Embarkation, 12/16: Easiest, most painless part of the whole trip. We were through and in the Red Sail in 15 minutes. We stayed the night before at the airport Crowne Plaza and it was the best night's sleep I've ever had; they have a shuttle through Mears (we did the Fly Aweigh program) that goes directly from the hotel to Port Canaveral, then they take care of getting the luggage onto the ship for you. We had everything by dinner time.
Food: I can understand how foodies might be pretty critical of the food, since a lot of it is standard large-crowd buffet-style fare. I would consider myself to be a food snob, but I usually found that if I didn't like something there was always somewhere else I could eat, so I wasn't too upset about it! I always got a soup and a salad appetizer at dinner (we ate every night in the sit-down seating, we had the late one in the Golden Dining Room and it was nice, no kids or Seniors though if you're looking for that crowd), and the entrEe's were about what you'd expect. You definitely want to do one night in the Emerald Room Supper Club, it's totally worth the extra $30, and this is where you can get your awesome filet and lobster tail. The deli was pretty good (I just remembered I left a roast beef sandwich in the room fridge, darn!), I never tried the Oriental or the Fish & Chips because the Red Sail buffets were usually ok. The breakfasts were pretty terrible, though. I was really disappointed that there weren't more fresh-fruit options, but then I realized we likely had all our food onboard when we left FL and it wasn't like we were stocking up on fresh Island produce (darn!). Also, keep in mind that the sit-down breakfast serves the exact same food as the Red Sail, only with slower service. If you don't mind powdered eggs, greasy undercooked bacon and blah pancakes you'll be fine, but I think they could have done better than what I would consider a standard cheap hotel breakfast.
Drinks: I didn't bother purchasing the Soda card and it worked out in my favor, I only had about $10 in Cokes (since they don't have Pepsi, wah!). There is always free juice or coffee, or lemonade and tea depending on the time of day. I did buy an insulated cup the first day, mostly because I wanted it as a souvenir but also because it was darn handy to take my coffee or soda on deck, especially when it was windy. We had drinks before dinner most nights, but they always have a drink special and we didn't break the bank. I met a few people who snuck flasks on board or who didn't check all their purchased liquor from port, but couldn't be bothered. $3.95 for a drink is less than I pay when I go out locally, so that wasn't too bad.
Staterooms: I was pleasantly surprised by the room size. We had a guaranteed inside room and were upgraded to a window, which was great and I will always make sure to have at least a window. I was surprised to see how few people took advantage of their patios, I would have loved that! The beds were plenty long (Im 5 9") and comfy, and the pillows decent. We were spoiled by the turn-down service and loved going through the newsletter each night to plan our next day's events. I had packed my own shampoo and face wash, although they provide liquid soap and shampoo dispensers, and was glad I did. We had packed extension cords and outlet extenders and didn't use them at all.
Activities: We didn't attend very many as we were in bed every night by 11:00 pm after a busy day. The clubs didn't get too busy until after midnight, and earlier than that they were crawling with tweens. We were disappointed that the singles events were all 35+ and late at night (my cousin and I are both single gals, but she's in her mid-twenties), but most of the cruisers seemed to be families or couples anyhow. There were a LOT of big family groups, maybe because it was so close to Christmas. It got irritating though, because we didn't really meet a lot of people since everyone seemed to stick to their own groups. No one else at our dinner seating showed up except for one person (who was a totally awesome person and we miss her already!). I did get involved in the Carnival Legends show on the last night, which was a lot of fun although I looked and felt like an idiot as Madonna. Most of the dance shows were pretty lame, although the dancers were a really nice group of people.
