Well, after months of reading other people's reviews I finally get to write one of my own! After reading this (and I am warning you...it will be lengthy!), if you have any questions please feel free to ask! I love to talk about cruising! Also, I will be posting pictures and a video in the next couple of weeks. The video will be a little different from Gator Claws video because we were cruising with 2 thirteen year old girls! But it will still be entertaining! Who traveled? Me (age 38), my husband (age 38), our daughter who turned 13 on the cruise and her 12 year old best friend.
We decided to go to Galveston the night before the cruise so we could sleep in and not start our cruise off tired. We waited until about a week before our cruise to book a hotel so all we could find online was the Best Western (on the Seawall). I am kind of a hotel snob so this place grossed me out a little. It wasn't terrible but just not my preference. The beds were not comfy (leaned to one side) so we did not sleep well. I do suggest going to Galveston a day early...just book early and pick a better hotel!
We got to the cruise terminal and dropped off our luggage at about 10:30 am. We had 5 suitcases and one smaller bag for toiletries plus drinks....we used clear packing tape to tape a 12 pack of Sprite to a 12 pack of Dr. Pepper (to make it easier to carry) and stuck a luggage tag on it. Then we had a case of water taped to a pack of Diet Coke with a luggage tag attached to it. So, I guess you could say we had 8 items of luggage. We tipped the guy $20 and all our luggage arrived safe and sound at our room at about 3:00! After dropping off our luggage we went to EZ Cruise Parking (paid $50 online), parked our car and walked about 2-3 blocks back to the ship (we beat the shuttle back to the ship and we decided we needed to walk to get prepared for all the food we were going to eat!).
We were in line at about 10:50 and were on the ship by noon. We went straight to the buffet, didn't see anything we really wanted, and headed up to Sur Mer for the bouillabaisse (VERY GOOD!) and fish and chips (VERY GOOD!). We ended up eating there 3 times my DH and I both thought it good every time. The girls had pizza and said it was good. We ate pizza on another day and agree that the pizza is YUMMY!
After lunch we headed to our room (9250 and 9252 - across the hall from each other) to see if they were ready and they were (about 1:00). Just FYI if you are traveling with kids and you want them to have a separate room you have to book it as if an adult is staying in a room with each kid. Then, go to the pursers desk and they will switch it so that the kid's sail and sign cards open their room and the adult's card opens their room. They also gave us a separate key so that we could open the kid's room. Make sense? This was helpful because both of our kids lost their sail and sign card at some point (you just go to the pursers desk and they give you a new one). We got unpacked and then it was time for the wonderful (NOT!) lifeboat drill. It was very hot but only took about 20 minutes (and about 15 minutes of "Is this almost over?" from our kids!). Someone must have overheated or had a heart attack or something because a short time after the drill the ship stopped and they came over the loud speaker and told us that they were having the coast guard pick up someone who was "ill". Our dinner was at 6:15 in the Renoir. Our waiter was TERRIBLE! He and his assistant argued constantly and brought things late and seemed put out when we asked for something. So, the next day we went to the Monet and asked if we could get changed. We were very nice about it and they were very nice back! We got a note in our mailbox (next to your door) about 2 hours later saying we had been moved to the Monet (table 420...you could see the ocean from our table...so pretty!)...I'll fill you in on that when I get to day 2! Anyway, after dinner we signed the girls up to do Camp Carnival activities (for 12-14 year olds). Then the girls went to do the country line dancing class and seemed to have fun! Then they went to the Teen Disco from 9-10 pm and we just explored the ship.
