If you are like me you are searching for the perfect first time cruise. You are reading the reviews, looking for assistance in your decision. I hope my review helps.
PLANNING: My main sources for planning were Cruise Critic, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean. Ultimately I chose Carnival. I found their website easier to navigate, and I really wanted a FUN ship for my 9 year old son. I budget but I don't penny pinch. Once I'm on vacation I spend the money I saved and have a great time! One thing I did that was a GREAT idea was purchase cruise cash. I used it as sort of a savings account. It is a use it or lose it account to budget wisely.
PACKING: Don't over pack. I bought about 3 days of clothes I did not need. You can do laundry(3.00 washer/3.00 dryer) or have it done(15.00 per bag). Take out the extra shoes and replace it with an extra bathing suit instead! Speaking of shoes, make sure they are comfy. Elegant night was fun. This is where they get you with the pics! What mom can resist having her family dressed and not get a portrait?
JACKSONVILLE: We drove from the Charlotte NC. The port was very easy to navigate. Because we were early we were able to park close to the terminal where a porter met us to take our bags.(we tip $2.00 per bag we had three) Secure Parking cost $75.00. Many hotels in the area offer parking with your nights stay and a shuttle will take you to the port.
EMBARKATION: If you are traveling with children I HIGHLY recommend the Faster To The Fun pass. It is sold as an excursion. It is $49.99 per cabin. It paid for itself the moment you reached the terminal. No lines and you and your family are escorted by a carnival crew member to the next crew member. Your room is ready and your bags arrive at your room in no time.
SIGN AND SAIL CARD: This card is your everything on the ship. Your room key and a link to your cash. you can give your children spending privileges if you wish.( I did not) No cash needed, except in the casino. You can use your sign and sail card in the casino but will be charged a 3% service fee. So bring cash. There are ATM's if you need them. My S&S card had the Cruise Cash linked to it.
BOTTOMLESS BUBBLES: $27.99 a GREAT deal for a child or people who do not drink alcohol. We do not purchase soda often in our home so this was a great treat for our son.
ALCOHOL: If you enjoy fruity fun vacation drinks budget for them. They are approximately $7.00-$10.00 per drink. Depending on where you are from this may seem like a lot. Those of us from larger cities like New York , Atlanta, Miami are used to these prices. People from other places may find the prices a bit high.
Everyone will tell you to sneak on liquor. I did and everyone else that did(that I spoke with) never really drank it. I did bring the small 1oz
TIPS: We opted to manage our own tips. We took care of our cabin steward and tipped each waiter individually. Be generous with tips it goes a long way.
THE SHIP: The bed is comfortable, The soap smells good. The ship is clean. The lido deck is the hot spot. The casino is fun. The rooms are small but cozy. The staff work really hard to keep things clean and running smooth.
THE ENTERTAINMENT: Think Glee. If you like glee then you are going to have a ball. If you are looking for a Broadway production this is not it. It is ALL about the fun. I REALLY enjoyed all the shows. The comedian was funny, the shows made you feel good!
THE FOOD: Hamburgers, hotdogs, nachos, Mongolian wok, deli, pizza, fish, sushi, fruit, ice cream , steak, salmon, and the list goes on. The dining room is always casual elegant attire. Get anytime dining. We got stuck with late dining. Not the way to go;( Room service 24hr!!
THE PORTS: Half Moon Cay was AWESOME!! It was like they took the ship and hosted a huge cookout on a beautiful private island! FUN! (the jerk chicken was good!) Nassau, no excursions for us. We simply walked around the downtown city, found the library, read some historical books, had great conversations with the people who live there. Got some great pictures. Go to senior frogs! We had a ball!
MOM/DAD time: Hubby and I went on date night every night! Childcare has a night owl program that cost the same as a babysitter at home about $6.75. It was worth it, our son had a good time and so did we! (wink*) Also, please take advantage of the serenity deck, an adults only part of the ship. So quiet and relaxing!
WHAT I WOULD HAVE LIKED TO HAVE KNOWN:
PICTURES/They take portraits. Think JCP portrait studio photos. It's cheesy but fun. As a mom you will spend about $75.00 on family photos/They have a $95.00 package that might be worth it. Seriously as a mom budget for this, you won't be sorry!
MASSAGES/ They go on sale! Prices are slashed in half so don't pre-book(I didn't thank goodness)
CHILDCARE/I knew going in it would cost a bit extra but what I didn't know was how much fun my son would have! The kids really enjoy themselves and they get great little swag bags! He really did not want family time:( he was enjoying himself so much!
EXTRAS TO BRING: An extension cord/ only one outlet in the room. Hair Dryer. Air freshener for cabin& bathroom. Lanyard for the S&S card. A wristlet. A pashmina wrap. Extra duffel bag for souvenirs. Alka Seltzer for mommy hangovers, and motion sickness medicine for the family.
Everyone is on board to have a great time. If you LOOK for things to complain about then you will find them. If something is not right simply share it with your steward, they will take care of it. Bring patience, love and kindness! Leave your cares behind !!!!
For those of us on weight management programs like weight watches or MyFitnessPal, no worries!
The food in the dining room is portion controlled. You will always have healthy choices on the lido deck.
(awesome salad bar, frozen yogurt, sugar free treats, ect) You can also work off the calories in the gym, the exercise classes, taking the stairs and dancing in the night clubs! Also, be prepared to do ALL the line dances!, No need to compromise your new lifestyle!