Day 1: Embarkation Our flight from Toronto arrived in Miami on time around 1.50 pm. We collected our luggage from the Carousel and found the Carnival representative right away. He got us some new luggage tags right away because we received a cabin upgrade 3 days before departure. With the new tags attached to the luggage we were directed to a waiting Greyhound bus outside. After a long wait (approx. 30 minutes), the bus left for the port. When we arrived at the port we handed the porter our luggage and entered the terminal. There was no line up because there were about 20 girls behind the counter to check everyone in. We went upstairs, got our sail and sign cards, the obligatory picture and boarded the ship at 3.00 pm. We took the elevator to the 8th deck and dropped off our carry-on in cabin 8232. After that we went to Lido aft to get a burger and some pizza. Around 4.00 pm they did the obligatory muster drill. The kids received a paper band around their wrist that they were supposed to wear for the rest of the cruise. CCL needs to improve on that one, because my kids hated it and the band was crumbled and useless after 7 days at sea. I suggest color coded Rubber wrist bands. (like Lance Armstrong yellows). When we returned our life vests to the cabin, we noticed that the ship was already moving, so we watched the sail away from Miami from our balcony. As I said our cabin was 8232, a quad with a big bed, a converted sofa and a bunk, which my son wanted right away. There was ample closet space for all 4, but I would have preferred an extra drawer or two. Our cabin steward was Emilia from Hungary. She introduced herself right away and every time we needed something, it was done in a flash. The rest of the afternoon we spent at the Siren pool on Lido deck aft. We had the late seating in the Atlantic dining room at 8.30 pm. If you have children, that is too late. We thought we needed more time to get ready after the excursions, but that was not the case. So next time we will choose an earlier seating. Our table was 131 and our waiters were Elena and Marjan from Macedonia. Both were very nice and went out of their way to accommodate or kids. Every night Marjan showed my daughter (7) how to fold napkins into animals. The food on Carnival was o.k. I think it lacked in the presentation. Desserts were great. The signature dish: Melting chocolate cake with ice cream is to die for. After that we strolled around the promenade decks and went to bed around 10.30.
Day 2: At sea
After a stroll around the ship and a quick swim, we had breakfast in the room which arrived promptly at the time we ordered. One hint here. Breakfast with 4 in the cabin is too cramped. I dropped my son (9) off at the disco for Camp Carnival. He found a buddy right away and they went on Scavenger hunt around the ship. By the way, finding your way around the ship is not as difficult as many others have made it out to be. All you have to know is that the Pacific dining room is only accessible though the aft elevators or the aft staircase. At the purser's desk they have wallet size maps of the ship. I went back to Lido where my wife had already organized some lounge chairs. Although there were a lot of people on board, I saw no one looking for a chair. We even gave the kids chairs up because they were mainly in the pool. We had lunch at the Mediterranean restaurant, which had good variety and every day they were featuring a different region of the world. They waiters were very attentive and cleaned the tables as soon as someone left. In the afternoon we relaxed on the balcony and checked out the arcade. Tonight is "Formal night" and here is one of my biggest complains of this cruise. A lot of people on board did not care about formal night or switched in to casual wear as soon as dinner was over. Walking around the ship in our suits while others are wearing swimsuits made us completely uncomfortable. CCL needs to improve on that and enforce the meaning of "Formal night". We watched the Show "Living in America". I thought it was too cheesy, and did not care for it much.
Day 3: At sea/San Juan (Puerto Rico)
Again we had breakfast at the Lido with yoghurt, cereal and a made-to-order omelet. The kids went to camp again and enjoyed the time there. They also made some new friends. Although my son enjoyed the activities, my daughter thought the activities for the 6-8 year olds were too "baby". At 5 p.m. we arrived in San Juan. I was kind of worried after hearing many horror stories about San Juan, but I was pleasantly surprised and I regret that we could not spend more time in this beautiful old town. We only did a walking tour to the old forts and a large market. Don't be afraid as there is a significant police presence everywhere. We left around midnight, but not before one person had to run down the pier and barely made it to the ship. After midnight they had a Mexican party on the Lido with Mexican dishes and music from the live Lido Band, which was awesome. A word of advice, I heard of one couple that the bioluminescence tour and because we got to the port late in the afternoon, they did mostly rowing and spend only 10 minutes on the lake. Take this tour at the beginning or end of your cruise.
