DH and I have cruised ten times. This was our fifth CCL cruise. We live NW of Baltimore. We're in our 40's and traveled with our DD (8) and DS (6). We tend to cruise Carnival when taking the kids and try other lines when it's just the two of us. We try to cruise twice per year.
We flew in the morning of departure. We prefer to arrive the day before, but DD was in Girl Scout camp through Friday afternoon. We booked a sleep-and-fly package at an airport hotel. Since we were staying on in Florida for an extra week post-cruise, it cost less than 14 days of airport parking.
Our flight was on time and uneventful. We were in FLL by 10:30.
We took a taxi to the port for $19. Traffic was light, even with all the port construction. The only downside was a long walk from the terminal where we dropped bags back to a different terminal for embarkation.
Easy and painless. We waited perhaps 5 minutes to get through the security scan, then another 5 to get our sign-and-sail cards. We were onboard by 11:30.
This was our second time on this class of ship. Our first was the Valor two years ago. I did not like the crowds and traffic flow on the Valor and it was my least favorite cruise. I only agreed to this cruise because of the itinerary. We generally prefer "smaller" ships, at around 2,000 passengers.
The crowds didn't seem as bad this time. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to find a deck chair during the day, space in the pool in the afternoon, tables to sit at in the buffet and seats in the theater.
We had a Lido balcony, 9270 which is an 8E. We originally booked an 8B at Past Guest rate, but price drops saved us nearly $300 and the upgraded cabin. The location had pluses and minuses. It was certainly convenient. We were just off the atrium and just steps away from the pool area. However, we were directly across from the guest laundry room. Many people do not know how to talk quietly! I was awoken more than once by people having a chat while folding their clothes.
Main Dining Room
We had traditional, late seating dining on the upper level of the aft dining room. We were at the first booth as you enter. It was just the four of us.
Our wait staff was efficient and anticipated our needs. We purchased a wine package and as soon as we were seated someone was there asking which wine we wanted. Unfortunately, this was before we had even received a menu, so every night, we had to ask them to return after we had picked our meals before we would pick a wine.
There were also some communication issues between the three of them. We'd have two people come to get our wine coupon, our dessert order or to bring bread. We had cappuccino each night and I was sure we'd end up with two of them, but it never happened.
The food was just ok. I had fish most nights and one night one dish was so disappointing that I didn't eat it. The waiter apologized and offered to get something else, but there was nothing else I wanted. I ordered off the always available menu twice because there was nothing that interested me on the daily menu.
We ate most breakfasts in the MDR because I am not a Lido fan. The weird egg mixture was well, weird, so I ordered egg white omelets. They were good.
We also ate two lunches in the MDR.
I don't like the Lido buffet for breakfast. We ate there a few mornings, and I made do with hard-boiled eggs, yogurt and fruit. The kids ate cereal each morning.
I enjoyed the Indian food for lunch. This was the first ship I have been on with it. I never waited in line for Mongolian Wok. I had a sandwich from the deli once. It was fine.
We fed the kids dinner three nights because there were activities going on at Camp Carnival they wanted to attend. They mostly ate pizza or burgers, but one night ate roast beef from the carving station.
We didn't make it to the chocolate buffet.
Used room service only for a plate of cookies one night. We didn't have a menu in our room, and I just never got around to asking the room steward about it.
Every other cruise, my DD and I attended tea time, but we never made it this time.
We're not usually fans of the cruise director. In fact, I don't think I could remember most of their names. But Brad was different. We met him one evening at an event and dh talked with him for a few minutes. He told him about our quest to win a ship-on-a-stick. He suggested we come to his trivia game the next day. We did but didn't even come close to winning. Did you know that a pregnant goldfish is called a twit? Neither did we! Though we've since learned that goldfish don't get pregnant as they are egg-layers. After the game, he remembered us (by name!) and chatted with us for a few minutes. When we returned to our cabin later that day, you guessed it, there was our ship-on-a-stick. So now we're fans.
My daughter, who will be 9 next month, was allowed to age-up to the 9-11 group, but without sign-out privileges. She loved the activities and would go as often as we'd let her. Two nights, she went to the late night parties, the second of which, brought her back to our state room at 3:00am!
