This was my first cruise and the mixed reviews had me wondering what to expect. The cruise left on 3/3. My brother and I got a mini-suite on deck 12. Getting onto the ship was fairly quick and easy and our room was ready by about 1:30. One of the first things I noticed was their efforts to keep germs down on the ship. Everyone's hands were sprayed getting onto the ship and there were hand sanitizer dispensers on all elevators. They also had people at entrances to all food lines spraying your hands.
The room was not near as cramped as I expected from the reviews, and I liked the layout with the toilet and shower stall. You could pull a curtain closed to separate that area, so my brother and I being in the same room did not cause any problem. There is tons of storage space in the room. We had a choice of splitting the bed into two or using the couch as a separate bed. We chose to use the couch as the second bed. Our room steward would come in every night for the room turndown and put an extra pad on the couch along with the sheet and comforter and then change it back to a bed the next morning. The room steward (if I remember right his name was Arnoldo) was excellent and was very quick to respond to our requests. (Mostly getting us ice for our buckets of beer....)
We had a meet and greet on ship for the members of our cruise critic roll call (Thanks Tammy for organizing!) and all of the department heads of the ship showed up and met the group. They provided us with their direct numbers and encouraged us to call if we had any questions or problems. All staff on the ship seemed very happy to help at all times and were always friendly.
Food -- We ate at most of the restaurants on the ship including several of the pay-to-eat places. My favorite was the Brazilian steakhouse. Definitely go there hungry. We also ate at Cagney's (pretty good steaks), did the Italian, and the Cirque Dinner show. All were good. If your expectation is that you are going to get the equilivent of a top steakhouse in Chicago you will be disappointed. The steaks were very good, but not what you will get at a $100 a plate place. The other restaurants were all uniformly good. The buffet always had a good variety, if you got something you didn't like you can always go back and find something else. Breakfast was good and I enjoyed the made to order omelets and eggs. For feeding a ship of 4000+ people the quality was very uniform.
Shows -- We saw the Blue Man group and Cirque show. Was amazed at some of the things that they were doing while the ship was significantly rocking back and forth during the show. Also went to the howl at the moon (fun) and the comedy show (also fun). Blues club was decent and Andy the Entertainment guy seemed to be everywhere and there was always something going on.
Casino -- I don't understand the reviews about the smokiness of the casino. Smoking was only allowed if you were at a table and actively gambling and even when it was busy there I really didn't notice the smoke. I had a good run at blackjack and actually ended up ahead so that was a bonus.
St Maarten - We explored on our own in the morning, and then did the Golden Eagle Sailaway. The crew on the Golden Eagle was extremely friendly and continually provided us with beer and rum punch throughout the trip. It was about an hour of sailing, then we anchored off a beautiful beach which you could swim onto or just float on a noodle near the boat. They had a cooler of the beverages on shore and also would bring you a beer or rum punch while you floated on the noodles. Because of the water conditions that day the snorkeling was not very good. This excursion gave a good tour of the coast and relaxing time on the beach. Definitely worth the price.
St Thomas -- We didn't do any official excursions in St Thomas. We took the $4 taxi ride downtown to see some shops and then took the lift up the mountain to Paradise Point. The lift to Paradise Point is walking distance from the ship and was $21 if I remember correctly. You get a great view of the island from above the port and there is a bar/restaurant up there.
Nassau -- We took the Beach Excursion to the Wyndham Resort Casino/Beach because we didn't want to deal with the mobs of people going to Atlantis. The beach there is decent, but nothing too special. One person on our excursion was upset. He was an older gentleman and had a problem keeping up with the walk to the Bus from the ship. In Nassau there is about a 5 minute walk involved for any excursion to get from the ship to the dock so be warned.
Departing the ship was very quick. We did the easy walk-off. We left our room on the ship at about 8:45am and actually made it to our hotel in South Beach close to 9:15am! There was no holdup whatsoever at customs or getting off the ship. I would defiantly recommend the easy walkoff if you are capable of carrying or rolling your own luggage.
Overall this was one of the best vacations I have ever had and would definitely recommend for everyone. If you go on vacation to have a good time this is definitely for you, if you go on vacation looking for things to complain about.........Stay Home!