Booked on this cruise with me was my friend. It was his first cruise and my 6th...all on Carnival. My review is long but it is detailed and I hope informative. Enjoy your read.
We left San Antonio at around 11am on Saturday. The drive down was pretty uneventful. I take I10 East to the Sam Houston Toll way to avoid Houston traffic. Not sure if it saves any time or not but it saves my sanity. The cost is $5.25 spread between 3 different toll booths at a $1.50 each.
I booked the Hampton Inn Texas City. I must say it was by accident but the hotel has some of the friendliest staff I have ever met. The front desk clerk , Cherrie was so nice and very funny. I was in room 219 and it was clean. This not a suite hotel, so there are no fridges and microwaves in the room. The bed was comfortable and I felt right at home. The hotel offers free Wi-Fi which I found fast and convenient. There are not many options for food at this exit. There is a Ryan's Steak house, a Jack in the Box and if you cross the interstate there is a Wal-Mart. We opted to drive to Galveston for lunch. We chose to eat at The Spot. It's a nice if somewhat busy place on the Seawall. I highly recommend the Coconut Shrimp there. It is the best I have ever had. After lunch we headed back to Texas City. The island was very busy and there must have been some sort of convention or something going on, since the streets was packed with people. Once back to the hotel we decided to head to the mall next door. The Mall of the Mainland, there are very few stores open and no major stores other than a Sears. Evidently a tornado hit the mall last year and devastated the area. It seems that most of the major stores like Macy's left and never returned. There is a movie theater in the mall that was playing recent showings. We walked back to the hotel and since we had an early wake up we went to sleep early. We got up the next morning around 8am and headed downstairs for breakfast. It was hot and very good. They served Western Style omelets, potatoes, and sausage as well as fruit, cereal, and waffles. All in all it was a great stay in a very nice and comfortable hotel. Exactly what I have come to expect from the brand.
After check out on Sunday morning we drove the 12 miles to Galveston. I had pre-booked and pre-paid for parking with Galveston Park N Cruise for a cost of $55 for the duration of the cruise. They are located directly across the street from the terminal. Prior to parking I dropped the bags and my friend off at the baggage drop off area and headed across the street to park my car. We had gotten to the terminal at around 9.30am which is earlier then I usually arrive. But we were able to drop our bags and parking was open. I walked back to the terminal and there was about a 30 minute wait for the terminal to open.
The wait and Faster to the Fun Pass:
I had bought the Faster to the Fun pass, so we were directed to the line for Diamond, Platinum and FTTF guests. As soon as the terminal opened we were directed to the security line. It really didn't take that long to get through security and have our travel documents reviewed. I noticed that those who were NOT Diamond, Platinum or FTTF had sneaked their way into our line from the other line. I didn't care since I knew no matter what we would still be among the first to board. I had a carry on full of juice and bottled soda. The security person took out each bottle, examined each lid and gave it a quick shake. She did replace each bottle back into my carry on and we were then directed up the escalator to the check in area. Again, our boarding pass was reviewed and we were directed to an open desk agent to get our Sail and Sign cards. After getting these we were sent over to a red- cordoned off area for FTTF guests. Diamond and Platinum have their own waiting area.
One of the things that I noticed while waiting to board this ship was that the Carnival Port workers were more relaxed in how they treated the passengers. I have been in the boarding area and been yelled out by a gate agent, all because I stood up before he thought I should have. And they had lemon flavored water"it wasn't very lemony and not very flavorful. Here we met up with others from our Facebook Group , The Magic'ally Connected Cruisers. We were all happy to meet each other after months of only seeing each other's comments on our page. I think we sat in this area for about 30 to 45 minutes before we were allowed to board. The Captain's table guests, Diamond & Platinum guests were boarded first and then the FTTF pass holders. I always enjoy that DING as we give our S&S cards for the 1st time. It means that my vacation has begun and I am on my way to the best vacation ever. Another thing that was different this time around was that they swiped our S&S cards BEFORE we got on the ship , not at the entrance to the ship. Not sure when that changed. I was on my last cruise in October 2011 onboard the Triumph and we had our cards swiped on board. No matter, it was still a great feeling, hearing it the first time.
