Pre-Cruise Hotel 12/5-6
First time stay at Embassy Suites 17th St. Room had typical ES layout, though bedroom had vanity/sink area as well as bathroom so two people could get ready more easily. Bed was very comfortable. Lots of retail and dining options available within easy walking distance of hotel. Usual ES amenities including evening manager's reception and free breakfast. Tip: Be sure to request upper floor room with view of Port Everglades for ship watching.
Day 1 - Fort Lauderdale
We booked an Aqua Class stateroom - one of the new ones (1114) on Deck 11 that was added during the 2013 dry dock. The new staterooms are located in the back of the ship and are secluded from general traffic flow so they are very quiet. Yet they are conveniently located one deck above the Oceanview Cafe (buffet) & Sunset Bar, so you can quickly pop down for drinks, meals, or bringing back drinks/snacks (like pizza & sushi that we like to do for watching port sailaways from our balcony). Aft elevators & stairs are nearby for easy access to all the lower level dining rooms. The room was bright & airy with all light color woods and lots of mirrors. The room had a curved queen bed configuration, sofa, glass coffee table, desk, and chair. It really felt more like a mini-suite (to compare to Princess) than a balcony stateroom. Plenty of storage areas in the cabinets, closet, and wall niches. The bathroom was truly first class - fog free mirror, glass door shower with a wall of water shower head, and under vanity storage. The hair dryer though is the annoying kind where you have to keep holding in the on button. The cabin even had that new cabin smell!
Once onshore, we started doing the self-guided Old Island Restoration Foundation walking tour (also known as the Pelican Path Tour). Be forewarned - they advise the tour takes 1-2 hours and I think this is grossly underestimated. We got thru point of attraction 37 of 51 after 4 hrs (including 1+ hrs at the Little White House), and decided to stop so we still had time to tour the Hemingway House & Museum, get the obligatory photo at the Southernmost Point marker, plus have lunch and get back to the ship by the 4:45pm deadline. We walked about 7 miles in total, and got a good appreciation for the architecture on the island. Definitely a teaser to come back for a longer visit! And we got to enjoy the legendary Key West sunset with our own sunset cruise - Vision of the Seas left first and we had to turn around 180 degrees to leave port, so Captain Tasos made sure to time it perfectly so we could enjoy the full sunset before we finished sailing away.