As first time cruisers, we had nothing to compare this cruise to, and were unsure what exactly to expect.
We booked VF category, which meant we didn't know our cabin until about 2 weeks from departure. Room 5002 was just amazing. Right at the front of the ship, we had a larger than usual room for this category, and extra deck area as well. One window faced out to the front of the ship, next to the foredeck (which was not open to passengers except for two times), as well as our doors to the balcony. It is an accessible cabin, which means that the bathroom area has a "wet shower" and only one handbasin. We used the other shower over the bath so as not to end up with water all over the toilet. A curtain to protect the toilet area would be our only suggestion for the room. We were traveling with a group of 12, and there was plenty of room to entertain all in our room before dinner each night.
Dining in MDR - we enjoyed being seated together at adjoining tables, having booked the 8pm sitting. Service was just wonderful - our table attendant was friendly and developed a good rapport with our group. We did not feel that service was slow at all. Food choices were varied and interesting and most meals enjoyed - the salmon was the only disappointment, and desserts often didn't live up to expectations (but one really doesn't need dessert anyway!)
As a couple, we preferred to eat in the MDR for lunch when in port, it was just less hectic, and more "civilised" and this was an opportunity to mix with others at a table. We also went there for breakfast on several occasions, before trying (and succeeding with) the room service breakfasts.
Our group enjoyed our Pinnacle Grill and Tamarind experiences - nice to be treated to a change of environment and other meal choices. The two of us also booked for "Le Cirque" , but I was disappointed with this. It was very nice, but to be honest I was expecting "Wow!". The service was adequate, but the food was not over the top special. A small niggle - special mention is made in all the literature about the special designer name dishes we would eat from - no... we saw the special plates when we first sat down, but we not served any food on them. They were whisked away quickly and we ate off plain white china.
We pre-booked our excursions from the HAL website and found these all really good. Disembarkation at each port was managed smoothly and the buses all well labelled and quick to get going. We deliberately chose not to do the main tourist spots, but took wine and food type excursions. The guides informed us well about the history of the local area as well as some of the political issues facing their countries, which I found interesting up to a point. The best guides knew when to stop talking and let us reflect and enjoy the scenery - one did not! We felt our excursions gave us good value for money and a good taste of the places visited. Some ports gave us time to spend in the local town as well, which was enjoyed. Monte Carlo was missed due to rough seas in port and the fact we would be tendering to land. We did the Tuscan wine tasting tour from Livorno, visiting a few countryside villages before our wine tasting at a villa, that included a tour of the winery, a variety of wines to try along with antipasto.
Entertainment - I was not impressed with the shows I saw in the "Showroom at Sea" especially the Garage Band one where the musicians were not playing anything, it was all mimed, and really put me off - it made me wonder if the singers were miming too. We did not attend many of these shows, sometimes dropping into the Piano Bar instead which was often crowded, but a nice environment to chill out after dinner.
We liked the space in this ship - there were many places you could go to chill out - the Silk Den was often empty during the day and was nice to enjoy the views from here. We took part in a couple of the Quiz sessions (hard questions though!) and took some time out in the library as well. The pool areas were very busy, and the aft pool was quite exposed to the wind. Taking shelter in the Lido pool had it's hazards too as kids often ignored the rules and had lots of fun jumping into the pool regardless of others.
All in all this was a great introduction to cruising - the positives far outweighed any negatives, but I think we're spoiled forever now as we'll never have that space in a room again.