This was a family cruise with my brother, his wife and 2 teens, my mother and myself. My review will include the good, the bad and the wish-we-had. I will be as objective as I can after 15+ cruises on several cruise lines. (please accept my apologies in advance - I know this is going to be long).
GETTING THERE & EMBARKATION We flew in on Friday and spent the day in Miami and Fort Lauderdale area. On Saturday, we headed for the port at approximately 11AM. We left 4 of the family at the port building to wait while we returned our Avis rental van to the Avis terminal. Avis paid for our taxi to return us to the port, but please note that this was discontinued as of reservations made after April. You are now responsible for paying for your own transportation back to the port. It would be so much more convenient if Avis still had a desk at the Port - unfortunately, their port office is closed. Upon our return to the port, we were in the middle of "rush hour" at approximately 12:30 PM. There were very long lines in both the "Fun Pass" line (ours had been completed on-line in advance) and the other lines. We waited approximately 45 minutes before we reached the check-in agent. (This is the longest embarkation process I have experienced on any cruise before). We then received our Sign & Sail cards and discovered that we had not received late seating as per our request - we were schedule for dinner at 5:45 PM. This has happened once or twice in the past and we were always able to go immediately to the Maitre'd to correct the problem. Immediately upon boarding, we went straight to the Maitre'd who was located at the London dining room (we were assigned to the Paris dining room at 5:45) and waited approximately 20 minutes in a line to speak and then were told that we would have to have dinner at 5:45 PM the first night, and then we would receive a new table assignment for late seating. We were disappointed but decided that we would just skip the dining room the first night, since we were barely out of Miami by 5:45 and we wanted to be on the Lido deck to watch the ship leave.
CABINS We had 2 adjacent balcony cabins (8A) on the starboard side, mid-ship, Upper Deck. This was a terrific location since it was just one level above the deck that had Worlds Way, the casino, shops and lounges. We did not hear any noise, but we did not have to wait for an elevator to get to the main public area.
The cabins were small but adequate for 2 adults and 1 teen in each cabin. We asked the Cabin Steward, Tutuk, to open the divider between the 2 balconies so we could access our cabins without going out into the hallway. Even with the partition unlocked, it was hinged and had to block one door or the other, so we were constantly moving it back and forth to access the balcony. A little awkward but no big deal. I definitely prefer RCCL's sliding doors on their balcony cabins. There were soft drinks, bottled water and ice in our cabin upon arrival and at all times. There were shampoo and body wash dispensers in the shower, but seemed very diluted with water, so we were glad we brought our own. There was also a bowl of sample sizes of various bathroom items, razor, toothbrush, moisturizer, etc. in case you forgot anything. A very pleasant surprise was that the self-service launderette was directly across from our cabin, which had an ironing board, iron and several washer/dryers for $2.00 each per load. Since it was so convenient, I actually did a load so packing would be easier for the return home.
Our cabin steward, Tutuk, was efficient but nearly invisible! If we needed him, we simply dialed the number to page the room steward, and he came immediately! We tipped him on the first day when he opened the partition for us, and asked him to keep ice and 3 sets of towels in our cabin for us. He did exactly that all week, but we hardly ever saw him. He was very unobtrusive but kept the room very clean and neat and made the cute towel animals nearly every nite for us. We left him an extra tip at the end as well as the automatic gratuity added to our bill because we felt he was definitely better than the average room steward.
PUBLIC SPACES The ship itself is beautiful! The theme is "the world", and you are greeted in the atrium by a large brass-colored globe ceiling, and you will see brass globe finials on all of the stairways and the globe motif is repeated throughout the ship. The decor is very tasteful with glass artwork throughout - one interesting thing we noticed were the "eye" shaped glass designs throughout the ship - one of the teens asked if this was the "CBS" ship.
The first thing I noticed upon entering the lobby (the atrium) was that it seemed smaller or more crowded than some other ships. I found this to be true in most of the public areas. It seemed to have narrower passageways - particularly on Worlds Way (the main thoroughfare with the casino, shops, bars, and cafes), making it necessary to step aside while someone passes frequently. It did become irritating when a group of people would block the walkway and you would have to wait for them to pass before you could move.