On Monday morning DH took the girls to breakfast and I ate a protein bar that I brought from home and went to the gym. It is somewhat crowded in there but not too bad. I had to wait about 5 minutes to get a treadmill at 8:30 but after that the crowds seemed to lighten up. We hung out by the pool that day and read and drank a margarita or 2. Beer was $4.13 (with tip) when we were in port at Galveston. Later, it looks like (referring to my sail and sign statement) it goes up to 5.47 (with tip)! Gosh! The price for mixed drinks throughout the cruise was $6.04 (we had vodka and cranberry, Pina Coladas and Margarita...all charged the same). We had planned to go to the Captain's Welcome party for free drinks but forgot! Our dinner time had been changed to 5:45 (from 6:15) which we did not like but it ended up working out fine. They told us we could just be "late" every day and we actually did not get to dinner until around 6:15 each night and we had plenty of time. This was formal night and we had fun dressing up and eating lobster! Our new waitress was WONDERFUL!!! Her name was Alex from Romania and I hope you all get her! She remembered our names and what we liked and paid special attention to our girls. She even got a little teary-eyed the last night and told us that she hates the last day because she always gets attached to people! Our daughter tried the lobster but did not like it so Alex immediately got her THREE orders of shrimp cocktail because she knew she liked that! After dinner we took some pictures (professionally) and then went outside and took some pictures ourselves with the sunset as the backdrop...so pretty! Then we decided to have some fun so we gambled a little, did karaoke (soooooooo fun!) and danced at the Disco for a little bit. Let me tell you about karaoke! My husband sang "family tradition" on Monday night and it was so funny. The crowd joins in and it is truly more fun to watch the people that are there just to have fun but are aware that they cannot sing (those are the ones, included my husband, that add dance moves or extra words just to make things more interesting!). We went to the midnight comedian and he was pretty good but not good enough to keep us there the whole time...we were sleepy!
Tuesday...another day at sea. I did the workout thing again and ate my bar and the girls went with DH to eat the buffet. They enjoyed the pastries. We did the hairspray dance class and it was HARD but really fun! Just go even if you don't think you can dance. If you saw the movie and enjoyed that you will have fun being a part of it. Stay to the right of the dance floor in the disco (closest to the music booth) because they hand out t-shirts, posters, etc. after the dance class and they run out of t-shirts fast. DH and I went to the Newlywed not so newlywed game at 3:00. We have seen this show 3 or 4 times and it is always funny! We did Hairspray bingo at 3:45 but did not win. We also went to the art auction...it was interesting and they do give away some art (but not to us...losers again!). Dinner was wonderful again and for the 3rd night in a row we had the chocolate melting cake for desert! You will love it! At 8:30 pm we went to Karaoke on the lido deck (under the stars). You can sit in chairs around the deck or even sit in the hot tubs and watch. The girls were with us this night for Karaoke and it was REALLY fun! It was not over until 10:30 and Jamaica was the next day so we went to bed. There was a Mardi Gras party on the Lido deck after Karaoke that I would have loved to stay for. I have no idea why they put that even on a night when we have a port the next day! I am going to suggest they move it to Monday night so it does not matter how late you stay out!
