This was our 2nd cruise (1st with Carnival), Grand Princess being the 1st. After 5 years of being a travel agent I was hesitant to book a Carnival Cruise because of what I'd previously heard about it being a party ship. My husband and I were celebrating our 5th anniversary and my little sister was graduating high school so we took her and my mom along to celebrate both occasions. We were paying for part of my sisters way price which was a huge part of why we booked this particular itinerary and ship.
*NOTE We left the night before on the red eye from Seattle on Alaska Airlines. Dreadful! I'm generally an Alaska fan but the small 737 was packed and there were no pillows or blankets left by the time we boarded. Our exit row seats didn't recline and the temperature of the flight was cold. The steward/stewardesses were not very pleasant either which made for an all around uncomfortable flight.
Since we were on a budget I found that the cheapest way to get from the airport to Port Canaveral was to rent a car with Avis. We drove the 45 minute distance to the Cape Canaveral Avis location for drop off. They had a shuttle to the port which was very convenient.
Embarkation -- We were told by Carnival that we wouldn't be able to board until 1:30. When we arrived there was a huge line which told me people had come much earlier. We stood in line roughly 45 minutes to an hour. We spent about an hour and a half exploring the ship and when we got to our room our luggage was already there. We were pleasantly surprised with our rooms as they were very spacious clean and nicely decorated. Our steward was wonderful and did a wonderful job keeping our room clean and making us feel welcome. The only issue we had was that there is only one plug in in the whole room. This was a huge problem for my mom who brought her own hair dryer and wanted to us it and heat her curling iron at the same time. (There is an in room hair dryer but it's a hair eater if you know what I mean.)
The ship in general wasn't as glamorous as Princess. It looked more like Vegas hotel which is what I expected being Carnival. The dining rooms to me looked like glorified Denny's/Shari's restaurants and it never seemed like people really dressed up even on formal nights. Many people I talked to said they preferred this since it made for a less stuffy environment. I prefer a little more of a classy environment. The food was best in the dining rooms but I would still only give it a 3.5 out of 5. Of course I was comparing it to Princess and my mom was comparing it to Holland America. Our wait staff Anelia and Ray were outstanding and very accommodating.
A couple of the pools were surprisingly saltwater and were drained and refilled each day. They were very crowded with splashing children which was very unappealing to our group. They were cloudy by the end of the day. We did however enjoy the waterslide which never really had a long line. There was plenty of chair saving so it made it very difficult to find seating where the music and activities were. Plan on getting to the pool Deck by 10AM on Sea Days if you want lounge chairs in a good location. Unattended rowdy children were everywhere and we were disappointed at the type of music being played via CD where most of the children were playing. -very sexually explicit- The live music was good but always way too loud throughout the ship. We loved the self serve ice cream makers but not as much as the unattended rowdy children. The 24 hour pizza was great and the sandwich bar was great too. The buffet was good but not great. Aside from the shows in the theater there wasn't a whole lot for a group with an 18 year old to do. Especially if your a nonsmoker/nondrinker. We did catch Karaoke one night and really enjoyed it but the Blue Bar that it's typically held in was very small, crowded and smokey. We really enjoyed the shows but had to get to the theatre at least 45 minutes early. One night we got there about 25 minutes early and literally had to fight for a seat. Again the live music in the theatre was extremely loud to the point it almost hurt your eardrums. I along with others plugged our ears at time and I watched an elderly couple leave because of it. Too bad since the shows were pretty good.
WAS A MESS and extremely unorganized. Apparently if you book an excursion through the cruise line you can walk to the front of the line and if you booked an excursion aside from the cruise line you could be 2nd. A lot of people were late getting to their excursions because they couldn't get to the front of the line. A lot of people weren't aware of this and the people who were had a hard time making it to the front of line in the midst of all of the impatient people who had been waiting in line for hours in the stairwell. I found it completely disturbing to see people jump on the elevators to bypass waiting in line and merge in on a lower level. Very BAD system and really needs to get more organized. I would say on average it took over an hour once we were docked and cleared to get off of the ship. On the last day it took more like 2 hours and there were again a lot of angry impatient people.
*Note on excursions
We booked Cave Tubing in Belize through cavetubing.com-it was awesome and way cheaper and better than booking it through the cruise line. I can't emphasize the WAY BETTER enough. However, for a person who is not used to being in a 3rd world country be forewarned. The city is surrounded by barbed wire and fencing, there is a lot of crime and there are armed guards at check points when leaving the city. My mom had a really hard time with this and was very scared on the bus ride out to the river. We had a small group on our bus which made my mom even more worried and she wished we would have booked through the cruise line. BUT by the end of the trip she was very glad that we went with cavetubing.com and not the cruise line AND would recommend it to anyone. The food afterward at Cheers was terrific!
Buy all your souvenirs in Cozumel and not Costa Maya where everything is marked up 150% and it's hard to barter there.
In summery for the price and for our group this cruise was a good selection. we had a good time but I probably won't cruise Carnival again because I like just a tad more elegance and better food.
As a former travel agent I would recommend this cruise to either people with children ages 5-12 who want to let there kids loose and kick back and have some drinks or patient people who want a more laid back, non stuffy, casino like environment and don't mind the loud children, and smokey areas. I would not recommend this cruise for nonsmokers, nondrinkers, 18-21 year olds, and people expecting the traditional glamorous fancy cruise with lots of ice sculptures and fancy food decorations(aside from the midnight Gala Buffet) I didn't see much of that. Princess ad RCL are better alternatives.