My son, who just turned 6, enjoyed the camp activities this time. On last year's cruise, he was uninterested in going to camp, but this year he asked to go occasionally. He spent an hour or two per day there. He also did the night owl program one night, and we picked him up at 1:00am.
I was very pleased with both Camp Carnival programs. There were always at least two counselors with the kids. Security was tight and I was never concerned with my children's safety. Last year, we cruised on Celebrity and I was often uncomfortable with their laid-back attitude. Carnival checks sign-and-sail cards every single time kids check in or out.
We participated in a few family activities. There was a 'Name that tune' game and a photo scavenger hunt. We enjoyed both, but unfortunately never won that coveted ship on a stick. My daughter, however, did earn one by sending a joke to the cruise director that he used on the morning show.
"What did the 0 say to the 8? Nice belt!"
We attended the Welcome Aboard show, Big Easy and Ticket to Ride. The Big Easy show was new to us and I think it was my favorite.
We attended two family shows and enjoyed them both.
I am usually a planner, but just never did it for this cruise. We had a few ideas of what we wanted to do from reviewing our Fodor's Caribbean guide, but did not advance book any Carnival or private excursions except for Paradise Point in St. Thomas.
Using the discount code we found here on Cruise Critic, we pre-purchased tickets for the Skyway to Paradise Point. Carnival's excursion price is actually cheaper (by $1.00) than the walk-up price, so we ended up saving about $15. Of course, we spent more than that on drinks up at the top. Two bushwackers and two virgin pina coladas for the kids was $35. We walked there from the pier. It was about a five minute walk.
Next, we took a taxi to Coki Beach. This was a very nice beach. Crowded, and the snorkeling was just ok, but we enjoyed it.
Taxis in St. Thomas are shared, open sided 'buses'. You may end up sitting for quite a while waiting for the taxi to fill before the driver will leave. We got lucky and found a nearly full one for our ride back to port. We left as soon as we boarded.
We took a taxi tour. For $80 for the four of us, we had the driver for four hours. Our first stop was at Nelson's Dockyard, followed by a stop at Shirley Heights. Then we drove through the rainforest, where we saw the crowds for the zip line, before finally stopping at Valley Church Beach for a couple of hours. Our driver, Phillip, was wonderful.
We were pounced upon as we left the pier by taxi drivers offering tours. We probably could have negotiated a better price, but we were happy and really enjoyed our day.
At Valley Church Beach, there was a bar/restaurant called The Nest, with a changing area and restrooms. It was just beautiful. Snorkeling was non-existent.
Again, we came of the ship with no plan. We ended up taking a taxi tour with the vendor at the end of the pier. It was $20 per adult and $10 per child and the tour was about 3 hours long. We stopped at various photo spots with a longer 45 minute stop at Cane Garden Bay Beach. The beach was very touristy. Crowded and bars galore. It was fun!
Tortola was a place I could definitely see myself visiting as a land vacation. It just seemed there was so much to do and see there. I'd love to return!
Having visited many times, our only plan was to visit the Queen's Staircase and Fort Fincastle. It was about a 20 minute walk. At the top of the stairs was an unofficial tour guide working for tips. He was informative and answered lots of questions. It was well worth the couple of bucks we tipped him.
Before continuing to the fort, we stopped at a little bar and dh got a beer and the kids and I got water so cold it was frozen in the middle.
We then paid $2 total for our entry into Fort Fincastle. It was tiny and not much more than a photo op.
We were visiting family and spending another week in Florida, so we were in no rush to get off the ship. Our tag was #20 and we got off the ship around 10:00.
Finding our bags in the terminal was a big pain. There was no order to the numbers at all. Number 3 would be next to 17 followed by 32 and 10. We had to wander a bit to find our bags.
The ports made this cruise what it was. The ship was crowded and there were many rude people. I lost count of the number of times people cut in front of me in lines or jumped into the elevator ahead of us. We did meet a few nice people here and there at breakfast or lunch in the dining room, but overall, we just didn't connect with anyone like we normally do.
Nevertheless, we had a great week.