Having booked with the same travel agent for several years she knows my wife's and I's preferences for luxurious holidays, listening to peoples past experiences and looking for a new type of luxurious holiday we decided to try a cruise for the first time. We are youngish couple (early 30s) and like a good time but also enjoy relaxing things that were promised to us before we booked and comments made included: "being treated like royalty" "outstanding services" "would never know you were on a boat" "amazing experience". We were obviously very excited about trying a new holiday and we were sailing from Southampton around the Med the cruise was for 14 nights. The first day was docked at Southampton was excellent we had been on the ship in good time and the whole security etc and getting on board was a pleasant enough experience no better or worse than a good airport. The sun had come out so it was time to get the shorts on that we had luckily packed in our hand luggage first time cruisers your big case gets taken away and you may not se it for several hours later so pack some essentials into hand luggage. Drinks in hand we were happy to set sail.
We explored the ship which is as grand and luxurious looking as the photos allude to and really quite impressive we had been told the cruise ship is like a floating city... whilst I wouldn't say city a really really big outlet or mall might be a more appropriate description we were certainly impressed.
We eventually made our way to our cabin which was on Deck 8 at the rear side of the boat. The room was sufficient not massive by any stretch of the imagination but similar to a small hotel room and definitely not the smallest room I've ever stayed in, it had all the essentials a double bed, bathroom with shower, wardrobe space, air con, beside tables, TV, vanity area and a sofa. As ours was in inside room we had no window or natural light at all which was good in one way as it meant when the lights are out you are in total darkness which was great for daytime napping. The cabin itself was very clean and sheets and towels were all changed daily. Another tip for first time cruisers who are UK based the plug sockets are both European 2 pin and 2 pin American style plugs.
At first we were quite impressed with the amount of things to see and do on the ship there is Flo Rida surf and boogie board, an ice rink, swimming pools, activities such as rock climbing, mini golf, and arcade (you have to pay for) there's several bars, a casino, there are activities such as quizzes, dance fit classes a gym, library etc. however most of the things we wanted to try became very busy and the queues in the sun were just too much. That said if you are willing to wait the experiences would be worthwhile. Sticking with entertainment - there were several shows in the evening and at night time these ranged from artistic expression, music and singing, hypnotist, magic, dance and comedians, some were very good such as the hypnotist and some were very amateur, but it was great to have something to see every night and the variety was outstanding.
All of the ports and excursions were top class the sights we saw and places we visited were all amazing transport from the boat to land was all pre arranged and sometimes there was free transport whilst other days you will have to spend up to 15Euro to avail of the ships shuttle services but most were free or in and around the 5E mark. We didn't book any excursions through the ship itself as these were all quite expensive and you could get similar tours of people at the ports for a fraction of the price whilst another couple we had met were paying $80-$90 we were paying 10E to see the same places.
As our holiday was all pre paid we had included the premium/deluxe drinks package and I do feel that having a drinks package is beneficial, whilst we didn't use ours anywhere near to the advantage we should have it was our choice to do this, that said a beer and wine drinks package would have been sufficient. One of the main bad points about this ship which has really put me off another cruise in the distant future is the bar service - it was appalling to say the least. First of all you use your seapass card to get a drink and it has what package you are entitled to on it, so even though we had pre paid our drinks package and got the top one available I still couldn't order 2 beers on the one card I had to have a card per beer this meant if I wanted 2 Corona and my wife wanted a wine I'd have to queue, get her and I a drink, then queue again to get my second beer, this system was awful!! and the bar staff seemed to have no concept of turn taking, who was waiting the longest on drinks and 99% of the time you were relying on other guests to let you get served before them if they were asked before you, even though you had been waiting longer. Many a time I would have arrived at the bar and the person beside got served then the person that took their place got served, then when they left the person that replaced them got served before you too. A lot of time they shouted out - whose next? and it was a case of whoever shouted the loudest and flashed their card got served first - considering we had prepaid our drinks package and it was in the region of $1800+ it was not the levels of service you expect - the bars were severely understaffed especially on sailing days and the service was just appalling at them in general. Another thing to note especially for first time cruisers was that even if your drinks are pre-paid its only one drink per card, so I couldn't order two beers for me on my card and a wine for my wife on hers - it was either one wine and beer and queue again for the second beer or take the wine and beer and try to get table or waiter service which there was few of considering the size of the ship. A few nights we went to the night club and there was approx. 300 people there and maybe something like 2 bar staff on and one waiter service. And as they have no concept of who was next you can imagine the chaos that was happening up there. Some of the bar staff and waiters (I assume because they were so busy) were actually quite rude in terms of they took your drinks card - you had your hand out to receive it back into your hand and they slammed it down in the bar in front of you instead of you without a thank you. The service was so bad I have since asked for half of my gratuity to be refunded.
Dining was excellent - a great selection of foods and the quality was good, the My Time dinner service in the evening was exceptional and the waitress Virginia on Deck 4 was outstanding at her job. She was the one person on the ship that made it feel like the luxury cruise it was supposed to be. There was a 24 hour snack bar which again did exceptional food but at times when the main diners were closed the queues to get something were outrageous and you often found that had run out or your favourite thing was not ready but the time you got there.
The cleanliness of the ship was also outstanding and the staff made sure that as many people as possible were sanitizing there hands especially at meal times which was excellent on our floor I saw staff cleaning the hand rails etc. which was all really good. however there was an outbreak of Norovirus on our deck floor and unfortunately I contracted it on the last day so my journey home to say the least was not great.
for those people who tell you, you do not feel you are on a boat, you do, it was rocky and choppy at times and you can definitely feel movement.
Cabin was clean, tidy and adequate for what we needed, at the rear of the ship so got very choppy and very rocky at times, there must've been a motor or something underneath us as one night we were chugging in our beds. the hangers can be heard at night when the boat was rocking. I would not recommend Deck 8 rear if you get sea sick easily.