Wednesday: I did the morning gym thing again and DH ordered room service. This is a good idea even if you want to go to the buffet too. At least get your coffee delivered because, in our opinion the buffet coffee was yuck (maybe instant?) but the room service and dining room coffee was YUM! We got off the boat around 10 after letting my daughter open her birthday gifts. She wore her birthday crown and sash off the boat and really enjoyed all the comments..."Oh it's a birthday princess mon!" We went to the shopping area for a quick 30 minute shopping trip ($4 per person to go 5 minutes down the road...only take JUTA cabs!!!!!), then to the Bobsled Cafe (another $4 per person to go another 5 minutes down the road...only take JUTA cabs!!!) because we had been told that the Bobsled team would be there from 10-3 to sign autographs and my daughter loves the movie "Cool Runnings" so we thought this would be fun for her on her birthday! We got there at 11 and waited until 12:30 and they still never showed ("OH it's no problem mon...only 30 more minutes." They told us this 3 times). We left at 12:30 and they did give my daughter a free pair of shorts and a promise to send autographs in the mail to her...we'll see. We traveled to Sunset Beach (another $4 per person but this time a 15 minute drive with a nice driver. He even arranged to pick us back up at Sunset Beach at 4:30 and was there early waiting for us...did I mention to only take JUTA cabs?!!!). Sunset Beach was wonderful and highly recommended (remember I am a hotel snob so if it was yucky I would say so!)! All you can eat and drink for $40 per adult and $20 per child. We found a jelly fish and a star fish (see my video, when I post it, for pictures of this!). We snorkeled, did kayaks, paddle boats and even played in the pools on the waterslide. I had purchased an "Aquapac" and was able to video us going down the water slide (this will be on the video too). Go to their website and buy one so you can use your own camera instead of using the crappy underwater cameras! It rained pretty hard for about 20 minutes while we were there. That was just enough time to grab a bit to eat! We ate some jerk chicken while there and it was okay...a little too spicy for me. The girls said the hamburgers were great and there was a burrito type thing that was really good! Drinks aren't that strong but you can have as many as you want! After we had eaten and grabbed a few more drinks the sun came out full force! We played a while longer and then it was time to head back to the ship. We got back on the boat and we had arranged to have our daughter's room decorated for her birthday (just go to the "formalities desk" and order whatever you want, or you can do it online before you leave. It was $32 for the room decorations and I think it was worth it!). At dinner Alex had a group of waiters come sing happy birthday to our daughter while presenting her with the cake we ordered (I think it was about $8 and our daughter said it did not taste good). Very memorable! She chose to save the cake for later and order chocolate melting cake for her special day! After dinner the girls had a 7:30 appointment for a massage and facial so we just chilled on our balcony for a while. Then we went to karaoke and the girls came with us. Tonight DH decided to try his best to embarrass our daughter on her birthday and sang L.L. Cool J's "Mama said knock you out!" He included the "running man" and the "worm"! It was hilarious and everyone was laughing a clapping (I got it all on video so you can see it when I post it!). They wished our daughter happy birthday during Karaoke and then later, when she was at the Teen Disco, several kids said, "Hey your dad is so cool!" HAHA!
Thursday was Grand Cayman. We decided to try to get off the ship as early as we could so we went down to the lounge at 7:45 (you have to tender off at this port because it is too shallow to dock). We were off the tender by 8:15, found our guide (we booked the stingray tour with Moby Dick...highly recommended and only $35 per person!) and she told us we would be leaving at about 9:15. We found a coffee shop that we did not think was very good and then we shopped around (most shops were opened) and later we were glad we did that early so we could spend more time at 7 mile beach (Sea Grape Beach)....beautiful! We met our tour guide at 9:15, boarded a bus, and took about a 15 minute ride to the boat. Once on the boat it is about 20-25 minute ride out to the sandbar where the stingrays are. The tour guides on Moby Dick are very nice and spend that time telling you all about the stingrays and then walking around the boat to meet you. The advantage to taking this tour vs. one booked through the ship is that you have far fewer people on your tour and you get much better interaction with the stingrays. We saw BIG boats with lots of people on them. Our boat had only about 40-50 people and we all got plenty of photo ops with the stingrays. The sandbar was too crowded when we first got there so they took us snorkeling for about 30 minutes. One of the guides fed an eel and we got a picture of it. The stingrays were awesome! Once again I took my camera (it takes video clips too) and used my aquapac to video our adventure. We had plenty of time to hold, pet, kiss and feel the stingrays. Be sure to stay close to the guides and ask them lots of questions. They seem to love to talk about the rays and know them by name! Our tour started about 9:30 and was over around noon. We asked the bus driver to drop us at 7 mile beach! WOW!!! I could have stayed here all day! The water is amazingly clear! You can see the ships from here which makes some great photos! HOWEVER....we ate lunch at this great little restaurant right on the beach and it cost us $110.00 for 4 meals and 4 (very weak) margaritas! Gosh! Grand Cayman is very expensive and be aware that things are usually listed in Grand Cayman dollars so it does not sound as expensive until you convert it! We hung out there until it was about time to go. They tell you to be in line at 3:00. We got back to the pier at about 2:30 and were frantically looking for t-shirts that say "I swam with the stingrays" but could not find them. We were in line at 3:00 and it was VERY long and we thought we would wait forever but we were actually back on the boat by about 3:45. Get some water or a margarita from Margaritaville right across the street from the line before you get in line! Don't be late...they will leave you! We went to another enjoyable dinner that evening (formal night again) and the girls ordered 2 chocolate melting cakes each! After dinner we were so tired so we went back to our room and watched "So you think you can dance"! haha! The girls went to the Teen Disco and then to bed because we had Cozumel the next day!
