When we were deciding cruise lines, we talked to a lot of seasoned cruisers to make sure we made a good choice and without personal comparison, thought Carnival had everything we were looking for! I'm in my late 30's, husband - early 40's and a 16 year old and a 12 year old. My mom had been on many cruises and recommended Carnival had something for everyone! We booked directly with the cruise line and being our first time, booked our two excursions through them as well.
FLIGHT, HOTEL, SHUTTLE - We flew out of Canada (Toronto) into Fort Lauderdale because it was a more convenient flight. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express because we knew it had a shuttle from the airport to the hotel after midnight and there was a store across the street to buy our two bottles of wine, pop and water. We booked SAS Transportation to shuttle us to the port of Miami. It was only $13.00 per person which I thought was a good price! He was late getting us but did call to say he was delayed!
MIAMI PORT - Upon arriving the port, there was a luggage person grabbing our luggage right away. Being my first cruise, I hoped and prayed she was with the cruise line because I couldn't see signs to say leave your luggage here! Our check-in was easy and before we knew it, we were on board! We went straight to the buffet. Keep in mind that you cannot get into your room right away so you have to carrying all your carry-on luggage. We got into our room within about 1.5hrs and our luggage starting arriving soon after. I have to say I was hesitant to leave the room for fear someone would scoop my luggage to be honest. I thought if they can leave it outside your door, why not just bring it in and dump it by the door?
DINING ROOM - We booked the 6pm dinner time and wished we would have booked the later time. When we went to port, we'd come back around 2:30 and be starving for lunch and not so hungry for dinner at 6:00pm. Next time we'd book anytime dining or the 8:00pm. Dinner was uneventful. We expected to have entertaining wait staff and they were anything but. They were attentive but not entertaining. Dinner was good all nights but one. We enjoyed the choice on the menu and found at least something for everyone. We also wanted to try new things because we felt if we didn't like it, we could always grab a burger! We even tried frogs legs! It wasn't great food, but what we expected and to sit down for a meal with the family each night was really looked forward to!
FORMAL NIGHT - Participate! We had a great time dressing up and posing for pictures! The first night we only did two photographers and didn't like any of them so the second formal night, we went to every photographer and got some great choice when picking our new family photo!
BUFFET - We ate lunch at Guy Ferrari's a lot! AWESOME burgers and fries! My teen loved the sushi place which was included! Fish and Chips were OK! Omelets were good. Pizza and Sandwich shop was the only two places open late night. I wish there was more selection as I would have just loved some fruit and a muffin! BUT I quickly learned to grab that in the AM, put in my room for my evening snack!
Desserts - well, I ate WAY too many! Ice cream and frozen yogurt is open all the time!
POOLS - They were OK. We didn't use the water slide and it didn't seem well used. Hot tubs were awesome! One day they painted the outside wall around the hot tub and the smell of paint on a hot day was not good!
DRINKS - Since we brought on two bottles of wine, we went easy on purchased drinks and only enjoyed a few each. I enjoyed a few specialty coffees instead! YUM!
SEA DAY - First day was a sea day and you could NOT get a lounge chair. It actually peeved me off to see all these chairs being held with towels when I actually wanted to USE the chair! So I threw a towel aside and made myself comfortable. I read a book for a few hours to notice the chairs around me not even being used for that time period! I think like many resorts that no chair reserving should be permitted and enforced somehow. A threat of towels being removed could do it because you are billed if you don't have them turned in.
MOVIE SCREEN - Movies at night SUCKED! OK...if airlines can play newer movies, why can't the cruise line? COME ON...1989 Batman?? I was so looking forward to lying on the deck and watching a good new movie. It was the one thing I looked forward to the most and after seeing the selection...I didn't watch one full movie!
COMEDY CLUB, PIANO BAR - Every night after dinner we went the comedy club where they had a family show. It was fantastic and all us looked forward to it! My husband and I went back to the adult show most nights. We also looked forward to the piano bar where we had a blast! The band outside the casino was perfect for an evening of relaxing with some good music!
KID'S CLUBS - Our teen daughter checked out the teen group but for the most part, it wasn't for her. She spent more time on her own reading then hanging out at the club. My 12 year old, it took a few days to feel comfortable in the pre-teen group but she eventually did and had a great time! The room for them was pretty small and I expected more of a drop in type club that went on all day when it was convenient for parents but I guess the scheduled activities around the ship at various times prevents parents from not checking in with their kids. This age group can pretty much come and go on their own but our daughter was not ready for that type of independence so we were clear to stay put until we came back to get her. Bring a watch because there are NO clocks! BUT who wants them anyway! :)
COZUMEL, MEXICO - We left the port and took a cab downtown. One block over was a covered area where we got some GREAT deals! The covered area just lead from one building to another and kept us out of the sun. It was perfect! We are so glad we ventured out of the port area and got just a sliver of a taste of Mexico!
