Embarkation: We arrived around 12:30 by taxi. Our bags were taken from the trunk and whisked away before we even got out of the taxi. I was quite distressed as we planned on carrying two of the smaller bags onto the ship and they didn't have any luggage tags on them. After tracking the bags to a large pile of luggage about thirty feet away, a baggage handler rudely inquired as to who was going to tip him for handling our two remaining bags. We had read the reviews and had our tip in hand but felt his surly and demanding attitude inappropriate. We knew that he was not an employee of the ship and therefore not representative of future service. We encountered a wait of about 40 minutes of standing in lines at this time before we were able to board the ship.
Excursions: Plan your own. If you have enough sense to read the reviews and message boards, you know that you can find a better deal just by stepping off the ship. We both love the water and snorkeled on every island. Details below in Ports of Call.
Ports of Call: Belize: After a 15-20 min. tender ride to Belize City, you arrive at a very nice docking area with about 50 modern shops and restaurants that has been built recently for the cruise ships. There are many people in this area offering excursions for snorkeling to Goeff Caye, the Shark/stingray tour, cave tubing, etc. These are good deals. About half to three quarters of what the ship is charging for the same things. We took a snorkeling tour to Goeff Caye for $30 per person. Saw the most beautiful coral of the trip. We have both been diving for 30+ years and are saddened by the devastation we have seen on reefs around the world. It was great to see many varieties of living coral. I just read a review in which the writer had referred to Belize City as 'beautiful' and I'm wondering what Belize City he was in. Most of the tours leave either directly from the ship or the docking area by boat or bus and my guess is that most people never see the real Belize City. If you leave the small, gated docking area and walk a few blocks into the city, you will encounter an extremely impoverished place. There are no handicrafts to buy there as most of the stores deal only with items of necessity. I was reminded of walking in Haiti 20 years ago while on another cruise. The difference was that there were a lot of interesting stores with arts and handicrafts in Haiti back then. The view from the bay the tender brings you into is deceptive. Only go into the city if you are looking for a true third world experience, otherwise arrange your tour at the docking area or with the ship if you must.
Roatan: What a gorgeous docking area! The ship pulls up directly to the dock and as you look down you see coral reefs surrounded by crystal clear water. The island is green with gently rolling hills. From the deck of the ship you will see long lines of taxis lined up eagerly waiting for the passengers from the ship. When you leave the boat you will find many people showing you pictures of places on the island and offering to take you there in a taxi. We made two mistakes at this point. The first was agreeing to ride with the first man showing us pictures. It turned out he was just the salesman who then directed us to the actual taxi cab driver who didn't have a clue as to what we had negotiated with the salesman. We had doubled up with another couple we had met and had negotiated an island tour ending in a snorkeling trip to West Bay for $20 per person. Our driver wasn't exactly personable although I think he tried and it did help that two of our party spoke spanish. Our first mistake was not talking to more drivers and negotiating directly with the driver. Then we could have avoided our second mistake which was not thoroughly discussing exactly what we wanted to see. We were given a cursory tour of the area to the east of the dock (don't bother it's mainly industrial), and then driven to the West End to a place called Half Moon Cabins. Although there is fair snorkeling, (lots of fish) free showers and chairs at this restaurant/cabin area, it is located on a rocky ledge overlooking the bay. There is a small beach within snorkeling distance but nothing spectacular. After snorkeling, we told our driver we wanted to see West Bay Beach about 5 mi. south. Supposedly one of the most spectacular in the Caribbean. Our driver informed us that the road was flooded and he was unable to take us there. We were all very suspicious of this as we knew several of the ships tours were taking place there and we also knew a second cruise ship was docking about this time. We ended up returning to the ship without seeing the West Bay Beaches but it didn't turn out to be such a terrible thing either. We had about an hour to shop the bayfront where you will find the only true local handicrafts on the entire cruise. Most spectacular are the hand carved boxes, chests and small tables. Also, embroidered T-shirts, knit hats, beaded purses and much more. I only bought a few things thinking I would find deals in other ports, especially Cozumel. Wrong. Those ports have so many cruise ships coming in - 6to8 a day - there are few bargains left. I can find much of what they offer cheaper in the states. Yes, these are not stores but little stalls where native people are selling the handicrafts that they, in some cases, have made themselves. Yes, there are kids asking you for money. Hire one of them and tell him you will pay him if he can find you a good deal on what you are looking for. We watched a fellow passenger do this and were amazed at the deals he found by paying one of the kids $1 each time he saved him money. Don't be afraid to bargain. This is not the mall but it is a great way to interact with the local people and bring home some unique souvenirs.
