Just to give you background..this was our first cruise. We're 27 and 28 with no children and traveled with a group of 12 all similiar ages.
I'll start with embarking. We flew from RI to Ft Lauderdale (much cheaper air fare). We then took a shuttle to the Holiday Inn at the Port of Miami.
We left the Holiday Inn and took a taxi to the port. I thought getting on this ship would be a disaster! However, we gave our luggage to a porter, walked right in the terminal. We had a short line at security to scan our carry on and then stood in a line to get our ideas checked and also our tickets. We were on the ship within 35 minutes of walking through the terminal. We got there around 10:30 and there was some traffic from people disembarking, so if I had to do it again, I'd wait until 11 to let that clear up. We were on the ship shortly after 11- not allowed in our rooms, but exploring and eating lunch.
I was pleasantly surprised with our room. We didn't spring for a window or balcony and had an inside room on the 8th deck. Nice big, comfrotable bed (although they were 2 twins pushed together but still very comfortable), nice sized bathroom for a cruise ship and tons of space to hang clothes etc. Our steward was extremely nice, called us by name all trip, got anything we needed. Only thing I didn't care for in the room...we were careful not to get the mini bar opened for fear of racking up a ton of charges. Every day our steward put a bottle of water and 2 mints on the bed..to our dismay that water cost us about 5$ a day plus gratuity! But, the room in general exceeded my expectations.
overall ship was nice. we ate at the late dinner (8:30) in the Lincoln Dining room. I enjoyed it. Not many kids at this seating plus it allowed us to go do our own thing during the day, come back, shower, and have a nice dinner. Food was good, our waiters were excellent..Antoni and Inenga from Indonesia. Excellent service...they'd bring out extra desserts and meals and were overall just great.
We often ate lunch and breakfast in Rosies (the dining room near the pools that's practically always open). The food was ok. I tried to eat healthy and not gorge myself..there was always a salad bar or healthy options. Breakfast wasn't that great...typical cafeteria eggs and bacon, but we still ate there out of convience every day. They also had a 24 hour ice cream machine and pizza was always available which we loved. Only thing I hated about Rosies....it's located near the pool but is carpeted and air conditioned. It drove me nuts that people from the pool would wander in with no clothes on, no shoes, in a wet bathing suit....it was just kind of gross...I think at the very minimum there should've been a shoes policy.....Also, there was constantly slippery dangerous floors near the bars located near the pools. They would put up a wet floor signed but on a daily basis we watched people wipe out and spill drinks...they need some type of mesh mat or something.
We tried to eat in the formal dining rooms (washington) for lunch and breakfast. They hostess was quite rude. we met one morning at 9 am. She asked how many, we said we were waiting for friends. Then about 20 minutes later she went inside. we went looking for her and found her a couple minutes later to be told that the dining room was closed. When we ate lunch there, we felt like a bother to the staff. Couldn't get drinks, menus etc.
We also bought one fountain soda card. It was 38$ .something like 44$ with tax for all you can drink soda. It had my boyfriend's name on it, but I used it without much hassle..once or twice someone gave me some slack and I just pointed to my boyfriend. The #1 thing that stinks...you have to stand in somewhat long bar lines to get a stupid diet coke...very aggravating! They should just give you free soda...they give you all the ice cream you want!
Pools were nice...a bit small and on the At Sea days it was a struggle to get a chair near the pool. There wasn't a shortage of chairs if you didn't care if you were right infront of the pool. The first at sea day we woke up early and threw our stuff on chairs to reserve them. Carnival says there's a no reserve policy...that was a joke. Some people were trying to put others belongings on the ground and take chairs...we saw a small cat fight over this. the second at sea day, we just went to an upper deck to avoid the chaos.
Gym was great. We used it maybe 4 or 5 times. Nice and secluded on the 11th floor. Very busy in the morning so we started going right before dinner and it was never busy. Great facility.
Shopping or Promenade deck was disappointing. Crappy gift shops, nothing too nice that you couldn't get at a cheap strip mall. Casino was good. The different clubs were all right. There was a dance club, Piano bar --neat looking but they always had this bad lounge singer playing the piano and had sing-a-long nights. the Winston Cigar bar was nice...we did spend alot of time there. The eagles lounge was also nice...karoake was usually there and wasn't all that entertaining...however on the 1st formal night they held the captain's cocktail party there....HIGHLY recommend that...free drinks and appetizers, everyone was dressed up nice....
