This was my fourth cruise with Carnival. We alternate cruises with Carnival and Royal Caribbean. We typically do at least one cruise a year. This year we wanted to try the Jacksonville port because it is about 2 hours closer to home than our usual port which is Port Canaveral. I LOVE Half Moon Cay, so we picked this exact cruise for that reason.
Since I was not familiar with the port, I did some research and decided to book the Holiday Inn Express Blount Island based on some of the other reviews I read. We had about an 8 hour drive, so we drove down the night before. We arrived at the hotel for check in around 7 pm. Check in was a breeze, and the hotel was really easy to find. It is really close to the port, and makes the morning of the cruise really easy. They even offer a shuttle, but it isn't worth it for more than 2 people, in my opinion. The hotel itself was decent. They were doing construction, but aside from that, we didn't have any major problems. We went to St. Johns Town Center to shop a bit and eat at The Cheesecake Factory for dinner. It was only about 10 minutes from the hotel.
Below is information about the cruise itself:
Ship Info - The ship was comparable to the other ships I have been on. It was nicer than most due to the recent upgrades. There were not any real complaints that I had regarding the ship itself.
Embarkation - Embarkation was super easy. We did have Faster to the Fun, but others with us did not, and they found it easy as well. It was nice not having to take any stairs or escalators as we do in Port Canaveral. We arrived around 10:30 and had to wait until 11 to board the ship. But it was worth getting there early to be one of the first to board the ship!
Shore Excursions - We did the Atlantis Aquaventure in Nassau, and we booked the Cabana in Half Moon Cay. We personally love both. We have booked both excursions in the past. If you book the Cabana, get to the Shore Excursions desk first thing when you get on the boat and select your cabana. We love number 12. It is far away from the crowds, but not so far it was inconvenient.
Cabin - We love balconies. This was the first time we booked the aft-view extended balcony, but I would recommend it to anyone. In the future, we will definitely book again. Our room steward was really nice and whenever we needed something, he would always get it for us.
Dining - This was the biggest disappointment. One of our favorites things about Carnival vs Royal Caribbean is the food. However, this cruise, we did not experience any outstanding dining. We had the bottomless bubbles package, and while in the dining room for dinner at night, it was extremely difficult to get them to give us our coke. Usually we would already have our main course before anyone would assist us. The buffet was just ok. The salad bar was the best thing about the buffet. While at Half Moon Cay, I was served a raw burger. It was literally burnt on the outside and cold and red on inside. I am extremely particular about my food, so this was a big negative for me.
Disembarkation - Disembarkation was really easy. We opted to check our baggage rather than carry it off. Since we had Faster to the Fun, we were the first ones off. Our luggage was waiting on us (along with every other zone number), and we grabbed it, went right through customs, and were at our car within 10 minutes.