We are 54 year old married folks who have come to enjoy cruising as our favorite mode of vacationing - maybe it's because we live in the Midwest. This was our 4th cruise and 3rd on Carnival, having been on the Holiday (rode out the edge of Hurricane Isadore in 9/02), the Conquest (1/04), and Amsterdam (Alaska 8/05). We booked a guaranteed obstructed view balcony through Carnival 6 months earlier, and were very happy to receive an upgrade to an extended balcony room in a nearly perfect location on deck 7. We took a shuttle to the port as we had arrived earlier to spend time at my snowbird parents-in-law's home in St. Pete. I didn't really care for the ship's decor too much - sometimes it seemed to be the embodiment of someone's bad dream. I thought that the Conquest was prettier. There were some nice pieces on display in the stairways. We arrived at around 2PM and were aboard in less than 1/2 hour. We loved our stateroom, and enjoyed our 1st balcony very much, except for the nasty smoke from our neighbors next door. It was odd to be in the open air and smell all that smoke - you'd think it would have dissipated more. It was disgusting - it seemed that all these folks did was sit on their balcony and smoke incessantly, as they were out there puffing away nearly every time we ventured out. It would have been nice to eat breakfast on the balcony, but these 2 old geezers were up at the crack of dawn smoking and hacking every day - not very appetizing. For that matter, there were an awful lot of smokers everywhere, which really detracts from the vacation experience for we non-smokers. We really enjoyed the comfortable new bedding on Carnival - I loved the duvets and good pillows - plus the room was very spacious and clean. The stateroom was nicer than our outside stateroom on HA's Amsterdam.
We had cruised in groups before, and this was our 1st as a couple. We weren't keen to sit with strangers at dinner, and asked for a table for 2. The Maitre'd arranged it, and we had a great booth on the main floor, late seating. It was perfect, and our waiters, Ana and Imayan were the best servers we'd ever had on a cruise - much, much better service than on HA. Every fish entree I had was excellent, but the beef dishes were so-so - not very tender. Presentation was wonderful. Being the "Fun Ships" the waiters singing and dancing was joyful - I joined in on the conga line. I also love dressing for dinner, and it's fun to watch the other passengers in formal wear, although not many men were in tuxes. It's a good idea to wait about 5 minutes after your seating time to avoid the very long line into the restaurant. The buffet choices were fairly good. Heed advice from past Miracle cruisers - check out each of the 4 buffet lines before making your selections. We liked that there was lots of seating next to the windows as this is a long, narrow ship.
Passing under the Skyway Bridge going out of Tampa Bay is exciting - the ship seems to barely clear the bridge. Very smooth sailing, although since the Bacchus Restaurant sits aft, be prepared for some motion while dining. We enjoyed the shows, particularly the singers and dancers. The passenger talent show was less entertaining, as only 1 or 2 seemed to have any real talent. My husband kept wanting to yell out, "You suck!". Not being partiers, we didn't really check out the nightclubs. The guy at the piano bar near the entrance to Bacchus wasn't very good, but the jazz and classical trios were enjoyable. The hokey passenger poolside contests were fun, even though it seemed most of the participants and onlookers were probably very drunk. Didn't see many children, which was a plus for us. My husband enjoyed the 2 Caribbean female singers at the main pool the best. People saved seats next to the pools which was disappointing as this wasn't supposed to happen. We had perfect weather and spent most days outside.
With 4 ports on this cruise, it is a very busy week. Shore excursions - we had been to Grand Cayman on a previous cruise, so knew what to expect. We went to Stingray City previously and would recommend that to others. We wasted time and money on a port-based Hell, Turtle Farm, and Rumcake bakery tour. Big tourist traps all, very crowded and not too exciting. I like to snorkel and went off 7-mile beach but it wasn't too interesting where we were - not much to see. Save your money and snorkel right next to Paradise restaurant at Eden Rock, about 1/2 mile walk from the tender port. There are on-site rentals, $4.00 lockers, and steps leading down to the water. Fairly nice coral formations, but the biggest thrill was swimming with HUGE 3-4' silvery tarpons right up near the shore. They were so close I could almost touch them. We had a good view of all the cruise ships anchored close by, too. Cozumel - I had been there for a week's vacation and another cruise previously. Tremendous snorkeling there, but my husband wanted to see some ruins, so we booked an excursion to Tulum through the ship. I wouldn't normally recommend going through the ship because of the cost factor, but the logistics of this long excursion seemed to make good sense to book through Carnival. We had a nice day at the ruins, very good tour. There was free time to swim and look around on your own if you preferred. Beware that the walk from the parking lot to the ruins is very long. We grabbed some good tacos at a place near the parking lot on the way out. On the way from Playa del Carmen to Tulum, the bus stopped at a shop for a rest room/snack break, but the real purpose seemed to be hawking crummy souvenirs. If you like to shop, I recommend going in San Miguel farther away from where the cruise ships anchor/dock. Belize - my husband didn't feel comfortable arranging a snorkeling tour on our own, so we went through the ship again. We were picked up right at the ship on a tender that took us directly to Horseshoe Reef. There were lots of coral formations but not so many fish. It was very crowded in the water which was sort of a drawback - about 25-30 snorkelers. We then went to an area to see stingrays and a nurse shark. No holding or touching the stingrays here. People seemed a bit afraid of them. The ride back to the ship was a rollicking good time as they broke out the rum punch and loud party music. We had time after snorkeling to tender into Belize City. The dock area is very generic and contained all the same jewelry and trinket shops that you see in every other cruise ship stop. We took a tour of Belize City with an independent driver. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this as we didn't feel entirely safe. I kept waiting to see if he'd offer us drugs, which we'd heard was a problem there, but thankfully he didn't. The city is desperately poor. At least we saw how the people really live. Our next port was Costa Maya, a new experience for us. We decided to go on our own and had a really great day. Right at the dock we booked a $15 pp 1 hour snorkeling tour out of Mahajual. Take a taxi for the short ride there from the dock to the funky little town. It's very poor. The people seemed nice, but a little aggressive, but who can blame them? There were lots of cute little kids running around playing. My husband and I had our own private reef tour, which was tremendous. There was a lot to see. I liked it so much I went for another tour while my husband had a $20 1-hour massage on the beach. I kayaked out to the reef wall also, as it was included in our price. Following that I had a massage as well. There is a nice area at the entrance to the cruise ship dock with the usual shopping and a very large free salt water pool.
Debarkation was simply a breeze - we ate breakfast in Bacchus, and then just walked over to the gangway and right off the ship. We had a glorious week of fun, sightseeing, good food, and relaxation. I had no complaints, and it seems that Carnival works very hard to make sure everyone has a good time.