I must say up front that the reason we chose this Carnival cruise is because Carnival gave us a sizable on-board credit as a goodwill gesture for destroying our luggage and doing $600 damage to our belongings on our first cruise with them. We approached this cruise as somewhat of a "do over" and wanted to be able to say we would recommend this cruise line, but it just didn't work out that way.
PRE-CRUISE HOTEL: We stayed at the Radisson Resort at the Port in Cape Canaveral for two nights pre-cruise. The Radisson does not offer an airport shuttle, but they recommended TraveLynx. We reserved TraveLynx online in advance, and they were prompt in picking us up from the Orlando airport to take us to the Radisson (for a cost of $50 total for two people - very reasonable!).
The Radisson offers a complimentary cruise shuttle from the hotel to the Port Canaveral cruise port, but space on the shuttle fills up. If you do not call a few days in advance to reserve space, you may lose a spot on the shuttle. Don't wait until check-in to schedule the cruise shuttle! This very thing happened to another couple from our Cruise Critic Roll Call - they tried to get on a shuttle upon check-in, but the front desk staff told them that the shuttle was full and there was no space left for them. So, while a cruise shuttle is offered, you are not guaranteed space on it! One would think they would just keep running the shuttle back and forth until all cruisers were at the port, but nope, not here.
Radisson's lure for us was their pool and their proximity to the cruise port, only a mile and a half away. The pool was beautiful, with many lounge chairs, waterfalls, landscaping and rockery surrounding the pool's maze. Unfortunately, the daytime temperatures in central Florida didn't reach above the mid 40s to low 50s the two days before our cruise, so we didn't get to enjoy the pool. Instead, we explored the Port Canaveral area by foot, walking along the pier to gaze at the ships in port, and dining at Fishlips for lunch. Now that was an experience in itself! If you get the chance, head over to Fishlips and eat outside on their balcony for a nice view of the port and the waterway. However, beware the pelicans. My husband had the misfortune of being the receiver of a pelican's elimination while we dined outside. Would I dine outside there again? You bet! The menu was worth it but beware the birds.
Another plus for the Radisson was their Sleep Number bed. While I enjoyed a 35, my husband enjoyed a 65. We each created our own custom mattresses with the simple adjustment of the remote which released pressure points in the mattress. We slept soundly both nights, and attribute that to the sound of the pool's waterfalls coupled with our chosen sleep numbers.
The morning of embarkation, we gave up our shuttle spot (a coveted holding!) and instead decided to ride to the port with Roll Call friends who had rented a car. They rented their car from Enterprise, who, upon drop off of their car, drove us to the port at 9:30 a.m. I have never arrived for a cruise that early, but I WILL moving forward!
EMBARKATION: Upon arrival, porters collected our luggage and we made our way through the check-in process which was completed by 9:45 a.m. There was no check-in line as cruisers were still disembarking from the cruise before us. There were, however, probably 4-5 people who had checked in ahead of us. We waited in chairs where we delighted ourselves in cruise conversation with our Roll Call mates for the next hour and a half, which went by swimmingly! At 11:15 we were escorted toward the gangway where we were allowed to board the ship.
CABIN: We booked a Large Interior Cabin (#7296), midship, category 4E. The size of the cabin was fairly large by inside cabin standards, with ample space for storage under the bed for our two pieces of luggage and more than enough closet and drawer space for our clothes. To view a tour of this cabin, click or paste this link into your browser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tJxFNxsFsg
With this midship location, we anticipated very little sound from the hallway, however, this was the loudest location we have ever experienced. Just a basic hallway conversation felt very loud to us while we tried to sleep in on a handful of mornings. We could even hear our neighbors talking, sneezing, coughing, flushing the toilet, using the hair dryer. Not only was the hallway noise very loud and annoying, but the walls were thin from cabin to cabin as well.
