There were 6 of us traveling on this cruise together. Myself, my husband and 4 year old son. My mother-in-law, father-in-law and sister-in-law. We travel together quite often and were very excited about this cruise.
We drove from Houston to Galveston, Tx on Saturday and spent the night at Howard Johnson's Harborside Inn. We picked this hotel for the price—very cheap, and the fact that we could park there for the week for free. Due to my husband's inability to pack lightly, we had to take 2 taxis to the port which cost us $20 a piece each way—so it was an extra $40 for us and $40 for my in-laws but it was still worth it because we wanted to be in Galveston the night before. We went to dinner Saturday afternoon and discussed all the fun that we anticipated for the week. Having lived in Houston all of our lives, the beach at Galveston leaves a lot to be desired, so we took our son there just so he would have something to compare it to. Well, he is just 4 years old, so he didn't realize the difference in the color of the water, but we know the difference.
We left our hotel in Galveston at 11am. Embarkation was painless. Everyone was quick and efficient. We waited in a short line (ok, it was not short but it was not slow). By 12pm, we were on the lido deck eating lunch. The buffet was in full effect and we were also able to get hamburgers, hot dogs and fries on the lido deck. At 1230pm, we went to tour Camp Carnival. My son was very impressed with Camp Carnival. I was also very impressed. He did not want to leave but we knew we would get a chance to see the Camp the entire week so I pulled him away for a minute. Promptly at 130pm, our cabins were ready. We were booked in cabin 1-386 and 1-388 on the Riviera deck. We requested adjoining cabins in a 6A category -oceanview, and were quite pleased with the rooms and the location. Our rooms were very comfortable. My husband and I had the king sized bed and my son's bed was the sofa that stayed made up as a bed the whole week.
Once we got into our rooms and looked around, our luggage started to arrive. We all knew we had to do the "dreaded" boat drill so we got ready for that. We left at approximately 330pm to do that and it was over promptly at 4pm. My son met some "friends" on deck and promised to meet up later at camp.
After the drill, we knew we still had to wait on luggage so we went back to the room and laid around to prepare for our fantastic week at sea. We met our room steward-Lucky, from Indonesia, who was very nice and came and introduced himself. We asked that he keep ice in our cooler all week because we carried on 2 bottles of wine, some bottled water and some sodas. He took great care of us. All of our luggage was in the room by about 630pm which far exceeded our expectations.
Camp Carnival, Dining Room, and Food We went to the 715pm Camp Carnival orientation and were very excited to meet the staff there. I knew that my son would be participating all week in the camp, but I had to convince my family that he would be happy there. We are all very protective of him and want to make sure that he is well taken care of. He is a very lucky little boy and so precious to us so I understood their resistance. I had been doing my research on camp prior to the trip so I was satisfied that it would be safe and a nice retreat for him. I knew he would enjoy camp, my family was reluctant to not have him with us for the entire trip, I wasn't planning to shuffle him off there the whole trip, but for some well-deserved separation from us adults. This also gave us some time in the evenings to do some adult things and still be able to know that he was taken care of. My son is 4 years old and loves going to daycare, he loves making friends and playing with other kids and I knew that he would not want to hang with us all week. The Camp Carnival schedule was very well planned and we were excited to be able to take him and let him enjoy his vacation too.
We went to dinner at 815pm in the Monet dining room. We met Andrew- our waiter from South Africa and Francisco, his assistant. I cannot remember the bartender's name but he was very attentive to us all week and remembered our names and drink orders.
The first night, there was some confusion about seating, not with us, although my table number was 516, the rest of my family had 518 as a table number. We were seated at a table for 10 and there were 6 of us. Another family came and their party of 9 was split between 2 tables. Andrew handled it well but they only showed up 1 more night out of the cruise so we don't know if it had anything to do with the mixup on the first night or not. Needless to say, we didn't let it spoil our fun.
We have cruised several times before so we know what to expect. We eat in the dining room every night of our cruise, we feel that's the best part of the trip.
Our favorite dinner items were: lobster, melting chocolate cake, soft butter to spread on the bread, ceasar salad, fruit plates, tiramisu, cocoa ice cream pie, chicken fettucine, lobster and crab cakes, Neptune platter (fried shrimp), baked potatoes and the flat iron steak.
