There were 24 people in our family cruise age ranges from 77 to 8. Half the group had cruised before and the other half were newbies. I was skeptical about cruising and very skeptical about cruising with my inlaws but it was a very nice experience.
We flew into Ft Lauderdale a day early in case of any winter weather snafus. Thankfully there were none. We had arranged for a shuttle to transport us and alot of luggage (alot) to the port. We arrived at 11:45am and breezed through the embarkation process. Despite the fact our cabins were not ready until 1:30pm we could board the ship, lunch and have a cocktail. The only hiccup was some of the Computers weren't talking to each other during the embarkation process and our (my husband and my) sign and sail cards weren't ready. A quick trip to the pursers desk and we were ready to sail. All of our luggage was delivered to our room before dinner time.
Cabins 3 families had interior cabins (us) and everyone else had a balcony. We were on the Verandah deck. The interior cabins were not nearly as tiny as I had envisioned and suited us just fine. We had four to our cabin. The space is laid out very efficiently. I would recommend unpacking suitcases and making use of the closets and drawers. We stored our suitcases under the beds. Our cabin steward Antonio took good care of us. We loved the monkey towel animal he left.
Dining I thought the buffet food was about average. Nothing extraordinarily spectacular;however there was always a nice variety. Breakfast was the normal eggs, bacon, sausage, dry cereals and fruit. You could opt for the sit down breakfast in the Pacific dining room which is a nice option if you want to be served.
I found the food to be much better for the evening meals although there were a few misses (skip the polenta entree) and the ribeye. Our waitstaff, Bobby, Noel and Roberto took good care of us. We were a big group split between 3 tables and we sat in different places each night. They took it in stride.
One opportunity for improvement with the formal dining would be the process to order a bottle of wine. It seemed to be an act of congress to get a wine menu and then place an order with the wine steward. One night he simply never showed up to take an order.
The kids LOVED the room service option. They never went to breakfast but ordered in cereal and fruit each morning. It was a treat for them.
THe 24 hour a day soft serve was very good and the pizza was a huge hit with our whole family. There wasn't a day when one of us didn't sneak down for a late evening snack.
We saw many of the shows. I like the magic show with Rand (can't remember his last name) the best. The shows with the Victory Dancers were high energy but a little schmaltzy -- just not my thing. I didn't attend the "adults only" comedy shows at midnite but heard they were good.
We spent alot of time in the karaoke bar which was always packed and fun to watch. The piano bar was also nice and very busy. I enjoyed the classical music that was played on the main floor at the bar. IT was a nice touch.
During most of the ships fun days at sea a Reggae Band played which was good fun.
Other Stuff CHeck out the slot tournament. A good time for $20. We didn't participate in the belly flop or hairy chest contests but looked on from time to time. I was perfectly content to sit in my lawn chair with a pina colada and watch the world go by.
Ports of Call Costa Maya - our excursion was cancelled due to high winds (glass bottom kayak) and we rebooked on the Jungle Beach Break. The beach was nice and it was an open bar. The margaritas were weak but free -- can't complain too much about that. It was a nice relaxing afternoon. The kids played in the ocean and used the paddleboats. There were some souvenirs for purchase and you weren't hounded too badly. ONe note - be sure to keep you watch on Ships time. We almost missed the boat. Yikes!
Grand Cayman - we did the Stingray Sandbar tour. The guides were great. Very nice and helpful and genuinely seemed to be having a good time. The water was a bit choppy which was mildly un-nerving but feeding the stingrays was cool. The guides were great with the kids in our group who were nervous about the combination of wild waves and stingrays and they took good care of us.
Ocho Rios -- Sanara Sail, Snorkel and Dunns River Falls. My least favorite port only because of the aggressiveness of the culture. The excursion was a ride on a catamaran to a spot to snorkel. We had many novice snorkelers in our group (me) and instruction was rushed; however the majority of our group hopped in the water and acclimated to snorkeling in 2 minutes. I had some anxiety and our guide was kind and guided me through the whole thing. It ended up being very pleasant; however when I thanked him turns out he was angling for a nice tip. After the snorkeling we went to Dunns River Falls. I thought it was a hoot but my spouse found it hokey. I enjoyed it. The kids had a blast. Then we returned to the dock via catamaran but sailed the open sea a bit. The kids loved it. The guides were very aggressive about selling hair braiding, t-shirts, conch shells etc etc etc which was a bit annoying. We were polite and said no thank you and they left us alone after that.
Other Ship Stuff All of the ladies in our group - even our 8 yo niece had their hair done for one formal night. The spa staff was very nice and chatty about our group and everyone was pleased with the service. I didn't have any other spa services but others in my group did and I didn't hear any complaints.
I used the workout room which was nice and took a Pilates class ($10) and enjoyed both.
I felt pretty sick the first day. You feel the ocean! I used dramamine and the wrist bands. It was just a nauseous feeling and passed by the end of the first day. It helped to eat alot of smaller meals (this is where that 24 hour ice cream station comes in handy). Both my husband and I had issues with that rocking feeling once we came home but it only last a couple of days.
Disembarkation We chose to self disembark because we had early flights. So did everyone else because of the SuperBowl. The worst part was getting an elevator down to the main floor. They seemed to dismiss 3 floors at a time and them another 3 floor 10 minutes later. Scads of people trying to get off the ship at the same time. Once we got down to the main lobby we were able to breeze through the process.
In Conclusion I found my overall experience to be very nice. I would cruise Carnival again but might try one of their newer fancier ships only because I consider myself a bit of a foodie. However for our group - a family reunion - this was a perfect venue. Something for everyone.