Though the layout of the cabin was typical, one thing was not - the cradle attached to the hair dryer. The hair dryer was housed in a drawer, which is a standard. However, to use the hair dryer meant that I had to dangle the cradle attached to the cord as I dried my hair. Surely, this was a mistake in installation, but nevertheless, something I had to endure the entire week. I am so lucky to have short hair and only hold the dryer and the cradle for a short 5-minute blow dry each morning. I really don't know how someone with long hair could have used it unless they had biceps like a tri-athlete. To view a video of the dangling hair dryer cradle, click or paste this link into your browser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxJ2itOgsak
THE SHIP: The ship itself was one of the primary downfalls of the cruise. The layout was poor, with lack of good traffic flow from one end of the ship to the other end. For example, to get to the dining room on Deck 3, you could not walk from one end of the ship to the other end to get to the dining room. Instead, we had to walk to midship, go up to Deck 5, walk aft, then back down to Deck 3 to enter the Main Dining Room. I cannot tell you how many times we got lost doing this, and how many other people had the same challenge.
Of all cruises, this was the smokiest cruise ever! Our cabin was at Deck 7 midship. I stepped out of our cabin one afternoon and smelled cigarette smoke. I made my way to the stairwell where the smoke got a tad bit stronger. I walked down to Deck 6 where the smoke was even stronger, and continued to Deck 5 where the smoke was very thick. I then walked toward the Casino on Deck 5 where the smoke became unbearable. Though I absolutely expect a casino to be smoky, I have never experienced the volume of smoke than I did on this cruise. Having been to (and enjoyed), Las Vegas many, many times, I expect a significant amount of smoke in any casino. For the smoke to drift not only down the hallway, but up two decks was truly demonstrative of how many smokers were on this cruise. Of course this isn't anything the ship's crew has control over, but it impacted our cruise enough that I need to heed warning to anyone who may be sensitive to cigarette smoke.
The Carnival Glory has an aft pool that is stated to be for Adults Only (per the Carnival Capers). However, the hot tubs adjacent to the pool have a sign posted that says that children are required to be accompanied by an adult. If it's an Adults Only area, why is there a sign addressing the presence of children? We saw many kids in this area on a regular basis, some well-behaved, and some not (I blame the parents). Carnival did nothing to enforce the Adults Only rule, and why would they when they've got a sign posted for parents? Because of this, it was difficult to find a quiet serene area near a pool anywhere on the ship. If you wanted quiet, you needed to lounge on the side of the ship or somewhere inside in a lounge. An Adults Only area would be very appreciated by many a cruiser!
SERVICE: Something that really stood out during this Carnival Glory cruise, along with our previous Carnival cruise, is the level of service compared to other cruise lines. There is a level of customer service that is missing at the most basic level - simple courteousness and the belief that the customer comes first. No single "incident" happened to us on this cruise; it's a compilation of interactions with various crew members in the hallways, at the pool decks, in the dining room, at the photo gallery, at the buffet, or in any of the other public areas - THEY are number one, you are simply an obstacle to their day. Their service to you is not their priority. Their priority is to simply get through the day and to the end of their contract. This basic attitude was displayed in various forms - lack of yielding to a passenger in a hallway when the space is too narrow for two to pass, basic acknowledgements such as "good morning" upon approach in the a.m., "thank you" after they've received an extra gratuity. Those are just some basic examples. None of that is horrible, but this basic paradigm breeds an attitude that supports the consistent message we heard all week "You will never see any of these people again, so GO FOR IT!" I truly believe that many of the passenger-facing crew believe they'll never see any of us again, so what's the point in delivering friendliness and basic courteous service other than to receive the pre-paid gratuity? I don't expect Carnival to be a luxury line, but I do expect to be treated like a customer, first and foremost, not a hindrance to someone trying to make it through a work day.
FOOD: The food was the highlight of the cruise! I believe Carnival offers the best food of any of the lines we tried, but the food just isn't enough to make us try Carnival again. The buffet offerings were good, the food in the main dining room was very good, and the food in the Supper Club was excellent and well worth the additional $30 per person!
Additionally, the Carnival Glory offered pizza 24 hours per day, a sushi stand during specified hours each evening, soft serve ice cream at all times, a deli late into the night, and a hamburger/hot dog stand in the afternoons. There were food options available to keep the most finicky eater happy!
