Background. My wife and I sailed with one other couple. We are all in our mid 30's. We have been on Carnival 5 times in the last 10 years. We have also been on the Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas and Mariner of the Seas in the past 3 years.
We flew into Fort Lauderdale from Chicago on Saturday and stayed at the Hyatt in Downtown Miami. We got it on Priceline for $92 a night. This was not to bad considering many downtown hotels were booked due to the running of the Miami Marathon. We ran the Half Marathon. The race went right by the port and finished in front of Bayside Marketplace.
The Hyatt is only ok as far as Hyatt's go, but plenty fine for one night.
Embarkation: This went very quickly. We arrived at the port around noon and we were eating lunch on the lido deck by around 12:40. Our Stateroom was ready around 1:15. We had the Fun Pass filled out, but I did not see any separate lines for that.
Stateroom: Both cabins were balconies on the Lido Deck. We had cabin 9241. Our friends had 9218. This deck in my opinion is the best deck to be on. We were close to the front, but only a minute walk to the main pool area. It was very roomy and clean. The bedding is very comfortable. Our cabin steward did a great job. We had a broken safe and it was fixed within an hour. Our bags were delivered by around 5 PM.
Dining Room Service: We ate in the main dining room every night. The service and food were EXCELLENT. The best I have ever had in any of our 7 cruises. The bar waiter had Diet Cokes waiting for my wife and friend every night as we walked in. We had the 8 PM Seating in the Washington Dining Room. We had a table for 4. The menu had plenty of options. If you can't find a few things that you like each night, then you are way too picky. We also bought the Coke Fountain Card and cup. It is about $60 for the week including the cup and 15% tip. The funny part is that it is not fountain. It is canned soda over ice. We got our moneys worth as we probably drank about 12 a day.
Entertainment: We did not go to a lot of the shows, but we went to Karaoke most nights. Each night they audition people to sing and be part of The Legends Show that happens on the final night. The show the last night with all of the qualifiers was great. We also saw a couple of comedians. They were pretty funny.
Cruise Director: Brett Alans. He was just ok. We rarely saw him. He does a magic act on one of the nights. He is retiring in a few weeks. He looks like he is only in his mid 40's.
Ports Of Call. We have been to all of them a few times. I prefer the sea days and I don't really care where in the Caribbean I sail to. It all beats winter in Chicago.
Nassau: We were only there for about 7 hours. We took a ferry over to Paradise Island. It is only $6 round trip per person and it takes 6 minutes. We went to a free public beach next to Atlantis. It was pretty good. The weather was in the low 70's and a little windy.
St Thomas: Very nice. We took a 5 minute cab ride to Morningstar Beach. It is part of the Marriott, but the beach is not crowded at all. They had a bar and grill out by the beach. Buckets of beer, Five per bucket were only $15. The water conditions and weather were perfect. We were going to go over to Megans Bay or Sapphire Beach, but the information lady near the port said that they are always way too crowded. We also did a little shopping near the port.
St Maarten: I love this place. We did an excursion here. We booked it through Carnival. It was called the Golden Eagle Catamaran. They took us out past the French side to an excellent snorkeling spot. They were very helpful and supplied all the gear. It was great. They also supplied food and beverages. It lasted around 4 hours. We started around 8AM and we were back near the port around noon. We hung out by the beach and did a little shopping. You can buy beer all up and down the pier for a buck each and walk as you are drinking it. The weather again was perfect. Low to mid 80's, Sunny and a nice breeze.
The last two days are Sea Days. We pretty much hung out by the pool all day and listened to the band. The band out by the pool is ok. They seemed to take a lot of breaks. Watch out for the chair savers. They had towels on the chairs before 6 AM. A couple of times I removed the towels and nobody ever came by.
We arrived back in Miami to a slight drizzle.
Debarkation: We arrived back in the port around 7AM. We chose the self debarkation, because we had an 11:20 AM flight. It was a little hectic as the stairs and elevators filled up. We ate breakfast out on the lido deck at around 7AM. They started calling us around 7:30AM, we went through customs by around 8:30. Our shuttle picked us up at 9. We were at the Fort Lauderdale Airport around 9:50 for our 11:20 flight. We got back home in plenty of time to see the Bears lose. My tan faded as soon as they opened the airplane door. Next time I may get a later flight and just stay on the ship until they kick me off.
Pros: Balcony Cabin on Deck 9, Room Steward, Dining room Service, Dining Room Food, 24 Hr Pizza. It was outstanding and always hot. I like being able to eat outside by the pool. On RCCL the Windjammer was always full and all the seating is inside in the air condition. On our sailing there were always plenty of seats available in Rosies or at the table close to the pool and bars My friend said the fish and chips on deck 10 was good. The lunches on the lido deck were pretty decent, but by around the 7th day the choices got old. The staff was very friendly. The ship is very clean. We used the healthclub twice every day. Once when it opened at 6AM and once at 6PM. It is very clean and there are plenty of machines. Ruben is a trainer in there and he is very helpful. Tell him that Tom and MJ said hello. Here is a tip. They say the gym opens at 6AM, but it is really open 24 hours a day. The door was never locked. The nightclub and other entertainment venues were very roomy and there was always plenty of seats available. Drink prices are pretty reasonable. Four 16 oz beers in a bucket for around 19 with tip. Mixed drinks are around $5 or $6 each. Most bars at home charge much more than this.
Cons: The breakfast out at Rosies was just ok. There were not a ton of options. It was not bad, but just average. The cruise director was just ok. This did not really bother me that much. The layout of the ship is confusing and the only way to really get all the way from the front to back is on deck 5. You have to go through some smokey areas. Too many people trying to take your picture. Enough with all the photos already.
One other comment, please wash your hands often. I saw so many people walk up to the buffet to get food, spill on their hands or sample their food and then lick their fingers. I saw another kid with a mustard bottle in his mouth. Of course they then grab the spoon to put more food on their plate. I saw another kid with a mustard bottle in his mouth. No wonder these people get sick.
Overall this cruise was excellent. I would rate it 4.5 out of 5 stars. Carnival really has their act together. This cruise was a great value. I would recommend it to anybody.I can't wait to try the bigger Carnival ships that are coming out in 2-3 years. I still like the Big Royal Caribbean ships a little bit better. There just seems like there is a little more to do. I think my next sailing(hopefully in December) will be either on the RCCL Freedom of the Seas or the new Liberty of the Seas. I also think the cruise director got more people involved on RCCL. He was everywhere. Both times I had Ken Rush. He is outstanding and seems to be everywhere. The guy must never sleep.
I will try to answer any questions.