We sailed on the May 11, 2008 cruise- ports of call were Grand Cayman, Roatan Island (Honduras), Belize City (Belize), and Cozumel.
I was traveling with my husband, we do not have children. My sister and her boyfriend were also on the ship but booked and traveled separately. Three of us have traveled with Carnival before, my husband was a first-time cruiser.
Embarkation was a breeze. MUCH easier than I had expected based on my last Carnival Cruise. The staff was friendly, the line moved quickly, and the terminal wasn't hot and stuffy. We arrived at noon and were on board by 12:30 where we explored the ship and had burgers and fries on the Lido deck.
Embarkation seemed to go smoothly for everyone else as well, and the ship left on time.
Our room (balcony room, spa deck) was FABULOUS. We noticed that we had sliding doors while other decks had traditional doors. The view was great, the room was very convenient to the Lido deck, and obviously the spa and gym. Our room steward was fantastic and introduced himself to us right away, also letting us know at approximately what times he'd be in the room during the week.
Our first night at dinner (Washington Dining Room, first seating) was disappointing. Our waiter barely introduced himself to us and we felt as though we were being rushed. The Maitre d' spoke briefly and introduced his team members, but there was no special entertainment in the dining room. The food was so-so and not up to the quality that I've experienced on a previous Carnival Cruise (Jubilee, 2002).
After the first dinner, we were able to switch to the later seating, and because of that, had a new server for the rest of our cruise. He called us by name each night, knew our preferences, brought out special desserts (for a tiramisu fan in the group), and entertained us with jokes and tricks. After the second or third night, the dining room entertainment started back up, which we welcomed.
I did not visit the Lincoln Dining Room but the Washington Dining Room seemed to have fewer large tables than I'd expected with smaller tables for couples and groups like ours. While we didn't mind eating at our own table, we would have preferred to be seated with others.
Much like our first night at dinner, throughout the cruise the food wasn't BAD by any means, but it did not meet my high expectations. This extended beyond the dining room as well to Rosie's Restaurant and the Lido deck. There was, however, a GREAT Asian Corner, and a fantastic sushi bar - Togo.
The first day at sea was enjoyable but the ship didn't offer as many activities as I'd hoped for. Pool games and a couple seminars were prettymuch it. That was fine though - we were eager to spend a day in the sun.
Our first port of call was Grand Cayman. This was a tendered port. The tenders moved very quickly and there seemed to be enough to accommodate our very large number of passengers. (I believe there were 3,500 on the ship.) We purchased a Carnival excursion which included the Turtle Farm, Hell, and Stingray City. Our guide was knowledgeable and friendly. The Turtle Farm was GREAT and so was Stingray City. A lot of touching animals on this day!
Roatan Island, Honduras was our second port and by and large the favorite of our group. We docked at 11am. One of the things we loved about the island was its lack of development, although at the dock, a major shopping terminal area was being constructed, I believe by another cruise line. Just past that several friendly but not pushy locals offered tours and taxi rides, and set up street markets. They were willing to bargain, and definitely ambitious, but by no means aggressive or too pushy as in some other tourist areas. There was a sprinkling of American businesses as well, including a cigar shop / bar that we spent some time in talking with the owner and some of his local employees.
In this port, we had pre-booked an excursion directly through Pirates of the Caribbean zip-line. One of the people in our party stumbled across their website (great site!) and emailed back and forth with the owner. Our guide knew we were coming, greeted us by name, and gave us an informative ride in a very clean van to the zip-line. At the zip-line we were greeted by even MORE friendly and knowledgeable people. Everyone made us feel really safe and the property was well maintained and beautiful. As a result, we were brave and tried the "Extreme" line, when we'd just signed up for the basic.
The zip-line was GREAT! Two guides went with our group (which was 8 - we were grouped with another party) and they kept the mood light, but made us feel very safe. Just prior to our arrival there had been an accident on another zip-line (NOT Pirates of the Caribbean), but this one was safe, clean and full of knowledgeable guides. (Coincidentally, we heard several versions of what happened at the other zip-line which indicated that it was not quite an accident. But this was all hearsay from locals.)
