EMBARKATION There are three in my family - my husband and 9 year old son. This was our third cruise in the last 18 months on Carnival. Our first two were to the Eastern and Western Caribbean. Living in Seattle the flight down was certainly better than the red-eye to Miami. We flew in the day before and stayed at the Marriott. There were conflicting suggestions on when to arrive at the port - early and check in at the Queen Mary, or later and just check in normally. We chose to check in later (11:00)and waited less than an hour and were on board. Our room was even ready! The people who checked in early on the Queen Mary still had to hang around a couple of hours before getting on, so what's the point?
CABIN Our cabin was at the back of the ship. It was the standard cabin that we had on our last two cruises and was very comfortable, as usual. I had read about going out on your balcony and feeling as though you were the only person on the ship, which was beautiful to sit on in the evenings watching the wake from the ship with the moon lighting the waves. Even though it was cabin 4239 we did not have any trouble feeling the engines and had the bonus of having the laundry room right across the hall! After over-packing on our two previous cruises we actually dropped two suitcases! Let me tell you, it is so much easier to travel with less luggage. I don't think we brought any clothes that we didn't wear, which is usually NOT the case.
WEATHER I had been concerned about the weather after reading that the first and last day at sea were rather chilly. Fortunately that was not the case on the first day and was quite enjoyable. Unfortunately that was the case on the last day that was extremely windy. The ship was really rocking the last two nights, but it didn't bother us. The weather in Mexico was perfect, in the 80's, so not too hot or too cold.
PORTS OF CALL We made arrangements on our own to do the Pirate Ship adventure. I highly recommend this for families. Includes: Breakfast, Lunch, Snorkeling Equipment, Visit to Majahuitas Beach, Kayaks and Banana Boat Rides, Beer and Soft Drinks on the beach, Open Bar, Kids Activities, Audience Participation games, Pirate Show, all included in the price which was $180 for the three of us. It went from 9 to 3:30.
Mazatlan was great! I had done some research and we went to Stone Island. You walk about three blocks from the terminal and catch a water taxi that was $1.50 per person roundtrip! The beach is long and beautiful and feels like what Mexico was like before it became commercialized. All the restaurants are open with thatched roofs. We hung out at Victor's restaurant which we had read about. We were there the entire day eating chips and drinking diet sodas, and had the most fantastic coconut shrimp for lunch for under $30! They have horseback riding for $5 and ATV's for rent. It was so relaxing - the only downside is the beach vendors, but you find that everywhere.
Cabo was another story. I had not planned anything there and should have. We ended up at restaurant on the beach that we didn't realize was inappropriate for our 9 year old until after we had ordered. Totally spring break atmosphere and very expensive.
SHIP EVENTS I love going to the shows to see the dancing, and it was the usual fare. The male lead singer was very good. The magician was okay but the comics were just so-so.
My son enjoyed Kids Camp but we don't use it too much since we like to have him with us.
One of the best low profile events is the afternoon tea. It is only served on at sea days. They serve cucumber sandwiches and such and fabulous desserts that you don't see on the Lido deck. It's great fun and we did it every day.
DINING We were spoiled on our last cruise with a fabulous waiter and asst. waiter. On this cruise we were not so lucky. The waiter had absolutely no personality and did not make us feel welcome. His asst. was good but not enough to make up for the waiter so we switched tables and had a fabulous waiter and asst. for the rest of the cruise. A good waiter can really make such a difference!
My husband and I dined at David's as we had read that it was a must do. To tell you the truth, the food was just okay, not over the top as we expected (with the exception of the dessert which was incredible!) I had fillet mignon and lobster tale. I had had the lobster tail the night before in the Normandie and there was no difference. It was still kind of cool and we don't regret it.
The food on the Lido deck was the best we have had on any cruise.
DISEMBARKATION This definitely was one of the low points. Apparently every 90 days all of the crew members have to check in with customs, so they were doing so at the same time as the passengers, making the wait time to get off over an hour and a half. We ended up missing our flight which was at 11:30. In our last two cruises we always got off very quickly so I figured we wouldn't have a problem. We ended up taking an 8pm flight out of LAX which was the soonest we could get out, so we went to the Marriott at Long Beach and hung out at the pool until it was time to go to LAX (what a filthy airport!), but that was the worst thing that happened on our trip, and it really wasn't that bad.
From my experience, you really have to work at it too not have a good time on a cruise. We are already booking our next cruise in October.