We drove in to Vero Beach, FL the day before the cruise and stayed at the Country Inn & Suites. We drove to the Port Everglades the next morning which was about an hour and a half drive. We chose a Vero Beach hotel due to the high rates charged at the Ft. Lauderdale hotels. We were able to stay the night for only $70 and had free breakfast the next morning before setting off for the port.
This was our 7th Carnival cruise and the first time out of Port Everglades. We got to the port around 11am. Check in was quick and painless. However, we had to wait in large hot room for about 40 minutes to begin boarding. There were large fans going in the room and it was hard to hear the announcements for boarding.
We finally got on the ship about 11:45 and proceeded to the Lido deck for lunch and a drink. I was extremely disappointed to see that Carnival no longer has a "Drink of the Day". The have featured drinks instead, such as margaritas and pina coladas. Come on Carnival, I can have those at home for less than you charge!
We were in an interior room on the 9th Lido deck. We have stayed on this deck before and it was the quietest room we ever stayed in. Not this time, however. Unfortunately, there were some extremely rude passengers staying in the same hall as us who were traveling together. They liked to yell to each other down the halls in the early hours of the morning as they were going back to their rooms. I wish people had the common courtesy to recognize that other people were also on vacation and are not on the same schedule as them. Our room steward, Anthony, was great and responded to our every need. We did have a problem with our room being very hot on our first day(78 degrees) but Anthony called maintenance up to fix the issue.
The food was average to good for the week. Since we have been cruising on Carnival for 7 years, we have seen the cutbacks that others have mentioned; the service is not what it used to be. We chose "My Time Dining" in the Chic Restaurant. Our head waiter, Danny, was great and we requested him every night. However, we could not get him on the last night and did not get as good of service. We had to wait 10 minutes after being seated to even be acknowledged by our waiter. Also, we chose to eat at the Lido buffet a couple of nights. We discovered that the food is the same at the buffet as it is in the dining room (except for the excellent desserts, such as the Chocolate Melting Cake). We ate one night at the Steakhouse which is a great experience with exceptional food. It is well worth the $35 charge.
It was our first time to all of the ports except Grand Turk. In Grand Turk, we laid on the beach and enjoyed the sun. We walked down the beach to Jack's Shack for some drinks. We have eaten at Margaritaville in the past but it is way overpriced. Jack's Shack is more reasonable and just a short walk down the beach.
In La Romana, we booked a tour with Seavis Tours. We traveled by speed boat through the mangroves to Saona Island. This was a great tour. We snorkeled at Saona and were treated to rum drinks and lunch. On the way back, we stopped at a sand bar to see the starfish. Our guide, Kirsten, gave us lots of great information on the starfish and let us hold them. This was the best part of the tour!
In Curacao, we did not book an excursion. We planned on shopping since there were so many great shops close by in this port. We were in port from 2p-11p. However, we were unaware that our day in port was Curacao's Independence Day and all the shops were closed. We just walked around and took pictures of the beautiful architecture and got back on the ship. I wish Carnival had let us know about the shops being closed so we could have planned something for the day.
Aruba was our favorite stop! We took a tour with Sonny Binns, a local tour operator. He has lived in Aruba for the last 20 years and was very informative. We took a 3 hour tour of the island which included the rock formations, Natural Bridge, and lighthouse. He dropped our group off at the beaches on his way back to the port. The beaches are beautiful but very crowded. I wish we could have spent a longer amount of time in this port but it would be a great vacation destination for the future.
Disembarkation was the most disorganized that I have ever seen. The ship was in port very early and started disembarking at 6:30am. We chose to carry our own luggage off about 7am. There were only three lines open in Customs for all the passengers so it took us an hour to get through. There is lots of construction going on in this port so traffic is a mess. Be prepared to spend some time at disembarkation especially if you have an early flight. Plan ahead!!
Overall, a great cruise with good friends. The staff was friendly and helpful overall.