We are 2 friends living in Munich, Germany. This was our first cruise. I am English and my friend, Jeanette, is Scottish. We flew in from Munich the day before the cruise and checked in at the Holiday Inn Port of Miami and were sitting by the pool by 3.30 p.m. This is a very convenient and comfortable hotel in which to stay before a cruise. We ate in the Bayside shopping complex across from the hotel that night. We needed to find a drugstore the next morning and discovered a Walgreens a couple of blocks down from the hotel. It cost approx. $12 in a taxi to the port the next day.
We arrived at the port at approx. midday. Check-in took 3/4 hour and we were on board looking around the ship within 1 hour. First impressions were good - we were amazed at the size of the ship, the amenities and the amount of elevators - but were surprised by the smell of cigarette smoke in a lot of areas, particularly the casino. We checked out the Spa and Gym and were impressed so decided to book a couple of the "Spa Specials". After a light lunch on Lido Deck at the self-service restaurant we decided to find our cabin. Our bags were waiting for us.
The cabin itself was very spacious and well designed. We had ample wardrobe space with sufficient hangers and drawer space. The balcony was a great asset, especially after a day's excursion when you could sit and unwind watching the sun go down before dinner. Our steward kept our cabin spotless and there was always a fresh bucket of ice awaiting our return. The bathroom was well appointed and stocked with "freebie" toiletries as well as a bathrobe each. Every time we left the cabin after using the bathroom, fresh towels magically appeared! Every night the beach towels supplied by Carnival were replaced with fresh ones or, alternatively, you could always obtain a fresh blue beach towel on the Lido Deck. Most nights we returned to our cabin to find a surprise towel too?!
We were assigned the Washington Dining Room for our late seating. Upon discovering that we were seated at a table for 4, we asked the head waiter if we could be changed to a larger table in order to meet people. He willingly approached the Maitre d' who put us on a table for 10 people - 4 couples and ourselves. This was a great move for us as we got on really well with the couples on our table and had the opportunity to discuss our days' different excursions and have a laugh with our cruise-experienced table companions. Finding the Washington Dining Room from our cabin took a few days to crack! Our cabin was on Deck 8 towards the front of the ship and our dining room was on Deck 3 towards the back of the ship. It took a while to realize that we had to go up to Deck 5 and walk through the Casino and then down to Deck 3 - those first few days you bump into many confused people trying to find their way around the ship!! As for the food, it was a bit hit and miss. Generally, the food was good but I decided to opt for 2 starters as the week progressed in case I didn't like the main course. There was no going hungry on this ship, though - you could always find something adequate to eat. The waiters were good, if a bit hurried towards the end of the meal because they had to "perform" for us - the waiters sang or danced for us every night. It all added to the good fun feel of the ship.
Before boarding we had decided to have one meal in Scarlett's ($30 cover charge) and we booked our table upon entering the ship on the first day (bookings taken in foyer). We reserved a table for the Friday night and, in hindsight, we should have probably picked another night as that was "party" night in the Washington Dining Room. Anyway, the food was delicious. The sushi was particularly good. In fact everything was very good but we couldn't do it justice and left half of our main course of surf and turf. I'd recommend a visit to Scarletts - but go very hungry!!
The 2 formal nights were well attended - Captain's Dinner on the Monday with a cocktail to start in the Eagles Lounge and another formal night on the Thursday - it was great to see most people make the effort and dress for the occasion. Thursday night was also the Midnight Buffet in Rose's Restaurant.
On the subject of food, we only discovered the ice cream machines (available at all times) on our third day. There are 2 machines and I didn't realize until the last day that I'd been eating low fat iced yoghurt all week (which was delicious)!!
We used the Gym just once - if you don't get there early most machines are taken. We booked 2 treatments in the Spa - a manicure/pedicure and the "Ladies Night Special" which consisted of a back massage and facial with a free gift (foot gel). The treatments were quite expensive in comparison to land prices but we enjoyed them and, what the hell, we were on holiday!! Beware the heavy sales push to buy one of their products though!
