We are a married couple. Eric is 33 years old, and Dannielle is 24. We brought no kids. We have traveled a lot, but this was our first cruise.
We researched cruises and prices online, and when we found what we were looking for; we contacted our local travel agency to set it up.
Well, first of all, we drove down to Galveston from the Joplin, MO area in one day, 13 hours to be exact, and stayed at the Super 8 motel in La Marque, TX. The hotel was not great & we had to change rooms our second night as the air conditioning broke, but it was cheap at $60 a night, and it was just off the highway and just a few miles from the port.
Our stay in Galveston was pretty boring. We really did not think there was much to do for such a big city area. However, while visiting the sea wall, we did have the pleasure of eating at the local Saltgrass restaurant, and would highly suggest them.
We got to the island early and drove around. We saw that people were getting in early, so did so ourselves. We started the process about noon, dropped of our luggage with a porter, and went to park in the provided parking, which was $10 a day ($70). There was cheaper parking available, but we knew this has security cameras and a regular police patrol.
The shuttle brought us back to the Port Terminal, and it was pretty basic. Stand in line, go through a metal detector, stand in line some more, go to the main desk, set up the Sail and Sign Card and we were on the boat by 1:15 pm (15 minutes before boarding was supposed to start).
We had a Balcony Stateroom. There were 11 floors of living quarters; we were on the 8th floor on the right side of the boat, towards the front. We had a private balcony and could see the bridge from it.
The room was wonderful. 2 beds put together to make a King sized bed. We had a down comforter and pillows. There was a big window to the balcony. We had a big couch, a big vanity, tons of closet space, a safe and wet bar. There was plenty of room for the 2 of us and our luggage.
Our room steward, Archie, was wonderful. He brought us a bunch of extra pillows, ashtrays (Eric is a smoker), and kept us stocked on bottled water. He was also a joy to chat with.
First, I want to mention our waitress in the formal Dining room, The Renoir. We had late seating, and somehow managed to get a private table for two. We were right next to the waitress station, and Andari (Anne) was our waitress. She was simply wonderful. She was sweet, professional, and cute as could be. By the end of the cruise, she was like family, and we really hated to say goodbye.
Food in the formal dining room was wonderful. Like everything else on the ship, it was all you can eat, just ask for seconds. If you don't like anything on that night's menu, you can always ask for steak or chicken. We do personally suggest you try the Bourbon Chicken, Eric's personal favorite, and Dannielle went nuts over the lobster tail.
On the rest of the ship, we found 2 buffets, an oriental station, a pasta station, a fresh cut deli station, Sushi bar, coffee shops, a 24 hour pizza station, and a hamburger and hotdog station. All of it was good. Even the hotdogs were top quality!
At the beginning of the cruise, they told us to eat everything that was not bolted down as we already paid for it. So we tried our best to do just that. All juice, standard coffee, and tea is free, however alcohol and soda does cost.
We tried the room service, which is free, but did not try the upscale restaurant that costs more.
We also suggest you take a moment for Tea Time at least once. Hot tea and pastries served in a temporarily non-smoking cigar bar, with live classical music. It is very enjoyable.
Every evening they would leave a small newspaper in our room with information on the following day's activities, which was very useful in planning the next day's activities.
On a regular basis, they would have seminars for those that wished to attend, giving information on the activities, excursions, shopping and shopping tips, disembarking, etc. You were only uninformed if you chose to be.
In the room, you could use an interactive menu to see charges and current bill for your Sail and Sign cards.
Note: $10 a day, per guest, is automatically charged to your card from the beginning for gratuity which is distributed to all ship crew. We highly suggest extra cash tips to those you feel deserve it. Also, the charges of all the secondary card holders will all show on the primary card holders account information.
It is impossible to be bored on this cruise. From Broadway and Vegas style shows, to Comedians, from games, and interactive activities, there is always something to do. And there is, of course, the casino.
The shows were pretty good, but we were more into the clubs. There is a Disco Club, a Karaoke bar, a rock bar, and our favorite, The Blues Club Piano Bar. Damian, the pianist/singer in the piano bar was simply amazing. He is truly talented, and a blast to hang out with. He was, by far, our favorite entertainer on the cruise.
