I read several reviews of this ship before we left and I was really concerned because there were so many complaints from past guests about this ship. However, I had a great time and found nothing to complain about regarding this ship.
We flew in a day early and rented a car at the Orlando airport. We used Budget and paid $59 to drive us all to Port Canaveral and drop it the next day there. We reserved a minivan but they gave us a great SUV. We stayed at International Palms Resort Cocoa Beach which is beach front. I bid $55 on priceline and this was the hotel that accepted. It is usually over $130 a night during spring break season. The pool is fabulous and the kids had a blast here. But, do not stay here if you want to sleep! We were there over spring break and there was a ton of partying going on at this hotel. I honestly didn't sleep all night. Cocoa beach is nice and I enjoyed the beach there but the surrounding area is pretty seedy regardless of which hotel you stay at. There are gentleman's clubs all over and very little restaurant choices outside of your nicer hotels.
The next morning we drove over to Budget to return the car and took the Budget shuttle (free) over to the ship. The wait for the shuttle was about 30 minutes but everyone is so excited about their trips that we all talked and got to know each other. Just know you will wait a bit for your free shuttle ride.
The embarkation was as smooth as all the previous reviews have said. We were on the ship faster than any other cruise we have taken. We were on by 11 am and lunch was waiting to be served on the lido deck. I had read on these reviews that if you walk to the aft of the ship and go up one flight of stairs to the Panorama deck, you will find a little pasta area. You check in with the hostess and fill out your choices for lunch and they bring it to you. As some of the previous reviewers have said, there were only a couple of other cruisers up there.... Most people do not realize it is there. I ordered noodles with alfredo and shrimp and it was delicious. I had bread and salads as well. It was a great start to our day!
We knew we weren't allowed in to our rooms until 1 pm so we actually boarded in our bathing suits. We went straight to the midship pool and the slides to start our fun. There were plenty of chairs to be had because so many people come to the ship dressed in their nice clothes etc. We were prepared from other cruises to show up casual and get right to the pool!
We did the anytime dining which is great because we could decide when we were hungry instead of going at the specified meal times. Be prepared to wait about 20 minutes when you check in if you do not go exactly when the doors open at 5:45. If you show up at 6:45 or 7, you will likely be given a beeper and beeped when your table is ready. That was fine with us because the restaurant is right next to the atrium so you can listen to the singers performing each night. One thing to note... I have never been on a cruise that was so relaxed about clothing in the dining room. It says that you are not to wear flip flops or shorts but more than half did. On formal night I looked around and wondered it if I had made a mistake because so few people had actually dressed up. I was surprised but again, that is fine with us because we are very casual people. I would have preferred to dress that way myself! We did use room service quite a bit and there food was great and they were fast!
We did attend the shows that involved dancing and singing. The best one that you do not want to miss is called Dancing in the streets. This is an amazing show mostly because of the fun force dancers (the break dancers) and because the acrobatic dancers you will see in this show. You need to arrive about 30-45 minutes early to claim your seat. People get there and play bingo and if you arrive on time, you're late! As far as the dream dancers go... they were not as good as we would have hoped but they were entertaining. My daughter is a competitive dancer so we saw every little mistake and in all honestly, her 11 year old dance team is more precise than these dancers are but it was cruise entertainment. The shows were on the same level as all the other cruise shows we have seen. We only saw one of the adult comedies and it was good.
Deck 5 is where it is at for the adults. That is where the disco is, the comedy clubs, lounges etc. Also, Deck 5 during the day is also a good spot for adults who want to hot tub. There are two hot tubs on each side of deck five and plenty of lounge chairs. Serenity deck (Deck 14) is also a great adults only place to read and sun bathe.
There is truth to the rumors that this shop rocks a little more than others but no one in our party of four was ever affected by it. We love a little bit of rocking and found it soothing when we went to bed. I have been on a two week Hawaiian ship with Princess that rocked much worse than this ship.
There is also truth regarding a mysterious smell. I only smelled the stench once when I was roaming around on one of the decks trying to navigate toward to the front of the ship. I don't remember which deck but I was like... oh, that is the smell I've read about.
There is a great deal of truth regarding the problem with the lounge chairs by the pool. I was bothered by this but I didn't let it get to me. There are cruisers on Thursday and Friday that wake up at 6 am and they will lay things on the lounge chairs for up to 10 people and they leave for hours and they come back around 9 am or 10 to claim their spots. Or one person might stay and save them all. It is terrible to look around and see half of the chairs empty but saved with a magazine or towel. I would go up on deck around 9 am to get a spot and they were all taken. My husband would sit by the pool ready to pounce as soon as one would open up but he didn't have much luck. I suggest you eye a chair that has been left unattended for 30 minutes and then you report it to a staff member on deck to remove the items on the chair. They will do that for you if you ask. Luckily, I'm a people person so I didn't have to do that. I just walked up to randomly and said, are you saving this spot or can I sit here a while? I was given a spot both times I did that. Also, my husband is a strong man so he went up a deck and got a lounge chair and brought it down and set it by the pool. People with kids will often give up one of the lounge chairs they are saving for their kids but some wont and they have no guilt about it!
Camp Carnival for 9-11 is kind of weak. My 11 year old daughter has always loved Camp Carnival until this cruise. Also, they have scavenger hunts almost every day that are unsupervised. I don't know about you but I don't think 9-11 year olds should be wandering a ship by themselves! Camp Carnival is taking the easy way out by making this an "activity" instead of offering real activities with supervision.
