Background Information This time, it was just myself, my DD (turned 18 on the cruise), and her best friend (17). This was my 8th cruise (5th on Carnival), DD's 3rd, and her BFF's 1st. I have also sailed with Norwegian and Costa, and have previously done 3, 4, 5 and 7 day itineraries to the Bahamas, Southeastern Caribbean, and Western Caribbean from every port in Florida (plus Charleston). This was my first cruise with only one port of call, and second time leaving from Tampa.
Hotel Info We stayed at the Sailport Resort in Tampa. I had been there before, and they have really nice suites for $79/night. It is close to the airport and about 20 min from the port. The suites have balconies overlooking the bay. Their breakfast is kinda lame, but other than that it was nice. They have full kitchens and a bedroom and a pullout sofa in the living room, as well as covered parking. They lost my reservation (made through their own Web site), but I had a printout, so it wasn't a problem. Next time I'll call ahead the day before to confirm.
Embarkation (Thanksgiving day) We had spent the night in Tampa and went to Wal-Mart to find bathing suits. We were surprised they didn't have any available as it is "winter" in Tampa...LOL! So, we ended up arriving at the port at 10:30—much earlier than I had planned. All was well though. We pulled up at the luggage drop-off point, dropped off our three large pieces with the porter (tipped $5) and were directed to the parking garage after a fairly strong attempt to up-sell us valet parking. They try to tell you how far away the parking lot is for self park ("that one way over there"), but it is only about 150 yards I think. The only reasons to use the valet IMHO would be if you are late, you have mobility problems, or you are planning on using self-assist debarkation with lots of luggage. The port is about 15 minutes from the airport, by the way. The garage was $14/day which you prepay with cash or credit card.
After we parked, we stopped at a surf shop right there at the port to buy DD a bathing suit. It was definitely not a Wal-Mart budget purchase, but the only open store there! Then we walked around the corner back to the terminal and had to wait a few minutes before we could go in (probably 11:15). You have to present cruise docs/funpass and passport/ID to get in to the building. Then up the escalator to the security check-in which was very quick and painless. The line for a check-in agent was practically nonexistent. They were very friendly. DD is in the military, so we had booked with a discount. They did not ask for her Mil ID, nor did they want to see the notarized letters we brought for her BFF who was a minor traveling without her parents (nor was this ever scrutinized in Mexico as I had been told it would be).
We were assigned zone 6 and were on board by noon. I was putting down cash and Funship dollars for my on-board account, so we went to the purser's desk first and there was no line at that time. There was quite a long line the next time I walked by there, so get there ASAP (plus you can't buy anything with your S&S card until you do anyway). I was able to set up my card as the main one and set a limit on spending for the girls.
Ship Info The ship has been recently refurbished with "evolutions of fun" improvements. I prefer Fantasy class ships so far (only been on one larger). The ship is easy to navigate, was clean, and in working order. I like the new look of the Lido deck. The new waterpark area was really nice and would be great if you are bringing little ones. The new loungers on deck were nice. The Serenity area (adults only) looked really nice too. The dEcor seems a bit more subdued than past Carnival cruises I have been on.
Stateroom We had cabin R127—an ocean view cabin with one upper bed, on the starboard side, midship on deck 4 (Riviera). It was pretty much standard except it was an adjoining cabin to a cabin with strangers. We kept the beds-apart "L" shaped configuration. I'm not even sure it could be arranged as a king due to the presence of the door to the other cabin on the opposite side from where the TV was mounted. The lower under the upper was in such a position that you could not see the TV (new flat-panel) when the upper was down. This was mildly annoying, but I didn't watch much TV (really none). I do leave the TV on the "bow cam" channel at night so if I wake up I can see if it is getting light out yet without getting up to open the curtain (or when in an inside cabin). I only heard the neighbors the first night when I went to bed early and they couldn't get their small children to wind-down and go to sleep. Not really a big deal, but could be if you get loud neighbors. It would have been nice if you are a family of 5 or more to have the adjoining cabins. We may consider this option in the future.
Hint: you NEED the over-the-door shoe hanger if there are more than two women in the cabin (or a family of four or five)! It really helped us keep our bathroom and vanity uncluttered and keep everything handy and not get similar items mixed up that didn't belong to you. I'm sure the stewards appreciate it also...makes their job easier I think. Otherwise, there is plenty of storage space for clothes, but you may want to bring extra hangers. Plenty of room under the beds for large luggage.