BELIZE - My teen daughter and I went to Xanantunich Ruins. We boarded an air conditioned bus which quickly ran out of toilet paper. I read on message boards to bring hand sanitizer and Kleenex so I was prepared! The ruins were AMAZING! I got some amazing pictures! The bus is about 2 hours to get there but our two guides told us all about beautiful Belize! AND took us for a guided tour of the ruins! Then we went for lunch of chicken, rice and beans which was good. My husband and pre-teen daughter rented a horse and buggy for a tour. They got to see a lot of Belize this way and it was only $15.00 per person for about 3 hours! He said they went into some pretty sketchy areas but felt pretty safe and appreciated the opportunity to see Belize. We'd all love to go back!
ROATAN - My teen and husband did a canopy tour ending in a zoo where they were able to hold monkeys! They had a blast and its definitely on my list for next time! My pre-teen and I rented a cab with another couple for a tour of the area. It cost us $20.00 a person. We spent 4 hours and he took us everywhere! We climbed some dirt road hill for AMAZING views and then off to the resort so we could swim if we chose and use clean washrooms. Every stop was awesome and we picked up some great souvenirs!
GRAND CAYMAN - This is my mom's favourite port but our least favourite. We boarded a very crowed bus to take us to the 7 mile beach which was packed. The washrooms were dirty and the party boat dropped off passengers and banana boat ran right out of where we were dropped off. Of course, WE could have moved! We only stayed for about 2 hours and got back in the cab to go back. Waste of money in my opinion and we should have booked an excursion or stayed on board and enjoyed the quiet!
SEA DAY - again...could not find a chair but only found about half occupied. So again, threw a towel off and took a seat. OH WELL...I ACTUALLY WANT to use the chair! AND what I don't understand how trusting people can be. I could have walked off with the towels. AM I just too not trusting? Maybe, theft just doesn't happen on cruises? I think not and would rather protect my belongings.
LUGGAGE - We had to have our luggage outside our room by 11pm and though I understand how big of a job that must be, I don't quite understand why my luggage could not have been left just inside the door. Saying that, I'm sure no one really wants my dirty laundry but there was a notice that went around inquiring about lost luggage and if found...
CABIN - We had an inside cabin which was OK for how much we were in there. We found there was enough storage for all of us but it was tight. Next time however, I'd book a patio with 4 people. I got a view into one of them and evening with pulldowns (not over the bed), there seemed to be a lot more room. The pull-down beds at night left no room for anything more than walking from washroom to bed but REALLY...what more do you need? We brought a flashlight for night washroom breaks so the light didn't disturb everyone. The washrooms even had lots of shelves for stuff. We brought a hang over the door shoe pockets to store stuff in and it kept the room relatively clean. All the 8 suitcases fit under the bed! The pillows and beds were comfortable but my daughter did break out in a rash which I assume was an allergy to the detergent. Thankfully I brought some Benedryl! They provide soap, shampoo and conditioner. Our hair was really really dried out by the end of the cruise so next time I'll bring my own hair products. The rooms were quickly done up in the AM (done from the time we went to breakfast and came back) and done again in the evening during the short time we were at dinner! Upon requesting extra pillows, they were promptly delivered! We thought our room attendants were AWESOME!
POP CARDS...don't get them! They are expensive and unless you drink lots of pop, a waste of money in my opinion. Basically, it pays for itself by having at least 2 pops a day. The glasses of pop are huge and with the free juice, milk, coffee, tea, water, my daughters had a hard time drinking more than two a day if that. You can bring on a certain amount of pop and water.
Specialty Coffee Shop (I can't remember what its called but it's by the casino) is YUMMY!! Chocolate covered strawberries...3 huge ones for $2.50 or 5 for $4.00. Almost every night we'd get our treat and bring them to the nightly shows!
SHOWS - Since this was our first cruise, we didn't have huge expectations. Compared to friend's experiences, it sounds like these shows would fall short but we enjoyed the entertainment! Staff talent was GOOD.
OTHER STUFF ON BOARD - We participated in Karaoke, singing with the band, Family Feud, "Minute to win it", Towel folding, trivia, bingo and had a blast! I loved that if you weren't into one thing, there was something else going on that we could pick! AGAIN...It would have been nice if a GOOD new release movie was one of the choices! I found there was something always going on.
SHOPPING - I think I expected more shops but I guess its good for my pocket book there wasn't more! My advice...don't spend all your money on jewellery at the beginning because at the end of the cruise, they put on some GREAT deals! I picked up presents for Christmas!!
PICTURES - Be prepared to pose for many pictures. If we were smart, we would have waited until the very last day to collect all our pictures, compare, pick the best and purchase those. We got sucked into spending too much by buying as we liked them! My advise...as you are getting off at the ports, make sure they take a picture of your GROUP because we found we were posing individually and who wants to buy 4 separate pictures if they all turned out great!
PARTIES on the Lido - We had a great time watching and participating in some fun! We are not drinkers so didn't hang out there much but enjoyed watching the fun!
ADULT SECTION - was barely used! Head up there for a hammock, large covered beds and hot tub! While the party was going on, my husband and I had quiet on this deck!
SPORTS - we enjoyed the mini-golf! It was fun to play on a ship! We didn't play any other sports but it was great to see it well used!
SPA - We didn't use it so no comment there. They too had some deals on at the end of the cruise!
Overall, we really enjoyed our first cruising experience! We had some amazing excursions and made some great memories! We are already planning in the next one in 2015 with 3 other couples. NO KIDS this time! We will likely do Carnival again!