Great ship, Good ports, And fair value for your money. Aside from a handful of issues, many of them avoidable if you are paying attention as a guest, it was a good time. It was my 1st cruise, and I'm definitely not opposed to doing another one.
5 out of 5
The check in and processing ran smoothly, and as quickly as could be hoped for given the number of people involved
Food and Dining
3 out of 5
Food / Restaurant Review:
Quite simply, the food was amazing! The Garden Café (Buffet Style open 24 hours) had a wide selection of food and drink (if you want an alcoholic beverage though, you may be waiting in line for a while during the busy times). Three of the main free sit down restaurants (Taste, Savor, and The Manhattan Room) have the same menu, so it doesn't matter which one you go to, aside from the atmosphere (The Manhattan Room is the fanciest looking). The Local is a free 24 hour "Pub" style eatery that has Wings, Burgers, Taco Salad, and other "Pub style" options. I opted not to upgrade to a Dining plan, and I'm SO glad that I didn't! There are so many delicious free options, upgrading to a Specialty Dining plan would feel like a complete waste of money to me.
I initially had the Beverage Package which I chose to upgrade to the Premium Beverage Package. I highly recommend the Premium Beverage Package if you will be drinking higher end liquors, or wish to have bottles of wine with dinner. Our first night on the cruise, due to having the Premium Beverage Package, I was able to order a bottle of Champagne ($85.00 value) to share with my family members. The second evening, I was dining with other "Singles" and was again able to order a bottle of wine to share (great way to make new friends). There were, however, some BIG irritations / frustrations that I had with the Premium Beverage Package. First, was that there were Automatic Wine Dispensers in the Buffet and in some of the lounges. There is a placard on the machine that states that it is not included with the beverage package. I specifically asked before upgrading to the Premium Beverage Package on the ship if the wine dispensers were included with the PREMIUM package, and I was told that they were. So instead of waiting in line to get a glass of wine, which was free with my package, I got the SAME wine from the machine and received a $25.00 charge. Upon approaching Guest Relations to question the charge, they informed me that I had been given "bad information" regarding the inclusion of the machines with the Premium package and they did not reverse the charge. The second, even more major, complaint that I had, again pertaining to the Premium Beverage Package, is that you really have to watch the bartenders when you order. On the first two days of the cruise, I was ordering "Johnny Walker Platinum" drinks. As I specifically paid to upgrade so that I could try more expensive things that I would never normally buy, I wanted to make use of the upgrade and drink the higher end stuff. At the end of the second night, I ordered a "Johnny Walker Platinum" and I saw the bartender pour me a "Johnny Walker Black" (The lowest end option). I pointed out that I had asked for the Platinum and she then informed me that they only sell that at the Whiskey Bar on another deck. It was listed on their menu at that bar, and one would think that maybe the fact that they didn't have it might have come up one of the multiple other times I ordered it at that bar over a two day period. But instead of telling me that I had to go somewhere else, they just poured me the cheap stuff without telling me. So I then went to the Whiskey Bar to order and caught the bartender there pouring me the cheap stuff too! Another night I went to dinner alone and, unlike other tables, no wine list was offered to me. Knowing that I had bottles of wine included with my meals, I requested the wine list. The waiter brought me the list and told me what bottles were included (he only listed the cheapest ones and failed to mention all of the others). Upon choosing the bottle that I wanted, which was clearly indicated as included with my package on their wine list, the waiter informed me that the bottle would cost me $74.00. I informed him that I had the Premium package, so it was included. He requested to see my card, which I provided, and then he left for several minutes. He returned with Another waiter who stood with him as he again insisted that the bottle was $74.00. Well I wasn't about to just ignore the facts and drink the cheapest stuff because he brought "back up", so I again showed him, on their own wine list, that the wine I had chosen was CLEARLY marked as included with my plan. He then looked at the other waiter, said "Yes Sir" and brought me my chosen bottle. I drank two glasses and shared the rest with some other friendly passengers seated beside me. So to sum up, the Beverage Package is good if you don't care to drink the "High End" liquor, as almost all general drinks are under the $15.00 limit for the plan. The Premium Beverage Package is worth while if you want to enjoy the more expensive drinks and have bottles of wine included with your meals. Just be wary of the bartenders / wait staff, because they are clearly trained to try and cheat you out of what you paid for.
P.S. If you enjoy shots, order a "Bay 52", it ended up being a favorite of mine.
Savor Restaurant - Main Dining Room
2 out of 5
Taste, Savor, and the Manhattan room all use the same menu, so the only difference is any difference in atmosphere. Taste and Savor are basically the same. The Manhattan Room seems a little bit fancier. The food was good, the reason that I review it as "Poor" is because the wait staff kept trying to convince me that I couldn't order a bottle of wine that was included with my Premium Beverage Package. The waiter kept insisting that only the cheapest bottles were included in the package. He even went to get a 2nd waiter (so I was outnumbered) to try and tell me that. I had to point it out on their own wine list and show them multiple times where it was clearly listed as included with my package. Once they realized I wasn't going to just give up and drink the box wine, he said "Yes sir" and brought me the bottle that I ordered. Due to other issues I experienced with the bartenders, I'm sure that they are trained to do that for cost saving measures, so it's not the fault of the staff, they're just doing their jobs, but you may have to dig in your heels a bit and insist that they honor the benefits of the package that you paid extra for if they try to convince you otherwise.
