Having read other reviews we were a little uncertain of what to expect - luxury ship or holiday camp on sea ? Little had prepared us for our first sight of the ship which was absolutely enormous.
Parking and check in were simple and easy despite a short delay as the system was down and we were on board within an hour of arriving at the terminal, others however did speak of some delays later on.
Once on-board we could have lunch and although the restaurant was a little crowded at that time we were easily seated and finished by 2.00pm. Rooms were available from mid afternoon and we spent a pleasant few hours exploring prior to sailing.
As regards the rooms we had opted for a balcony as my partner smokes and were perfectly happy with our room - it was spacious, spotlessly clean and the bed was extremely comfortable. Throughout our stay the housekeeping staff were excellent, the room always clean and we wanted for nothing. There were tea & coffee making facilities and although they were paper cups this was no big deal as they could easily be disposed of leaving little clutter. On the point of smoking, it was advertised at the time of booking that there were a couple of indoor areas on-board for smoking but in fact by the time we sailed that was reduced to one and quite a few people were a bit miffed as they had booked specifically as they thought they could smoke in certain areas. There were quite a few outside areas though which were easily accessible.
We had opted for the "my time" dining option whereby you are allocated a restaurant but can choose your own time (this option also included pre paid gratuities for staff which was handy). Although the dining room was beautifully decorated with great service we found the choice of food disappointing as there was no option for any plain or un-marinated dishes, although you could look at the following days menu and make special requests. As a result we only used this once, so taking that option at additional cost was really as waste of money for us - if you want the ambience of a formal dining room with waiter service at a time of your choice, then this is probably for you. We ate in the Windjammer cafe, which contrary to other reviews we found perfectly acceptable - there was plenty of choice, fast food like pizza, chips, etc. through to Asian / Indian, vegetarian, pasta and roasted meats. In fact most of what was on the menu from the main dining rooms was also available if you looked carefully. We were quite happy with the selection and quality of the food and both came home a few pounds heavier. Yes it was self service and yes, if you turned up for lunch at 1.30 pm every day it was crowded, but otherwise I could see no fault with it at all.
There was as much or as little to do on-board as you wanted - entertainment ranged from some quite cheesy shows, through to classical music recitals and there was plenty of choices of activities throughout the day depending on your own preference. The spa was pretty pricey however and some of the talks were aimed at getting you to buy expensive creams or have additional treatments. Ice skating was free as were most other activities. There was a massive and well equipped gym which put most leisure centres and clubs to shame. The deck areas again were spotless with plenty of loungers available although it was not really sunbathing weather - I can imagine it may get a little crowded in high season and there were few children on board so it was generally quiet around the pool area, although there was an adults only area.
There were plenty of bars to chose from, most with music of some form or another at various times. The prices of drinks were reasonably comparable to the UK, some a little more such as Baileys at $8 a time. We opted for the all inclusive drinks packages on day 1, which sounds a lot of money, but by the time you have had a few soft drinks throughout the day, a couple of drinks pre dinner, then a few after it soon adds up anyway. However this would be no good if a member of your party does not drink, as you are not allowed to have 1 alcoholic & 1 non alcoholic to avoid "sharing". Watch your account thought (easily done on the TV in your cabin", they tried to charge for drinks in 1 bar but we easily got this taken off the bill later. I can't say that we noticed many people drunk or rowdy, but we were not late night owls.
Shops on board were pretty limited and pricey and each evening they had a "special" sale, again mostly overpriced stuff they seemed to need to shift. Duty free was not really that much cheaper than in some shops in the UK so was not really worth the bother.
Overall the staff were polite, friendly and helpful, there was the occasional misery but you'll get that anywhere.
We did not bother with any of the trips on shore - time at each port was pretty limited and "hop on, hop off" buses were available that took in most key sites at around 15-20 Euros each. Most trips were quite pricey and seemed to spend a lot of time on coaches. Madeira was probably the best stop but was the shortest which was a shame. Having never visited any of the others before we can't complain and sadly it was a little chilly on some days
Overall I would recommend the ship and would happily travel on her again - I would not do the same route again, having done it once now, but would happily go to other destinations on the same ship or any other of Royal Caribbean.