I (31, 9th cruise) was cruising with my DH (34, 4th cruise); DD (3, 3rd cruise), DM (50ish, 16th cruise) and DF (50ish, 13th cruise). We all live in Texas.
We arrived the night before the cruise and stayed at the La Quinta Miami Airport East. The staff at the hotel are wonderful. The hotel itself is hard to find, but for the price it was a good choice. Although they do offer a free shuttle to the port, they do not offer a shuttle from the port back to the hotel. My parents had driven out, so we parked at the port.
Embarkation: We arrived at the port at approx. 10:30 am, DF and I dropped off everyone else and the bags and went to find a place to park. There were plenty of porters to take the luggage. Parking is in a garage and although a little expensive, it is really easy and close to the terminal. When we returned to the terminal there was a small line inside, we quickly moved through that and through the security checkpoint. There were about 5 couples in front of us waiting to check-in. We were on the ship about 20 minutes after parking the car in the garage. The easiest check-in I have ever experienced.
Our rooms: My parents had a balcony on the 6th floor. It was nice to have the balcony to relax on and listen to the water. Otherwise it was nothing special. This is my 2nd cruise in an inside cabin (8th floor). I know this is going to sound strange, but I think I am hooked on them. The last one was on RCCL (just DD and I) and quite small, this time it was DD, DH and I and there was tons of room. Our room steward was wonderful, we would leave our cabin in the morning or evening and when we would come back the cabin would be cleaned.
Dining room: WOW!! After 2 cruises on RCCL, I really missed Carnival's food!! There was not one night that I could not find something that I liked… even if it was just the warm chocolate melting cake (he he he). Our wait staff was absolutely the best we have ever had. Our waitress was Marcela from Slovakia and our assistant waiter was Juan from Peru. They truly worked as a team!! Marcela was very personable and gave us invaluable information about the ports.
Other food: Loved the Deli!! I had a ruben every day and it was wonderful everyday!! Pizza, I did not try this, but DH and DD loved it. Calzones were really good. The grill was good too. Try the steak sandwich there, awesome!! The South Beach Buffet was ok. Nothing to write home about, but there was always something to eat. I definitely did not go hungry. Room service was prompt and as always great!!
Half Moon Cay: No problem what so ever with tendering, I was really worried about that after reading some of the reviews. They had about 3 tenders going at a time. We went down about 15 minutes after they announced we were cleared, we went right through the line and onto a tender. We walked down the beach a bit and got near the children's play area. It has 3 water slides that my DD just loved. She could ride them all by herself. They also had some floating toys anchored in the water. DH and DD loved swimming out and playing on them. My mom either stepped on a sea creature or coral and it got stuck in her toe, so we decided to return to the ship for lunch.
St. Thomas: I had seen a review about the sky lift to Paradise Point .It was a nice ride and my DD really loved it, but not worth the price. If you do decide to take it make sure you try the Mango Margarita… it was wonderful!! We then walked back to the port area and went and bought our liquor. If you are a US Citizen (over 21), you are allowed to take back 5 bottles of liquor from St. Thomas ONLY. We then went back to the ship for lunch and to swim in the pool.
San Juan: The night before DD got sick, so we were on a mission to find the Walgreens that we were told about. As we disembarked, there were a ton of people soliciting a "city tour." We decided to just walk around a bit. We ended up at the city square across the street from one of the 2 old forts. The fort is really nice, if you have the leg power and like to walk!! We enjoyed it though. Before we entered the fort, we saw some green trolleys driving around town. When we were done, we boarded a trolley in search of the Walgreens. Nice surprise… the trolley was FREE!! We found the Walgreens relatively easy once on the trolley. If you have a Sprint cell phone, we had service in both St. Thomas and San Juan. Made it easy to call the pediatrician!!
Grand Turk: We arrived late (about 2 hrs) due to a medical emergency and someone needing to be taken back to San Juan. They made an announcement that we would also stay an hour later then planned to make up. There is a beach right at the port… beautiful. We decided to go to Margaritaville and see the pool there. IT WAS AMAZING!! DD was feeling better and wanted to swim. One area of the pool is great for younger children. It is sort of like a beach where you can just walk into it, so it is perfect for all sizes. My DD is extremely small and she loved it because even she could walk and stand in the pool. The prices for drinks and other goods are extremely high!! Try to buy your souvenirs in other ports.
Disembarkation: We had an early flight from Ft. Lauderdale (12 noon) that we booked separately from the cruise, so the day before we went down to the purser's desk to ask for early disembarkation. We could not carry off because we had DD and it would have been too much. We had tag number 6 to disembark. What I really liked was that we could stay in our cabin until they called our number. DD was still not feeling well, so that meant she could lie down and watch TV. Disembarkation was painless.
Overall: We had a wonderful time and will do this itinerary again. We did not see anything that was wrong with the ship. It was beautiful. We never experienced the infamous sewer smell that people have talked about it. Now keep in mind, I really wasn't looking for any blemishes either.