Hi, everyone. We did the 7-day Western Caribbean cruise out of Tampa leaving on June 3rd, stopping in Cozumel, Belize, Roatan, and Grand Cayman. Our party of 6 included my partner and various members of his family. His dad was the one who booked it, otherwise I probably would not have chosen Carnival. But, I focused on having a good time and that's what we did.
The Port of Tampa was not bad at all. Parking ($105 for the whole cruise) is right across the street. We looked into some cheaper options too not affiliated with the port, but upon arrival they looked pretty sketch-tastic so we opted for the port's more expensive option. They give you a "chip coin", don't lose it as you will need it to get out upon return. The Port and Cruise terminals were not hard to find. Lines moved smoothly and we were on the ship within 20 minutes of our arrival.
Let's just say that it's as though Vegas died and had an estate sale. This was my first time on Carnival, so I guess I should have been prepared. Plastic silver vase-looking things everywhere with purple and gold trim. You got used to it after a while. Truffles, the main dinning room, had some very odd lighting fixtures.
We were on a budget and opted for an inside cabin on Level 1. It was fine, although I had never done an inside cabin before so that took some getting used to. (Wake up at 9am and it's pitch black.) Antonius from Indonesia was our cabin steward. We didn't see him much, but he was pleasant and we had no complaints with the service - everything was good there.
Around the ship:
The gym was nice and well-equipped with cardio stuff. There are three different pool areas on deck 9. The forward pull seemed to be where most of the kiddies hung out. The middle one was the party pool with the music a-thumpin', the buckets of overpriced Bud Light flowing, and the obnoxious southern frat boys and their moms classin' up the joint. It didn't take us long to realize that as yankees, we were seriously outnumbered. LOTS of southern, bible-belt types. The back of the ship on deck 9 was by far my favorite place, the serenity pool/lounge area. Oversized chairs, hammocks, etc, and no kids were allowed. There didn't seem to be that many kids overall, but it kept the party crowd away too. This is a nice spot to catch up on your reading. There were a couple coffee bars and a piano bar, which was the saddest place on the ship. The guy playing was pretty bad too.
That leads us to the comedy shows, of which many were offered over the course of the cruise with four comedians. The first two (along for the 1st half of the cruise) relied VERY heavily on southern/red neck comedy club fare: WalMart, sweet home Alabama, trailers. It. Got. Old. Scotty K especially. There were two more who were on the second half, and Diane Ford was by far the funniest of the four. While there were a lot of menopause/old people jokes, it was more broadly appealing than the red neck stuff others did. Peter (Pee-tah!) was a fun host. The last guy was a Jay Leno knockoff in looks and in lame comedy. Luckily, the drinks were bountiful.
I'm a musician so I don't like to knock performers unless it's really a trainwreck. I actually thought the dancers were pretty good, not so much the singers though. They were all working hard, just not given good material to work with, as is the case with most cruise line shows.
Ports of Call:
I had never been to any of these ports before. Here are some thoughts.
Just stay on the ship. Seriously. You're not missing anything. A few of us rented a car (you don't need to worry about booking in advance) and drove around the Island. Upon a recommendation from a friend, we stopped at a fun little restaurant on the very isolated east side of the Island called coconuts. The food and drink were pretty good, and the ocean views were great from the wind-swept hill we were on. We would have liked to have swam over there, but you can't really swim cause it's all coral. Meanwhile, all the accessible beaches are private. They won't charge you for chairs, but you have to get $10 worth of food or drinks per person. There's a bunch of boucy-house stuff out in the water. Everyone just hassles you the whole time. Overall, it's not worth stopping here.
