• Background Info---This was our first cruise. We celebrated our first anniversary while on board. It was a great experience…we can’t imagine vacationing another way again!
• Travel to Port of Embarkation---We live in Tennessee, so we chose to save money and drive to Port Canaveral.
• Hotel Info---We arrived the day of the cruise and returned to Tennessee the day the cruise got back, so we didn’t use a hotel.
• Embarkation---The experience at the terminal was pretty good. Everything seemed very efficient. I think we arrived to the port around 1:00 PM and we were on within an hour, I’d say. My big gripe about this whole thing is with Carnival---you should have an option of whether or not to take the Welcome Aboard photo. The line for that took longer than the lines in the terminal. We didn’t know till we were at the photo station that we had been waiting on a picture.
• Stateroom---We booked an Inside Guarantee and pleasantly were bumped to an Oceanview on the Riviera deck. The view was spectacular! Compared to many things I had read and been told, I thought the stateroom size was bigger than I expected. The bathroom was, of course, VERY small…especially since my DH is 6’4”. The beds were extremely comfortable, much better than most hotel beds. As long as you didn’t grossly over pack, the closet/drawer space was adequate.
• Ship Info---The ship was in great shape. The décor was a bit busy for my taste, but it fit the Vegas style atmosphere many reviews had promised. Everything follows a theme of colors, with each room bearing a color in its name and a specific color theme in its décor. The public rooms we encountered were very pleasant. The Amber Palace was a very nice theater and we spent a lot of time there for various shows and activities. We also spent time in the Ebony Cabaret, the Ivory Lounge, and the Camel Club Casino. We took advantage of the shops as well, though we didn’t purchase but a couple of items on board. We aren’t the partying type, so we didn’t do any of the clubs or bars. The one complaint we had was that at times, it was hard to get from one part of the ship to another. It’s hard to explain why, but it was.
• Dining---We were very impressed with the food in the dining room. We ate in the Golden Dining Room at the 8:30 seating. We were seated with 2 other couples, but three nights, we wound up by ourselves (which was nice). The selection of food was very good and you could have as much as you could stand. Deserts were very inconsistent, however. They would look great but often tasted bland. We did have one great desert that had bananas and caramel---not to be missed! We also did breakfast a couple of mornings in the dining room. The Eggs Benedict and corned-beef hash were wonderful! The Lido deck food was good overall for buffet style. We did enjoy the Chinese options. My husband did burgers a lot, and he was happy with those. The highlight of our dining experience was The Emerald Room. We ate there for our anniversary, and it was worth the $30 surcharge and then some. We had the surf and turf, along with appetizers, dessert, etc. This was the only time we really were miserably full. We will take advantage of a supper club on any cruise we take in the future.
• Activities---The activities staff was very pleasant, and there was a variety of things to do---especially on sea days. We did bingo a lot (I won $125) and did some trivia and some of the other options, like the Newlywed Game. We even won a Ship on a Stick ? ! A lot of the activities were a bit cheesy, but were still good options to pass the time on sea days.
• Service---The crew as a whole was very good. People always spoke and were smiling. They constantly worked to keep the ship in good shape (hard to do with that many people). Our cabin steward, Iwayan, was fantastic! We had towel animals every night. The room was kept spotless (he came in twice every day) and we got extra chocolates when we requested them. Our dining staff, Raja and Leonid, was “simply the best!” They knew our preferences by the second night and often brought extra food when we finished a course early. We adjusted our gratuities to add to all of the suggested tips.
• Entertainment---We are musicians, so we’re picky. The shows were good for what they were, but the singers could have been better. The dancers were good overall. We did both of the big Vegas-style productions, and they were about equal in quality. The classical musicians in the lobby were good. The jazz musicians in the Ivory Lounge were okay, but it was only 2 guitars and a drummer…please give us a trumpet or saxophone or piano or something. The band called “The Breeze” which performed in the Ebony Cabaret was less than stellar. The groups they had on the pool deck were great…we just wished they had performed more often.
• Shore Excursions---We didn’t book anything with Carnival because it cost so much. We pretty much did our own thing. In Cozumel, we took a cab downtown to do some shopping (tequila and vanilla are a must). There are also lots of deals on silver. Just plan on wheeling and dealing! The shop owners are pretty aggressive, so beware. In Belize, we took a tour with a small group with a tour guide named Phillip (of Smooth Operator Tours). The 10 passenger van took us on a city tour and to the Mayan Ruins of Altun Ha, which also provided views of the edge of the rainforest. This was a great experience, but the ride was wild…so beware if you get car sick. Costa Maya was our least favorite port, but that’s because we didn’t do a tour or anything. We hung close to port, and there’s just not much there. Finally, in Nassau, we took a cab to the Atlantis resort and checked that monstrosity out and then did some shopping. If you go to Atlantis, take the ferry. We found out that it was cheaper. You must try the Tortuga rum cake!
• Disembarkation---The waiting was frustrating, but just part of the deal, I guess. We did the self disembarkation and would do so again to avoid some more waiting. If you have to declare with customs, that is a pain. We waited for 2 hours to meet with the customs guy. We were only one bottle over the alcohol limit, and they didn’t even care. So it was a wasted wait.
• Summary---It was the experience of a lifetime. We will be cruise addicts now. We did learn a lot about things to do and plan next time. We can’t wait to try different islands and different cruise lines so we have some comparisons.