A little about us: This was my 5th(3rd on Carnival), and 4th for dh. Our last Carnival was the Elation 5 years ago. First Caribbean cruise too. We're both in our late 30's and booked this cruise with my bil & sil(our "5 year plan") and had cabins next to each other, 9236 & 9232. Flew into Miami the day before and stayed at the Hampton Inn Coconut Grove(clean, breakfast inc., easy to get to, I would definitely recommend this to anyone). I don't understand why there are no shuttles because it's close enough to both the airport and cruise ports, but we rented a car and saved some money doing that. Dh dropped us off at the pier on Embarkation day and went to return the car(Dollar) and took the shuttle to the pier for free. I reserved a Jeep Liberty, but the line was over an hour long when we arrived to pick up our car and they didn't have anything left. They got a Toyota 4-Runner in just then and we got that for the same price. They ran a special after we were quoted $49 so I called the week before, told her the sale price is cheaper than what I booked it at, and she immediately offered to give me the sale price, no guff or moaning at all, she knew was I was asking for before I finished my question. Very pleasant with their customer service. Even though dh had an extremely rude customer in front of him in line, the cust. Service agent apologized for not knowing how to make this work but would do his best. Honey, you get more with honey always. This proved true even at the airport later.
Bars: Don't get excited. We don't drink and didn't even go dancing this time. I'm just not into the loungey stuff. The only thing I really heard worth listening to was the American Lobby entertainment. And they were REALLY good. I think they're the group, Play That???
Food: We thought the food was better than expected. Especially all the different stations in the buffet. The deli was busy and I wanted to try it, but the Oriental station (bbq beef on lettuce wraps topped with clear crunchy noodles, pad thai, etc....very good!) kept calling me. I did try the fish & chips upstairs, which I don't think I wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't known about it from here. My dh took advantage of the Mongolian stir fry often. I didn't find anything that *I chose * to be inedible. There was a dessert station at the back too. The pizza place was out in the Promethius pool area, great crust! There were just so many choices that I wish I had gotten to all of them. Guess we better go again! Dining room food was really good. Their "Classics" standard for anyone who doesn't like the chef's choices, were good, I only chose one, one night. The lobster tails were small, but no problem, I ordered a 2nd one, didn't take away from their flavor and sweetness. I had something with shrimp or lobster every night. My favorite dish had to be the Shrimp & Scallops Newburg Style. DELISH! I found in the T.V. in the room under the menu section you could see what was on the menu for the night too, but this was OFTEN wrong. They have the Tiramisu, Bitter 'n Blanc, and Coconut Cake all on the same night, so you want to save room that night for dessert(s). The Grand Marnier Souffle is my new favorite.
Entertainment in the Ivanhoe: The entertainment was still better than expected again, theme of the cruise for us. The theatre had a lot of different sets, cool technics, and the entertainers were good. Welcome Show+Will Marfori(comedian)=B, Nightclub Express=B, Juggler + Comedian Allyn Ball=A, Hypnotist Asad=B, Ventriloquist Jerry Goodspeed=A, 80s Review Far From Over=B(Prince number was a little too raunchy for me and thought it was inappropriate for the Camp Carnival kids to see), we didn't watch the Legends(passengers) show.
Passengers: We all commented throughout the week just how nice and pleasant everyone was. Elevator chit-chat, waiting in line, neighbors, all very considerate and pleasant. Never saw anyone falling down drunk, bickering, or being downright rude. There were a lot of families on this sailing, I don't know how many kids, but they were never an issue. Maybe I noticed them more because I was missing my 4 at home. Really good kids though. Even the teens, while they hung out in groups, were polite. My dh is a high school principal too, so he was surprised at how well behaved they all were.
Miami: I loved Miami, and will spend time there again. I'm a small town girl, but I found the area easy to get around, not horrendous traffic like I envisioned, all shapes and sizes, fun area, and beautiful. Just beware of parking tickets. We found a spot near Mayfield Mall(?) and went to Cheesecake Factory for dinner. It had just started raining and our visibility was pretty poor, but we looked all over(apparently not far enough though) and when we got back we had a ticket on our windshield. Grrrrr. We didn't realize you had to go a few car lengths ahead to pay and put your permit in your window. Meters are just easier, oh well. Every city is different.
