Embarkation at Port Canaveral was awesome. I've read so many complaints on this one. The Dawn departed from NYC, and believe me, NYC was SO much worse than this port. Line to boat was probably about 45 minutes. Not bad at all. We arrived about 1 at the port. Parking was easy. Luggage drop off easy. Hardest part of the line was keeping the excitement of the kids contained.
Dropped off carry-ons in our rooms and headed straight to the Deck 9 aft for the Pizzeria. Good pizza. Good fun. Less crowded than the Red Sail.
Accommodations...Our party was split between decks. One family was on Deck 2 in adjoining ocean views. One family was on Deck 7 in Balcony. Both rooms were nice and well appointed. Beds were really comfortable. The trial sizes in the bathroom were nice added touches. Note: For those traveling with smaller kids, the drop down bunks for fourth passengers have a railing that makes it easy for the smaller children to slip through. Wouldn't recommend it for the little guys. Bathrooms on this boat are good size but the showers are very small. Good luck shaving, ladies! It will require creativity.
We had the main seating in the Platinum dining room. Table 523. We felt a BUNCH of movement anytime we were leaving port. However, our wait staff was terrific. We did take our own bottle of wine each night. Our waiter did not charge us a corking fee, however, did ask that we buy at least one bottle of wine so that he could show we had purchased a bottle if asked. We also threw him some extra dough every other night or so as a thank you. (Note: We took 9 bottles of wine in a soft-sided cooler, checked with our luggage. It was the last to arrive in our room, but it did arrive. I think as long as you check it with your bags, you are fine.)The food was very good. Dinner and lunch were very well done. Our only disappointment was that desserts were average--none were spectacular. Other than burgers and pizza on rare occasions, we did not eat at Red Sail. (One exception: Chocolate Buffet. DO NOT miss this. For us, it was on the last full day of the cruise. Again, do not miss this.) We ate breakfast almost every day in the Platinum. We really enjoyed that.
Camp Carnival does not measure up to NCL's Kid's Crew in our opinion. We had four children participating in the 2-5 group. Our five year olds were not engaged in activities as we had experienced on NCL Dawn. The 2-5 group was really more babysitting. Too many instances of "cartoon watching" on the activities list. In general, we were terribly disappointed for this age group. Great for the 2's. Not so good if you have 5's. We also had a 7 year old in the 6-8's. She was, however, kept well entertained and enjoyed many of the activities. We were as displeased with the 9-11's as the 2-5's but for different reasons. The 9 - 11 year olds are able to check themselves out of camp. We counted many instances of 9 year olds roaming this ship lost. That is not a comforting feeling. I can't for the life of me imagine why a 9 year old would be allowed to check out of camp. In addition, the 9 year olds didn't seem to have a steady "home" for activities. They roamed all over the ship and didn't seem to adhere to the schedule of activities too well, making it difficult to track them down when we were ready for pick up. The counselors, in general, did not seem terribly warm or friendly. They seemed to be going through the motions and didn't have the energy or personality that we experienced on the Dawn.
The shows were okay. Certainly not Vegas, but about as expected on a cruise ship. The gift shop was small and crowded all the time. (Of course, we didn't go on the boat to shop so this was not a major disappointment.) The spa was not worth the money. I had a massage and pedi. My sister-in-law had a mani/pedi. Not worth the money paid. I would skip it.The pools on this boat are nothing but fun! Well placed. Two main pools to chose from. Nice slide. Good time! (The baby/kid's pool is terrible though. Very small and unexciting.) The hot tubs are supposed to be adult only, but there were kids in them all the time. (Ours actually, too. If anyone minded, they didn't mention anything.)
Ports of call
Key West: We are not KW fans. We didn't enjoy the shopping. We didn't enjoy the town. And we certainly didn't enjoy the lines to take the little trolleys into town. The Glory docks at the Navy Base, and you have to shuttle into to town. The lines getting onto the shuttle were insane. If you have no interest in Key West, stay on the boat. We regretted leaving. It would have been a perfect day for sun by the pool.
Belize: Belize was okay. We booked Xtreme Kids Cave tubing for the daddies and four older girls. Do not take your young children on that excursion. (See the posts in the Belize ports of call boards for further details.) The mommies and the babies went on the Zoo/Museum excursion. Fun. The Spider Monkeys were really cool to watch. (Note: Tender tickets are a total scam. Don't bother waiting on Deck 5 for tickets to board the tenders. Head straight down to Deck 0 forward about 830/845 and board with the rest of the people who booked the excursions through Carnival. We waited in line for tender tickets starting at 815. In the excitement to get to the tender site, I forgot to put the stickers on the party. We all just walked right on without any problem.
Costa Maya: Actually, we had a really terrific time at this port. Shuttle bus to Majahaul and walked down to Pez Quadro (all the way at the end of the street). The beach was fun. The food was fun. (Awesome lobsters, good prices) Very nice. I'll say it now--you'll hear it from many. The vendors in this port are INCREDIBLY pushy. If you don't have a strong stomach for pushy sales folks, it is probably best not to shop here. They want you to buy something, everything, and sell your home to pay for it. As a matter of fact, we went back to the port, did a very little shopping, and went back on the boat.
All in all, we had a terrific time on this cruise. The Camp was disappointing and we made a huge mistake thinking the girls could handle the cave tubing (even though the tour company advertised it for 5 years and up). However, everything else was great. We would cruise Carnival again, but probably not before giving Disney and RC a try. (As a matter of fact, we booked the Disney cruise yesterday for Oct 2006.)