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New Years Cruise--Had a good time even if it was on Carnival
Everytime we get off a Carnival Cruise--we say that we will never go on another Carnival ship--what happens is that someone else books on Carnival--invites us along and then we find uourselves on another Carnival cruise. This is precisely what happened for this cruise--so our expectations were low going in. Embarkation was efficient and being a repeat cruiser puts you in a shorter line. Our cabin was surprisingly large with a nice couch seating area--we had paid for a guaranteed outside room and were pleasantly surprised by the relatively spacious room.
The food was for the most part "blah". Breakfast and lunch was genererally only available on the Lido buffet--and there wasn't too much variation--none that I could see for breakfast whatsoever-same Danish, same fruit, same oatmeal, long lines for the omelets, etc. Lunch was generally the Burger bar--greasy wonderful tasting burgers that were fried with huge globs of butter on top of the ground meat--along with More
fantastically greasy seasoned french fries. The other specialty stations available at lunch--Mongolian wok, deli sandwhiches, and pizza were generally associated with lines too long to be reasonable. Dinner in the main dining room was typical Carvinal--some food good, some not so good--but generally pretty boring. We had dinner one evening in the Diamond steakhouse and were expecting the wow experience that one generally finds in cruise ship pay-extra steakhouses--but weren't too impressed and don't recommend this option.
Really enjoyed doing New Year's Eve on the ship--Carnival has the reputation of being a party ship and they lived up to this reputation. As far as entertainment on the ship--there was always someplace to sit and listen to music, singing--no matter if it was the afternoon or after midnight--there was always someplace to dance and to party.
The ship itself felt very crowded--never a free chair anywhere on the deck around the pool despite the signs stating that you couldn't "save" chairs. (And of course there were the stacks of unused chairs tied together, so you couldn't grab yourself a chair and set it out on some of the upper decks that also had no empty chairs available.) We had difficulty finding empty tables to sit down and eat for the buffet, had long waits for elevators, etc. Two of our stops were tenders: Grand Cayman and Belize--the tenders took forever to get on if you weren't on a Carnival excursion--very poorly organized.
Loved the casino--they had a Caribbean Stud poker table (which is hard to find these days) and had reasonable low limits on the table games--$6.00 for Blackjack.
My main complaint about Carnival is always feeling like they are trying to sell me something and that everything is "cheap". Even some of the entertainment listed in their ship schedule is actually just a sales pitch--teeth whitening, buying art, etc. And if you do happen to "win" something (one in our party won a booty dance contest)--the prizes are so cheap that there are unusable. Was not surprised when the 20-somethings in our group dumped the tequila they had won down the drain stating that it was rot-gut. The free champagne passed out before 12 midnight on New Years was undrinkable.
Despite the above complaints--the ship was clean, felt safe, had courteous enthusiastic crew members and we had a great time.
The itinerary was fantastic and enjoyed going on mostly non-Carnival shore excursions. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
We booked a tour thru Island Marketing/Belize Cruise Excursions called Belize Lamanai Mayan Ruins Experience. We were met by a representative of the company at the appointed meeting place and within 10 minutes were on our way by van to the river. The Van ride was 45 minutes and our guide spent the time talking about Belize and it's people. We climbed into a speed boat and after being told to hold on to our hats we were off. The boat driver was incredibly skilled and we enjoyed the fast paced boat ride to the Mayan ruins on the winding New River. We slowed down only when we ran into other local inhabitants who were Mennonites--that was surprising. We had a tasty lunch prepared by the guide's mother at the picnic area and then started off on the jungle path to the ruins. The big difference between Tolum, ChichenItza and this Mayan ruin--is that you are walking under a canopy of leaves on the way to the ruins instead of being directly in the hot sun. The ruins were similar in size to some of the larger ones in Mexico and you were still able to climb them--as long as you diden't have any fear of heights. We were impressed and would love to come back and spend more time there. We were there about 1PM and it looked like there were only about 20 other people in total at the site. The biggest surprise of the trip was hearing "dinosaur noises" from the trees. Our guide pointed out the howler monkeys in the trees and informed us that they recorded their howling for the T-rex in Jurassic Park. Seeing and hearing the monkeys made this a shore excursion even more memorable and definitely a 5+ rating.
Amazing River & Cavern Explore
the name of the excursion we went on was Amazing Secret River--one of the few Cruise Ship excursions that we went on which exceeded our expectations--if you like caves and like adventure--then you will like this excursion. The website for this natural reserve is www.riosecreto.com. Basically--they outfit the participants with water shoes, wetsuits, helmets with lights and walking sticks (if desired). You then descend from a cenote into the cave and start wading, swimming and walking thru this amazing cave with amazing stalagmites and stalagmites. The tour itself lasts about 1 1/2 hours--we would love to come back in the future and spend more time there.
Booked a speed boat thru Island Marketing to take us to Stingray City and Snorkeling. Unfortunately--we got off the boat 2 hours later than expected due to Carnival's disorganization regarding tenders on the ship. What it looked like to us is that Carnival was only using 1 tender at a time to unload passengers--on the way back--they opened up 2 entrances to upload people back onto the boat. So--when we got to our appointed meeting area 2 hours late--no one was there. The folks at the Blue Iguana store were not helpful, so we tried to find a local phone to call the tour operator. Only 1 out of 5 outdoor payphones was working and we had to use an international phone--which ended up costing me $31.00 in order to contact the tour operator who said he was at the appointed spot by that time. He had to rearrange for a taxi for the 11 of us in the group--and these arrangements took another 30 minutes. When we finally got to the boat and onto the water--it was heavenly. Stingray City was crowded and the stingrays were not hungry anymore (they basically ignored the squid we brought)--but they are still mangificent animals to see up close. We then were taken to a snorkeling area and spent about 30 minutes seeing the most incredible assortment of fish I have seen in the Caribbean. We then had the choice of what to do next (Starfish beach, mangrove tour or lunch)--we opted for lunch and MudSling cocktails--which was the perfect way to relax after a hectic morning. Loved this personal tour which was cost effective as compared to the cruise ship tours--the only downside was the ladder to get onto the boat from the water. It was a bit too flimsy for some of the overweight members of our group and several of the men got leg bruises after climbing back into the boat.
We had visited Roatan about 8 years ago off of the cruise ship and had described it as an undeveloped pier area with a village about a 20 minute walk from the ship. I was quite surprised to see a theme-park like plaza off the pier with all of the usual diamond/surf/alcohol shops that you see at the major ports. They also have a beach now that I didn't see the last time--connected to the pier by ski lift. You can also walk to the beach which takes about 10 minutes and skip the ski lift charge. We strolled to the beach and barely found a path to walk--the beach was jam packed with lawn chairs, cabanas, tables, etc and felt even more crowded than the cruise ship if that could be possible. We quickly turned around with the idea of going back to the ship and sitting by the pool on the ship and came across the Zip Line Express. You can book the zip line either from the ship or just walk up to the building and sign on there. We signed up and enjoyed a 12 line--zip line tour that lasted about 45 minutes. The zip line was in a scenic aream, was run safely, and there was no weight limit. Several new zip lines and under construction and scheduled to open in several weeks--the most exciting zip line will go down to the beach--that will be beautiful!.