Embarkation - we drove from our home in Syracuse, NY down to Manhattan the night before the cruise. We stayed in the Hampton Inn Times Square North (8th Ave) which offered valet parking for $30/night and a full breakfast buffet in the morning. It was great to kick off our vacation with an evening enjoying the bright lights of Times Square (7th Ave) which was just a block from the hotel. The morning of the cruise we woke early and after our filling breakfast (with free morning paper) we took a cab to the 911 Memorial/construction site. Sadly, it is now a tourist trap and the memorial is blocked from view by curtains. You need to pay admission to enter and the "exhibit" does not open until 10am. So we chose to have a quiet moment around the edges of the site. We could see the beautiful new construction soaring into the sky. We took a cab back to the hotel, checked out at 9am, retrieved out car from valet parking and headed to Pier 90 where our ship was docked. We took 8th Ave North 2 blocks and turned left of 55th St. That takes you directly to 12th Ave (Hendry Hudson Pkwy) and the entrance to Pier 90 is right there. My husband dropped us off at the passenger terminal entrance, a porter took all our suitcases for us (we tipped him $3) and then my husband went to park the car. Plenty of parking at the Pier. $280 for 8 days. Must pay in advance, cash or credit cards are accepted. Because we arrived and assembled our family by 10am we were able to go through security in no time at all. Then we headed to check-in and received our stateroom sail-and-sign cards and were directed to a waiting area to board the vessel. We were allowed onboard around 11:30am but staterooms are not available until after 1pm. Lunch buffet is served on Lido deck 9 and the elevators only would go to deck 9. Passengers were able to relax on Lido deck or on Atlantic deck 3. If you choose to purchase beverages from the bar while the ship is still in port, expect a small, additional NYC tax to be added. It's around $0.45, but just an FYI. Each passenger is allowed to bring aboard one 12pk of soda per sailing. This can save you some cash.
We were allowed to head to our stateroom on deck 6 by 1:15pm. The ship left the port at 4pm. Our luggage arrived piece by piece (not all at once) throughout the late afternoon and it all arrived before dinner. Dinner dress was "come as you are" for the 1st evening. We did get all of our luggage but a memo went out to all guests on about day 2 notifying us all that one of our fellow passengers was missing 2 pieces of luggage and we were asked to check that we had only our own luggage. Of course this seemed silly by day 2. One would think that a stranger's luggage would be turned in on evening 1 if it had been delivered to the wrond stateroom. I'd prefer to think that everyone on board was honest and caring and didn't keep someone else's luggage, and that those 2 pieces of luggage simply didn't make it on board.
We chose to eat our breakfasts and dinners in the Bacchus Dining Room every day. We've sailed several times before and find the buffet to be crowded and the selection to be very boring and predictable. I can go to a salad bar and stand in line for "mall style" chinese buffet any old day. Plus I hate that so many hands (touch all the serving utensils). Not everyone uses hand sanitizer before lining up for the buffet. Lots and lots of kids and teens at the buffet too. Hard to find a seat while you're wandering around balancing your dishes on a tray, bumping into people, trying to locate the rest of your family so you can attempt to sit together. If you're looking for a nicer dining option, slow down and dine. It's not a free-for-all buffet feeling, but you an have as much as you want. Just have it served to you. If you want 3 lobster tails, 2 filets, a second or third sushi appetizer, another serving of scallops, or 2 different desserts you only need ask. Your wait staff will gladly deliver. As for lunch, we were usually very full from breakfast and skipped lunch. If you get hungry during the day, I recomment skipping the traditional buffet. They offer a "grill" poolside and you can get hamburgers with all the fixings which are quite good. I also highly recomment the deli where they offer grilled paninis/sandwiches and their pastrami and corned beef are delish. The deli is open 11am-11pm. 24 hour pizza on this ship is not that great. It tastes like prepacked frozen pizza. The 24 hour ice cream/frozen yogurt is self serve (soft serve) and it wasn't that great either. The texture had a "grit" to it and it tasted like artificial sweeteners were used. Save the calories for dining room desserts which are very good - especially the chocolate melting cake served with hard vanilla ice cream. Heaven! And offered every evening in the dining room only.
Beer costs around $5.70 a pop, but you can buy a bucket of 4 beers for $22. If you usually order a bottle of wine at dinner each evening, purchase a wine package and save some money. They push the wine packages the 1st evening at dinner but it's a fair deal and you can enjoy a variety of wine for a good price. Mixed drinks/frozen drinks vary from $7.50 to $12.50, depending on whether you go for a basic glass, a souvenier glass with the Carnival logo on it, or some ridiculous (and large) blowfish cup or an (enormous) and hard to carry coconut "head" cup. The only benefit to purchasing a souvenir glass (with the Carnival logo on it) is a $0.75 savings on refills in that cup only, during the rest of your sailing - keep in mind that the savings is on "drink of the day" or a short list of "drink specials" which change each day. If you're into those very sweet, tropical style cocktails then this may be for you. Frozen cocktails range from $7.25-$8.75 on average. The "Miami Vice" is very good - it's half strawberry margarita, half pina colada. Yum!
