DH and I sailed out of Miami on Aug. 14, 2005. We are frequent travellers; however, this was his first cruise and my second. I have previously cruised with Royal Caribbean and enjoyed it immensely. We had pretty high expectations for this cruise, and for the most part we were not disappointed.
We spent two nights in Miami prior to the cruise at the Holiday Inn Port of Miami. This was a terrific choice, with a location close to the port and directly across from Bayside Marketplace.
Embarkation on Sunday was difficult. We arrived early, about 11:00, and got through the first line about 11:45. Then we went through security and lined up to get on the ship. We waited in this line for over an hour with no movement whatsoever. We learned later that it took immigration longer than usual to clear the boat for passengers to board. One recommendation: TELL passengers this!! There were lots of Carnival representatives sitting around. Why wasn't this information communicated to the passengers? Once cleared however, we passed through the lines for id and souvenir photos quickly.
Personally, I enjoyed the decor of the ship. The ship was decorated in a sea motif with lots of blues and greens, which I actually found soothing. There is a large casino, several beautiful bars and lounges, and two dining rooms. The ship is also impeccably clean. There was always someone cleaning, polishing, painting.
I was also impressed with our cabin; we had opted for an inside cabin on the main deck and it was spacious and comfortable with tons of storage for the two of us.
The most outstanding component of this cruise was the service. Our waiter and busboy, Marius and Vivek, were awesome. I truly looked forward to the dining room experience, and mostly because of their personal service and genuine warmth. Our room steward also did a competent job, although we had no direct dealings with him. The cruise director, Steve, was good as well. In short, there was not one crew member we encountered anywhere who was not friendly and smiling!
I suppose food is a highly debatable topic. DH and I are not picky eaters, but we are certainly well-versed in what would be considered gourmet food. In our opinion, Carnival offers a mass-produced kind of gourmet. They had great menus - lobster tail, tiger shrimp, lamb, prime rib, filet mignon - but the meals in the dining room ranged from average to very good. Nothing outstanding, with the possible exception of the chocolate souffle. The buffet food in the Mediterranean restaurant and the chinese restaurant on the Lido deck was about the same,ranging from average to very good. The deli was great!
Try the turkey sandwiches. I also loved the pizza, but it's worth the wait to get a fresh slice. In sum, we were satisfied with the variety and quality of the food, but don't expect gourmet; it's not.
We enjoyed our ports of call. In Cozumel we did some shopping at ate lunch at Pancho's Backyard, a great place to eat. In Grand Cayman,we went to Stingray City and went snorkeling. I booked independently with Moby Dick tours and would use them again. In Jamaica, we booked a tour (Dunn's River Falls and river tubing) with Phil Lafayette which I would definitely recommend. Jamaica was by far our favorite port; i just wish we had had more time there.
To conclude, we enjoyed our cruise and would go Carnival again. I think their price point and customer service make them an excellent value. However, I did find the ship crowded at times, especially the buffet lines and the pools. I also found that there were a lot of unsupervised children roaming the boat, playing with elevators, etc. If you're looking for a quiet, more refined cruise, you may want to try another line. But for decent food, outstanding service, comfortable surroundings, and a good time, a Carnival cruise is a great choice!