Tampa - it was a breeze to get on the boat. We decided to stay at the Chase Suites hotel in Tampa. The have all suites which are really nice. They have a package that includes one night's stay, parking for your vehicle for the entire time of your cruise, transportation to the port and pickup at the end of your cruise. It was great. They took you right to the door and were right there within minutes upon return. The porter takes the bags right from the shuttle so there is little to lug around. Just a short line, a short wait for your group number to be called and then you board. We left the hotel a little after 11am and were on the boat a little after noon. There are plenty of people on board to give you directions once you are on the ship.
We went straight to the Lido deck for lunch. It was a little crowded since everyone was eating at the same time and sitting around waiting on the cabins to get More
ready but it worked. We went to our cabin a little after 1 but it wasn't quite ready. Our cabin steward was nice. It was great that it seemed every time you left your room, the steward would straighten up and it would look great when you returned.
They give out lanyards on the 2nd floor around midship to help you to keep up with your sail and sign card. This also works good to keep up with your Carnival Caper tear off sheet summary for the day. It folds to fit easily in the holder with your card. Our kids didn't have any trouble keeping up with their card this way.
We were in cabins 5107 (balcony) with adjourning room 5105 (inside). This worked great for us with the two kids. It gave everyone their own bed, two bathrooms and an extended balcony which was plenty big enough for all of us to share. The room was so roomy compared to our past experience with another cruise line. The only problem that we had was the choice of TV stations. We had several Carnival stations, CNN, and the local news our of Denver, CO (go figure). My husband wanted ESPN to try to keep up with the baseball trades. I would have liked to have the weather but other than that there is so much to do on the boat that TV is the last thing that you really want to do.
Our cabin was on the floor with Camp Carnival just a few doors down. No problem with noise. We never heard any of the kids. It was great to be so close for when our daughter wanted to go for just a little time. This floor was also pretty when right in the middle of everything - a few floors down for diner and the shows - a few floors up for the pools and casual dining. Our room was on the starboard side, forward. There was a good bit of wind on the balcony but since it was warm out - it actually felt good. I haven't had a balcony room before to be able to compare. We slept in most mornings so I didn't get any sunrise photos. We also stayed so busy that I never say a sunset as well so I can't say which side of the boat is best for either of those.
We had table 362 for dining. This is a table for four, upstairs in the very rear of the boat. It was near the windows so we could see out while eating. Our waiters were WONDERFUL. I cried on the last night to have to tell them bye. Deo was the main waiter. He was so happy to get us whatever we wanted. He called us by name each night and also memorized our likes and would bring some things just because he remembered we liked it. The kids wouldn't miss dinner because they wanted to see Deo and Rico (the helper). Our waiters were both from the Philippines. Rico was going home after our cruise so he was really excited to be seeing his family soon. Deo had a few more cruises before he could go home. Deo did a card trick one night and napkin creations one night to entertain the kids. The food was great. We had Prime Rib two nights and Filet Minon two nights (thanks to Deo). My daughter wanted more filet minon one night when it wasn't on the menu. Deo brought it to all of us that night as it was our choice as well. We asked for baked potatoes several nights and he started bringing them from memory. He would bring a plate of chips or french fries for the kids as well. Like I said he was happy to serve us whatever we wanted.
My daughter thought it was great that room service was free. We ordered that several times especially for breakfast. It was nice to have breakfast in bead or out on the balcony. If you order room service, you have to get the chocolate cake!!! My son loved the 24 hour Pizza. My daughter also loved the 24 hour ice cream. One day she had ice cream at least 6 times!! It was nice when by the pool to cool down with a cone of chocolate ice cream - YUM.
The pools seemed to be a little crowded a lot of the time. Of course, port days is a good time to go swimming as a lot of people aren't even on the boat. The pool on the lido deck forward was usually the one that was least crowded as there was no band or food right by the pool. Of course, you could still hear music and it was only a short walk to the food. Carnival issues beach towels to each guest. They swap these out anytime they see them in your cabin as they have been used. The only problem is that if you lose one, you are charged $22 unless you report it to the purser's desk. We had two stolen by the pool one day. Everyone has towels that look just alike so I think it was just a mistake but I was glad to know that since we reported it we didn't have to pay the fee. WHEW!
Horatio's restaurant was great for casual dining. There was a good variety. It took a minute to get acquainted with all that they had as it was in stations but after that, it was great as it made for shorter lines as people were in more than one line. We loved the breakfast there. My husband had an omelet each morning made especially for him.
The entertainment was good. The first night the comic was the best. The second night was good as well but we didn't care for the one the third night near as well. We still went to all of the shows anyway though. We also liked the adult comedy shows at 11 or 12 each night. Several nights they only have one show so go early as it gets really crowded and you might not be able to sit together if you have several people. The other nights, the late seating dinner people have their show at 7pm. The early seating have their show at 8 something. That works well.
