Summary: We had a great time, would love to do it every year. Weather was perfect. We think Carnival is an excellent value and loved this itinerary. Our kids were lobbying to stay on the boat at the end, lol. We spent about $4,000 total for an eight day vacation with a couple of other activities between DFW and Galveston.
Family Info: Married couple in our 30's with three toddlers that drove down from DFW area. We didn't take car seats onboard.
Galveston Port Experience: Toddlers + long lines + too many bags = Horrible Experience. Getting from the parking lot to onboard the ship took so long we went from thinking "we'll be there with plenty of time to spare" to "OMG we barely had enough time"! On the way back, my wife stood in line forever to get a porter with a cart. I took the three kids to the blue canopy bus stop and got a 'no luggage' ride back to our car without waiting for too long, strapped the kids in, gave them snacks and a drink, and made my way back to her and the luggage sitting on the curb (pay attention to the flag color above your pick-up location). Be sure to use the restroom just before you go to the port and just before you get off the boat.
Camp Carnival Experience: Youngest child (age 2) lasted 10 min the first attempt, did ok with delayed parental departure on subsequent visits. Oldest child (age 5) wanted to play video games but only was able to on port days when the younger kids (age 2 to 5) can roam to the adjacent older kid area. Our kids spent 1 to 4 hours at Camp Carnival per day, and averaged 2 hours or so overall. Just enough time for mom and dad to have some alone time. The (1) cell phone they give to each family with age 2-5 kids was very handy. The workers there tried very hard to get all of the kids engaged in the activities and to feel comfortable ASAP. They even called us to say that our youngest was having a good time, which allowed mom to stop worrying and relax.
Key West: All five of us did the CityView Trolley tour (large open air buses) and prepaid online for the discount. We went to Higgs Beach, the garden/museum next door to it to use the restroom (lol). I didn't realize the beach continued on the other side of the garden/museum and had restrooms over there until we were at the bus stop again. The kids had a good time making sand castles, but we didn't stay all that long, was very hot and no shade. We went to the next stop, did Southernmost Point, the Butterfly museum, and ate at Southernmost Cafe. The grouper fish special at the Cafe was some of the best seafood I've ever had. The pigeons walking around are quite annoying and our toddlers inadvertently (but sometimes intentionally!)fed them to the chagrin of the staff. The butterfly museum was small but very nice, our kids liked the fish pond the best, lol. If the trolleys are close to being full they would just tell those waiting at the bust stop to catch the next one. ("There is one right behind me" is equivalent to "wait another 15 to 20 minutes"). Some folks would take up an entire row and would not make any attempt to make room for those trying to get on. Yeesh.
Freeport: Sans kids we did the Lucayan National Park tour through Pat & Diane, and Irvin was our tour guide. He met us as we got off the boat, which was great. Freeport has industrial/storage facilities at the port, not very attractive there. The roads were in great shape. Pine trees all over that are tall but still skinny, not what I expected to see. Lucayan National Park had a couple of nice cave entrances and some interesting flora and fauna, and a $5 entrance fee. Sturdy footwear is recommended, didn't cover much distance though. Spent an hour or so at Gold Rock Beach across the street which is amazing at low tide. Post card beautiful, truly breathtaking. Vendor at intersection sells local/home made goods that were tasty, I liked the coconut cake though it didn't have a very strong coconut taste. The Goombay Punch and the Ginger Root (?) sodas were very good, something different. The drive was quite long overall because of the distance from the pier to the Park, plus we picked up a couple at a resort on a different part of the island. The tour guide Irvin listened to talk radio for part of the return trip, which I found humorous. He had told us quite a bit about the island on the way out and this allowed us to zone out or enjoy the views at our leisure. He helped us find the right store in the shopping corridor, very helpful. I really enjoyed this tour, but would try something different next time.
Nassau: All five of us went to the Hilton and prepaid online to get the discount. The staff there was great, very nice hotel. Go through the marketplace when you get off the ship and turn right to walk on the sidewalk past Straw Market, about 10 minutes you'll run into Senor Frogs, turn left and the front entrance to the Hilton is on the right at the end of that block. The walk with three toddlers isn't too bad if they walk themselves, but not fun when they want to be carried on the way back! I found several broken beer bottle pieces that had washed ashore, not a big deal though and I knew to expect that based on what I had read about on the free beach nearby. Their toys were in pretty rough shape but still usable. Their beach chairs, towels, etc. were in good shape and we were glad to have use of them. Their beach was fantastic, had little blue minnows, there was a crab or two you'd come across if you used your goggles to look down when in the water. Our kids LOVED this place and wanted to go back every day. Sadly, no more beaches like that remained on our trip.
Ship Food: Amazing. Everything I had hoped for, I had two dinners in the main dining room every night. The dessert/coffee bar was cheap and so worth it. Glad I didn't discover it earlier or I may have gained even more weight! Red Frog Pub was really cool. Conch Fritters were great, Fried Grouper Fingers was a lot of food for the money. Wife really enjoyed the house beer, a great deal. The Tandoori grill was great. The guys at the Pizza Pirate (24hrs) would be working in the back so I'd have to knock loud enough for him to come out. Our kids had ice cream after every lunch and dinner and LOVED it, probably the highlight of their cruise, lol. We had to buy extra baby wipes in port because we used so many to clean up after ice cream. Made it to the last Tea Time, wished we would have made it the other days.
Ship Shopping: the kids really like the inflatable cruise ship. Cherry On Top candy store was great, had a lot of fun in there. Wife bought a great $10 indiglo sports watch she really likes. Pictures were a bust for us, kids weren't having it.
Stateroom: Room 140x was great, had a nice large unobstructed oceanview on Deck 1 Riviera, we had the two twins put together to make a King, the steward put the murphy bed near the window back into the ceiling to give us much more space. He left the other one down and we pulled that mattress off and put it in front of the sofa bed and tossed the ladder onto the top bunk to keep the kids off of it. We were afraid they'd break a leg or something. Our three toddlers had plenty of space on those two beds, we had the King to ourselves and pulled the curtain at the food of the King bed for some privacy. Having the shower/tub + sink bathroom and the shower+toilet+sink bathroom was very handy. Tons of closet space. Very quiet on that deck. Not much sea motion in that part of the ship which was great for my sensitive wife (she swears by the patch). Using a transparent shoe organizer with thin over the door hooks was awesome, got one off Amazon. Allowed us to find everything very fast, and I think the Steward appreciated being able to clean faster without the clutter all over.
Service: The restaurant staff didn't dote on our kids like I expected, but the Stewards and their helpers sure did. The service we received was generally very good, was rarely disappointed. The ship was always very clean, the workers earn their money for sure. Once we figured out how to use the tv, we ordered room service a couple of times and enjoyed the prompt service.
Entertainment: Our youngest didn't go to the waterpark as he isn't potty trained. The other two had a wonderful time at the waterpark. We made it to the Piano bar once for Elton John hour, had a good time. The entertainer was good but couldn't hit those high notes. He has a very warm personality and is a good entertainer. The Red Frog Pub singer/guitarist was outstanding, really liked him. We found our place. The Arcade was fun, our 5 year old played a few games in there and got a prize for his tickets. Wife played video poker for an hour and came away a little ahead so that was awesome. We didn't go to any shows, couldn't get all of our kids to go/stay in Camp Carnival at the same time. Even though my wife thought it was overpriced, she really enjoyed her spa 'hot stone' massage and the therapist went over the stated time a little, nice bonus.