Embarkation: Easy Peazy! Dh dropped us off at around 10:30 because he wanted to leave ample time to return the car. So, my bil/sil, & I checked in our luggage and grabbed a bench in the shade, people were still getting off. It took dh about an hour since the shuttles from the Dollar only run every 30 minutes or so. But we planned on being flexible, and it went by fast. It was starting to get busier, but once we got inside, we went through security in about 5 minutes. Got inside the holding/check-in building, got in line, and because they have so many cust. Service agents we were at the counter in less than 2 minutes, the line was just constantly moving. She gave us our numbers, 9 I think, and we took a seat. There was someone announcing a trivia game that we didn't get in on, but they called our number to get onboard so quickly it didn't matter. Within another 20 minutes we had gone through the process of getting our picture taken, the picture stalker snapped our group picture, and we were on. Our rooms were closed off, but we had very little carry on with us. We grabbed a bite to eat and then explored. Our rooms were ready by 1:30, no luggage but we could at least drop off our extra stuff. There were no lines in the buffet, didn't bother with the dining room for anything except dinner all week. It started to rain a little, lightning, thunder, before sail away, but didn't keep us out off the deck. It was really humid though so my camera lens kept fogging up. Made a last minute call to the kiddos and my mom. We were on deck 9, so we went out to the forward deck for sail away. That was a really quiet place to go during the week, closed a few times due to strong winds, but it was really convenient since we booked an inside right by it's entrance. The dh/bil were out there for all but 1 sail away, I was usually showering then since we had early seating.
At Sea: First day at sea. No sign that we were really on a moving ship because the sea was so smooth. We giggled because this was our only complaint, lol. I got up at 6:15 to go for a sunrise walk on the track(9 laps=1 mile), did 13 laps, and then met my sil for another 10 laps. Highly recommend the sunrise walks! This was the last of my scheduled walks though as my ankles suddenly swelled that night. I read my book in the sun, my bil, dh, & sil played mini golf. The buffet wasn't busy and had a lot of choices! That was also the first "formal" night, or whatever they're calling it. We did dress up, and saw MOST early seating passengers did, I didn't see any empty tables and everyone we saw was decked out. Did a few obligatory camera stalker shots, but we didn't buy anything. The show was good. We don't drink, we never found the bartenders annoying though we always knew they were close by in case we wanted something n/a. We had a 4 person booth. We were SO relieved we wouldn't have to share with annoying tablemates. There were more 4-tops and 2-tops than the bigger tables, and more than I've ever seen on any ship. I loved that about the Valor dining rooms. Our wait staff, Made(maw-dee), and Shaun, were fantastic. Wanted to bring them home with us, Shaun had the most adorable dimples and looked all of 14, but he told us he worked on the Elation 5 years ago too.
Grand Cayman: Dh/bil went scuba diving here. The instructor sort of left them on their own, and there were some even more inexperienced divers with this group that avoided some drama. They wouldn't recommend this dive group because it just felt unsafe to them. My sil and I went shopping and then took the Atlantis glass bottom boat tour. We saw more on our dive than the husbands. I loved the cleanliness of Grand Cayman, they were all so friendly and it was beautiful. Would recommend this as a vacation spot to anyone. I never actually got to get in the water, but the husbands assured us it was warmer here than anywhere. And it was calling us, visibility through the turquoise water was amazing! Clearest I'd ever seen, just like out of a movie.