After boarding we headed right to our cabins. We were in cabin 9272, a balcony cabin on the Vista deck. I half expected to be told that we couldn't go to our cabins but we were not stopped at all. And besides, I had that all-important FTTF decal on my card. Our cabin as stated was on the Vista deck. It is very near the Atrium lobby on the port side of the ship. One thing to note here. The location of this cabin is very close to the Atrium as stated which means that it's very close to the Atrium bar and the singer. I could hear her on into the night each night. Thankfully I bought a small fan with me that helped drown out the caterwauling; I mean entertainment, so I wasn't too disturbed. The cabin was nice and has a mini bar. Since I had brought on my own juice and soda, I removed most of the contents from the mini bar. If you do this, please take inventory of what is in the fridge BEFORE you put your things in it. And if there is something missing, notify the Guest Services desk immediately. I did not and almost had to end up paying $8 for a can of OJ and a can of Heineken beer. I was able to get it removed from my final bill, but I was a little upset that I would be charged without being asked if I had drank it. I explained to the guest services rep that I brought on six bottles of OJ and six bottles of Cranberry juice. I had ordered a bottle of Absolute ($60 for a 1ltr bottle) from the Bon Voyage department that was to be delivered later , note: Due to Texas liquor laws, the bottle wasn't delivered until the next day. NO big deal. Anyways, I went on to explain that I also do not drink beer. Like I said, the charges were removed and I only bring it up, so that others who do remove the items will know to take an inventory.
Our very 1st meal onboard was at the burger area on the Lido Deck. Not bad, but edible. Not so for much of the cruise. The food was really hit or miss. There was something's that I ordered in the main dining room (we were assigned to the Southern Lights Dining Room , Table 708) that was downright terrible. The fried shrimp was so greasy; it made my stomach feel queasy. And there was one appetizer that had been deep fried as well that was dripping in grease. There were other venues, such as the Red Frog Pub that served very good appetizer type foods. The cost is $3.33 for each. We also went to the Prime Steak House. I had made reservations about a month before the cruise. Oh MY GOD"the food there was phenomenal! I am not a steak person. I prefer seafood to steak. But since our formal night was the night before our dinner at Prime and I had the lobster, I didn't want seafood again, so I was willing to take a chance on steak and I am glad I did.
This is the only place during my review that I will detail what we ordered because it was that memorable. For my appetizer I ordered the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, it was brought to me in a Marini glass. My friend ordered the Lobster Bisque. We were also gifted with a "taste" of certain dishes. I cannot for the life of me remember what mine was, only that it was a potato based dish and my friend got a beef tar tar dish. Both were very good. I ordered the Spice Rubbed Prime Rib cooked medium well and served with a baked potato and steamed vegi's. My friend ordered the NY Strip cooked medium and served with broccoli and baked potato. To not be a fan of steak and to have such an awesome steak put before me, cooked so well and correctly has made me change my mind about steak! And I have to mention the bread. We feel in love with the Rosemary Focaccia bread , I have to make that! It was really that good. For dessert we each ordered Cheesecake. The size of this serving of Cheesecake was enough for 5 people! You definitely get your money worth and more and you do not leave hungry! The cost for Prime Steak House is $35 per person. I left an additional tip. The wait staff was on top of everything. They had a way of making you feel like you were the ONLY person in that restaurant. And the cooks are to be commended for not only the taste, but the presentation of each dish. I cannot say enough about this restaurant and how good it is. The only restaurants I can compare it to would be either Ruth's Chris or Morton's here in San Antonio. Both are very expensive, very good but much more expensive then Prime. Again, if you can afford it and you want to have a wonderful and romantic meal"do try the Prime Steak House on this ship!
We had breakfast on the Lido deck each day. Sometimes it was a struggle just to find a place to sit. And here again, the food was ok. The scrambled eggs were strange. I don't ever recall thinking that before on board any other ship. They were edible, but different. It took me two full days to figure out that I could ask for more crispy bacon then what was being offered. I swear I could still hear that bacon Oink as they put it on my plate. It was that under cooked. The other place I would like to recommend was the Tandoor area. They served very good Indian food. Not surprising since most of the cooks are from India!
This is the largest ship I have been on to date. But it never felt crowded other than on the Lido for breakfast. I saw some instances of Chair Hogs and just laughed to myself. I have no need to sit by the pool. I would rather sit on the Serenity Deck and not deal with all the madness around the pools. I also saw some other issues that really upset me. I would see this on the other ships I have been on but to a lesser degree , or maybe I just don't remember now. But it was so disturbing that it deserves its very own paragraph.
