We flew from Nashville to Ft. Lauderdale the night before the cruise and stayed at the Days Inn, Hollywood/Ft. Lauderdale. The hotel is old but, very clean and had a nice staff. They had a free shuttle from FLL airport and, although we were told the shuttle to the port was $8 per person, they did not charge us.
We arrived at the port at about 11am and were on-board by 11:45am. We were told our cabin would be ready by 1:30pm. We headed to Lido and grabbed lunch from the buffet. I had Mongolian, which was really good - and spicy.
Our cabin was ready sometime before 1pm and our luggage was there before we left port. We didn't meet our room steward until late on day 2. But, our room was always impeccable. We had to go to Guest Services to request that the partition between our two balconies be opened. It was done within an hour.
We alternated between the Lido buffet and the MDR for breakfast, ate lunch at the buffet daily, and dinner in the Chic DR every night at the late seating. The food was always good. No complaints whatsoever.
Our servers in the dining room were excellent. The were Jeson, I Kadek, and Gregory. Our bar waiter was Milan. We enjoyed his company and felt like we had made a friend by the time we debarked. I don't remember the maitre d'. She was friendly enough the couple of times we spoke to her but, she lacked personality compared to the maitre d's on our previous cruises.
The various musicians, comedians, and variety shows throughout the ship were good. The shows in the main lounge were entertaining. Ticket to Ride was billed as the best show afloat. It starts out a little slow, with a lot of instrumentals and a stage performance that made me say, "huh"? But, after the cover band took the stage, the whole atmosphere changed. So, if you feel the urge to leave early in the show, don't. It's gets better! I think that was the case with all of the shows. They got better as they went along.
Brad, the cruise director, was a little more reserved than we're used to. I never saw him in Carnival attire, only slacks and dress shirt, and sometimes a suit. He left most of the quirkier activity to his assistant, Steve. They were both funny and did an excellent job. My only complaint here is that many times when Brad made an announcement about joining an activity, the activity was already in progress and it was too late to join. The reminders needed to come earlier.
First port was Key West. I've been there before so I decided to let my 3 cruising buddies choose the activity. They decided to just walk around and see the sights. I suggested doing a tour but got shot down. We walked about 6 miles, grabbed a drink at Margaritaville, took pics at Southern Most Point, and returned to the ship. I really recommend doing a tour. My friends learned nothing of the history of the island. What a loss for them.
Next stop Grand Cayman. We did the Coral Reef, Stingray Sandbar tour. This was absolutely magical! Even if it's waaaaay outside of your comfort zone, I suggest swimming with the stingrays. What an incredible experience! Money - The GC dollar is equal to about $1.25 American. We went to Margaritaville in GC for lunch and spent over $100 for 4 people! The menu is in GC $$ so make sure you are adding 25 cents for every dollar.
The port in Ocho Rios is stunningly beautiful. It was so sad to head up into the hills only to realize that the magnificent homes you could see from the port which were once beautiful works of Spanish architecture, are now in ruins. The poverty we saw was striking. I felt guilty that these people were living in lean-to's while I was enjoying this incredible vacation on their beautiful island. The people were wonderfully friendly and grateful for us being there. The cruise industry provides a lot of their income. We went on the Chukka zip line and river raft tour. Both were exhilarating! Our river guide explained to us that Jamaica has very little wildlife. We never even saw a fish in the river. The absence of natural predators explains why they have 124 species of birds though!
We expected the Lido deck to be crowded on sea days. It wasn't bad. We were always able to find a table to eat at and deck chairs to sit in. The serenity pool was always crowded so, we never used it. There were never more than
8 - 10 i the two pools on the Lido so, that's where we stayed. We only used a hot tub once. When we first got in, there was a couple in it that had six children, all under the age of 12. The children were all well-behaved. After a few minutes, the parents got out and left the children in the hot tub unsupervised. Then the kids went ape-#$%^! We were able to "kinda convince" the kids that they should go find their parents and all was well with the world.
I should also mention that our cabin was on the Lido deck and was much quieter than we expected. The passageway to the cabins is concealed from the regular foot traffic. I had read complaints before our cruise that the noise from other cabin's balcony doors slamming was really bad. We heard that and some mystery noise that sounded like a metal hook swinging against the side of the ship. After the first day, we completely tuned it out and it didn't bother us.
We had a late return flight so we were one of the last to debark. We were held on the ship a little longer than expected due to a back-up in customs. I was glad to be held in the air-conditioned comfort of the ship as opposed to standing in line with my luggage in the hot port.
All-in-all a great vacation. I am a firm believer that a cruise, or anything in life, is what you make of it. Enjoy the good and don't let the bad get you down for more than a minute. Move on.
I definitely recommend this ship and this itinerary. Clean ship with friendly staff and some of the best ports I've been to. Just wish we could have stayed longer! Happy Cruising Everyone!