We arrived in Miami the day prior to our ship leaving. We like to do this in the winter months just in case the weather doesn't cooperate here in New York. We stayed at LaQuinta on Lajune Road (free continental breakfast, transportation from airport and then to the port in the morning) This hotel was very clean and reasonably priced. The only problem was that it was located so close to the airport, it was awfully loud outside at the pool during the day. Not too bad in the evening though. We would probably try the Embassy Suites located next door since that hotel was really, really nice!!!
Embarkation process went rather smoothly since we filled out all of the Carnival forms on line and had everything ready to go when we arrived at the port. We did arrive around 11:30 time and were able to board the ship by noon. We are a family of 5 (17,16 and 12 year old girls) and traveled with 3 other families who have boys (15, 14) and girls (14, 13,10). We usually get 2 rooms so the kids can stay across the hall from our room! Our room wasn't ready yet but after meeting our room steward,Lee, he made sure we were able to put our carryon bags in the room and set up our room safe so we were free to roam the ship with out all the bags! The room seemed a bit larger that the other Carnival ships we were on. We had a balcony room which we had the steward open the outside partitions so we had three rooms with one really large deck...great for the pre and post dinner meetings for the parents to decide what and where we want to go next! We purchased our kids their soda cards--comes out to $34.00 per card---which they wear around the necks with their room keys rather proudly! The ladies in my group leave the men to check with the dining room on our table assignments while we head to the nearest bar for the "drink of the day" and head out to scout out the ship. We check out the decks for the area we will be sitting all week so this acts like a meeting place for everyone throughout the days! The decks we spacious with plenty of seating for sunning and eating outside. As far a seat saving goes...if you want to sit in a specific area head out early and stay around. Do not leave your things for too long unattended because you will get the "nasty's" who will complain about the seat being vacant and they have nowhere to sit...blah blah blah. These are the people who cause a stink, get a seat, then leave for lunch and not come back for over and hour!
The food, we all agreed, was great with little need for improvement. There has to be something on this ship with their full array of food that you like...I'm sure you will get complaints for people but they should lighten up and find their favorites on the ship. Our servers, Ra and Imade were wonderful and were a lot of fun. Our children were at another table and their servers knew their names and were wonderful to the kids. If they didn't like something...they brought them something else, they brought them things to try and my daughter had 2 shrimp cocktails every evening without having to ask!
The only complaint I have about the large TV screen on the deck is that every morning they have the news on about 8 am...which is nice so you can catch up on what's going on off the ship, doze a little and then BRRRINGGGG--- "the morning show alarm clock"...It is sooo loud, if you were dozing... you are up now. John our cruise director was hysterical but I really don't think he needs to do a morning talk show while people are trying to relax. I do think that they should include all the "important talks" that go on in the Victoria lounge like ports of call, debarkation information, etc..I would have rather have seen this on the screen than him talking with the comedian from the night before.
Our first port was Cozumel....no tendering needed. Right off the dock are some shops which have reasonable prices on liquor, vanilla, jewelry, hair braiding for $15 and local crafts. We haggled with the vendors to get better prices which they seemed to appreciate. We found that the prices close to the dock were better than the ones in town. We did an excursion with the cruise line for Playa Mia Beach Resort Deluxe. $65 per adult and $60 for kids under 12 which included transportation, food and open bar. The water at the bar says it is filtered but who really knows. The food was just o-kay and the drinks were flowing! The kids loved the water trampolines and the "ice berg" and were happy getting rafts and tubes and just hanging out in the water. They do have a few other things that cost extra like bungee trampoline, rock climbing and a giant water slide ($5 extra!) The water just off shore was very rocky. I really don't think you need to book this through the cruise line. You can get into the beach resort and stay as long as you like taking local transportation back to the dock. We weren't too happy about leaving the resort at 2:00 since we had to head back to the buses. I think they offer Playa Beach break which doesn't include food or drinks but includes transportation.. You take a taxi for around $15 for four-- one way and you can go and come whenever you like! After dinner on the ship, we headed back out to catch some night life at Senior Frogs and continue to haggling with the vendors...we had a great day!
Our next port was Grand Cayman....What a ridiculous idea Carnival had to give families numbers to get off the ship and tender to the island. The line stretched around the deck and then you needed to wait in the lounge until your number is called. This only took about 45 minutes and I am sure this works better for them not having all the people waiting up the stair cases like in years past! We took a taxi/van to the public beach which was the Royal Palms. Nice place with chairs and umbrellas to rent, food drinks and clean bathrooms and lots of water toys to rent. Prices are a little high in Cayman so shop around if you feel you could get a better deal or a nicer person to deal with. I'm sure the taxi driver gets a kick back for taking you to some of the local resorts. Don't get me wrong...it was a beautiful beach but we were to meet our friends at the public beach which turned out to be the wrong one. We didn't know there was a beach further from the dock called "Public Beach". Go figure!! If you have never been to the swimming with the sting rays this is a must see...I was a little freaked out with all these "prehistoric-looking creatures" gliding their way around me while in crystal clear water only up just past my waist. The kids and my husband really enjoyed this and couldn't stop talking about it for hours...so it was well worth it!
Our last stop was Jamaica---We have all heard the stories about how aggressive the locals can be but if you kindly say "No thanks" and continue walking they will leave you alone. It was rather cloudy so we walked to the local market--Island Village where they had some decent shops, local entertainment including Margaritaville. Which is nice for the kids to enjoy the water slide located inside the restaurant while the parents sit and socialize for a while. We went to the local beach which is just to the left of the Coconuts....There is a club called Bamboo Beach club which you can pay at the gate or at the excursion desk. I think it ran about $40 per adult which included lunch and alcohol. We didn't do this since the weather didn't look promising so we just paid $2 per person to use the beach. We were lucky to hook up with "Mr. Wilson" who took care of our every need! We wanted to jet ski and banana boat---he hooked us up and got a better deal with the locals...We wanted some Red stripe beer...her came through...he was just great! At the end of the day we tipped him($10.00 per family!) and wished him well. Leaving Jamaica can be a little intimidating. You know they are going to search your bags so why take the chance of trying to bring back some local "stuff!" Unfortunately a family learned the hard way when their son got caught trying to bring back pot. I'm sure his family paid a lot to have him let go and get back on the ship in time for us to depart! I think the dealers and the police have a deal going---"you tell us who you sold to, we will "arrest" them and we all make money!! " Because that is what it is all about!
I have to tell you this was one of our best cruises to date!!! We have been on 6 others and this was by far one of the best. Everyone was kept busy, no complaints and a good time was had by all!