Since we are retired, we booked at the last minute. I called Carnival and through a great agent, Tim Lebonan, managed to snag a 9B cabin that had just opened.
We had a flight from hell from St. Louis, with hail, delayed departure, worst turbulence in my 40 years of flying, and then a mechanical on AA that caused us to land in Orlando. The good news was that we walked off one plane and onto another and got to our hotel only about 1 1/2 hours late.
The next morning in Miami, it was blowing and raining. After our hotel's included continental breakfast, we boarded the shuttle to the port. Everything went smoothly for a while, then embarkation was delayed for about 20 minutes, due to the high winds being a threat to the gangway. We were on board within an hour, minus the weather delay.
Having experienced a deluxe suite on HAL, we were still very pleased with the suite-sized balcony. We had no couch in the room, but the 18 foot room and balcony made up for it. Besides, as smokers, we literally lived on the balcony.
We had late fixed seating dining, and absolutely LOVED our wait staff - one was Phillipino and the other 2 were Indonesians. Since we speak a little Bahasa, we all connected immediately, and I cried saying goodbye to Edward, Weta and Indrawa. The food was reasonably good, and we never went hungry. I'm not a chocolate person, but the warm melting chocolate cake was exceptionally good.
The buffet at lunch and breakfast were always adequate, although the grill, Mongolian Wok, deli and burrito bar usually had LONG lines.
All the ports were about what we expected. We had been to Cozumel before, so we just walked off to buy my husband some sunglasses, since he had forgot his. In Belize, we did do the cruise excursion to Altun-Ha and the Wallace River. The ruins are nothing compared to Tikal, Chichinitza, Uxmal or Tulum, but worth seeing. The river ride was really hot. Still, worth an interesting day! In Roatan, we did the Fun & Sun with Victor Bodden. Nice easy way to spend the day. All we did in Grand Cayman was shop for a few souvenirs.
Disembarkation went relatively smooth. We had a long wait at the MIA airport before arriving home.
Now, in conclusion: This will probably be our last Carnival cruise. While we appeciate the fact that we could smoke on our balcony, the only other place was up on the Lido, midship pool. It was a constant LOUD and FRENETIC place. I knew there would be hairy chest contests and ice-carving, etc., but I had no idea that the surround sound speakers would be that loud, and they either played music or ran movies from early morning until late at night, sometimes so loud we couldn't even talk to each other. What's even more mind-boggling is that both the Serenity deck and the aft adults-only pool were BOTH non-smoking. Why not make at least one of these the smoking area, instead of the family area with kids and noise???!!
Holland America makes the aft pool the smoking area, and seemingly, reasonably so, since the smoke blows right off the back of the ship. On Carnival, every time someone opened the automatic doors to the Lido Restaurant, all the Mongolian Wok (MUCH more smoke than from cigs) and the cigarette smoke blew into the air-conditioned, non-smoking area!!
We would probably sail with Carnival again, but for the above facts. The ship and food and crew and cleanliness were all equal to HAL, but the fact that HAL allows one to carry on unlimited alcohol and that the smoking area is more adult-friendly, makes our decision. We will even spend more money to sail HAL again.