Embarkation was a breeze. We got dropped off at the terminal at about 12:30 and by 1:00 we were on the Lido Deck having lunch. We had filled out the Fun Pass ahead of time online & had the printed copies ready. We have never boarded a ship so quickly and easily. After a great lunch, we went to our cabin; the suitcases arrived within a half hour.
Cabin: We had an outside cabin on the Riviera deck, starboard side. We had booked late and there had been no balcony cabins but this was a very nice cabin, with plenty of room, very well designed, with a big window. The bed was very comfortable (just as nice as the one on the brand-new Noordam that I took last summer). The cabin steward, David, did a great job keeping everything clean and well supplied.
Dining: My husband and I were very impressed with the food and service in the main dining room, and we agreed that it was superior to that on the Noordam. With very few exceptions, all our meals were excellent (better than most fine restaurants that we go to), and we felt no need to go the Golden Fleece. We had a table with 5 other people which was fun because we soon became friends and enjoyed trading stories each night about our adventures in the ports. Our waiter was Frank and he and his assistant were outstanding - very personable and fun, excellent manners, and excellent service. Again, this is the best service we have experienced on a ship. One complaint: the bar-waiter in the dining room often missed us - we went without the drinks that we had planned on having.
The ship: I thought this ship was beautifully designed. It had a lot of wood trim and a bit of an old-world feel which I really liked. The gray urns everywhere are a bit odd, though. There are wonderful places to sit and spend time, and on most decks (other than the Lido), it did not feel crowded. The atrium is quite dramatic, and there is a neat bar there, right in the center of things. The library was ridiculous though. Fake leather bindings in place of books! The few shelves of books were actually locked up except for 2 hours a day. I heard many complaints about this from other people on the ship. Carnival needs to realize that not everyone is drinking & attending the hairy chest contests! Although most readers will be bringing their own books, people like to look at map books and nautical books during a cruise, as well as travel guides relating to the ports of call. The computers were available there for internet use, and this is about all that was happening there. The casino was large and fun, but of course a bit smokey. My husband enjoyed the slots and some blackjack. The dining room was decorated with some interesting light fixtures with some very artistic murano-type glass. The lido deck restaurant had great food, although you have to wander around a bit on the first day to figure out where everything is. My only complaint is that they were always playing loud and rather annoying music everywhere on this deck - even first thing in the morning. They could tone that down, especially when you are trying to enjoy your morning coffee and talk with your companions. I quickly learned to order coffee from the room service.
Grand Cayman - This island was beautiful. I wish we had been able to spend more time there. We had reserved a rental car, so we took an early tender to the port in Georgetown, and by 8:45 we were on our way to explore the island. It is a bit hard to get used to driving on the left, though. We headed east out of Georgetown and took the Frank Sound Road north towards Rum Point. We stopped at a little public park on the water (North Sound) at Cayman Kai (aka Kaibo) and swam and snorkeled there. Also collected some nice little shells there. This park had no admission charge, had nice clean bathrooms, and we were the only people there! You really can get away from the cruise ship crowds if you do a little exploring. This was in a very upscale area near large homes on the water. We then proceeded to Rum Point, which is a beach area with a restaurant, some shops, and free parking. They have chaises on the beach to use (don't know if there is a charge for this because we put our towels on the sand & spent the whole time in the water!) I would assume that you pay a nominal fee for the chaise since there is no admission charge. There are very clean bathrooms to use also. This place is beautiful - clean sand, lots of shade, and clear turquoise water for swimming and snorkeling. There are some reefs you can swim out to, which we couldn't do because a storm was coming up. There is also a pier there that snorkel boats leave from. At times this beach area was almost empty; later some tours came and it filled up with people (especially at the restaurant). At this point, we decided to leave and head back to Georgetown. We stopped at the Lighthouse restaurant on the way back and had a delicious (but a bit pricey) lunch at a seaside table. Got back to the port just in time to catch the last tender. Watch the time here - it goes by fast! I wish Carnival would allow more time in this port, as I would have liked to go to Seven Mile Beach for an afternoon swim.
