Well first I have to start with the fact that this was my first cruise so I really didn't have anything to compare it to. Although I have MANY friends who have cruised MANY times and I did extensive research myself prior to this cruise so I feel I was pretty much prepared. We booked this cruise a year in advance so I had PLENTY of time to research and read the reviews.
Initially the reviews I read were from the first sailings which were from the European area so I really took those reviews with a grain of salt. American ship, American experience I figured.
I have to say we had a GREAT time. There were 26 in our group and all in all we all had fun. There was one person in our group who has cruised 16 other times on many different lines and gave this cruise an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. We had another couple with us and the husband was very unimpressed with the whole experience. Although he did get sick on the trip and he doesn't have small/young children so maybe he is just looking for a whole different ship experience than what we were.
Like anything in life there are pros and cons. If you go through life expecting everything to turn out perfectly you will be disappointed in everything. Here is my take on the whole experience.
FOOD: OK. Not much taste on the lunch or dinner fare or desserts. But if you add salt and pepper it was pretty good. Hamburgers, Pizza, and Deli were exceptional. As was the frozen yogurt/ice cream, especially when they had strawberry. I was a little surprised that you didn't have more food available to you 24/7 but again, this being my first cruise I may not have had realistic expectations in this category. The dining experience was great. The staff was so attentive to my kids that we ate in the dining room every night because my kids begged to. The water tasted INCREDIBLE. I had read some reviews and taken the advice about bringing my own refillable water glass. I was so glad I did as I didn't want to have to keeping making trips to the 10th floor for water. They also had hot chocolate, hot tea, iced tea, lemonade 24/7. This was a nice treat especially when we were ready to retire to our rooms.
Entertainment: GOOD. The entertainment in the dining room was unexpected and pleasurable. The mattre'D in the Southern Lights Dining Room had a voice that I could listen to for hours. We enjoyed most shows in the showtime theatre from Broadway-type shows to magic shows to juggling/comedy. Surprisingly good. I particularly enjoyed the family comedy. Our friends who have traveled on RC said that can be hard to come by-comedy that the entire family can enjoy.The comedians were HILARIOUS. Very top-billing. The big screen on the lido deck with movies playing at night was wonderful with popcorn and blankets. Perfect evening retreat. We had an evening ritual where we would watch a movie and then cap off our night with ice cream from the ice cream machine.
Ports: HEAVENLY! We swam with the dolphins in Cozumel and snorkeled in Grand Cayman and swam with the stingrays. The tender process at Grand Cayman went very smoothly. These are memories my kids aren't likely to forget. Jamaica was OK. We didn't plan anything for this port and felt a little taken aback by the extreme poverty and pushiness of the shop owners although we met some who were dears and so SWEET. The shops that the cruise ship pushed were obvious tourist traps and located very far off. We felt like we wasted a lot time getting to these shops and finding NO real deals. Well now we know what to do next time!
Service: INCREDIBLE!I was very impressed with how attentive everyone was without making it seem like a nuscance. Our room steward Luis was so polite. Our room was always ready for us at bedtime and anytime we left there was never even a hint that we had been in there before! We had an issue where we could smell cigarette smoke in our room. It kept getting stronger and by the last night there were ashes coming from our air vent. We brought the issue to guest services on a Thursday (Sunday would be our last day) and pretty much everyday until we disembarked. They could never determine where the problem was coming from but credited our sail and sign account (which was attached to our credit card) $475. I thought this to be VERY fair since we were actually getting sick from the smoke.
Also we had ocean view room that sleeps 5. We thought the oceanview was a nice touch. There was ample storage space and 4 robes. Nice touch.
CLEANLINESS: OUTSTANDING! I cannot say enough about this. Everywhere we looked there was someone wiping, mopping, sanitizing. I think this to be so incredibly important with so many people contained on a ship. That in itself made any kind of "inconvenience" worth it.
I read somewhere where there was no hot water. I thought that this ship had one temperature, HOT and HOT! LOL! In other words there was NEVER lacking hot water in our cabin!
As some other people mentioned, there were a couple of incidences that made this an eventful first cruise. 1) We had to return to Galveston three hours in for a medical emergency 2) the EXTREME movement of the ship (I truly hope this was because of the time of year) and 3) the possible man overboard situation. Come to find out a couple had gotten drunk and gotten into a fight. The husband threatened to jump overboard and when the wife came back to their room and couldn't find him she thought he had jumped so she reported it as a man overboard. That is why they were confined on the 9th floor to their rooms for the rest of the cruise. But the staff and captain handled all of these situations beautifully.
We were so impressed we are thinking about booking another cruise for the late summer early fall. Maybe it won't be so choppy.
Great value for the money. You are treated like royalty but for a much better price than other CL I have checked.
Try this ship, you won't be disappointed. (unless you are a glass half empty person, in that case you may not find a ship to your liking) Just my 2 cents!