The Manhattan Room - Main Dining Room
5 out of 5
The Manhattan Room is definitely the "Fanciest" of the free restaurants. While it shares the same menu as Taste and Savor, it has the more "Formal" look and atmosphere.
4 out of 5
This is sort of a "Pub Style" restaurant. Wings, Burgers, Fried Fish, etc. The food was good, and it's 24 hours for those times when you have the late night munchies or need a little something to soak up some alcohol and help you sober up a bit before heading to bed.
5 out of 5
Amazing selection of food! And it was delicious too! And being 24 hours was very nice for the nights when you're up late and wanting a late night snack (or full meal).
Atrium Bar & Grill
2 out of 5
I'm not sure why they call it a Bar & Grill, as there are no food options available for order. If you have the Premium Beverage Package, the bartenders will pour the cheap, low end liquor and hope you don't notice regardless of whether you specifically asked for a certain brand of liquor or not. I caught multiple bartenders doing that at different bars on the ship. I'm under the impression that they're instructed to do so to try and cut liquor costs by being dishonest. Just pay attention when they pour your drinks and call them on it if you catch them doing it to you.
4 out of 5
The pools, while often ridiculously crowded, were nice when they weren't jam packed. Most of my family and I also played Laser Tag, which was $15.00 for a relatively quick session, but was enjoyable and a neat addition.
I also looked into the Unlimited Arcade Pass, which I had considered getting for my nieces and nephew. Of course they say that you are supposed to buy one for each individual kid, but at that price, unless your kids want to spend A LOT of time at the arcade, it may not be worth it. But what they DON'T tell you is that if your kids try to share a pass, or if your kids start playing a game, get bored quick and try something else, you could get locked out of the system for a bit. The card can only be swiped once every 3 minutes. If it is swiped more often than that, it will deactivate for 15 minutes. It's also not good for every game, so ensure that the included games are games that you or your kids would be interested in before dropping the money.
2 out of 5
You know how you look at the cruise line's photos of the ship and you've got giant pools that everyone in the photo is enjoying? Now realize that the pools seem to look bigger in the photos, and that there will be an absurdly large number of people at the pool. It's crowded, sometimes so crowded that pushing and shoving your way through the crowd to reach the pool just so that you can wet your feet because it's standing room only in there seems like more hassle than it's worth. But there's music (sometimes live music), and bars available (even though the lines at the Pool bars can sometimes be ridiculous due to the huge number of people on the pool deck). They also don't have the water slides open regularly. One of them was broken down, causing an excessive wait time at the one that was working, but even then they open and close the slides intermittently. You might wait 45 minutes and have them close on you before you get "your turn". Much of this isn't the fault of the staff, there's only so much that can be done when faced with the sheer numbers of passengers all trying to enjoy the pool area at the same time. But these factors did make the pool area far less enjoyable than I had expected it to be.
5 out of 5
There was a wide variety of shows, live music, and various other performances. From Rock & Roll to Country to Late Night Dance Music, there were options to entertain most people. In addition to the "regular" shows, I also reserved seats and saw Kinky Boots and Choir of Man. Kinky Boots (Musical) was fun and entertaining, it was something I'm glad I saw, but probably never would have sought out to watch on my own if seats hadn't been so readily available on the ship. But the acting and singing were definitely better than I would have expected for a cruise ship performance. Choir of Man was also enjoyable with many different "sing along / drinking" type of songs. Sadly there was no bar in the Theater where they performed, so drinking songs without drinking fell a bit flat for me.
Social Comedy and Night Club
4 out of 5
I mostly spent my time here later at night for the DJ / Dance Club portion of the club (after the comedy shows were over). It was a bit crowded sometimes, which caused the wait for drink service to go long, but the staff did the best that they could with what they had.
3 out of 5
It was fun, but it's $15.00 for about 5 minutes of play time. It was enjoyable, and I'm glad we did it, but it's not something I'd do multiple times throughout the cruise.
4 out of 5
I'm told by my family that the Day Care staff was friendly and polite, and they organized a lot of various activities for the kids. My nieces and nephews enjoyed the time that they spent at the day care and kid's clubs.
Service and Staff
4 out of 5
Aside from the issues associated with the Premium Beverage Package that I addressed in the Food and Drink section of the review, the staff was all friendly and helpful. At one point the remote control for the television in my suite wasn't working. Upon calling, the room steward arrived at my room within minutes to check on the issue. He ended up having to replace the remote, which he did while I left to participate in other activities. Upon arriving back to my suite, it was again only minutes before the room steward saw that I had returned and called me to ensure that I was made aware that he had replaced the remote and fixed the issue.