Ahhh Cozumel! I just love this place (and probably would have loved it a little more without the two 13 year old girls we had with us!). We had booked the Royal Dolphin Swim at Chanakaab Park for the girls. We booked online and it was a little cheaper (I think we paid $130 and the cruise charges more than that) plus the girls got in free with their tour. We decided just to watch and that was really fun. We took a cab ($10 there and $10 back) and got to the park and paid our entrance fee ($16 or $14 if you bring the $2 off coupon you can find at cozumelinsder.com) and checked in at the dolphin desk at about 10 am. We had some time to kill so we went and had a drink at the beach restaurant and the girls played in the water a little bit. We were told to meet at the pool (where there is a swim up bar that does not serve alcohol...what?!) at 11:00...then they said 11:15. Then they took the girls to see an instructional video. So it was actually 11:45 before the swim started. It was a full hour of playing with and riding on the dolphins...so neat! If you are a spectator they won't let you have cameras inside the area but if you are a participant you can bring your water camera into the water with you and take turns taking pictures of each other doing tricks with the dolphins. Everyone is invited, however, to buy their $50 video which we had to do (and it will be included in my video when I post it!)! haha! We spent another $40 on 4 pictures...they started off being about $15 each but you can get them to come down (the picture area is VERY unorganized so be prepared to be a little frustrated!). We left there and did some shopping for about 30 minutes. I had marked all the places they told us to go to get a free charm bracelet, loose gemstone, etc. It was a waste of time. Just buy what you want and go do something fun. If I had it to do over I would skip the shopping. We did go into the silver jewelry place that the ship "shopper guy Neil" told us about and got a very pretty bracelet for my mom and we got them to come $25 off of the listed price. We took a horse and carriage from the shopping area about 10 minutes down the road to Margaritaville (cost $20)! DH and I would have stayed here all day! It was way more kid friendly than Senor Frogs or Carlos and Charlie's is but still very enjoyable for the adults! They had a live band playing Jimmy Buffet and other songs and it is right on the ocean so they have a trampoline in the ocean that you and play on and some other floating devices to relax on. The margaritas were ummmm.......ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE! We each had one and it was plenty. We danced a little and ate a very good "Cheeseburger in Paradise" while the girls ate really good fajitas! Then they started saying "I'm tired" and "My sunburn hurts" wa-wa-wa. So we took their butts back to the ship and headed to Carlos and Charlies for an hour of "crazy" (I don't suggest taking kids or even teenagers to this place)! We skipped dinner that night because we did not want to get dressed up. The girls did go...they did not want to miss the chocolate melting cake! We hung out in the hot tub for a while and enjoyed visiting with some people (wish we had done this more...people are so friendly!) We were really wondering why they did not have some kind of deck party after Cozumel (another suggestion I am going to make)...it was kind of anticlimactic! We were ready to continue the party and then you get on board and there is nothing going on! We did bring some speakers and our ipods so as we were about to sail away from Cozumel we turned up the music and partied on our balcony but then we got a phone call from a neighbor asking us to turn it down so the party ended! Haha! We played some black jack and wandered around the boat and then went to bed.
