This was our first cruise, and I had researched it like a madwoman, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect (thanks to my fellow Cruise Critic members!)
Arrival/Embarkation: We flew into Tampa from Philadelphia late on Saturday night (11/11). Had $109 rate at the Marriott Spring Hill Suites. Hotel was nice (minus the gecko in our room!), but had 2 double beds when we had booked a king. Too tired to go back down & fight. Breakfast was insane - packed with people, running out of stuff, broken toasters, totally nuts. Front desk had set us up with a $20 flat rate taxi to the port, he was early & friendly.
Arrived at the port around 10:15 am. Doors opened up promptly at 10:30. Embarkation was a piece of cake, we were in the second boarding group, no problems at all. Wandered around a bit waiting for the sports bar to start showing 1:00 football. Got lanyards at the Carnival Vacation Club office & playing cards at the purser's office. Would have made N&N's reservations but new friends took care of for us.
Ship: Expected visual chaos thanks to the other reviews, and in many cases we got it! Some rooms were better than others. The Phantom Show lounge was particularly bizarre, and the flooring in Horatio's really got to me. Bacchus dining room was not as bad as I had been prepared for.
Cabin: We were in balcony cabin 8104 all the way in the front of the ship. Was a good size - nice bedding, lots of storage. Great spot - nice and quiet we only saw crew members go back & forth the bridge. Right near the forward elevators, so we never had to wait. I didn't use the balcony as much as I though I would. It was just too windy when we were under way, and the 2 small chairs were not very comfortable. It was worth it for the view & option to go out however.
Packing: On the advice of the boards, I had packed chip clips to weigh down the shower curtain, an over-the-door shoe rack, a multi-outlet extension cord and an alarm clock for the room - only really needed the clock & chip clips. Brought WAAAY too much luggage! 8 pairs of shoes for a 8 day cruise? Helllooo!
Dining: Tried to find out if we had a group table in the main dining room at embarkation, but no one was there...except a sign directing us to the other floor...where no one was. Eventually made our way up to eat a late lunch around 1/2 time.
First night at dinner was nice, we had hoped to have a big table and we ended up with a 6-top on the upper level. A honeymooning couple joined us for the first & only time that week. I definitely think it would have been more fun to have dining companions. Food was good all week not spectacular but good. Our waiter had zero personality, so that was also disappointing.
Horatio's - good food. Breakfast was ok, not great. Expected a little more variety. Burgers poolside were fair, fries always cold. Pizza was passable but not great. I think real NY style pizza would be a HUGE, easy-to-make improvement. Lunch buffet was really good. Never had dinner here.
Room service - only ordered sandwiches once. Good, fast.
Nick & Nora's - one word, GO! We did N&N's on Saturday night to celebrate my b-day. Food & service were spectacular. Worth the money & then some. One of the best meals I've ever had!
Grand Cayman - wandered through the stores, had a mango margarita in Margaritaville (great but $$$). Eventually found a good deal on a stingray city/snorkeling tour with Nativeway. I had researched tour operators & heard good things about them. Did not book online just looked for their sign in port. I loved this excursion! Stingrays were awesome. Snorkeling was just ok. Rum cakes yummy! This port was expensive, but really nice I would consider going back for a vacation here.
Cozumel - booked the Mexican Cuisine tour through Carnival. GREAT excursion! We had a van cab to Playa Mia Beach Club with a great group of people. The chef & his helpers are awesome & hysterically funny. We cooked an entire meal appetizer, fish entrée and rice dessert. Tons of fun and open bar! Everyone seemed to have a great time. When we were finished, we sat down together and ate our meal with Spanish wines. Phenomenal. Hung out on the beach for a little bit afterward. Could have stayed all day. Several *ahem* inebriated people came back on the ship in Cozumel. Lots of fun to watch!
Belize - I was most excited about this port. Wanted to go cave-tubing so badly! Found our new friends & got off without a problem. Longer tender ride, but not bad. Went through cavetubing.com (Yhonny) and had a blast. The guides took great care of us, had an amazing time. On the way back we stopped at Amigo's for a traditional lunch of rice and beans cooked in coconut milk & stewed chicken with Belikan beer. Best meal of the whole trip!
Costa Maya - I didn't have anything picked out for this trip, I though we might do a Jeep/beach tour, but money was tighter at this end of the trip. Wandered around the tourism village and eventually picked a beach club all-inclusive for $25pp. Ended up going to Tequila Beach the first one down the Mahjuhal strip (they didn't give us the name when we booked). This place was ok but not great. One small bar, weak drinks, not enough beach loungers, Ehhh water area. We were told that full lunch + snacks + drinks were included, but found out lunch was NOT when we got there. Lame. Ordered my favorite guacamole & chips, and the guac. Was AWFUL. No flavoring, just big chunks of onion. Gross. We decided to rent a waverunner for an hour, and dumped about 15 minutes in. I had swallowed a lot of saltwater and was pretty freaked out from not being able to get back on myself, so I asked to go in with the club guy. DH followed us as I he saw I was pretty freaked. Didn't give us any of our money back. We were not happy campers. Went back to the port & shopped a little. Best deals of the trip I think. Better deals to be had at the end of the day, so wait as late as you can.
Debarkation: I watched the debarkation talk on the cabin TV to understand what was going on. We had late flights out, so decided to do the relaxed version & put out our big suitcases on Saturday night. Went to Horatio's for breakfast & waiting. There must have been a delay with the ship clearing customs, because they didn't begin clearing the self-departure people until almost nine, as opposed to 7:30 as expected. We got bored in Horatio's after awhile and went down to the atrium to see what was going on. The general debark (no colors called?) was finally called around 10am. We were off quickly, found our luggage & a porter easily. Plans with relatives in Tampa fell through, so we took our luggage to storage and wandered over to the Harborside complex. Waited for stuff to open and had lunch in Bennigan's with a great view of the ship.
Misc. Observations: - Was a little bit rough the first night at sea, and we weren't sure if it was us getting our sea legs or it really was rough. I had the prescription patch and it worked like a charm. DH used the wristbands for the first couple of days, and wasn't sure that they worked. He did have to use Dramamine on a couple of occasions. - Don't use Carnival's tours, they are overpriced & packed with people. Except for the Mexican Cuisine, which I don't think we could have done on our own. - Don't count on seeing your team's game in the sports bar. We got lucky and saw the Eagles on embarkation day; but the bartender claimed they can't change the channels. Very odd. - TV in the cabin shows Denver news. Very odd. - The pasta dishes in Bacchus seem to be made with the same sauce all week. They call it something different every night, but I swear it's the same stuff with minor tweaks. Odd. - Go try the showers in the gym locker room area they're awesome. - Port day eating schedule is weird. By the time you come back from your excursion around 3 or 4, you're starving, and go right to Horatio's/grill for food. But then you're still stuffed for 8:15 dinner seating. We never managed to get the hand of this. Maybe pack room service sandwiches for the excursion, or eat in the port earlier. Otherwise you miss out on the full experience at dinner. - Never made it to the midnight buffet. Line was ridiculously long, didn't seem worth it. - If you are looking for nightlife, this is not your trip. I think it has something to do with the port-intensive itinerary. People were BEAT, and turning in early. - Karaoke, dance club very empty. - Sing-along piano bar singer was pretty bad. Very, very off key/flat. Heard many people say they were excited about going there, but had the same response. As a result it was always empty. Sad! - Would I do it again? Yes. We had a great time overall. Everything that I expected. The ports (with the exception on Costa Maya) were phenomenal. Already thinking about doing another cruise. Possibly with a different line to check out the differences.