This was me and my girlfriend's first cruise and we were a bit apprehensive about it, as normally we travel independently. In summary it was good though.
Booked cruise online using cruisedirect as enabled us to book at US prices, rather than UK prices which were significantly more expensive. Also enabled us to choose exact cabin which the UK website didn't allow.
Flights to San Juan booked with American Airlines, from London Heathrow, via New York on way in, and via Miami out. They allowed free stop-overs so we spent a couple of nights in both those cities which was good and made the holiday about 2 weeks in duration.
We arrived in San Juan a day early and stayed in the Casa Blanca, this hotel is a couple of blocks from pier 4 (where Victory leaves from) and close to sightseeing and nightlife possibilities. Only issue with hotel was that on a Saturday night the noise from parties is extreme, we got in at 3am, but noise could be heard in our room til 6am ish. We went to a salsa bar about 3 mins from hotel, and also Senor Frogs which was much more touristy, but free entry and fun.
Sightseeing in San Juan was made easy by a map provided by tourist office, two nice forts ($5 for entry to both valid 7 days). We saw one the first day and one the Sunday morning. Food in San Juan was a bit pricey and be aware that it is like the States in that they add tax and service of about 15%!!! So the price you see is definitely not the price you pay. This takes some getting used to, if like us you are not from the States.
We bought a bottle of sidre each (like cheap champagne cross cider for less than 2 dollars) and 2 6 packs of coke (2 dollars for 6) from a local supermarket to take on the boat.
Embarked the ship at about 3pm, check in etc was pretty speedy, but long wait to actually physically board ship, with queue outside in the heat for about an hour. This was not a good start and had us worried!
Other issue was that when we gave our big suitcase to porters they said that we didn't need to put the alcohol in our hand luggage, and that it could remain in the suitcase. We asked a few more people as I had read online that it must go in hand luggage, but they all said that it was fine. They lied! When suitcase was delivered outside room we found a note in it saying that our two bottles had been removed. Frustrating!
Buffet available first day for lunch, and evening meal was at any time. Ship didn't seem as big as I thought it would, but still plenty of space. Serenity area was nice, music at main pool was very loud and we never spent time here, we preferred the pool at the back of the boat. Jacuzzis were nice and warm, slide fun and not many queues until the last couple of days for some reason.
Food was very good, we had breakfast buffet each morning (except day at sea) at about 7.45am, queues for main buffet were pretty large, and I preferred to use the express station, or the one by the pool at the rear of boat which had omellette station and only marginally less food choice.
We never had lunch on the ship as we were in the ports, so cannot comment.
When we returned from sightseeing at about 4-5pm, we could eat pizza or burger and chips type food, which was adequate. There was also an internationally themed mini buffet near the main pool, which changed selection each day and was open at this time. Queues quite big for this, but not massive, and moved quickly.
Ice cream always available, and there was no need for us to bring soft drinks on board as the free water, lemonade and iced tea were sufficient (available from lido deck). Lemonade is not fizzy, but more like traditional style lemonade. It was very strong so I mixed it 50:50 with water and it was much nicer (& healthier), also the tea is unsweetened, but when mixed with a bit of lemonade you end up with something resembling Nestea!
Best value beer on board was the Fosters at about 7 dollars for 750ml! That is one big can of beer! 15% service is added to all drink orders. We only drank on the night before the day at sea, and this was the only money we spent on ship.
Entertainment was worse than Butlins in my opinion, and main shows were not on at convenient times for us as we tend to finish eating at 10pm and do not want to see a show before dinner. From the ones we saw, it was no great loss that we missed most!
Comedians good, but they should put them in a bigger venue as it was packed. Karaoke to a band was enjoyable, many bars on board with different vibes, also normally some kind of silliness going on in casino area with Karl and the team, the vibe was really good. Club Arctic often didn't play music that we knew, which reduced on fun in this venue. There is so much American music known internationally that I don't know why they played these obscure tracks rather than more commercial crowd pleasers. Most bars etc on deck 5. The sports bar only played American sports, so if you want to keep up with the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A etc you will have to use internet! This si a shame as quite a few Europeans/South American on board, but most stuff is totally geared for Americans. However most of the staff are from Peru,Eastern Europe, India, Indonesia etc so like talking about (international) football or cricket!
Staff in general are really good, although guest services were not, and we found them to be very unhelpful. Rebecca Bruton was particularly bad. Our cabin steward Luis from Peru was very helpful and we enjoyed the free gifts of anti-snoring strips which apparently I need to buy from now on (so the girlf says)!! Towel animals and chocolates welcomed us when we got back each evening and the room was made again.
There is a latin band on deck 4 each night which was normally pretty busy if you like salsa etc.
Each evening we used my time dining at formal dining area, this worked well, we tended to get there at about 8 to 8.30 and were sitted within 15 mins after being given the pager (as we requested table for 2, if we wanted to sit on shared table we could have eaten immediately). Dining staff song and dance was amusing and didn't create a gap in service for us. Menu was large, although some portion sizes were not! Never fear, you can order multiple dishes! It was fun to try foods we wouldn't normally eat on holiday.
Biggest problem was the room, it was big and clean, but due to location every morning we would hear a LOT of noise for about 30 minutes as the ship docked. This would be about an hour before ship is due in port, so on days where it was due at 8am this was not a big deal as we were getting up at this time, but at days the ship arrived at 7 it was very irritating. Like a washing machine in the room!
Day at sea was restful (although I would have liked to see Dominica!) We got up late (first announcements aren't until about 11am) had room service lunch and then back to bed! Room service food was absolutely fine, and a good range of drinks including juices for free. We tipped $1 each time we used them. Food arrived in about 30 mins.
We took our own bags off the ship at end of cruise, as we are not US citizens we could not use the self disenbark option really early in day, but we just left the ship with our bags when we were ready, we left at about 9am and it was all pretty quick, bit of a queue for US customs of about 30 minutes, but all done by 10am.
We then took ferry from pier 2 ($1 return) and shared taxi ($3 each way) to see Bacardi tour (free). This was a great way to spend the morning.
Stayed at hotel Hosteria del Mar on Sunday night, in Ocean Park right on the beach. Was horrible and cannot recommend it.
Ports reviewed separately. So we enjoyed the cruise, except the noise in mornings! Also we have issues with the ethical situation with cruises and how they treat the staff. They should have more time in port to really give us time to see the culture etc, rather than getting us back on board to spend money on the ship. 1 hour later each day would be really beneficial. They waste so much fuel floating around taking hours and hours to get to a destination which could be done in a fraction of the time. It is a shame for those that live and work on the islands.