Dining We had late seating in the Mardi Gras restaurant (midship). The DR opened about 10 minutes late that first night. We were seated at a 10-top with two other families with teens, so it was a bit crowded. The first night was quite awkward with little interaction among families. They did a good job matching us up though, and by the end we were all talking and having fun. The other teens were 18, 17, 14, and 14, plus their parents whom I assume were around my age.
They did serve Turkey for Thanksgiving, but I have never liked their Tom Turkey with dressing (this was my 3rd Thanksgiving cruise). A couple people ordered it and really didn't like it either. The fillet minion looked good. I had the grouper, which was just OK. The menu had salads, appetizers and soups all grouped under "starters" which is misleading. I was the only person who ordered more than one of these the first night (thanks to CC, I knew you could). I did not have dessert, but the girls enjoyed the warm chocolate melting cake! Our servers were efficient, but not very personable that first night. There were no dancing waiters that night either.
The second night was the formal night with Captain's Reception. If you want to shake hands with Risa (Cruise Director) and the Captain, enter the Paris Lounge on the right side of the lower floor—that is where they were greeting guests. There are four entrances—two upstairs and two downstairs.
The night we were in Cozumel, I would say the DR was only about 2/3 full. I ordered the lasagna which was pretty good and the Caesar salad again. I had ordered a cake from the Bon Voyage dept. online for DD's 18th birthday. Those cakes are really good and an excellent bargain at around $8. It was enough for the 7 of us at the table. They bring it with candles and sing happy birthday. I also ordered cappuccino again as I always do after dinner. We managed to escape before the singing and dancing began...we just weren't in the mood tonight.
The last sea day, we decided to eat in the dining room for lunch just for a change of pace. I had the creamy tuna salad on a baguette...really good! One of the girls had the Chinese pepper steak and said it was the best thing the whole cruise. We were seated at a table for 10 on the side by a window.
I noticed the dress was a bit more casual in the dining room at dinner that night. I had the pasta which was OK. DD had a steak which was good.
Lido deck food is always good in my book! I almost always have breakfast and lunch there. Try the passo-Guava juice...it is delicious! Hint: bring an insulated travel mug for your coffee. Saves you trips back to the drink station and keeps it hot longer than the tiny plastic mugs they offer.
Children's Clubs The girls loved Club O2 for teens 15-17 years old. They had organized activities every day after noon until late in the evening. They did games like a picture scavenger hunt where they had to get pictures of each other hugging random people and another game where they had to find and wear goofy items of clothing (I have a picture of a boy wearing one of DD's skirts...LOL!). The girls both gave it two thumbs up!
Shore Excursions We had a tour booked in Cozumel with a taxi driver named Gerry who came very highly recommended over on the Cozumel ports of call board here on CC. I had made these arrangements about 2 months prior. You send him an e-mail (his friend actually) and they will reserve your time, give details about where to meet, etc. They also can make suggestions as to where to go, or create an itinerary out of the things you want to see/do there. He charged $80 for the first 3 hours (up to 4 people) and then $20 per hour after that. We did 6 hours. I ended up paying him $175 with tip. A great deal when you consider what the cruise lines charge for excursions with masses of other people. (NOTE: I just read that his prices have gone up a bit, so my prices are no longer accurate).
Gerry is a very nice man and very knowledgeable about the island. He will make sure your belongings are safe in the taxi, and will go with you at each stop. We three women felt safe with him. I would definitely book with Gerry again next time we go to Cozumel. He is a gracious host and is flexible to do whatever you want to do.
First we drove around town where Gerry showed us the sights, explained some island history, etc. We stopped at a local grocery for pop, water, beer, and ice. He keeps a cooler in the back for this. Then we drove north and looked at some of the better resorts and some homes of the more wealthy people living there. I had asked him to show us the city and neighborhoods as well, so we drove around and saw churches, schools, hospitals, and homes.