Day 4: St. Martin
We got to St. Martin around 11.00 am and by noon we were on the pier lining up for our tour on the Golden Eagle catamaran. The catamaran ride was so cool. We sat in the nets up front and were soaked from the crashing waves within a couple of minutes of being at sea. Unfortunately, because of the rough sea, some people got seasick and were moved by the staff to the back of the boat. The crew on board was very attentive and everyone had a good time. After a 40 minute ride, we arrived at Tintamar for snorkeling. And here comes my only complaint about this excursion. Only after we anchored, did the crew get out the snorkeling gear, so we wasted like 20 minutes before we could get in the water. We swam to the shore, then over to the snorkeling spot, swam around for like 20 minutes and had to return to the catamaran. After our return to the Victory, I immediately went to the shore excursion desk and voiced my complaint. The guy was very nice. He took my cabin number and the same night we had a letter in our stateroom that our complained was forwarded to the Tour Company and CCL headquarters. That night we watched the magician, which was great. My daughter even volunteered to be on stage for one of his tricks.
Day 5: St. Thomas
For me this was the highlight of our cruise. We arrived at dawn and saw Larry Ellison's yacht "Rising Sun" pull out of the harbor. It is supposed to be the largest privately owned yacht in the world and apparently it's up for sale for a merely 120 mill. Dollars. We had to get up early because US immigration wanted us in the lounge by 6.00 am. A lot of people including us showed up in PJ's and went back to bed afterwards. After breakfast we left the ship and took the sky tram to Paradise Point. The ride up, as well as the view from the top, was absolutely stunning. We had one of their famous Bushwhackers and headed back down to change for our trip to Trunk Bay. Our excursion "The 5 star and Trunk Bay" was on an older motor vessel much calmer than the catamaran. The boat took us to Trunk Bay on St. John's Island. The crew was super. They fitted everyone with the correct snorkeling equipment, while we were traveling. So once we were at Trunk Bay everyone was ready to jump into the water. We spent 1.5 hours snorkeling and had a great time. I definitely recommend this Excursion. Coming back our kids fell asleep just before dinner, so we left them in the cabin. We took our walkie-talkies and also told Emilia not to make our bed or page us incase they wake up. She said no problem to go ahead. Our waiters noticed right away that we were without kids, and were concerned that they are o.k. They really cared for them a lot.
Day 6: At sea
Everyone slept in. Another breakfast at Lido and then the kids are off to camp. We lounge by the pool or on the balcony. In the afternoon we did the galley tour, which was quite impressive. Another tip: If you can afford a balcony - go for it. It's the best.
Another "Formal Night" tonight and the same dilemma as on the first night. Some people don't care to get dressed up and ruin it for the others. However this night my kids got completed by an older couple for their formal attire. They both blushed but I was very humbled. The "Midnight. Buffet" was nice to look at, but we were still stuffed from dinner so we just had some cake, which was very yummy. The kids had a Sleep-over party at camp and were returned to the cabin by a councilor around 3.00 am. So my wife and I had a bottle of champagne on the balcony. One word: Heaven
Day 7: At sea
This morning we had breakfast in the Pacific dining room. I thought it was a little chaotic. The waiter was a little in over his head, having trouble where to put the juices. Other than that it was o.k. After that we packed (half of the clothes, we did not use) and went to the debarkation talk with our cruise director Jorge, who by the way missed his calling as a stand-up comic. Listening to his talk was very entertaining to say the least. Don't miss it. After the dinner, the dancing and the saying goodbye to our waiters, we watched the "Carnival Legends" show, where fellow cruisers impersonate famous music personalities. Another show not to be missed
Day 8: Debarkation
After an early breakfast on Lido, we waited for our deck to be called and made our way down to deck 3. There was a little line up, but things went smoothly and we were off the ship by 10.00. In the big warehouse we collected our luggage, went through customs and boarded the bus to MIA airport. There was some chaos at the airport because of the time change, but our flight got out on time and we were back in Toronto by 4.50 pm.
Summary: All things considered this was a perfect cruise and we will definitely sail CCL again.