Let me start by saying this is 6th cruise on Carnival and the first one with my boys, age 7 and 9. There were good and bad things about this cruise in general, but the cruise itself was great, especially to see it out of their eyes.
Embarkation: We did not stay in Tampa the night before because we have family in the area and stayed with them instead. We got to the port about 11:00 and dropped bags off at the curb. Parked and walked up to the port and got in line. We were probably on the ship by noon, but I did not check. There was a line to get into terminal and a line to take photo of embarkation. The line moved along well and did not seem to bottleneck except at the aforementioned spots. We went and ate lunch and then dropped out carry-ons by the room before 1:00. The doors were not locked and we walked down from the Lido deck (we were on Deck 8). As an aside, we took 2 bottles of our own wine, but could have taken more as they did not check baggage, just scanned for weapons. The thing to do is carry on...others who packed theirs had it held until the last night.
Room: The room itself was small. Having 4 people in the room was fine; having 4 people's luggage was snug. We loved the extended balcony and took advantage of it all the time. The kids took their laptop out there and watched movies on sea days. Our room steward, Sumatra was very nice. We loved being on the 8th deck, mid-ship. I did not hear anything overhead (we were under Lido pool) except on the second to last night when we stayed up late and slept in until 9:00. We heard some deck chairs moving around, but that was it...nothing to make me not choose that deck again. There was a Lido party one night and we could hear it blaring in the hallway outside our room, but nothing once we got in our room.
Excursions: This is the first cruise I have ever booked outside excursions. We had great experiences doing the outside excursions and would NEVER book another excursion through Carnival. Carnival's excursions are a complete rip off and often times not as good of an experience as the local excursions. More about that later.
Cozumel: We took a cab to Chankanaab Park ($10 each way for all 4 of us) as soon as we got off the ship. We got to the Park about 9:00 a.m. ship time. We had booked the Dolphin Royal Swim, which was not until 11:00 ship time. We got a great deal at Dolphin Discovery (booked direct). We spent less than $300 for all 4 of us, as opposed to the $200/pp for the ship's excursion. Also, the ship's excursion was after ours...our group had 15 people; theirs had too many to count. We enjoyed the beach, beer, and snorkeling at Chankanaab before the dolphins. There was also a free sea lion show and pool. Good time for good price. The dolphins were a great "check that off my bucket list" thing to do. I would never have paid almost $800 to do it. Each person got to do 5 things with the Dolphins. They try to sell you a disc of the pictures at the end (which is expensive). We negotiated the 3 person price instead of 4, and it was $139. Well worth the once in a lifetime photos though. I enjoyed the dolphins, but would probably not do it again.
Belize: Let me start by saying excursion: great. Everything else: yuck. This is a tendering port and it took forever to get where we wanted to go. We had to be in the Follies lounge by 7:35 am to get tendering ticket. (This is the only time that booking a Carnival excursion would have been a plus.) We got off the boat about an hour later. The tender took about 30 minutes to get to shore. We chose VIV tours to do a cave tubing excursion. They were GREAT! However, the trip to the excursion took an hour and 15 minutes each way. That is the case no matter who you use, as that is the cave tubing spot. The ride is awful--very bad roads and long. However, our guides were fantastic. They got our biggest tip of the trip! Our driver was Carlos and the guides were David and Manuel. They told us everything we wanted to know about Belize and remembered all of our names (about 20 people on this mini-bus). We had the only young children and they were great with them. They carried the tube for my youngest and took special care of him. Once we got to the site for cave tubing there was a HIKE to the site to get in the water. It is not for anyone who has endurance or leg issues. The caves were gorgeous and the water was nice...not freezing as I had been told. Another guide named Edna joined us and was a private guide for my family of four. She pulled us through the caves and told us more history of Belize. After the 2 cave systems we travelled through, we were able to float down the river and even do some cliff diving into the water. We chose VIV because of all I had heard about the tubes. They FOR SURE had the best tubes. They had a mesh bottom and headrests. Trust me when I say it is totally worth it. We looked at the Carnival folks as well as the other private tours and the tubes looked like giant life preservers. You will want the headrest. Also, I would advise against doing the cave tubing and zip lining with any company. You will have less time in the caves and will be rushed to get it all done. Overall, I though Belize was gross. The shopping outside of the port was scary and dirty. This tour was great, but the extra four hours in travel time (tendering and to the cave site) was not great. I would be fine to never go back to Belize. The tour guides had a lot of interesting information to say about Carnival. They said that the tours that Carnival books have no money that goes to the local economy. That alone makes men want to book outside Carnival.
