* Background Information-We are two young twenty-somethings who are dating. I am from Pittsburgh and he recently moved to Florida (close enough to drive to the port). We have never cruised before, but a great deal came up. January appears to be the off season at Port Canaveral, according to the locals. We don't drink, but we like to have fun. I flew down on Southwest and booked the cruise through Southwest (booked separately).
* Hotel Info (if any)-None. I stayed with him. But I highly recommend flying down the night before. Flying in the day of would have been too much stress for me personally.
*Embarkation-As a note, they take off at 4pm, but stop boarding at 3pm. A couple we met on the cruise, Britney and Brandon, almost missed the boat because their travel agent said boarding ended at 4. Make sure you are aware of this. Also, the porters at Canaveral flat out asked for tips when signs were everywhere stating tipping was not necessary. Awkward and off putting, since we didn't have small bills and lugged our own luggage over to the baggage drop. Security was quite thorough. Easy embarkation. We probably could have asked for an upgrade, as the ship was not full at all, but we didn't. Parking is $15/day. I also brought soft drinks (those 8 oz. mini cans in a 6 pack) in my bag and they were not removed, so obviously not a big problem to bring them aboard.
* Ship Info-Spotless, clean, very tacky but in a totally fun way. The staff is always cleaning...walls, bussing tables, etc. The ship does not show its age at all. The atrium is so tacky and the rooms are too (red and white with odd geometrical pictures), but it fit with the Carnival theme of fun and cheese. From the second you get on, you are smiling and having fun. We never found the elevators crowded. It is a bit confusing that the floors don't go all the way through on every level, but you can cut through the rows of rooms. Once you get the hang of it, it is easy.* Activities-There are four hot tubs, a kids pool, half court basketball, a small adult pool, and a full size pool. We never did get to try the water slide, but it looked like fun. We also ate in the dining room, the cafeteria on Lido (Seaview Bar and Grill), and a the pizza/deli counter. During the "Fun Day at Sea," I found it a little boring. I was going to play bingo as listed in the Carnival Capers, but they neglected to mention it cost $10-$20. We laid out all day and there weren't quite enough deck chairs, so we had to lay on the upper deck and you couldn't hear the music as well. However, we could easily have gotten chairs moved for us or moved them ourselves. We just chose to go to the back of the ship. It is a little difficult to find something to do without spending more money (which we were trying not to do), but we definitely didn't do everything. We could have learned to make towel animals, played volleyball, played mini golf, did the gym, ran the track, went in the sauna, etc. All of those are free of charge. I wish this ship offered a tour of the facilities like other ships do. We went to the casino, but after seeing how nice Atlantis was, we were disappointed. The gym looked well appointed when we went in to see it and the changing facilities were nice too.
* Service-Impeccable. Seriously, I was amazed. Due to my job, I work many classy events/dinners. The dining room is on point. They even remove your napkin from the table and place it in your lap! Our dining room waiter was Robert and our steward was Meynardo. They introduced themselves and were so pleasant. Seriously, my boyfriend is not a big tipper and even he tipped on top of the tips already included in your price. I love that they provided bathrobes even for the lower end rooms (we were in the lowest bunk bed room). Meynardo kept the place clean and towel animals every night! He always had ice in the ice bucket and was able to answer my questions about debarkation. Every staff member I had contact with was so nice and friendly.
*Shore Excursions-We did the "Historical Highlights and Pirates Tour" for $39.00/person. We were going to do the snorkeling, but thought it might be too cold. We waited until we got on the ship to book this. I'm glad we did it, because if we didn't do this tour (as cheap as we are), we would have only seen things by the dock. We rode in a little van all over the place, although the stop at each place was very short, it was worth it just to get driven by the shore, to see some local attractions, etc. Then I shopped in the straw market. They are pushy, but not too bad. Don't expect great prices, though, I saw some prices cheaper in local stores. Talk them down to 50% of their asking price...they are all selling the same things. We did the Pirates museum and it was okay, but my boyfriend, being a guy, liked it a lot more than I did. We learned a lot too.
*Straw Market Advice-Don't expect $5 Coach wallets and $30 bags. Even the fakes, for a larger bag, will run you $70. Know your brands and what you are looking for. I don't know much about good quality versus poor quality fakes, so I didn't feel comfortable buying.
*Dogs-There are stray dogs/owned dogs just wandering around the Bahamas. This was unexpected and I'm a dog owner, but afraid of strange ones.
*Scooters-These look fun, but are not recommended by Carnival and for a reason...someone supposedly got hurt on these. Drivers down there are crazy. If you do rent one, be careful. It could be a good way to get around the island.
*Drugs/Cuban Cigars-People will offer them (not to me, but to other young people we met on the trip who "appeared" more wild than us). Don't do it.
*Horse Drawn Carriages-Also looked fun ($10/pp), but we didn't have the chance to do this.
*Nassau is just beautiful. Getting off the ship in the morning...get there a little early (we docked at 10am and were in line by 9:30 on deck 3...we were one of the first 50 ppl off the ship, as our tour left at 10:30).
