We planned for a family reunion on a cruise ship so no one would have to host Thanksgiving at their house; no cooking, no cleaning, no entertaining, and plenty of distractions. Fifteen of us in 7 cabins. We love each other...in small doses. ;-)
I chose Carnival over RCC because of the price per cabin advantage I received. I chose the Magic for the waterworks, rope course, and size. I chose the Magic over the Breeze for the itinerary. I chose an Ocean Suite for the balcony and the whirlpool tub in the bathroom.
We flew into Houston the night prior to the cruise and stayed overnight in Galveston. We barely beat the massive ice/snow storm as flights after ours were getting cancelled. We arranged transportation through the hotel shuttle. A short stop by the local Walmart allowed us to get last-minute items we didn't want to pack--sodas, straw hat, Lysol wipes/spray, pool toys, etc.
The weather channel in the hotel showed a huge storm in the gulf between us and our first port, Mahogany Bay. The rain and wind prevented us from walking along the shoreline across from the hotel.
Check-in could not have gone smoother. The hotel shuttle took our family to the port at 1100. My family went through the "express" lane; my mother had arrived at the port 15 minutes before us and I was sure that I would be able to get onboard and wait for her. We had no lines and went straight through security and right up to the Sign and Sail desk; as I got my S&S cards, I got a text that my mom was already onboard! Gold Star for Check In.
We went straight up to our deck, but the corridors were not open yet--they were still cleaning the cabins. We went down to the atrium to gather/plan lunch. It couldn't have been more than 15 minutes before our cabins were ready. We dropped off our luggage and made a beeline to the Cuchina del Capitano--lunch is free, dinner is $12/person. We wanted to get there on the first or second day (before the rest of the ship realized that lunches were free). Lunch was good.
Remember that storm I saw on the weather channel? We found it. There is a reason why they have hand rails in the corridors. It felt like airplane turbulence that would not stop. Our family were OK, but it got to my sister and my nephew. Sleeping through it was no problem...it probably helped. The 2nd day wasn't any better. My son leaned over the balcony rail (we were on the 7th deck mid-ship)) and pulled his head back soaking wet from the ocean spray as the ship bumped through the 8-ft swells. Cruising through storms=no bueno.
We arrived in Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan (Honduras) at around 7:00 am. We purchased the Ultimate beach Package (8-11 am). I watched from the balcony as the rain came in waves and the lightning flashed in the sky. I took my tickets to the excursion desk, but they had already cancelled all water activities and refunded patrons. We bought plastic ponchos and walked through the shops. Harley T-Shirt ftw!
We tried the Steakhouse and paid the $35/person surcharge. I cannot begin to describe who good that meal was. My normal haunts are places like The Olive Garden, Applebees, Golden Coral, etc. I went in expecting those, I sorely underestimated the cuisine. Definitely on the to-do list next time.
Our MDR waiters (Sinat, Fritz, and Biliana) in the Southern Lights dining room were a riot. We came to have fun, they did not disappoint. Again, I expected Golden Coral and got more than we thought we would.
By the time we go to Belize, we finally saw the sun poke through partly cloudy skies. We went on an ATV tour (got muddy), cave tubing (cleaned up), and zip lining (dried off). Butts Up excursions took good care of us even though our tender was running late (we did not book through Carnival and therefore had to take the later tenders). We not not have time to do any shopping at the port, but I didn't mind.
Our last port of call was Cozumel, Mexico. This time, we did book through Carnival to go on the Mayan ruins of Tulum. We took a high-speed ferry to mainland Mexico in very rough seas. I knew it would be an adventure as they started handing out motion sickness bags before everyone was seated. For several people, the bags were well utilized. We went to Playa del Carmen to catch a bus to Tulum. I don't know if it was the bright sunshine, the roller coaster ferry ride, or the European flair of the buildings, but folks, if your itinerary includes Cozumel, you have to go to the mainland! As we drove through town, I saw at least a dozen activities I would like to try on our next visit. Tulum was OK. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.
Cruising back to Galveston was smooth, comparatively speaking. We enjoyed the rope course, miniature golf, waterworks, and spa activities. The illusion show was muy bueno. We went to the family comedy show [thumbs up]. The slot machines were extremely tight, but the blackjack tables allowed me to break even.
Debarkation was nearly as quick as embarkation. My son had a 11:20 flight from Bush Intercontinental Airport to be the best man at a wedding. We have VIP privileges (because of the cabin class rather than anything I have done). We left our cabin at 7:30. We were off the ship by 7:50 and waiting for the shuttle by 8:05. Ironically, we waited longer for the shuttle than the time it took to get from our cabin to the shuttle stop.
I am not sure we will cruise out of Galveston again. The cost and inconvenience of getting there can be reduced if going to a different port.
I am probably not going to cruise across the Gulf of Mexico in the winter again. I would like to try it again in the summer (maybe from Miami?).
Carnival gets a thumbs up for cleanliness, friendly crew, and cost/experience ratio.
I did not take into account how the size of the ship (and negotiating the flights of stairs) would affect my arthritic knees. I spent more time in the whirlpool tub than on the balcony, but I blame the weather equally.
The swimming pools were small (both of them). The jacuzzis were always crowded. We always found empty chairs on the Serenity deck. The only time we couldn't find an open chair on the Lido deck was during one of the contests. Again, the weather played a factor for most of the cruise.
While in Cozumel, we docked next to the Carnival Sunshine. That will probably be our next ship. ;-))