I booked this cruise after I got sticker shock from the airlines to travel during Presidents week. I booked the Presidents week cruise over a year ago hoping to not have to take the kids out of school, but when the flights were going to cost 50% more than the cruise for my family of four, our plans quickly changed.
I found out later that the John Healds Bloggers Cruise was scheduled for that same week on our ship, and I signed up for it. At best, I could choose to attend or ignore the special programs, and I never turn down freebies. It was well worth the two minutes it took to sign up.
We flew into FLL the day before the cruise. I agonized for days whether to stay in a hotel in FLL or MIA, how to travel between the cities, etc. I finally hit upon the combination of staying in a hotel in FLL that had a free shuttle from the airport and contacting Florida Limo to get from the hotel to the airport. The hotel (Springhill Suites) had a free breakfast, but the selection of restaurants nearby was limited to fast food. You could walk to better restaurants, but you have to walk along busy roads through strip mall parking lots. We took the walk as a start on getting our metabolism going for the cruise, and ended up at the Market Diner which wasn't bad. The shuttle driver did offer rides to nearby restaurants, but we chose the walk. The FLL hotel, and the car and driver from Florida Limo were very easy, and it went of well. The alternative of renting a car to go to a MIA hotel, taking a taxi from the airport after returning the car to the airport drop-off, and then taking a taxi from the hotel to the port was certainly more trouble, and certainly not cheaper.
We arrived at the port just before 11:00 AM. Baggage was handled very quickly, and the wait to check in was about 15 minutes. We were traveling with friends, so we sat and talked with them for about 15 minutes before we were allowed to board. We did not find the ship as gaudy as others have said. Our cabins that were supposed to be ready about 1:30 were not available until after 2:00. Our bags did not show up until after 4:00. I swear that the earlier you get to the ship, the later you get your bags. Cabins around us had their bags at 2:30.
When we entered our cabin, we had two of those plastic backpacks that were black and said "I love John's Blog Thingy", and an invitation to a private "Welcome aboard" party for the bloggers. There's nothing wrong with free drinks and snacks. Several other goodies showed up during the week and another Bloggers event with free drinks. We had to rush out of the party to make it to the 5:45 seating for dinner. We went to dinner in the Posh dining room. Our wait staff provided great service throughout the cruise, but they were not the chit-chatty type. The waiter would do well in the "supper club" restaurants as he provided a "quiet elegance" type of service, but I wish we had one of the more personable types. The beverage server obviously understood little English since on a couple of occasions somebody ordered a drink, then changed their mind and said "No Thanks", but the drink still showed up. The food was pretty good. I would not say great, but I've had a lot worse. The buffets were the standard buffet fare, but some of the other areas were pretty good. The deli had corned beef and pastrami that were passable, the grill had steak sandwiches (looked like NY strip), and the pizza was very, very good. There was ice cream and frozen yogurt available at all times. There was no shortage of good food, and I can't believe that my kids never got sick if ice cream even though they probably ate over 8 cones a day.
Our room steward was also the quiet type, but I am always amazed that even though we accumulate more "stuff" every day, the room is always neat and clean when we return from breakfast and dinner. He may have been quiet, but he accomplished what he was supposed to do, and he did it well. Since the Posh restaurant was at the opposite end of the ship, we walked down the hallway by all the cabins every day, and every steward and worker always smiled and said "Hello" as we walked by.
The shows with John Heald were extremely funny. His talent show and bedtime story show was SO funny I bought the DVD. The two regular shows, a New Orleans something or other, and a Beatles Tribute were just OK in my opinion, with the Beatles show the better choice.
We went to Dunn's Falls in Ocho Rios, and climbing the falls was a blast. I did twist my foot by stepping into a hole in the rocks but I continued the climb. My foot hurt a little, but I continued to walk on it for the rest of the day. Upon returning to the cabin, when I took my water shoes off, I noticed my foot around the big toe was badly bruised. Me wife said that I should go have it checked. I figured that since I walked on it all day, I doubted it was broken, but after awhile, realizing that I had travel insurance that would pay for the visit to the infirmary, I decided to go get it checked. If I didn't, and it was really broken, I wouldn't get to a doctor before Monday. After I explained how I was injured, they asked if the injury occurred on a Carnival sponsored excursion. When I said "yes", I was given another accident form to fill out. Now, I know that climbing on rocks to go up a waterfall is dangerous. I know that I can get injured. I know that Carnival needs to cover their butts. But with questions like "How could you have avoided the injury?" the only reasonable answer was "Not take the excursion". After the examination where it was determined that it was just a very bad bruise, Security was also called to ask me questions about the accident. Things like "Did you notify the operator that you were injured?" and I used the answer of "I did not know that I was injured until I got back to the ship and took my shoes off" for several of the questions. After the interrogation was done I went back to the desk expecting a bill for the services. They smiled at me, and I smiled back at them and after an uncomfortable 15 seconds I asked if I could get a copy of the bill. They told me that since I got injured on a Carnival excursion there would be no bill. "SWEET"! Later that day, I got a call from the excursions desk asking me how I was doing, asking if I needed any assistance, told me that they would contact the infirmary to have them remove any charges from my account, and how they were going to write a note to the tour operator about the accident. I told them that there was no reason to write the note, since they did nothing wrong, anybody should know that climbing rocks under running water can result in injury, and that even though I was injured, that I would not hesitate to do this activity again. They told me that if I needed anything to either call them, or the pursers desk. IMHO, they went overboard on all this, but it's nice to know that they take any injury under their "watch" very seriously.
No discussion about cruising would be complete without a mention of the kids program for families cruising with children. Let me preface this by saying that my two kids (aged 7 and 11 back then) did not like the Disney program on the Disney Wonder. My older daughter never went to the programs, and my younger son kept calling to be taken out. My daughter still did not go to any of the programs, but this was probably an age thing unrelated to the program content. My son, now 8, absolutely LOVED the Carnival program. Now Carnival treats parent communication different than Disney. Disney gives parents a pager so they can contact you if your child wants to come out. Carnival only gives cell phones to parents with children in the program ages 5 and under, so they have no way of contacting you if your 6-8 year old wants to get out. Fortunately, my son never wanted to leave early, and asked to stay longer on several occasions. Each day when I read him the list of activities for the day, he was enthusiastic to go, and on two occasions he chose to eat dinner with the kids program rather than eat with us. What more can you say about a program and the people who run the program when they get that kind of response from the kids?
The movies at night on the Jumbotron on the Lido deck were a lot of fun. Sitting on the deck with a nice breeze and the ice cream machine a few steps away made for pleasant evenings.
The disembarkation process went very smoothly, the best that I have ever seen. The night before you get luggage tags with a number on them (something like 1-29). Passengers with early flights will get low numbers, and everybody else gets a random number. If you have a low number, you know you will be leaving around 7:30. A number around 20 will be more like 10:00. This at least allows you to plan whether you have a quick early breakfast, or a late leisurely breakfast. With our number 24, we chose the latter, and spent a relaxing morning on the Lido deck until our number was called, sometime about 10:15. When we arrived at the terminal, our luggage was on an airport style turnstile ready to be picked up. We grabbed a porter, and made it through customs with only about a ten-minute wait. So ship to curb was probably about 20 minutes total.
All in all, we had a great time, and possibly this was the best vacation we have ever had. On several occasions after we returned I have asked my kids whether they would prefer to do another cruise, or go to Disney world. On all of the occasions, the answer was "a cruise"!