I'm glad we went on the cruise, but we'll probably never cruise again. I just don't see the value in it. It was an experience, to be sure, but by the time you get done you can easily add up lots of money tacked on to the price tag.
If I were to rate thise cruise as more objective, the marks would be lower. But I can't be completely objective because of my situational circumstances for even going on the cruise in the firts place. My wife is not a US citizen. We were married in her country in November, 2011. Having no vacation time left, I had to leave the Sunday after the wedding. She could not come with me while waiting for the green card. It's more complicated than that to explain, but ultimately we didn't want to risk any problems with her green card application, so we had to wait until January, at least, to see each other again. We decided on the cruise in the third week of January for price reasons.
So, the reason I can't be 100% objective is, after 11 weeks of only seeing my wife on "Vsee" (like "Skype", but better connection), I could have been on the Italian disaster cruise and still given decent marks, because I am just happy to hold my wife in my arms again!
That aside, I was glad we cruised. There wasn't anything horrible. In fact, we have many memories to enjoy. The motion of the ship did affect her though. And, yes, it is noticeable.
So, I guess I will list the specs of my cruise and then the pros and cons.
I had an outer cabin on deck six at the front of the ship. It was a corner cabin, very roomy. Lots of closet space. Bathroom was large, relatively speaking. I paid a little extra for this cabin, but in my opinion worth every penny after seeing other cabins walking through the hallways.
The cleaning staff/stewards. They cleaned and prepped the room twice a day. It was almost annoying, but you'd certainly feel guilty for being annoyed, because they do a great job and are very thorough and work their hearts out. Hotels should be so clean and have such friendly cleaning service staff. They'd address you by name if they saw you anywhere in the ship. Noel was our main steward, though he disappeared the last couple days. It was a pity, because we wanted to leave him an extra tip in person and say good-bye.
The wait staff. At the buffet, the wait staff were very efficient, cleaning tables, taking trays and plates away, stocking missing food items. Many restaurants could take lessons. They were generally friendly or at least smiling. The sit down dinner staff was phenomenal. Edi, was our main server. He was fantastic!! His recommendations were always spot on for us. There was a young Asian woman (or Asian American woman) assiting him with water, bread, dishes, etc., I didn't get her name though. She too was fantastic. There was a third short haired Asian (or Asian American) woman taking drink orders. She was pretty good, but we didn't really order drinks, but if we did, we only saw her once before the meal was over. Anyhow, these people and the cleaning staff, in my opinion, are the hardest working people on the ship, and they always had a smile on their face, and made you feel welcome and pampered. Seriously, if I were a business owner or manager, I would try and hire several of these workers at a good wage, no matter what my business was...because hard, dedicated, energetic workers like that aren't so common and could only improve my business with the proper training. They really make an impression.
While on that subject of impressions of the workers...I was amazed by the multitude of languages spoken by staff of all levels. English was everywhere. Spanish was everywhere. But many also spoke the sister languages French and Italian or German, Polish and Russian. And many spoke Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, and Japanese to name a few more.
Things to do? There are plenty of things to do. Some of it is corny, so of it is not. The comedy acts were really good and for us, our main attraction. The on-deck cinema is a nice touch, though we didn't really watch it. The pools and hot tubs were pretty nice, though we didn't really use them either. Just being on a cruise ship is a nice experience...open water, the rocking of the boat (if that doesn't make you nauseous), the breeze blowing on you. It's something I won't forget.
The sit down dinners were quite tasty, and I really enjoyed the changes to the menu from one night to the next, while having an "every day" menu to enjoy as well. The "Didja" item of the day was pretty cool too. It's an item described as "Did you ever...try?" And it would be something a little more unusual, not so common. It's a nice way to try something new. I tried half of them before, but was happy to try again. Escargot, Alligator (was like a crab cake, but with alligator), Shark and Langoustine (again, like a crab cake), Frog legs...my first exposure...pretty good, but I'd never order again. Like juicier chicken, but smaller than chicken wings...a lot of work with little reward in my opinion. There was something else I tried, but I can't remember what it was.
Seeing many island countries is a nice way to get a taste of which island you may want to return to some day.
The port prices for drinks were great. (Ours were St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten) $2 bottles of beer! That's great even where I am from (a low cost of living city)!
I reviewed each port in a different area of this survey, but in general, favorite to least favorite, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia. Maybe the hotel/resort areas would change my mind, but from a port perspective and their offerings/prices in the port, that is how I would rate them. With St. Kitts and St. Maarten far and away much nicer ports than the rest.
24 hour Room service (food only) is included...that is actually impressive, even if the menu is limited.
The sandwich place is pretty good, but my wife is very anti-sandwich for some reason, and gives me a hard time whenever I eat them.
Cruise Cons: (And I preface this saying I knew alcohol was extra going in)
After spending hundreds to get there, and thousands to get on board, you still have to pay for almost everything outside of food! You really have to watch yourself, because using your room key as a credit card, especially if you like to gamble, can make for a miserable homecoming and a scary bill. You pay for all drinks, except "tap" water, orange drink (not real juice), apple drink, coffee, and decaf in the mornings, and "tap" water, lemonade, unsweetened iced tea, coffee, and decaf in the afternoons/evenings. The soft drinks part really annoyed me, as I expected that to be included. And you don't just pay a little, you pay a LOT!!! Like elite Manhattan / Boston club prices! Martini type drinks were the only things that I saw that were inline with the priciest places in my city. $6 for a bottle of beer when I can get them in port for $2...just seems stupid. Why not mark them at $3 and have more sales? But $2 for a 12 oz. can of pop (soda) is highway robbery in my opinion. You can buy unlimited soft drinks for $42 per person, but...one, you shouldn't have to. Two, I would be hard pressed to drink THAT much Diet Coke, and I drink a LOT of Diet Coke in a normal work week. At their prices that is 3 cans a day. But at my work's price of $.75 a can, that's 8 cans a day!
