We left our hotel for a 15 min drive to the downtown port and had no problem finding the parking deck, although we did have to drive around the one-way streets to get going in the right direction. I dropped my wife and three daughter (15, 14 and 12)and the luggage directly in front of the port and then parked the car. It cost $84 for 7 days...and I had to pay up front, so bring cash for parking. We arrived at the port at 11:00 AM and we were on the ship by 11:45. The waiting area at the port is great and the embarkation was very, very smooth. The port was very comfortable for our ~40 min wait.
Getting on the ship was easy. We took two bottles of wine in our carry-one, and no one seemed to question what was in our bag. The two bottles were the limit allowed by Carnival. We also took two six-pack of sodas...no questions. This allowed us to save some money on drinks later. We each took a small suitcase as a carryon. Once on the ship, we immediately ate lunch on the Lido deck. We were overwhelmed by the immediate attention by the staff.
After lunch, we walked to find our room and met our steward (John) who worked the rooms 52xx in the aft section. He was awesome and kept our room immaculate for the whole week. I tipped him extra at the end of the week. He allowed us to put our carry-on bags in the room at 12:15 which allowed us to tour the ship freely. We were in our rooms by 1:30 on the nose.
For the rest of the cruise, I will categorize:
The food was very good, not the greatest, but very good. Breakfast was plentiful and the hot choices were numerous. I was surprised how well the grits and eggs were prepared, being a southern boy with large expectations. Lunches were good as well. The pizzeria was excellent and a good standby 24/7. Comparing to the Princess cruise we took in 2001, I would say that the breakfast on Carnival was better, while the lunch menu on Princess was better. I do remember that food appeared more plentiful on Princess than on Carnival, but food quantity was not the important factor for us. Not many food choices from the hours of 4-6 - when most people are returning from ports and need something to tide them over until an 8 o'clock dinner, late seating.
Dinners were very good as well, not fabulous, but very good. We had the 8:15 sitting at table 338. The appetizer choices were plentiful, but the salads were always limited to Caesar and one other nightly choice. I have had better lobster. It was a little overcooked. All of the meats and steaks were excellent cuts. On the last night I had the Neptune platter. It was on par with Long John Silvers as seafood quality goes. The desserts were excellent....and we had the chocolate melting cake numerous nights. If you miss this you are a fool. Our wait staff (Ibrahim, Jirakorn, and Maryia) were always pleasant and more than eager to help. We could not have asked for better service in the Truffles restaurant.
You have got to try the Sushi bar. We are amateur Sushi eaters and we loved it. My 12 year old daughter loved the octopus, go figure.
As for drinks. The alcoholic drinks were a little lame on the alcohol. This obviously didn't stop people from getting drunk...they just had to buy a lot of drinks to get drunk ($$$$$$). So, if you want reliable alcohol content, stick with beer and wine.
Now for the port of calls. The first thing you must remember is that the ship stays on Eastern time while the ports are on Central time. Keep your watches set to ship time. Do not use your cell phone as a watch. I have Verizon and for some reason the automatic time was set for Pacific time. So be careful with the time issue. Don't use your cell phone for a wake up call! Use the ship's phone - very reliable.
Grand Caymans - We got on shore 1 hour before the stores opened because of the Eastern/Central time issue. So don't get off until 10 Eastern if you want to go shopping. We took the Sandbar Stingray tour. We booked through Carnival. This was incredible...if it could have only lasted longer. All my girls (and wife) screamed when all the stingrays started swimming close rubbing against them. The stingrays were like little puppies. This has to be on your agenda. You will never forget holding a stingray. The tour guide took pictures and charged $15 a piece to email them to us...we haven't received them yet, but I did get an error message in my email box. They must have had a difficult time sending the files. Kirk Sea Tours through Carnival was great - as was our guide Brett from South Africa - very good guide!!!!
Cozumel - Very nice. Side note- Lots of alcohol and a lot of underage drinking, which we heard through our daughter and the O2 club - they serve underage people in the port at "Tequila Beach" bar, imagine that!. Luckily our daughter still tells us stuff she hears. We took the Bike and Snorkeling tour. We booked through Carnival. We had a great time, with the best part being that the tour group carried all our bags in a jeep while we biked. They also provided free non-alcoholic drinks, which was a lot of help since it was so hot. I drank 6 Gatorades and needed them all. The day at the beach was beautiful and the snorkeling was short but excellent for the short amount of time. We didn't get lunch, but were too hot to be hungry. After a bike ride back to the port, we had time to shop. You can bargain here. A $150 purse cost us $60. Two $10 toe rings were bought for $12. And our kids got temporary tattoos ($20 each normal price) for $10 each. Beer was cheap. $1 per beer at most places...$2 at other places. Made up for the expensive drinks on the ship. Very fun day for all. . .
