ARRIVAL DW and I (ages 46 & 47 respectively) plus our two kids, ages 10 & 16, flew down to Houston Intercontinental from Minneapolis the morning of our departure on Oct. 14, 2007. The flight arrived at 10:00 am. At baggage claim, a Carnival representative approached us (must have seen our Carnival luggage tags) to see if we were to be on the bus that would go to Galveston. Because of the cost ($40/pp each way) we had made arrangements to get a full size car from Enterprise ($40 total). We took the rental car shuttle bus to the car rental facility, found Enterprise, got our car and were on our way. Because we had forgotten water shoes for our son, we wanted to stop along the way to buy some vs. getting them on the ship. Around exit 30 on I 45 we spotted a Target where they had all sizes. It was a good deal ($5 vs. $20 on the ship). Later on toward Galveston around exit 20 there was more shopping too, Walmarts, Sam's Club, etc. Without the stop, it would have taken about 1 hour, 15 minutes to make the trip. Once in Galveston, we dropped the car off and had to call a cab to get us to the cruise terminal. We knew that the Enterprise office was closed on Sundays and they had a list of taxi company phone numbers to call. We called the first one and in about 10 minutes a van pulled up to take us away. It was about another 25 minutes (Only 3 miles but lots of traffic by the pier)before we were unloading our luggage at the terminal. The taxi ride was $20.
EMBARKATION The taxi driver arranged for a porter to pick up our luggage ($10) and then we got in a very long line. This was about 1:00 pm. Fortunately it was shaded and wasn't terribly hot. The line moved along though and about 1.5 hours later we were on the ship. Once on board, we headed to our rooms (1207 & 1211). Half our luggage was already there. We changed into cooler clothes and headed for the Lido deck. Before we left the room the balance of our luggage arrived. Before that though the cabin steward came by to introduce herself and took our names. For the rest of the trip each time she saw us she greeted each one of us by our first name.
THE ROOM Our rooms were meant to accommodate two people each. There was the option to sleep bunk bed style with a bed dropping down from the ceiling, or use the couch as the other bed. In each room we chose the couch, which by the way, wasn't bad at all. The rooms were plenty big considering that each of us had two pieces of checked luggage plus a carry on or two. Each room had two port holes, which was kind of neat and we were able to watch flying fish the first and last mornings at sea. We brought along an outlet strip, which is a must have if you have more than one thing to plug in at a time. The outlet strip will only plug into the outlet in the room, and not the bathroom. In fact, only things that don't have a polarized plug (such as an electric razor) will plug into the bathroom outlet. Night lights, extension cords, hair dryers, etc. won't plug into the bathroom outlet. There is no clock in the room so we're glad we brought along digital clocks, which we plugged into the outlet strip. There is a hair dryer in a drawer in the room - one of those kinds where you have to sit on a chair to use. It didn't seem like it had a lot of power so we were glad to have brought our own. Our hair dryer would have only plugged into our outlet strip. The ship has Direct TV and the Cartoon Channel, CNN, TBS, etc. and the four network stations out of Denver were available to watch. I have no idea why they chose Denver. The bathroom had plenty of storage shelves. I read about maybe needing to bring along a hanging shoe rack to store things. Don't bother. In the shower there are dispensers for shampoo and liquid soap. They also supply bar soap if you want. Towels are changed twice a day. The only thing that went wrong in the room is that the toilet sometimes wouldn't immediately and completely flush. The maintenance people were there right away though (less than 5 minutes). Apparently since we were up at the front of the boat, in combination with 6 ft to 8 ft swells, the flushing system has to get reset. It must happen often enough as the guy knew immediately what to do. Once the seas calmed down (Tuesday evening) there weren't any problems. But then on Saturday night, it started up when we were in rougher water again. Regarding the rougher seas we encountered, whenever the ship came across a particularly large wave, there would be a loud bang as the result. It sounded like someone in your house slamming the door as hard as they could. There would be smaller bangs like this every couple of minutes and the larger bangs would be every ten minutes or so. We thought at first we heard it so loud because of being so low to the water but we talked with people who were on the Veranda (8th) deck and they could hear it too. One time at lunch there was quite a lurch that even caught the serving staff a little by surprise. The sea settled down once we got around Cuba, just as our steward said it would.
