Our fifth cruise BUT our first cruise with our children...ages 5, 7 and newly 12...I was VERY nervous how it would all go!
We flew into Fort Lauderdale two nights before and spent a few nighs in the Keys before our Monday embarkation at the Port of Miami. We were driving a rental car, and this was one part that had me nervous--I could not find accurate info on how to get to the port from the rental company readily online. Here's how it works: You use an airport rental site, and every half hour or so (when they get enough people) they take you to the port. We arrived later in the afternoon (2:30pm) knowing the children would not have anything to do onboard until we left port, so we were on the ship in about ten minutes flat-amazing. The only thing that irritated me was that the Imagination still has a separate door key (not your sail and sign card, but a ving card) and I have yet to figure out a good way to carry this extra item (its longer than a credit card, so my ID lanyard doesn't work with it).
The ship, I must say, looked amazing. No more salmon pink and black hallways...nicely wood paneled on the bottom with an off white panel on top. All doors the same wood, and every stateroom had all new wood doors, drawers and desks (although the shelves inside the closet were NOT refurbished-lol) The bathroom has the nicest upgrade--blue grip floors, all white walls and a very nice sink with great lighting. Only one real shelf for your stuff, but my toilet kit hangs, so we had no issues there.
As a family of five we are used to not fitting in one room, and decided to split between two cabins; although not adjoining they were right next store to each other. The girls and I shared one room (the five year old gleefully took the top berth!) and the "guys" (Dad and 7 yr. old DS) took the room next door. This arrangement gave us the convenience of two bathrooms, and at the rock bottom price we paid ($399pp) we were very pleased! My only "wish" was that we had been closer to an elevator (we were at the back of the ship and close enough to some sort of an anchor that it woke me two different mornings).
We dutifully went through the muster drill (which worried the five and seven year old slightly) and then went to Camp Carnival's orientation. It was long (45 minutes) and included a sales pitch for items. I wasn't highly impressed, but it did feel safe and well planned. We left port during the talk and immediately encountered some of the roughest seas I've experienced...and twelve year old DD immediately got seasick.
Seasickness on your first cruise, five minutes from port is nasty. Add in the fact your family isn't sick makes it worse (we were trying to stand up and walk--the ship was rocking terribly and it was literally hard to walk!) We tried giving her bread and bonine (but you all know after the fact it isn't going to work) and she finally did throw up after dinner. She instantly felt fine--and got a bonine everyday from then on. I did learn you can get one free dose of bonine at the purser's desk if you ask!
The kids really enjoyed dinner in the dining room, and our waitress ViVi wasthe number one reason for that. Our 5 yr. old DD absolutely adored her and cried when we left the boat because she won't see ViVi again. Now that's amazing service! The food was your standard Carnival fare--fine for the price you pay-and about the equivalent of Red Lobster or Applebee's back home.
We did take the two younger kids to the Camp Carnival welcome aboard party and ice cream sundae making. Not too impressed, but the kids didn't know each other yet. The next morning we took them to the activities in the gameroom (due to the lack of kids onboard, less than 200 out of 2200 passengers they let the 5 yr. old stay with her 7 yr. old brother) Dad and I enjoyed our alone time that AM and that afternoon (at Camp Carnival the kids eat with their parents. I have to say I admire and respect that policy). The 12 yr. old had checked out the Circle C (for 12-14 year olds) and found it lacking; she meet two eleven year olds and from that point on the three of them were inseparable. Again, due to the lack of kids on board, they let her join the 9-11 year old group.
That day at sea turned out to be our children's only experience with Camp Carnival!!! It was fun for them, but they really wanted to be with us. We didn't decide not to send them again, it just played out that way. That night was the musical Livin' in America, which the five year old and I went to see. She thought the singing good and the costumes "stupid!" (i.e. she didn't like the thong backs to the showgirls costumes!) I enjoyed the musical but though the leading lady way too annoying. The Russian dance duo was incredible!