Time and time again I saw passengers push their way into an elevator before those on it were able to get off. I would get pushed and shoved and in all directions as soon as that ding sounded that the elevator arrived. Evidently I must have been always standing in front of the ONLY working elevator on the ship, for such behavior to happen. I can't come up with a reasonable explanation any other way. Just my bad luck I guess. There was at least two times that I can recount. The 1st was on embarkation day. I had been waiting my turn on Deck 3 to go to Deck 9 , our cabin location. By this time the ship was semi-full and some had already visited a bar or a roving bar person, so the drink was on! And that started the ME ME ME syndrome. As I was saying I was waiting my turn to board an elevator. As my cabin was near the Atrium elevators and because I think they are neat, I was specifically waiting for one of those and knew that wait would be longer. So one eventually came and I went to board it, mind you now I am no small creature, but out of NO WHERE these three 20ish looking men and their females ran up the elevator and proceeded to try to get on without allowing others off. They had to back away to allow a few people off and I saw my chance! The people who got off left an opening large enough for me and others behind me, who by the way had been waiting longer as well, and we got on. Those young men started cussing and lunging at the elevator at us! I have never experienced that on any other ship or anywhere else for that matter. It was insane. The 2nd instance happened later on in the cruise. I was on the elevator and needed to get off. When the door opened at my desired deck, the rush inward was phenomenal. I am trying my darndest to get off and these people are equally insistent that they are getting on! I finally had to tell this one woman that if she would just let me out, I promise she could get on. I saw people in scooters and wheel chairs and elderly people ignored who had been waiting to board the elevators. People would breeze right on past them and jump on. When did our society become so self-centered that we forgot common courtesy? My friend got so fed up with all the pushing and shoving that he started using the stairs for most of the cruise. I could not. So I waited and watched.
Back to the ship:
I only visited the casino once or twice during my cruise. I only smelled cigarette smoke to a very small degree. I never went to any of the bars, other than the Red Frog. Usually on a cruise I am all over the ship and visiting each venue. Not so this trip. I only went to one show. I didn't visit the pool for more than a few moments each day. I did watch the Harry Chest Contest"funny as usual. I missed the Afternoon Tea. I had really wanted to do this again, but ended up not going. I did go to the Past Guest party; they still have the free drinks and hor dourves. My friend says that the water slide was great fun. He went to most if not all of the comedian shows, and enjoyed each one. I had fallen in Montego Bay and injured my ankle and it would swell if I stood for any time at all and so after that I pretty much stayed in my cabin or on my balcony.
Our 1st port of call was Montego Bay. I had been told such negative stories about this port that I was downright afraid of going! I want whoever is reading this review to know that not once did I feel threatened or afraid. I loved Montego Bay and the people were so nice and friendly. I think my friend was offered "something" 3 times, I never noticed them asking him. But he just politely declined and they went about asking others. I bought the Rose Hall Guest House and Shopping excursion and my friend bought the Canopy Tour. I love history and architecture, so adding those together is going to be fun. The van driver was hysterical. And I tour guide was very informative. I only wished they would have given us more time to visit the gift shop after our tour. But we were whisked away to the Shops of Rose Hall. I had a quick lunch at The Real Jerk, I tired the Jerk Pork and oh my gosh, was it ever good. I had never had Jerk before but I am a definite fan now. After about 45 minutes to shop or eat at the Shops of Rose Hall we were taken back to the port area. It was a great tour and I would highly recommend it to any. After both our tours were over, my friend and I met back up and took a cab to the Hip Strip. I think the cost was $8 for both. We were let out near Margaritaville. It was not far from here that I stepped into a broken area of the sidewalk and fell. That was the one negative about the entire port. But had I been watching where I was going, I would have seen the break in the concrete and would not have fallen. We walked up to Doctor's Cave Beach to take some photos. The entrance fee is $6 each, but since I wasn't intending to stay for anything other than a few photos, I asked the manger if I could get in without paying to just take photos. He agreed and I thanked him profusely on our way out. I didn't stay long since we were not paying guests. After we left there we walked back to Margaritaville, my ankle looked terrible and needed to sit. I wasn't ready to throw in the towel yet and go back to the ship, so we sat and my friend had lunch and I had some tea. After an hour or so we took a cab back to the ship. I would have loved to stay longer in that beautiful city, but my ankle by this time was killing me and had swollen to three times its normal size.
Our next port of call was Cayman Island. Here is where the FTTF pass came in very handy again. I didn't have an excursion booked, so I went to the guest services desk and told that I wanted a tender. I was escorted down to the gangway and to a waiting tender, by passing all lines. Note: I also used my FTTF to bypass the long lines at guest services on multiple occasions, and yes I did get glares from others. I even got grilled by a Platinum member asking if I was sure I was in the correct line. I was polite and told him I was very sure and just waited until I was called to the desk. Only once during the cruise did I ever have any length of a wait at the Guest Services Desk and that was for about 10 minutes. But I can assure you that had I not had my FTTF pass, the wait times would have been way longer.
