties/parades along the Royal promenade, they are brilliant (you have to remind yourself that you are on a ship).
Children's Clubs. My 14 year old had a ball, he made so many friends and had lots of organised events to go to (basketball, football, air hockey, table football comps and a number of scavenger hunts). We never saw him for most of the time, they have two great locations to hang out and he loved it
My 11 year old was too old for her club, they concentrated on the lower ages so stayed inside most of the time, colouring or playing games. This is my only gripe about this cruise, they did not cater for the top end ages in this group so most of the kids we spoke to around the same age were bored so did not take part in the activities. My daughter did however love the flow rider and spent most of her time on that (you have to try it, it a hoot).
Disembarkation. Again, unfortunately, it was so easy. You leave your bags outside the cabins the night before. Have breakfast (if you want) and then just walk off the ship. Your luggage is waiting for you in a large warehouse and then its off to find your car again. Check your online bill before you go to bed that night to see your final bill, I queried one item on it by telephone and they sorted it in seconds. The queues for guest relation in the morning were horrendous.
SUMMARY. I would recommend anyone to take this cruise on this ship. Will I be coming back?...Oh Yes.
Try everything, eat what you want and enjoy the fantastic surroundings and the hospitality of all crew.
My kids would rather go on this ship again than go to Disney World and I don't blame them. Shore excursions are a bit pricey. Shuttle buses are expensive, do your homework as local travel is a lot cheaper.