Our cruise consisted of myself (age 30), my husband (age 29), my nephew (age 12), my cousin (age 10), my mom (age 56), and my aunt (age 60). This is my 7th cruise. I would rate this cruise in the middle to high end of my cruise experience. We all enjoyed the cruise very much!
Hotel Stay/Embarkation: We flew into Ft. Lauderdale airport on Friday evening and rented a car (Thrifty) to drive to Miami. We stayed at the Coral Gables Holiday Inn. It got horrible reviews so we were very skeptical about this hotel but had gotten a great deal on priceline so decide to keep the reservation. I am quite glad we did. It was not the greatest hotel I've ever stayed in but it was clean and very serviceable for a two night stay. On Sunday morning we returned the car to the Miami Cruise Ship Pick Up location and they shuttled us to the cruise port. Everything went well there and we were at the cruise terminal around 10:00 - 10:30am. I thought it would take longer at the car rental place. We checked in right away (we already had fun pass, custom form, etc. filled out). That was finished within 10 minutes and we waited in a line until about 10:45am. At that time they took us through the security up to a waiting area with plenty of seating. At around 11:00 - 11:30am they took us right on the ship. We were eating lunch by 12:00pm. After lunch we went to check out our rooms.
Ship Info: The ship was very clean and nice. The atrium is very pretty. We have sailed on the Fascination as well which is the same basic layout. We stayed on the Empress deck near the front of the ship which is very centrally located. Our room was an inside cabin that had two beds pushed together to make a king and two top bunks. It was a little crowded a couple of times but not too bad. We asked our room steward for extra hangers and it was no problem. Mom and Aunt had inside cabin right next door E20 with two lower beds. They had plenty of room.
Food: The food on the Lido Deck (Tiffany's) we only ate there for breakfast and lunch but it was average. Nothing to complain about but not spectacular either. They did have a pasta station where they had red sauce and alfredo sauce on each day. That was pretty good. Also, the Deli Sandwiches at the Pizza Bar are pretty good too. The pizza one day was really good and another day was undercooked. Our dining room was the Inspiration (at the back of the ship). It wasn't hard to get to but definitely a long way from our room. However, we wanted 8:00pm dining and they are the dining room that has 8:00pm dining - if we would have chosen 8:30pm dining we would have been in the Imagination dining room which was much closer to our room. The food in the dining room at dinner was very good. We did not eat in the dining room at breakfast or lunch. We ordered room service a few times throughout the cruise - mostly for the kids - they love ordering room service. The BLT sandwiches are good as is the turkey on the room service menu. We went to the Gala Buffet which was very neat and great photo opportunity, but we did not stay to eat. We did go to one midnight buffet on the Lido Deck and it was pretty good.
Activities: We went to the show every night and most nights it was very good entertainment. The two Vegas style shows are great. The comedians were ok - I've seen better I've seen worse. The juggler I had seen before but he is really good. They had two singers (not the ones that sang with the dancers but the ones that did their own shows) were not my favorite. Some people liked them - We just weren't too crazy about them. The talent show and the "Elation Idol" (two different shows) were average. This would totally depend on what guests participated and who was cruising as to how these shows would be. We participated in a variety of activities on the sea days. The activity people were pretty good. The ship scavenger hunt was fun, the battle of the sexes was a lot of fun as well. The game shows - Deal or No Deal was pretty good and Match game was funny too. We didn't get to go to the Newlywed game because my cousin was doing the Camp Carnival Kids Survivor and we went to watch. I'll comment on it later. We also did the towel folding demonstration which was pretty good and the Question and Answer time with the crew was extremely interesting. I really enjoyed it. It's interesting to hear about what there life is like day in and day out on a ship and what it's like working 24/7 on a ship.
Service: Our service on this ship was OUTSTANDING. our waiter "Al" was fabulous! His assistant although very nice wasn't the greatest in the world but so nice nonetheless. Our bar steward (we didn't order drinks - but 5 of us had soda cards and he was very attentive in keeping them refilled, etc.) Most bar stewards aren't that attentive if you are only drinking soda and with a soda card to boot! The bar stewards in the Mikado Lounge (where the shows are) however, are not very friendly when ordering a soda with a soda card. They do it but you can tell they aren't thrilled to be doing it. Our room steward was wonderful as well. He called us by our names most of the time which is kind of unusual - they don't usually remember your names. He was very friendly and outgoing with the kids as well. The people at the bars were pretty friendly (again, we didn't order drinks - just sodas). The lady in the bar on the Lido deck at the back was very nice and great with the kids! The cruise director Jorge was very funny. His assistant Josh - the kids liked a lot but I thought he was just average. The people in the gift shop were very friendly as well. We didn't encounter anyone that I would call "bad" other than maybe the people in the Mikado Lounge who just seemed kind of put out because we were only getting sodas. Otherwise, the service was some of the best I've ever encountered!!
