We decided to go with CCL because it is quite cheap, great choice when travelling with kids and we liked this itinerary. We booked well in advance, about 10 months before sail date. We originally booked through Carnival, but found a bit of a savings online within 24 hours and moved our booking with them. I soon realized this was a bad move once it was made. For the $300 that I saved, I received terrible service with them the entire time before we cruised.
We arrived in to Fort Lauderdale with terribly cold weather, and coming from Canada, we just wanted to experience a little warmth and no wind. We stayed pre cruise at the Fort Lauderdale Hilton and got a great deal from Hotwire.com. $149/night. Great hotel, beautiful pool, however a little ways away from everything.
EMBARKATION: We got through the check-in lines almost immediately. Very quick check-in process. Entering the ship for the first time is such a cool feeling. The kids were immediately overwhelmed and it was heartwarming to see their immediate excitement. Made our way up to Lido for some lunch and before I know it, hubby had a bucket of beer already in front of him. Because we were still in port, port charges were added to our tab for the booze. I decided to see if our room was ready, and it was.
Did the muster drill and the boys were given wrist bands. They had to wear the wrist bands with the appropriate muster info in case of emergency. We left port immediately after the drill and went to our cabin to hang out on the balcony. Luggage was delivered within the hour and we met our Cabin Steward, Anthony.
CABINS: We were in a cabin with a king bed and 2 uppers. A little cramped but we didn't spend hardly anytime in the room anyway. Back to Anthony. What a hard worker and great guy. We received turn down service every night and the towel animals were a huge hit with the kids...and me! He put chocolate chip cookies on the boys pillows 5 out of 7 nights and gave us plenty of those yummy Carnival chocolates. He got an extra tip from us during and after the trip as it was well deserved.
DINNER: We had an early seating. We did not like our head waiter at all. He was rude and seemed to not care about his tables. The assistant waiter was fabulous. Food was fine, not excellent, but there was always nice choices every night. Many people had mentioned in their reviews about this chocolate lava cake, and I couldn't wait to try it. I was really disappointed since I'm a huge chocolate fan. The texture was really gross, almost like it was undercooked. The buffets are decent. I'm not a buffet type of person, but for something quick, I found a nice variety. The lines were usually not too bad except for the chocolate buffet...but it was worth the wait! The deli had nice grilled sandwiches, and the sushi bar was good when it was open. The fish and chips was also a disappointment. VERY greasy and a weird flavor in the batter.
ACTIVITIES: Lots going on around the ship. You just need to read the Capers info, its all in there. Bingo, art auctions, "free" stuff...its really not free, theres always a catch.
SHIP: The ship itself is very large and confusing. I still didn't know my way around by the last day. I did not like having to walk through the casino to get from front to back. The smoke was so heavy, and for those of us that don't smoke its very unappealing. The decor is a little flashy, but that's how Carnival goes about decorating. For being such a big ship, I thought we would hardly feel the movement. However, we felt the ship move on many occasions. I did have to take a Gravol one night.
ENTERTAINMENT: We hit almost every evening performance. Most were decent to mediocre, the eighties show was by far the best. The comedians were fairly good. We never got to the later x-rated comedian shows, but heard from others that they were just alright.
CAMP CARNIVAL: Our youngest son really loved camp. He always came out of camp with a project in hand and lots of stories to tell. Our older one also liked it when we MADE him go. They had a Mardi Gras party one night that he had a lot of fun at. We also had a few rounds of mini golf. The course isn't anything spectacular, but a neat experience playing up top of the ship. ITINERARY:
Grand Cayman- Been there before and beautiful as usual. We took our boys to the Sting Ray tour and booked through Sting Ray City Trips (Captain Marvins). A huge savings from what the ship was charging and a lot less people on board than the Carnival booked tour boats.
Roatan- Beautiful. Super windy day, but still warm. Did a private bus tour of the island and went to the Iguana Farm and ended at Tabyana Beach. WOW is all I can say. That sand is the most softest I've ever felt. So soft, it was like powder and really hard to get out of your hair and off your body!
Belize- This port was a let down due to the heavy rain we had. Never booked an excursion here, thank goodness. Checked some of the outdoor markets with all the same junk. Got back on the ship and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to warm up.
Cozumel- Beautiful, but again windy and a bit cool. We booked a day at an all-inclusive resort called Nachi Cocum. By about 1 p.m. it got nice and hot but the wind kept blowing. The all-inclusive included our lunch and was quite yummy. Great guacamole and chips. The sand there was soft, and the water free of debris and rocks. Nice hammocks to relax in. You can add on a massage or snorkel tour for extra. We booked this tour through Island Marketing Tours.
I have to say that at no fault of Carnival was this my least favorite vacation ever. For me, I like to get away once a year from the freezing temps up here in Canada. So, when I go somewhere tropical and I'm drinking hot chocolate and tea, instead of Pina Coladas and other mixed bevies, thats a huge let down. The ship & staff on the Valor however, exceeded my expectations for the price we paid. We know that Carnival is the best choice for our family at this time in our lives. We've already booked a cruise for 2011 on the Sensation after our Disney holiday!