Drink prices are comparable to drinks in any bar on land. Eric's favorite drink, the Banana Daiquiri (made best at the Casino Bar) was only $4.50 each. A 15% gratuity is added to all drink orders.
Due to the activities, the constant photo stations, and even on ship shopping (we bought a beautiful sapphire ring on the ship), we never got the chance to swim while on ship, even though there was plenty of pools and hot tubs. There is just so much to do on this ship; you don't have time to do it all!
There is also the spa, where my wife won a free head, neck, and shoulder massage. There is no pressure to buy anywhere on the ship, and the sauna, steam room, and gym are free to use.
Ports and Excursions:
Montego Bay, Jamaica;
This was a straight docking port, where we disembarked straight to land.
Due to advice we found online, we chose not to do any excursions in Jamaica. Instead, we took a $4 (per person) cab ride to Sunset Beach, which turned out to be an excellent choice. This really should be an option offered by Carnival. For $40 (per person), far cheaper than any of the excursions, we were treated to access of an all inclusive resort right on the beach. His included unlimited food and booze, swimming, snorkeling gear, kayaks, a water park, all for the one price. Unfortunately, we could not find lockers for our belongings, but things were real safe there.
We ended up spending most of the day at Sunset Beach, and then taking a cab ($5 each) to the Duty Free District to shop. If you are looking for rum, rum cakes, and coffee, we suggest you go to Karina's. Free samples of everything and they are just sweet-hearts.
Beware though, there will be people trying to sell you drugs. Don't do it, most are cops, and we heard of several people being arrested for it. Also, the people are very aggressive trying to sell things. Sometimes you have to be firm to get them to leave you alone.
This was a tendering dock where we had to take smaller boats to the dock from the ship.
This was our favorite port, it was also the cleanest and best maintained. In the morning we took the Reef and Wreck Snorkel Tour. This was wonderful, and took up the whole morning. First we went to a nice deep reef and snorkeled, and it was beautiful, then we got back on board the boat, and went to a wreck that was in the bay. This part was OK, but we would have rather spent more time at the reef, but the guides were wonderful.
We had just enough time to grab a quick bite upstairs across the street from the tendering dock.
In the afternoon, we took the Stingray City Tour We had a little rain going out, but no big deal. Once there, we had a blast swimming with, petting, holding, and even kissing the Stingray. This is a must do.
After this, we had very little time to shop, and wish this was a port that we stayed at longer. From what we did see, some of the best shopping was here.
This was also a tendering dock where we had to take smaller boats to the dock from the ship.
We took the Punta Sur Eco Park Mayan Ruin & Snorkel by Jeep Tour. This took us through a protected park to a beautiful beach where we snorkeled and swam, to a partially buried Mayan ruin, and a beautifully restored Lighthouse, were we were served a free lunch. The park, which used to be a beautiful rain forest, had been nearly destroyed by a recent hurricane. This was a wonderful tour, but we would have liked to see the bigger Mayan Ruins and snorkeled more.
After the excursion, we had about 2 hours to shop. Cozumel is much more expensive on their basic items than the rest of Mexico. But you can get some great deals on Jewelry, especially pearls, there.
This was the only headache of the whole cruise. We chose to do self assist where we carry our own luggage out, and we get to get off first. Good thing we did, as who knows when we would have finally gotten off.
We were told that they would begin soon after 8am by floor, starting with the top. They finally got to our floor a little before 10am. We then waited in line for the sorriest security checkpoint I ever saw. No dogs, no searches, they took your word on what you declared&it was rather sad. We finally were at our car about 11:30am.
We suggest you do as they say concerning the disembarking. One of the biggest problems was people coming down when it was not their turn and having to be sent back.
This was by far the best vacation we have ever had, and the first to far exceed any expectations we had. Other than the disembarkation, we have no complaints, and plenty of praise. Over 70 countries, and 60 languages were represented by the crew on this ship, and they were amazingly efficient. The teamwork involved had us in awe.
Words cannot express our experience on this vacation, however we will say, thanks to this cruise, we are now addicted to cruises, and are already planning another one with Carnival.