By the time we arrived at the pier at noon, they had been boarding for some time. Embarkation was very organized. Our steward told us that he and his coworker have 30 cabins to service. On embarkation day they turn over those 30 cabins between eight and ten AM.
The ship is in excellent shape cosmetically. The only wear and tear I have seen on the ship is on the upholstery in the Crow's Nest. The fabric on the edges of some of the chairs there is worn.
There is twice as much closet space as we can use.
Contrary to what I have seen posted, the fridge in the cabin is a real fridge. Tiny, but with an even tinier freezer compartment. I had the steward empty it as soon as we arrived so I could put our soft drinks in it. It keeps our soda very cold.
There is a total of one electrical outlet in the cabin. It's at the desk. There is one outlet in the bathroom, embedded in the overhead light. I'm glad I brought a power strip and extension cord.
Our cabin was a "verandah suite" (what HAL calls their balcony cabins). There was no lounge chair on the verandah, just three padded patio chairs. Our steward cheerfully replaced two of the chairs with a lounge chair. There was no sign of rust anywhere. The verandah was very private.
Smoking is allowed on the port side of the Crow's Nest and at the aft pool on the Navigation deck. It is allowed only in a portion of the casino now. The cruise director said that that is new. You must be seated at one of the designated machines or at a gaming table to smoke. You can't just hang around the casino and smoke. Except for an occasional whiff while walking by a smoker's cabin door, I smelled cigarette smoke only in those designated spaces. Even in the Crow's Nest I couldn't smell it on the starboard side. We were very happy about this.
The "ship excursion" was offered three times, on embarkation day only. It was not what I had hoped. The cruise director simply spent about an hour walking us through the various public areas, explaining what they were and letting the staff in each give us a sales pitch.
As someone has posted before, the air conditioning controls have a very long time lag. In addition, it takes a lot of movement of the control to effect a small change in temperature. I brought along a couple of magnetic-mount thermometers that also display relative humidity, just for grins. I stuck one on the wall next to the thermostat and one on the wall of the verandah, outside.
The thermostat is a rotary gismo that has a range from about nine o'clock to five o'clock. Moving it from twelve o'clock to three o'clock eventually raises the temperature in the cabin about two degrees, but it takes 30-60 minutes to do that.
Our cabin was the starboard side. On the eastbound half of the cruise--San Diego to Fort Lauderdale--that put us on the south and west side of the ship most of the time, so we had had lots of direct sunlight hitting the wall of glass. By the time we were in Puerto Vallarta, the temperature in the cabin never fell below 70 degrees and often hit 77. That's with the thermostat set at its lowest setting 24/7.
On the westbound half--Fort Lauderdale to San Diego--our cabin was on the shady side of the trip most of time, which made a real difference.
Thanks to suggestions on a Cruise Critic forum, I pre-ordered a fan, which was delivered to our cabin while we were at lunch on embarkation day. We used it when we were in the cabin in the late afternoon or evening. It was very quiet and made the cabin quite comfortable.
There was a Wi-Fi access point on the ceiling of the hallway between our cabin and the next one. I got a stronger signal (around -55 dBm) with the cabin door open, but even with the door closed (-72 dBm or thereabouts) it was usable. I did all my text entry offline, so can cut and paste into this forum once I get back on. I brought along a high-power Wi-Fi adapter, but it didn't work any better for the nearest access point than the one built into the laptop. It picks up a couple of more distant access points, but their signal is too weak to be usable.
There were four washers and four driers in the laundry on our deck. There were laundries on two other decks as well.
The reading lights at the head of our bed were inadequate. There were lights on the mirror over the headboard, but they cannot be turned on individually, and they go on and off with a couple of ceiling lights. Fortunately, I brought two reading lights and extra batteries with us. They are "Mighty Bright" LED lights and work very well.
At the recommendation of somebody on some cruise forum, I brought an over-the-door shoe holder. I think I paid two or three dollars for it. We hung it on the outside of the bathroom door, and we had LOTS of stuff in it that would otherwise be on counters or in drawers. It doesn't interfere with the bathroom door closing or with the magnetic latch that keeps it open. We also brought a 4" x 11" folding fabric box that sat on the bathroom counter. Got it at a 99 cent store. It has a half dozen compartments and kept all the many things that would normally sit loose on the counter in one compact place.
Also on the recommendation of somebody on Cruise Critic, I brought along a small plastic serving tray to use at the breakfast buffet. I used it to carry my cereal, fruit, milk, juice, coffee, etc. without needing to make several trips back to our table. I got it at a 99 cent store. I also brought a small thermos to carry coffee back to the cabin. I saw other folks using metal travel cups for the same purpose.
I misplaced my $250 beverage card one day. It probably ended up in the trash. I went to the front desk and they simply asked my cabin number and printed a new beverage card, with my balance intact. That was a pleasant surprise!
The library on the ship is REALLY impressive. The other two cruises I have taken were on Celebrity and Princess. The libraries on those ships were a fraction the size of this one, both in terms of the number of books and the public space for reading, doing jigsaw puzzles, etc. Books can be checked out. There are electronic tags on the books to keep people from taking them from the library without checking them out, so the inventory is well maintained. The librarian, David, is very helpful.
As You Wish Dining: I soon learned that once we found a table and waiter that we liked at dinner in the main dining we could simply request that table for that time for the remainder of the cruise. The table we selected seats four, so we occasionally invited couples we met to dine with us. We seldom enjoyed the large tables that we tried.
The ship has an extensive DVD library. Each cabin has a copy of the inventory. You simply call Guest Services with the catalog number of the DVD and your cabin number, and it arrives within a few minutes. It needs to be returned 48 hours later. The remote for our DVD player was missing, but a call to Guest Services immediately got our steward there with a replacement.
There are no headset or audio jacks on the TV in the cabin.
You can order room service from the main dining room menu, as well as from the regular room service menu. They will deliver a copy of the complete dining room menu to your cabin. You can order any time the dining room is open. The front desk staff and the room service waiter both told me that you simply need to allow enough time for them to prepare your meal. We didn't want to dress up for formal night one night, so we ordered at 6:00 PM, and the meals arrived about 30 minutes later.
The gym is quite well equipped and open from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM. There are a few headsets for loan there, but not enough to go around. I happened to have a set of headsets from our CD player with me and used that on the exercise machines each morning. Each of the six treadmills and six Nordic track machines has a TV that lets you view the shipboard stations or plug in your on iPod or USB device for listening.
We had lunch and dinner in the Pinnacle Grill several times. It was wonderful. The main dining room food was fine, but there's a difference between filet mignon cooked to be served to several hundred people at once and a cooked-to-order steak. I wish we had discovered the Pinnacle Grill earlier in the cruise. If you buy wine in the dining room or the Pinnacle Grill they will store the remainder of your bottle for your use another evening in either venue.
Rather than buy drinks in the bars every night, I ordered a bottle of gin and one of bourbon from room service. They were reasonably priced, considering where we were--about $30 for each one liter bottle. Wine in the restaurants was priced about like you would expect in a restaurant--high. Kendall Jackson chardonnay was $49, for example.
We did not attend any shows, so I can't comment on the entertainment other than the guitarist who played in The Mix bar each evening. We enjoyed him.
In short, we REALLY enjoyed the cruise. The staff were terrific, the cabin was just about perfect, there was no shortage of comfortable places to sit and read. Someday, we'll go again.