Hotel: We stayed at the AmeriSuites/Miami Airport West. I work at an AmeriSuites hotel so I took advantage of our great employee rates so we could drive down a day early and relax before the cruise. The rooms at this location were clean & spacious. The staff was extra friendly, especially housekeeping who put up with us constantly asking for extra's of everything. Our hotel was only a 10 minute drive to the port of Miami so that worked out excellent for us. We were fine while at the hotel but we had a big language barrier when we decided to venture out to try to find a car wash and get the dreaded Florida love bugs off of our car. We drove around for 3 hours and could not find anyone who spoke English, even in a Walgreens. Luckily, I brought my portable G.P.S. & after 3 failed attempts we finally found a car wash that was still in business. We gladly paid $19 for the cheapest car wash just to be able to get the bugs off of the paint and to rest at the hotel again. If I had to do it over again I would try to learn some basic Spanish before I go. I didn't think it would be that huge of a problem not knowing Spanish in Miami but maybe it was just the area around the airport.
Embarkation: We arrived at the port of Miami @ 10:30am. The port is very large and there was a little confusion where to go but people kept pointing us in the right direction. We drove up to a porter and an empty steel framed crate where we loaded our luggage in. The porter did not help us lift anything out of the car or put it in the crate but when he acted like he wanted a tip we tipped him a little anyway just so our luggage would remain in that crate in one piece. I was disappointed with the service of the porters at this port. In Tampa the porters not only unload your car, they wheel everything to the crates for you. We parked the car and walked into the building to start the embarkation process. The line was not long but we found the women at the desk to be rude & only allowed us to fill out our forms 1 at a time because they said they didn't want us stealing their pens. I found that funny that Carnival can't buy these people a bag of pens when we pay so much for the cruise. We also found it odd that we were past guests and they did not give out the gold sail and sign cards for past guests. We ended up with the same sail and sign cards as everyone else. I guess they ran out. After going through the security checkpoint we were told to wait in a line that was relatively short at the time. After reading reviews we thought we would only be waiting for maybe 30-45 minutes before boarding the ship. We ended up standing in line for 2 1/2 hours. We were not told anything, just pushed closer together in the lines until they could not fit anyone else in the room and even the security checkpoints were backed up at that point. When we finally were allowed to board the ship we were angry to see a room filled with empty chairs on the opposite side of the room we were standing in. There was absolutely no reason why they couldn't have let us sit there; however, we were not going to let this ruin our trip. When we boarded the ship we immediately went to the shore excursions desk and booked a cabana for Half Moon Cay without a problem & met our maitre D, Manuel who gladly gave us the table we wanted.
Cabin Info: Our cabin was 7430 on the Aft of the ship. This was our first time with an aft room and I have to say I don't think I will book it again. I usually book an extended balcony since there are 3 of us and those were sold out so we tried the aft balcony so we would all have enough space to sit outside. We ended up not going outside very much because when it rained there is no roof over the aft and you and your chairs are soaked. Also, the dividing walls between balconies angle down near the railing so if the people in the cabins next to you want to look over to your side they will not have a problem. We felt there was no privacy with the Aft and had to make sure we left the curtains closed so others would not see in our cabin as we were changing clothes for dinner. Luckily, there were no peeping toms next to us... we just felt uneasy that they could look over if they wanted to since we are used to the full dividing walls of the extended balconies on the side of the ship. Also, the sofa in the room is more like an oversized chair; it does not make into a bed. However, if you are short enough you can pull the arms off of it and sleep on it. We were lucky enough that our 3rd person on the cruise is only 4' 11" so she only hung off by 2 or 3 inches. Otherwise you have to walk around a rollaway bed the whole time if you have more than 2 people. I found the bathroom to be a little larger than the previous cruises & was happy to see it had a large corner medicine cabinet for all of our stuff. One extra feature the room had was controls for a built in radio above the headboard of the bed. The radio only got a few channels but they were always playing something good.Ship Info: The ship is nicely decorated and not over the top. It is larger than the other ship we have been on (Miracle) so we had to get used to the longer lines for the shops, food & photos. I did find the ship to have one of the strangest layouts I have ever seen. The 5th floor was one of the only inside floors that you could use to get from one end of the ship to the other without obstacles. If you try to get to the pursers desk from one of the lower floors you will have to cut through the dining room to get there. Also, if you try to get to the second floor of the London dining room you will have to squeeze your way through the lines of people purchasing or looking at photos. The cash registers for photos are right in the way. However, the ship is a little older so we expected some of these drawbacks.
Food: Most of the food was sub par to my other cruises with carnival. The breakfast buffet lacked the variety that the other carnival cruise had. There was the same thing day after day on the buffet. Instead, I skipped the buffet line and had omelets! They are worth waiting in line for! I found the dining room breakfast to be a slow waste of time. You can get almost anything they serve you on the lido deck and it takes twice as long to eat. I would only do this on a sea day. I usually skipped lunch due to the lines. Dinner was good but Carnival has been serving up the same food for a while now and needs to try new things. The Midnight Gala Buffet was pretty but the food all looked a lot better than it tasted. Plus, we ran into rough seas and a lot of people were sick so very few showed up for this. The chocolate buffet was a joke. They didn't' even have the chocolate fountain like the Miracle had and there were more cheesecakes and cookies on there than chocolate items. The food was a real let down.
Staff: Our cabin steward Kurt was always prompt to clean our cabin and always did it well. Our waiter Miguel & his assistant Maksim were very friendly & provided outstanding dining service! We were happy with everyone we encountered on the ship except for the people working at the pursers desk. The people there never seemed to have an answer for any question, always gave you the run around and even transferred us to room service for questions about our bills. Also, the wake up call system wasn't working when we went so we had to call room service to set us a wakeup call every day because the pursers desk didn't know how.