The on-board coffee stand offered a coffee card for $13.23 (including gratuity) for five specialty coffees of any size, not counting syrups. This was a decent deal - not great, but decent. My drink of choice is a soy latte, so I just made an effort to request a large size every day to make sure the purchase of my coffee card was actually going to net me an overall savings. Overall, I saved 20% off my five coffees by having the card. If you are a coffee drinker who MUST have flavored syrup, count on spending an extra .50 plus gratuity with every specialty coffee purchase. Just be warned that if you're expecting a speedy Starbucks type coffee stand, you will not find it here. Expect to wait a short while if there is any sort of line.
ENTERTAINMENT: Big production shows with just singers and dancers don't really float our ship (or boat!). We are lured by adult comedy, magicians, or hypnotists. We went to the adult comedian the second night and laughed our pants off. Don't take that literally - we were clothed, but we laughed REALLY hard. Carnival's entertainment line-up appeared to be pretty standard, so if you like the big production shows, you'll have ample chance to see several on this ship.
PORTS OF CALL: Cozumel We booked a Carnival excursion called the 3 Reef Snorkel, where we visited Paradise shallow, Paradise deep, and a third reef near Punta Sur, all via boat. The colorful and fascinating underwater life in Cozumel was truly spectacular! We peered at angel fish, an eel, starfish, groupers, parrot fish and yellow and blue striped fish. My only apprehension to recommending this was that the water was on the cold side. By the time we got to the second reef, my fingers had started tingling and I was physically shivering. As long as I was on the boat in the sunshine, I was a happy camper, so that's where I stayed when we got to the third reef nothing like having the top deck to myself to sunbathe while my fellow snorkelers reveled in the sea. The outside temperature was probably about 75 degrees as it was 10 a.m., and I am sure if it had been an afternoon excursion, I would have been plenty warm. If you don't choose this specific excursion, DO choose a snorkel excursion while you're in Cozumel as you are sure to see an abundance of underwater plant and animal life.
Belize We booked a cave tubing tour through cave-tubing.com and were glad we did! After much advance research with outside tour companies, we chose cave-tubing.com based on fabulous reviews on Cruise Critic and elsewhere on line. Key tip: if you book an excursion with someone other than your ship's excursion desk, and you are arriving to a tender port, be sure to have your tour paperwork with you so you can get an early tender and exit the ship first in order to make it to your excursion on time. Cave-tubing.com offers a very safe cave tubing experience starting with a narrated bus tour through Belize City, into the rainforest of Belize at the Caves Branch Archaeological Reserve. Once to Caves Branch, the staff armed us each with headlamps, and we started to make our way along the 1.5 mile trek through the forest toward the caves. Along the way, we picked up our tubes and life jackets where we carried them along dirt paths, rocky roads, across a river, up a bank, and finally down some rickety steps to the start of the cave's river. Though this excursion does not require complete athleticism, you should at least have the ability to walk on uneven ground, carrying 15 pounds, for 1.5 miles. If you can do that, you can enjoy this excursion. This excursion was both relaxing and invigorating! There's nothing quite like floating through pitch dark caves (2 caves!), on a river, in a tube, in Central America to take your mind away from everything but the moment you're in. And if you're looking for a cave tubing company with a reputation for safety, I recommend cave-tubing.com. There were 15 in our group, and we had 5 guides. Not once were we left to navigate the river on our own, nor did we float carelessly or recklessly like some other groups we saw on the river near us. I wholeheartedly recommend their company and the whole cave tubing experience!
Costa Maya The Costa Maya cruise port re-opened in October 2008 after compete destruction by Hurricane Dean in 2007. We were fortunate to be able to call on this port, as the area is still in a re-building mode with limited beaches and services available. Because we wanted to guarantee ourselves lounge chairs and a palapa on the beach, we reserved space for the Costa Maya Beach Break located at 40 Cannons on Pez Quadro beach in Majahual. We were very glad we reserved online about a month in advance of our trip, as they sold out. Walk-ups did not get a palapa and were lucky to find lounge chairs in the sand. Reservations cost us $35/person and included an open bar and chips/salsa. They also have a full restaurant, so we ended up plunking down another $25 for food throughout the day. Though this may sound like an expensive day, the guarantee of a spot on the beach, and the open bar, made it well worth the investment for this experience. The water itself was gorgeously clear, with sandbars that allowed you to walk out waist deep as far as 60-70 yards out into the water. How refreshing in the midst of 80 degree weather! The beach bar was equipped with chair swings at the bar, a clean restroom, and friendly staff to serve our drinks and deliver our food. I highly recommend this location for a relaxing day at the beach.
