This was my husband's and my 5th cruise, all with Carnival. My kids' (ages 9 and 12) 3rd cruise, and we also had my sister, my 7 year old nephew and my mom and dad along with us.
11/1/12- drove to Milwaukee after everyone got off work and as fast as we could get the vehicles loaded. Stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on West Zellman Court and would stay there again. Rooms were comfy, staff was friendly and shuttle to the airport was on time and fast. Our vehicles were in a lit parking lot, near the entrance to the hotel and we returned to find them in the condition we left them.
11/2/12- we got up at 3 a.m. to catch our 5:40 a.m. flight. Arrived at the airport around 4:00 to find although there was a short line at the United counter to check our bags, once we hit security, the TSA agents weren't even there yet. So we waited about a half an hour and breezed through security. The other thing that stinks about that early of a flight is that nothing is open in the airport, as far as for breakfast OR coffee, until 5. No bueno. Luckily we were able to grab something at the last minute prior to boarding.
Flight connected through Cleveland, which was also a nice airport. No issues. Arrived at FLL on time, bags all made it. Called SAS Transportation to pick us up, as arranged, and they were right there. $8 per person to our hotel, the Gallery One Doubletree on E. Sunrise Blvd. Hotel was nice, 1 of our 2 rooms was ready so we dumped our luggage and checked out the property. There's a nice little beach right behind it, on the canal. The kids had fun just pushing the sand around and watching the boats. Then we headed next door to the Gallery Mall and hit up the swankiest food court I've ever seen- plenty of choices, all fresh and reasonable priced. There was Italian, Mexican, pizzas, stir fry, salads and wraps...something for everyone. Headed back to the hotel to take a breather, our other room was ready. Unwound for a bit, got cleaned up and hopped a taxi down to Beach Place on FLL Beach.
Fun place, a few places to hang out, walk along the beach, grab some souvenirs. Way more suburban then Miami, for sure. We met up with my PVP, Jean, and his girlfriend at Lulu's Baitshack. The grouper fingers, wings and tilapia sandwich were good. Only downside is that it was Friday night and they had a really loud band start up around 9:30 and we had to get out of there.
Hopped a cab back to the hotel (it was under $10 for four of us). No issues. Slept like LOGS.
11/3/12- headed to the pier around 10:30. Used VIP shuttle service, they were great and would recommend them and use them again ourselves (as well as SAS that we used from the airport). Around $6 a person to the port.
The port was HUGE; we were told it's the biggest in the country. We've only sailed out of Miami previously. So imagine our surprise when we were dropped off and lead into the cinderblock warehouse. Um. Weird. That went fast enough though, and supposedly they're moving into a new terminal soon. But still. Weird. Onboard before 11:15.
Ship is probably my favorite, as far as decor and crew, thus far. Very muted tones, with the occasional customary neon here and there. Everything was clean and in good working order, crew working here and there to keep it so. Cabins were ready by 1:30, which is sooner than in past cruises. All of our luggage arrived before muster, so we were mostly unpacked before then as well. Cabin stewards (our connecting cabins are right on the dividing line between two stewards) were good, with one of them being AMAZING and probably the best we've had. She introduced herself to my husband, which means he didn't retain it for long and couldn't tell me what it was when I asked. She was very friendly, efficient AND made great towel animals, LOL. I think her name may have been Alisha or Ayisha.
Muster drill was quick and painless. Sail away was fun. Dinner that night in the MDR was good, but again, as we noticed last cruise, the service with Your Time Dining just is not even CLOSE to the service we received in the past with assigned dining times. Which is why THIS cruise, we went into it only planning on using the MDR on embarkation day and one formal night. It literally took our table of 8 well over 2 hours to order, be served and finish our meal. That's a LOT of my vacation time wasted, IMO.
11/4/12 to 11/5/12- SEA DAYS Kids hit Camp a little less frequently this time around, which was completely fine. The more time we get to spend together! I'm not sure if it was because he wasn't as interested in what they had going on there or because he thought he was going to miss out on something that WE did, but we spent a lot of time on deck and swimming in the pool these first few sea days. The kids tried out the waterslide (there was literally NO LINE, EVER because this, for whatever reason, was a CONSIDERABLY and NOTICEABLY older crowd). I did notice that they aren't using trays anymore in the Lido area, which is kind of inconvenient, but if it's for a good reason (like less time spent washing the dang things or less wasted food) than I can deal with it. We hit Lido for dinner one of these nights, which we planned on. Although I find it annoying that the Lido Grill is only open until 6:00. The second sea day, we hit the Steakhouse, and were again reminded of how WORTH the $35 per person fee it is. It was Julianna's first experience with it though (the boys we fed on the Lido deck and took to Camp Carnival before our reservation) and she also enjoyed it.