Saturday was the last day at sea. I had a spa treatment at 11:15. It was called top to toe (or something like that). I suggest getting your spa treatments at the end of the cruise because it is cheaper! My treatment was $75 cheaper than the regular price. Plus it is a nice way to relax on your last day. It included foot massage, full body massage, scalp massage and a facial. It took about 1 ½ hours. There was a sales pitch at the end to buy some over priced face cleanser but I just told her I did not want it and she did not push me. After that we went to the pool to hang out and eat lunch. At 3:30 we went to tea time in Alfred's. It was really nice. They had a string quartet playing while they served you flavored hot tea and finger sandwiches and deserts. It was so nice and we wished we had done it on other days (I think they do it every day at 3:30). At 4:00 we went to see the girls in the Camp Carnival Talent show. It was cute and only about 30 minutes long. After that we got ready for dinner and wrote our thank you notes to our room steward, Pedro, our waitress, Alex and our Maitre D, Joseph. We had the girls write a note to Pedro also so he would have a note in there room (with $10 in it) and a note in our room (with $10 in it). We had left him a $2 bill each morning in our room. We gave Alex $20 and the Maitre D $20.
Things to know: You may have noticed that we did not go to the shows. Some people say they are really good and some say they are really corny...we are with the corny group. We peeked in a couple of times and decided it was not something we wanted to say for...no where near the caliber dancers that are on "So you think you can dance"! However, I do have to say that the dancers did a great job on the last night for the Legends show. It was still corny but funny and great fun to watch!
The piano bar guy was no good. We went in there one night and there were only a few people in there and when they would request a song he would say, "I'll play it for $2". I thought that was tacky. And he was not even good. Obnoxious would be a better word for him. I wish they would boot him and move "Mr. Smiley Randy" (who is usually playing in the casino) in to the piano bar. Randy was always pleasant to listen to and seemed to be enjoying himself. Music Power was the band they had playing "party music". They were just okay. I think they were trying to mimic Blood Power which we have seen before and LOVED them! Music Power was no where near as good as Blood Power!
We never did the internet cafe because it is .75 per hour if you buy anything less than 100 minutes (then it is $55 I think for 100 minutes). If you really need to check your email it is cheapest on the last day.
The food was average but the service was so good that I really cannot complain! My favorite things in the dinning room were the stuffed mushrooms, the lobster, shrimp cocktail, mushroom soup, fried shrimp and, of course, chocolate melting cake. My husband had the cappuccino cake the last night and gave me a bite of it...YUM! We started taking Ginger Root on the Saturday before the cruise and we took one each day we were on the cruise. None of us got sick. My daughter and I are very prone to car sickness so we were a bit concerned, but we never got sick. A couple of times we started feeling a little queasy so we took an extra ginger root pill and the feeling passed!
If you get to the terminal around 11:00 you will only wait about an hour to get on the boat. We heard people that got to the terminal later than us and waited 2 hours or more.
I printed clip art pictures and the girls names on magnetic paper to put on their door. The magnets were apparently not strong enough so we had to ask our room steward for tape. The magnetic paper is really expensive ($10 for 5 sheets) so if you want to decorate your door just do it on card stock and bring some tape. It turned out really cute and the girls got lots of comments (plus it made it easier to find your door quickly!).
Tip the porter at the terminal $1-$2 per bag.
Tip room service $2 each time.
Don't add a tip to bar service...it is already included!
The first night they have $3 tables in the Casino. The rest of the nights the lowest table is $5.00.
I called Verizon before we left and this is what they told me: you can call home for $3.18 per minute (that includes 2 roaming charges). The ship charges $6.99-9.99 per minute.
Book your excursions on your own and you will save money and have more personal attention. Just make sure you are back to the boat on time. They only wait for late excursions if you are booked through Carnival (or so I hear).
I made a 6 page "Clipboard of Fun" (that's what my husband called it) that listed all the things I learned while reading message boards. I had it divided up in to the following categories: Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, The ship (subcategories included: Spa, Tips, Bring, Seasickness), and Budget. It really was helpful to have all the pertinent info at hand instead of trying to remember what I read (by the way, I know I am a freeeeeeek! Haha).
