We have had a family cruise before on the Elation (our first one during the infamous Valentines day storm of 2007). We decided to do it again to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary year. Due to College and organized sports schedules, we needed to book it January 3rd and keep the younger kids out of school.
We flew to Tampa a couple of days before due to the problems we almost encountered with delayed and cancelled flights the trip before. We were traveling with two adults, two 19 year olds, two 16 year olds, one 14 and one 12 year old. We cruised before, so we new what to do. We took a paid shuttle, reasonable price for the 9 of us $140.00, round trip from motel to port and then port to airport, with the number of us he gave us a deal! The porters took our luggage, and from past experience we did not tip the workers, as they are employees of the port and should not be tipped. We got to port fairly early so we could embark early, we wanted to enjoy ourselves every minute of this trip. We did the fun pass prior to traveling to Tampa, the passports were with the fun passes, etc. It took us about 10 minutes to register all 8 of us, my niece registered herself. We sat a few minutes, realized they were calling groups to load the boat, well, we entered the line and even though it was not our group, we left anyhow, they took us right on the ship.
We entered the lido deck and had a buffet lunch with the other 5 family members we met there. You are allowed to bring a limited amount of your own drinks aboard, sealed,I believe one per adult, so we had 3 bottles of wine to enjoy over the next several days. We opened the first on the lido deck. The kids explored after lunch. We were able to enter our rooms about 130pm. Our luggage was there. My daughters one bag lost its tag along the way and we had to obtain it later in the day from the information desk. Of note, my mother in law was in a wheelchair due to her walking difficulty, the staff escorted her the entire embarking process and up to the lido deck. The kids went up to the lido deck, my husband and I took the tour of the ship at 2pm. Smitty, the fun ship team member was very funny and showed us the layout. He was very good at helping us understand the spacial layout on the ship between what is always found in what areas, aft, midship and forward.
Before leaving port, we had the lifeboat drill, very informative, seemed however to drag on for a while, I think it was because there were people not following directions and that slowed the process down. Even a new bride and groom, in gowns and tux showed up like they were supposed to. What a site, a life vest on a gowned bride. What a memory!
We were looking forward to our first dining room experience. We always book the early seating, as we like the evening shows and my husband and mother go to the casino. We ate in the Carnivale dining room, our waiter Sarwar from India, what a pleasant, professional and extremely friendly staff person. He was obviously very comfortable with what he was doing. My husband ordered several appetizers and entree's. We all sampled each others, as our family always does. The food was very delicious. I have read several review's stating that the food was horrible, I cannot understand why. My kids tried several things that were new to them, one my daughter really did not like, Sarwar got her the other entree. All you have to do is tell someone, and they make it very right. My sister in law has celiac's disease, she registered that on her fun pass and each night at the diningroom, the dietician came and had her order the next meals dinner and she tailored it to her dietary needs. My strong belief, if you take the efforts to communicate your needs, others will make the effort to accommodate. I am sure if someone is diabetic, the carb or calorie content can be calculated for you. I have found Carnival very accommodating to people with special needs. We had George the Greek as the Maitre d', he was entertaining, but you can tell he was very programmed after working in that field for over 40 years. We had 13 in our group, tables hold only about 8, therefore he placed an extra table on our table so we all could sit together. He has trained his staff in that dining room very well. The serving was very professional. Each time we saw either our waiter, assistant waiter, or George the Greek throughout our travels aboard ship, they all stopped, said hello and called us by name. This trip we ate breakfast in the diningroom a couple of mornings instead of the Brasserie buffet. That was enjoyable. The menu was the same each day, but if you wanted the service, and other items not included in the buffet, it was nice. The Brasserie buffet was also the same everyday, but it still had a large variety. We took in the Welcome Aboard show, that was okay, Not quite what I expected. We watched some of the comedians, some were good, some borderline, the shows were good, the Last night show, "Fiesta La Tina" I believe it was called, was fantastic. Over the 5 nights, we got to meet many people who fill many rolls.
The cruise director, Filipe, was very nice, my husband spoke to him about getting a tour of the communications room, as he has a ham radio license, is an examiner, holds the highest license, is a civil air patrol and red cross volunteer, he really is interested in that stuff. Filipe said he would ask the captain, but it may not be possible due to the increase in homeland security. He followed up with us and stopped us in the hallways and called us by name the entire trip. My husband never got the tour, but at least we felt he made an effort to get one.