Although we were kept from leaving the ship on the tender until almost 10am, the tender itself was not as bad as I've seen described elsewhere. If you can't handle a boat ride, why are you on a cruise? Anywho, we had a great, private tour with cave-tubing.com. It was us a 5 others in a van, with a great guide (Dico?) as our driver. The internet rate was $40 and less than half that the ship charged. You drive for about 45 min each way and get to see lots of the countryside. Upon arrival, you either have to rent water shoes for $3 a pair or just bring your own. There's a 30 minute walk upstream through the jungle which was somewhat taxing due to walking on a rock trail while wearing water shoes with no support and carrying your own inner tube, but once we got in the water it was really fun. I didn't see any bats myself, but others did. All in all, we had a very good time and I would recommend this for people not wanting to be bankrupted by Carnival. They got us back to the ship in plenty of time.
Roatan was lovely, think a less-developed St. Thomas of sorts and not quite as mountainous. We did a Private tour again, and it's strange because you have to walk over some hill outside of the Carnival Ripoff Gift Shop Village (complete with ski-lift to the Carnival Beach!) to meet your tour operator. It was like being in a parade with all the locals standing there lining the road as we came around the bend. I felt like I needed a classic car and a firetruck and I would have been all set! Seriously, though: one thing Carnival does that's odd is that they stay on Eastern time. They let you off the ship at 8am, which is really 6am local time. Our tour operator, Subway Watersports, had previously informed us that they wouldn't be there until 7am. Sure enough, they were right on time, so we shouldn't have rushed off the ship early. Subway Watersports is a good option because they're the only ones who operate in the reefs on the north side of the Island. It was just us and a few other people, with a 20 minute ride to the north side. We were snorkeling and kayaking. If you're expecting an LL Bean style kayak, think again. It's plastic, there's no compartment to sit inside, no foot pedals, you're just sitting on top of a piece of plastic hoping not to fall in. (Apparently, my partner informs me, this is what all kayaks are like in central america.) Skip this and do the snorkeling, which is really good. There were only 6 of us on the boat, the other snorkelers and staff were helpful and friendly. I would go back there again.
We had run out of time to plan this one, so we opted for a parasailing excursion with the ship. The activity itself was fun, but not worth the $90 charged per person. The beach they dropped us off at was selling parasailing in tandem for $70/pp. We were on Seven Mile Beach, and the water was nice. We didn't get to see much of the island, but it was very built up and didn't have nearly the beauty of Roatan.
The cocktails were (I thought) reasonably priced and were your best drinking option. They were less than what you'd pay for one in my former home of Philly for sure. The wine selection at dinner, on the other hand, was laughably terrible. Some of the nicest stuff they had was Kendall-Jackson (roughly worth $12 a bottle here in ATL). Charging $27 a bottle for $5 bottle of Barefoot, Carnival? Really??? I wouldn't mind paying more for a quality wine selection by the glass.
The food on Carnival falls into two categories: Edible, and inedible.
Lido deck food was generally awful. After a few futile attempts, we settled on burgers and chicken fingers on the grill most days. The Chinese was always bad, the French and Italian stuff were always bad, the pizza...well...let's not go there. The ice cream machines were that really low-quality powdery stuff.
The dinning room, Truffles, wasn't any better. The staff, however was clearly working very hard and did their jobs well. I only wish that the pace of the meal wasn't so rushed. Cid and Georgianna took care of us most nights. We were on the anytime plan, but you can request certain sections. We liked talking with our waitstaff, but the food really ruined the cruise for a lot of us. Most things were either way over-salted or had no seasoning or flavor at all. The daily flat-iron steak had obviously just been sitting around in water to defrost. What takes the cake, though? Consistently under-cooked potatoes. Whenever they were served with the dish, they were almost always under-cooked. Deserts always had a strange texture, were they not using flower? I could go on for a while, but there's not much point in that.
I can handle other stuff like the decor and catering to certain clientele, but the quality of the food was downright AWFUL and really impacted how we felt about this cruise. I would gladly pay more for a better product. As the cruise went on, we saw more and more people just eating up on Lido deck.
Easy and swift if you don't do the self assist thing. We were out of there quickly and on our way.
Final verdict: The staff worked hard, a couple of the ports were nice, but I would gladly put more money down for a better food and entertainment product next time.
Props to: cave-tubing.com in Belize and Subway Watersports in Roatan.