This was our second cruise on Carnival with the first being on Fantasy out of Port Canaveral in April 2005. We were traveling with another couple who had never cruised before.
Due to the arrival times of planes from the west coast to Florida we chose to fly in a day early and stay in a hotel (Best Western Inn) near the airport that provided a free shuttle from the terminal to the hotel. In addition, flights directly to Miami from San Diego were significantly higher than flying into Fort Lauderdale, so we chose to do the latter. Even with the additional transfer cost, it was still less expensive. The flight from San Diego arrived on time and we collected our luggage (after a 45 minute wait) and called the hotel for the shuttle. We were picked up and taken to the hotel without any hassle.
The following morning, we took the hotel shuttle back to the terminal where we were met by Carnival representatives in the baggage claim area. We were given a number to board a bus, and advised to wait as no busses had arrived yet from the port-no worries, we were pretty early. Approximately 30 minutes later we were advised to gather our luggage and proceed to the bus with a Carnival guide. The bus ride was short and we arrived at the port at approximately 11:30A.
The port of Miami can be quite intimidating as there are a significant number of ships and people there, but it's worked out pretty well. We quickly found out that tipping is the order of the day as the bus driver and the luggage handler at the port had well-rehearsed speeches on how to make sure they are taken care of to make sure that our luggage was placed on the ship. We tipped appropriately and left the care of our bags in their hands. Our luggage arrived at our rooms around 4:00p, so I guess we donated enough to the porters.
Day 1-EMBARKATION The embarkation process was actually pretty good. Of course there were lines, but that's to be expected when the ship carries 3000 people. We showed our boarding passes, passports and gave them our credit card for sign and sail purposes. We then moved on to another line where the sign and sail cards are distributed. Both stations went without a problem and we were pleased to find out that our cards had been upgraded to gold cards as we had sailed with Carnival before. Not sure that those gold cards meant anything later on, but maybe we were treated a bit better by the staff. Total time to get through the lines was approximately 1 hour 15 minutes.
Once on board, we had lunch on the lido deck as our rooms would not be available until 1:30pm. Shortly thereafter we went to our rooms and dropped our carry-on luggage. This was the first time we had a balcony and were very happy with our choice. While we didn't spend a ton of time out there, it sure was nice to sit and watch while entering/exiting ports. It also makes the room seem bigger. The ship sailed at precisely 5pm amid a plethora of horn and music.
Day 2- FUN DAY AT SEA We spent our time exploring the ship and did the obligatory sit around the pool decks and soak up the sun. It always nice to locate some places where you'd like to hang out later on and we found our favorites. I'll give a review of our favorites later
Day 3- GRAND CAYMAN This is a tender port and following breakfast, we proceeded to the lounge to get our tender ticket and had no problem getting on the tender. We had booked our excursion through Carnival and it did seem they gave priority to those that had. We did the Allura catamaran to stingray city tour. This was a good tour with the catamaran being very nice. It's about 20 minutes by bus to the dock where the boat is and then about 40 minutes on the boat to the stingrays. This is an amazing experience and would recommend the tour. Even if you don't take the Carnival sponsored trip, make sure you get to the stingray sandbar for interaction with these animals.
Day 4-ISLA ROATAN We were a little nervous about this port as one doesn't think of Honduras as a cruise destination. We were pleasantly surprised upon arrival. The island just looms out of the water and is completely covered by rainforest plants/foliage. The ship docks on a pier and is very easy to exit onto. We did the canopy tour combined with the Tabyana beach excursion. The canopy tour is not to be missed-this was our favorite excursion on the whole trip. If you ever have pictured yourself sitting on a Caribbean beach with an exotic drink in your hand just relaxing, this is your port. Tabyana Beach was well equipped with a restroom, gift shop, a bar and live band. The beach also had complimentary chairs and waiter service. We drank $3 rum and cokes for hours sitting in the sand. The snorkeling is also excellent here.
Day 5-BELIZE After 2 days of water activities we decided to do something different. We chose the horseback riding adventure sponsored through Carnival. A bus ride to a resort area approximately an hour and half into the interior was required and when we arrived it turned out we were the only four people on this tour (our bus was jointly combined with other tours in the same area). Thus we had our own private tour and were able to stay on the horses for longer than most tours. Lunch at the resort followed and then the group shuttled back to the port. The tour guide on the bus was excellent and told us many things about his country and region. It turned out lucky for us to choose this excursion as high winds and gray skies had wiped out most of the snorkel/scuba activities that Belize is better known for.
Day 6-COSTA MAYA The ships dock at an area specifically created for the cruise ships and has an outdoor shopping mall and pool area. Some people never left this area and it's probably one of the few ports where you wouldn't need to due to the pool, bars and shops. We like to experience the country a bit more than just shopping so we chose to take the Xtreme speed boat adventure. This excursion was also located approximately an hour away from the port and the bus was met by staff at another resort type area. This was an extremely well organized tour and we got to spend about 90 minutes in the two person boat (just my wife and myself) following the lead boat and others who were on the tour.
Day 7_FUN DAY AT SEA Alas all must things must come to an end and we prepared ourselves for the back to reality phase. We did manage to get involved with a few ship activities and took a tour of the galley and also played in a cornhole tournament. I had never played before and we did quite well and made it to the semi-finals. Make sure that this day is not wasted and take advantage of some of the ships activities on this last day-you've paid just as much for the last day as the first, so get involved.
DISEMBARK This was probably the worst part of the trip. We had attended the disembark talk and did everything that was suggested. It is highly recommended that you do the self disembark and carry all of your luggage and exit at the earliest possible time. Unfortunately, everybody else took the suggestion and the halls and stairs were completely jam-packed with people and bags. Next time were will do the traditional disembark and let our bags be taken off the ship for us. This will give us time to enjoy breakfast and gather our items while all the do it yourselfers fight their way through the maze. Total time to get off the ship and clear customs was approximately 1 hour 45 minutes.
EMBARKATION-B. Lines were realistic and process was organized.
DISEMBARK-D. The opposite of the embarkation process. Relax on the lido and in your cabin versus struggling with the others
SERVICE-C+ While our needs were met, the stateroom personnel did not seem as personable as on our last cruise. Also our wait staff in the dining room was somewhat lacking. The head waiter seemed to go out of his way for a large specialty group seated near us and handed our table of to his assistant. His assistant was new and our food often sat on a table while he checked his list three times to see what everybody had ordered.
FOOD-B+ Carnival has really focused on their food items and we were quite pleased with all of our meals-even those not in the dining room.
ENTERTAINMENT-B. While the shows are somewhat cheesy the dancers and singers were quite good and you could tell they put a lot of effort into their work. The ship did have plenty of things to do on all days.
BEST ROOM ON SHIP- The Lindy Hop (piano bar). Ron Pass is excellent and really can get a crowd going. Unfortunately we understand he may be leaving for another ship in the next few weeks (still on Carnival).
BEST PORT-Isla Roatan. Location is a perfect way to relax and soak up some sun. Make sure you get to Tabyana Beach.
BEST EXCURSION-Canopy tour combined with Tabyana beach on Roatan
BEST LIDO FOOD-The deli located on the port side of Rosies grille. They make a mean pastrami sandwich. Seating along the deli area is also excellent with glass views of everything outside.
OVERALL EXPERIENCE-B. Certainly had a great time and enjoyed our trip for the most part. A few issues with service in the main dining will not deter us from taking another Carnival cruise.