I found the entertainment good. The cruise Director was British and we enjoyed his sense of humor. The dance troupe were also British and very professional. The shows they put on were very good. I enjoyed the comedian and the hypnotist was very funny (with audience participation, of course!). We had no problems finding a seat in the Theatre (Ivanhoe Lounge) on any night. The only other entertainment we joined in with was the bingo. We didn't use the pools and found them very small but I am informed the pool size is the same on all ships because of the weight of water. Our 2 days at sea were spent lapping up the sun's rays at the front of the ship which we found to be almost deserted.
Excursions:- Tuesday Grand Cayman (Tender) After breakfast we got the tender at approx. 8.45 a.m. I found Moby Dick tours at the quayside (tour operator recommended by other cruise critics). They had room on their 9.30 Stingray City and Snorkeling tour for us (most people had prebooked which works out cheaper and I'd recommend doing this beforehand). This was a great trip. Not too many on the boat. We first went Snorkeling and then to the sandbar they call "Stingray City". This was a marvellous experience - if a bit scary - but, again, being a smaller group you all got a chance to hold, kiss(?) and feed the stingrays. After that we took a local minibus ($2.50 each) to Hell in order to send our postcards from the post office there (you know, "I've been to Hell and back"!!). Whilst waiting for the minibus to take us to Seven Mile Beach a local offered to give us a lift, which we accepted gratefully. We had a very good fish lunch at the beach, short swim and then took the shuttle bus back to the ship ($10 each). We had time for a quick browse around the shops at the quayside before joining the queue for the tender. We were sipping cocktails onboard at 5.30 p.m. when the ship sailed. A brilliant day.
Wednesday Roatan, Honduras We booked the Carnival Catamaran Snorkeling and Gumbalinda Park tour. Big mistake. In comparison to Moby Dick tours in Grand Cayman the catamaran was very crowded, the Snorkeling was rushed and not a great deal to see. We opted out of the Gumbalinda Park tour because of the size of the group (over 50 people) and stayed by the swimming pool at the beach to enjoy a bit of lunch and a beer (or 2!) in the rain! We took an earlier minibus back to the dock. We then took a rickshaw tour of the town with shopping stop with the little old man who waits outside the dock gates ($5 each). Asked him to drop us off in the town and walked back to ship calling in shops on our way. Very expensive prices at shops inside dock gates in comparison to town.
Thursday Belize (Tender) The tender ride is approx. 1/2 hour. At the quayside we booked a tour of the town and then a Snorkeling trip with a visit to an island for sunbathing. We took a private guided tour of the town in an air-conditioned minibus with 3 other passengers ($25 each) which lasted approx. 1 hour. Interesting for us as this used to be called British Honduras and has many old colonial buildings and the old red British post boxes! After that we shopped at the market outside the dock gates. The people were very friendly. Then it was time to join our second trip. I wouldn't recommend this crowd (I think it was Funtastic Tours). We paid $45 for a Snorkeling/sunbathing trip. The boat was so crowded we decided to opt out of the Snorkeling trip and just stayed on the island to swim and sunbath. Reports afterwards said the Snorkeling wasn't great and that we hadn't missed anything! When we got back to the dock the queue for the tender was so long we decided to sit in a bar and wait for it to go down. We got the last tender back to the boat.
Friday Cozumel, Mexico We booked the Swimming with the Dolphins and Beach tour with Carnival. This was fantastic. We paid $169 each but our table companions did it independently and only paid $103 plus $5 taxi fare - so easy and much cheaper to do it yourself. The dolphin experience was something to be remembered and we have great photos of the day. The beach area was very well laid out with all the amenities you need. We found Mexico the cheapest place we'd been to for food, drink and shopping. We had a really lovely day out with the dolphins, Snorkeling at the beach, swimming in the pool and relaxing in the sun. We shared a taxi back to the dock ($15 between 5 of us). Then we had an hour of shopping before walking back on board with many loud, drunk, young Americans who's spent the day partying in Signor Frogs!!!
Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our first cruise with Carnival. The food options, entertainment, amenities, cabin and staff were very good. I would have no hesitation in recommending this cruise to friends and family.