This is the 9th cruise that my husband and I have taken together. I have now been on 12. We have cruised with several different companies, and really, it seems to come down to the ship. This ship was refurbished a couple of years ago, and still seems pretty fresh to me. It isn't the glitzy, gaudy Carnival cruise ship of days gone by; they seem to be changing that look, and I liked it. The ship was very clean and I often saw people tidying things up around the ship, and sterilizing general areas that people might touch with their hands. If you want to avoid kids, the serenity deck is pretty quiet. I have kids, so I only spent 30 minutes there reading a book one day when everyone else was busy. By the end of the trip, I knew which way to go. It's a nice sized ship, but not a behemoth, so you can eventually get around the ship.
They have a nice selection of activities. There are all types of trivia, which I tried; it was fun and I even won the "food trivia!" Karaoke is very entertaining. I'm a music teacher and was a voice major, but I'll tell you, no matter how well or badly people sing, it's a great bonding experience on the ship. They have all kinds of healthy activities; I didn't participate, I just walked a lot. There's a small but nicely stocked library. There are several shelves of new books you can choose to read, and also quite a few board games. I saw different people in there at various times enjoying the games. The gym is very, very nice, although I didn't bother actually using it. You have to remember that these are the "fun ships," so they have a lot of silly games and competitions. You don't have to participate, but be ready to pass some silliness at times. All in all, in this regard, if you complain of being bored, it's because you are boring or because you may prefer something a bit more high class.
I found the service, overall, to be very good. Our room steward consistently cleaned our room and bathroom like clockwork. He did an excellent job. We are not very messy and tried to keep things fairly tidy, but wow, do I love having someone tidy up my room twice a day! He always made sure we had fresh towels and plenty of paper products (tp and kleenex). A word to the wise...the guest services desk was quite slow. I don't really know why. It was a good bit slower than other cruises I have been on. The people working there were nice, it was just slooooow. Service in the shops was good. There is a Brazilian guy in the store that does the "watch and bracelet sales" and he was HILARIOUS! I think that he enjoys watching the craziness of all of those people cramming in to grab the items on sale. It's worth going just to listen to and watch him. But, seriously, the watch sale is BANANAS. It's like people trying to get bread from a UN food truck...ridiculous!
The four ports were visited were excellent. We actually booked nothing through the cruise line. We met up with friends in one port, took a taxi to a state park in another, booked a snorkel boat trip in the tourism office of the third, and walked to the FREE beach on the last port. Each port was a great visit, and that's why this is probably one of our favorite cruises EVER. I know that they offer some really interesting excursions, but they are just a bit too expensive for us, especially when we were able to research on our own and find nice things to do.
Our travel to the embarkation port (Miami) was smooth. We live in Palm Beach County, just an hour north of Miami. There wasn't much traffic until we got into town. This past week was Palm Beach County Schools spring break, so our kids actually saw other kids (and even district staff) that they know from school related activities. Lots of families from the area were here on break. Anyhow, if there is a Miami Heat game happening (which there was) be prepared for some extra traffic. It's really easy to get to the port, though. It's well marked, and you can see the ships as you drive over. It gets a little crazy when you drop your things off, with all of the porters and other people around. However, it worked okay. My husband dropped us off, drove over the bridge to our reserved parking (about one mile). He actually walked back in about 10 minutes (he was a runner in college, so it was no big deal).
Normally, we book an inside cabin. We have gotten an outside cabin a few times, and decided to upgrade for an extra amount, but it was a small additional amount of money. Let me tell you, it was WORTH it. There were four in our cabin, and you have much more room. The two extra beds are out of the way of the double bed my husband and I used (queen or king sized, I'm not sure). In an inside cabin, they are right above your bed, and I worry about it falling on me (yes, I am paranoid). In this cabin, the sofa becomes a bed, and the other bed is just above it. The room had a nice amount of space and was very comfortable and clean. The bathroom wasn't huge, but it was very adequate. The water in the shower seems a bit hard, but I'm not going to complain. There's a hair dryer...I think it was on its last leg, but it worked. They have plenty of body wash and shampoo in the shower, along with complimentary toothpaste in the bathroom. No lotion though. The beds were very comfortable, but the room was sometimes very chilly, so we adjusted the temperature. The window in the room is nice and big, and there's a shelf inside the window, so you can put extra stuff there if you wish.
The food on this cruise was very good. We had breakfast in the main dining room on the first morning because it was a seaday (those are the only days you can eat in there for breakfast and lunch). They have a good amount of offerings for breakfast, and offer a few brunch offerings, but not a lot. It was very good, but not spectacular. My husband was thrilled, however, to get lox and cream cheese. The other mornings, we had breakfast in the lido buffet. It was good, with a nice assortment of choices. Most of the sweet breakfast breads were average, but there was a lot of fruit offered, and were lots of cereals and other things. They have an omelette station. The buffet does not have an enormous variety of food. We are wondering if they are trying to avoid wasting so much food as we have seen on previous cruises.