The next day was Grand Turk. This was my third visit, and everytime I am amazed at the additions to Margaritaville; they have begun construction on a waterpark for the children (so you know my kids will love that). We did the Gibbs Cay Stingray Adventure. Remember the rocky seas? Try that in a catamaran with nervous children!!! Luckily, they held their own during the twenty minute boat ride to the Cay. Once there, we were immediately greeted by seven to ten huge wild stingrays! Of course, the five year old was scared and the seven year old kept saying, "They killed Crocodile Hunter!" and it took some time to convince them that a) these stingrays were different (no barb on the end of the tail) and b) that it was ok to come in the water (that was very rough, and they had never been in the ocean!) The rays were AWESOME and both DH and I held a ray, and had one put on our back. In addition, we also got to see a conch killed and gutted right in front of us, which we then all ate (I love conch!) The entire trip was filmed by one of the guides, and of course we bought the DVD for $30. I really enjoyed this shore excursion, and the kids did, too, after they understood it a bit more!
We were back on the ship early (2:30pm departure) so the kids got to use the new Carnival Water Works for the first time (it was too windy during our sea day.) To say they loved it is an understatement. They ran from slide to slide and through the water stations, meeting new friends and not stopping for two hours straight. Amazingly, you could NOT hear the water works area's screams of delight from the lido deck eating area or Serenity, the new adults only area, despite the close proximity (I personally checked this out--when sailing the wind carries the childrens voices away from that area!)
Half Moon Cay--my favorite Carnival destination. I cannot believe I have been there three times--I love this place. We took the second tender over after a long rough water delay (our shore excursion, glass bottom boat, was cancelled (I was thrilled--I hate those things by DH was interested!)). This is the perfect beach day--and the water slides and water fort plus the huge anchored floats in the water made it an awesome day for the kids! Seven hours later (and one very nice BBQ lunch later) they were exhausted. They barely made it through our 6:15pm dinner and off to bed. (I was equally tired, and actually enjoyed falling into bed exhausted from the sun and fun--sleeping for ten hours each night did wonders for me!) That day was also Valentine's Day--Plenty of Valentine photo op's and every lady received a red carnation when she left the dining room.
Nassau--I head to Atlantis everytime we dock, and this time the entire family did the Aqua Adventure. Pricey, but cheaper than staying there and they do have a kid's price plus it does include lunch. We had three hours of fun in the sun doing the not-so-lazy river and the many slides and pools and beaches before it began to pour. Then we ate lunch, did the Dig (kids loved it) and toured the property in the rain with beach towels as umbrellas. Tons of fun! I think I really like the fact they have changing rooms, lockers and free towels--nice!
Early bedtimes and a fabulous fun dinner each night meant we had lots of family time--which is what this was--a FAMILY vacation. We had a ton of fun with our children and enjoyed being with them for a change!! So, we didn't use Camp Carnival that often BUT what we did was nice and I enjoyed having the option. I would definitely say it was a godsend for the day at sea when WaterWorks wasn't open. The new pool on the lido deck is 5'9" deep throughout--not a good place for little ones but we did try it out.
Disembarkation--well, I decided with the kids we'd wait until our number was called. I have only done this once before (on RCCL, three years ago) and didn't think it would be an issue. Um, yeah. Never again!!!! We were allowed off at 9:45...that's an hour wait for the kids (didn't factor that in). We did get our bags immediately (all seven pieces--amazing!) BUT the line in customs took another 45 minutes!!! ugh!
Had to wait for our rental car company to pick us up...they drove by three times and said they just had to drop people off at the other ships and they'd be back...but they never came!!! After an hour we took a taxi to the rental facility ($24) and DH was ready to do some customer service battle. I looked at the 30 people in line, went to an empty kiosk, printed out our stuff and we were off in 5 minutes flat. After all our waiting, $24 was not a big deal (but wait until they get my letter!)
We checked out the Everglades Holiday Park in the afternoon on our own and enjoyed that tremendously. Think kitchy Old Florida Tourist Stop and you've got it. It was great! Stayed at the Holiday Inn Express at FLL--absolutely fabulous hotel--dropped of rental car (and hotel shuttle picked up DH) and in the AM they took us to the airport at 5:15am with a cheerful smile.
Loved our Carnival Cruise and enjoyed they newly refurbished ship...she looks sleek, updated and ready for many more years in the fun ship line!