Background Info - This was the first cruise for my DH (42), me (40), DS (19) and DD (13). I read many reviews before departing so thought I would add my 2 cents to possibly aid some future traveler. In summary, we had a great time and are looking forward to doing it again.
Travel to Port of Embarkation - We live just outside Houston so travel to the Port of Galveston was a breeze. I must admit to some confusion once we entered the actual drop off location at the terminal but we figured it out. Just drive through until you find an empty spot and park your car. By the time we had unloaded the car, a porter was already there. We had brought soft drinks and water which we had taped together and added a luggage tag. Our porter was a bit hesitant about them and cautioned us that they may not show up in our room. We said that was fine and we would just see what happens. They did make it! We had arranged for parking with EZ Cruise. The lot is not that far away but they do have a really small sign. In fact, we passed it the first time and had to doubleback. We all walked packed to the terminal from EZ Cruise and got in line for embarkation around 11:05 a.m. It was a breeze and we were on the ship by 11:50 a.m.
Ship Info - First impression - the atrium was not as big as I had imagined and the smell of smoke in the public areas was a bit overwhelming. Not to worry though because after being on the ship for a few days the smell no longer bothered me and I had grown used to the proportions of the ship. The atrium really is a nice place although we didn't spend much time there except as a thoroughfare to other parts of the ship. There is a quiet place on this level outside the double doors to the left of the excursion desk. My family and I enjoyed this spot when we wanted to get away from the crowd. The ship is confusing, but you do eventually get the hang of it (of course for me that was on Day 6!)
Stateroom - We had an interior cabin, Main Deck aft, with 2 drop down beds. We had 4 adult sized people in this room — were we crowded — yes; was it unmanageable — no. We did take turns in the shower and I did avail myself of the shower in the spa (just give them your Sign and Sail card and they'll give you the key to a locker). One bonus about the showers in the spa - you do NOT have to worry about flooding the basin. I would definitely like to book a balcony next time, but if that doesn't fit into our budget at the time, I wouldn't hesitate to book an interior cabin again. Our cabin steward was Luis and he was wonderful. He emptied the refrigerator for us to put our soft drinks and water in. The refrigerator never got very cold but it was manageable. One note - I did bring an over the door shoe organizer but I felt like it just got in the way. We had six shelves in our bathroom and that was plenty of space to store and organize our things.
Dining - We had 8:30 dining in the Renoir. We were originally seated at 5:45 in the Monet but met with the maitre d' of the Renoir who moved us at our request. The maitre d' in the Renoir is wonderful — very funny and always remembered our table no. Dinner was one of the highlights of the cruise for us. Not only because of the food, but because our waitstaff (Vaida from Lithuania and Ugede from Indonesia) were fantastic and because it was a time to all spend together. The songs before dessert from the waitstaff were a lot of fun too. I was anxious to try the Warm Chocolate Melting Cake I had heard so much about. It was good but it seemed more like pudding to me and not cake. Now mind you I ate it 3 different times so obviously I liked it, it just wasn't what I was expecting.
The buffet was fine as well. I didn't always like the selection but then that gave me the opportunity to get a burger from the grill or a sandwich from the deli! I read much on the board how people shy away from the buffet due to germs, children mishandling the food, etc. During our cruise, you could not serve yourself from the buffet. I don't know if that's a new thing, but the waitstaff was the only one handling the food. You just put your plate out and they would serve it to you (brought back memories of the chow hall in the military). We also really enjoyed the coffee bar. Since we had late seating dinner we did not eat at the midnight buffet (we did take go to see the food carvings though). We also did not try Sur Mer, PC Wok, or the Point.
Service - We thought the service was excellent. Every room steward we ever passed in the hall was always smiling and most would say hello. All staff in the dining room were excellent and Mark Price was fantastic as the cruise director. He is very funny and makes a pretty good Dolly Parton (for those Carnival Legends alums). My son and I had the fountain card and noticed no hesitation from the bar staff to fill our order. The photo staff are ever present but nice.
Activities - We attended all shows with the exception of Point and Click (only saw 15 minutes of that one). The juggler was far and away the best show. The "Soul Man" was good as well and got everyone involved in singing. Formidable was ok but worth seeing for all the beautiful headdresses and costumes the dancers change into. The magician was mostly fluff and not much magic. If you see only one show — go to the juggler. We did a little bit of trivia and surprised ourselves by going to the Mardi Gras party. It was fun for about the first hour and then digressed to everyone shouting their team chants across the adult pool. We left then but it was a lot of fun up until then. It would seem some people have an issue with the red-blue-white team. I'm a very competitive person and personally thought it was fun. Go Red! We also took the galley tour (very crowded), the ship tour (fun), the spa tour (could do without it) and attended our cruise critic meet and greet.
Shore Excursions -
Montego Bay - We did the Carnival sponsored Canopy Tour. Our guides were very funny. My only gripe abut this excursion is some of the zip lines are very short. The last one makes up for it though. Its 1080 feet and goes over some beautiful scenery. We went to Margaritaville after the canopy tour for a bit of swimming (the kids) and some lunch. The gauntlet of cab drivers in front of Margaritaville was a bit disconcerting and after mentioning that to our waiter, he hand picked a cab driver to take us back to the ship when we were ready.
Grand Cayman - Went through Captain Marvin's for the stingray/snorkel excursion. This was all of our favorite port and excursion. The snorkeling was wonderful and the stingrays were a once in a lifetime experience. We had lunch at Breezes which was on the water. It was ok. Tendering was easier than I expected. We went to the Toulouse Lautrec lounge and got our number immediately. The line to return was very long but it went surprisingly fast. Tip - if you have a choice don't get on the top of the tender boat. You'll be the last ones to get off and our tender boat was very big.
Cozumel - We took a cab to Paradise Beach. Had a great day. They have jet skis, parasailing and banana boat rides right on site. The jet skis were a blast.
Disembarkation - I saw a whole horde of people who had early self-assist but since it was an honor system and we didn't have an early flight, we waited until later. Those who choose to disembark the old-fashioned way get a number from their cabin steward the day before. We had a very late number (28) but it was only 30 minutes from the time they called our floor for disembarking via self assist and regular. I didn't think it was that bad. I stood in line for a porter while my family got our bags. The porter line was long! but it was still quicker than rolling through the regular line. (For the newbies (like me!) if you choose a porter you go straight to the customs line as opposed to wending your way through the regular line to get to customs.) I will definite choose this route again.
Final comments - Was everything perfect - no, but if you go with the right attitude you will have a fantastic time. We can't wait to do it again.