The pool area was not as congested as I had expected after reading many posts and reviews. There were wall-to-wall chairs set up during the day, which made walking around tricky, but there were always enough chairs on Deck 10 (above the main pool area) where we chose to sit since there was a nice breeze while the ship was moving. On the Lido deck itself, there were also plenty of chairs, although more crowded with all of the activity and many kids jumping in/out of the pools. I did not notice the "chair saving" as has been reported many times. Most people simply took their towels with them when they left (perhaps for fear they would be charged the dreaded $22 for that awful towel), or out of courtesy for the other passengers.
The ship was kept neat and clean with a few exceptions. I noticed that tables were not bussed as often as on other ships and used plates/other items were left on the tables near the Lido deck buffets for a while. Also, there were dropped napkins, cups, etc. in elevators and stairways. I am sure it is difficult for the staff to keep up with a crowd of people who refuse to clean up after themselves.
I did not see any signs of carpet stains and there were no unpleasant smells as has been reported in some previous posts.
Worlds Way was the hub of activity. The bars and music venues were arranged all along this way so you could stroll down and stop in to listen to whatever music you enjoy. The casino was definitely the largest I have ever seen on a ship! A very pleasant surprise was that the casino was not completely enclosed but was rather open and visible to Worlds Way. This allowed for better air circulation and those of us who are non-smokers could enjoy the casino without oxygen! You will love this casino!
One of our favorite stops along Worlds Way was the Vienna Cafe. We stopped there for lattes' and chocolate covered strawberries (YUM!!!). There was a very reasonable charge for these (I think $3 for 5 of them!) but they were fabulous! Try them with a glass of champagne!
One other point - on this ship, there are photographers set up with a variety of backgrounds throughout the week, so you have many opportunities to have great photos taken - most ships have had these just on formal nights, but we were able to have some casual shots taken as well. If you like them, you can purchase them!
ENTERTAINMENT We stopped in to see Ed Rocks in the revolving piano bar and found it very smoky in there. I did not personally care for his singing style which was more yelling than singing. That could be since he would usually "kill" a beer between songs. Maybe he was a better singer earlier in the evening. :) (Or maybe if I was having as many beers as Ed I would have appreciated him more!)
The shows in the Rome lounge were very good but not outstanding. The new cruise director - Carlos (last name escapes me - I think John Heald left just prior to our sailing date) was funny but somewhat predictable. The first nite's welcome aboard show was hysterical as he brought many passengers up on stage and embarrassed them mercilessly. The Around the World show had good dancing and costumes but the vocalists were not the best I have heard. The magic show was by far the best show of the week. It was Kevin & Caruso out of Las Vegas and was visually stunning and well choreographed between magic tricks.
The recorded music played on the Lido deck was nearly all from the 1980's - it got really old by the end of the week. The Lido Deck band was pretty weak also, but managed a few fun songs with a Caribbean beat between reggae versions of "Mission Impossible", etc. Most people were tuned into their I-Pods or Discman for refuge.
DINING/FOOD After the fiasco of getting re-assigned to late dinner seating and missing the first night in the dining room, things improved. We were seated at table 535, at the far rear of the Paris Dining room, next to a floor to ceiling slanted window facing the back of ship. What a beautiful view from our table! One note of caution - you can really feel the ship move from the far back of the ship, especially when seated in the dining room next to the large window. The dining room has low ceilings which didn't help. My mom and niece had to leave the table once or twice during the week when we were rocking and rolling a bit too much. Don't ask for a table by the rear windows if you tend to get motion sickness!
We were seated before dark (8 PM) and were able to enjoy the view each evening. Our waiter was Elmer - he was a "Team Head Waiter" who has been on the ship for years, and is apparently in line for a promotion (per the Maitre'd). Elmer deserves a promotion as he was just about the best waiter I have ever had on a cruise! By the end of the week, we were exchanging e-mail addresses and he was showing us pictures of his wife and new baby! His assistant waiter, Eduardo, was just as attentive. We never had an empty glass or bread basket (the sun-dried tomato foccacia - YUM), and every preference was fulfilled without even asking a second time. He made dining in the evenings the highlight of our cruise! Elmer and Eduardo were both from the Philippines and I just can't say enough good things about them - what a team!
