Funny how you plan and read, read and plan, and then your vacation's over before you know it! This was our 5th cruise and second time on Carnival, and I am pleased to report that there were no major complaints. Naturally, everything was not to our liking, but as the saying goes, you can't please all people all the time.
Embarkation: This turned out to be better than expected. This particular trip ended up leaving from port everglades due to Hurricane Katrina. Since everyone was booked on a ship that was supposed to leave Tampa, Carnival bussed us down. For our inconvenience we were all issued a $50.00 credit, and honestly, I felt that Carnival was being generous because we did not stray from our itinerary once we were under way, and certainly Carnival can't be held accountable because of the weather. We were told that busses would be starting from the airport (or pier) at 10:00, so we were there (at Tampa Airport) at 8:30 or so. At that time, we were just a few "knots" of people, but slowly, as the flights started arriving, or as people started making their way from the hotels, the crowd started growing. Early on, we started forming a single, line, which in the end, helped us all get the busses under way in a timely manor. Of course, there were some "special" people who didn't think that they should stand in line like everyone else,and tried to cut in right at the front, but they were the exception to the rule. The person behind us had a lot of class, and let them in without a confrontation, which certainly would have ensued. Coincidentally, we bumped into some friends we made thru Cruise Critic, which made the bus ride to the port as enjoyable as a 4+ bus ride can be.. BUT, because everything was done on line at Tampa, and we were arriving in a steady stream, we just walked up and got on the ship. no line at all.
The Room: We booked an outside guarantee (6a) but were upgraded to a balcony with an obstructed view (7a) Cabin #5147. This was our first time with a balcony. We loved having our coffee out there in the morning..once! We used the balcony a total of maybe 2 hours the entire cruise. I would not turn one down on an upgrade, but would also not go out of my way to book one. We just didn't use it as much as some people probably do. The room itself was very comfortable. The sofa was turned into a bed for our 5 year old. Plenty of storage, and the racks in the bathroom accommodated all our toiletries. The shower had great pressure and nice hot water. The heavy curtains kept the room dark for sleeping in or napping, which we did often (isn't that what vacations about?) Our steward kept the room spotless. One tip which we heeded was to bring a power strip. There was only one outlet on the dresser. The power strip was great for keeping the cell phones charged, our son's Gameboy ready to go and we also took along, and plugged in a cheap alarm clock. That way we didn't have to turn on the TV to see what time it was.
The ship's decor itself. Amazing. a lot of over the top decoration, but we thought it was kind of cool. As for some previous reports of a lot of nudity in the art, it was just that..art. And as for the "grapes" in the dining room..where did they find all those pink "tap lights"?
Food: Our routine was to order breakfast every morning, eat lunch at the Lido with our son, and then have dinner like adults while he was at Camp Carnival. Breakfast was delivered during the time window we asked. The order was correct each time. Now, as for the coffee, well, it was some of the best dishwater I ever had, but it wasn't a great cup of coffee. Lunch at the Lido was great. the 24 hour Pizza place was a nice touch, and our son had pizza almost every day. It was nice that he could eat what he wanted while we had something from the regular buffet. The lines were not bad, or if they were, we hit them at the right time. The hamburger/hot dog stand was a bit crowded-ish but not unbearable. Dinner: we ate in the dinning room 5 of the seven nights. Our waiter and his helper were excellent. Always smiling, delivered our meals quickly, and always got it right. The food itself was great. By contrast, we felt Nick and Nora's was NOT a value.
The food was presented nicely and was tasty, but at Nick and Nora's we actually had to ask for more bread (someone didn't come around like at our regular table) and my water glass needed refilling constantly, unlike the dinning room. This may sound petty, but if your going to pay extra for food and service on top of what you've already paid for food and service, I thought it should be spectacular, not just "nice" Next to Maguires, there is a little sushi stand open during designated hours. Not the best I've ever had, but perfect to get a sushi "fix" while away Midnight Buffet: Way too much of a good thing. But that wasn't Carnival's fault that was mine!
Camp Carnival: We used this service intermittently thru out the cruise. Our son loved it there. As a matter of fact, this was one of the factors in why we choose carnival. We were very pleased, and the crew really took wonderful care of our son. We did not stay out late many nights, but it was nice to know we could if we chose to.
Casino: Played everything from the penny (yes penny) to the $5.00 slots. Wish I could say I came out ahead, but 6 nights playing and six nights of losses. The casino workers were very happy to take our money tho :-)
Shows: I only took in the Beatles review, and really enjoyed it.
Ports: Grand Cayman: We took our son out to the sandbar to see the stingrays. He loved it, and we are hoping to get back some great pictures. You can get a disposable underwater camera onboard, but you can save a little money if you get one at Target or Wal-Mart before leaving home. Costa Maya: We got off the ship for a short time, and it was a brutal walk to the end of the pier because of the heat. We've been to Mexican ports of call before, so after looking at yet another silver shop we got back on board and enjoyed some family time at the pool.
Belize: We decided to go beyond the compound gates and look around ourselves. Mistake! We were accosted by people wanting to gives us tours at every turn. There was a little jade museum, but after that, we flashed our cards and went back thru the security gates If we return to Belize, we will probably do an organized tour, or stay on the ship. Although we did not do the cave tubing, the reports from our friends on-board were quite positive.
Cozumel: A quick cab ride ($6) from the ship to Carlos and Charlie's. 3 yards of Margaritas later, I am told we had a great time. Seriously. potent drinks, decent food.
Perhaps next time I'd partake a bit less, but hey, it was a vacation, and someone else was driving, both the cab, and the ship. Incidentally, this was the other night we skipped dinner in the main dining room. Can't imagine why :-)
Debarkation: (this time in port of Tampa) Was nice to see they gave up the color coded system and just let us off when we got the "all clear". We had an early breakfast in our room, and after that, took our carry-on items out, and down to a lounge next to the gangway. Once given the all clear, we were actually in a cab within 15 minutes, and arrived at Tampa Airport by about 9:40. So, there you all have it.
As I said, nothing major to complain about. Hope I covered something that may assist you in your planning, and I will try to answer whatever questions you have in the coming days. Now, its back to reality, and all the laundry left from the cruise!!