Roatan: Would go there again over and over. This was the first time I had been to this port. The port itself is amazing....but I hated the fact that it was the least amount of time we spent in a port! We chose Clip and Zip for the zip lining trip. We walked right up to it, rather than having to take transportation. That was a benefit for us, as we wanted some beach time. The only thing I wish we had seen here were Victor Bodden's monkeys. The 12 lines were great! I am afraid of heights, so I was not super excited about this...but the kids and DH loved it! I must admit the views were gorgeous. We zip lined first thing...we had several guides...one I remember was Carrington. He went in tandem with my 7 year old for most zips. Totally worth doing! Good price too...I think $140 for all 4 of us. After the zip, we went to Mahogany Bay beach (a beach near the port that Carnival created). It was great: bars, food, snorkeling, chairs, shade...I was disappointed we had to be on the ship by 2:30. We were one of the last folks to get on...so the line was long to get back on the ship. Everyone wanted to stay.
Grand Cayman: Another tender port. This tender was only five minutes, but you still had to go to the Follies lounge to get your tender number. The tendering was not as bad, since you did not have far to go. We chose Native Way (a Cruise Critic recommendation) for the Stingrays, Starfish, and Coral Gardens tour. Most that chose this tour on the ship did the one that also went to Rum Point beach and lunch. We did not because we had gotten enough sun the day before and did not want another beach day. Elden picked us up at the port and drove us to the boats. We joined one other family on the tour that we were going on and about 15 people went on the Rum Point tour. We basically had a private charter! The other family had 2 kids too so it was perfect. Our guides were Andrew and Andrew. They were great! They took us to Stingray Sandbar and helped us to interact with the Stingrays as much as we wanted to. We then went to a spot to see starfish. They picked up the starfish and gave one to each person to interact with. We then went to another spot to snorkel. It was awesome. They were never pushy about anything and we enjoyed everything that they did for us!
Instead of being dropped off at the port or beach, Elden dropped us off at a "bus" stop, as we wanted to go to the Cayman Turtle Farm. We paid $10 each way for the bus for all 4 of us. I say "bus" because it was a minivan. ? Elden said to tell them he sent us and we would get a discount. We paid $10 per adult and $5 per child on his recommendation. It was great! You got to hold, touch, and even swim with them! Well worth it! The carnival excursion to do this was like $60/pp.
Camp Carnival: Thank goodness for Camp Carnival! The kids loved it! They went almost every night after dinner and on sea days. My younger one loved the crafts and games and my older son loved the scavenger hunts. I was surprised I let him check himself out, which I had not originally let him do, but it was fine. The second to last night they each stayed for a late night party...the 7 year old until 1:00 and the 9 year old until 3am! They brought him to our cabin. My DH and I enjoyed a lot of nice walks and time in Serenity together.
Steakhouse: Absolutely wonderful!!!! We went alone and the kids ate with the Camp. This is a must! $30/pp is hardly anything for the whole experience. Food was superior to MDR and staff is so attentive!
Ship Overall: The shows and tendering were the main negatives to me on this ship. I thought the shows were not great. There were not as many shows that interested us as on previous cruises. The tendering too was a turnoff. The outside excursion folks were definitely second class citizens when it came to getting off the boat. The social host (who handled the tendering process) was clear to refer to the Carnival excursion folks more positively than those with "private tours." The food was so/so. Lido was great for breakfast and lunch. The MDR has definitely declined in food. It was not bad, but as I saw on another review, it was Golden Corral-like. The food was good, but nothing special. Also, the wait staff did not do anything special, like before.
Debarkation was the worst. We sat on the Lido deck from 8:00 am to like 10:10 when they called us to debark. Once we actually got called, the process was swift to get through customs. They don't check everyone's forms and ID's getting off the boat, so that went faster. We paid a porter to take bags to the parking deck...very nice. Well worth the money.
All in all, great family trip!