The ship is excellent in every conceivable way, well laid out with modern equipment fitted to a high standard. The rooms are particularly pleasing with plenty of room to manoeuvre and large very comfortable queen size beds. The kids enjoyed a good sized bunk bed, there is a turn down service each night. The balconies are a good size and a great place to watch the world go by. There is a mini bar which is replenished each day, the cost of drinks being typical of that of a hotel mini bar
The two main restaurants included in the standard package are the Ocean View Cafe (where breakfast is also served) which is a self service buffet dining option and the Grand Eperny which is a full service restaurant with a good and varied menu and full waiter service - the food in both of these restaurants was of a very high standard.
Lunch is usually also at the Ocean View (this restaurant operates 24hrs) however there is also the Mast Cafe which serves burgers, hot dogs, taco's and the like.
There are a number of speciality dining options, all of which have a modest cover charge of $20 - $35 per person all of which are worth the additional expense with the possible exception of the Silk restaurant (Asian Themed), we enjoy Asian food for its aromatic and spicy taste however our experience at this particular restaurant was that the food was bland in the extreme, it was also the one with the poorest service.
We ate at the Italian themed restaurant (Tuscan Grille) a couple of times and were very impressed with both food and service - our only complaint being the portions were too big! (we heard this from other guests too)
Murano is the "French" themed restaurant and really excels in both quality of food and service, the intimate atmosphere in this restaurant also adds to is appeal. - Murano is very popular and needs booked in advance
The staff were excellent, friendly, attentive and professional. The exception to this was the port excursions desk who were surly, rude and lacked basic knowledge to carry out their role.
Overall I could not however fault staff in bars, restaurants or chamber staff
There were numerous activities and events each day all of which were detailed in a daily sheet delivered to your room, these included musicians, big bands, magicians, dancers etc - something for everyone including young people and teens.
In addition to the Solstice theatre where most of the "shows" would take place, there was celebrity central, a cinema, spa, games area, library, casino, glass making demonstrations, a full lawn area for grass bowls and plenty of shops and cafe / ice cream bars
There are numerous bars on board and something to suit everyone, prices for drinks are generally reasonable and in line with what you would find in a typical hotel ($5 for a beer $6 for a glass of wine - bottles of wine started at $25 but typically averaged $35 - specialist wines, ports and whisky's were available but prices for these varied enormously)
There are various drinks packages available which may or may not be effective. We decided not to take a package and just did a pay-as-you-go.
If you were staying on the boat a lot and using the bars during the day, its likely that a package would work for you - typically a "standard" package that would cover beer, wine by the glass and standard spirits (Gin / Vodka etc) would be covered by the $44 per day per person package - this is still of course over $1,000 for 2 people on a 12 day cruise.
You could also buy a "premium" package for $54 which covered more expensive drinks (some single malts and cocktails)
All the excursions were in our view seriously overpriced, there were however plenty to choose from and whilst we felt them expensive they were professionally run and of a high standard.
Value for money:
We reckoned that what you got for your initial booking was good value, it was first class service and not over priced. We did feel however that once on the ship you could easily run up a substantial bill with drinks, ice creams, shuttle busses and very expensive shore trips. We initially paid around £4,000 UK Sterling (say $6000 USD) for a family of four however we paid almost the same again at the end of the trip!
Tips and hints:
• Bring adaptors for both European and American sockets and you can charge all your gadgets simultaneously.
• Book excursions well in advance as these fill up quickly
• Book the open dining option which allows you to dine at any time rather than be restricted to a first or second sitting
• Use the speciality restaurants, there is a cover charge but its not significant in terms of the increased standard of service and food - particularly Murano where we thought both food and service were unsurpassable
• Do the maths in advance to judge whether the drinks packages are likely to work for you (it's a "volume" thing)
• If you plan to use any of the speciality restaurants make sure you book a couple of days in advance
• Avoid the WiFi - it is desperately slow, hangs a lot and is outrageously expensive. I can understand the complexity of providing a wifi service on a boat at sea however they should either employ better technology to improve the service to justify the cost or drop the charge all together - it really is frustrating.
• Soft drinks, water and tea / coffee are available free from the Ocean view restaurant, use this rather than run up a bill for soft drinks from the pool bars etc