Georgetown, Grand Cayman: You will love this island if you have lots of money to burn and insist on shopping only in very clean, modern english speaking shops. Otherwise, go for the only true bargain on the island. The stingray city/coral gardens snorkel trip which you can purchase at the dock for $30. per person which includes snorkeling equipment, an air-conditioned round trip bus ride to a nice powerboat and water/juice on the boat. There is no bargaining here. Get the first tender tickets off the ship(be there early) as everyone wants to go ashore here. One couple who didn't get there right on time didn't get to shore until 12:30 pm. We had one of the first tenders and arrived at 10:20. We signed up with the first agent we saw and were told our tour was headed out at 10:30. We saw the ship's tour there - a very large boat with 100+ people and they didn't even get to go to Coral Gardens and snorkel later. Stingray City is crowded but unique. When are you going to be able to say you had a stingray on your shoulders and then you fed him?
Cozumel: Unless you are a first time or very inexperienced snorkeler, do not do what we did. We grabbed the first taxi to Chankannab Park. Taxi ride $10, Entrance fee $10, snorkeling - dismal. Dead and dying coral with a bunch of fish only at the entrance areas. They must feed them to stay there for the tourists. We should have taken one of the boats out to the reefs being offered for $25 per person when we walked off the pier. We returned to the ship for dinner then went shopping in the evening. I just had difficulty finding anything I was really interested in. I wasn't looking for diamonds or tanzanite which seem to be offered by every third store and then there were the T-shirt stores. This is one place where it is advisable to go to the ship's shopper talk. We did find a few unique places by following the advice of the ship's experienced shopper.
The Ship: This is really a matter of individual taste. Having read so many reviews about how beautiful the ship was, perhaps I was expecting too much. Personally, I found the ship garish and dark. Although cleaning was continuous, the rugs appeared stained in many places. Our stateroom was large and the bath exceptionally so. The beds, however, have seen better days. I could actually feel the springs in my mattress and both beds appeared to have a large depression in the center. The bedspreads also appeared fairly worn. We had an outside stateroom on the main deck toward the bow of the ship. It was quiet for the most part.
Dining: This was really a wonderful experience. We had chosen the early seating and ended up in the Elation dining room at 6:15 pm. I can't say enough about our waiter, Nitin, and his assistant, Bea. Great service, lots of fun and good food. We were seated in a booth with two other wonderful couples. It seemed as if we all had so much to share after the days' activities that there was rarely a lull in the conversation. We only dined formally for dinner, taking our breakfast and lunch at the Paris buffet style restaurant on the Lido deck. We are very active and the one time we did try to have breakfast in the dining room, it took 45 min. for the food to arrive. We preferred running up to the Lido for a quick omelet in the mornings before heading to port. The lunches were adequate but the lunch desserts were usually exceptional. Hats off to the pastry chef.
A word about dress: There are two formal nights. I was a little worried about these after reading some posts about how people thought everyone should wear tuxedos to dinner on the formal nights. My husband brought a three piece suit and fit in perfectly. There were some tuxedoes but there were also a few guys in sport shirts. The majority of the men wore suits. On the rest of the nights, resort casual seemed to be guys in aloha type shirts and many of the women dressed in pants and tops. This was a much more relaxed atmosphere than we experienced on the Mexican Riviera Cruise where the majority of people seemed to have stepped off the set of the old TV show 'Dynasty'. In other words, tuxes and very flashy evening dresses.
Food: We both felt the food was very good overall. Don't miss the chateabriand if you like red meat, it was exceptional. If you ordered something that you didn't particularly like, you could always try a second or third entree, appetizer, soup or dessert! Although beautiful, we didn't find the midnight buffets particularly appetizing.
Carnival Staff: Overall, excellent. I mentioned our wonderful dining room staff. Our cabin stewardess was responsive to all problems and did a superior job as did maintenance when we had a slight problem with the air-conditioning and the bathroom facet. All staff throughout the ship were courteous and well trained.
Casino/Bars: Not casino or bar people ourselves but we did run into several people who had won quite a bit of money at the casino. Enjoyed a couple of the shows but we are not really night people.
Cruise Director: It was Jeff Bronson's last week and although I've read lots of uncomplimentary comments about him, I had only one complaint. That was the constant sell, sell, sell I felt I was bombarded with throughout the cruise. I was constantly being told about sales in the gift shops, at the spa, excursions, specials, etc. I felt like every time I went to a talk, a show or even dinner, I was living in an infomercial. I sort of rationalized it by reminding myself that nonsmokers tend not to be big drinkers or gamblers so I guess the ship feels it has to make money in other ways.
OVERALL: Great value for the price. Most of the people I met on the cruise had not researched the ship or ports. I seem to have attracted a lot of people simply because I knew a little about where we were going and what there was to do there. We made some mistakes in planning and I hope what I've written here can help others reading this - Good Luck!