Cozumel - Our ship docked in the port area that is a few miles south of the town, not at the main dock. We had been to Cozumel 25 years ago, but I still remembered where everything was, so it was easier to know where to go. We rented a car again, this time right at the port. We headed out to the south and stopped at a few open beaches to collect shells. The weather was not good (raining & windy) so we decided to stay out of the water for awhile and take a ride down to Punta Sur. At this southernmost point of the island, the main road curves to the east, and goes alongside the very dramatic and wild-looking windward coast. This area is very picturesque - there are large waves crashing on the rocks, like New England, but it is not safe to swim. There was no one else out there - a car came along the highway maybe once every 10 minutes. At Punta Sur, there are a few vendors that I bought shells from. They were friendly, and we struck up a conversation. Hurricane Wilma dealt a nasty blow to this island, and a lot of homes and other structures were destroyed, and we talked about this. On the way back, we went to the park at Chankanab. The admission price was $16 per person. The park is nicely designed and the new buildings have some impressive and unusual architecture. There is a "swim with dolphins" section and then a long beach area with lots of chaises and thatched roof areas for shade. The snorkeling area is interesting - a large area is roped off, so I was not expecting much, but it gets deep fast, the water was clearer than in the Caymans, and there were lots of fish around some coral heads. This would be a very good place for beginners to learn to snorkel because it is easy to get in the water (there are steps with handrails down the rocks), it is semi-protected, and the water is so clear. The park also had a restaurant, and waiters come by often to take orders. It was not at all crowded when we went there, but this may have been because there had been light rain off and on. But we again felt lucky to avoid the crowds because there were 2 other cruise ships in port. It was easy to return the car - about 5 minutes, right at the port - the man at Executive Cars was very nice and easy to deal with. On the way back in, we spent a little time looking at the shops. The silver shop in the main building had some really good looking sterling silver jewelry at fairly reasonable prices. I had no time to haggle though because we needed to get back on board the ship.
Belize - My husband booked 2 ships' tours back to back, which is probably not a good idea, but it worked out well for us. The morning one was a snorkel trip to Goff's Cay. With a boat load of about 25 people, we headed south to the Cay for about 20 minutes. Once there, you can go ashore and swim from the beach or take the boat out to the nearby reef. We went ashore because they were having trouble with the boat, and we wanted to go in the water. The people who went to the reef said it was very good. Goff's Cay is a tiny island - maybe 3 acres in size. The tour companies take everything out there - food, drinks, and even the "facilities" (i.e., a Porta-Potty) arrived on a boat. This might sound a little strange, but it is good ecologically: they take EVERYTHING away at the end of the day so the waters stay very clean. For people who like a good beach, this place is great. The snorkeling is very good going in right from the shore, as there is a lot of coral and lots of fish. I spent the whole 2 hours in the water. In the afternoon we took our 2nd ship excursion - this one to the reef at Turniffe and a beach break at Bannister Island. Both were better than expected. The reef is beautiful - like the Florida Keys 30 years ago. The boat was quite crowded however - on the short ride over we were pretty crowded, but divers do not want to miss this reef. If you are experienced, you can get in the water quickly and avoid the lectures to beginners. They serve free soft drinks and Rum Punch on the boat. We went ashore at Bannister Island, which was quite nice. they had a large swimming area, kayaks to explore the mangrove shoreline, and thousands of little shells that looked like jewels lining the shoreline. And the usual amenities in places like these - bar, restaurant, massage on the beach, etc.
Costa Maya - This was my least favorite port, but if you like to drink, it might be your favorite. The ship docks at a large pier, and as you go ashore there is a large facility for cruise passengers with many shops, restaurants, and a large inviting pool. The waterside area has "iron-shore" - actually limestone rock, forming a sharp shoreline which is common in many Caribbean localities. This was marked "No Swimming" so we moved on. Later I saw many people swimming and snorkeling in this area. We took a taxi into the town of Majahual ($2 per person), which is about 2 or 3 miles away. The town has a main tourist district that stretches along the waterfront (kind of like Avalon on Catalina Island). This "street" (no cars allowed on it) has numerous restaurants and shops along it, and many shopkeepers approach you as you walk by. We went to the Cat's meow. Our waiter was Hugo, and he was very nice and treated us very well, had a great sense of humor. The owner, Barbara, came around with her famous black cat. She talks to all the customers and constantly checks on everything, making sure everybody is happy. We had some beers, and my husband got a massage ($20 for an hour) to help his aching muscles (from all the snorkeling for 3 days). You can swim and snorkel right from the beach in front of this restaurant. Be careful of the margaritas in this place - they are apparently very strong -each probably has a double or triple shot of alcohol. Don't drink them too fast! I watched a woman (in her 30's or 40's, not a young naive type) with her husband drink about 3 of these over an hour and a half. The problem was, she sat in the sun the whole time and probably got overheated (as well as inebriated) because she suddenly got quite sick. The husband became frantic, but Barbara (the restaurant owner) quickly got some cool towels and ice, and with the help of another couple, we got her into the shade and got her cooled down. Eventually Barbara got a taxi, and got her and her husband and the other couple who were helping them on their way back to the ship.
After all this activity, we were glad to have a quiet day at sea and enjoy the good food and fun on the ship. Debarkation went quickly once they called us (at about 9:30); we found our luggage, went through customs and were out of the terminal about 20 minutes after leaving the ship.
This was a great cruise and a great ship - I highly recommend it!