This was the first cruise for my boyfriend and me. We were very excited about it. Overall, we had a good time, but we probably won't do it again. Here's why...
Day 1: We drove from Fort Worth and arrived in Galveston on Saturday. We stayed at the Howard Johnson about 4 miles ($13.00 taxi ride) from the Carnival Pier. We choose this option because we didn't want to rush on Sunday or try to find a parking space at the pier; Howard Johnson lets you leave your car there if you stay a night. So we got up around 8am ate some breakfast at the continental bar, courtesy of HJ, and called a taxi to pick us up at 10am. The taxi driver pulled right up to the front of the terminal and handed our bags off to the porters waiting. I tipped the driver and the porters (this ensured they didn't lose our bags!) Once in the terminal things went smoothly. I figured the terminal had this down to a science since they do it every week. After two separate lines, we were on the boat in about an hour. It pays to get there early, I think, but if you show up around 2 or 3 you'll have little worry. Either way, you'll get on the boat with minimal wait. Once onboard it's a buffet free-for-all. The Cezanne (deck 9, Lido) is where everyone is sent. You can eat to your hearts content while waiting for your stateroom to be ready. You have to remember that a group of passengers just disembarked not 1 hour before you boarded. This cruise ship is constantly turning passengers. So the rooms are not ready when you board. We waited about 2 hours for them to allow us to go to our room. It actually works out good this way because it gives you time to explore your new environment. Trust me, for first time cruisers, you will be lost! Be patient, you'll figure it out by the 6th day. We got to our room at 2:30 and were immediately impressed by the size, storage, and bathroom accommodations. The shower is small but wonderful. The beds and pillows are very comfortable. About an hour later we moved on to explore more of the boat. So much to see! It's a beauty! We found a coffee bar on deck 5 and sat down to enjoy a latte (not free). We did the spa tour because we wanted to see the fitness center. Avoid this tour. All the so is try to sell you on every service. Our luggage arrived around 7:30pm. Just in time for dinner at 8pm. I recommend the late seating. You'll be happy you have the extra time before dinner. We ate at the Monet dining room 5 of the 7 days. The food is great. I have no complaints what so ever.
Day 2: Full day at sea. Everyone flocked to the lido deck (where the pools are) to sunbath. My boyfriend and I did not. We choose to relax in the shade on the lido deck enjoying our breakfast and coffee. We did alot of people watching during the cruise. Two things: there are alot of people on this boat (most with kids), but if you can find areas away from the crowds, then you won't notice the number of guests. It is a big boat! Also, the kids are usually allowed to run wild through out the boat. Bring your patience if you're not used to children and teens running amuck. We were still getting used to the size and where everything was. The Caper, printed daily, is very helpful in finding things to do. It gives you a chronological run down of every event on the boat. There is always something to do. You could wear yourself out trying to get it all in. We did.
Day 3: Another day at sea. We played bingo, went to the gym (very crowded) and participated in the art auction. I bought two pieces. Be wary of the art auction. The excitement can get you to buy things you may not. Word to the wise, don't go unless you set money aside to buy something. We also spent time in Alfred's Cigar bar. This was my boyfriends favorite place on the boat. The waitress (Agnieszka) was super nice and always smiling. Most of the crew was like that.
Day 4: Montego Bay, Jamaica; pier side. We booked our excursion through an outside agency, www.jamaicaexcursions.com not through Carnival. I recommend doing this as it may be cheaper and is always less crowded. We did the Dreamer Catamaran snorkel and Margaritaville excursion. Our boat was not crowded at all, but there were three others on the water near us that were really crowded. I found out that those were boats booked through Carnival. Most everyone on our catamaran were from local hotels. It was a good excursion. I snorkeled while by boyfriend enjoyed the endless tap of Red Stripe beer.
Day 5: Grand Cayman; tendered. Being tendered was very frustrating. The cruiseline charters these passenger boats to come out and get you to take you to shore. They over crowd them to unsafe levels. Once on shore it's a free for all finding your excursion guide and bus. We did not do an excursion at this port. Instead we took a shuttle bus to a private beach and paid $10 to get in. DO NOT DO THIS. Learn from me... the private beaches are way to crowded. If you want to go to the Seven Mile Beach go to the public areas, they are free. Avoid private beaches. This place was packed. There were 6 other cruise lines anchored in there.
Day 6: Cozumel, Mexico; pier side. This was the nicest port of all three. Most stores have been rebuilt since the hurricane. This is the port to do your shopping. If you're comfortable in getting out of the tourist areas then do so. You'll save a lot of money. For example, we were looking for a specific type of tequila that you can't find in the states. We found a .5 liter bottle of it at one of the tourist shops for $31. We kept looking and eventually found it much cheaper at the local grocery store (similar to Wal-Mart) off the beaten path. We bought a .95 liter bottle for $15. We carried it back to the boat and checked it in (you can't take liquor to your room). This place was packed too. There were 5 other cruise ships in port.
Day 7: Last day at sea. This was the most boring day for me. It was hard finding something to do as we had already done everything and spent most of the money we brought.
Disembarkation day: what a mess! We did self assist because we thought we'd get off the boat earlier then most. The self assist disembarkation began at 7:30am, our deck did not get permission to disembark until 9:30am. We made our way down the gangway and into a massive line at customs. This took another 1 1/2. Once through customs we waiting in another line for 45 mins for a taxi. We were back at our car headed home around 12:30pm.
Summary: You may think you have paid or an "inclusive" vacation, but beware. You will spend alot more money once onboard. Between the casino, drinks, bingo and other events you will be surprised how it adds up. The only things included in your cost are meals (dining room, buffet, deli, grill, pizzeria, sushi bar) juice, coffee, milk, tea. If you think you're going to get cranberry juice for free you won't. It's $2.00. All soda and alcohol cost. By a soda card if you drink it. All facilities are free except the spa, fitness classes,(i.e pilates, yoga, spinning) and The Point Restaurant. By the time we got off he boat we had spent almost $1000 more. That's the reason why I say we probably won't cruise again. It's not that we didn't have a good time; we did. However, we know that we can get a lot more vacation for the money we spent. Also, because we hopped from port to port in such a short time we were tired instead of rejuvenated. When we tried to rest in our room, the constant slamming of doors kept us up.
Highlights: Room steward Arthur was great. Our dinner mates were very personable. The shows are amazing, especially the magician Deja. Try and see all of them if you can. The Point Restaurant is a must of you have an extra $100 to spare.
Tips: save away lots of extra spending money, bring warm weather and cool weather clothes, rain coat, sunblock, and pack light (if you can).