My friend had booked a Parasailing excursion and I just wanted to visit the Hard Rock Cafe' and shop until he was finished with his excursion. We booked it through the ship and part of the excursion was to have been a short stop at Seven Mile Beach. For those who wanted to, they could elect to stay longer and take a cab back to the ship. Well that is not how it played out. The tour operator dropped them all off at the beach and my friend had to walk all the way back to the ship. It was about a 3 or 4 mile walk back. It was rather upset and when we got back on the ship, I did speak to Guest Services. It had been my understanding for all Carnival sponsored excursions that they would bring the guests back to the ship. The rep was very nice and even though it was not necessary, it was kind; she gave us a 15% discount off the price of the excursion. After we met back up at the pier, we paid for an island tour. It cost $15 per person and took us to Hell (I knew I would wind up there eventually), the Turtle Farm/Dolphin Adventure, The Tortuga Rum Factory, and Seven Mile Beach. Hell was really interesting and I suggest you visit if you have time. We bought 2 post cards to have sent back, but we have as yet gotten them and it's been 2 weeks now. That is rather disappointing. We did not choose to enter the Turtle Farm but did stand and watch the Dolphins interacting with others. The Tortuga Rum factory"well it wasn't much of a factory"more of a store. The prices were not much cheaper than on the ship. I bought the 6 pack of the Rum Cakes on board and paid about $39. Seven Mile beach was nice; we stayed for about 15 minutes or so and then went back to the ship. I was tired, it was hot and humid and my ankle had started to swell again"Now here is one place the FTTF does not help. Getting a tender back to the ship. You must stand in line just like everyone else. Thankfully however the line moved rather swiftly and we were back on within about 30 minutes of starting in the line.
Our final port of call was Cozumel. I have been to Cozumel four times and have yet to see the attraction. I am just not a fan. I had brought my laptop on this cruise, mostly to upload photos from our camera memory cards but also to try to keep in touch with my daughter at home. I had done a bit of research before leaving home and found a internet cafÃ© located at the port, called Cafe Punta del Cielo. It is not far from Pirana's Joes. You must buy something in order to get the code. I got an iced coffee that was about $5 and the people there were friendly. There is a smallish area outside the cafÃ© as well as seating inside with small tables.
My friend booked the Ruins of Tulum excursion and I booked Mr. Sancho's all inclusive (AI). I should have gone to Tulum. But I had read that the ferry ride there was horrible, so that put me off. The price for Mr. Sancho's, if booked on line is $45 for the AI. I had put a $5 deposit and then paid the $40 upon arrival. The taxi ride there is $16 for one person. So if you can, find someone else to split the cab ride. It is some distance from the port so unless you enjoy a good hike you would not be able to walk the distance. My cab drive spoke no English and my Spanish was not enough to engage in conversation for the 10 minute ride. The area seems safe and very pretty. After checking in you can pay $10 for a locker but you get that money back when you return the key. The dressing facilities are somewhat small. The people were all very friendly and seemed happy to be there. The beach however, just was not what I was expecting. The water was brown. The sand was not something I had never felt before. It seemed almost rocky? Way more rough feeling than other beaches I have been too. I guess I thought it would be blue or that pretty emerald green and the sand would be softer. The pool was nice. The pool bar was convenient. I had tried sitting in one of the chairs with an umbrella. But since I was by myself, I was pretty much ignored by the wait staff. I ended up having to go get my own drinks time and time again so that eventually I just stayed at the bar. I would see the wait staff go from table to table but avoid mine. The food was ok. But it's a buffet, so you have a few options. I ended up not staying very long at all. There are several vendors who would call out to me to come have a look. And I would either decline or look at their wares. They weren't all that pushy and I didn't mind. There were several cabs waiting to take you back to town or to the ship. I opted to go into town. The cab ride to town was $16, he dropped me near where the NCL ships were docked. He was friendly and did point out some stuff on the way back and did engage in some light conversation. I visited a few shops and made some purchases. After about an hour or so, the ankle stated swelling and I took a cab back to the ship. The cost was $8. We were late leaving Cozumel since the tour my friend was on, was late coming back. I know that the ship will wait for ship sponsored excursions but not for those you book on your own.
Debarkation and Closing:
So our time onboard has come to end as all good things always do. We were given Zone 1 debarkation tags the night before. Since we had the FTTF pass we were directed to be at the Northern Lights Dining room at 7.45am. I think we got there too early as those who were self-disembarking were still there. And we left when they did. This meant that I had to wait in the terminal to get our bags. I hate the Galveston terminal for bag searches. This is the only terminal I have been to that does this. It's a huge waste of time and energy. Why they can't put in baggage carousels like other terminals is beyond me. So after finally finding all of our bags, some of which were buried beneath others, we found a porter who walked us through the passport line. Even with the wait for the bags, I was off the ship and in my car by 8.03am. Not too bad. And that brings me to the end of my review. Thanks for reading and I hope you have found some useful information here.