The dining room selections were excellent each night and we were never disappointed with our choices. The prime rib was nearly fork-tender and cooked to perfection, and lobster was tender and my nephew loved them so much he had 3! All of my favorites were still there, including the chilled cucumber soup, the baked Alaska and that incredible Grand Marnier souffle'. Yummmeeee...
The buffet restaurant, the South Beach Club, was another story. The selections there were much more limited, and far less exciting. There did not seem to be a "theme" to the day's selections here, but it seemed to be a catch-all where all of the leftovers were used. For example, we would have pasta alongside sweet & sour shrimp and fried rice. There was usually a roast beef being carved, but it was not tender or tasty. The desserts in the South Beach club were rather bland and tasteless, but attractive in appearance. We skipped those and headed for the ice cream/frozen yogurt machines.
I should extend my apologies to those who followed us on the Triumph on the next sailing, because there were surely no cheeseburgers or soft-serve ice cream left! My nephew had at least 4 burgers and 7+ cones of ice cream daily. I am worried about his re-entering the real-world where those are not automatically available 24-7. I did sample the burger and it was quite good - the frozen yogurt was great! To me, it tasted like homemade vanilla ice cream - just heavenly.
The room service menu is limited but very nice when you are tired and want a snack between meals. A nice selection of sandwiches included a roast beef and brie on a baguette. We also enjoyed the crudite plate with dip and those yummy cookies (flavors varied each day).
The "drink of the day" selection and the frozen drinks on Carnival are, in my opinion, not as good as they could be. This may be a controversial point of view, but I think they need to update their drink recipes and/or find some new ones to try. At $6 a pop, I wanted a really good drink, and found theirs to be only average. I must have liked them well enough to run up a $300 bar tab for the week, however. ;)
WESTERN ITINERARY - PORTS OF CALL After the first relaxing day at sea, we awoke at dawn and were in Cozumel - one of my favorite places in the islands! We had 2 Jeeps rented with Avis (6 people) and we packed the walkie-talkies to communicate with each other, our snorkels and headed out for the day. First stop - Chankanaab Park for the Dolphin Discovery for the kids. My sister-in-law booked directly in advance, and the kids LOVED this experience! We were able to walk out onto the pier and stand next to them while they swam and were pushed through the water with the adorable dolphins!
Having been to Chankanaab several times previously, I headed straight for the snorkeling area. We enjoyed the snorkeling, relaxing on the beach, and had a snack at the restaurant before heading out to explore the other beaches for the afternoon.
Next stop, Paradise Beach - this truly is the most beautiful beach on Cozumel! Way to go Paradise Beach Tom! Your staff waited on us hand and foot! We had THE best quesadillas and drinks and enjoyed floating for a long time on your mattresses (thanks for these!). This was a great family beach area and should not be missed on your day in Cozumel.
We jumped back into the jeeps and drove the circle around the island, stopping at the lighthouse, Coconuts, and all the way around to where the road ends and turns inland. The scenery on the windward coast is just beautiful and everyone enjoyed that drive. Back in town, we cruised through San Miguel, but did not stop since no one wanted to do any serious shopping, and there was major road construction right in the middle of town, causing it to be difficult to drive through.
In my opinion the shopping at Puerta Maya pier is more than adequate for the average souvenir shopper. For serious jewelry shopping, you would want to go to downtown San Miguel. I have loved the Cinco Soles shopping area on previous trips - just next to Pancho's Backyard downtown.
After returning to the ship for dinner, some of us headed back to Carlos & Charlie's - fun place if you like the party atmosphere and drinking mucho margaritas! If you stayed too long, though, you missed the most fun party on the ship of the whole week. For some reason, they started the Mexican Fiesta party on the Lido Deck before the ship left Cozumel. They served a Mexican buffet (really good!), large dessert buffet, and had limbo contests and latin music! As usual, one of my favorite things to do is to sit on the Lido deck and watch all of the late-night partiers running back to the ship at the very last minute. This time, a very drunk passenger was escorted back down the pier by an officer from the ship. Everyone cheered when he made it just in time for the push away from the dock.
GRAND CAYMAN Have I said before that I LOVE this itinerary? You get a day at sea every other day (except Wednesday & Thursday), which is a great way to combine all of the fun island activities with some serious R&R on the pool deck.