Buffet times. Watch your buffet times, because they are short and non-overlapping. All-inclusives generally have much longer open buffets, and if breakfast is closed, lunch is open. Not here. It's hours between buffet seatings. You can go to the 24 hour pizza shop, 24 hour burger place, 24 hour ice cream station, or 24 hour room service menu. So, it's not so bad, but when you are hungry and are rushing your port vistis to make the buffets...it's incredibly annoying. So we often ended up spending more money at the ports and eating there.
Food offerings. I don't know what I expected or why, but both my wife and I were disappointed. We had it in our heads, maybe from television and movies, that there would be crab legs, shrimp, lobster, etc. available. But instead, there were bland tasteless meats / fish smothered in some gravy to try and add flavor. Nothing was hot. Maybe that's a safety thing due to the "sue-happy" freaks that do not know that something that is steaming is hot, so everything is kept luke-warm at best. But by the time you get to your seat, or especially after you find a working lemonade dispenser, it's cold.
The 24 burger? Blech!! I'm not sure it was actually beef, to be honest. The grill is right there, and often no line. But you get a cool already cooked burger in a tin pan thrown on the grill for 30 seconds reheat with a slice of cheese that doesn't even melt a little in those 30 seconds. Why wouldn't they cook it fresh? Or at least wait until the cheese melts? I'd rather have it nuked in the microwave than a lame attempt to appease my senses by throwing it on a low heat grill for 30 seconds, and then give me a scoop of premade cold fries.
The 24 hour pizza? I LOVE pizza, and even gas station pizza often does not sway me in a pinch. But, much like the burger experience...No line...I thought, "wow, I'll get a nice hot freshly made pizza. Even if it is cheap, hot pizza is good." Nope!!! Cluke warm, pre-made pizza. Nonetheless, I can still describe the quality...much like that you might find at a movie theater or gas station that has been sitting a while under a warm (not hot) heat lamp. Thicker bread, a splash of sauce, and cheese that forms a near plastic shell when melted but not hot.
Outside of the sit down dinner, the food was pretty much OK at best...but rarely was it at best (except deli sandwiches).
We always felt rushed and not rested. To a degree it is our fault, but if you sleep in a little, take your time eating breakfast, and get off the boat, you find you really have little time to enjoy the island. You are always thinking, "We have to be back by 2:45 for the buffet to eat lunch" or "back by 4:30 before the ship leaves."
Getting on and off the ship, they do their best and often it is a good job, but it's still a hassle compared to just being at a resort/hotel. Especially if you get off the boat and then you realize you left something in the room.
The CONSTANT peddling of goods! OMG! It is like living in a 24 hour infomercial! "Well folks, there are lawts and lawts of things going on this evening, and please remember to visit the fun shops ion deck 5. We have jewelry at 40% off of US retail prices! Yes! That's right FORTY percent off!" And I'm just thinking to myself, "Big deal...if you shop a little in the states, you get a lot more off retail prices than that!" It was a constant push on jewlery. In fact, every time they talked about shopping at the ports...they ONLY meant jewelry. Everything is about Jewelry and Diamonds International. They must have a prtnership or something.
The constant pushing of their shore excursions. I understand this, but, their prices were very expensive. $90 per person to take a 3 hour driving tour? or worse, a walking tour? Heck I'd pay less than half that to a decent cabbie for the BOTH of us including tip. Or go to the beach and haggle for a smaller catamaran cruise, much more personal, better drinks or at least more drinks with less wait time. Snorkeling with 100 other people flopping around you is no fun. We did do the kayaking in St. Kitts though...It was fun, no regrets!
Tips included. Uggh! This is a double edged sword. I'm not the type of person to say I want a refund on this, or a partial, because service was not so good, etc. Unless it was absolutely awful in the worst way. All-inclusives do this too, and I understand why. One, it is attractive to not have to bring extra for tipping. However, often times the service isn't so nice unless you still tip on top of your so called "all inclusive." I'm speaking generally, and not to this particular cruise. Our service was awesome and we rewarded a few select individuals at the end of the week, though I can only imagine what the service would have been like if we tipped extra at the beginning. Anyhow, my biggest complaint with "tips included" isn't so much my lack of control based on level of service...my biggest complaint is more a question...How do you know that money actually gets to the people? When I have 18% gratuity included, are they really getting the extra $18 for every $100 spent? You can't ask them, because they'll obviously say "no". But I do know of normal restaurants that force wait staff to turn in their tips and collect some of it for themselves as a "team effort". Or Some split tips...there's a whole host of issues that can arise. The main being, is my guy/gal actually getting his/her full 18%? My experience in the Dominican Republic tells me otherwise...You offer them a couple 20 dollar bills in the beginning of the trip, and they'll treat you like a king or queen for the rest of the week.
In summary, again, I am glad we went on the cruise for the experience of being on one. Generally speaking, without considering that this was essentially our honeymoon after 11 weeks separation, we had a good time. Yes, much was annoying. Yes, the layouts of the buffets were not conducive to a hot or even warm meal by the time you sat, and ultimately you will always choose the drink station that needs service. But we managed to enjoy ourselves, thanks in part to a great staff. That said, I'll probably never go again. To me it's just not worth it. All-inclusives (w/ drinks) are far better deals if you book at the right times for high season vacations, or especially for not so peak demand times. I think the food was far better at the all-inclusives I've been to, including the one in the Dominican that made me quite ill for my flight home. (Think twice about Dominican-Japanese style restaurants!)