This was a long planned extended family cruise to celebrate my parent's 50th wedding anniversary. My mother expressed her desire to have a vacation with all her kids and 10 grandsons. We ended up with 27 people altogether.
We chose the 4 night Western Caribbean cruise with Carnival as the most economical and reliable itinerary.
Our 4 night cruise departed from Miami on Monday August 7th. We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale airport and had a small bus chartered from Larry's Limo company to transport the 21 of us that were flying together. He met us in the airport and dropped us right off at the Miami pier. We paid him up front for the return trip as well.
The embarkation process was smooth and well organized. No problems at all. We kept our tickets and ID's out and went through the checkpoints easily and quickly.
Once on board, we all went to our cabins where our luggage was just arriving. The bottle of Amaretto we had ordered from BonVoyage was there waiting for us, as was a complimentary bottle of champagne for me booking the group, and a note that another bottle of wine would be served at dinner. We went to see my parent's cabin, and the decorations we had ordered looked lovely! Well worth the money we spent.
We made sure everyone went to grab some lunch ASAP, but as it turned out, they kept serving up until the lifeboat drill, which was considerably later than posted time of 3:45.
We found their information and organization of the lifeboat drill to be very lackadaisical. Having sailed with RCCL and Celebrity, this Carnival ship handled it much differently. We had to wait forever for many guests who had no idea there was a drill coming at all.
Anyway, it was over soon enough and we were off.
Our cabin was very spacious and comfortable. Even though the walls and cabinets were showing wear and tear, everything was in good repair. The bed was super comfortable (which is very important for me: I have problems sleeping away from home). Our room steward came up to introduce himself, shook our hands and made a point to call us by name for the rest of the cruise. He did an excellent job keeping our cabin clean and pretty, our ice full, and placed chocolates and made towel animals every evening.
The food was quite good everywhere we ate. I was surprised at just how good it was. I was under the impression that Carnival had a lesser quality in everything than the other two cruise lines we had tried, but we were pleasantly surprised by all of it. The wait staff was very courteous and helpful.
On the night of my parent's anniversary celebration, I asked the waiter about it and it turned out the cake we had arranged for had not been ordered after all. He was very efficient and went about finding all th information we needed, ordered it and had the waitstaff present it to my parents right on time. They never knew anything was amiss.
A group coordinator came up on the first night of dinner to introduce herself and tell me she was at our disposal to help plan any group activities we might need. My mother had said one of her main goals was to get some nice group photos of all of us, so we arranged to have them taken before dinner the following night: Formal Night.
We were met in the Grand Atrium by the coordinator and a photographer. They arranged all 27 of us and we did get some lovely photographs. We were very pleased.
Entertainment: We found the entertainment to be disappointing on this ship. More of a community theater level. Our expectations were high knowing the level we had experienced on other ships. This was just so-so. We ended up in Karaoke every night. The piano bar was boring: the piano player had only a small list of songs he knew. He didn't know anything we asked him for. But Greta, the Karaoke hostess, was great fun. We kept going back to her in the Puttin On the Ritz lounge. My husband, my cousin and I all participated in the guest Talent show, which was done from Karaoke. My husband won!
One night in Karaoke, I got a tap on the shoulder and a woman asked me if I was Debi. It was slineberry from the Cruise Critic board! We talked then for while and met again later in the trip where we shared a glass of champagne. So do make a point of checking in on the Roll Call boards to meet new friends!
Fitness: I found the fitness room to be lacking. The temp in the room was way too hot: I must have lost a few pounds sweating just from being in there. Out of 7 treadmills, 3 of them were out of order. The ones that remained were not working well. They were very old. My sister in law reported the other machines were not very good either.
I wanted to try the ionothermie treatment in the spa, but couldn't get an appointment. I hope that's because it was so good!
Shore Excursions: We didn't book any shore excursions through the cruise line due to the difficulty of trying to organize so many people in our group. We decided to wing it when we got ashore.
Key West: We walked around and did some sightseeing on foot, while other members in our group tried various other things. Some took the Conch Train tour (and loved it), another rented one of the electric cars (they loved that too), while others took the Trolley around to see the sights (another hit). Key West was lovely, but our time there was way too short. We would have preferred to be there longer and experience it at night.
Cozumel: Very pretty, very hot! We had to tender in and went right away to grab some large taxis for our group. We fit in two vans and arranged for them to pick us up to go back. Paradise Beach was lovely. Our plan to get on a Catamaran Sail and Snorkel tour fell through because we had missed the last tour of the day...even though we were on the first tender boat in. But we snorkeled there and got some good pictures. The men had a blast getting beer and nachos on the beach. The kids enjoyed the water toys. We even managed to get some shopping in before going back to the ship.
Disembarkation was quite easy! No lines, no sitting around waiting to be called. We put our bags out the night before, had a nice sit down breakfast that morning, gathered up the kids and left. A breeze! Our bus driver called to tell us he was there and we met him a minute later.
Overall, I would say this cruise was a good value. I didn't care for the constant emphasis put on trying to sell you things, but I would still recommend this cruise to others.