Pre-Cruise: We stayed at the Super 8 in La Marque for one night for about $71. I was impressed that reserving the room almost a year ago that they had taken note of my request to have a bottom floor room. It is a clean hotel (nothing fancy) and they have a continental breakfast. This was our third time staying here. We ate dinner at the Mexican restaurant (formerly Acapulco) which was in a shopping center across the street. Food was good and Margaritas were excellent. Great way to get in the mood for vacation!!
Day of Embarkation: We left our hotel around 10 am and arrived at EZ cruise parking at about 10:30 and they let us park right away. Waited about 20 minutes and they had us on our way to the ship. Once we got into the terminal there were decent size lines, but they moved very quickly. We were on the Lido deck by about 11:30am and went and grabbed lunch. Rooms were not ready until 1:30, so we just spent some time walking about the ship and getting the rooms set up at Guest Services (to have the kids in one/bf and I in the other). Once we got to our rooms they were ready to go and both gifts I had ordered were already there (bottle of wine and cooler w/ Budweiser-hat-mug). That was the biggest surprise, when I have ordered alcohol on previous trips I was always told I wouldn't receive until after embarkation due to some crazy Texas law. Maybe the rule has changed?? Not sure......
Our Cabin: Two inside cabins on the Verandah deck 8 (8303 & 8307). We were originally booked on Riviera deck 1 (1341 & 1345) but were upgraded by Carnival about 3 days prior to sailing. Really loved our location on Deck 8, it was centrally located and we were pretty much able to walk the stairs any where we went. Best thing was being a deck below the Lido deck which is where we spent most of our time either going to the buffet or hanging out by the pool. The room was VERY quiet despite some worry of being below the very active Lido deck. The only time we heard noise was the night of the Mardi Gras party when we heard crowds jumping around midnight but it was brief. The room was decent size for two people, with the exception of being by the closets and someone trying to come out of the bathroom at the same time. Strangely enough my kids had a different Room Steward in 8307 than my bf and I in 8303. Mine was Franciso and he came and introduced himself right away, we saw him often all week in the hallways and he always greeted us. He did a great job of keeping the room clean and after leaving a note the first date always filled our cooler and other container with tons of ice. He made some great towel animals, some of which I had never gotten before. One thing I really appreciated after being on Royal Caribbean last year is having clean beach towels left in our room EVERY day. RC no longer does this at all and requires you check them out by the pool now, so I appreciate that Carnival still does this. While I understand it isn't the end of the world, it's just a nice touch in my opinion. Despite being one of the first group of folks on board we got our luggage later than usual, we got them just before Muster at 3:30. Either way we were still able to come back to the room after the drill and unpack everything before our dinner at 6:00. I will say this was the first time in 3 years I have had an inside cabin and I very much missed seeing what was going on outside, but it was nice for days we wanted to sleep in as it is DARK.
Dining Room: We were at table number 206, 6:00pm in the Renoir dining room. Loved our table as it was a comfy booth for 4 and while we weren't seated right next to the window still had a great view of the ocean. Our Head Waiter was Michael from the Philippines; don't remember the name of the asst. Both were good at their jobs, we only had to remind them of items a few times. Sara the bar waitress was so sweet, she always remembered the kind of soda my kids and bf wanted each night and greeted us with a smile even though we didn't order liquor at dinner. I was a little disappointed in the food this time as I have always loved Carnival's food. We certainly didn't go hungry but the quality was just not as consistent as what I have experienced in the past. The two steaks I got during the week were both very dry (I ordered medium) and the chicken dish ordered on lobster night was *blech*. Of course there were some great things; some favorites were the Chocolate melting cake, Bitter & Blanc, broccoli and cheese soup, cheese sticks, fried shrimp and navy bean soup. The breakfast food at the buffet was iffy as well, biscuits were like hockey pucks and the food wasn't always hot....sometimes barely warm. Buffet foods that were very good were the burgers, hot dogs, chicken fingers, French fries, nachos, salad items, pizza, and the made to order omelets. Also good was the Chinese food at PC Wok and the sandwiches at the Deli. Didn't make it to Sur Mer again or make reservations at the Point so I can't comment on that.