*Atlantis-We walked over the bridge to get there...took 40 minutes and is through a non-touristy area. I was with a pretty strong guy, but I still wouldn't recommend this, as I was a little scared. It worked out fine, though, and we took a cab back as it was 7pm. (Formal night is the same night as the port, so that is not that fun). Atlantis is beautiful, just go over and walk around through the aquarium/private pools and beaches. No one minds, and you save a ton of money that way and still get to see the non-commercialized Bahamas. The cab for the way back is supposed to cost $4/pp but the guy charged us $5. (There are signs posted saying $4 to ships, so we got a little ripped off, but we didn't argue it). Also, we are not gamblers, but the Atlantis casino is so nice.*Formal Night-My boyfriend's mom (who'd taken the cruise before) said that for my boyfriend, khaki pants and a polo would be just fine, even for formal night. No way! I tried telling him that, but he didn't listen and felt way under dressed. I'd say, at a minimum to feel comfortable, a man should wear a shirt, tie, and dress slacks with dress shoes. Women, a nice pants outfit, cocktail dress, or dressy skirt will be fine. I dressed like I was going to a summertime evening wedding at a restaurant and it was perfectly in line with everyone else. Luckily, the two other men at our table (both young unmarried couples in their 20's, we think they try to match you up by age or something) were wearing jeans on formal night, so my boyfriend felt a little bit better. Don't wear a tux...one guy looked so uncomfortable trying to eat in a tux!
*Nighttime-We got off the ship again around 10:30 pm and walked around the Bahamas. It was totally dead, despite there being 5 ships and 14,000 people in Nassau during the day. There was Senor Frogs and one other bar people were going to...I'm sure some people were headed to Atlantis as well. We didn't go in to Senor Frogs, just sat near it for awhile and left, since we aren't big drinkers...maybe next time. It was peaceful, though.
* Stateroom-Nice beds. We had the bunk beds, not very romantic, but we were saving money. The movies on TV were fine. There was only one outlet which takes American plugs in the whole room in our 1A cabin. Bring an outlet extender/power surge thing if you have a lot to charge. We made do and it was fine. The sheets felt great. Beach towels are provided and there is plenty of space in the room for storing your stuff. The rooms are very efficient. As a note, I heard some complaints about the water pressure and the water does get hot very quickly. If you shower at night or early like we do in the morning, you should have no problems. We never had a problem with the pressure. There is no bathroom fan and there was a slight sewer smell at times, perhaps bring some bathroom spray/perfume. The lack of a bathroom fan and the smallness of the room bothered me a little, I just ran the water while using the restroom. The toilet flushing power is awesome and amazing. The room decor is a bit outdated, but clean and nicer than most hotels with no wasted space. Meynardo (cabin steward)=awesome! The safe in the room is easy to use as well and highly recommended. There were decent movies on TV to watch, as well as some highlights from the cruise.
* Dining-I am an extremely picky eater and was worried about getting sick from water/unfamiliar food/fruit, etc. I had no problems. The food was plentiful and delicious, choices for everyone! The dining room food was in a good size portion for me, but not for a man, so order more than one. Get whatever you want upfront, because they don't offer you extras/sides, but you can certainly have them. Steve ate so much he was almost sick a few times. The food is so good and the variety is amazing. It is better than I ever dreamed, seriously.
* Children's Clubs-We didn't use this, as we have no children. There were 200 kids aboard and we saw several Camp Carnival activities, though. All the kids seemed engaged and having fun.
* Entertainment-We saw both a dancing show (Curves) and a comedian. The shows are short. The dancing show was average and the comedian was average, although she was a "musical comedian," which was odd. We probably should have seen the first comedian on the first night, but were too tired. He was better we heard. We also went up and looked at the pictures they took of us one night. We did some funny shots, but they were too expensive to buy. Carnival should do some sort of digital kiosk rather than develop all those pictures that hang around the entire floor lobby!
* Disembarkation-The worst part of the cruise...we were #25 out of 25. We wanted to hand carry off our own luggage, but Port Canaveral does not allow people carrying their own luggage to get off early, so we still had to wait with luggage in hand. We didn't get called until 10:30 but we had to be out of the room by 8:00 and everything was closed of course so they could get it ready. We were asked to move three times, and we started feeling we had nowhere to go (from the Seaview Cafeteria outside to the pool deck to the elevators). Next time, we are not going to put down 8:00 pm flight or that we are local. Or else, we will let them handle our bags, because it just took so long and we were lugging everything ourselves for 2+ hours (I bought a lot of stuff, so I was weighed down). Going through customs was so quick, they just glanced at your form, I thought bags were going to be searched by the way the line was moving so slow. Once we got off the ship, it was five minutes until the parking lot. Then, we just rolled out to our car and were gone!
Wonderful trip! Highly recommended! Watch your costs. Our cruise was one price, which was a very cheap price. Then, we added a flight for me on Southwest (the cheapest airline to Orlando), $10/pp/day in tips, $40 each in shore excursions (a little on the low side), a $12 souvenir mug for me, one photo ($9), and $40 extra in tips and our original price had almost doubled. That's not counting the shopping I did, which I definitely didn't have to do, or the cab ride, etc., but those were not put on our Sign and Sail, but with cash I had budgeted for. So this is not going to be a super cheap vacation, but it does cut down on the costs of eating out with a regular vacation, yes. We went to the Outer Banks for 6 days (borrowed a relative's home) and paid the same amount and we drove to that, made our own food every day, etc, so it definitely can be inexpensive if you want it to be for the value.
Please email me for any additional advice. We can't wait to do it again.