While we had a larger stateroom with a larger balcony, I cannot stress to you how tiny the shower is. Water pressure wasn't that great and some passengers complained that at certain points they either had only scalding hot water or freezing cold water, a few didn't have any shower water. These issues were taken care of, but good to know that spa-like showering isn't to be had on board. They have built in shampoo and body wash mounted in dispensers in the shower but I'd suggest you bring your own body wash and scrubber, shampoo and conditioner. Their products are watered down and they do not lather up and you are left with a film on your skin that doesn't rinse clean. You might want to plan to shave your legs outside of the shower. It's almost impossible to do in the shower. What is provided to guests are plenty of bath towels, beach towels, and bath robes. They do not offer body lotion (like many hotels, and other cruise lines). Lotion would be very nice to have to keep your skin moist from the sun and salt air. So bring lotion/moisturizer from home. There is a hair dryer in the cabin. Ours was in the desk/vanity drawer (not in the bathroom) and it was built in and on a short cord so you couldn't really move far or in a circle to style your hair while drying it. Just an FYI for the ladies.
The beds are truly heaven. The mattresses, linens, pillows are to die for. You will sleep well and they have room darkening shades. Having a balcony for us is a must. On this cruise ship, our stateroom door was not a sliding door so you need a door stopper (you have to ask your room steward for one) to prop it open which is a pain since it sticks out on the balcony (and not inside the cabin) when it's open and takes up space. We've cruised on other lines where the balcony doors are sliding doors and it's a space saver for sure. Easier than opening a very heavy balcony door too - and it is very hard to open and it slams shut every time.
Grand Turk has a dock and it's a very short stroll (with a view of the pretty beach) to the entrance of the cruise center. We enjoyed the huge pool for our day in Turks. We rented a cabana (it's considered an excursion you buy through the ship) and it was well worth it. It's small but all you need. We had air conditioning inside and there was a large L-shaped sofa and large coffee table as well. We had a key and we could store our things inside, lock it up, and wander around the shops and Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. The music and bar/restaurant service was great. Expensive, but good. We could sit in the sun, the shade of the porch on our cabana, or inside in our air conditioning. The pool has a swim up bar too. We ordered quesadillas and two kids of wings and probably 2 drinks per person. It was about $80 for the tab for that. There is a wave runner (surfing simulator) on site and for $29 you can use it for an hour. The line was fairly short and the staff on the wave runner were excellent with the kids. We didn't have the nerve to try it.
We had a wonderful day on Half Moon Cay (private island). We also rented a cabana on the beach there and it was worth it. It was open air with a covered area. They have a fridge for you and a table and chairs, two nice louge chairs. They supply you with fruit, veggies, dip, salsa, chips, soda, and bottled water. We also had float pads for the ocean, and snorkel gear for everyone in our family. They run an air conditioner and a fan (that doubles as a misting fan). They set up a BBQ on the island for lunch. Burgers, hot dogs, jerk chicken, green salad, potato salad, fruit, cookies, lemonade. They have covered dining areas to sit an eat lunch in a tropical setting. They have 3 bars set up on the island. A "shipwreck" on the beach (called Captain Morgans), and then two bars in open-air (covered) structures. Great music on the island, a few games (limbo contest, swimming relay, sandcastle building contest). You can sign up for horseback riding, parasailing and such.
We have been to Nassau, Bahamas 4 other times and so we found this to be a boring port for us. You are bombarded with locals hawking junk, offering tours, hairbraiding, etc. No good beaches unless you book an excursion to take you to a remote area or over to Atlantis. We find Nassau to be dirty and if you wander too far off the main shopping/city limits, you get a vibe that you aren't too safe. We have had locals approach us offering to sell us illegal drugs. Never, ever get off the ship in Nassau after dark and if you must (stay in a group).
Our 13 year old loved Club O2 and we hardly saw her the entire cruise. After one scare we quickly came up with a check-in plan so we would know where she was planning to be, with whom, and for how long. The 2nd night of our cruise she failed to return to our cabin over an hour after the last organized activity in Clob O2. It was late, after 1:30am and my husband and I searched the ship several times over without any luck. Security saw that were were distressed and once they learned we had a missing child on board I cannot say enough about how professional and wonderful they were. They located our wandering teen with a few others. They were sipping on cocoa in the ship's library, talking. But, a missing person (especially a minor) is a big deal at sea. They were moments from waking the captain, and within an hour of contacting the coast guard before the kids were finally located. Note: Camp Carnival for younger kids requires parents to check their children in and out. Club O2 is for older teens and they have freedom on the ship. Security understand this age group very well and they seem to know all the teen hang outs. The kids weren't up to anything bad, but they just got lost in time. Honestly, there aren't clocks on board. The kids got a lesson on checking in with parents and the consequences of not doing so. Again, I cannot say enough about how wonderful the ship's security is.