We drove to Tampa the day before the cruise and stayed at the Embassy Suites right across from one of the malls. The hotel was great and you could take their shuttle free of charge to many places in town. We made use of this service to go to dinner that evening. We got a late checkout and headed toward the cruise terminal around noon. The terminal was only 15 minutes from the hotel, so it was very convenient.
Upon arrival at the terminal there was a lot of traffic. We went ahead and opted for the valet parking. With four kids and a lot of luggage, it was just easier and well worth the extra $25. I considered off site parking but for the convenience - especially with six of us, I just felt that the extra cost at the terminal was well worth it. Maybe if it was just my wife and me, that would be different. Embarkation was very smooth. We waited in line for a little while, but not long at all. Once we checked in, the ship was ready for us to board and by the time we got on, our room was ready. It was very smooth and no complaints.
Our room was quite nice and didn't feel cramped (at least not to me, but it was just me and one son, my wife had the three other kids in her room). We had two balcony rooms side by side. We went to the Purser's desk and asked to have the divider between the balconies opened. It was opened by the afternoon of the second day.
After we dropped a few things off and checked out the rooms and meet our room steward, we headed to the Lido deck for some food. There were several options on the Lido deck. No problem finding something to eat. The food wasn't awesome, but it was good. And of course, as much as you wanted. We purchased the coke cards (six of them) which was a very nice treat for the kids. They got cokes at every opportunity. We were never shunned for having the cards by any of the bar staff. Any time servers were in the venues we could always get cokes without any significant delay.
We went to the sail away party - that was fun. We stayed up there for a while and then I took the four kids to the Camp Carnival introduction. That was okay, but not worth the interruption, in my opinion.
At 5:30 we headed to the room to get ready for dinner at 6. We had early seating in the dining room, and this was great. Our servers were great. As is customary, the servers quickly knew our preferences and predicted what we wanted. Also, they had a little show most nights. The servers and some of the guests would sing and dance - it was really neat and one of our kids got up and danced.
We went to the shows in the main theater most nights and caught much of the comedy and karaoke in the comedy club. I also participated in one of the game shows and won a ship on a stick. There was always something to do. My only complaint about the main shows is that one evening there was no kid friendly show in the main theater. It was a newly wed game, so they could have easily tempered that to make it family friendly and it would have been just as fun. I was really disappointed in that.
With the exception of one kid for about 90 minutes, our kids never went to Camp Carnival or Circle C. But all of the kids had a lot of fun on the cruise.
Day 1: Day at Sea
We ate breakfast in the main dining room, it was great. Then we spent most of the day by the pools and the slide. The boys really enjoyed the slide. I went once, but had to scoot all of the way down. Apparently some adult men figured out the trick later in the cruise, but I never got to try again.
Day 2: Cozumel
We ate breakfast in the main dining room again. We were docked and headed down the pier to the shopping area that you have to go through. Not too much that jumped out at us. We headed to get a taxi to head to Mr. Sancho's. We pre booked the all inclusive package and had a great time just relaxing at the beach and eating and just not doing much. If you go to Mr. Sancho's, take some cash. You need it for a deposit on the locker and a deposit for the kayak if you want to do that. I also tipped our waiter. We took a taxi back towards the pier. We asked the taxi driver where she would suggest to go get some souvenirs and she suggested a small flea market area about 2 blocks from the pier entrance. She dropped us off there and the kids bought some souvenirs and I picked up a reasonably priced Cuban cigar. Dinner in the main dining room.
