This was our first cruise with Carnival, and we have already planned another with our parents for next year.
We flew into Houston Saturday night and rented a car. Because we were traveling with 2 friends, it was about the same cost to rent a car for the week and park for free at the Hilton in Galveston as it would have been for taxis or shuttles (we came in on Christmas Eve).
The Hilton provided a complementary shuttle to the port on Sunday morning. We arrived around 11:30am. Our luggage was collected by Carnival and we proceeded inside. There was a short line, we were processed through, and found ourselves on the boat drinking complementary champagne by 12:30pm.
By 2pm we were able to check into our rooms and our luggage had arrived. The staff were friendly and helpful in quickly providing me with non-feather bedding (I will know to request this in advance next time). The room was clean, and stayed that way the entire cruise with clean towels and adorable towel animals each day.
Dining: I am not a high society eater, so I found the variety of food to be exciting. I love having lots of choices, and the ability to try everything I want. Breakfast was plentiful, the same each day, though I found the inside buffet to keep the food hotter. Lunches provided a variety of options - each day, one buffet sampled a particular country's cuisine, while the other had salads and hot entrees. Pizza, the grille, Chinese, and sandwiches were also available each day. Dinner was great - we were especially lucky to have two holidays while on our cruise where the chef provided special recipes. We chose the later dining time, and unless you have young children, I recommend this option. We were able to enjoy the sunset and take our time getting ready for dinner instead of rushing to get seated at 6pm.
My one complaint with the food would be the sushi bar. I was excited to read about this amenity, and found myself disappointed with the service and selections each day. The sushi chef was often late, which led to a huge line down the hall. He took his time setting up and also tended to clean up early.
Entertainment: The comedians were great. The first Vegas show was so bad we skipped the second one. The magician was so-so, though I heard she messed up in the second show. We had a juggler who was funny as well.
Ports of Call:
Jamaica - We chose not to book an excursion and instead went shopping and to Margaritaville. I don't think I'll ever take a cruise where we stop on this island - I didn't enjoy it at all. The only good thing was we didn't have to tender at this port.
Grand Cayman - Thank you to everyone who recommended Captain Marvin - I'll do the same. The staff was great - the price was right - I will definitely use them again. We also did a little shopping and wished we had more time for that as well. The tender line to get back on the ship was a bit long.
Cozumel - We went through the cruise ship and did the Mexican Cuisine excursion at Playa Mia. Great time with the cooking and tasting experience. All we could eat and drink as well as time to lay on the beach. This was the only thing we didn't like - we'd have preferred to have more time to go shopping back downtown before we caught our tender back to the ship.
The dining room staff was great - we met a new couple our second night on the boat and the dining room staff were helpful in switching us to a new table with them. Our waiters, Shaun and Yona were fantastic and entertaining. Out room staff were great as well. The bartenders were friendly for the most part. I will say, it gets confusing as to what the drink specials are each day, and most of the staff don't know. I also felt the excursion staff and the information staff could have shared information better. Todd was a fantastic cruise director.
Getting off the boat was not so easy, but not all Carnival's fault. We decided to check our bags because we were told we'd be off the boat by 10:30, and our flight wasn't until 4pm - plenty of time . . . until we heard an announcement that we'd be docking 5 hours late because of a thick fog. Carnival unloads in the following order: 1. Non-US Citizens 2. Express People (kept their bags to carry off themselves - we'll be doing this next time) 3. VIP/Carnival Vacation Club Members 4. Random order by floor - other guests
However, after step 3, because of the 5 hour delay and many unhappy customers, Carnival allowed everyone waiting in the large lounge to get in line to leave the ship. We happened to be standing there and were able to leave the boat within the hour.
Our Hilton shuttle was waiting to take us back to our rental car. We managed a small miracle in that we returned our rental car, checked our bags at 3:38, and were able to catch our 4pm flight. Thank goodness Hobby is such a small airport!
Overall, this was a great vacation! I am looking forward to cruising with Carnival next December.