Let me start by saying that overall this was a wonderful cruise and we all had an amazing time. I have some negatives to share, but all in all it was well worth it and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
I am writing this review b/c prior to my sailing date I took the time to read the other reviews posted here and on some other sites, which helped me tremendously in some of my decisions from tours to cabin selection. All little about me and my party: I am 24 years old and this is my 5th cruise. 3 Carnival, 2 Royal Caribbean.
The previous Carnival ships that I have been on were on the Destiny & Imagination (about 10 years ago). All 3 carnival cruises that I have been on have taken me to the same destinations, the Western Caribbean Itinerary. I would of rather done the Eastern, but some of our party booked this before we made a decision, so by the time we chose we just ended up booking it. I didn't mind b/c I knew that the islands & tours were going to be somewhat different then they were 10 years ago...
I traveled with my boyfriend (25) and 2 other couples the same age as us. Although we are fairly young, we are not extreme "partiers"..We took this cruise b/c we are all full time workers and needed as much relaxation possible! Day 1 -
Embarkation Day: We have the luxury of living in Miami, about 10 minutes from the port, so we didn't have to go through any airport issues. We arrived at the port at around 1:45 PM, expecting the lines to be a little less since everyone tends to go earlier - WRONG...Long, long lines that wrapped around the parking lot outside in Miami's 100 degree weather...Luckily we saw some people we knew that were in line entering the building, so we cut in and skipped the outside portion of the line (saved about 20 minutes or so)- and yes, people were probably complaining that we skipped the line, but oh well- every man for themselves! The line starting inside was probably about 45 minutes until we reached the first Carnival lady to checked our passports and took our sail & sign credit card info...Next line was about another 25 minutes before we actually got the sail & sign card. All in all we got to our cabin at about 3:15 ish, just waiting for the boat to leave.
CABIN: We booked a Balcony Guarantee room. The gave us cabin #8384, which is on the Verandah deck 8 and by the AFT (Back of the ship) close to the elevators..Our friends had a balcony room on the same deck, just close to the front. IF you have seasick issues then get a room closer to the back. Our friends room rocked one night while we had no idea the boat was even moving!! Anyway, THE Balcony is definitely the way to go. Although you think you don't spend enough time in your room to enjoy it, trust me you will. Just leaving the door open at night and falling asleep to the waves crashing on the boat is worth every penny. And waking up to the sunrise (on port days) it's amazing watching the sun rise with a cup of coffee on the balcony! The cabin itself was fairly large, nice King bed w/down sheets & a small sofa with coffee table. Plenty of closet & drawer space and a well-designed bathroom with lots of room for all your stuff. Some people who wrote previous reviews complained about all the noise you can hear from your cabin- I was able to hear people screaming in the hallways (on occasion), but if you leave the balcony door open, it filters most of the noise out..
SHIP: Huge and very impressive. All done with the blue & Green tones and absolutely beautiful. However, the previous reviews said that they noticed it being a little run-down in terms of stained carpet and holes in the elevators. I made a point to look at all this and I did not find any holes in the elevators, but I did see some stains on the carpet in the hallways. Other than that, the rest of the ship was always kept extremely clean and maintained well. The ship is 5 years old, you can't expect it to still be brand new when there are over 3500 people hanging around at all times. There are elevators on each side of the boat and in the middle and it is very easy to navigate. Give yourself 1 full day and you will be able to get around with no problem.
ENTERTAINMENT: There are several bars and clubs, each with a different theme and nightly entertainment. I cant say which one we enjoyed more b/c they were all great. The Casino is huge. Slots are very tight, wouldn't recommend it. I probably spent about $200 altogether in the slots and didn't win ANYTHING, not even once! However, I did fall in love with blackjack - and won about $500 on the last night of the cruise!! Carnival always has something planned; either different games, shows, poolside activities, bingo (i won $120!), auctions - you name it, they have it down pact...We didn't participate in any of their games and didn't really go to any of the shows except for the late night comedy one (midnight show, no kids), which was great - the Magic show was very very stupid and would not recommend it. We actually saw the rest of their games and shows on the TV in the cabin and they seemed to be pretty funny if your into that kind of stuff. Our cruise director was some guy named Steven, i think. I never saw him in person b/c we didn't attend anything. I heard he was good though. This was his 3 Victory cruise, apparently the previous director was annoying!
FOOD/DINING: Everywhere and Anywhere. They have several dining options if you don't want to sit at your formal dining table. All day long they offer buffets and sit down breakfasts and lunches. They also have great 24 hour pizza with diff. choices along with 24 hour sandwiches and room service. They came up with this cool idea since the last time i cruised that you can leave your breakfast order on your door the night before and they will bring you what you choose the next morning at the time you specify. Perfect for Port days.
Room service would wake us up with coffee, fruit and danishes. Amazing on the balcony! However, I was not very impressed with the food overall. I remember it being better, but i was younger back then so I really don't know if the quality has gone down or what. The food is not bad, but it can be better. Royal Caribbean tops Carnival when it comes to food. The good thing is that if you don't like what your eating, you can always ask for something else...AS MUCH AS YOU WANT!
