Travelers: Me (46), DH Rick (45) DS Stephen (18), DS Bobby (16 tomorrow) and 9 of their high school friends (mostly 18), Ivonne and Lydia were the other adults in the group. This was a HS pre-graduation trip for most of the kids).
11 of us flew down together Saturday for the Sunday departure, Ivonne, her 2 daughters and Lydia flew down Friday and met us on the ship.
We stayed at the BW port of Miami on 14th St. It was quite dumpy. I wouldn't recommend it, except for the cool Cuban diner attached to it. They did have a free shuttle to the pier, and for a group our size that was also a plus. The beds were the most uncomfortable I have ever slept in. The rooms stank of disinfectant. They gave two small towels per room, even if they knew 4 were staying. We called many times for more towels and one of our group was finally told there were no clean towels! We ended up taking them off the maids cart in the walkway. It wasn't just our group, everyone else who I talked to while waiting for an elevator or waiting for the shuttle said the same thing. But since we were all heading onto a cruise ship we all laughed about it and said, "never again will we stay here". There is a grocery store within walking distance, which I guess was another plus. We loaded up on soda, water, beer and flowers for Ivonne whose birthday it was the day we departed.
We took late shuttles to the ship, about 1 to 2pm and walked right on. I prefer getting there earlier. We barely had time to find our room and look around and they were closing up the windjammer and calling us to muster.
The ship was huge! And beautiful. The atrium was amazing. I loved the way they set up a boulevard of shops/bars/cafes. The thing I didn't like was when they pulled out all the sales tables in the middle of it every night and you couldn't get around it easily.
We all had inside cabins. For us it worked out great. The adults were in doubles and most of the kids in triples. I thought our cabin was the largest inside cabin I had been on in my 6 cruises. The bed made into a queen with two side tables with drawers, curtains to divide the room if you want, a love seat, the desk/dresser set up and closet were bigger than we needed. The kids in triples were a little tighter, but no one complained. I told them it was good preparation for the dorms they will be living in next year! The beds sagged a little, but I had no trouble sleeping. I expected to see more wear and tear on the ship, based on what I read here, but I didn't see it. One day DH and I went looking for it and found, one tear on the wall by my bed, a stain on a carpet near a stairwell, a broken chair in the Maharaja lounge, some hallway banisters needed revarnishing, the straps on some of the pool loungers were "rusty" but they were replacing them throughout the trip. All minor stuff. And they were here and there, nothing obvious throughout the ship.
The dining room was very nice, three stories. We were on the top level, so I think we had the least amount of noise. I would guess the lowest level would be noisiest, where the captains table is, but I don't know. Our waiter and assistant and head waiter were great! Yes, I said head waiter! He acually came around quite a bit. Helped pour wine, cut lobster out of the shell, asked how we liked our food, and was generally a funny, nice guy. First time I felt a head waiter deserved his tip! The chef came around to our table at one point too. He was very nice too. I didn't see him at every table, so I suspect our location just made it easy to come out and ask how we liked the food. Speaking of which, it was much better than the menu and food we had on the Radiance in Nov of 03. They have fewer selections, but seem to have taken more care with them, so I really enjoyed them. No ranch steak on the menu any more! The wine program changed too. Now you have your choice of 5, 7, or 10(? maybe 12) bottles at a discount, and 3 levels to choose from. The cheapest option ($125) got you 5 bottles from the most limited list (2 sparkling, 4 reds and 4 whites if I remember) the next level ($137) you get the same choices as the lowest level, but they add another 2 or 3 reds or whites to the list, and the highest level ($145) they add a few more. The price and the percent discount goes up with the more bottles you order, but the wine list is just the three levels I described. We bought the 5 bottle middle level, which worked out perfectly for us. We enjoyed the wines we chose and a few nights we had two bottles open, a sweeter white to have with our starters, and a red to have with our entree. Then they held them for us for the next night. We ate at the windjammer for breakfast and most lunches. Standard fare, not bad but not great. Fairly good variety so there was always something for everyone. The kids loved the burgers at Johnny Rockets and were more than happy to part with the $3 something to eat there. They also bought milk shakes till I told them of my free coffee milkshake treat: Go and get about 1/3 cup of hot coffee from the cafe or windjammers and then fill the cup with the free soft serve ice cream. Stir it well and yummy FREE frappacino! We did not go to the pay for resteraunt or order room service. The first midnight buffet was on the pool deck and I missed it completely. I was too stuffed from dinner to even consider it! The second one was the grand buffet. We took pics, then I left. Some of the kids hung out and I asked them to bring me a chocolate covered strawberry. Well, when I got to my cabin I found a covered plate with 10 strawberries: half white half dark and some other goodies. I had two that night and the rest for breakfast the next morning!
Common rooms were nicely themed, but none of them wowed me except the disco, which is done up as a mideavil castle. Very cool! DH and I liked to hang out at the 19th hole, because it wasn't used much and we could watch soccer on the tvs and listen to the jazz music from Dizzy's next door without being in a room with smokers. No offence to smokers, I just like relaxing without it. So it was the best of both for us. There was a neat perpetual motion golf ball machine in the 19th whole that a lot of kids liked. There is a bigger version of this in the Boston museum of Science, so our group of kids weren't too interested in it since they were so familiar with the concept, but a lot of other people came by and spent a lot of time watching it. The kids spent a lot of their time (and money) in the arcade, apparently they have a teen approved set of games in there!
Out of all of us, all of the shows were seen, but no one saw every show. Ivone and Lydia said the comedian the first night was very funny. They also enjoyed the first production show. The drifters were fun and the second production show was ok, but not anything more that I would have expected from a ship troupe. As usual the love and marriage show was hilarious! Clo, the CD, really knows how to get the crowd into it. She was one of the better CD's I've seen. The farewell show was a mix of comedian, song and dance and a juggling act along with a bit of the tape you could buy on the screen. Well put together, but again nothing new. The ice show was the not to miss show. We were awed. It was really good. Yes, they sometimes missed thier landings, but the music, lighting, choreography etc was excellent and the skaters were better than I expected. They did jumps, throws, lifts and all the stuff you see on professional shows on tv and live.
A few of the kids tried ice skating, rock climbing and mini golf. All were a hit. Our trip was quite overcast and windy, so not a lot of time was spent in/by the pool, but we all used the hot tubs at some point. I also enjoyed the sauna and steamroom in the gym. DH said the equipment in the weight room was in good shape and there was plenty of it. The kids also used the card and game rooms a bit, where there were alot of board games and deck of card available to play. Not once did any of the 11 kids say they were bored or that there was nothing to do. In fact, on the bus home, most of they were commiserating on what they didn't get to do.