JAMAICA We had done the Dunns River Falls thing before so we just wanted to lay at a beach and so didn't do an official shore excursion through Carnival. If you do go to Dunns River Falls, be sure to bring your water shoes as the rocks are slippery. We went to Doctors Cave Beach. Getting off the ship in Montego Bay is no big deal. There is a little building you walk through where you also go when you return and do some last minute shopping. When through the building is where the taxis are. Even though we just wanted to go to the beach, we ended up going on shuttle bus that dropped people off in the downtown area for shopping. The bus was then going to go on a city tour but they let us out at the beach before proceeding to do so. The taxi fare was $4/pp. Make sure you have the right change as they try to scam you by not having the correct change, figuring you'll just let them keep it. The entrance fee at Doctors Cave Beach is $5/pp and so are the beach chairs if you want them. It is worth every penny. They take credit cards for the food/drinks which weren't priced bad. The beach is beautiful and calm. There is some snorkeling and giant inflated round trampoline things out in the water too. There are plenty of servers who will bring drinks and food to your chair. The bathrooms are clean and have space for changing rooms, and a fresh water shower too. This is the same beach that the Carnival excursion stops at after they had been snorkeling just off shore for about 30 minutes. We left a little early to walk down to Margaritaville which was about 10 minutes away with some shops along the way. You can bargain with the shopkeepers for better pricing. Margaritaville looked to me to be a little dumpy. There were plenty of taxis at Margaritaville and we caught one for the 15 minute ride back to the ship ($4/pp). We weren't seeking out Margaritaville's on this trip but you can't avoid going by them. The other two in Grand Cayman and Cozumel were much nicer. We ate at the one in Grand Cayman and the service was very quick and the food surprisingly good. Getting back on the ship took a little longer (20 minutes?) as you have to go back through the same building you went through when you got off. The authorities x-ray your stuff and check your ID. Then you get out of this and have to do it all over again when you get back on the boat itself. Just keep in mind that there are two lines to get back on and go to the shorter one. While in line for the ship, there was a local reggae band playing for tips. Then later on they left and a the band from a local school played. They stayed out there until the ship pulled away. Once on board, people would go to the railing and throw money down to them which they were catching in their hats. Crumpling up the money into a ball works best as it keeps the wind from taking it. As we were tossing money, the last passenger came running up to the ship, receiving a large applause and cheering along the way.
GRAND CAYMAN We arranged our own shore excursions again this time. I went with the kids to Stingray City and DW went to Sea Grape Beach on her own. To get off the ship, if you don't have a prearranged cruise excursion through Carnival, you have to go to the lounge to get a numbered tender ticket. They'll call you when your group is ready to get aboard the tender to take you ashore. We were in the lounge at 7:25 am and out by 7:45 am. DW left at 9:00 am and had no wait at all. Arrangements for Stingray City were made through mobydicktours.com We left the pier area at 9:00 am and were back by 12:30 pm. There were 25 of us on the boat. First stop was a coral reef and swam around there for about 25 minutes before off to play with the stingrays which was awesome. Afterwards we did a little shopping, ate lunch and got in the long line to get a tender back to the ship. The line was about 45 minutes long. DW caught a tour bus to Sea Grape Beach ($5 each way) which is a public beach about 15 minutes from the pier and has no admission fee. It is directly across the street from the Courtyard by Marriott. The Courtyard has a food/drink stand along with a beach activities hut right on the sand if you're hungry, etc. The water is perfectly clear and the range of blues is amazing. When done, DW got back on the tour bus and was dropped off by the pier. After a little shopping, she got in line for the tender boats.
COZUMEL Here the four of us caught a cab ($15) to Chankanaab National Park. It was about 20 minutes away and you get to drive by the other pier that has two more cruise ships parked by it. The taxi dispatcher guy gave us a coupon book for the park. This gave us free T-shirts for the 4 of us plus 2 for 1 drink tickets, which were only good at the restaurant hut and not with the guys that bring you your drinks at your chair. Entry to the park was $16 for adults and $8 for kids under 11. The sign at the ticket booth indicated they took credit cards but it wasn't working that day. Oddly enough, credit cards worked just fine at the restaurants inside. There are two small gift shops there but cash only. The beach is absolutely spectacular. Upon walking in you go by where people are doing the swim/ride with the dolphins thing (extra charge like $100+). There is a fresh water swimming pool, which we used when were done because it had some shade and let us cool off too. There are plenty of chairs on the sand and the snorkeling is fabulous. I don't know if this was OK or not but someone brought along small bags of Cheerios to use to feed the fish. This guy must have had 10 bags with him that he took from the breakfast buffet line on the ship. When he opened one up and shook out the Cheerios, there fish all over him. It was totally amazing. Our daughter got her hair braided here. There is a woman who does a full head for $45, which was a complete bargain compared to what they were trying to charge in Jamaica. She is located immediately past the fresh water pool when you walk in. Our daughter has rather long hair and it took 1½ hours. It looked absolutely beautiful when done. The tip of the day is to buy your sodas/beer at the entrance to the bathrooms by the restaurant hut. There is a woman there who sells them for only $1 a can, even cheaper than using the 2 for 1 coupons, plus they were very cold. No ice though so you have to drink them fast. The food was cheap ($5 for a plate of nachos) and very tasty. On our way out, there are taxis waiting for you. For some reason it was only $10 for the return trip and you get dropped off right where you started earlier. To get back to the ship you have to run the gauntlet of shops. There are probably 40 in the area by the pier, including a Hard Rock Cafe store where you can buy your T-shirts without having to go the restaurant itself which is about 5 blocks farther down the road. Of course there is the mandatory liquor store which is where we picked up a few items, including vanilla. Getting back on the ship was easy. It was neat to see the two ships parked side by side. Towards the departure, it was time again to watch for the runners catching the ship. There were about 7 names called out. Once the last person was aboard, again to much shouting and applause, we departed. On the way back to the room, it turns out that the very last person to get back on was in the elevator. We let her know what was going on and called her by name as we had heard it so many times. She looked rather sheepishly and blamed it all on her DH.