Shows: We attended the Wonderful World show and quickly left. It didn't seem like it was worth our time. We also attended the Adult Comedy & Adult Magic shows. Both of those shows were great! They kept you entertained the whole time and not checking your watch. The Carnival Legends show was good but again this is my 3rd cruise and like the same boring menu's, they show the same boring shows every time. It might be better if they at least make everyone portray different artists so the show seems different. I just don't know if I can see that show a fourth time.
Half Moon Cay: We booked the cabana at Half Moon Cay so we got off of the ship on the first tender. You might want to book any excursion just to be on the first tender. They only allow people with shore excursions on that tender and on the way down to the tender I saw the line for the other tenders and it wasn't pretty. A few people we spoke to said they didn't bother getting off of the ship because the line went from one end of the ship to the other and Carnival shut the tenders down for a while due to the rain. We arrived at Half Moon Cay knowing it would rain. Clouds were forming when we arrived but we were still determined to have a great time. We caught a ride on their tram & it took us to the cabanas. We had the yellow cabana. We booked it because it was supposed to be away from the crowds of people. However, we didn't need to worry about that because the beach was empty due to the rain. The cabana was worth every dollar. We swam for awhile and when the rain started we went back to our cabana for some fruit, vegetables, chips & drinks that were included. The only disappointment with the cabana is the tarp in the front that lowers so you can cool off the inside room was missing from ours. Maybe it broke off, but we sure could have used it when the rain was coming into the cabana. We managed to push all of our chairs to the back and stay dry though. After the rain stopped we went for another swim and then went on a short 5 minute walk to the barbeque area. We had a great lunch at half moon cay and enjoyed spending the rest of the day snorkeling. With our own cabana and so little people on the beach it felt like we had the beach to ourselves!St. Thomas: St. Thomas is a beautiful port and it was one of my favorite stops, however immigration was total chaos for this stop. We were told to meet in the dance club on the 5th floor early in the morning for immigration. There was no order to this line, it was just a mass of people standing around while others tried desperately to go to breakfast or get to their cabins by pushing their way through this line. Many people started getting aggravated because it seemed as if people were cutting the lines. Also, the Carnival staff set up a computer there to check your sail and sign card out before you go to customs so once the people wanting to go to breakfast, etc. made it to them they would send them back and they would have to push their way out of the line. Once we made it through all of that we had a wonderful day in St. Thomas. First, we booked the 2 1/2 hour tour of "The Best of St. Thomas." This was worth every penny to see the city. Our driver was very knowledgeable and always willing to take photos for you. One of my favorite stops was at a place called "The Great House." The Great House is like a tropically landscaped botanical garden with free rum punch, a parrot, a few man made waterfalls and excellent views! We also booked the Paradise Point sky ride. Once at the top there is a shopping area with beautiful views. Make sure you eat before going to the top though; the prices are outrageous.
San Juan: I really loved San Juan. I felt as if I didn't even scratch the surface on what there is to do there. My friends & I ate breakfast at La BonBonera. It's a great local eatery that I saw on $40 a day with Rachael Ray. They have excellent Mayorca's & friendly service! We then toured fort El Morro & took several photos with it's breathtaking views of the ocean and city. We did a bunch of shopping after that and headed back to the ship for lunch. The people were all so nice here and everyone speaks English. I definitely want to go back!
Grand Turk: I think Grand Turk is actually an ugly island. The island is filled with muddy looking lakes that they used to salt farm with a while back & their soil isn't supposed to be able to grow a whole lot because of the salt in the sand. The shopping is limited to the port, which has about 6-8 stores plus a Margaritaville. The service at Margaritaville is very slow since everyone is here so be patient. My friends and I took a taxi to Cockburn town, which wasn't worth the time. There are only a few local vendors selling trinkets on the side of the streets. No restaurants, etc. A lot of the buildings in Cockburn town were old and very worn, some without roofs, windows & doors. I felt like I didn't belong here & felt unsafe in some areas as the locals just stare as your walking down the streets. However, I have to say the Ultimate Snorkeling proved that Grand Turk is good for something. That was an excellent tour! We saw 2 types of gardens. The first was a coral garden and the second was a fish garden, where we saw stingrays and a barracuda. Some people even saw a nurse shark! This tour was great!
Debarkation: After an extremely rough night at sea I was ready to get back on land. My friends & I decided to try the self debarkation this time since we didn't want to wait around until 11am to get off of the ship when we have a 4 hour drive ahead of us. We packed all of our bags and were off of the ship by 8am. I make it to the immigration officer who wants my passport. The only problem is that it is packed away because Carnival made an announcement saying we only needed a drivers license and our sail and sign cards to enter back into the U.S. if we are a U.S. citizen. I told the immigration officer that and he insisted on seeing my passport. I held up the line some looking for it and couldn't find it. Finally, I argued with him that it doesn't get much easier than a Florida drivers license entering the state of Florida so I can either hold the line up all day looking for my passport or he can take my drivers license. He finally took it and allowed me through. However, this didn't help my friends who have packed away their birth certificates and passports as well. Also, I was not allowed to wait on them, the people at the port push you right out the door all the way to the middle of the street, near the parking area.
Summary: Overall, I would definitely cruise Carnival Cruise lines again. However, I don't plan on booking anymore cruises out of the Port of Miami because of the people working there and their general unkindness towards cruise goers. It's hard to start and end your vacation at a place where people don't greet you, but rather rush you through and push you out the door when you get back. I've had warmer stays at an airport. I think I will also wait until mid 2008 before I book again. Maybe the Menu's and shows will change by then. If not, I can always try other cruise lines to see what they offer since I don't have anything to compare Carnival to.