This was the best cruise we have ever taken! My wife and I wanted a good memorable cruise for us, our two small boys (ages 3 & 4) and my parents (ages 65 & 70). We went in with an open mind that nothing is perfect and that this is a huge ship. Whenever you are trying to board 3,000 passengers in a 3 hour window, issues will arise. I was a little hesitant at first because of some of the negative reviews from people who perceived Carnival people as rowdy drunks, however we were pleasantly surprised. This is our third cruise and first with Carnival. The first two were with Royal Caribbean (Sovereign of Seas) and Celebrity (Mercury). By far, this cruise was cheaper and much much better than either of them.
The embarkation was pretty long (~2 hrs) and the lines in the hot sun at pier C made some people's tempers flare. However, once on the ship the mood and the experience quickly changed. We got in line at 10:30 and were in our room by 12:30. Our luggage arrived at our room around 3:00. Our category 6A room on the Spa deck was beautiful and huge. Our room had an adjoining door next to my parents identical room. Both rooms had a full wall window with an unobstructed view from the 11th floor of the ship. We didn't want a balcony for the fear of our boys would try to climb it. We brought a small porta-crib for our 2 yr old, but we didn't need it because they setup a bunk bed. I don't know what mattress they use, but I want to buy their brand because it was the most comfortable bed I slept on. My wife and my parents had the same opinion.
This ship is huge with many things to do. It is very clean. Calling it spotless is not a stretch. The crew was constantly cleaning the ship 24/7. We heard mixed reviews on this website about the food, so we were prepared to pay $25 pp for dining in the Scarlett's Dining room. Frankly, we didn't need to because the food in the Washington (assigned dining) was very good. The waiter had no issue with us each ordering 2 entrees per night to try a little of everything. The fried tiger prawns with mango chutney was awesome! The Indian chef also specially made for us a dish called shrimp mukani. This was the best dish I have ever had.
The on board activities made the time at sea fly by. They have a water slide that is a complete blast. The pool was a little cold. I wish they used a heater. There were plenty of chairs. You will be ok if you are not insistent upon having a chair right in front of the pool. My kids loved Camp Carnival. They had activities that kept them busy all day. They just is down on certain days from 5:00 - 7:00 which is a bit strange.
Our 5:45 dinner seating had a ocean view table allowed us to watch the sun set. I would recommend the early seating at 5:45. This gave us plenty of time to get to the 8:30 pm show. The shows were very entertaining. They had this break dance duo act which was awesome. You have to see it. They did an encore show in the lobby after the show. The cruise director, Dangerous Brian is hilarious. He said this was his first week on this ship. He did a great job. This schedule allows my parents who are not night owls and the kids go to sleep by 10:30. We kept the adjoining room door open to my parents room in case the kids woke up. We told my parents where were going to be at all times in case they or the kids needed us. My wife and I kiss our kids good night and head over to the Karaoke club and watch people try to sing. At midnight we would head over to the adult comedy act.
I read some negative reviews about long wait times to tender in Belize. We didn't have a problem what so ever. I noticed that people who purchased a shore excursion didn't have a problem. However the lines were very long for people who just a general tender to the shore who didn't purchase a shore excursion. The following are my comments regarding each port of call:
- Belize: beautiful, but poor island. We did the city tour and the tour of the Mayan ruins. Very good, but I heard the cave tubing was awesome. The town is very proud to be a port of call for Carnival. These excursions are a big boost in their local economy. Carnival is currently building a pier which will eliminate need to tender.
- Roatan: Very beautiful. We toured the botanical gardens and butterfly farm. I wish the shore time was longer.
- Grand Cayman: Very commercialized. Bought Tortuga rum cakes. You can get free samples every way.
- Cozumel: Very commercialized. This city has transformed basically from a 3rd world city to very modern town. In 1997, it was kind of dirty with shacks and beat up buildings and roads. Now the streets are pretty clean with very modern buildings. All the vendors have licenses in full view of customers. There are police everywhere. Prices have shot up since 1997. We spent a boat load of cash here. The bargains are no longer like they used to be but still less expensive than the other islands on this cruise. We rented a scooter which fun. Make sure you fill up the tank before you return it. They will hit you with a $10 charge (.5 gal of gas) if it isn't filled to the neck.
Debarkation was pretty much like embarkation -- ~ 2 hours. We were so exhausted by the end of our trip that I felt like I needed a vacation from my vacation. It was a blast! I hope you found this useful. I have gained a wealth of information on this site, so I thought that I should return the favor.