Lots of stuff to share from a newbies perspective - hope you find this useful. We didn't have any reference so we went into this vacation during Christmas break with various expectations. Our background - white upper middle class living in CT in nice suburbs. 3 boys, ages 13 16 21 and 1 girlfriend (age 20). Enjoy healthy eating/lifestyle/regular gym goers.
ROOMS/BATHROOMS (9.5 out of 10)
We had adjoining staterooms with balconies. We expected sardine cans. Pleasantly surprised. The layout was awesome - lots of shelves and plenty of closet space. Bathroom was separated into 3 sections - toilet, sink and shower - so if you had to, 2-3 people could use the bathroom area. No plug, except for razor in the bathoom, however there was a vanity area that had a plug and nice blow dryer. I usually use professional quality blow dryers and was happy with the quality of the dryer they supplied. The beds were very comfortable and the linens awesome! The fold out bed could sleep 2 and according to the kids, weren't all the comfortable - but ok. The balcony was good size and had 2 chairs and table - we moved another end table out there for more room. Easily fit 4-5 people of balcony.
Our room steward, Jamie was awesome and did tip him extra at the end of the cruise and room #2 had 3 very messy kids in it! He knew all of our names the moment we arrived to our stateroom!
TAKE NOTE - THE SHOWER GEL SUCKS! BRING YOUR OWN SOAP OR BUY SOAP AT THE SHIP STORE! Our room also only had shampoo - no conditioner - but I brought my own anyway. I heard that suites have conditioner.
Overall the rooms were very very clean. I'd give the overall room, including bathroom a 9.5 out of 10.
BREAKFAST (9.5 out of 10)
This is an interesting topic and not at all what I expected. For breakfast, we took advantage of the "Garden Cafe". A wonderful assortment of everything you could want and then some buffet style. I generally HATE buffets, but this was nice and had a make to order omlet station as well. You can take your breakfast and eat inside or take it out on the deck.
TAKE NOTE: This restaurant is crowded all the time and on our cruise many people cut in line. I found out that there is a mini buffet just past the garden that no one was ever at. So I suggest using that buffet, plus your closer to the outside. The only thing the mini buffet doesn't have is Egg White omlets but they make regular.
TAKE NOTE: If you are a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts coffee lover (or flavored coffee lover) you will be very disappointed! The flavored coffee that is offered is at the Java Cafe (have to pay for it) and it is not SUGAR FREE syrups. Also, you can't get a coffee cup with a LID (aka take out style) unless you BUY a coffee.
We did not try any of the other restaurants for breakfast since our group all ate at different times.
TAKE NOTE: If you eat breakfast late, you might not be happy that they stop serving at 10:30.
LUNCH (7.0 out of 10)
We generally used Garden Cafe and The Great Outdoors for lunch. It was ok - alot of mayo based salads, dried up burgers and hotdogs. The did have ethnic days which featured various foods from other countries. I believe there was also lunchmeat (but since we don't eat lunchmeat, didn't pay much attention). Also, since we don't eat a big lunch, we did not use the main dining rooms for lunch, not did we look at the lunch menus. Fresh fruit was always plentiful all day. One lunch I was looking foward to an Indian Curry Chicken salad and didn't get a single piece of chicken in the serving I took.
TAKE NOTE: We were looking for veggies/chip dip/pretzels/popcorn and other finger type snacks - this was NOT available! You could buy chips or pretzels in the store, but never available free of charge.
DINNER (8.0 out of 10)
Main dining rooms are awesome - the service was awesome! The variety is OK. The steaks are under 1/2" thick (unless you pay a $25 cover at Cagneys). I ordered a rare steak and got it well done at the same dinner my son got a big piece of plastic bag in his pasta. The staff was sooooo apologetic and comped us a dinner/drinks the next night.
Now for the cover charge dining rooms (Cagneys, Mama's and Tango) the food was awesome, but the service not as attentive, nor did they have enough staff. We were looking forward to a nice plate of nachos at the Tex Mex (Tangos) restaurant and got a plate of chips with melted cheese wiz type cheese on it with canned guac and salsa. Someone needs to remake that appetizer! While Cagney's was very good, I felt for a $25 cover, the meat would have been prime or grass fed.
All in all, I felt food took a Quantity over Quality approach. Also, the desserts were not as good as I expected, however the Flan at Tango's was probably the best I ever had. Again, this is my opinion and didn't taste everything on the menu.
