I had never cruised before but was somewhat curious. For work and vacations, I have visited more than 50 countries. Except for business trips, I mostly traveled alone. I know good food but it is no longer a priority. For a couple of weeks when planning the trip and after booking, I read many postings on Cruise Critic.
I am not in great shape, had a heavy carry-on. It is summer in South Florida and blisteringly hot. Because we arrived by taxi we had to walk from the middle part of the end of the cruise port, all the way along the side to the very front. I was hot angry, and exhausted by the time we got to the check-in entrance, only to be faced with more lines for security. The security agent did not like the half bottle of Lavoris Mouthwash. I commented that we were going on a ship not a plane w/a 3oz. maximum. Through there and then another line where the check-in agent needed more forms and a repetition of much of the information provided online. I am used to flying where you check your bags at the curb, walk into the air conditioned airport, go through security and walk to your gate in air conditioned comfort. So, be prepared if you are leaving from Port everglades, have someone drop you off in a private car, don't have any heavy carry ons or demand a wheelchair.
The ship is stunning. There is art and sculpture everywhere. The staff could not have been friendlier, more polite or solicitous. The cabin w/balcony was nice, the TV great but the assortment of channels left a lot to be desired for a news junkie. At 88 cents a minute and a slow connection, I left my laptop in the bag. The extra charges for many little things were annoying, but other messages on Cruise Critic had prepared me.
Our Internet Travel Agent got us an incredibly good price for the cruise and we prepaid gratuities. I suppose that being a FL resident and over 55 helped.
The pastry chef is a genius. The breads, rolls and deserts throughout the trip were superb. The food was always beautifully presented, it just didn't taste all that good. The tables for 2 or 4 in the MDR were so jammed with chargers, plates, cutlery, glasses, silver sugar bowls, salt & pepper shakers and flowers made the table so crowded there was almost no room for the food and w/ all the waiters, captains, and assistants hovering around, no one ever removed the untouched glassware and tableware. I just felt it was so pretentious but many of the foreign guests seemed to really enjoy it. Again, the room was truly beautiful. Breakfast and Lunch in the MDR was much less of a production, uncrowded, fast service but the tables were still set for a royal wedding and there still was barely room for the food.
The Onion Rings at Johnny Rockets were great and the extra fee was minor. The Spanish Tapas Bar on the garden deck was also great but it is hard to ruin olives and sausages. If your choices were judicious the buffet on Deck 16 was casual, fun and had a great variety of food. It wasn't a buffet like Sunday Brunch at the Hyatt Regency. It was more like a dining facility on a college campus with many food stations. In that restaurant, if you didn't like what you dished out, the waiters would toss it and you could try something else. I was only disappointed that it closed before 9 PM.
The shopping lady (co-ordinator) had to be the most obnoxious and least sincere member of the crew. The Cruise Critic post that suggested going to her presentation so you could avoid her recommendations was spot on. I've lived in Asia and Brazil so I know a little about colored stones and commissions. Her comments about the guarantees, quality workmanship, and the ability to return merchandise is really a joke. Who in their right mind would mail jewelry to Jamaica or Mexico? Hong Kong has the best prices for colored stones in the world. If that is too far, the diamond district in NYC or even the Jewelry Mart in LA has better prices.
Outside of the Disney-like dock they have built in Falmouth, the "real" Jamaica is a few steps away. After 30 years, I had forgotten how truly poor but truly friendly the people are. Cozumel was a joy. The water is crystal clear, the beaches beautiful and the people very friendly. It is not densely populated. The real Mexico is only a couple of blocks up from the shopping street for tourists with their t-shirts. caps, sombreros, serapes, Cuban cigars, International Diamond Brokers, etc. The Mexican versions of Costco (Mega) and Walmart are a kick. It was nice to see sodas for 4 or 5 pesos rather than the $2.50 on the ship and the $3.00 Mexican Marlboro's were cheaper than the numerous duty free spots.
I'm glad I went and was able to experience the floating mall aspects of these new ships. Oh yes, my investment in Dramamine, sea bands and ginger chewing gum was a waste. You could not feel the ship move. Unless you were on out balcony or an open upper deck, there was no sensation that you were even on the water. It seemed that the majority of the passengers had a wonderful vacation. For me, I'm happier in my car or the plane.