We are a group of 9 (5 adults, 4 girls aged 3-9); 3 of us have cruised before and 6 were first timers.
We flew down Saturday night and stayed at the Hampton Inn Miami Airport South Blue Lagoon. We left the hotel at 11 am Sunday. Arrived at the port around 11h35, and we had the smoothest embarkation ever. Under 40 minutes to get on the ship. We have seen constant improvement in that department over the years.
We had connecting cabins oceanview and one inside on the Main Deck, Forward. One downside is that we were RIGHT BELOW the show lounge, and we heard base noise every night at show times. Cabins are very roomy, and in great shape considering the age of the ship. Never saw our steward, he did an impeccable job, always had our beer on ice when we came in at the end of the day. One surprise was that there was no mini fridge in the room. One last small complaint: hairdryer is like a reversed vacuum cleaner. If you have long or unruly hair, bring your own. Overall accommodation was perfect.
Dining Room: food was better than in the past, fish was great every night, the steak eater in the family found the beef subpar. Best meal of the week was the mahi-mahi. The veal was also great. Got cappuccinos every night. The waiters (Godfrey and Andri) were fast and extremely attentive to the kids. If you can, make sure you are in the Pacific Dining Room, it is bigger and airier because it is at the back of the ship, not midship like the Atlantic Dining room. Buffet food was not very good; it is worth it to go to the dining room at all meals (I like being served anyway, and they are very fast)
Camp Carnival: three of the four kids went regularly on sea days and during the evenings; one warning: if you want them to call you right away when your child (small ones) cry, let them know, or better yet check up on them every once in a while. They have a tendency to wait before calling Mom and Dad back. There were a lot of fun activities: face painting, t-shirt drawing, even a talent show at the end.
Sea days: we spent a lot of time at the pool. We found the music on Lido (main pool) too loud so we hung around the back pool (Triton); no problem getting deck chairs anytime (we suspect the ship was not full). We did the slide many times. They also have a mini-golf course and the usual jogging track. We also did some of the gym classes (spinning and pilates) which was fun and worth the extra $10. Gym was never full or even crowded. Water pressure at the gym much better than in the rooms.
Costa Maya: we set out to go to Cat's Meow with the big yellow buses you catch right outside the shopping complex, but we settled on a place next door that did not charge for the beach chairs (Cat's Meow wants $5 for them). We had many drinks and a great lunch for $140 tip included for 9 people - some of the drinks were a little weak and the tab did not add up, so make sure you keep track of the stuff you buy. A few of us went in a snorkeling trip for $15 a person (one hour) and it was a nice, not extraordinary trip. The kids loved the water (very shallow and calm water)
Grand Cayman: 7 of us went to Royal Palm on 7-mile beach while 2 others had booked an excursion on-line with Capt Marvin and they had a great time (and saved tons of money compared to the Carnival prices). Beach was beautiful, water amazing. Service was a little slow (island time!). There was a huge line-up to tender back on the ship; although last tender was scheduled at 3h30, we actually left around 4.
Jamaica: thank goodness we found Marva Shaw on these boards. We had our most amazing day here. Marva was wonderful. She took 6 of our group to climb the falls, then came back to pick up the other three, we then drove thru part of the island and went tubing on the White River; this was a great time. Even the 3-year-old was able to go (on mommy's lap). They took pictures and sold them to us for a $5 fee, but with surprisingly no pressure. We then went to a cliff we could jump off...even the 6 year old took the leap (close to 15 ft). Marva then gave us a choice between eating and going to the beach. We had packed some cereal and chose to go to the beach. The place was deserted, no hassling, no tourists, pure paradise. The waves were a bit strong but it was so beautiful! I never thought Jamaica could be so peaceful after all we heard about it. Anyone docking or even vacationing in Jamaica should hook up with Marva (knowjamaica.com). All of this for $60 per adult and $30 for kids. At least 50% cheaper than the cruise line.
Debarkation was a little hectic...it feels like people just lose their vacation cool and start stampeding all over each other to get out! I feel the port of Miami could improve the logistics a bit with 10,000 people coming off ships as 10,000 more are lining up to get on.
Overall this was a great cruise, great value for money, and I would sail Carnival and the Victory again no question.