This was my family's first cruise. I took great pleasure in reading every review I could find prior to our cruise date so I thought it only fair I take the time to submit one myself. Sorry if I get a little wordy. First and foremost I want to say we had a great time. Of course I had somewhat low expectations due to some of the negative reviews I had read, but I have since decided that for some reason people are more likely to write about what they didn't like than what they did.
Embarkation: We stayed in a hotel across the street from the convention center and decided to walk to the port entrance around 1230 pm. Unfortunately there is no way to go through the convention center so we had to walk around it. I would estimate we had to walk 3-4 blocks. When we first arrived at the entrance I was worried because the line seemed to go on forever, but it moved ridiculously fast and we were on the ship in less than 45 minutes from the time we left the hotel without paying for anything extra (FTTF, etc...). Our room was ready when we got on the ship, and our bags which we had left with the porters, were delivered within a couple of hours.
The Ship: I thought the ship was beautiful. I am not an art fan, but every time I turned around I saw a different painting or some other interesting detail that I hadn't noticed before. I will say my wife commented that she thought the ship was dated based on some of the carpeting and some minor damage to the ship (tables and partitions in the lido restaurant), but I tend to judge things by the overall look so I wouldn't have noticed these imperfections if she hadn't pointed them out. I enjoyed exploring the ship and regularly found quiet places where it felt like you had the ship to yourself. I used the gym twice and thought they made good use of the space. It was crowded in the morning, but much less so from lunch on. As far as drinking is concerned there is a bar almost everywhere. I don't drink a lot, but I made it a mission to try and have at least one drink at every bar on the ship. I don't think I did it but I had fun trying. I prefer cocktails and yes, they are expensive on the ship, but not much more than in any restaurant in America. I liked the fact that they had a drink of the day which was a dollar cheaper so I tried most of the cocktails on the ship. The service was usually fast and they were all delicious and pretty strong in my opinion. Something I didn't know before getting on the ship is you can buy a bottle of almost any booze in the ships main store for fairly close to the price found in a liquor store. Depending on what you drink in some cases the booze was a little cheaper so I don't know why people try to sneak hard alcohol on the ship as I saw in some videos of how to save money. Maybe I missed something. My wife did wish we had brought the 2 bottles of wine that Carnival allows. Apparently wine is much more expensive on the ship, but I don't drink it so I'm not sure.
The Room: We got a room with a balcony which we shared with my nine year old son. No the room was not spacious, but there was a lot of storage space to keep your things out of the way and i never really felt cramped. It made me think of how little space you really need. I think the balcony helped a lot with this and I can't imagine having a room without one. Both my wife and I like peace and quiet and I spent a lot of time sitting on the balcony staring at the ocean or reading a book. The room steward was great and it was crazy how quickly she would clean the room while we were out. The chocolates and towel creatures were a nice touch too. I never sleep very well when I am away from home, but the room was nice and cool and the beds were very comfortable. I enjoyed watching satellite TV before falling to sleep every night.
Food: I don't know if I am the least picky eater on earth or if the people whose reviews I read have gourmet food at every meal, but I didn't have a bad meal on the ship. We tried every dining experience, but wound up eating most of our meals at the lido buffet because of the multiple food choices and the more relaxed dress code. My only complaint was that I couldn't eat more (you can eat as much as you want, I just didn't have anywhere to put it). Guy's burgers and the Blue Iquana's burritos and tacos were awesome. The 24 hour pizza was good (not great) and you can't beat 24 hour ice cream. We had anytime dining in the Renoir Dining room, but only ate dinner there once and had the Comedy Brunch once. The food and service were great, and I highly recommend the brunch (dressy shorts and a collared shirt were fine on non-elegant nights and at the brunch) but we preferred the more casual lido deck. We did not eat in the for fee steak restaurant (I'm sure the food was worth the money) or attend either of the elegant nights, again because I didn't want to dress up. I thought it was strange that you had to pay extra for a coke, but I didn't really miss it as they had tea, lemonade, coffee, hot chocolate, water, and milk for most meals and fruit juice in place of lemonade for breakfast. I did splurge a few times for a coke as Guy's burgers just didn't seem right without one.