You need to look over your Carnival Caper each day and highlight all that you want to do. Believe me, you will be having such a good time that you can't make it to all that you want to or you are relaxing and decide to skip a few things. We loved the Newlywed Game, Family Feud, Towel folding demo, hairy chest contest, etc. Also pay attention to the times for trivia on your TV where you call in your answer for a chance at a prize.
They video tape all of the events, some excursions, and other general goings-on throughout the cruise and you can purchase a copy. If you get involved, you are bound to be on there several times. The photos that they take are pretty good but pricey. An 8X10 is $20. We easily spent over $100 for just a few shots. Oh well - it is a good keepsake.
The "Super Shopper" Robert is wonderful. If you plan to do any shopping at all, you have to go to his talks. He tells you where all of the deals are, how much you should negotiate, gives our coupons, maps, and free items at these talks. You will be glad you went and will probably go each day before you go out to a port. They also replay his talks on the TV in your room if you just can't make it to the talk in person. He also has a station on the 2nd floor where you can stop by and ask personal shopping questions or just pick up info for the ports.
We didn't make it to any of the midnight buffets so no comment other than I heard several people talk about how good they were. We also missed the bathrobe party. I hated that but I was feeling a little seasick that night. I had two nights that I didn't do that well. I was wearing the patch but the seas were a little rough. It usually got me during dinner when we were at the back of the boat. Nothing too bad - I kept going but I just couldn't make it past midnight too much.
Grand Cayman - My husband LOVES to shop so we spent a lot of time shopping with him. He loves collecting Hard Rock shirts and had to get one there. He was also looking for a new watch that Robert told him about that reduces stress. We looked at several stores for just the right one. We took a local taxi to 7 mile beach. This was great. The water was so clear that you could see your feet! That doesn't happen on the east coast so we were so amazed. We had a great time.
Cozumel - We shopped the whole day. We took a taxi to the Forum shops and shopped our way back almost to the pier. We did walk across the street to put our feet in the ocean but didn't really swim as it wasn't a pretty beach at this particular place. Several of the shops give away items to get you in the door. We got 4 pair of free earrings and free drinks by some of these vendors. It was warm so the free drinks were nice. Several stores gave out bottled water and sodas in cans.
Belize - We did a little shopping in the tourist village at the pier. You can go through the vacant jewelry store to go out back to visit with the locals. My daughter got her hair braided. The locals were so nice. We also negotiated with a local to get a tour of Belize City. It was so informative. He took us to see where the rich live (not that there are any rich by US standards), where the poor live, the main businesses, special sites, etc. He was great. He did the tour for $20 for all four of us. The excursion people in the village wanted $30 / person for a very similar tour (in a much larger group). If you want to go on this personal tour, ask for Anthony and tell him Jimmy and Cheryl said hi. They also have a lot of hand made items for sale. Of course, they ask you a thousand times to come look at their wares but they all mean well. This was my favorite port and I love history and feel that we got to see more of the actual location than in the other ports where we saw what they wanted the tourist to see.
Costa Maya - this was the favorite for both of our kids. Mainly because we swam most of the day. The pool in the tourist section is huge. They had another pool closer to shore as well. You can't swim in the ocean at this place. You have to rent a taxi to go to the beach. We had such a great time here that we didn't make it to the beach. You have to go out by the shore though and try the hammocks. I could have taken a nap!! We decided to let our daughter pick up a local item with her money. She learned well the art of negotiation. She is 8 years old. She picked out a clay, hand painted turtle where its head bobs. They started out at $10. After walking away twice, she got it for $3. She had seen us negotiate at the other ports and learned well. My son (age 13) and husband picked up two pair of Oakley sunglasses for $47. They started at $35 each so that was pretty good negotiating as well.
We had to take a tender boat to all ports except for the last one at Costa Maya where we were able to dock. The tender boats were a lot better than our prior experience with another cruise line. Most of them were air conditioned and quick. The one at Belize was open but it was fun as it was a speed boat and you could sit on the back and watch the wake that it made. The kids loved this until they discovered that the water comes over the back and their seat was wet. Oh well.
I could go on and on about how much fun we had. We also had a lot of time to just relax as well. There were a lot of activities that we were able to do as a family which was nice to create memories together. We participated anytime we were picked at the shows, etc. We got to demonstrate how to make a towel elephant. We were also picked for the family feud show. Get involved - it was a blast.
The decoration of the ship was a little gaudy but unless you are going for the decor, it didn't really matter. Yes, the grapes in the dining room are ugly. Even the crew will tell you that. My daughter was a little uncomfortable with all of the nudity on the ship with the art. We tried to explain that in some countries it is really considered art but at her young age she didn't really understand. That is the only change that I would suggest especially for the young ones. Otherwise, it wasn't a problem.
Oh yeah, they give out decks of cards with Carnival on them if you just go ask at the purser's desk. We didn't know for a few days but then someone was nice enough to let us in on it so the kids played cards a lot after that.
If anyone has any questions and wanted to email me - firstname.lastname@example.org - I will be glad to try to help. If you are already booked on Miracle - happy sailing. I know you will have a blast!! Less