This was our 4th cruise, 3rd with carnival. (Once on Princess)
We arrived in New Orleans 3 days prior to the cruise and stayed at the Best Western Plus St. Charles Avenue. Very quaint little hotel with nice character. we loved the neighbourhood. the St Charles Ave streetcar line is right there, so it was easy to get downtown to the French quarter.
EMBARKATION: this was our first time sailing out of new Orleans and the reviews that I've read about the disorganization and chaos is SO true. New Orleans is a beautiful city, but we wont be sailing from their again.
THE SHIP: Our last carnival cruise was in 2008 and I was surprised to find that they no longer sell the rum punch in the specialty carnival cups on embarkation day. they were plain old boring clear plastic cups. not a big deal, it just seemed a little less special.
Overall, the ship was very nice and clean. HOWEVER, that sewer smell we all keep reading about in these reviews was pretty nasty. It seemed to be an intermittent problem. it seemed the strongest in the first 2 days and in the last 2 days. I only really ever noticed it on decks 3, 4 & 5 forward. I am very thankful that our cabin was higher up on the lido deck. once or twice, I thought I caught the odd whiff of it in the hallway, but it was gone as quickly as it appeared. You could tell that this was an old ship that's been renovated, but it was still pretty nice. Our first cruise was on the triumph back in 2006 and it was the same class of ship, same general layout-very non-user friendly.
The lido deck pool area was very nice. We bought the cheers program for $800 for the two of us and we definitely got our money's worth from it. the red frog rum bar had the most amazing drinks on their menu, as did the blue iguana tequila bar. it also includes unlimited pop and non-alcoholic frozen drinks. we had our 3 year old daughter with us and she just loved getting a virgin strawberry daiquiri now and again.
FOOD: When we first boarded, we grabbed lunch at Guy's Burger Joint. Those were absolutely the best burgers we've ever eaten. The pig patty is so delicious. their fries are also so nicely seasoned (try them with the chipotle mayo... to die for) I'd say half of our lunches were spent at Guy's. Also the Blue Iguana cantina is very good too. I fell in love with their fish tacos.
The buffet at breakfast time was so NOT delicious. most days we ordered room service for breakfast. nothing is open for breakfast until 7:30am and thanks to our daughter, we were up around 6am every morning, so if we wanted to have breakfast before we became starving, we had to order room service (the pizza place had breakfast pizzas, but they didn't really look that appealing)
The lunch/dinner buffet was really not too good either. I remember from past cruises, the buffet is never spectacular, however this time around it really seemed bad. The pizza (other than breakfast pizzas) were super delicious. We are dinner every night (except for the first night) in the dining room. The three of us had a nice private corner table just for us. Our three waiters were awesome. One of our waiters, his name was Margo, would make our daughter something out of paper or a napkin at the table every night and sometimes do silly little tricks. That really made the whole dining experience very special for her and she looked forward to going there every night. The food in the dining room was delicious for the most part. The chocolate melting cake for dessert was my absolute favorite.
STAFF: the vast majority of the staff that we dealt with were really good, with the odd exception here or there. the night before disembarking I had a question about a charge on our account and the lady at guest services wasn't exactly the kindest person on board. but over all the service was really good.
CAMP CARNIVAL: our daughter seemed to have a pretty good time there once she got used to it. after her first time there, she said she didn't really want to go back, but once we read her what was on the itinerary for the next day, she was excited. By the end of the cruise, she was having a great time and the staff was excellent. The waterworks splash park onboard is really pretty amazing. our daughter had a total blast.
PORTS: first port of call was Roatan, Honduras. we booked all of our excursions online through carnival months prior to our cruise. in roatan, we did the Maya Key private island snorkel with lunch. Maya key is so beautiful. there is an animal sanctuary there with a number of difference species as well as a few replica ruins. it was just such a gorgeous place to spend the day, with so much to do and enjoy. the lunch they served was pretty good too, better than the buffet on the ship. the snorkelling was really pretty good too.
Next was Belize. we booked the zoo and city tour. our guides were great and the tour was nice. the zoo is not like north American zoos, with every kind of animal imaginable. it consists of animals that are native to the area. it was really great. make sure you bring bug spray, otherwise you'll pay an arm and a leg for it at the gift shop at the zoo.
Then Cozumel: we booked the dolphin swim & ride with unlimited food and drink. this excursion took you to the dolphinaris park, not chankanaab park. we were aware of this because we read the details of the excursion, however there was a couple of ladies who were surprised when we pulled up because they were expecting the other place, which is where their friends went for the day. ooops.
swimming with the dolphins was absolutely an amazing bucket list experience for sure. right afterwards, they take you to see the pictures... this is where they try and get you. they wanted almost $400 for all pictures of us and the DVD. we ended up getting all of it for $232 and they threw in 3 prints as well. but they try and make you think that you're the only one there whose getting this kind of deal. it was pretty humorous. the food was ok and the drinks were terrible. I only had one and I didn't even finish it. the drinks onboard were SO MUCH BETTER!!!! afterwards we went back to the port to do some shopping. we found that the best deals were across the street outside of the cruise ship area. seemed pretty safe (I wouldn't go waving my cash around or anything like that though) and we got stuff for WAY cheaper, but as always, you have to haggle them down.
DISEMBARKATION: we put our luggage out the night prior to be taken off for us and we were off the ship a few minutes after 9am. once off the ship and back in the terminal, it was the same ridiculous disorganization as it was on embarkation day. We flew united airlines and one of our suitcases was so badly banged up, we wont be using it again and a number of our souveniers we bought were broken. needless to say, we wont be flying with them again. UNITED breaks more than just guitars.
Overall, we had an absolutely amazing vacation. the ship looked mostly pretty, but as my husband kept saying "they just put lipstick on a pig". the décor was nicer than the carnival miracle but nowhere near as nice as the emerald princess that we were last on, in 2009. We would definitely sail with carnival again, but will not be back on the sunshine. that old girl is anything but a new ship.