Our group of four (two couples in late twenties/early thirties) had a wonderful week, thanks much in part to the great ports of call. It is tiring, but well worth it.
We flew into Miami a day early as we were traveling from our home in Alaska and we can never be sure of the weather. We spent a huge part of Saturday driving around the "Art Deco District" in South Beach trying to find the Best Western we had booked through an online travel agency. The driving in that part of Miami is absolutely horrible, but we eventually found the address of our hotel only to find that the hotel had been sold a month earlier. We checked in and immediately checked out because the conditions were horrible and they couldn't guarantee us parking anywhere in the vicinity. We headed to the Port of Miami hotel area and for only $100 more per night (WELL worth the cost) we stayed at the Holiday Inn (parking in their secured parking lot for $12) and had a wonderful evening eating at Bubba Gump's and visiting Bayside Marketplace. We had purchased tickets to see the Miami Heat play the NY Knicks but left after about 15 minutes - booooring.
EMBARKATION DAY - We rented our minivan through Avis at the airport and were able to drop it off at their near-Port location. We then had a taxi take us to the Port (about $12.50). We arrived around 11:30 am. Beware of the porters who ask you about "priority" baggage check-in. I asked how much extra it was. He told me "a few dollars to get on the ship first" so I said okay (for our 8 bags). I gave him a $20 (silly me). We had a balcony cabin within full view of all the ship's luggage and clearly saw that our luggage sat in the rain and was the LAST to get on the ship. I complained to Carnival but they have no control over what the porters do - so they say.
Embarkation went smoothly. Our friends went through the line with us even though they could have gone through the VIP line - they were given an upgrade from an 8A Guarantee to a category 11 Suite. (No bitterness detected I hope.) We had lunch on the Lido deck, explored the ship, and then went to our rooms and watched our luggage sit in the rain until about 3:45.
It was a little chilly and very windy the first two days and I was concerned that we would miss Grand Cayman since it is a tendered port. We all felt a little bit seasick because the waves were so big and the ship rocked quite a bit.
GRAND CAYMAN - Got up very early to get in line for a tender ticket only to be told that they were "going to make it easy on us and we could just all go on and get a tender immediately." G.C. was very beautiful, safe, and clean. We went through Capt. Marvin's for Stingray City. There were only about 15 of us on the boat and for half the price of the ship's excursion we had a great 2.5 hours seeing the stingrays and a snorkeling stop too. After the stingray tour we went to Margaritaville and had the BEST strawberry margarita ever. I really wanted to see the Butterfly Farm so everyone humored me and ended up having a wonderful time. The butterflies are absolutely stunning and the people who work there are extremely friendly and informative. We were able to go to the Royal Palms and swim in the water for about 15 minutes before we had to head back to the huge line of people waiting to get on a tender back to our ship. I would love to go back to Grand Cayman and spend a week sometime. It is quite expensive. $90 bought two of us I lunch at Margaritaville: a burger, nachos, huge margarita, 2 beers, and 4 shots of tequila.
ROATAN, HONDURAS - We went through Victor Bodden tours. For $25/person we were able to have a personal guide all day long. Albert was very friendly and kept our best interests in mind. He took a shortcut to get us up to our zip lining tour so we were able to be the first ones to go that morning. The Pirates of the Caribbean company was so much fun and when we watched the ship's excursions later that evening on the TV in our room we saw how much fun we had compared to them. I was even able to do the "Superman" as suggested by someone else on Cruise Critic. Albert then took us to Victor's house where we were able to hold the very cute spider monkey and see his other various monkeys, birds, and anteater. We met some of his family and they were super sweet and friendly.
BELIZE CITY, BELIZE - Didn't get up early and get in line for a tender ticket since we figured it would be handled the same as Grand Cayman. Wrong! Went to get in line for a tender and there was mass confusion. Our husbands went to get in line for a tender ticket only to be told to go from place to place and no one seemed to know anything. They eventually just let anyone and everyone get on a tender. You'd think after doing this week after week they would have it down to a "T". For our excursion, we booked through Cave-tubing.com (Yhony). I highly recommend this company as they are the BEST. They are known for their top-notch team and for a LOT less money than the ship excursion charges. They are extremely professional and in an uncomfortable situation they showed how caring and cautious they were for the people taking their tour. Cave tubing took up most of the day but it was well worth it. The jungle and caves were amazing - a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
COZUMEL, MEXICO - Since we had done so much at the other ports we decided to take it easy here and so we got off the ship and took a taxi to Paradise Beach (about 20 minutes away). There were five ships in port that day so by the end of the day it was pretty crowded but the waiters were wonderful and very attentive. We paid the $10 for a wrist band to use their water sports equipment, but there were a ton of other people who didn't. We paid $55 for a half-hour of jet-skiing. My husband and I shared a jet-ski and our friends shared one and we had sooo much fun - the highlight of our day. We then went into town and ate at Hard Rock Cafe and did last-minute shopping on our walk back to the ship. This was our favorite day and we might even head back to Cozumel sometime just to stay.
"Fun Day at Sea" - my husband and I participated in the "Newlywed/Not-so-Newlywed" game and they gave us a bottle of champagne for our efforts. We had fun and enjoyed relaxing that day.
ENTERTAINMENT - The dancers are amazing. Lead singers - not so much, but I give them credit for performing day in and day out.
FOOD - The food was very good - not as good as Royal Caribbean in our opinion - but the chocolate melting cake was a hit with us and my personal favorite was the bing cherry soup and, on another night, the mango soup. It was chilled and tasted like strawberry milk. Yum! Yum!
SERVICE - Vanburn, our head waiter from Grenada, was the life of the party and his assistant was wonderful too. Our room stewards were very good. We had my husband's formal shirts sent out to be pressed and it would have been nice if they would have told us there is an iron and ironing board down the hall where the self-service laundry is located. The employees in the casino were very helpful and I appreciated their willingness to help me understand some of the games.
DISEMBARKATION - a breeze and MUCH better than Royal Caribbean (3 years ago anyway). We did the self-embark and loved it.
Our flight back home wasn't until Monday so we spent Sunday shopping. Don't go to Mall of the Americas or the Miami International Mall. The Dolphin Mall was much better. We were disheartened when we saw a huge American flag hung upside down at a building across from the Miami International Mall.
To summarize, we had a very exciting week and are thrilled that we experienced all we did. We did not travel with our two young children and during this time of year there were not very many kids at all. There were a lot of elderly people. If we cruise again, we will most likely cruise with Royal Caribbean. We liked their food better and thought that overall it was a classier cruise line.