Group: This was our 4th cruise as a family (2 adults aged 43 and 4 children aged 15,16,17 and 18. The couple traveling with us had never cruised before, their ages 50, 50, 19, 17 and 16.
Pre-cruise: We flew into Miami 1 day early and took our pre-arranged shuttle to South Beach and checked into the Pelican Hotel. Very small, eclectic hotel in the heart of Miami Beach. Booked on Hotwire for $160 per night and I was a bit skeptical at first but the hotel exceeded our expectations. Great stay, very friendly, right across from beach, they provide beach chairs and towels for free, free Internet, free happy hour from 5-7(drinks sitting outside Ocean Drive), small rooms but awesome location!
Cruise Embarkation Day: We ate breakfast at the Pelican Hotel in South Beach and had our pre-arranged shuttle pick us up at 10:30am to drop us off at the Port of Miami. We arrived at the port by 11am and dropped off our luggage with the porters. We headed through security and they definitely checked everything. We had brought on 2 - 12 packs of water and they unsealed and shook every water bottle. They did not open up our 12 packs of sealed cokes. Once they realized we had no alcohol we were on our way to check-in for the cruise. Very smooth process and we were on the Lido deck by 11:30 eating lunch and soaking in the rays at the pool. We wore our bathing suits under our clothes/coverups knowing our luggage would not be ready until later in the day. Note: We were told not to arrive until 1:30 but of course since we cruised before we knew to arrive early and we were glad we did. Our cabins were ready by 1:30 and all of our luggage had arrived on our beds! We enjoyed the day at the pool eating all day and drinking.
Cabin: We booked midship Lido deck and we loved our location. It was perfect because 90 percent of our time was spent on the Lido deck. If we were at the pool and we needed something we walked out the double doors and our room was right there. I will always book the Lido deck from now on.
Beverage card: My husband purchased the all you can drink alcohol card for $42.95 per day and it seemed to be a good deal. The beers were $6, dirty Martini's $10, Bloody Mary's $8. So it took roughly 5-6 drinks to get your money back. If there are 2 adults booked in a cabin you both have to purchase the beverage card but since I was booked in a different cabin because kids could not be booked in a cabin alone we only had to purchase 1 card. The total for drinks on our sail and sign card for the week was $330.
Shows: Our kids saw almost every show and they liked the magic show the best. We saw the 80's show and I thought it was awesome. Of course I love 80's music and knew almost every song. We did not see any comedy shows. Do not miss the Hairy chest contest on the lido deck. It was really funny!
Breakfast: We ate on the Lido deck every day. We opted for the make your own omelette station. We also chose miscellaneous items off of the buffet line...pancakes, French toast, potatoes, fresh fruit, eggs Benedict, egg quesadillas (Items changed daily). The beverages to choose: OJ, tropical juice, tea, coffee and hot chocolate.
Lunch: We also opted for the Lido deck for lunch. Choices were: Pizza and calzones (excellent), Deli bar (pastrami was to die for), Burrito bar (Our kids favorite), fish and chips (one level up from Lido deck), Mongolian Wok (Asian cuisine where you pick your meat and vegs and they stir fry), Burger/hot dog Station (grilled burgers and fries...fries were thin and crisp!) Buffet line (chicken, fish, fruit, salad bar, typical buffet food) Choice of free beverages were lemonade, tea, coffee.
Dinner: We ate in the main dining room every night and did the anytime dining. I would highly recommend this option so you are not set on a dining time. If you feel like eating dinner early one night you can and if you are late getting in from port you can eat late. Very convenient to just walk up and be seated. We ate with 11 people almost every night and only 1 night we had to wait for a table. The food was good but some items were excellent: lobster, crab cakes, chocolate molten cake, creme brulee. The steak was good considering how many people are being served (prime rib, flat iron steak, filet) Note: Since they only serve creme brulee one night on our first night we requested to have it every night and they accommodated our request. They will cater to your every need you just have to ask!
Cozumel: We took a taxi to Paradise Beach (cost was $28 for 8 of us). Once arriving there you pay $2 to rent a chair, $12 if you want to snorkel, kayak, do water trampolines/slides/teeter totter, or have a water raft. All the kids had a great time and so did the adults. We also purchased lunch and the food was really good. We had nachos, fish tacos, burritos, chips and salsa. Be careful because they will charge the tip automatically by hand on the reciept. They have a big nice pool with chairs in the water, bathroom facilities and showers.
Grand Cayman: This was our favorite stop. We booked our Stingray City/2 Snorkel sites excursion through grandcaymanexcursions.com. We paid $39 per person. We walked to the cruise terminal right next to ours and took a bus to a catamaran. We boarded the catamaran and cruised out in the ocean about 20 Minutes until we reached a sandbar full of stingrays. It was incredible how many there were and how we could take a picture holding them. The water was warm and crystal clear like a pool...it was crazy! We then went to Coral Gardens snorkel spot and we saw many fish, including a moray eel. It was really cool to see the eel go in and out of his hiding rock. They served water and juice but I wished it would have been bottled water and not out of a dirty looking thermos. All in all it was a great excursion and much lower than the price offered on the boat.
Jamaica: We made a mistake on this stop and decided to just walk around and shop. Really gross and scary! Many people begging for money and wanting you to buy their things. Don't make the same mistake but book Dunnes river falls. You can taxi there and just pay the $$ to enjoy the falls. Everyone we talked to said it was amazing. One person said to book the party catamaran that serves lunch and drinks and takes you there. Do some type of excursion or you will be very disappointed.
New Years Night: The most incredible New Years Eve we have ever experienced. It was a blast! We danced all night on the Lido deck and made the big screen many times and so did our crazy kids. They had free champagne, party hats and blowers. They had time square showing on the outside huge television, along with videoing cruisers while they were dancing. All 11 people had an amazing night And Carnival Cruise knows how to throw a party!!
Debarkation: We were not in a hurry to leave the ship so we opted for them to pick up our luggage the night before and waited for our zone to be called. We were zone 20 and were called by 9:45 am. It was very hassle free and we were on our shuttle by 10:30 headed to Embassy Suites Airport. We stayed here and then flew out the next morning.
Final Review: We had a great week of sunshine (75-85 every day) used a light jacket one night so don't overpack cold weather clothes because it is hot, hot, hot! Pack lots of bathing suits if you enjoy the sun. Get up early and save your spot by the pool. I got up at 7:00 and we had our chairs for the day. If you don't save your chair you will not have a spot. For people that give this cruise a bad review they just don't know how to have fun. We laughed, danced, ate, and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Thank you Carnival for a great Cruise!!