We had two fun days at sea, nice weather on the first fun day at sea. We sat on the deck, relaxed, read, etc, most of the day. The Inspiration has the Serenity deck, we took in some of that too. Despite booking the trip during usual school time, the pool was a little too crowded. The hot tubs also. I found on Lido, the hot tubs were full of kids. The Serenity was better to get into. Both the lido and the serenity music was a little to loud. I however know we had a large amt of older clients this trip and I often heard them say it was too quiet.
The day in Grand Cayman was beautiful! We did the reef and shipwreck snorkel. None of us have snorkeled before, our guides were funny, helpful and very encouraging, a fun time was had by all. They even provided a cooler of ice to keep our drinks we brought with us cold. We paid about $44 each and found it worth the trip, cannot wait to see the pictures. We walked about Grand Cayman and went back to the boat by midday. (8-2pm was the docked time). Although the food is safe on the islands, due to budgeting for our large group, we went cheap and ate on the ship whenever we could.
As for Cozumel, we just walked around, shopped, hit Senor Frogs, (our group split up). Where we docked at port, it was a cab fare to Senor Frogs and the main shopping mall. $7.00, each way. The roads are horrible, bumpy and dangerous. I would not want to walk it. I stayed with my Mother and pushed the wheelchair. We often felt as though we were being harassed by the people at the stands in Cozumel. Everyone wanted the American money. We were off ship about 2 hours, that was all my Mother could stand. After a frozen margarita at a local spot, we all returned to the boat. Very easy process with the correct identification.
The last fun day at sea was nice but cold, we had a spot of rain and winds, cleared me off the deck, I like the warmth! Overall, we met some very special staff. Our waiter was great, he spoke with us often. We give the cruise ship staff credit, they are away from their families for long periods of time and their friendliness does not reflect some element of sadness being so far away from their families. Everyone smiled and greeted. I always say thank you and hello as I roam around the ship. We had the opportunity to speak at length with a Dancer. He spoke of how the cruise line had strict rules, but none of them were unfair. They were allowed to go to the hot tubs on their off time. He said the staff is happy with how they are treated. I give the cruise line kudo's for providing a positive environment for their staff. They all do seem very happy, it is reflected everyday with their interaction with cruisers. Through both my cruises, I noticed that noone was competitive with each other, they all work as a family and team. Our rooms were immaculate, always picked up. I find it amazing that with our strange comings and goings how the steward and staff know when we leave our room, when to replace the towels and open the beds. We were very lucky, we were invited to the Captains Cocktail party, the previous cruiser cocktail party. Free drinks and food. They were nice. We wanted to win a free cruise, no such luck. I did win a free DelSol bag at one of the shopping informative sessions. The photographers were great. We had a wonderful photographer who took the pictures on formal night for the 13 of us, then split us in families. She did a great job. Thanks. I think the photographers should offer a discount on the pictures if ordered in a group. I had such a large group, if I was able to get the pictures I really wanted, it would cost about $500, who can afford that these days. Now for the not so positive comments.... There was too much drinking done on board. I know that is how the ship makes money, and some people have to have fun only when drinking. Not a great example for the kids. There were waiters everywhere asking if we want a drink, a simple no thank you worked. Sometimes if I was in a conversation, a hand up worked well. The pictures were taken all over the ship plus the ones we took. A little overwhelming at times. People like Bingo, I found bingo to be expensive and out of reach for me. The sales pitches throughout the ship make everything seem like gold. I never met my room steward, I would have liked to have met him. I met his assistant. My other family members had the steward knock on the door to introduce himself. We had the gratuity taken off two rooms as they were minor children. Perhaps that is why.
Disembarking was horrible. NOT like our last time. The non-US citizens need to go through immigration first. That is US law. The people needed to follow those directions. It held up everyone else from leaving the ship. We did self assist as our flights were not going out until 6pm. We wanted to stay on the ship as long as we could. About 930am my husband had enough and wanted to leave. Empress disembarking floor was packed, and I as the last in my group could not get out of the elevator. I rode the elevator up and down about 4 times. I went up one floor, carried my suitcase down one flight and joined the rest of my group. I think if we were to wait until our zone was called to leave, it would have been better. I would avoid Cozumel and Grand Cayman if you want beach scene only, both you need to sign for excursions to take in a beach.
Overall, you get out of a cruise what you put in. Research, read, learn before you go. Prepare and plan your days. Review the Carnival Capers daily events, circle the ones you want to do. Review the layout cards found at the information desk and plan how long it takes to get from your diningroom to the Paris Lounge, etc. Always speak up if you don't like something, they want everyone to leave very happy, they will go beyond the call of duty to make it that way. If you don't like the food, tell them, they will make it right. If you have allergies or special needs, they do not read minds. Communication is a necessary component in satisfaction. I cannot wait to go again!!!