We initially requested the late seating with the rest of our group. They ended up giving 4 of us the 8PM and the other 2 the 8:30! Of course we complained the first day and sure enough the next day we had a note slipped under our door that we had been moved with the rest of our party for the late 8:30 seating. I recommend either the 8 or 830 seating b/c you have so much more time to spend your day without being in a rush to get ready for dinner. IF you get hungry earlier, have a snack - food is all over the boat! or eat a later lunch. They also have the shows scheduled for after the late seating also, so you wont miss them. Our waiter was not impressive at all. In fact I was a little disappointed. All my other cruises had exceptional waiters that had great personalities - this one was BLAH! He was very slow sometimes and it took a while for us to get our food. The bread lady / asst waiter was not great either. I know this doesn't affect everyone's dining experience, but i wasn't too thrilled with the waiter at all! We skipped dessert most days b/c we were tired of waiting so long..
POOL/DECKS: Lots of pools, about 4 or 5. The AFT pool is open until midnight. I never went in the pools, I love swimming but they kind of gross me out with so many people in them. Nothing against the pools on this ship, i've never been in the pool on any boat. Same situation with the Jacuzzi's. We never had a problem getting deck chairs. I would recommend getting them close by the showers b/c it can get HOT! Or the best place actually is on one of the top decks. Its a lot breezier and you don't feel the sun as much, but you are getting even more sun b/c you have nothing blocking you. One of the top decks is the nude deck, usually just topless girls.. IF you don't mind it, go up there for sure (no kids running around).. The slide is a lot of fun and was never closed.
SPA/GYM: I didn't do any spa treatments although I had planned to. My friends did and said the massage was great. They do have different specials on a daily basis, so don't book on the first day - wait till you get the flyer. The gym was awesome. We worked out a few times and there was always an open machine. The sauna/steam room is great also -they overlook the water.
PORTS / TOURS: First port of call - Cozumel; We wanted to do the ATV Beach tour, but of course we waited until the last day and they were sold out. I read on some reviews to wait until you get to the port to book them separately and you will find them cheaper. We tried doing this in Cozumel, but we didn't find anyone offering any tours that were not sponsored by Carnival. We ended up doing the Dune Buggy Beach Adventure tour which was GREAT! It was about 99/per person and included a trip to a private reef where you go snorkeling for about 1 1/2 hrs. (including the equipment). Then you followed the rest of the tour on your dune buggy (4 per buggy) to a beautiful private beach where they had umbrellas & blankets for each person along with a huge Mexican Buffet ready for us. We spent about another 3 hours there, jumped off the cliffs into the water and played some volleyball. We got back to the ship at about 3, went in, changed & showered and went back to the city to do some shopping and site seeing. We stopped at Fat Tuesdays for a few hours before we got back to the ship close to midnight.
GRAND CAYMAN: They still had lots of hurricane damage, but it was really nice. We didn't find any tours that we wanted to do that was worth it, so we did our own tour (highly recommend this!) - we rented scooters ourselves for $40 per day (and 2 on a scooter) and rode around the whole island all day. We stopped at every beach we saw, jumped in and jumped right back on the scooter to the next beach. We went to Hell and back (literally, Hell is a city in Grand Cayman). We saw some people who were doing the "CITY TOURS" that they offer and they were envying us for not spending the money and doing it ourselves. They just wished they were able to jump in the beautiful ocean when they pleased instead of getting back on the bus! We ended up at some beach where we paid $15 for a banana boat ride (really fun) and ate some appetizers. We then rode around a little more, did some shopping and finally went back to the ship. At this port you have to take a tender, which your supposed to be on by 3:15 (last one), but at about 3PM we saw this huge line to get on the tender so we decided to continue shopping until we saw it go down a bit. As long was we were able to watch it, it was fine and we weren't worried that we weren't going to make it.
OCHO RIOS: Great place. We booked the beach horse back riding tour which was great as well. It was about 100/per person, but well worth it. We got to this ranch where they partnered us with a horse and rode for about 2 hours down a little path. It ended up the beach where we stopped for a few drinks and hopped right back on th horse, bareback, in the beach. The horses go in up to their heads, very impressive! We had a blast. We finished this at about noon time, so we had the cab driver take us directly to DUNNS RIVER FALLS. I've been there 2wice already and I can go another million. IT is so refreshing and amazing. Recommend it to anyone. They try to hook you up with a tour guide employee that takes you up the falls, but if you are fit you should be able to do it on your own with no problem. We skipped the tour guide and climbed ourselves. Thank god, we saved about 45 minutes b/c you would have to wait for everyone in your group to go onto the next portion. Go by yourself if your not scared.
DEBARKATION: Another nightmare. We were leaving with our friends, and they had a different tag color then us and got called earlier than us. We decided to go with them anyway. They never checked us and told us we came at the wrong time. We did however have to wait about 1 hour to get off the ship. Finding our luggage was really easy though, since our color hadn't been called yet, there was no one at that section!
Overall we had a blast. It was great and we relaxed a lot and had an awesome time. The children were there, but not overwhelming. ALthough it was full to capacity (3500 people), it didn't seemed packed at all. The lines were not long and it never felt crowded. My only negatives was the quality of the food, the slot machines and our waiter. Oh and the pictures, pictures everywhere!!! But they are really expensive. We took pictures of the pictures (sounds bad, but if you think that you spend 20 per picture, its totally worth it and they come out great! Carnival overall is defiantly the best for the money with no question. We are pretty "high maintenance" (unfortunately), and this lived up to our standards!!!