For lunch, you have a lot of nice options. We always had a "special table" that we used to meet. If you go to the top of the steps above the buffet, there's a nice big table and few people used them up there. We would just say, "Meet you at lunch at 12:30 (or whatever time)" and knew where to go. If you like super fancy lunches, this cruise is not for you. We ate at the lido buffet for lunch on all but the seadays. Each day, the buffet features different types of food (Italian, American, Caribbean, etc). They had a nice but not huge offering of foods on the buffet. I didn't get much from the lunch buffet. What I had was good, nothing that I really remember as being outstanding. The desserts on the lido buffet tended to be a bit dry. For lunch, you can go to the Blue Iguana and they will make soft tacos or burritos for you. The burritos are huge and amazing! However, they are so filling I could hardly eat it all. The tacos are delicious. Guy's Burger Joint is great if you enjoy good burgers. I had a bite and they remind me a little of "butterburgers." My kids really enjoyed them. The fries are quite tasty. They have pizza available at the Pizza Pirate for 24 hours. The pizza is actually some of the best I've had on a cruise ship. It's a very thin crust with good sauce and the cheese is very tasty. My children loved that too, and I had a couple of pieces on the trip. There are a few ice cream places where you get soft serve yogurt or ice cream. I don't care for soft serve, but my husband and children enjoyed it. Oh, and there's a fish and chips place on floor 10. My husband especially enjoyed that. I think that the batter was a little different from what he said, but he really liked it.
We had dinner in the main dining room (Golden) each night. The dining room service at dinnertime was excellent. As I have come to expect, our servers quickly learned what we like (i.e.-a cup of coffee with sugar and cream, hot tea, or the children's menu versus the adult menu for the in-between child, etc.). In addition, they did a great job of keeping our water glasses full. I never had to ask for a drink, ever! Sometimes the silverware would disappear between courses and they would replace them. A few times, they didn't notice, and we just asked. My husband realized that we were never offered any drinks like lemonade or tea. I think if we had asked, then we could have gotten complimentary ones, although we don't really need the sugar. I found the food to be very good to excellent in there. They call their dining room experience "The American Table." It reminded me of an upscale bistro style. Each night, they had a few different appetizer selections, always including one soup and one salad, a cold appetizer and a hot appetizer. The spring rolls are delicious! They also always offer fried calamari, Caesar salad and flatbread that was very good. There are always one or two nice seafood offerings on the menu. One night they had lobster tail, which my husband loved. No extra charge for that, like they've started to do on some ships. You can always get some type of chicken and beef or pork. The quality of the food at dinner was really good. The desserts were consistently delicious. The chocolate melting cake is amazing, but SO rich! They have a few nice things on the children's menu, and my girls appreciated that. I have really enjoyed the food on the last two Carnival cruises we have taken. They do the dancing nights where the waitstaff dances around and encourages the kids to dance along. They also dance on small tables on the first floor. It's a bit crazy, but is really fun. People dress somewhat casually. Some really dress up, but others are quite casual. The dining experience there is very, very nice, but the setting of the tables is not as fancy as I've seen on some ships. Tablecloths are only used on the formal nights (the tables are highly polished sturdy woods tables) and they give you the basic silverware, not a setting with 12 different pieces. Again, if you like the uber fancy dining experience, it may be a bit too casual, but the food is really wonderful.
The children's clubs are excellent on this ship. They have lots of fun activities for the two girls, who are 8 and 11. They only participated some, because we were very busy in port. My son had a blast with the Club O2 activities. He is 13 and met lots of nice kids, and they do all kinds of fun stuff. He played basketball for hours, as well. On one of the port days, he stayed on the ship and played basketball. The captain and his first mate came up to play and let him play with them. He thought it was awesome.
The entertainment was okay. The shows they had were average. There were two performers who were excellent singers. One singer not so good. The others were good. The music was really loud. The dancing was pretty good. They had so much in the way of lighting and lasers and huge colorful videos that were distracting and would probably give someone a seizure. There was a band that played in the casino that was actually pretty good. The guitarist/solo singer who plays in the atrium was fairly good, but had a bit of a nasal voice. There was a lady who sang with a keyboard guy. She had a nice voice and sang a variety of songs.
Disembarkation was VERY slow. There was a fight in the line on the way out because some ladies tried to cut in front of someone. We all had to wait, so those women were just being selfish. Anyhow, it takes a long time to get off. We waited up on floor nine in the lido buffet dining area and it was nice and quiet there. My mother-in-law said that there was a massive crowd waiting to get off the ship. They allow "self disembarkation" and I think that is the holdup, really. All of those people with all of their stuff take up a bunch of space. It was the longest wait I've ever had to get off of a ship.
Overall, this was a wonderful cruise vacation. It's a great time spent with family. Carnival helped us to have a really great time together.