We budgeted about $2100 to spend while cruising for the week. This included cost of parking, tips (automatic and extra tips for porters, room service, maitre D, etc), souvenirs, excursions, cab rides, food while in ports, spa, pictures (pictures are $21.99 for an 8x10 and $8.99 for a 5x7...don't buy multiples of the same picture! You can, and are allowed by Carnival, to make copies when you get home), gambling and drinks! We went a little over budget in some areas and under in others so we came out almost exactly at what we had budgeted. If you want more info on exactly how I budgeted just ask and I will post it!
Lock your suitcases
When you get off the boat find a porter and let him load up your bags and he will take you to the front of the customs line (you won't have to wait in the long line the other "do it yourselfers" are standing in). We tipped him $20 and were out of there in 20 minutes!
Wish we had done: First night - Margarita party (let me know how it was if you go!) Karaoke - we did not realize that there was no karaoke on Friday or Saturday nights! If we had known that we would have gone on every night! Water Slide - just never got around to it! Hung out by the pool more and relaxed (while listening to Calypso music by "Island Men"). Don't try to do everything. You'll never accomplish that anyway. Hung out in the hot tubs more visiting with new people! Mardi Gras Party (even though it was on Tuesday night!) Tried the Chinese Food Packed less! Truly you are in your swimsuit and dinner wear most of the time so just take 2 or 3 shorts and some mix and match tops. Everyone is very casual and is not looking at what you are wearing anyway. I spent way too much time (and money) trying to put together outfits for each day with matching shoes and jewelry! What a waste of time! Country Line Dance Class - the girls did it but we didn't...should have. Looked like fun! Maybe the Welcome Aboard show The Point Supper Club - we had it booked for Thursday night (the second formal night) but our waitress looked like she would miss us and told us grilled shrimp would be in the dinning room on Thursday so we cancelled. We should have gone. The shrimp was not very good and it would have been nice to have dinner with just my hubby for one night (how romantic!). Name that Tune (my DH would have won!) Wine Tasting Seminar (just curious) Blackjack tournament (just for fun!) Captain's Welcome Party Past Guest Party (we were invited but forgot about it! Darn!) Have more pictures taken by the professionals Dance Class on Friday night. It was big band type music and we watched but arrived when it was almost over. DH and I would have loved to try to learn some new moves! Enjoyed more sunsets Spent more time relaxing on our balcony
Wished we had skipped: Picking up the free items in Cozumel at the shops Piano Bar! The Art Auction (but it was somewhat interesting so no real loss of time)
Things to bring: Highlighters (different colors for each person) Binoculars (if you have a balcony) Small Alarm Clock Power Strip Extension cord (especially if you want to take your speakers out to the balcony) 24 slotted shoe holder (not for shoes but for other things like bandaids, ties, belts, etc) Ipods and speakers Clothes pins for bottom of shower curtain Cheap beach towels (they are thinner and easier to carry plus they don't cost $22 each if you loose them!) Post it notes (I left notes for Pedro every day asking for an extra pillow, something to make the bed softer, some tape! We always left a $2 bill each day with a note saying "Good Morning Pedro! Have a beautiful day!" even if we did not have a request. He always met our requests! Sweater for cool rooms Thank you notes Koozies!!!! Back pack for excursions Hangers (there are not enough) Insulated coffee mugs (I did not bring mine thinking I would buy a "Carnival" one as a souvenir and use it...no luck!) Ginger Root Tylenol
Well, I think I have covered just about everything. Please excuse any typos you may see. Remember I am still recovering from my cruise! Haha! I highly recommend taking a few days off from work when you return if you can! Cruising is so tiring (but well worth it!). If you have any questions feel free to ask! We had a wonderful time. Look for my video soon and you can get an even better idea about what we did!