We're super impressed! I know you've read the negative reviews- bad food, bad ports, bad service, bad shipmates. I'm here to tell you 99 percent of that is simply not true!
We've been serious cruisers for 2 years (2 or more cruise per year.) We'd heard all the rumors. And it was with major reservations that we booked the 7 day "exotic" Western Caribbean sailing with Carnival. The price was excellent, and as we'd been to the ports before on another major cruise-line we decided, "How bad could it be? " Since we ship-hop we've not earned any elite status on Carnival and booked Faster To the Fun along with our shore excursions for Roatan and Belize pre-cruise. We used the cost-savings to book a cove balcony, and stay over night before the cruise in Galveston.
Pre-cruise: We checked into the Hotel Galvez and Spa. They offered a free shuttle to the port and week long parking (for less than $20) with a one night stay. Our room was not ocean-view. But was very large and clean. The water-pressure in the shower was excellent. We ordered the walnut brownie from room service and were amazed at the large serving-size. We plopped down in very comfy beds for the evening and fretted about our cruise decision. Would this be worth it?
Embarkation and the Balcony- It was as thick as pea soup! We couldn't see the street outside our window. We had just become the most recent victims of the Galveston Winter Fog. Carnival kept us informed via text messages and e-mail. We had already reserved an 11:30 shuttle. So we headed to the port. Check-in was fast and efficient. One of us even set up a cash account, which was not a problem. We were then herded to the packed waiting area. Since we purchased FTTF we did not have a zone boarding number. We just waited. Did some reading, some fretting over the balcony and a bit of worrying. Mostly we watched the clock. Happily within 45 minutes, and after the weddings, casino group, platinum and diamond cruisers, we were on the Magic! Our room was ready! Someone had order decorations for our room (It was my birthday.) and they looked wonderful. No one stopped to check out the beds or that bathroom, we just wanted to open the curtain! Our balcony was WONDERFUL! Careful planning had put us in a cove balcony with no lifeboat directly above us. There was a camera-which was a bit off putting, but no big deal. The balcony was a bit bigger than a regular balcony and had the standard two chairs and small table. The light streamed in- this was not the dungeon described in the reviews. This was a vacation oasis. There was a white wall instead of the normal plexi-glass, but we were so close to the water we could spot, and clearly see the eyes of the dolphins playing in the shipping channel. A few words of caution: three things are beyond your control when booking a cove. (1) The doors: If your neighbors were raised in a barn and have not learned how to properly close a door. Your cabin will rattle as their balcony door slams closed. It's loud, and it's annoying. (2) Smokers- nothing you can do about this. We had smokers close to us, but could never smell the smoke. I imagine things could be bad if you're next to Cindy Chainsmoker. (3) Weather- if the seas are rough your balcony can become an oceanview. Since these rooms are so close to the water there are metal doors that can seal out the sea in the event of bad weather. We never saw them in action. These rooms are very nice if you're looking for a bit more privacy as there are no decks below with balconies and the life boats shield you from those above.
Service and Food- Our stateroom attendant was fabulous. One of us uses a CPAP (sleep machine.) We had packed a surge protector with a 3 foot cord, this was not comfortably long enough to strech from the outlet at the desk to the bed by the window. We had a longer additional cord when we returned from dinner. We also had exceptional towel animals and were the envy of our friends. Our cabin was always kept clean and we were never intruded upon, or made to feel uncomfortable because some one wanted to clean our cabin. This was beyond nice. We were always greeted by name.
We ate at both Cucina del Captino, and the Steakhouse in addition to the lido buffet and the main dining room. We had Your Time Dining and found the lines to be shorter around 7:30 PM. The steakhouse was worth every penny. We had a filet and a New-York strip. Both we done perfectly-one was rare the other well done. The Cesar Salad was honestly and without a doubt the best Cesar salad I have ever had. Dishes were well plated, the service was attentive and prompt. Any questions about menu items were answered politely. We booked the steakhouse for the first evening and received a free bottle of wine-what a nice perk! Cucina unfortunately was a disappointment. We ordered the meatballs, and the Chicken Parmigiana.Both left us feeling blah. The meatballs were we felt over-spiced. And the chicken seemed to of the frozen pre-breaded variety. Our server was lackluster and just doing a job. We did not see any of the touted performance elements (singing and a wine-dance?) which was just as well for us. Main dining room food was excellent to above par. Please stay away from the pumpkin pie-trust me. There were plenty of fish options, as well as red meat. Turkey and chicken were almost always on the menu. Desserts were good. Our waitstaff changed from night to night (we had YTD) but all were attentive and engaging. Lido food was standard buffet fare. I will say I fell in love with the potato salad. I am a bit ashamed to admit it. Pizza Pirate was good, but often had long lines. The Wok station was also good, but crowded. Another note of caution: The lido buffet is by fair the number one place to see shipmates behaving badly. We observed a woman who was very rude with staff because there were no blueberries on the buffet-though blueberry muffins and yogurt were available. I understand the logic-but it's not the staff's fault. Please don't yell at them. Also the concept of lines are hard to grasp for some people. These issues aren't daily occurrences, and could even happen at home.
Ports- This is the rainy season. We were rained on almost daily while in port. We booked excursions through Carnival for the dolphin encounter and beach break in Roatan at Anthony's Key. We had been to Anthony's Key before and once again enjoyed meeting a dolphin. The wonderful thing is thing is the trainers can gear the program to any age group. There are no life jackets need, and you can wade out into water that is between knee and chest deep (I'm 5'2) the dolphins are friendly and seem well treated and fed. Our beach break was at Tabyanna and was not unpleasant. We swam for a while before the rain put us off and we took the shuttle back to the port. We did some shopping and headed back.
We took the Belize Zoo and City Tour through Chukka (offered by Carnival) our guides and bus driver were stellar. They knew the animals by name and could coach them to come. They took time to explain each animal to the group. They fielded questions from kids and adults, dealt with rain showers, and even passed out bug-spray to those who had not read it was essential.The zoo featured rescue animals from around Belize. Each animal had a biography written as a little poem.The foliage was gorgeous.Most of the animals are visible from paved walk ways. There are a few stairs, but no steep hills. Wonderful day! Tip: there is a small gift shop at the zoo that offers some very nice ceramic items for sale.
Cozumel-We went on our own and shopped. Cozumel is more built-up than the other ports. And we felt safe to venture out into the both the Downtown and pier area. If you aren't interested in going Downtown you can find many of the same large (chain-type) shops on the pier area.
Entertainment- We saw three shows. Two productions and one magic performance. The magic show was very enjoyable, the production shows were comparable to other cruise-lines. We also played BINGO- we swore an oath we wouldn't but found ourselves in the lounge at the right time.
Disembarkation- Here's were FTTF really paid off. We tagged our bag the night before left it by our door, and in the morning headed to the dining room. We sat there for 15 minutes turned a corner and were off the boat by 8:15 AM. No long snaking lines for us!
So what does this all boil down to? A wonderful vacation for less. We loved the cove balcony, had amazing friendly service and are planning to do it all again soon! Don't be off put by the off-putters. This was just the vacation we need and wanted!