Nassau If you haven't been to Atlantis, go there! You can purchase a Beach Break for $55 giving access to The Discover Atlantis Aquarium Tour, access to the west beach and all marine habitats. We opted to walk around on our own, visiting the Dig where we saw two mammoth manta rays, sharks and a gazillion fish swimming around - all viewable from a free, public space at the resort. Because my husband is a travel agent, we were able to take part in an agent's tour where we visited the water slides, all pools on the property, and had an extended aquarium tour. Atlantis is truly a gorgeous place, with areas of exciting activity as well as areas of serene beauty offering the ultimate in calm. Following our Atlantis visit, we walked through to the public beach where we plunked our beach towels in the sand, did some people-watching, sipped some rum drinks, splashed in the water, and gazed one last time at the beautiful blue water before returning to the ship.
DISEMBARKATION: Following our day in Nassau, we found ourselves back in Port Canaveral the next morning and awoke to sunny skies and 75 degrees. We opted for self disembarkation since we planned to stay two additional post-cruise days, this time in Cocoa Beach to celebrate our 12-year wedding anniversary. We were called for disembarkation at 8:00 a.m., left our cabin, plopped ourselves on the elevator, stopped at Deck 4 for disembarkation, but could barely leave the elevator because the massive amounts of cruisers trying to leave the ship were blocking our exit. We squeezed our way through and snuck over to Amber Palace (Carnival Glory's theatre) where we sat until 9:30 a.m. which is when we could finally see the line was a reasonable length in order to leave the ship. It was clear that the Carnival crew were not calling groups for disembarkation based on when people could reasonably leave the ship. I would rather sit in a theatre for 90 minutes reading a book than I would standing in line with my luggage to leave a ship. Upon complete disembarkation, we found TraveLynx (who we again had reserved in advance) to take us to the Inn at Cocoa Beach.
POST-CRUISE HOTEL: In celebration of our 12-year anniversary, we had booked the Inn at Cocoa Beach, a quaint bed and breakfast on the beach. Romantic it was! The Inn at Cocoa Beach offers deluxe rooms facing the pool and/or the ocean. Since this was a special occasion, we had reserved an Oceanview King room, which was on the second floor of the 2-level building, overlooking the ocean and the pool. The manicured landscaping, pristine pool decking with lounge chairs and umbrellas, parrots Tango and Tangi, doggies Tucker and Murphy, homemade muffins and bread, self-boiled eggs, and the personalized and friendly service made the Inn at Cocoa Beach the perfect location for anyone looking for a non-chain, family-like atmosphere. Our two days here were spent walking to Ron Jon's Surf Shop, just one block away, viewing the Shark Pit at the Four Points Sheraton, also just one block away, walking along the sand down to the Cocoa Beach Pier, a mile away, lounging poolside reading a book, and lounging in the sand at the beach under an umbrella and on chairs provided by the Inn (for a nominal fee). The Sandbar Sports Grill, located next door to the Inn, was recommended to us as a casual restaurant/bar for cheap but good eats. We dined there on our last night, consuming a fish taco, shrimp taco and shrimp quesadilla to die for! If you don't mind eating in a "dive" environment, wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, but want some really good food at the same time, head to the Sandbar and enjoy their menu, specifically their fish taco for which they're known. Our stay at the Inn at Cocoa Beach was truly a relaxing, warm, and perfect way to celebrate an occasion and ease ourselves back to land.
IN SUMMARY: While Carnival Cruise Lines is not the right fit for our cruising style, we had a fabulous time in each of the ports, truly enjoyed the time spent with our Cruise Critic Roll Call friends, and found some great pre and post-cruise stays that will garner our attention again the next time we sail out of central Florida.