We went to a couple comedian shows in the Ivanhoe Theater...nice but after 2 nights of comedians I had my fill. They had a Carnival Idols or Legends contest where cruisers could audition and peform on the final night as a singer (Britney Spears, Frank Sinatra, Madonna etc) that drew a large crowd the last night.
Overall, the ship met my expectations, I was a little disappointed in the night life. I thought Carnival was known as having the fun ships, I expected a younger crowd with more night life activities.
Grand Cayman- this was a tender port..aka we had to take a boat from the ship to grand cayman. there were long lines for the tender. There wasn't much rhyme or reason who got to go first. I didn't see people with excursions getting preference. We just lined up for a tender ticket and went to the 0 deck to get on a tender.
We didn't do an excursion. We just took a taxi to 7 mile beach. We were with the people who paid for the beach excursion. The beach was beautiful, had a bar and facilities. We then took a taxi back to town. I was a little diasappointed with GCayman. Very commercialized. Locals weren't esp. nice to tourists because we were a dime a dozen. If you wanted to buy Rum cakes or Jewlery you were in luck but the shopping otherwise was touristy stuff. We did meet up with our group at Senor Frogs. Fun time but BEWARE...this was the most expensive lunch I've ever eaten! Everything was in Grand Cayman money...our bill was 150$ US dollars. Drinks were insane...25$ each. But, the place was absolutely mobbed!
Overall...I could do without another trip to Grand Cayman
Roatan- I thought I would hate Roatan. I heard terrible things in other reviews that the country is poor, you're haggled by locals, why does Carnival bother to port there. This was. by far, the most beautiful place we went to. We had an excursion planned based on reviews we read about this poverty stricken awful country. We docked which was nice to walk off the boat. A local band was playing and we hopped on a bus to Anthony Keys resort for the Dolphin Encounter. The ride was postively beautiful. The island is hilly and you got amazing views and got to see so much. The Anthony Keys resort was breathtaking. We took a boat out to the dolphin area. We were broken into groups of 6-8 people and they explained the encounter. Each group got it's own trainer and dolphin. We stood shoulder to shoulder in waist deep water. The trainer explained things about the dolphin, it came by and we got to pet and touch it as he explained things. The dolphin spoke, did some tricks etc. We each were able to approach the dolphin, place on hand on its underside and other on it's back near the blow hole and pose with it. We then got to kneel by it and get a kiss on the cheek. A photographer from the resort was taking pics for you. The trainer had the dolphin do some more tricks and then we were able to kneel and receive another kiss and have someone from our group run and get a camera if we chose. Overall I loved it. I'm not sure I'd do another dolphin encounter (once was enough) but def. worth it.
We then got to go in the gift shop and a bus took us to Tabayna beach. Beautiful but the carnival beach break excursion was at this beach so it was mobbed. You could get drinks and rent snorkel gear and rafts. We then took a bus back to the port. Around the port locals set up shops. the locals in this area are extremely poor but the things they were selling were much much cheaper near port than at the resort or beach. They have beautiful wooden items. lovely carvings, bowls, etc. I got a wooden large salad bowl with serrvers and 6 salad bowls for 25$ ..truly my favorite souvenir. The local boys talk to you looking for a spare dollar....my favorite experience was Roatan...just experiencing the locals and not being in a heavily commercialized tourist area. Absolutely my favorite port.
Belize- we chose the cave tubing excursion along with about 500 other people from carnival. The tender was a pain in the butt. The boats were smaller than grand cayman and the tender ride was 15-20 minutes. We got off the tender and there were shops at the port. We loaded a bus and drove for 45 minutes to the cave tubing expedition. We stopped at one place where there were restrooms and water shoes and lockers for rent. then we boarded the bus again to the rainforest maybe 10 minutes away. We got off the buses and walked a bit to get to the river. Our group didn't have tubes. People were already tubing even though we were one of the first groups in belize. We waited at the river for the group and grabbed their tubes. We walked with our tubes for maybe 35 minutes in the rainforest. We had about 30 people in our group, we could hardly hear the tour guide and just aggravated with lugging the tube thru the hot rain forest (I know it was part of the excursion...but we just wanted to get there already). We then entered the river. SOme group leaders had people hook together in a line so the group was constantly together. Our leader just let us go. It was quite chaotic in the caves because there were a ton of people, some groups linked plowing their way through you etc......When the linked groups passed, I wondered why our leader didn't do that through the dark caves, but once we were out in the sun, my favorite part was linking up with my boyfriend and just basking in the sun doing our own thing...the linked groups rushed right through.