Services: I got a few Spa services, notably a Stone Massage the first day at sea. What a great way to relax and unwind for a vacation! I highly recommend this to everyone. It's not cheap, but again it's not that much more than having it done locally. Make sure to pay attention to their specials. I also ended up getting a hair cut, which I thought was kinda silly at first, but then realized it would be incredibly convenient and I would come home with a new look (plus I just really like getting my hair cut, I find it really relaxing, weird, I know!). The girl who did my cut was Amy from Manchester, and she was TERRIFIC; better than my regular stylist does, and almost exactly the same price. I also worked out one day, and although it made me incredibly queasy (imagine being on a treadmill while you can feel the ship move AND see the waves outside the window, blech!), I thought the options were great.Shore Excursions: Cozumel I had my best meal of the trip here. We dropped our gear off at Dive Paradise then I dragged my cousin something like 10 blocks outside of the tourist district to get at the real town, and had a blast. We went through open markets, got some cheap souvenirs, and had the best fresh conch ceviche in this little three-sided open area where all the menus were posted in Spanish only. Be brave, point, and smile; it's worth it! Our entire meal, including bottled waters, melon punch and fresh lemonade, mole chicken and fajitas, rice, chips with AMAZING guacamole, a pile of homemade corn tortillas and all the fresh limes and jalapenos we wanted (plus that huge platter of ceviche) was like $19. Absolutely NO stomach aches or problems. We did some shopping and then two afternoon dives (booked directly through them, very inexpensive). I wasn't too impressed, as my cousin rented gear and the regulator hose leaked air (VERY un-cool). Plus the guide's mask broke right before we dove, and we would've been in trouble if one of the group hadn't lent him his extra. There were no post-dive discussions about where we'd been or what we'd seen, or stamps/signatures for our books. The current wasn't too bad, but we had to wait a bit for the boat to come get us when we surfaced because of the drift. Belize - We had booked directly through cave-tubing.com and were glad we did MUCH cheaper than through the ship! We were a little confused about where to meet them, just walk past all the hawkers at the pier and go through the building and you'll find the guys. It was a longer (bumpier!) bus ride out there than I expected, and the hike is definitely not for everyone (do NOT take children younger than 6 or 7 unless you are prepared to carry them for ½ hour over challenging terrain). But it was incredibly beautiful, and well worth it, and definitely my favorite excursion. Costa Maya We missed the kayaking because my cell phone reset itself to local time and we woke up late (beware!), so we ended up doing the Jungle Beach Break. For something like $43 you get a ½ hour ride to a gorgeous palm-tree lined beach with chairs, paddle boats, and best of all, all you can drink! It's the first time I've ever had guacamole and rum punch for breakfast. We definitely got our money's worth on this one. This was another thing that I would've thought was kinda silly to pay money to do, but there's really nothing else closer to port other than the town square, which had a lot of over-priced shopping and a fountain but not much else. I got a hammock and some fantastic agave tequila here. There's also a place that sells Cuban cigars, but I would never bring a cigar illegally into the country. No sir, not me. I didn't go over my alcohol limit either. Bahamas We were wiped out, so just did another beach thing, on Paradise Island we took a water taxi over (don't do this, takes too long, not worth it, and we were late in port so it was irritating; a regular taxi is just $1-2 more and much faster). Be prepared to be super-annoyed and inundated with people selling everything from drinks to wooden flutes to banana boat rides and jet skiing. I got really, really tired of hearing, Pretty lady, braid your hair? I do recommend the rum in the fresh coconuts though, they do like 3 refills and it's $10, with your choice of mix. Don't forget to go back and have them split the coconut for you when you're done so you can eat that, too! Debarkation, 12/23: Not painful, but we were the last deck to be called so we sat in the Red Sail for three hours (were finally called at 11:30). I wasn't convinced that Self-Assist was the right answer it took a long time for us to clear customs, and those people were waiting two hours in lines, with all their luggage. At least we had beverages and comfy seats, and nothing to carry! We also weren't in a rush though, as our flight wasn't til 3 pm.
Notes: If you want to purchase portraits there are no special deals the last day (they said they throw out 85% of the pictures taken, such a waste). So if you want wallet-sized or anything other than what you see, get them as soon as you can. They're ridiculously expensive average $20 each, so we sadly didn't get any. You'll be tripping over people constantly getting their picture taken the whole cruise. We had taken both a digital and a water-proof camera though, so have some good pics. We tipped up-front for both our Head Waitress (Christine, awesome) and our Steward (the towel animals creeped me out a little, especially the suggestive bunny) and received fantastic service the whole week; I've never had better timed meals, and they remembered all the little things, every single night. I would cruise with Carnival again (I learned they are adding mini-golf and pool tables to the Glory in the next few years, which is pretty cool), but I definitely would prefer a trip where I have much more time in port; I didn't like that I only got to see the really touristy stuff and didn't get to truly experience the culture of the places we visited. Email me if you have any questions or would like to see pics, and have a great time on your trip!