My husband won this cruise and all we had to do was to pay port charges and tax, etc. He was a first time cruiser and I had cruised four times previously. We only had a few choices and elected to leave from New Orleans so that we could experience the city. I was a little hesitating due to the security issues in Mexico and reading some of the reviews. I was pleasantly surprised as the ship and crew were excellent.
We booked our own air and hotel and it was really easy to get to the port. We stayed one night at Marriott and cab fare was just $15 but it was so close to hotels that when we disembarked we walked with our luggage to the Harrah's hotel and did not need transportation.
The crew was friendly and accommodating. Our room was clean and spacious for two. I brought extra hangers and clothes pins which came in handy and highly recommend. The bathroom was adequate. While a balcony or window would have been nice, we did not need it. We bought a honeymoon package $135 (not recommended). It came with cheap champagne and chocolate dipped strawberries in room, dinner at French restaurant with wine, select picture and petit fours. In future, I would just buy as I go for better values.
Back 15 years ago, I did not pay for much when I cruised and felt that I was nickel and dimed for anything outside the dining room. The drink packages are expensive unless you drink a lot of soda not worth it. I brought my own bottle water which was good because a case will cost you $80+ on the ship. Cocktails were pricey and we were going to bring our own wine and pay the $15 corkage fee but when we got to New Orleans we did not find good choices. Next time, I will pack my own from California and bring on plane. Some people did get there alcohol through security without detection but others got caught. We enjoyed bingo but the starting packages were $30 and up so we only participated a few days. I did do the Deal or No Deal game once and won $40. Cost me $20 to play. The casino was loose on day one but then tightened up and I left my allotment behind. We did get free drinks though while playing so it was not a total waste.
The buffet was standard but the lunch and dinner in both dining rooms were great. There is always something new on menu and we did not go hungry. The key lime pie was the best I ever had and was my favorite. The first night they served an entree with lobster which was very good as well but I longed for more and they never served the lobster again. We only dined at one specialty restaurant. It was the French restaurant. The food was good and it was special. I had the escargot and filet. I was not impressed with the free style dining though. While the cost was minimal, they charged more for extra entrees and considering they were charging in the first place I felt this was a rip-off. For people with unlimited funds or the finicky eater I am sure it is a value.
Due to the weather, we were not able to go to Costa Maya. Although I the really did not care for the reviews, I did want to explore so I was a little disappointed. If you booked a shore excursion through the cruise ship you were reimbursed but I wonder if the people that booked on their own were. I would recommend checking this out to avoid lost monies if your port is cancelled. Both excursions that I did through the cruise ship were great and well worth the extra.
We went to Belize the next day and were disappointed that it was elections and considered a holiday. This shut down most of the city and since we were going to explore on our own and then hit the beach, we were discouraged. I felt the cruise line should have anticipated this and changed the ports. We found a last minute snorkel trip and had an hour to snorkel. The snorkeling was good but due to the water surge we were not able to get out to the reef and really see the sea life. Afterward we were to spend two hours at a private island/beach but when we got there, the staff was told to close down due to elections. They served us two beers before bringing us back to port. The resort was nice and I felt we missed out.
Next we stopped at Rotan Islands and did the Dolphin Encounter through the cruise ship. I was a little apprehensive, so it was a meet and greet and if we ever get another opportunity we will go for the swim. We had the time of our lives though and I was really impressed and how well the dolphins were well taken care of and kept in their natural environment.
The port itself was not much to get excited about and what little time we spend afterwards was more than enough. I recommend booking an excursion and getting away from it.
Since I scuba dive and my husband does not, I booked a Discover Scuba with the cruise ship for Cozumel. He had the best experience and I highly recommend this excursion. We were no more than 25 feet deep and there was plenty to explore. The dive shop was equipped with good equipment and staff was professionally trained. After the dive we had time to go back to ship, change, have lunch and go out on town. Plenty of shopping restaurants and bars. Nice port if you do not want to do an excursion.
I will say I did not like tendering and prefer to dock. The tendering takes time and I felt that I had to cut things short worrying we might miss our boat. I In the future, I will look for cruises that pull in and do not tender.
All and all, it was a great ship and would recommend.