DEBARKATION We did not choose to do the self assist departure Sunday morning. If we had, we would have been able to leave the ship at 7:20 am as our floor (1st) was the first to be allowed off. They did floors 1?2?6?5?4 in that order. Then the rest of the ship was called off by region number. This time we were region 29 out of 32. Knowing that it would be a while, we had breakfast in the dining room, did our final packing and left the room and hung out on the Promenade deck. You have to be out of your room by 9:00 am. Then at 9:40 am we were allowed off and proceeded to pick up our luggage. The line through customs and immigration appeared long but it only took 35 minutes so by 10:15 we were out of there. If you don't want to drag your luggage with you, immediately upon entering the area where you pick it up, there is a line for the porter. There, they'll go with you to get your stuff and then take you directly to the front of the line. You'll need to tip accordingly. We then proceeded to the Hertz desk to pick up our car ($76, it's too bad Enterprise isn't open in Galveston on Sundays). Oddly, Hertz wouldn't do a one way to Galveston, but they allow one ways out of there. We hung around Galveston for the ARToberfest event before making our way to Houston where we spent the night and then caught our return flight to Minneapolis the next afternoon.
THE ON BOARD EXPERIENCE DW and I pretty much decided ahead of time to just sit in the sun, read, and drink adult beverages. Because of this, we didn't make it to any of the lounge shows, or other activities during the day. There are a ton of things to do if you want though. There was a wide selection of live music available in the evenings ranging from jazz, blues, country and western, classical, and contemporary. Because this particular trip had a group of 400 people who were followers of a polka band out of Ennis, Texas which was also on board, there was live polka music on the Lido deck stage Friday night. And yes, DW and I danced once. Would have done more but it's tough to do in sneakers and flip flops. Our son, the 10 year old, signed up for Camp Carnival. He hung out there for the first two nights but found it rather boring. It seemed to be tailored toward the younger kids. It didn't seem like there were a lot of kids his age any way so that probably didn't help. At his age they can sign in and out if you allow them. After 10:00 pm, they charge a $6/hr babysitting fee. Our 15 year old daughter hung out at the club O2. She met a lot of kids there and was often out until the early hours of the morning. One of the first things we did when getting on the ship was to purchase soda cards. The adult card was $47, including tax and gratuity. Liquor in Texas can't be purchased before 1:00 pm on Sundays so we brought ours along with us. We then mixed it in with the soda. The kids soda card was $35. One complaint DW had was about the weak coffee served in the restaurant and on the Lido deck. She was much happier after she found the specialty coffee bar (adjacent to the casino) and was glad to pay extra for it. The casino is very large. This place was packed. I sat down with $20, played 5 hands of blackjack and walked out $12.50 ahead. The food and food service was great. We ate at the 5:45 pm seating in the upper Monet dining room which is toward the rear of the ship. The dancing the service staff does after the meal is worth hanging around for. They really have a lot of fun. Speaking of the staff, no matter who we encountered, they always had a smile on their face and said hello. One morning I got stuck behind Butch, the Cruise Director, at the specialty coffee place. He was buying for all his friends as this was his last day on the ship before moving to the Victory. Anyway, he really held up the line and when done, gave the attendant his account number to buy for those of us in line who had to wait. That was a nice touch. The grand buffet on Wed. night at midnight was kind of a let down. The stuff they had out was nice and very articulate, it just seemed like there wasn't a whole lot of it. The chocolate buffet Saturday afternoon was particularly good though. You really have to pay attention to the food buffet listings in the Caper as this is the only way you'll know about it. One evening was spent in the infirmary to see the ship Doctor. He was very good. Without going into detail, let's just say that it's very important to drink a glass of water when taking your medicine. Otherwise, the pill will dissolve in your throat and irritate it very much to bring you to tears. The Dr. visit was $60 which seemed reasonable and the prescription was another $100. One thing I wish Carnival would offer is to have a person that one can speak with to find out info about the ports of call. Sure, they have the excursion talk and the Cruise Director provides some brief info about what those tours entail but if a person just wanted to get on shore and lay on a nice beach, or do a little shopping, go to a restaurant, etc. you're pretty much on your own. Maybe Carnival figures you can search this out all on your own ahead of time but it still would be nice to get some first hand knowledge of things like this. Overall, it was a great vacation and look forward to another. Hope this helps. Feel free to email at email@example.com if you have any questions.