Our cruise started with the short drive from Tampa to Miami in our one day rental minivan. With parking at the Miami port running $20 per day, I found it easier and cheaper to rent a van on www.priceline.com than to drive and park. I let the wife and girls out at the port and returned the van to the rental car agency with no problems. If you decide to rent a car to drive to the port be sure to get one that offers a free shuttle to the cruise port. Alamo does just that.
Embarkation was a breeze. Less than fifteen minutes after I rejoined the family, we were aboard the Victory and looking for the buffet line. Carnival always has good food and this cruise was no exception. During the entire cruise, we had excellent food and great service. The pizza and ice cream that was always available added to our enjoyment and weight. While I usually have no problem with overeating on a cruise, I returned from this one about four pounds heavier.
After dining and going to the show the first night we were ready to hit the hay as midnight approached. Our inside cabin was a little small but the lack of a window allowed us to sleep late each morning which was good. The bed was just right and we had no trouble in sleeping every night of the cruise except one. One night, strange noises were heard lasting well into the early morning. The next morning we were told that the noises was coming from the cabin above us where they were replacing the carpet which had to be scraped off the floor. That could have waited until the next day when people were not trying to sleep
The girls had a ball. They enjoyed exploring the islands, parasailing and doing the many things there were to do on shore as well as on the "at sea" days. The big screen movies on deck seemed to be a big hit and played to standing room only crowds. When we were docked at St. Maarten right next to a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, many of the Royal Caribbean passengers were watching our movie from their ship. The production shows were outstanding. The cruise director, Malcolm, was one of the best we have ever had in 35 cruises. The comedians were a mixed bag but did make us laugh at times. Since we had been to the islands a number of times we stayed pretty close to the ship. However, I heard nothing but good reports from those that went on tours.
Carnival saved their best feature until the last day of the cruise, the self express debarkation. This was our first experience with this type of debarkation. As soon as the ship was cleared, those passengers that wanted to carry their luggage ashore could leave the ship immediately. My wife and I and the two girls carried our luggage, boarded the shuttle to the rental car agency, loaded the car and headed home. We were half way home by the time we would have been coming down the gangway of other cruise lines. All cruise lines should mimic Carnival's debarkation procedures.
There is no such thing as a bad cruise, however, and if you cruise with Carnival when school is out, be prepared to have vast numbers of children around. Since children usually stay in cabins with parents the size of the passenger's list jumps dramatically. To cope with this we ate a number of lunch and breakfast meals in the dining room. The buffet lines were just too long. Children go everywhere at a gallop and make a lot of noise running down the hallways. Children ignore signs and were found in the adult only hot tub with not a word from the crew or their parents.
Water aerobics was out of the question for my wife. Every pool was filled with kids jumping and running around. Carnival seems to encourage loud and unruly people since they seem to equate "fun" with noise.
When Malcolm mentioned at the past passengers get together that Carnival was considering an adults only cruise, he was met with thunderous applause. He then called us "mean". No, Malcolm, we are not mean. We are just old enough to see the fun in quietness.
We will cruise with Carnival again since you cannot beat the value. However, it will be when school is in session. For now we will be sailing on the Grand Princess in April looking for those lazy quiet sea days as we go trans-Atlantic.