Roatan: This was my FAVORITE stop. We met Conway from Barrios de Dorcas off the pier, the other guides told us where to stand and he'd swing by to pick us up. He was there in just a few minutes. He drove us to a meeting spot for the horses, and there was another couple we hadn't met yet on this too that came behind in a cab. I was a little nervous, first one up on the horses(total of 6 in our group). Shirkee and Chester were great, I think he matched us up well. We rode down a road, through a little touristy strip, probably where regulars send tourists with a few dive shops, swimming apparel and mom & pops restaurants that made my mouth water. Then on to the beach. We got to a little run-off stream going into the water and my horse decided to jump over it. Yes, jump over it. I'd only been really on vacation horses so this was new to me. Dh and everyone behind me said they could just see me falling off, vacation over, but somehow I stayed on. He was fine after that, really easy to steer and took commands well. I just didn't know he thought he was an equestrian jumper and didn't know how to tell him not to do that. Lol But, it was all good, bruised on my leg and behind, but all in all, I would go through them again. That's the most important thing, right? This beach was GORGEOUS. Ended up at Tabyana Beach and saw some zipliners coming through, used the restrooms, got some cold water, and then headed back. 2 ½ hours, $55.00 before tips per person. Conway picked us up, we just left our bags in the back of his car, it was all there, and he took us to Foster's Beach. We got use of the beach chairs, restrooms, etc... The dh's went down to the pier where everyone was jumping off into the water. My sil and I just sat in the calm water on the beach, the water was perfect. We noticed lots of little fish, even an eel(?) swimming by us. This was where we did get some sand flea bites, mine never itched, just little red spots. A handful of vendors, but they took no thank you and walked away politely and left us alone.
Belize: I didn't like this port at all. But, I'll give it a 2nd chance because I knew that if I went through a Carnival booked excursion, I probably wouldn't like it. We did the 2 hour boat ride up the river, I saw the nose of a manatee, a few monkeys WAY high up, iguanas, and some fruit bats. I felt like I was on a Snipe hunt. The people in the front of the boat didn't realize how squished we were in the back, I got pushed off my seat. The tour operator should have been more accessible and asked them to move forward, there was plenty of room up in front where she was. Dh saw a really small alligator, we turned around to check it out and it was gone. Just too many boats that it scared the wildlife away they claim they'll show you. We stopped at a restaurant/bar before boarding the busses. Just a place they try to get you to spend money, waste of time/about an hour. Took the bus(which was clean) to the Altun Ha ruins. We literally spent 30 minutes there after all that. Not happy at all about that. I didn't bother to climb the "one ruin we were allowed to climb", in other words, the only one the guide has time for you to climb. My dh, bil, sil, did though, and had several bug bites when they came back down. I got one itchy bite at that stop. Then we were back on the bus and made it back to the port to get in the LONG line for the tenders back to the ship and didn't get on the tender until 4:30. No time to even pick up trinkets or spend any $ in the town that relies so heavily on tourist money. So, I won't be doing that again. The only reason we did the excursion through Carnival was because it was long and we knew they'd wait for their own excursion members if it got late. But, never again, overpriced and they nickel and dime ya the whole way. We're going back to Belize in April 09 and I will do something on our own. But, get out of town, it didn't feel very safe, and do some kind of activity.
Cozumel: The boys did a dive here again, Papa Hogs. This one was a MUCH safer and fun dive. The dive master never left their sides and took them to see a lot of cool things. The boat followed their bubbles and stayed close always. They saw a 7 ft. shark about 7 ft. away from them, a 4'x5' sea turtle, morays, and a ton more. The water was clear and they recommend the operators highly. Sil and I did our last shopping here. Cozumel was very clean and nice. The prices get better of course the farther away you get from the pier. It was hot and muggy though, so carry a fan.
At Sea: We got up, went and sunned, and then went to the Not So Newlywed Game. Always fun! Played Bingo. Did cave and bought some silver chain by the inch for a bracelet($1 an inch). Did the galley tour, but somehow ended up bringing up the rear and didn't hear much of it.
Debarkation: We had to be out of our cabins by 8:30, so we took our carry-ons with us for breakfast back out on the buffet. We were on Deck 9, so this was just easier and more convenient. We went out to the deck 10 loungers, but it started to warm up. Then we hung out in the Ivanhoe for less than an hour, not crowded at all. They closed the doors but were telling people to go in there, so I think a lot of people were confused. They kept announcing that even those with high numbers for self-debarkation could leave because there was no line there. We had #20 and were off by 11:00. Got our luggage and then Customs was another story. We moved out of 3 slow moving lines into a non-moving one. I don't know what the hold up was, I think it was the non-U.S. returnees that were confusing the agents. They had passports, so I don't understand the hang up. Finally out and into a cab to the airport a little after noon. All 4 of us for $25 to the airport total.
I would recommend this itinerary and ship to anyone in a heartbeat. It was a fantastic introduction to the Caribbean. A++++!