I learned so much from this Cruise Critic forum prior to our first cruise I would like to thank every one of you!!
As I said this was our first cruise ever, we didn't know what to expect, but we did know that we would go into it with a great attitude and NOT expect perfection, but as you will read it nearly was that... perfection. We are a family of 4--me and my husband (married 21 years), our daughter (16) and our son (13). We typically vacation in Disney World... or we head to California or North Carolina to visit family. We're very predictable. This trip was a new adventure for us and I did a TON of research first, and it really paid off!! For instance our cabin selection---research seriously paid off in that respect!!
We took a 7 night Eastern Caribbean cruise, we left on June 1 and returned on June 8. We absolutely LOVED seeing the islands, they were gorgeous and everything I thought they would be.... the blue waters were breathtaking. It's something I never thought I would see in my lifetime and I didn't take one minute for granted, I felt very grateful the entire time we were there. I may have shed a couple tears ;)
Pre-Cruise: We stayed at the Country Inn & Suites in Cape Canaveral, we chose the Snooze and Cruise package. We were very happy with CI&S!! Clean rooms, NICE pool, great free, hot breakfast the next morning!! There were a lot of cruisers staying here and you could feel the excitement in the air. Prior to checking in we went to Publix (which is close---less than a half mile from the hotel) and bought some water and sodas for our cabins. I had read conflicting thoughts on this---some liked having their water and sodas in their cabins, others didn't want the hassle of carrying it on board. For us it worked out, we liked having the extras and not having to pay for them. We did check them through with our luggage and there was no problem. We didn't have a lot of luggage though so that's why I think it was OK. Anyways.... the hotel was nice, clean, and the front desk staff was very helpful. The parking lot where we parked out car for the week was right there on their property and there were plenty of lot lights. We had no worries or hesitations at all!
Embarkation: We had purchased Faster To The Fun. Again, I had read conflicting thoughts on this, but for us it was definitely worth the money. We used the hotel's shuttle (Dwayne and his wife---great!!) to get to the port. I called the day prior to reserve a time (DO THIS in order to get a good time!!!) and we were given 12:00 time slots. We were in the holding room waiting to go by 11:20 and because all the families who were in that time slot were there and ready to go, and because Dwayne was ahead of schedule, we left by 11:30 and were at the port by 11:45. Our luggage was dropped off with the porters (we tipped them as well as Dwayne) and we made the walk into the check in area.... the Faster To The Fun line was empty and we went straight through security and to the counter in no time at all!! The regular line had about 40 people or so in it waiting. We were on the ship by 12:15 or so, we went and dropped out carry-ons off in our rooms, and were eating lunch by 12:35. Smooth and easy!!!!
Cabins: We booked 2 cabins... a balcony room for hubby and myself, and an interior cabin right across the hall for the kiddos. We were on the Verandah deck, rooms 8304 and 8306. I had researched a LOT prior to choosing the rooms, and I had talked to our PVP, Lance, a lot also, and we finally chose the Verandah deck. I'm so glad we did!!!!! Great rooms!! Rooms above us, rooms below us, virtually NO NOISE AT ALL!! We knew we didn't want the casino above or below us, we knew we didn't want the galley above or below us, nor the Camp Carnival areas above or below us.... Verandah was perfect for us! I loved having a balcony room, and our view was NOT obstructed at all. Below us the only thing we could see was deck 5's Fun Tub whirlpool, but you literally had to lean way over to see it.
The cabins were so clean. I'm a clean freak, I came with my Clorox wipes and my flashlight (to look for bed bugs)... and I can tell you I looked in the nooks and crannies... it was exceptionally clean! The shower was spotless! The mattresses were comfortable and the pillows were great! No complaints at all from us! My husband is very picky with his mattresses and pillows (he suffered from a pinched nerve in his neck for nearly 2 years and has to have good quality support) and he slept like a baby on this cruise! There was a lot of storage, we had plenty of room. I am very glad we decided to book 2 cabins, we weren't on top of each other and I do believe it contributed to our satisfaction of this trip.
Our Room Steward: Deny. He was great! Literally every time we'd leave, and return, our room would be straightened up and cleaned. My kids loved the towel animals! We loved his attention to when we would want extra towels. He was great and we tipped him extra and well. He deserved it!
Food: The food. Oh my gosh, where do I start? Well, first off, I had only one teeny complaint, and that wasn't even a complaint really, just a personal preference. My only negative the entire trip was with the Mongolian Grill in the Lido Gathering. The wait was always very long, and for me personally I didn't care for it too much, but I do know that many folks love it and that's why a cruise is great---you can go where you want and eat what you like!
The main dining room was fantastic---we were assigned to the Crimson Dining Room. The wait staff was great! We chose Anytime Dining and that was perfect for us. We got there between 5:45 and 6:00 every night and never had a wait, but for the ones who got there anytime after 6:15 or so, we saw they did have a wait. The food was fantastic, absolutely some of the best meals we've ever eaten. I can't recommend the Warm Chocolate Melting Cake enough. I may have seen a tear come from my husband's eye on the last night, LOL! The Flat Iron Steak was fantastic! The shrimp cocktail was my hubby's favorite and he always ordered 2 each night! The last sea night's dinner service was very special with the wait staff's musical goodbye being the highlight, very special! OH, and the Cruise Elegant nights (we had 2)... we saw everything from collared golf shirts/slacks on men, to full-length beaded gowns for the ladies! I did see one couple turned away because the man was in wrinkled shorts and flip flops, but they returned with him in more proper attire just a half hour later! My hubby and I fell somewhere in the middle, I chose long maxi-dresses and dress shoes, my hubby wore dress shirts/slacks, and my daughter dressed in her formal dress from last year's homecoming dance. We all fit in and none of us felt over- or under-dressed.