11/6/12- ST. THOMAS This was our third time in St. Thomas, and we had a good chunk of time in port, so we made the decision to attempt St. John. And we're so glad we did! It really was much quicker and much less hassle than I'd worried it would be. We had arranged ahead of time for Sunny Liston (who we used as a guide for the day the last time we were in St. Thomas) to pick us (and some Cruise Critic friends who wanted to join us) up and take us from the ship to the ferry at Red Hook ($25 per person, round trip). He was there, on time (RIGHT when we were able to get off the ship, we wanted to beat the crowds and other excursions over to Trunk Bay) and as predicted, smile on his face, welcoming us to his island. We jumped on his truck, headed to Red Hook (which took around 20 minutes). Got out at the ferry terminal, bought our tickets (it was around $30 for all of us, round trip, for the ferry) and waited to board. They run every hour, on the hour. Ferry ride took all of maybe 20 minutes.
We had Sunny's help in arranging for a guide over on St. John for the day. Puff Daddy was there to meet us right at the ferry, escorted us to his truck and off we went. A few quick photo stops and we were off to Trunk Bay. GORGEOUS doesn't begin to describe it. $4 per adult to get on the beach. Baby powder sand underfoot, turquoise blue water with gentle waves rolling in. Decent snorkeling (there's a snorkeling trail there, and a little hut to rent gear and a snack bar as well). The beach was IMMACULATE (as it's a US National Park) as well as the bathroom facilities. Drinks were GOOOOOOOOOOD...I can highly recommend the Painkiller and the Pina Colada, but skip the Rum Punch, LOL.
Puff dropped us off downtown after some more photo stops and we hit up Woody's Seafood Saloon near the ferry dock. A basket of conch fritters, a basket of grouper fingers, a basket of wings and a big crab pasta salad, 2 Red Stripes, 3 sodas for $50. HIGHLY recommend it. Nice tshirts and souvenirs to be found RIGHT on the ferry dock at the St. John Spice Company.
Tonight was formal night, and our only other night we planned to eat in the MDR. Again, it took over 2 hours for us to eat and was disappointed in the service.
11/7/12- ANTIGUA We'd never been to Antigua before. Our plan was just to hop a cab to the closest beach and bum around. We found a cab easy enough (just start through the port shopping area and there's the "Taxi Dispatch" which is LITERALLY 25 cab drivers standing around an old man in a plastic lawn chair, who has a book and is calling their taxi ID numbers as people walk up, LOL). I think it was around $6 per person to Dickenson's Bay beach. Beach was clean, but there were a LOT of peddlers (though none of them were too pushy or rude) AND quite a few reports of jellyfish stings. My dad and nephew got nailed (interestingly, my dad got nailed on the back of BOTH knees at the same time, so those tentacles had to be pretty decent sized = no small jelly fish) but Tony at Tony's bar (where we had purchased a few drinks...very reasonable prices and very clean and friendly service) gave us some vinegar in a small cup and it worked like a charm and provided immediate relief (no no one had to pee on them, LOL!). We shared the leftovers with the others we noticed had gotten stung. My husband, early in the morning, said he felt something that resembled a basketball hit the back of his legs and we brushed it off as just odd. Then the epidemic of jellyfish stings. Then a few hours later, he felt the same basketball in the water and we decided we'd best get our behinds back on the beach. We had had enough beach time for the day at that point and headed back to the ship area to pick up a few quick souvenirs. Not a whole lot to choose from but we scared up some tshirts and our Christmas ornament (we buy one from wherever we travel to). Ate at "Cheers" where they not only didn't have half the things listed on their menu, but they served the most disgusting burger any of us had ever eaten. Do yourself a favor and SKIP "Cheers" in Antigua, LOL.
Not overly impressed with Antigua- it ranks just above Nassau for us, because the people were nicer than those we've encountered in Nassau previously.
11/8/12- TORTOLA Our first time in Tortola and we really enjoyed it. Didn't start the day out great, our guide I had arranged for ended up double booking himself, so we had a heck of a time trying to find a guide for a decent price that would STAY WITH US. We just wanted some beach time and then a few photo ops. One of our new Cruise Critic friends, Rachel, came through and negotiated well for us and Carlos was the man for the job.
Tortola is INCREDIBLY hilly. The roads give new meaning to the term "hairpin curves" and it's all straight up or down a mountain. We headed to Brewer's Bay beach, based on good Cruise Critic reviews. Carlos also confirmed that's where his family likes to go on beach days as well. It was a nice, out of the way and quiet beach. No peddlers. Cheap drinks and chair rental ($5 for a full size lounger). A storm had passed through earlier and kicked up some rocks from the bottom on to the beach, but they were smooth ones, so as long as you avoided them it was no big deal. Fun wave jumping here, the kids loved it. My husband and I headed out to the snorkeling area with our gear and eventually found it. It was quite a way off the beach, so I'd recommend some kind of flotation device (the bar rents them) or taking your time to float out there. Spent a good few hours here, loved every minute. Friendly locals as well. Abandoned ruins of a rum distillery nearby...wish I had gotten pictures, but it was cool. The still is right next to the road, still standing. Headed back across the island for the ship area. Local craft market is located about 200 yards from the ship and was the same you see everywhere...tshirts, magnets, bags, assorted jewelry. Our second night in the steakhouse was tonight, and again, impeccable service and outstanding food quality.
