This was our second cruise, but first family cruise. Our first cruise was on Carnival 18 years ago. Our main complaint about cruising is you're never in a port long enough to get a feel for the place. The on-board experience on this cruise made up for those short times in port. Our kids( ds15, dd14, and ds11) absolutely loved the cruise and my dh and I were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed it, as well.
We booked (through Carnival) 2 inside cabins on the main deck, but were told they didn't have any adjoining cabins left. After a month, prices had dropped and 2 adjoining outside cabins on the main deck towards the rear of the ship near the elevators became available for an additional $40 per person. We were also told our fares were lower because of a residency discount (not enough pax from OH). Spirit Air had great rates to Ft. Lauderdale. I tried to get rooms on Priceline for pre and post stays. It only worked post and we got a 4* hotel for $140/night. I recommend www.biddingfortravel.com to see winning Priceline bids.
Check-in at noon was a breeze, even without a previously completed FunPass. Our staterooms were slightly smaller than a hotel room, but nicely appointed. We had robes and a basket of sample toiletries in the bathroom. The bathroom was SMALL and the single outlet was made for men's shavers only. The two twin beds (pushed together) were comfortable. The kids had 3 single beds (3rd bed where we had a sofa). Closets were large and had around 15 hangers. The rooms were cleaned twice daily, but the cabin steward wasn't the one scrubbing the bathroom. Apparently he has others working for him so I'm not sure how many people were entering our cabins. They only work mornings and evenings. Unfortunately, ds11 vomited in the middle of the room one afternoon and we couldn't reach anyone to clean it up. We even tried the housekeeping pager #.
Even though I went on the ship tour, I still had a hard time getting around. 3rd and 4th level hallways don't go through the ship. I thought the decorating was nice and the ship was in fairly good shape...only one carpet stain in the main deck hallway.
THE DINING ROOM FOOD AT LUNCH AND DINNER WAS VERY GOOD. I tried some things that I've never had. I could not always identify everything on my plate, but tried it and liked it. I just bought the Carnival Creations cookbook on eBay for $5. Our picky ds11 ordered off the kids menu and liked that. Most tables are small on this ship, with families sitting by themselves. We got the late seating (8:00) and tried unsuccessfully to change it on the first day. Pizza was good. Deli was very good, but usually a 20 minute line. Yangzee Wok was not good (and we love Chinese). Midnight buffet was beautiful, but food was just o.k. Breakfasts became monotonous. It was the same exact things every morning in both the dining room and at the buffets.
Activities were just o.k.-Men's hairy chest contest (where the female judges got a little out of hand), Survivor Contest (pax voted for best belly-flop), trivia contests, pictionary game, etc. We always found chairs on the deck above the Lido deck, overlooking the main pool and activities. There is even a shady place up there if you've had too much sun. Art auctions appear to be primarily overpriced prints.
Kids' Clubs are good places for the kids to meet others. Often times they didn't care for the activities so wandered the ship with their new-found friends. It did make me nervous, but luckily no problems. o2 is not well run. I went the first night and supervisor had girls for a line across from a line of boys. They were to talk to the person across from them for 2 minutes and then switch to the next person. This went on for about 8 minutes, when she announced, "O.K. Time to sign up for Karaoke!" This did not go over well and most kids left. DD14 went to an 11pm scavenger hunt, only to find 1 other interested teen so the hunt was cancelled. She was the only person to show up for "Designing costumes out of toilet paper", but at least this was at a decent time. If you have outgoing kids, they will make friends on their own.
We went to two shows, the first and the last. They were both good. I loved the last, where pax entertain. They were chosen on preceding nights in the Karaoke bar.
Costa Maya had pristine beaches. Be sure and put sunscreen on before leaving the ship. Also, try and get off the ship right away because if another ship is docking you will have to wait 30 minutes as no one is allowed off during this time. We took the $3 bus into town and walked 1/4 mile to the end of the little "town". We found a great bar on the beach called Pez Quadro. They had swings for bar stools. Lounge chairs were $5, beers were $2, and soda was $1. We ordered shrimp tacos, nachos with everything, and chicken quesadillas for $27. Food was good and restrooms across the street in their hotel were clean. A 40 massage on the beach there was $10.
Grand Cayman was a zoo. There were 5 other ships in port that day. We waited 1 1/2 hours to get a tender. I suggest lining up at the door just prior to the time the ship anchors. I waited to book a Stingray City tour until arriving. That was a mistake. They ended up charging more, but we were able to take a smaller boat out to the reef. Imagine 1,000 people on a reef chasing after 30 stingrays. There were so many boats on the reef that we had to anchor 20 yards out and "swim for it". We had an 11am tour. Try and get an earlier one. Hurricane damage was still evident. The shops were primarily upscale jewelry shops.
Jamaica was our favorite port and others on our ship thought so, too. We booked a horseback riding tour with Hooves. They sent a taxi to pick us up at the port. It took and hour to go 10 miles because of road construction. You will have to deal with half of it if you are going to the falls. Our 2 1/2 hour ride was $72 for adults and $56 for 12 and under. My favorite part was riding along the beach, but the kids liked galloping in the water (and I do mean galloping). That part scared me!! Shopping in town was great. Lots of variety and you can bargain for decent prices. It is within walking distance from the ship. We were only approached once and that was by a taxi driver, asking if we wanted a ride back to the ship.
We did the self disembark as kids are big enough to handle a suitcase and we didn't want to put them out at midnight the night before. This was a breeze, too. Self disembarking is first. An employee suggested we wait an hour until most have exited.
The only real negative on this cruise was at the end (thank God). On the last afternoon, my ds11 began vomiting. After several hours, I called the infirmary, but they were closed. After a few more hours, I called the pursers' desk. They paged the nurse and she had us come down to the infirmary. She confirmed that it was Norwalk Virus. She gave him a shot to stop the vomiting and didn't charge us for it. My husband came down with it the day after disembarking and I followed the next day. I had given everyone in our family the speech about hand washing and I think we're pretty good about it. Our sickness was not as bad as ds11. On the flight back, we saw people from the cruise and asked them if they had been sick. They said 4 in their group had come down with the virus and that someone in the infirmary said 200 people were quarantined. I contacted the CDC upon return and was told there were only 19 confirmed cases on our cruise.
Even considering his sickness, my ds11 still gives the cruise an A+. Everyone really enjoyed it and we look forward to another cruise in the near future.