BAR/DRINKS (8.0 out of 10)
Wonderful assortment of drinks - however prices for the same drink vary $1-$2 depending where you drink! My drink of the week was a Bellini (Champagne and PeachTree) ran about $9.75 which included a gratuity that they add to your check!
TAKE NOTE: You cannot get FOOD at the bars!!!! (you can get drinks with your food) We love to go to a nice bar and have a light snack or light meal - this is NOT possible on the ship. The most you will get (if you beg) is a bar mix. I heard that Fyzz had popcorn, but never did get any - they kept saying they were making it!
My kids were drinking Red Bull - BRING YOUR OWN! they were $6.00!
CASINO/SHOPPING (9.0 out of 10)
Played BlackJack for the first time! Dealers were fast and often hit blackjack - however they took the time to explain and offered advice. Often had to wait for a seat at the $10 table. I think there was a 1-$15, 2-$10 and 1-$15 table. Also, plenty of roulette and poker tables as well as a nice variety of slots (1 cent to $1). I am not a gambler but enjoyed my time in the casino and went for fun and not to win - I think we dropped $500 there.
Enjoyed the daily vendors on the main deck as well as the stores. The Swarvski jewelry was awesome - great prices on any perfurm - great assortment of quality cosmetics. Clothing is nice but all at full retail prices. I think the liquor was decent prices (didn't buy any) and of course the cigs do not have any tax - so for those smokers, stock up what you are allowed. Someone did mention that minimum cig purchase was 1 carton, you could not buy 1 pack.
GYM/SPA (9.0 out of 10)
We used the gym and found it sparse (we are gym rats). For the average exerciser, its probably sufficient - altho I did have to wait for an elliptical machine. There is an added fee for classes. The spa services are assorted. I took advantage of a sea day and had a hot stone massage - i didn't want it to end! However I was annoyed at the cross selling of other products at the end of a relaxing session.
PORTS (7 out of 10)
TAKE NOTE: NEVER EVER GO TO DISNEY WHEN YOU DOCK IN PORT CANAVERAL. We felt this was a complete waste of money. By the time you get to the park (approx 2ish) and finally get on a couple of rides and see 1-2 attractions, we needed to start heading back around 6 to the transfer bus to get the main bus by 7:15. Granted we went on 12/26 (one of the busiest days), but honestly, 4.5 hours isn't enough time to enjoy the park (and don't even think of trying to get in 2 parks). Once we got back to the ship, we didn't have time to get to Ron Jon's or to see Coco Beach at all. So my suggestion, lay low on this day and go shopping or take as a beach day. In my opinion, this port should be skipped and add an additional day in Nassau!
Great Stirrup Cay (9 out of 10)
Beautiful island (still under construction but not intrusive to the sceneary) The tender process/boats was very smooth. Did feel a little squished on the beach - all the chairs were packed in 1 inch apart - i was annoyed a bit at the crowd. Lunch was a mad house of pushing shoving people acting like this was the only bit of food available for a week. Quite disgusting IMO. Food at the island was comparable to the Lunch review above. Entertainment on the beach was fun and we did an awesome parasil adventure.
Nassau (9 out of 10)
We went to Paradise Island. Beautiful resort (may go back on vacation next year). Tour guide was great. The only annoyance was the island folk trying to sell things to you on the beach (jewelry, water sports etc) they don't go away! I wish Atlantis resort would do something about them. We wished we had more time to explore Nassau itself. This would be a great 2 day port!!! HINT HINT!
SHIP ENTERTAINMENT (9.5 out of 10)
We didn't do alot on on board entertainment - while they certainly offered alot. We watched the hypnosis show, cirque de bijou and did a game of bingo and art auction. We attempted White Hot Party, but got so entranced in Black Jack we never made it! Bingo was expensive (but not being a bingo player not sure if it was comparable to normal prices or not). We bought a $89 package (9 changes per game x 4 games) plus 2 kids packs of 1 chance per game, this also included some instant win tickets.
Not issues here - I felt it was very smooth and very quick!
Parking in the port was easy and there are plenty of porters to assist (of course you need to tip them)
OVERALL (9.0 out of 10)
IMHO and others on the ship - the term "nickel and dime" came up more than once. Between the $12 pp pd charge, plus the add on gratuity to every purchase, plus the push of instant ticket sales and cover charge restaurants, the cost of cruise doesn't stop once your board the ship. while I am sure many experienced cruisers have it figured out, we spent more than we had planned. That with the time in port being so short, we are not sold on cruising, but will certainly give it another shot (probably the Bermuda cruise where you stay in port for 2+ days)