Photos: They take a lot of photos and are pretty good ones. We purchased quite a few. The photo staff was friendly most of the time and were more than happy to take as many photos as would like with no pressure to buy them. They display them and if you want them you pick them up and take them to the counter. If you don't you put them in the recycle bin and that's it.
Shore Excursions: Half Moon Cay - was a disaster! First, they had trouble with the tender boats so it was almost noon before we set foot on the island. We met in the lounge around 10:00 to tender ashore. And we were supposed to be back on board by 3:30pm. I can understand the tendering situation being out of their control. However, and this really my only major gripe and I was amazed at this. Carnival did a terrible job at moving people through the buffet line on the island. We waited in line for lunch forever. And the lines weren't straight they were crazy and everywhere. It was absolutely ridiculous. Carnival should be ashamed at their unproductiveness on this island. I hadn't read any negative reviews about this before though. Hopefully, it all stemmed from the tender boats being down. I don't know but I have been to three different private islands that served lunch and never seen anything like it. It was a mess. On the upside, the island was pretty and the beach was nice!
St. Thomas - We did a submarine tour (booked online through Carnival). Very interesting. The boat ride out was fun and the submarine dive was fun too! We saw a shark, turtles, and lots of fish. The sub was air conditioned. The kids and I got our hair braided and then we all did some shopping. We decided to eat lunch on the island. We ate at a little outdoor Italiam Restaurant (Amechi - I think). They had very good pizza. A little pricey but not crazy. It was like $14 to $17 for an individual pizza. The pizza was thin crust and we liked it very much. Three of us had pepperoni and one had shrimp pizza. The two kids had pasta. It was $8 for a child size pasta.
San Juan - We did a rainforest tour (booked online through Carnival). Very good and interesting. 45 minute bus ride to the rainforest. Interesting and informative tour guide. The rainforest was nice as well. My mother and my aunt aren't big walkers so the rainforest "hike" made me nervous. It's not exactly a hike. It's a 15 minute walk on a concrete trail through the rainforest - can easily be done by most anyone. You also stop at an observation tower. It's 96 steps to the top. Hubby and kids and I did it - very pretty from up there. Mom and Aunt chose to stay on the ground. One more stop at a short 10 minute movie about the rainforest. Very good tour. Would definitely recommend it!
Grand Turk - We were supposed to do a horse and carriage ride but it was canceled due to some of the horses losing their shoes on the way to pick us up - yes, I'm serious! So, we had brought our swim suits in a bag and decided to head straight to Margaritaville. I thought you HAD to eat here to swim here. This is not the case. You can just walk straight to the pool Beautiful pool overlooking the beach. The kids loved the fresh water pool instead of the salt water pools on the ship. I was also scared it would be very crowded. Although, there were a lot of people there I never felt crowded. They had all kinds of things going on you could just hang out in the pool and watch. Dance contests, etc. We did have nachos here and they were good. I had went to their website and printed off free drink coupons for all 6 of us. No problem using them. Definitely, would recommend this place it was very nice and fun. Family oriented as well. I was afraid it would be one big drunken party but it wasn't at all.
Camp Carnival: The 10 year old girl did the Kids Survivor which was very unorganized. She seemed to like it ok though. That is the only activity we went to. Nephew age 12 met a couple of kids on board and ran around the ship with them a lot. Cousin age 10 hung with us most of the time. She's kind of shy and not real excited about being thrown in with a bunch of kids she doesn't know. However, I've heard good reviews about the camp we just didn't use it. Unless your child is fairly outgoing and pretty willing to meet new people on their own I'm not sure they will want to stay.
The casino I can't comment on we didn't use it.
Disembarkation: Very smooth. Had a leisurely breakfast around 8:30 and disembarked around 9:30am. Waited for our shuttle to take us to the cruise ship pick up car rental place (Thrifty). This took over 1/2 hour for the shuttle to pick us up. Rented a van to drive ourselves back to Ft. Lauderdale - cheaper than a cab for all of us - plus we had a late flight and that gave us a vehicle to have for the day. We returned it at Ft. Lauderdale. Again, very smooth.
Summary: I know it's a long one. Hope it's helpful. We had a great time and would strongly recommend this ship. I apologize for any misspellings - I could find a spell check and I was typing fast.