Our waiter was very friendly the entire trip and entertained us like nothing I have ever experienced. He was very personable and down to earth and we all loved him from day one. He was also very good with my son, he made sure to bring his chicken nuggets and fries with a side of ranch dressing to dip it in. He was new to our ship but has been there off and on for 5 years.
The food on the Lido deck was fantastic as usual. We ate breakfast most days either at the buffet or in the dining room. The omelet station was a hit for us as well as the fresh fruit. For lunch, we all enjoyed hamburgers and fries and hot dogs. We ate at Sur Mer a couple of days on the 10th floor and the fish and chips were good. They had oysters and bouillabaisse (sp??) which was good. We also ate from the PC Wok The Mexican buffet was really good and we attended the deck party and participated in the team colors competition—GO WHITE TEAM!!
Camp Carnival is another area that I want to comment on. My son enjoyed it immensely. He was excited to go to camp and I had the week planned out according to the activities that I knew he would enjoy. I took him with me when I left the ship but he spent time in camp 6 days out of the 7. I also paid for babysitting 5 nights out of the 7 and was very happy with the activities and the way that they were really strict on the safety and security of the children. After about the 5th night in the dining room, we let our son go to camp to eat with his friends. We watched them from afar and were very impressed at how they handled the kids. They served them food in the dining room and the kids were truly happy to be among their peers. I know that my son got tired of the "fufu" sit down dinners so this worked for us. We also thought ahead and brought a small DVD player with some movies. This was a lifesaver. Even at 1 in the morning, after picking my son up from camp, he would fall asleep watching a movie. It was his vacation too so we let him do it. We also took the DVD player to lunch with us on the lido deck and that kept him entertained while we sat around and digested our food. We have a "secret" hiding place that we go to relax and get away from the crowds, we took the DVD player there too. Its off the side of the ship by the shore desk and it is virtually empty all the time. They do have chairs out there and we have claimed that as our official relaxation spot. We spend time there sleeping, reading, talking, taking pics, etc. The lifeboats hang above our head and gives some shelter to the sun.
The ports/on board and conclusion: We missed the Captains party because we had "other" engagements, however, we did attend the past guest party and had a ball!! The casino was also one of our favorite stops. This time, we did not do many shows, we went to bingo and a comedy show one night but just could not fit it in our schedule.
We got up on Monday morning to go to workout at the gym. No-GO, the gym was packed full of people with the same idea that we had. They closed the jogging trail due to high winds so we ended up walking around the lido deck to get our workouts in. The rest of the week, we were able to get some good exercise if we went to the gym in the evening. It also felt good to cool down on the jogging trail while looking out into the open sea. I wish I could get that scenery every day, I didn't want my walk to end but there was food to be consumed so I had to hop to it.
The ports were very nice. We got to Montego Bay, Jamaica on Wednesday, 8/6/08 and due to the celebration of their Independence day, the taxis were not running. We got a shuttle bus for $15.00 per person and went shopping, bought souvenirs and then went to Doctors Cave Beach. It was $5.00 per person to get in but it was beautiful. We were approached a couple of times to get hair braiding but other than that, we were not hassled. We had a good time at the beach, reading and laying around and playing in the sand and the water. They had showers that we could use to clean up and we got back to the boat in plenty of time to eat lunch before the crowds got back on. We had a little bit of a hassle with prices in the shops but nothing we couldn't handle.
We went to Grand Cayman on Thursday, 8/7/08 and it was nice. We were tendered to the island but didn't have any plans except to walk around. We bought a few souvenirs and took pictures and that was it for the day.
We arrived in Cozumel on Friday and it was different from when we were there in 2003. The shopping was much better and it was a beautiful day outside. We wanted to go to the beach as well as shop. We bought a lot of t-shirts and bags and then got a taxi to take us around the island for $70. Our driver was very nice and gave us a lot of history about the island. We ended up at one beach and spent time there playing the water and then our driver took us to the other beach that he was originally going to take us to. It was more crowded but had more amenities, like jet skis and lawn chairs, etc. Both beaches were very pretty and we were happy with the one we went to, we now know which one to go to next time. Our tour lasted about 3 hours and he drove us back to the port and we were back in time, once again, to eat on the Lido deck before the crowds got back.
