Every Thursday, we'll randomly select five cruise reviews to feature here! Plus, we'll send each member a Cruise Critic logo item. This week: Cruise Critic Insulated Sports bag-- we hope they enjoy it!

Norwegian Sky Blown Away by Service by 305Fraggle
Sailed weekend of 12/21 out of Miami on the Sky. First things first - last year, same weekend, took the weekend Carnival Imagination on same trip (almost) in the Penthouse Suite. This time, we were on Norwegian in an Owner's Suite. The difference is like a Cadillac compared to a Kia. Norwegian wins in every category hands down. 1) Cost. It was $2500 total less than two weeks before the cruise. The penthouse on Imagination was $5000 one month before the cruise. - Point Norwegian 2) Staterooms - The Owner;s Suite consists of a 1 bedroom stateroom, 1.5 bathrooms, Butler, Steward and Concierge service, three free bottles of wine, 1 bottle of champagne, free snacks, free fridge of water, mixers and soda AND a balcony on the front of the ship two decks under the bridge with a private 4-person hot tub, 2 lounge chairs, table for 4 and STILL enough room to have a party. The penthouse on Imagination had an obstructed view on side of ship, with most of room facing pool deck (no balcony there) and was directly under the jogging track, and had 2 Stewards, no freebies - Point Norwegian Continue reading... Blown Away by Service

Allure of the Seas Allure of The Seas - December 2012 by RJQMAN
We arrived at the pier around 11:45 AM, and were somewhat surprised to find that quite a few travelers were there ahead of us -- we thought we would be a bit early, and we wanted to be early, because we had not booked our shows in advance. RCL allows you to book the shows on line, but since we usually make plans at the last minute, the shows always show 'full' when you try to book them on line. Plus it is a pain to book on line, as you go through all the steps only to find the show is full, and then you have to start over from scratch. RCL needs to streamline this a little more. Boarding was very easy to do - they have optimized the check-in procedures and even if there is a small line, it moves very quickly. You drop your luggage curbside, and a porter loads it onto a cart and it is delivered to your room, as on all cruise ships we have ever taken. Then you park your car -- the Allure uses the outside lot which is very convenient -- only about a 100 yard walk from our car to the check-in entrance. You then go through the radar (which was actually on this time -- a lot of people were rejected and had to be hand-checked with a wand). You then queue up at the registration desk, which is divided by cabin number and cruiser type (frequent cruisers have their own stations). Once the clerk has confirmed that you have the proper documentation and that your credit card is OK, you advance to the photography stations and then walk up the escalators and go on board ship. Continue reading... Allure of The Seas - December 2012

Disney Fantasy Family on the Fantasy by Scrapnana
With all the hype about the new ship, I was expecting to be "wowed". In many ways I was but not completely. The Cabin - We had two adjoining. Great size and the huge porthole was fun for all to sit in. Plenty of storage. I wanted to bring the entire bed with bedding home it was so comfortable. Well appointed rooms and always kept in good repair. The split baths were great and the small round tubs were especially nice for bathing small children. The Shows - with the exception of the last show they were excellent. Our favorite was "Aladdin". The quality of the performance was outstanding. We had an illusionist on board who was very good. Numerous movies play continuously throughout the day and evening. New Disney/Pixar films will show on board the day they are released. We saw Monsters Inc. 3D at midnight on the day it was released. The Food - The food in the main dining rooms was good. Portions were small but you good order more than one if you were hungry or just couldn't decide what you wanted. The buffet in Cabanas was only so-so. They had some items (like the carvery roast beef that was wonderful while other things (shrimp, corned beef, crab legs, etc.) were disappointing. The burgers and hot dogs in Flo's Cafe were horrible. Continue reading... Family on the Fantasy

Independence of the Seas Independence of the Seas was more than we dreamed . . . by angogl
They were top notch in every aspect. Always making eye contact with you from maintenance up to the cruise director -- they always spoke to us when passing. This may not be a big deal to some, but it is a big deal to me. In the U.S. you have so many people in a service industry that absolutely do not look at you when they speak to you and we have just accepted it as the norm. Well it's not and shouldn't be. On IOS we felt like royalty. Here's a quick breakdown from start to finish of our travels. Departed Atlanta (close proximity) Saturday, 12/15 for our 10 hour drive to Fort Lauderdale. I was dreading the drive, but for 6 it was the economical option. The drive surprisingly went by faster than I had thought. We took I-75 south all the way to the Florida turnpike and stayed on it all the way to FLL. The toll costs were just under $20. We arrived at The Rodeway Inn at the Port. Yes, I said The Rodeway Inn! I picked it because it was free parking all week and free shuttle to the Port. I had no desire to stay at a fancy hotel when all I needed was a clean place to lay my head. I got exactly that. It was old and reminded me of beach "motels" I had stayed at when I was younger. The restaurant there was good (burgers and such), a little pricier than I had expected, but served its purpose. All in all I got what I had paid for and that was only $115 (incl. tax) per room with the free shuttle and parking. Izzy, the manager was great and guaranteed we would be eating lunch on the ship by noon and we were! A win-win I believe and yes I will stay there again. Continue reading... Independence of the Seas was more than we dreamed . . .

Crystal Serenity Vive la difference by njhh
Since I began cruising in the late 90's I have heard and read things about Crystal Cruises which made me doubt it would ever be a cruise line I would like. The usual gist of the comments were "why pay more when it is nearly the same as what you get on [fill in the blank]?" And too, there was always some allusion to the ratio of older passengers. In order to keep my comments brief, I will say only that none of this is true. What IS true in my mind is that Crystal Cruises is tailor made for the discerning traveler. I will leave the specific comparisons of food, entertainment and quality of service for others to comment on. They are all good to great, but they are not what sets Crystal apart in my mind. Let me explain: Cruising is about leaving cares and troubles behind for a time and enjoying life. This begins with embarkation. If you have to enter a terminal, figure out WHAT LINE YOU BELONG IN, or figure out which line is moving the fastest, then you are NOT on Crystal. My first Crystal experience taught me that one merely needs to walk onto the ship and pick up the room key. VOILA! Continue reading... Vive la difference

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