My 17 year old did have fun in Club O2 but most of the fun didn't start until late and we had her come back to the room by midnight. That is a bummer for her since most kids stayed out til 3 am. I am just not comfortable allowing teens that much freedom and sadly the parents that did may not have realized how many of those teens were drunk and snuck on pot to share with their new friends. My daughter was propositioned the first day by a 16 year old girl that brought her drugs on board.
Nassau: Our first port was Nassau and it was a short stay but we made the most of our time and it ended up being a perfect day! We docked at 8:30 am and it was already warm and beautiful outside. We walked through the little terminal mall and made our way out to the taxis/shuttles outside. I asked to be taken to Cabbage beach because it is a free public beach that shares the same beach front as the Atlantis resort. I figured that it had to be beautiful and fun beach if it is sharing beach front with Atlantis. Two things to keep in mind. There are no bathrooms on this beach for those that taxi to the free access of the beach and there are no restaurants to buy food and drink. There are people with ice chests out there selling mixed drinks and such but no real food to be had. We actually ordered room service the night before and ordered sandwhiches and chips and took that off the ship in our bags. We also brought our own waters on board so I took a water for each of us and that was good. However, there was young men walking up and down the beach with ice cold water bottles for sell and I would have bought from them if I had known there would be someone selling Waters. Also, the venders there will sell you chairs and umbrellas if needed... they all offer different prices. I had negotiated an Unbrella for $15 threw out towels in the sand. We spent most of the time in the water anyway! There are jet skiing, banana boats, parasailing at this beach. Keep in mind the guys driving the boats are high... I smelt pot several times throughout the day on these guys.
Warning: I met a lot of people who took the water taxi over and they were dropped at Atlantis Resort but ended up having to walk one mile in the hot sun with their stuff in order to get to Cabbage beach. Also, they had to sit on the water taxi for over a half over waiting for it to fill up. This is a waste of time if you only have 8:30 to 2:00 in Nassau.
Another warning: The current is extremely strong here so do not let your kids play in the water without being close to them or very near to them. I have researched this beach and found several drowning's so pay attention to your kids. There is a safer beach called Cable Beach but there is a $25 fee from the Sheraton per person but that will give you access to their hotels and such. I felt our stay was too short to put out that much money for each of us so I took us to Cabbage beach and it was perfect for us.
St. Thomas is beautiful. We took at shuttle/taxi service over to Magen's Beach. I believe the cost was $8 a person for the ride over (no negotiating here... they were set prices. I tried to negotiate with serveral different taxi's and they all had the same price.). There was also a $4 charge to get into this beach but kids under 12 are free. When they dropped us off there were a ton of people already on the beach but I had read on this website to take a walk down the beach and we'd find ourselves secluded and that is what we did. We walked down the beach away from the restaurant and water activity venders and found some great palm trees to lay under and we had the beach to ourselves for the most part. There were a few people who made it that way but not a lot. We did rent a longboard for an hour and it was only $10. That is a great price to try something I've always wanted to try! There are also paddles boats to rent as well. I didn't buy anything at the restaurant except for rum and punches and some waters. We actually ordered room service the night before and ordered sandwiches and chips and took that off the ship in our bags.
This location is beautiful to be sure and very relaxing but I do prefer a little bit of surf to play in. I didn't realize just how calm these waters would be but it is really a good place for families with children since you can wade out pretty far and there are life guards here. It was a great day!
St. Maarten was my favorite port and it was the easiest to navigate because we stayed so close to the ship. When we got off the ship we found the water taxi area and took the water taxi over to Great Bay beach. The water taxi is $6 pp roundtrip or $4 for one way. They will let you go back and forth as many times as needed for the $6 so if you have babies that need a nap in the middle of the day, this is a good thing. You can easily go back to the ship after a few hours and then come back to the beach or shopping.
This beach is the softest white sand and the water was the clearest of all three ports. The water was also very warm so it was easy to stay in all day! My lips actually swelled up that night and were swollen for two days after that. Anyway, we walked down the beach a bit to find a section that had the least amount of people. We ended up negotiating two chairs, umbrella and two drinks for $15 on the front line. You will see when you get there... they line the beach with beach chairs so we walked down far enough to make sure we had the front row closest to the water. You will find $1 beers across the street if you walk over there or you can just have the venders get you beer for $3 or $4 each. I nearly cried when we had to leave this beach because it is so beautiful and relaxing here.The shopping is just a block over and the prices were good for little trinkets.
Debarkation was just as previous reviewers have said... easy and efficient! We let the ship take our bags off and even though our debarkation time was called at 8 am, we stayed on the ship and had a nice farewell breakfast and when we went down our bags were all still on the carousel waiting to be claimed.
Prior to our cruise we arranged an Avis rental car because their price was lower than Budget's for the return to Orlando. The lower price wasn't worth it! The Avis shuttle took the longest to get to the terminal and some of the folks had waited one hour. We got out there and called them and they said Avis was on the way but it still took 30 minutes. In that time, we saw a Budget shuttle come and come 3 times. I think Budget is the closest rental car place.
After we got our car we went to our hotel in Cocoa Beach. We stayed at the Hilton at Cocoa Beach which is beach front access and very nice. This hotel doesn't allow you access to your room until 4 pm but they let us hang by the pool until the room was ready. Also, they provide towels at the pool and beach and the food there was great. We ordered at the pool and the burgers and fries were very good.
That's about it... Hope this was informational for you and that it will someone help you in your vacation planning.