We participated in the Susan G. Komen walk for the cure for breast cancer research. It was held on the jogging trail on Saturday, 8/9/08. For a $10 donation, we got a t-shirt and armband and the proceeds went towards a good cause. We were served pink lemonade at the end. There was a lot of participation in the walk and we felt good doing it.
The bar staff, the room stewards, the gift shop, the photo desk, the pursers desk, everywhere we went we were greeted with a smile and never had a bad experience.
We were all sad when Saturday arrived because we knew we would be leaving our home for the week. But we have already started to plan our cruise for next year. Debarkation was not bad but we were the last ones off the ship. We had to be out of our rooms at 830am and did not get to our car until 1pm. So we were on the ship almost 7 days exact from start to finish. We did hire a porter because we do not know how to pack lightly and that made getting through customs much easier.
Some tips that I have: • Stay in town the night before, we live about an hour away from Galveston but it makes life so much simpler to already be there. • If you are bringing children, bring some additional entertainment for them. A small DVD player, portable games, even a deck of cards helped us tremendously. Small children cannot be expected to sit through a 5 course meal without some kind of break. • Bring reading material for yourself- I always take my cell phone with my music loaded onto it. This is a lifesaver for relaxing on deck and just watching the sun set. • Bring an extension cord with additional plugs—There is only 1 plug in the room. My mother in law rented one for $25.00 because she has a C-pap machine. She could not plug the machine in and put it next to her bed because the cord was not long enough. She had to return the extension cord the night before—so had I not had 1 of my own, she would have had to keep the extension cord and return it the day of debarkation. • Bring your cell phone—not to make calls on, but we were able to text each other in case we got lost or needed an update on someones location. If you decide to make calls on it, it will run you approx $2.49 a minute while on the ship. • Hire a porter at the end if you have a lot of luggage. There is a separate line to stand in for the porter so as soon as you make it to the baggage area, have someone go stand in the line to get one. They will take your bags and you all the way through customs and outside to your car, shuttle or taxi. • Don't be afraid to ask - I have had surgery and can only eat small amounts of food at a time. I often want to take my food to go and eat it later. I would simply ask for a coffee cup or some kind of container and pack up my leftovers to eat later. • You can bring 1 bottle of wine per person over 21. You can also carry a small cooler onboard and bring small quantities of bottled water and/or soda. We are not heavy drinkers but we do drink, this came in handy for those days that we went overboard with other purchases. ? • If you love the service, show your appreciation by tipping. Also, please and thank you goes a long way. The people on the cruises work hard and sometimes people are really nasty to them. • Pack light—I say this in all sincerity. The next trip we take, I will check my husbands bags because he had too many and didn't use half of the stuff. I was better, packing for myself and my son but we still had about 4 or 5 days worth of extra outfits. • Attend the captains party and the past guest party. Free drinks and appetizers!! They were fun too. We like to get dolled up so we always eat dinner in the dining rooms and go all out for formal nights too. Take pictures so that you will have this to remember.
Overall, I give Carnival a perfect 10 rating. I am in Customer Service management and our business relies heavily on customer perceptions. I am able to look at service from a perspective that most people do not realize. There is so much competition out there in the travel industry and many other industries, people are really scrutinizing how and where they spend their money. With that being said, I love the way that the staff on this cruise made sure that you got whatever you wanted. When I am dealing with customers, they do not like to be told "you cant do this, you cant do that" and I like the way that even if something sounds crazy, they will try to accommodate you. They recognized that I held the key to their success (and their tips) and they demonstrated a willingness to help that was out of this world. My husband and I specifically remove our tips at the beginning of the trip and we wait until the end to tip APPROPRIATELY. The staff that served us got far more tips from us than they would have with the standard gratuity, but they have to earn it. I will travel Carnival always, I have no desire to travel anyone else and as long as they continue to take care of me and my family, I will continue to show my loyalty by spending my hard earned money on their ships.