11/9/12- SEA DAY A much-needed break after the last 3 days. Although it was rainy and gloomy, our family went on a mission to hit as many activities to win as many "Ships on a Stick" as we could, LOL. After hitting about 4 or 5 trivia games, and a Hole-In-One contest, we came up with 4 trophies and 2 medals! LOL We again watched some movies on the big screen on deck and just hung out as a family. A very relaxing day, and night, for all. Ordered room service again, and again, it was quick and accurate. My son loved the grilled cheese and chocolate cake, as was his standard order. It never took longer than 15-20 minutes to arrive at our cabin.
11/10/12- NASSAU This would be my husband's and my second time in Nassau. Inspite of the fact we weren't OVERLY impressed the first time, I was confident we could find SOMETHING to do that was fun. We had originally booked a catamaran snorkel trip, but the weather wasn't looking great (and my husband had injured his ankle) so we cancelled that. Then we were going to take the ship excursion to Atlantis, but they only had 4 spots (and there were 8 of us). So I figured we could do better than that, pricewise, just cabbing it over to Paradise Island and purchasing the Dig Tour on our own.
Weird port times today (1:00-7:00 p.m.) so we had more time to show off our prowess in another trivia battle. The boys volunteered to be Jedi's in the atrium during the Star Wars theme portion of the "Movie Soundtrack Trivia" and earned themselves each a Carnival medal.
Arrived in Nassau on time, even a bit early. Grabbed a cab for $6 per person cab ride over to Atlantis from the ship (be prepared, they literally pack 18 people in a 12 passenger van, LOL...it's like being in a clown car). Asked directions to the appropriate desk, paid for our Dig tour, got our bracelets and off we went. VERY impressive resort and the Dig worth the money we paid. I was kind of shocked at the almost trashy clientele they had at the resort though...weird. Do yourself a favor; eat before you get off the ship though, because the resort cafes were charging literally $20 for a sandwich over there. We spent maybe 2 Â½ hours there and then cabbed it back to the port area. Found the new straw market (WAY better than the older one that burned down shortly after we were there in 2005), had a man paint a small canvas picture for me, watched the losers pile off the Booze Cruise excursion and stumble down the street (one of whom face-planted right in front of us, as her husband, wearing his balloon hat and toting his melted yard of margarita from Senor Frog's, just watched. Also witnessed a man on a motorcycle snag not one, but TWO, purses right off women's arms on the street. Lesson to be learned- have your male companions wear a backpack. Also paid $20 for 5 sodas and 4 candy bars. ANNOYING.
Back on the ship, headed straight for the grill to eat. Parked our tushes in loungers to watch part of another movie on the big screen. Took some cool pics of the other ships all lit up in port with us. Pulled out of the harbor on time and headed for home. Donated $25 to the casino slots, although in reality I played for a few hours on that. Bought the rest of our pictures and souvenirs and headed to our cabin to finish packing. I really did not care for having a port day as the last day onboard. I much prefer having a sea day so I can ease into "back home mode".
11/11/12- DEBARKATION This is my biggest point of contention for the entire trip. Previously, when we sailed in and out of Miami, we've used Luggage Express three times and not only got our money's worth but enjoyed the service they provided. For $20 per person, they print off your boarding passes, then you meet the morning of debarkation and they escort you off the ship and through Customs (as you don't have your luggage, no need to wait in line with those using traditional debarkation) and then they take your luggage straight to the airport, so you don't need to mess with locating it after your disembark the ship. Easy peasy. But this time, sailing in and out of Ft. Lauderdale, it didn't work that way. We paid our $20 per person, were called in Group 4, then herded into the same line as those people trying to locate and LUG their bags in the big warehouse outside the ship in the terminal. No direct lines, no expedited access to Customs. Basically, for what we paid $80 for, I could have done in 10 minutes for $10 at the Internet Cafe and the only difference would be we'd have to roll our bags about 100 yards from where we'd have picked it up to the curb on the other side of Customs. ANNOYING. But I emailed a contact at Carnival this morning who agreed that it didn't make sense and is refunding our money on that, so I cannot really complain. Just be aware of what it is you're purchasing with that one in FLL.
IN SUMMARY: ship was gorgeous, clean and in good working order. Crew was friendly and efficient. Service in the dining room, for Your Time Dining, disappointed yet again. Kids didn't spend a lot of time in Camp/Circle C, but did enjoy the time they were there. Food was plentiful and fresh. Weather was decent, and the seas cooperated for the most part, and we had a smooth ride. Ports were decent, some more so than others, but we had a good time and made some great family memories. We actually took it a bit slower this cruise, took some time out to just relax and chill out, which was nice and we'll be doing it that way from here on out.