My husband and I are 39 and this was our 9th cruise (3 Carnival, 2 Royal Caribbean, 1 Celebrity, 1 NCL, 1 Princess) and 1st 5 day cruise. We prefer longer cruises (7-10) but this turned out quite nice probably because we combined it with visiting family before and after the cruise. On the day of the cruise, we got a ride to Houston Hobby and then took Galveston Limousine Service for $30 pp 1-way to Galveston.
We left Hobby at 9:30 am and reached the port at 10:15 am. We checked our luggage (although we could have carried on everything but our largest suitcase) and went up to the waiting room. We could have checked our luggage and then walked around Galveston but I wanted to get on the ship as soon as possible. We boarded at noon.
First, we ate lunch on the Lido deck. Then, we went to the Spa to volunteer to model for the spa tours. It worked; they called our cabin just before 2 pm to use me as a model for the Ionithermie treatment. I received a $145 treatment for free. We also stopped by the Maitre D to change our dining time to the early 5:45 pm seating. There are 2 dinning rooms with 2 dinner times each for a total of 4 dinner times.
Weather: I was surprised that it was a little cool on our first and last days. I expected Galveston to be warm in April. I've never been cold leaving out of Florida even in October or November.
Our cabin was R151, an inside cabin. There was a tile missing in the bathroom and the toilet paper holder was missing a part but other than that the cabin was great. We love the larger size of cabins on Carnival ships. The shower was one of the biggest we've had on a cruise. Toiletries provided were: flossing brush, men's and women's razors, hair gel, tooth paste, shampoo and conditioner (sample sizes, except for the razors, it probably wouldn't be enough to make it through the cruise). The soap was Lever 2000 (bar for the sink & 2 different kinds of liquid in the shower which was particularly nice). We asked for bathrobes and the cabin steward brought them the next day. It is a pain to have a separate key for the room, a separate key for the room safe, and your sail and sign card instead of being able to use your sail and sign card for everything.
Entertainment: We enjoyed the two main shows; especially the 2nd but we find all the other shows (welcome aboard etc. pretty boring). Carnival seems to have improved their offering of music and music groups spread out around the ship since we last cruised with them in 2003.
Food: We enjoy the dinners in the dining room the most. We like that Carnival also has a variety of food at lunch including food from different parts of the world. We especially enjoyed the Indian food. Read your Carnival Capers to find out which lunch line has the ethnic food. Breakfast is the worst meal of the day and is pretty much the same limited fair every day and gets old fast. We ate 1 night on the Lido deck because we stayed in Cozumel late. The dinner selection was good but not as good as the dining room. On formal night, go to the Captains Party to get free drinks and appetizers. This is a great way to try a new drink without having to pay for it.
Cozumel: The Captain announced the night before that we had some engine trouble so we would be arriving late in Cozumel. We had arranged with Eagle Ray Divers (www.eagleraydivers.com) to do a 2-tank dive during the day and a night dive in the evening since we were in port so long. We tried to contact them by e-mail to let them know we were going to be late but apparently it didn't get through to them. However, they were great and left directions at the marina where we were supposed to meet them as to where they were going and how to catch up with them. It was a short cab ride away to another beach. We really enjoyed our dives with them. Our first dive was just us and the dive master. The 2nd was with 4 other people and the DM (6 to 1 is a good ratio). We saw sea turtles, a big lobster, a hermit crab in a conch shell, lots of beautiful coral and lots of fish. The second dive site was fun because we could see our ship from the dive site. After our 2nd dive, they kept our dive gear and dropped us off at the pier for a few hours. We ate Fajitas and chips and salsa at Fat Tuesdays and shopped around a little. Later we met them at the marina for our night dive. Our night dive was at the same site as our 2nd day dive which was fine because we saw different things at night then during the day. Also, it was beautiful to come up in the dark, see the beautiful star filled sky and then look over and see the ship all lit up. It was so beautiful peaceful. On the night dive, we saw a couple of octopuses, several lobsters, a big crab, an ell that looked like a snake, a big flounder, a school of small jelly fish (about the size of acorns). We would definitely dive with Eagle Ray Divers again.
Calica: We prebooked the Carnival excursion to Xcaret ($55 pp). It is a beautiful place with lots to do and see and plenty of hammocks by the ocean to enjoy the sites and sounds. I wish we could have stayed to see some of the night shows but we had to leave by 3:30 pm. We took the advice of other cruise critic members and did the underground river first thing when we got to the park. We pretty much had the river to ourselves. The water was cold but not too bad. You do have to swim to get through. You can't just float. I recommend water shoes or rugged sandals to protect your feet from rocks. We also enjoyed the Butterfly Pavilion, cemetery, turtle exhibits, and bat cave. We missed the Orchid house and a few other things - decided to chill in a hammock by the beach instead. We ate lunch at a really nice Mexican restaurant in the park, La Cocina. It was a little pricey but you got a lot of food and really good food. We had a Mexican meal for 2, a margarita each (they were huge!) and 3 other nonalcoholic drinks for a total of $60. Check out all you can see and do there at www.xcaret.com Also check the Cruise Critic forum boards for suggestions and advice.
Disembarkation: This is the first cruise that we've been on that had self-disembarkation. We decided not to do it and let someone else carry our baggage. We were off the ship by 9:30 am.
Houston: We bought tickets ahead of time for the show "Movin Out" (music by Billy Joel, choreography by Twila Tharp) and loved it! We also ate lunch and bought an all day pass ($15.99 pp) at the Downtown Aquarium. The food was overpriced but the 150,000 gallon aquarium in the center of the restaurant is fantastic! The shark voyage was cool and the other exhibits were very nice. Check it out at www.downtownaquarium.com
Advice: Before you go, read the member reviews of the ship and check the forum boards for other tips and suggestions for what to do in each port. It really pays off to do a little research. On the ship, read the Carnival Capers every day to fully take advantage of what's available on board.