5 out of 5
The ship was beautiful and clean. Even during the "busy" hours at the buffet, the staff was working hard to clear and clean tables within moments of guests finishing their meals. There was no point where I felt that any portion of the time on the ship was not clean or maintained (aside from one point where a bathroom stall wasn't flushing, but those sorts of things happen through no fault of the staff).
Cabin / Stateroom
2 out of 5
First, I'll state that the Studio room was clean. Cleanliness was not an issue. The room itself, is quite small. I'm an average height, slightly overweight guy, and those rooms, while workable, were slightly inconvenient at times. Primarily, the bathroom was an issue for me. As I sat on the toilet, my knees were almost touching the wall. And (sorry for the graphic detail) after using the toilet, I had to shuffle out of the bathroom with my pants around my ankles to wipe myself. Squatting down enough in the tiny bathroom just wasn't gonna happen. Fortunately, it was a studio room, so nobody was around to laugh at my fat guy bathroom problem. The shower stall was also small, but while it was a tight fit, I was still able to move enough to wash all of my bits and pieces. Not having a window could make it feel slightly claustrophobic sometimes, but they had a television mounted to the wall which streamed a bridge camera to simulate looking out of a window. I was also confused about the Studio Lounge. I had been under the mistaken impression that it was going to be a private bar available only to the Studio / Single cruisers. Alas, it is not. It's a bigger room with some chairs. They have water, orange juice, coffee, a ridiculously overpriced wine dispenser that nobody should use, and cookies / bread available to snack on. As the idea of a private bar area for just Studio passengers had a significant appeal to me, I was disappointed to find that I had been mistaken about what the Studio Lounge actually was. In the future, I would probably prefer to spend some extra money on a bigger suite. Depending on the "deal" you get, it's really not much difference. My family members got balcony suites, and their airfare was included with the package. I got the studio suite, but had to purchase my own airfare. When it was all said and done, I really didn't save any largely significant amount of money by opting for the tiny room.
If you buy the Premium Beverage Package, keep an eye on the staff when they make your drinks. They will try to get away with giving you the cheapest / lowest level stuff that they can, regardless of what you asked for if they can get away with it (See more details about this in the Food / Drinks portion of my review).
I flew in, went to the hotel, walked to an overpriced bar, and slept until it was time to get on the ship. Calling Miami a "Port Visit" is incredibly generous. There's stuff to do, but it can't compete with some of the other ports or excursions.
Honestly, the ship pulled into port later in the evening, so there was only a few hours at the port. Most of the excursions were more expensive than I would have expected for what you actually get from them. I recommend just going to the Barrachina Restaurant (about 15 to 20 minutes from the port by foot) to get a Pina Colada. Barrachina lays claim to inventing the Pina Colada. I walked over, had a Pina Colada, and walked back to the ship. It was fun, I got to do something "Historical", and it was a whole lot cheaper than paying for a tour guide to walk me to a bar for a drink.
The port area is nice. Once you get outside of the port area, however, you start to see hurricane damage that was never repaired, damaged / junked vehicles just pushed off the road and abandoned, wild chickens just running around wherever they please, and just some run down looking areas. I went on the Coral World Ocean Park excursion. It's a good family themed excursion, and it was fun. But (for me at least), it went just a bit too long. I looked at and finished seeing everything that there was to see at least once for each attraction, hit the gift shop, even sat down to enjoy a drink from the food stand, and there was till almost an hour left to just sit and wait to leave. I was also disappointed that the bird feeding did not occur. They had it scheduled for a more hands on attraction that you could buy food / treat stuff and enter the aviary area to feed tropical birds, but when the time listed on the map / event schedule rolled around, they just never sent any employees over and the aviary remained closed with some confused tourists wishing they could feed the colorful birds.
Tortola was absolutely beautiful! In contrast to the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands were beautiful! No abandoned homes / unrepaired hurricane damage, very few (comparatively speaking) abandoned vehicles left to rot, and the people were friendly! We drove past schools in our safari buses and kids were shouting and waving at us. It really was a very welcoming atmosphere. My family and I did the Virgin Gorda Baths excursion. It was absolutely amazing. A nice 30 to 40 minute ferry ride gets you to the area of the baths, then you board a safari bus for another 10 to 15 minute ride the rest of the way. While it is somewhat more active than many other excursions, it wasn't awful. It would be hard for someone who has mobility issues (elderly, physically disabled, etc) as there is uneven terrain that has to be traversed during the hike and throughout the caves, but I'm overweight and out of shape and I did it just fine. I HIGHLY recommend this excursion. It was BY FAR my favorite port and excursion of the trip.
5 out of 5
If you can carry your own luggage, you can avoid putting it out the night before and having to deal with the baggage claim. The line to disembark moved as quickly as could be expected given the number of guests leaving. The crew "staggered" the disembarkation to try and assist as much as possible with not having too many people trying to leave at once.
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