We had an early reservation with Captain Marvin's for the stingray snorkeling trip. We were to be there at 8:15 AM. We had plenty of time since the ship's time is an hour ahead, but it was a good thing because the tender process needs MAJOR improvement on this ship. If you do not book your shore excursions through Carnival, you are herded to the Rome Lounge where you get a "tender ticket" and there you have to wait to be taken to Deck Zero to be tendered ashore. When we arrived, the Rome lounge was completely full and if we had not spoken up and said we had an early tour reservation (booked on our own), we would not have been allowed to board the tender in time. My advice, if you book your own shore tours, just go directly to Deck Zero (forward) and skip the tender ticket thing. No one asked for a ticket when we got there, we just boarded with everyone else in the short line.
Once on Grand Cayman, it was a short walk to Capt. Marvin's office where we boarded a van to the boat which took us to Stingray City. Our captain was Marshall, and there was an on-board videographer, Isabella, to record our stingray encounter. We had only 2 other couples in addition to our party of 6, so we felt we had our own charter. Marshall was the most gracious host and made us feel at home. After the short boat ride to the sandbar, everyone jumped out and started interacting with the stingrays. Marshall instructed us on how to feed them, and even pointed out those he recognized and had named. He handed a stingray to each of us to hold and "kiss" for good luck. My mom was afraid to get in the water with a dozen or more stingrays swimming around our feet, so Marshall took a stingray over to the boat and held it up so she could experience touching it! Isabella caught the whole experience on video (which of course we purchased in DVD and is being mailed). Marshall spent a long time talking to my mom and she wants anyone who sees him to say hello for Dottie!
The second stop on our tour was to a coral garden, where we snorkeled for a while, but the water was very rough that day and snorkeling was a struggle. It was worth the effort, though, as the coral looked so healthy, and there was a large moray eel hiding under a coral head that Marshal knew about so he coaxed it out for us.
After our stingray trip, we asked the van driver to drop us off at Seven Mile Beach, where I could still be to this minute if I were not forced to return to the ship. It is truly one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean. The water is truly the color of a swimming pool, and waveless so you can just lie and float for hours, which I did and promised myself a trip back there soon.
OCHO RIOS The only rain we had all week was at 8AM as we were walking down the pier to meet our tour guide Peat Taylor. It rained until we met Peat and were loaded in his bus for our Dunn's River Falls, Fern Gully and river tubing tour. As soon as the rain stopped, we were treated to a rainbow, and then it immediately became hot and steamy for the rest of the day. We were the first group to the falls - The falls were great and refreshing as I remembered - we wanted the teens to experience the climb this time. We then drove through Fern Gully and visited a pottery on the mountaintop where we purchased a few souvenirs. We nearly ran out of time for the river tubing, which my sister-in-law specifically requested, but managed to work it in. Most of the rest of the group wanted to go shopping, and Peat was great at advising as to where was the best and safest shopping. Peat made the tour fun as he serenaded us with Jamaican songs as he drove, and stopped to pull leaves from allspice and lime trees for us to smell.
I was impressed with the improvements that have been made to the port area in Ocho Rios since I was there many years ago. The area looks much nicer and feels safer, although I would still recommend not traveling around without a tour guide.
DISEMBARKATION After a final, restful day at sea, we arrived back in Miami at the crack of dawn Saturday morning. We left our carry-on bags in the cabin, and went to the dining room for breakfast (first time all week), and enjoyed eggs benedict, pancakes, and the works. Great breakfast! Way better than the buffet on Lido deck all week.
We then headed back to the cabin to retrieve our bags, and just then heard our bag color called, so we were able to disembark with just a short line! This is the first cruise I have experienced where everyone actually FOLLOWED the instructions not to hang out in the lobby and get in the way of people whose colors had been called to leave the ship.
Once off the ship, there was a bit of a line (20 minutes or so), to go through customs, then it was downstairs to find the bags. This was not a problem either, and we were in taxis headed for the airport in just minutes. We had booked our flights using SkyMiles and were not supposed to leave Miami until nearly 7PM, but luckily we were able to call Delta as soon as we returned to Miami and learn that we could take an earlier flight! We got to the airport by 10:00 and left at 11AM!
I now have post-cruise depression. It is time to book the next cruise!