I read a lot of reviews while planning our trip, and decided to write a review to share our experiences. We decided to do something different this summer and go somewhere tropical instead of visiting family, but when I started looking into Hawaii and Mexico and even Florida, found that airfare plus hotel, food, drinks, and activities added up quickly for five people. My husband and I had taken a Princess cruise for our honeymoon 15 years ago and while it was great, it hadn't left a big impression and I had no burning desire to cruise again. When I saw the extremely reasonable rates Carnival was offering for this 5 day Western Caribbean itinerary, we decided this was the best option for us. I set my expectations low, determined to enjoy the cruise for what it was.
First, our cabin. We had booked an interior room, the lowest class available for an incredible $220 per person. A couple of days before we sailed, Carnival called us and offered to upgrade us to their highest class cabin, a Grand Suite, for an additional $590. We decided to go ahead and do it, since it doubled our space and gave us a balcony. I am so glad we did! The kids loved going out on the balcony every morning and we even saw flying fish one afternoon. The cabin, while showing its age in wear, tear, and decor, was clean and spacious. We had an extremely comfortable king size bed, plus a pull out queen, and a roll away. Space was more than adequate and we even had a walk in closet, which was a great place for my modest 11 year old to change. The bathroom had a jetted tub and more counter space than apparently is typical. Our cabin steward, Putu, did a great job and tidied the room and made beds in the morning, and then tidied again and turned down beds and made fun towel animals for the kids. They loved seeing what he made every night. He knew our names the first day and remembered our children's names every time we walked by him in the hall. His assistant, whose name I did not get, was also very pleasant. Also, because we had upgraded to a grand suite, we had priority boarding and it was extremely fast. We got to the cruise terminal and were onboard in about 30 minutes.
A friend had told me to eat in the dining room as much as possible as this is where the food is best. The whole buffet part of a cruise is the biggest turn off to me. I felt like I was in a feedlot the two meals we did eat in the Tiffany buffet! We ate every breakfast and dinner and one lunch in the dining room, and ate two lunches (and lots of ice cream) from the buffet. The food in the dining room had plenty of variety and one would be hard pressed NOT to find something to like. The "formal" night when lobster was served was especially good. The lobster was perfectly cooked and very tender. The prime rib was so-so, mostly because of the "au jus" which appeared to be pre made brown gravy that they served with a lot of meat over the week. Other highlights at dinner included flat iron steak and salmon. The vegetables were typical, but a really nice fresh fruit plate was also available every evening, as was a decent Caesar salad. The melting chocolate cake was a favorite with my family and though we rarely eat dessert at home, we had dessert every night! For breakfast, I sampled the bagel with salmon, oatmeal, egg beaters, and turkey bacon. Kids loved the sugar cereals, which they don't get at home, and pancakes, French toast, and waffles. They gave really nice sized portions of very crisp bacon, too. Coffee was decently stong, but wish they had bigger cups! They had to re-fill us 5-6 times. Our dinner servers were Emilio, Deepak, and another super friendly fellow from Indonesia whose name escapes me right now. They were friendly and personable, but not overly so (in a good way). Breakfast waiters included Ivan, Arnel from the Phillipines, and Pedro from India. They were wonderful and super friendly (also in a good way). IT was great for the kids to practice ordering and remember their manners. It was fabulous for me as the mom to have someone else do the waiting, cooking, and clearing away! Honestly, I felt that the entertainment the waiters provided (singing, dancing, etc) seemed a little humiliating to them. Is it really necessary? Just a thought.
Pool is small, no doubt about it. It kind of grossed me out when I thought of all those bodies being in such small pools, including the hot tubs. They keep the water very salty, for sanitation, I suppose, and the kids really did enjoy swimming and the water slide. The last day we spent on the verandah deck at the small pool there and it was much less crowded.
My 4 year old tried the kids club the first night but was tired and unhappy and refused to go back after that night. It did not seem super engaging, but perfectly adequate. I imagine it would be hard to razzle dazzle new kids every 5 days. There was one woman who worked there, a blond Eastern European woman whose name I wish I'd gotten, who was very kind and accommodating. My little one wouldn't go back after the first night for love or money (or candy, ha ha). My two older kids, 9 and 11, enjoyed their kids' club, although they were bored one night with "just" watching a movie. I think they enjoyed having a little independence from us and I felt perfectly safe letting them sign themselves in and out. I didn't have much interaction with the staff there, but again, seemed fine.
The woman who runs karaoke was fun, I believe her name was Antoinette. We hung out in there a couple of times with the kids and there was a young fellow in one night who was on American Idol twice! The casino was fun, I played penny slots only and won about $40. Drinks were what you'd expect price wise and were strong. We brought wine on board and brought a bottle to dinner and were informed of the $10 corkage fee but it was not actually charged. We probably had 2 drinks each per day, which was fine since we were traveling with 3 kids.
We watched one of the shows and it was fun and the kids enjoyed it. It was a song and dance vegas style show. The dancers were young and you could tell they were having fun.
Progesso is pretty depressing. We took the free shuttle off the pier and got off at the end right by the public beach. It is obvious they are trying to draw cruise business, but we were approached literally every 5 minutes or less on the beach to buy things. I completely understand, these are hard working folks and need to make a living, but it did not make for a relaxing day at the beach. Jet skis were haphazardly zooming around and that mixed with alcohol made the set up seem a little unsafe. I wouldn't have wandered far from the tourist action for safety reasons. We payed $10 for a table in the shade and "free" chips and salsa. Chips tasted like lard and salsa was ok.
Cozumel, of course, is beautiful and clean. I booked an excursion online, not thru the cruise line, and we went to Chankanaab Park. I paid around $250 for a family of 5 to do a dolphin encounter in the park, and park admission was thrown in. Another Carnival ship was docking around the time we were supposed to be dis-embarking in Cozumel, and although we made it off early, we heard that a lot of people got stuck on the boat and missed their excursions. We snorkeled at Chankanaab (snorkel equipment is about $15 a set to rent, but we were able to negotiate it down to about $10) and my kids enjoyed that more than anything. I thought the dolphin encounter was great and I am happy to pay to keep what appeared to be a quality and worthwhile dolphin program in business.
We did the self disembarkation and it was a piece of cake. We were off the boat by 8:30 a.m. We had stayed at the Hampton Inn Convention Center for 2 nights prior to the cruise, and although we were flying out the evening we disembarked, they kindly allowed up to park our luggage there. We used their free shuttle to get to the pier they day we embarked but foolishly paid $30 for a taxi to take us back the day we dis-embarked (we could have walked). When we got to the Hampton, they said we could have called and they'd have sent the shuttle for us. Darn!
All in all, this was a great family vacation. It would have been perfect if our kids would happily have gone to the kids' clubs every night after dinner, giving us some adult time after a fun family day. As a mom, it was a true vacation for me from feeding everyone and cleaning. It was so nice to be waited on and cooked for in the dining room, and to be tidied after in our cabin. Of course, I still spent 85% of my time refereeing my children's fighting, but I haven't figured out a solution for that yet! I would not hesitate to recommend this cruise to anyone. There are always people who can find something to complain about, but if you expect Ritz service and quality, pay Ritz prices. This was a fabulous value for the money.