This was our third cruise, second with the kids. We are a family of 5 consisting of DH, myself, DS17, DD16, and DS13. Airfare was outrageous this year so we saved money by flying into Jacksonville and renting a minivan. We added a stop at Epcot. Driving the length of the Florida was actually kind of interesting. There was no line when we arrived at the dock at 2pm, but once again, the Carnival computers messed up, so we waited at least 20 minutes at the desk because their little laptop kept "jumping". I chose not to meet with our roll call group because at the last minute a few people joined who were "strange". I felt like an idiot because I'd posted all kinds of personal info. about my family. Please be careful what you say.
We got two of the eight adjoining cabins on the ship. They were balcony cabins on Deck 5. Unfortunately for our wallets, we never really used either balcony. We had gone to the purser's desk as soon as we boarded and requested the divider be opened, which was done the next day. There wasn't much to see on this cruise and we prefer the action on the other decks. Our cabin steward was good, but we had a few maintenance problems with the cabin like a toilet that overflowed, burned-out lightbulbs, and a rattling balcony panel, which I silenced by pushing deck furniture up against it. Unfortunately he never got his tip because on the last day, someone else showed up and started cleaning the cabin an hour before disembarkation.
Our dining room staff were perfect and the food was very good. The decor is ugly as many other have reported. I ordered most of the items that had a little emblem by them on the menu, signifying that it was the chef's specialty. Do not miss the dessert called "Bitter and Blanc"! It's chocolate and vanilla and even better than "Warm Chocolate Melting Cake." I also recommend an occasional breakfast and lunch in the dining room. Selections are good and it's much less hectic than the Lido Deck. You can request to be seated with other people, which is a great way to meet others. Lido deck food was good, but no one in our family liked the pizza. It was cold and the crust was salty. We loved it on the Victory. There is good sushi in the late afternoon at a booth they set up on Deck 3. Room service may have been the weakest department on the ship. We ordered 3 times and not one order was right. The last order was for a plain yogurt and a strawberry yogurt. It never came. After about 30 minutes, I called again. "We're out of plain yogurt" was the only explanation I was given.
Our cruise director was Lenny Halliday. He's a British guy with a normal sense of humor He's the first cruise director we've really liked. The Miracle dancers are very good. Don't miss the "Ticket To Ride" show. We attended the Captain's Welcome Party and the Past Guest Party. The Past Guest Party was MUCH better, with great appetizers and many more drinks. Unfortunately, Captian Capezzio (I know that's not spelled right) looked like he really needed a vacation. Some members of the audience were very vocal with their appreciation of the head chef when introduced. The Captain told them, "We aren't deaf. You don't need to be rude." I noticed they cut that from the film that played in the cabins. Tea time was nice and they seemed to have a lot of activities going on.
Club O2 had much better activities than our previous cruise. My kids liked the young man running it, even though he did kick kids out for gambling (o.k. by me). Some teens were drinking and smoking and I heard one invite all the kids to his cabin. Wonder where his parents were?! Circle C is the new club for 12-14 yr.olds. They share a room with the younger kids, but it did have several game stations and my kids' favorite game, Guitar Hero. There had to be at least 200 teens on spring break cruise so my kids found some nice kids to hang out with. Security is out in full force at night, keeping an eye on them. There was supposed to be one teen excursion, cabe tubing in Belize. Only one girl signed up so they canceled it. Teens can do karaoke or go to the disco until 11pm, when the adults take over. Adults may want to avoid the piano bar as the guy is a terrible singer, as stated in many reviews.
Ports of call were very interesting. We did the ship's Panama Canal by Ferry. DH, DS17, and I liked it, but wished they'd cut out that last set of locks. DD16 and DS13 were bored to death. We got stuck waiting for the third lock, causing us to be 20 minutes late in getting back to the ship. Even though our busses had police escorts to get us back, I was scared to death at the speed we traveled through the streets of Colon. I was even scared for the police, on their little mopeds, as they tried to stop traffic for us.
In Costa Rica, we used OkeyDokie Tours (Charlie Desoto)to go zip-lining, to the Tortuguara Canals, the banana plantation, the farm with the sloths, and a grocery store. This was all a lot of fun and half the price that the ship charges.
In Belize, we used cavetubing.com, but weren't as impressed. You have to tender to this port and unfortunately another ship showed up that day unexpectedly so it took a bit longer. We lined up at around 7:45am, but didn't get to the port until 8:30. They made us wait for another 30 minutes and then drove us around Belize City for 30 minutes, while we waited to see if anyone else was going to show up for the tour. We didn't arrive at the caves until 11am, as it's a 70 minute drive. We stopped to pick up some muddy ATVers. It's a 30 minute walk once you arrive and we only went through one cave, which took about 30 minutes. Then there was time to change your clothes and a stop at their souvenir store/refreshment stand. We had to get back early because the other ship left earlier. Cave tubing is really fun, but 30 minutes is just not long enough. Get there earlier or use another tour company.
The cruise ended on a rather sad note. Late afternoon of the last sea day, we were asked to clear the back of the Lido deck for an emergency medical evacuation. A few hundred of us were out on the other decks to witness a Coast Guard helicopter hovering over the ship as a rope was thrown down onto the deck. A man emerged from the helicopter and slid down the rope onto the Lido Deck. Next they sent down a basket-type stretcher. They loaded up the patient and one of his/her companions and took off. We were about 300 miles SW of Florida. My husband heard it was a diving accident in Belize and the person needed "a blood machine". I think the crew member meant one of those hyperbaric chambers. Someone on our role call said he heard the patient died. Two other people were seen carried off the ship for various medical reasons at the earlier ports.
Disembarkation was very fast and easy. We carry our own luggage. Budget car rental had the only shuttle bus running during the hour we waited outside and that was at 9am, the time that most rental companies open. My husband caught a cab to the local Thrifty office ($10 per person), where we'd gotten a good rate on another minivan. He swung back and picked us up. The airport is only about a 15 minute drive. Overall, this was a very good ship and the ports are very interesting. Most employees seem to really care about their jobs. Teenagers will have a blast and parents are guaranteed to get some "alone" time.