This was the first cruise for my 8-year-old daughter and myself. We were also traveling with my parents, who are experienced cruisers.
We booked our airfare through Carnival's Fly Aweigh program. We had very convenient, non-stop flights from Cleveland to Miami. Upon arrival into Miami, around 12:30, we met the Carnival rep at baggage claim and were on a bus for the trip to the port within about 10 minutes of getting our luggage.
We were upgraded from our original cabin assignments, so at the port we waited for the porter to get our correct color tags. We waited standing in the heat while he made sure he got his tips from all the other passengers on our bus. He finally went to get the tags and about 10 minutes later came back with the wrong ones. He went back again and this time it only took a couple of minutes for him to get the right tags.
It took about 20 minutes to make it through the lines for embarkation. At least until you got to the line waiting for embarkation photos. They really should have a way to bypass this line if you don't really care about your embarkation photo.
We were onboard the ship and found our rooms by about 2:30. We headed up to the South Beach Club for lunch. After lunch we found that one of our suitcases had arrived and got some unpacking done before the muster drill. My 8-year-old complained mightily about her muster station wrist band that she was required to wear. They should come up with a more comfortable wrist band/multiple sizes so that kids won't mind keeping them on for the whole cruise.
Overall, we were impressed with the cleanliness of the ship. If guests would bring manners and common sense on board there would be fewer issues. We often saw glasses, cups and dishes left in elevators and on the stairway railings.
Our room steward, Manuelito, did a great job and was always smiling and friendly. My daughter was very impressed that he called her by name the whole week! The first day I noticed that the hairdryer hose was coming apart from the hand piece. It was fixed before I could say a word about it!
Our dining room experience was wonderful. Our team of Danny and Rodel were fantastic. If you couldn't decide between two entrees, Danny would just bring them both! Rodel had magic tricks to entertain the kids. We loved their enthusiastic, off-key singing too. The food was nicely presented, and I enjoyed most of the things I tried.
There was a wide variety of activities to choose from. I love that you can do as much or as little as you want. My 8-year-old loved spending time in the pool and went to camp carnival about 2 hours a day. She liked the late night parties the best but of course I was charged the babysitting fee for those because they are after 10:00pm. Then again $6 an hour is a small price to pay for a few hours of rest and relaxation!
We were not as impressed with the featured shows. There was a comedian that was very funny and a magic show that was OK, but the sword swallower, the balancing act and the musical shows left us disappointed. I don't understand why they have the dancers "sing" along when you can tell that it is recorded music. It would be perfectly entertaining to just watch them dance. The "featured" female singer was obviously lip-syncing and you could see her grimace when she goofed!
We arrived in San Juan about 30 minutes behind schedule. There was not much to see so we did a little shopping and returned to the ship. In St. Thomas we went to Coki beach on our own. We spent a little time at Coral World and did some snorkeling off of Coki beach. Then we went downtown Charlotte Amalie for shopping before we went back to the ship. In St. Maarten, we booked the Divi Little Bay excursion through Carnival. It was nice not to have to worry about a thing! A little shopping near the pier and it was time to board the ship again.
Debarkation was relatively painless. We were waiting in the Rome Lounge for our color tags to be called, but after self-assist and early debarkation for those with shore excursions and early flights, they told us all to go ahead and join the line. We stood in line for a while in the terminal to get to clear customs and get our luggage. The line moved slowly but at least it kept moving.
Carnival transfers again took us by bus to Miami airport. The airline check in at the bus drop-off saved us tons of time. I was a little surprised that security at Miami airport did not seem to be as strict as in Cleveland. In Cleveland we were required to remove our shoes and have boarding pass in hand as you walked through the metal detector. In Miami they didn't require you to do those things.
Overall, we had a wonderful time. This was our first cruise but hopefully there will be many more to come!