Important notes about this excursion...I didn't know how to dress, I had my bathing suit on with a tank top and shorts. i should've just gone in my bathing suit but didn't want to hike for a mile in a bikini. Flip Flops are not allowed. i had on old sneakers and should have rented water shoes. You literally plow waist deep into a river then hike a mile, then ride the river back. You get completely submerged in water...rent or bring tevas or water shoes and just wear a bathing suit. Also, if i had to do this again, I'd reserve it not thru carnival. We saw smaller groups with 8-10 people. They were getting a real tour of the rain forest and it seemed so much less chaotic. I felt like one cattle in a huge herd that day. i did enjoy the excursion...just would've been better being in a small group.
Costa Maya- we had nothing planned for this port after buying 2 excursions. We got off the boat...no tender so that was a plus. This port was breathtaking..jsut the shade of the water and the coast line were beautiful. Our group was trying to decide what to do. We went to the little shopping area and a beach club had a excursion for 25$ for all you can drink and eat at a beach club. these beach clubs are just a bar and plastic chairs in the city of Manahual. We opted not to do that and just took a taxi ride to that city. It has several bars/beach clubs along a long dirt road maybe a mile or so. Tons of little shops and local tents are set up almost like a flea market. we wanted to be away from the tons of carnival guests, so we walked all the way down to the last possible bar. we plopped ourselves on the sand and just relaxed. Drinks were very cheap. We then went to all the local tents....the merchandise and souvenirs were dirt cheap the further down the road in Manahual. I bought a beautiful hand painted bowl for 15$ at the port they were asking 40$ for them. We met up with our friends at a bar further down the road, relaxed and had some drinks with them. they enjoyed the 25$ all you can drink eat deal. We then took a taxi back to port. At the port there's a huge salt water pool with tons of beach chairs free of charge and a large shopping area. I preferred taking the taxi away from this area...feel like I got a better experience. the views and beaches were breathtaking...a nice relaxing port.
I would take another carnival cruise. I thought I'd be dazzled by the ship and never want to get off of it. I enjoyed the ports much more. The ship was ok..met my expectations but they're constantly trying to make a buck off you. But, I can't think of another alternative where I would get to visit 4 different countries and have a relaxing vacation.
Lastly...Disembarking....this was absolutely a disaster! We were told when the restaurant was open when we had to be out of our rooms. We packed our luggage and it was taken the night before. We were abruptly awoken by a loud speaker in our cabin at 6:30 by an annoying british lady announcing that people who were carrying their luggage could disembark. (the loud speaker runs in the hall way but in our room it was so loud--we literally sat straight up in bed).
We went and had breakfast, packed our carry ons and just waited for our floor to be called. We got to the bottom of the ship and stood in line forever. We got off the ship and stood in a hot stuffy terminal hallway for at least 35-40 minutes. We were then allowed into the garage type area where our luggage was thrown . We colled it and got in this mob like line to go thru customs. Porters were grabbing luggage if you requested and ran you straight to the beginning of the line...we should've grabbed a porter...i think you just tip them and cut the line. Customs was nothing to get through. they didn't even ask what we had. just checked our passports. We stood in line with heavy bags forever. Then go outside to the 90 degree heat. This process took a good 1 1/2 hours.
Once we had our luggage, I heard something crunch in our garment bag. Someone shoved a can of heineken beer into our zipper pocket. We were quite upset over this considering our formal wear was in that bag. Whole situation was annoying, hot, and unorganized. Our friends just went straight off the ship at 9 am without waiting for their floor to be called, got off and were on their merry way...moral of the story, do follow carnival's rules and you'll disembark much earlier and easier.