Belize - If you don't take the Cave tour, you are missing one of the greatest times of your life. We had a blast. We booked through Carnival. Can't say much more but awesome. A word of warning. If you are a big person, you may have a difficult time with this tour. There are spots where the water can be shallow and you will hit rocks. If you are a heavy person, you will have to walk more than most others over these regions. This happened to our tour where on big person took for ever to get down the river. It delayed the whole tour bus because we could not leave until everyone was accounted for. The food after the cave tubing was great. Eat the hot sauces!! As for Belize, you will be astounded at the poverty. Coming from the US, you have never experienced poverty on this level. Belize City is a selection of haves and have nothings. If this does not change your heart about how poor the world is outside the US, you are dead.
Costa Maya - Should have stayed on the ship or taken the tour of the Mayan temple. We booked the Jungle Beach Break. We rode about 30 mins to a beach that was terrible. Although all non-motorized gear was suppose to be included, you had to pay if you wanted to snorkel. The paddle boats did not have seat backs, so you strained to paddle the boats. The water was gross. You could pay to swim with the dolphins....but I felt sorry for the dolphins because this was definitely not the quality of SeaWorld. All alcoholic drinks were free.....free of alcohol that is. In my first drink, the strongest part was the ice. It was a margarita...I know what tequila and water taste like...there was no tequila in the drink...in fact, the mixer tasted like water. We drank the beer. The food was not included either....and it was pricey. Finally, our 15 year old notices the obscene signs in the food court area...such as " We Love Bulimics" and "I Am as Hard as A Five Day Roll". We can only assume that Mexicans think this is appropriate conversation with Americans. We didn't read all the signs, so I can only guess that other "popular??" American sayings must have been there as well. We lasted about 2 hrs and took the bus back to the port. Which reminds me of the favorite past time in Costa Maya....it is called dodge the pot-holes in the road. I have never seen such terrible pot holes in the road. As for Costa Maya...it is an artificial port. There is a big dock...and then shops and a pool at the end of the dock, and then nothing for miles but nothing. Don't expect to "stroll" into the town of Costa Maya, because it doesn't exist. Just to add an extra tease, the water around the port was better than the water at the beach, only you were not allowed to go into the water around the port??!!! They say that Costa Maya will grow into a nice port in the next 10 years...so buy your land now. Stay on the ship and play bingo.
As stated earlier, we had 12, 14 , and 15 year old daughters. Our 15 year old had a blast and the activities keep her busy. She made lots of friends and cried on the way home. The Club O2 appeared to have its act together. I will warn you that some in this 15-17 year olds had discovered a "secret stash" of alcohol and were getting drunk and throwing up. I think the alcohol came from the mini-bars in each cabin...so parents, keep them locked. If the alcohol came from somewhere else, it had to be from older brothers or sisters.....parents...or bar staff (which I doubt!). As for the 12-14 year old program, much is to be desired. Although there were programs and activities, it must have bored them to death, because none appeared to attend...including our kids. The short dance from 9:30-10:30 wasn't enough to keep them occupied. We, unlike many other parents, made our kids accompany use to other activities or come to the cabin if there were not other things to do. The kids in this age group were the ones going around the ship activating the fire door switches, putting dents in the golden elevator doors, and knocking on doors and running away. I have no problem speaking to kids who are disruptive, and did so on more than one occasion. The lack of supervised activities in the 12-14 age group kept my wife and I from enjoying parts of the trip.
As far as shows, the comedians were great, and that was all we really can comment on. We did start to listen to Jesse Lopez after a juggling show, and with the start of "Just a Gigolo" opening, the room started to clear out. It is hard to believe that he was a Gigolo...especially considering his age and appearance...bad, bad, bad. But we were just happy to be on a date and go to a show....so we left to do other things.
I would rate this cruise as a 7-8, while I would rate our Princess cruise in 2001 as a 9. The Eastern Caribbean is much better than the Western as far a quality ports and the entertainment was better on Princess. The food was better on Princess. Would we take the Carnival Cruise again...yes we would, but we are discussing other ports. It was an excellent bargain. We paid more for the Princess Cruise in 2001 per adult than what we paid this year...and it shows...but we got to take our children, and they had a blast.