Activities and Entertainment: Had fun in the casino, mostly playing roulette - winning some and losing some. My winnings one night funded our day in Cozumel the next day, so that was nice. Can I just say we HATE HATE HATED the Pokerpro electronic Poker table, please Carnival bring back live poker!!! I won't go into great detail here because not everyone understands poker or it's terminology but these tables just outright encourage and seem to reward crappy poker playing, so just forget it if you know how to play "real" poker. Overall the activities are pretty standard: Bingo, pool activities, trivia, etc. Felt like there wasn't a great selection at times or they had popular events scheduled at the same time. After day two most of our time was spent at the adult pool at the back of the ship, no music and very serene and relaxing. I like being by the main pool as well, but being that it was Spring Break it was nice to get away to the quieter areas. The Big Screen didn't really bother me, I mostly saw them playing music videos, showing pictures of scenic beach views or showing pool events so everyone could see. Never noticed news being broadcast as others mentioned. My only wish is they would have had more movies shown on it, usually just seemed to repeat the same ones over and over. As far as shows we really only went to see the comedians and to the Legends show. Both comedians we saw were very funny and the Legends show made up of our fellow cruisers was great, some very talented folks on board!! We tried to sit in for the Point and Click show but walked out about 10 minutes into it, just a little on the cheesy side for me. Wanted to go to Formidable but I ended up going to bed early that night, the other show options Magicians and Juggling just don't appeal to me but I am sure are fun for some and the kiddos.
Ports of Call: Jamaica: Did the Dreamers Catamaran excursion. This including a trip to a snorkeling sight, ride to Margaritaville and sailing back to the dock with music and dancing. There was also open bar as well as non alcoholic drinks for the kids. The price of $69pp was reasonable. Snorkeling was decent and lasted about 30 minutes, only given about 20 minutes at Margaritaville which really isn't much time to do anything We did run off really quick and took a ride on their slide that dumps you in the ocean. Hold on to your clothes, as it shoots you out like a rocket!! They also had a couple of water trampolines that we jumped on for a bit.
Grand Cayman: Did the Pirate ship for about $39pp. I really didn't want to get off the boat in GC as I really just wanted a nice relaxing day on the ship but my 14yr old daughter has always wanted to try this so I obliged. The excursion itself was fun. You board a pirate ship that includes rum punch and regular punch for the kids and bottled water. There is also a bathroom on board as well. They make the kids do some "work" on the ship as punishment and then at some point on the journey they drop the anchor and people can make their family members "walk the plank"....as my daughter had me do. People are free to swim around for about 30-40 minutes and they do supply life vests. If you want to snorkel bring your own equipment. My only complaint is we got stuck with this family and the wife was absolutely awful. She found it impossible to talk in a normal voice and yelled at her kids and husband the entire excursion. She let her kids jump over us and our feet repeatedly and then changed her one year old son's diaper right on the deck. Needless to say this put a damper on our day because they were right next to us the whole time, this was not a large boat and we could not get away from her. The only reason I even mention this is to let people know, PLEASE be courteous of others.
Cozumel: Went to Paradise Beach for the 4th time and it didn't disappoint. We had originally planned on going to Mr. Sanchos to do a tequila tasting but my kids weren't sold on going there and after a long week my bf and I weren't really in the mood for tequila anymore. At Paradise Beach you can by a $10 bracelet to climb the "glacier" in the water (which is not easy by the way, but I made it to the top!!!), use the water trampoline, lay on the inflatable beds, kayak, snorkel, etc. Otherwise the beach itself is free and they just ask that you make at least a $10 drink or food purchase for using their facilities. $16 each way for taxis and they have lockers and clean bathrooms/showers on the premises. Food is good as well, especially the guacamole!!
Debarkation was very smooth this time around, off the boat by about 10:45 - we were home in San Antonio about 3pm after one food stop and one bathroom stop.
OVERALL: -Beautiful ship, but as I have felt previously I think I am a smaller ship fan. Unfortunately those will probably be a thing of the past before too long so I will have to adjust. I think that it is up to individual preference and you have to see for yourself if the bigger ships are for you. The bonus to that is that there is very little movement and less room for sea sickness, a lot of times you don't feel like you are on a ship. I like that on the smaller ships it is easier to get around and that you see the same people in passing a lot, which makes it easier to meet people. I like that Carnival still uses food trays at the buffet as it makes it easier to grab an entrEe/salad/dessert. I didn't like it last year when RC had done away with food trays on the Voyager as it means more trips back and forth, line after line. Service was really good, many greetings from crew members in passing that would just say hi or smile when we would walk by was very nice. We had a wonderful time overall. Please don't take some of my less appealing comments as "complaints" necessarily, just more as a comparison with my previous Carnival trips. I realize every little thing can't be perfect, especially when there are so many people to please. Happy cruising!!