Day 3: Belize
I pre booked a tour with Dorian (www.privatebelizeadventure.com) to Xunantunich. It could have been a little easier to find our driver when we got off of the ship. I won't say it was Dorian's fault, but it was a little confusing. Thankfully, one of the other tour callers at the terminal called Dorian for us and then we quickly found our driver, Paul, Dorian's brother. We tendered into Belize and it took quite a while to get to the terminal. Xunantunich is about 1 hour and 45 minutes from the terminal. I was very concerned that we couldn't get there and back before the ship departed. Paul was very aware of our concern and kept an eye on the tours that were arranged by Carnival. We always stayed ahead of that group, so we had a good chance of getting back in time. We had a wonderful tour of the ruins and Paul was a great guide. We had a traditional Belizean lunch (roasted chicken, rice, and beans) and the kids even ate most of it. It was quite good. Paul had plenty of bottled watter and cokes for us. He got us back in time to catch the 4:00 tender, which was supposed to be the last tender, but I'm sure it wasn't. There were two tour groups from Carnival that hadn't made it to the terminal yet. My only complaint is that I didn't get to try any Belikin Beer, which I hear is very good. Oh well.
Day 4: Mahogany Bay, Roatan, Honduras
Breakfast in the main dining room. We leisurely left the ship and went through some of the shops at the pier. We walked down to the beach. One of our kids wasn't feeling well and so we headed back to the ship. Some went to the pools, some took naps, a very relaxing day. I looked at excursion options - both Carnival and independent, but nothing really sounded like anything I wanted to do with four kids, so I didn't plan anything and we didn't do anything. The seas were somewhat rough that night. During dinner the rest of the family left a few at a time to head back to the room. I sat there at the table for six all alone and enjoyed my dinner in peace and quite .... One kid ventured out with me later that evening to some of the shows, etc.
Day 5: Grand Cayman
Breakfast in the main dining room. We tendered to Grand Cayman. There were a few shops there, but we had to hit the Pandora shop - twice. I had nothing planned this day either, and there were several tours being promoted at the terminal. But, we skipped them all and went shopping. There was a guy offering a tour of the area - normally $20pp, he was selling for $10pp that day. One child really wanted to see the turtle farm and his tour included going there (not including admission). The tour was great we went by the Governor's house, the oldest house on the island (a different place), Hell, a Tortuga shop, and we were able to spend 30 min or so at the turtle farm. It was plenty of time for us to enjoy the farm and for our kids to hold the turtles. In fact, one child got in the little pool with the turtles. We got back to the terminal area, bought more Pandora, and then hit a few more shops and back to the ship early. Kids were able to enjoy the slide on board. More rough seas, a few people didn't make it through dinner.
Day 6: Day at Sea
Breakfast in the main dining room. We hung out at the pool all day. The slide was closed, unfortunately, I believe due to rough seas. We even got rained on a little bit. We got to see the ice carving demonstration and the first ever Legend flash mob - which was neat. That evening they had the Legends show where several cruisers participated - that was the firt time I saw a show that had guest participation and I thought it was really neat. We put our bags out and went to bed.
Day 7: Debark day
Breakfast in the main dining room. With six of us, there was no way we were going to qualify for self assist. We left the room by 8:30 as requested and waited near the main theater on the third floor. I guess it is a new rule (since our last cruise) that all non-US citizens must present themselves to US Immigration before anyone may debark the ship. Well, someone didn't show. They called his name 4 or 5 times and finally around 9:30 or 9:45 he showed up and they could start debarking the ship. We were number 14, so we didn't get off until after 10:00. Most of our luggage was readily found, but one piece wasn't with any of the other luggage and it took us about 15 min to find it. A little frustrating. It didn't take too long for the valet to get the car and we were on our way home by 11:00 - much later than I had hoped, but we were headed in the right direction.
A few thoughts: 1) the ship was in great shape, but it was beginning to show its age. It is 10 years old, and the oldest ship we have ever sailed on. 2) The staff was great. I never ran into anyone who wasn't helpful or happy to be there. 3) For the price, I would definitely sail Carnival again. I didn't feel that I experienced poorer service on Carnival than any of the other lines we have been on. The ship was older, but that wasn't a problem.
All-in-all, we had a great time, and one son who had never been on a cruise said many times, "next year when we go on the cruise...." All of our kids had a great time.