Afterwards we stopped at a small stand on the dock for some food and locally brewed (on mainland Honduras) beer. Great beer.
Again, this was a great tour and we loved the island. I hate to talk it up for fear that too many people will discover it and ruin the untouched beauty of the land and the local flavor. (An Applebees and a Wendy's were under construction already.)
Our next stop was Belize City. My husband and I had booked a Carnival excursion while my sister and her boyfriend decided to try their luck once on the dock. This port was a tendered port, and the ship is FAR away from the dock. (At least a few miles.) We took large and fast tenders into the dock.
My husband and I did the Bacob Eco Park Kayak Tour. The kayak tour was what we'd expected, and offered nice scenery. Bacob Eco Park was beautiful. The front of it is very sparse with just a couple huts with palm roofs, and as you keep walking back it opens up into a great pool area and the kind of tiki-bar restaurant you picture at an exotic Caribbean destination.
The kayak tour was first followed by an authentic Belizean lunch (not bad) and some time to swim or have a couple cocktails. The Belizean beer (Belekin) was not as good as in Honduras but oh well.
My sister and her boyfriend did not have good luck with an independent on-shore tour. They had a less than fun snorkeling experience and this was only after a fair amount of hassle with tour guides on the dock. They'd recommend booking through the ship for this port.
The line for the tender back to the ship was LONG but seemed to move reasonably quickly. There were several docks for different ships, and at each dock there were several "souvenir" stores which didn't offer much but cheap t-shirts and discount handbags.
Cozumel was our final stop. In Cozumel's defense, the day was brutally hot with no wind, so it encouraged irritable moods. We did not pre-book an excursion and ended up with a GREAT tour/taxi driver who took us to some on island Mayan ruins and actually got out and explained them to us. (Other tour guides brought you there and dropped you off.) We stayed with him for about 2 hours and then he dropped us off to shop.
My husband and I perused the streets (lots of T-shirts and jewelry) for a couple hours before getting bored, hot and tired, but my sister and her boyfriend stumbled upon someone from the Windham all-inclusive resort on the island and had a great time for a $30 per person day-pass. (Included water sports, food, all beverages, and according to them, the place had a great pool and beach.)
The second and final day at sea was much better than the first. There were seminars, activities, games etc. Plenty of bingo, the Hairiest Chest Competition, towel folding demonstrations (we loved the animals), a galley tour, etc.
The show that night was Carnival Legends, where ship guests did karaoke to legendary performing artists. We liked that show but were generally unimpressed by the rest of the shows, but the comedians were great.
Debarkation was explained to us in great detail in an informative talk in the Ivanhoe Theater that also played on the big screen on the ship's deck. (This screen was GREAT! Our only complaint was that they didn't show MORE movies!) We were told that everyone would HAVE to be off the ship by 10:30am on Sunday (which was reasonable).
Well, there was some kind of hold up. Carnival blamed US Customs, but we were uninformed by the on-board announcements, and staff. No one seemed to know what was going on, but they were not letting people off the ship. By 12:30, I would say that there were at least 1500 people still left on the ship. Several people missed their flights. We barely made a 3:00pm flight out of Fort Lauderdale.
I understand Customs delays and realize that the problem could have been well out of Carnival's hands, however there were several things that the staff could have done to improve the situation such as: inform us in greater detail of the delays, pass out water to those waiting in line, serve lunch (they cooked it for the incoming passengers who couldn't yet get on the boat, but blocked it off for us who were still on-board), and manage the crowd better. People were pushing, getting anxious, cutting in front of those who had fights... it was a MESS. Debarkation started before 8am and by 1pm it wasn't near done. It would have been much better had the Carnival staff handled it differently. (Especially as the "welcome aboard" video was running on the big screen, reminding us of exactly how delayed we were.)
In all, it was a good trip that was definitely made by the great ports of call. The staff met my expectations, the food was less than expected and I would have preferred more in the way of activities, but we had 7 days of sun, so I can't complain too much.