This was our second cruise - first cruise with kids. We traveled with a group of 18 (4 families). We left from Tampa and were told to embark at 1:30pm, we showed up at 10:30am just to check things out and the line was already forming so we went ahead and started the process. We were on the boat by 11:30 and had the kids swimsuits in hand so they popped right into the pool. Staterooms were to be ready at 1:30pm so anything we had with us we had to walk around with. My first advice would be to CHECK EVERYTHING except the swimsuits.
The pool area was hot, but if you go up to Deck 11 and sit in front of the oversized chess board there is a breeze coming from the upper decks - the perfect spot to claim and it is covered! This is also the deck you need to be on if you want to see your kids in the pool, the pool has tall walls around it and you can only watch your kids if you are standing up. We would get the kids in the water and go up the steps so we could see them swimming.
The lunch was being served as we boarded so the kids swam and we ate and just had a nice relaxation period before having to unpack. The rooms were ready at 1:30 as stated and the luggage started arriving very quickly. We got all but our largest bag right away.
We packed a case of water bottles and 16 diet cokes and had no problems bringing them on. We asked our room steward to keep our soft cooler full of ice and he filled it morning and evening so we always had cold drinks in our room. We purchased fountain fun cards for the whole family and the Carnival insulated cups (could have done without the cups, they were a pain to carry around). The soda cards were $5.50 per day adult and $4.50 per day child, not a bad price if you drink 2-3 sodas a day.
Our room was good, it was cramped with 4 people in it. There were 2 beds pushed together to make a king, one drop down upper bed and one fold up bed. The fold up bed took up a lot of real estate during the day - some of our friends had kid beds which slid underneath their bed giving them more space in the room. We were not in the room a great deal so it worked out okay, just information.
The ship is old, but it is well kept. The little things like cracked vinyl on the dining seats and chips in the vanities were noticeable, but we still liked the ship. I expected our room to be freezing from what I had read on reviews, but it was not at all. In fact, I was hot most of the time and wished I had a fan - especially trying to get ready to go to dinner. They opened our vent completely to get better air flow in the room and it helped a little, but I still got hot. The room was a moderate temp and then I'm hot natured.
The cruise director was very informative and friendly and she was tons of fun - what a personality!! Her name was Darcy and she was definitely IN THE KNOW. The ship always had something fun going on and my kids really liked the kids club. We originally thought we would not see much of our kids, but they close the club everyday from 12-2 so you definitely have your kids for lunch and then mine did not want to go back until evening because they wanted pool time. When they were in the clubs they had a blast and the staff was really fun. Our kids are 6 and 10 so we made sure to take walkie talkies for the 6 year old so she could let us know when she wanted to be picked up. The 10 year old could check herself out but the little kids are stuck there until you come get them.
The food on the ship was good, there was always a good variety of things to eat, even for my picky kids. We had dinner in the dining room every night except the late port day. The dining room was nice and the waiters and staff there are great. Very good service! We had a large group and had requested to sit together which did not happen the first night. We kindly asked the Maitre D if he could accommodate us and the next afternoon we got a note from him that he had worked it all out and our group got 2 large tables for 10 side by side. That was pretty impressive seeing as how all the tables were spoken for - he certainly did some musical chairs to get such a large group together.
We went to Grand Cayman and we booked our own excursion through Moby Dick Tours for Stingray City and Snorkeling - that was the best move yet. They were great and they take smaller groups out. They were exactly where they said they would be and they even had a small life jacket for my little one. Many of the other tours offered had an age limit of 8 and up, so this was a great route and got my 6 year old included. She had more fun than my 10 year old!! The price was UNBEATABLE and we got everything and then some as those who did a cruiseline booking. www.mobydicktours.com. They are also very aware of your departure time and got us back with no worries. The guys from Moby Dick get in the water and will catch the rays for you and show you how to hold them, very interactive and really nice. If you don't book your excursion through Carnival you will have to use a smaller tender, but it leaves at the same time so we got to the island with an hour to walk around before the MOBY DICK bus took us.
The next day was Calica, Mexico and we chose to go to Xcaret - again, bought my tickets online and saved $$. When we got off the boat there were 2 Xcaret buses there for those who booked through the cruisline, but if you have your printouts they will take you as well so there is no need for a cab. Everything was good, this is an AWESOME park. We did the dolphin swim and it was amazing - they won't let you take your own pictures or video and that was a total ripoff, but the dolphins were amazing. If you do go to Xcaret make sure to have MULTIPLE copies of your ticket printout. When we went to check in for the dolphins one of our friends did not have another copy of their ticket and they were not going to let them do the dolphins, even though they paid months ago. They had to go back to the front gate and have them find their printout and then go find a copy machine. It was RIDICULOUS - and it wasted an hour of our time. That was my only complaint, but it was partially my friends fault because it clearly states to print multiple copies, and they did not. I don't see why they don't have it in their computer who has paid, but in the end we all got to go and it was THE BEST. We did not have near enough time in this park and we really want to go back. I thought we would get reamed on the food, but I got 3 kids meals and 2 drinks and it was only $12 - go figure. I checked it twice and he charged me correctly, the kids meals were only $2.50. The other thing we did, which was included in the admission price was the underground rivers - AWESOME, you need a mask which you can bring one or rent one, but WOW, that was cool.
The disembark for this cruise was really chaotic, the crew mentioned that the last cruise was really smooth and this one was hectic. Mostly because people just don't listen and follow directions. There were people who checked their luggage and then got off the boat during the self assist because they thought they could be first off and then go into the warehouse for their luggage - WRONG. They had to get back on the boat an wait, so don't even try it. You can only be first off the boat if you are carrying everything you own. Let the crew take your bags the night before. They ask you to wait in your cabin until called, but everybody is in too much of a rush to get off the boat so they all pile in the lobby and act like animals. Once the crowd cleared out it was fine and we got off quickly and went straight into the warehouse. The luggage was all lined up by color and ready to go. We were off the boat and on the road home by 9:30 am. Not a bad experience at all.
I would recommend this trip and Carnival. We had a great time and plan to go again. BRING YOUR HAIRDRYER AND A POWERSTRIP!!