The Comedy Brunch--- the brunch menu was fantastic! (I highly recommend the Flaming Tomato Soup!) The comedian only gave a brief preview, it lasted maybe 5 minutes, but the food was so worth going to.
The Gathering: The buffets in the Gathering were also very good. I especially loved the breakfast choices. Anything and everything you could ever want. Pastry, breakfast meats, omelettes, fruit, it was all there! The lunches were also good with so much to choose from! The Pizza Pirate and the Grill were also favorites of my kids---they loved the fries especially. On the last sea day they had the Chocolate Extravaganza. Oh my. The line was LONG, get there early! It opened at 11:30 I think it was and I was glad we were there early. Try one of everything if you can, LOL!!
The Shows: We enjoyed the shows. The Motown Show was our favorite, as was anything the Fun Force guys were in. The comedy shows were good (they flew in 2 new comedians on Wednesday for the Thursday and Friday shows). We attended the family friendly comedy shows and they were really good.
Trivia Games: I didn't think I'd actually include a section in my review of the Trivia Games, but can I share with you all how surprisingly fun these were?! My daughter and husband had so much fun attending these! My daughter won a Carnival Medallion for Win, Lose, or Draw. It was a blast and the guys who run it are fun! Jase, the assistance Cruise Director, was fun!!
Speaking of Cruise Directors... it was Jaime, and Jase, her assistant. These 2 work SO HARD!! Do they ever get time off?? Literally from sun up to sun down we would see, or hear, them working and having fun! Who can be "on" that much and still be happy and chipper??! LOL! They were great, really.
Laundry: I had to break down and use the guest laundry on Thursday. A chore I was dreading actually turned into a very nice time of getting to know some very special ladies. I know, sounds cheesy, but it's true! $3.25 a load and yes it was crowded and small, but it worked!
Pools: The only thing I'd change if I were giving input for a brand new Carnival ship. I had read of folks saying there weren't enough pools, they were too small, etc... and yep. They were right. Nothing to do about it though, so we timed it so that we were able to get in and use the Fun Tubs when they weren't too busy. The main pool on the Lido deck was always very slow just after dinner so we did get in some use then. You just have to time it right, unless of course you don't mind the crowded conditions during the middle of the day.
Debarkation: Because we were first time cruisers this was slightly confusing to us, but Carnival did a good job of getting us information. Not only is one of the TV channels dedicated to walking you through it, but there was also a pamphlet on our bed the day before describing all we'd need to do. We set our luggage out the night before, we left the ship at 7:15 the next morning and Country Inns & Suites shuttle picked us up at 8:00. We were at our car by 8:15 in the lot and at Burger King getting breakfast and a coffee by 8:30. Easy!!
Only one caution that I'd like to pass along. When you first get to your cabin (and you veterans I'm sure know this, but for us newbies-- this might save your budget a little)... check the inventory. Each room has an inventory--the refrigerator items, the towels, the beach towels, the pillows etc, and the robes. Our balcony cabin never had robes. We didn't think much about it because neither one of us are really robe wearers so we didn't miss them but we did notice they weren't there but our kids' cabin did have them. Anyways, on the last night we got to thinking, 'I wonder if they think we had them and we will get charged for them.' We told our room steward and he did indeed think our room initially had them. We offered to let him search our luggage and he of course politely declined, but he was puzzled as to why they weren't in there. Our situation ended up OK, but it easily could have not and we could have been charged for them. So, just a bit of advice... check the room inventory on day 1.
Side note regarding our experience on the islands: Nassau---we were there for such a short time I don't think it'd be fair to do a "review" really, but I will say that the Straw Market wasn't a completely safe environment. I was anxious to visit it, I prefer the handmade by local artisan items to the mass made souvenir trinkets you can find in any souvenir shop, so I was looking forward to it... but because of the "bodyguards" each artisan/vendor had it was a little scary. The "script" each bodyguard had went like this, and truly we heard it at least a dozen times, "Pretty necklace? Smoke? Weed?" We heard it so much. Finally we made our way out and just walked along the main road with the other tourists.
St. Thomas---beautiful island!! Our excursion was canceled due to weather so we took a taxi to Coki Beach. The taxi driver handed us off to a "handler" who walked us literally 12 feet to the beach and wanted a tip. He handed us off to another man who offered us drinks and food--we declined and we were told if we changed our mind to find him, only him, and no one else. Ok. Then we were handed off to another guy who rented us chairs and an umbrella, and we tipped him, and he offered us weed with our purchase if we wanted it. Great. Um, no thank you. When it was time to leave, the first handler screamed at us because we almost made the mistake of getting into the "wrong" cab... he told us we belonged to him and we gave our word. OK... and we got into the "right" taxi/van, and thankfully made it back to port safely. I wondered if we would though. We did enjoy shopping around and we did love Coki Beach, it was just the "handlers" that tainted an otherwise very nice day.
St. Maarten. BEAUTIFUL and our favorite island of all!!! We took a taxi so Marigot, did some shopping and ate at Sarafina's. It was deliriously wonderful!! When we were done in Marigot we took another taxi back to the Dutch side and did some shopping and hung out at the beach. It was great!!! Can't say enough good things about St. Maarten!!!!!!!!! The water taxi back to port let us rest our legs and see the beautiful sights.
Just a wonderful vacation! It's hard to find enough adjectives for it, LOL! My family has some great memories, I visited places I never thought I'd be fortunate enough to visit. We are looking forward to more great cruises in the future!!