Embarkation: We stepped onto the ship on deck three, in the Colors bar, where there were many servers touting the drink of the day. Because of our prior experience, we knew the drinks would be costly and avoided them. It seemed like others there were shocked when they took one from the server's tray and were charged the $10 immediately. The bar was loud and disorienting as well. We made it through the crowd and up to Lido for lunch, then to the "secret" deck ten aft area near the fish and chips that was almost always empty. Sanctuary!
Public rooms: The public areas of the ship, each named and decorated a different color, made it easy to see where you were. Other than the Golden Restaurant taking up the entire width of the ship on decks 3 and 4, it was easy to get around, and to the front or rear as needed.
Cabin: Our cabin at the front of the ship directly under the bridge was nice and out of the way... most of the time. More on that later. The cabin was kept clean by a wonderful pair of room stewards.
Fitness and Recreation: The spa/fitness room music was provided by a CD player that was skipping quite a bit. My wife mentioned it to the spa staff, and they said all of the CDs were scratched. I was riding an exercise bike at the time, and for over 10 minutes, I got to listen to the same half-second of music over and over. Staff in the gym didn't seem interested in fixing it, or asking how I was doing, or anything.
Rates: We got decent rates for the cruise, but the spa service was about $30 more than it would cost in the "real world" (even with the "special" rates), and of course drinks were more expensive, and there was always something else to spend money on. Obviously getting you aboard is a loss leader.
Dining: Breakfast and lunch were decent buffets on the lido deck. Lunch never started until noon, which was odd to me. There were many times when there was very little to eat other than the extremely busy pizza and hamburger windows. Dinner in the Golden dining room (early dining, upstairs) was an experience. Our waiter team were good, the Maitre'd responsive to requests and knew our names from the first night. The food was mixed... some was very good, some was bland and not worth the cost (ha ha). I liked the experimental menu choices (from frog legs to escargot), but twinged at the "Didja" title. There was never any problem getting multiple appetizers or main courses, and the service was usually quick.
Entertainment: Other than one of the comedy club stand-ups (which was pretty funny), we didn't do much of the entertainment things on board. Many of our conversations and games were interrupted by the cruise director piping up with all of the events going on, hawking bingo, casino tournaments, the shops, the photography area, going for more and more upcharges. By the middle of the cruise, our group was quoting along with him more often than not.
Service: The only people who gave any service at all were the ones included in the customary tips, and one amazing bartender at the Burgundy wine bar, Serakit. The lido waitstaff was mixed, some were attentive, while some let trays sit around for far too long, not cleaning tables, and one of them even seemed stoned most of the times we saw him. There was no evidence of a manager around when we wanted one. The lido staff had no problem when we camped out on deck ten to play board games for hours at a time.
Shore Excursions: We didn't do any shore excursions, but in Nassau we took a bus (for $1.25!) to the south end of the island to go shopping away from the tourist traps... That was an experience. Once you get outside of the cruise zones, you see the conditions that people in the Bahamas live in, and it just brings the excess and luxury that even the poorest of Americans have. Sobering sight.
Value for money: You get what you pay for. It was a cheap cruise, and with most of the entertainment requiring extra costs, we didn't do too much.
I think the worst part of the cruise was the fact that it left out of Norfolk, and not Florida. Many of the guests on board were really the "People of Wal-Mart" crowd, and not the normal cruising demographic we were used to seeing, and excepted from Cruise Critic reviews. Many of them were loud, obnoxious, and dragging along their loud and obnoxious kids, even to the elegant dinners. They cut in lines, blocked stairwells, and were generally unruly to the staff and other guests. We felt sorry for our team of waiters and room stewards who had to put up with some of their guests.
The last night of the cruise was a stormy night, with choppy seas, high winds, and rolling decks. It would have been fine if not for the storage bench outside our cabin being unlatched and slamming shut every few seconds after being opened by a wind gust. I complained to Guest Service at about 9:00pm, and was assured that the noise was the anchor lifting and dropping, there was nothing they could do, but they'd make a note of it. A while later, my wife looked outside the cabin and saw the bench seat raising and dropping. She called back down to guest service, explained what she saw, and they sent someone down to fix the problem. 45 minutes later, it was still banging around. She got dressed, went down to speak to guest service in person, and was assured it was secured. It turns out she had the one on deck six latched, not on deck seven. So they sent someone to get the one on seven... Problem is, there were two of them out there, and they only closed one of them! The second one was still making a huge racket. All told, we got maybe three hours of sleep on the last night, and were offered a whopping $28 refund for our troubles. Thankfully, they said they would address the root problem, and get the bench boxes on the bow of the ship added to the foul weather checklists. Hopefully nobody else will have to deal with them in the future!
Out of the way, with a semi-private balcony. At night, the curtains had to stay closed so as not to leak light out to the area under the bridge. The deck outside our cabin was pretty much the only place on the ship that wasn't spilling light everywhere, and stargazing was amazing. If you're in one of the front cabins, do yourself a favor and check the latches on the storage benches before bad weather hits!
We were in Nassau for two days. The first day, we only went to the tourist trap area, and shopped for jewelry and souvenirs. Got a good deal on a nice ring from Diamonds International. The second day, we ventured out of the safe area and saw more of the island by local bus. The fare was super cheap, and we saw how the average Bahamian lives. Many of the tiny houses were burned down, some of those were still occupied, air conditioning was a rarity, the state-run schools looked like something out of Dickens. What we take for granted in the States is about 1,000 steps up from what the average resident of Nassau has, based on our tour of the island.
The port in Freeport is in a huge industrial zone, surrounded by oil silos, shipping containers, and drydock facilities. It was a 20 minute bus ride (that cost $20 round trip for two) to get to the shopping district that had nothing more to offer than Nassau did right of the ship. Quite a disappointment.