After that, we headed inland toward the San Gervasio Ruins. The ruins cost $7.50 per person to get in. You can pay extra for a guide to tell you about it, but we chose to do it on our own. It is a pretty neat place, and they have signs telling you about the various areas. It was already getting hot when we were there around 10:30 or 11:00. Also, there are mosquitoes, so you may want to wear bug spray. The area was nice, with a small eatery/bar and a small store (we did not use either), and clean bathrooms. They only take cash, so be prepared for that.
After the ruins, we stopped at a road-side stand to buy souvenirs. They had good deals there...so much so that I didn't bother to haggle on prices. We bought jewelry and a few other things. They had big blankets for $5 but we didn't want to haul them home,so didn't get one.
Next, we headed over to the east side of the island for some great photos. We stopped at three placesCoconuts and El Mirador, and I can't remember the other one. After all our stops, we decided to stay at Playa Palancar for lunch and beach time. This was recommended by Gerry, and he was right on! It was great. A nice beach with food, drinks, tables with palapas, lounge chairs, clean restrooms, a changing area, etc. The food was great. We ordered chicken tacos, beef tacos, and guacamole, (and chips and fresh salsa were free), plus we ordered 3 drinks. It was about $30 plus tip and was plenty for the three of us. They do not take credit cards either, so bring plenty of cash. You can snorkel there, but it was slightly choppy that day, so we didn't really get too far with that.
Service Cabin Stewards were extremely efficient. While they didn't ever introduce themselves to us, they always spoke to you in the hallways when they saw you. Our clean-up in the morning and turn-down at night were always timed perfectly (only ran into them cleaning once when DD went back to the cabin during dinner to get the camera).
We ordered room service breakfast twice and service was right on time and friendly.
Bar service in the casino and on deck was excellent. You were never in want of a drink for very long before a server would come by, and they would remember what you wanted and keep track of your folio number so you didn't have to produce your card every single time.
Service in the dining room, while efficient, was definitely not over the top this time. I really hate to complain, but our dinner service was pretty average throughout the cruise. They were very efficient, but just not trying really hard to please. For example, by the 3rd night, I would expect them to know I would want a cappuccino after dinner. Every night I had to wait at least 10 minutes for it to arrive and often everyone would be done with their dessert and coffee by the time I got my capp. It wasn't a huge deal, but those little touches seemed to be lacking this time. Other than that, everything was served in a timely and correct fashion.
Disembarkation We finished our cruise on Monday morning. We elected to do self-assist with the luggage. We each had one large suitcase and one or two small bags. Didn't feel like getting the luggage out the night before and waiting for our zone to be called (22) the next morning. It took a while to clear customs because several non-US citizens apparently weren't showing up for their clearance. They kept calling names over the loud speakers for over an hour I think. They can't let anyone off until non-US citizens clear customs. If I had an early flight I would have been freaking out. I think they finally cleared the ship around 8:30 or 8:45 (we were in port way before 8:00when it was still dark outside). We were off the ship around 9:15 and in the car by 9:35. Overall, it was pretty smooth doing it this way. I had never done self-assist before.
The day was nice, so we decided to drive over to a friend's home in Clearwater Beach. It is about 30 minutes from the port and is a really beautiful beach. I would recommend it for pre- or post-cruise overnights. Miscellaneous Overall, this was a great cruise and the weather cooperated, so that was a bonus! Four days is too short. I am not really a fan of 7 days either. I think 6 days would be perfect. The ship is easy to get around, so you have it figured out by the end of the second day, which is good.
The passengers: Lots and lots of kids and teens on this cruise!!! I've done spring break cruises before and I think there were more kids on this Thanksgiving one than any other cruise I've taken. Everyone was well-behaved from what I could see. It seemed everyone we met was from Florida. Maybe 75%? I'm sure the timing of it starting on Thanksgiving and ending the Monday after, as well as the short length had a lot to do with that. Smoking: If you are a non smoker, the casino probably be too smoky for you. I didn't see anyone smoking on the wrong side of the Lido deck. I did not smell any smoke coming from the cabins in the corridors. I did not frequent any of the bars where smoking was allowed, so can't really comment on that. I did get $15 OBC, which I'm assuming must be the partial fuel surcharge refund I heard mentioned on here. I meant to ask them what it was for, but forgot. This was refundable because I got a check at the end for the amount I hadn't used, which included that $15 (we paid cash for our account). I would definitely sail this ship and itinerary again if the timing and price are right!