Entertainment: Since this was our first cruise we tried to experience everything they had to offer on the ship so we could decide if we ever wanted to do it again. This meant that we attended a few of the venues that we wouldn't have outside a cruise. It seemed there was always something going on somewhere, so I have no idea how anyone could ever be bored, but I would say I was the least impressed with the entertainment on the ship. That doesn't mean it wasn't good, I just wasn't blown away. I laughed at the comedy show, enjoyed some of the music at the big production, enjoyed the family game show, etc... but if left to my own designs I would have sat on our balcony or explored the ship. I believe this is just personal preference and in my opinion I got more than my money's worth as far as entertainment is concerned. I did really like the cruise director Gary. I thought he was really funny and even went to his port/excursion review even though we had already booked all of our excursions on line. I would recommend attending anything he is involved in.
Camp Carnival: We forced our son to go on the first day and although he seemed to enjoy it he only went sporadically after that. They give you a list of activities broken up into age groups for each day and he just picked and chose which ones he wanted to attend after the first day. I thought it was well organized and we felt comfortable letting him come and go as he pleased. I am extremely impressed that Carnival provides this service with no additional charges except for a few late night parties that your child can attend if he/she wishes. I recommend reading the Camp Carnival reviews and blogs on this sight and the Carnival sight if you have any questions.
Ports: The ports were awesome. I love to travel and I would have done this trip on a shrimp boat with bologna sandwiches to visit these ports. We docked in Roatan and Cozumel and tendered (took a small boat to shore) in Belize. Exiting the boat in Roatan and Cozumel was effortless. Tendering in Belize was kind of a pain, but I don't know how Carnival could make it easier getting nearly 3000 people off a ship on little boats that hold approx 200 people. We booked excursions through Carnival in all three ports and although some reviewers will tell you to book outside Carnival for cheaper rates, I would not. I believe piece of mind is well worth the extra money and I was very impressed with the organization of these excursions. We did the Maya Key Private Island with lunch in Roatan, the River Wallace/Altan Ha tour in Belize, and the Amazing Cozumel Race in Cozumel. I will review these excursions in the Carnival excursion sight but suffice to say they were all great. I especially loved the River Wallace/Altan Ha tour. I will say if you only book one excursion through Carnival make it the Belize stop because you get off the ship first if you book through Carnival. To tell you how much I enjoyed the cruise I got the worst sun burn of my life in our first port, Roatan, (I only applied sunblock once when we were outside on an island for 5 hours. Yes I am an idiot) and still have mostly good memories of the trip.
Debarkation: I guess if I had one complaint, debarkation would be it. We decided to self debark which means we carried our luggage off the ship and as a result they let us off first. The ship said they would call your deck number when it was time to get off, but for some reason my wife wanted to get out of the room (so the steward could clean it?) so we waited in the promenade. Unfortunately they did not announce the deck numbers over the promenade speakers at first so there was a little panicking as we kept seeing people exiting the ship. When they finally corrected this problem we went to the lobby to exit the ship and it looked like chaos. I will say this was the only time I started to get ticked because we (the people exiting the ship) were crammed into the small area outside the lobby elevators with no way of knowing when the line would move. We did eventually get off the ship and all said it probably only took about 45 minutes from the time they called our deck number until we were at our hotel, but I think I could have come up with a more organized debarkation. I had to laugh to myself that as much as I loved the trip my last memory before getting off the ship was being ticked.
To close, I was surprised due to some of the reviews how much I enjoyed almost everything about this cruise and I would recommend it to anyone. I never got sea sick, the food was great, plenty of entertainment, and the ports were great. We are already talking about going on another cruise. My wife wants to try another cruise line just for comparisons sake, but I don't know how it could be better.