Background Information: This was my first ever cruise. I took along a friend who had cruised before, my 5 year old son and about 20 more of my closest relatives. My mom and cousin planned this trip and it was through one of their travel agents, so all I had to do was pay my money and hope for the best, as nothing else was really up to me. My part of our group drove down, so I don't have relevant flight or hotel info. to add.
Embarkation: Getting to the port was pretty easy, although we did get a little turned around there are signs all over, so we made our way back pretty easily. It was a hot day and we were anxious to begin our vacation, so we paid the extra $12 for valet parking. It was VERY worth it. One of my other relatives who arrived at the same time opted to self park and it took her a while to get back to the terminal. Once inside, check in was very quick and easy. Word to the wise, don't mistakenly take liquor in your carryon bag. We started our cruise on the second leg of our vacation so to speak and I mistakenly packed alcohol into a bag that ended up coming with us while we meant to leave it in the car. Slightly embarrassing when the guy asked if I had a bottle in my bag, I said no, and he pulls out a bottle of Scotch. Hmmm...but it wasn't a big deal at all. I explained it was not intentional, he was very understanding and then he kept the bottle as they have to dump it and sent me along with no problems. Due to familial delays, we didn't actually get aboard the ship till after 3:00, so I missed the buffet that was being served. However, that had nothing to do with Carnival. Their part of embarkation was super smooth. I'm sure it helped that we did the online check in prior.
Stateroom: When we got to our cabin, our luggage was already there. I was rather impressed with that. Our cabin steward Bambang was really nice and did a great job. The first evening out, I must have returned to the room more frequently than most because every time I came back he and his assistant were trying to freshen up and I had to kick them out. We had a 3 person room, with a pull down bed for the littlest member of our party. We had ample space for our things, our luggage fit underneath the bed nicely, and the beds were incredibly comfortable! My only complaint was that the rail for the upper bunk was not substantial enough. It was a small bar in the middle of the bed and I was a little worried about my son rolling out. Thankfully strategically placed pillows and pushing him way over to the wall helped that. Otherwise, I was very pleased with our room and our view.
Dining: This was the part that I was most curious about, as that's the part that everyone tells you about. Food, food and more food is pretty much what they say. Well, I guess they were right but it wasn't quite the fest of gluttony that I had imagined. The Lido deck had the buffets, pizza place and sandwich place. They were all incredibly average and I can't imagine intentionally stuffing myself with anything there. Nothing was bad, but nothing was spectacular there either. It worked well if you missed the dining room meal. But the dining room meals were AMAZING and not to be missed, as far as I'm concerned. I was to slow a mover to get up in time for breakfast in the dining room until close to the end. Then I was kicking myself for waiting so long. It was so much better. I had eggs Benedict, a Belgian waffle, a cheese omelet, bacon and sausage (not all together mind you) and they were all great. Dinner was just a good. I had the opportunity to have the lobster tail, filet mignon, among many other things. Most did not disappoint. On the lobster night, I was undecided between lobster and duck and my server very happily gave me both. Our servers were wonderful too. They were very nice, very attentive, very quick and jovial guys. And that was good because we were a boisterous group and we didn't seem to drive them too crazy. The only thing in the dining room that didn't live up to my expectation was the Chocolate melting cake. I heard so many reviews about how great it is and it just didn't strike me or any of my relatives as anything special like I was hoping for. It was like chocolate fudge for ice cream poured into a bowl…with a bit of cake on top of it. Kind of gross, actually. But again, that's subjective. I think I just expected too much because the reviews of those who loved it made it sound so good.
Activities: There was plenty to do, although it seems that I didn't do much of it. I had my little one around a lot and it seemed that I just couldn't coordinate the stuff I wanted to do with the times that he would be at Camp Carnival. I did spend some time in the Casino and enjoyed that. I spent a little time in the Karaoke lounge and that was fun. We did a lot of walking around and exploring the ship and just sitting out enjoying the beautiful water. I never made it to the gym, although that was one of the things that I was almost sure I would do. I did so much walking, that when I dropped off my little guy it seemed rather silly to go up to the gym and walk some more. I honestly think if you keep busy and use the stairs instead of the elevator, it'll help keep some of the calories from all that good eating from settling in to go home with you. Children's Clubs: My 5 year old really enjoyed Camp Carnival and I had no trouble convincing him to spend some time there. I would like to have seen a few more physically active things for them to do, as the room seemed a little small for me and there was a lot of movie watching, but he didn't complain so I won't either. On the first night, we signed up and I was issued a pager to keep for the duration of the cruise. I really appreciated that. I could drop him off whenever he wanted to go, letting them know that they could call me the instant that he got tired or asked if he could go. I, of course, informed him that he was free to have them call me whenever he was ready to go. My pager NEVER went off.
Shore Excursions: Our only port of call was Cozumel, Mexico. Unfortunately, it was way too hot for us to do much exploring. We booked the Sub Ocean view shore excursion through the ship and that turned out nicely. I believe that you can book it cheaper on your own, but I didn’t feel taken as the guide arranged our transportation, we were with other cruisers and I felt comfortable that they would take us to and from as they were supposed to. The boat looked kind of like a hybrid boat and submarine to me. You walk down to the bottom of the boat and sit on cushioned seats while looking out of windows all around you. Plus it was air conditioned, YEAH!!! Don’t be mislead, it’s better than a glass bottom boat for sure. We saw a lot of sea life in and around the reef and we really enjoyed that. My son got a big kick out of trying to identify the things we were seeing based on the little information sheets attached to the walls. So, it was kind of like sneaking in a little education while having fun. We had lunch at Senior Frogs. We could have done without that. It’s a nice place I suppose, but more for teenager and early 20’s partiers. Very loud, spraying Tequila at you, etc. It wasn’t for us, but I couldn’t remember that as we were walking and looking for somewhere to stop and eat. Oh and the one thing my son wanted to do was get a taco from Mexico. He thought that would be really impressive. Well….didn’t find one on our little stops, so that was disappointing to him. If we had been willing to brave the heat and head downtown, I’m sure we would have found one of the other great eateries.
Disembarkation: We did general disembarkation and it wasn’t too bad although I think they could certainly improve. We waiting in our cabin for the self assist people to finish up and were supposed to go down between 9:30 and 9:45. However, when we got down there, they still weren’t finished and we had to wait packed all in line like sardines or something. And the whole time I was thinking that I was amazed that they didn’t do this by floor or something. It would be sooooooooo much nicer to call people down in smaller groups, so that fewer people were crowding each other out.
Summary: Overall, it was a really nice experience and I think I’ll do it again. I’ll probably try a different cruise line to see if it’s less “partyish”. There were just a few too many loud, drunk people for my liking. But otherwise, it was a lot of fun.
Best Advice that I got before leaving: ~Bring a surge protector or something to extend your outlets. There is 1 plug in the room.
~Bring a little first aid kit. You can probably get most anything on the ship, but the question is what do you want to pay for it. I brought Benadryl, Band-Aids, Neosporin, Aleve and Pepto. All of those items were needed by either me or someone in my family.
~Pack some water or drinks in your luggage for your room. I didn’t heed this piece of advice and regretted it as soon as we made it to our room FAMISHED. Not that I intentionally ignored it, I just ran out of time and my brain wasn’t working too good. When we finally got to sit down, we ended up opening one of those $1.75 sodas because we needed something wet and cold way too badly to start searching for food spots.