Our adventure began on Saturday, April 25. There were four of us with ages 40s to 50s. This was our 12th cruise, the first cruise for the other couple.
We flew into FLL a day early since it was much cheaper than flying into MIA. The original plan was to rent a car from Alamo and take the MIA Alamo shuttle to the port. However, we had quite a few bags with us, so we decided to rent from Budget and take a minivan cab to the port. The Budget car was cheaper than Alamo, so with the cab fare, it was only $10 more to rent from Budget. And it was nice to not rely on Alamo and the shuttle with all our bags.
For a hotel, we stayed at the Best Western on the Bay Inn and Marina. Nice pre cruise hotel on the water. Older style rooms, but clean and large. Shuckers restaurant is connected to the hotel and overlooks the water. They do have pre-cruise package available that will provide a shuttle to the port. We didn't partake of this since we had car.
Arrived at the POM at 12pm Sunday. We were about 100 deep in the line for security, only to discover the checkpoint wasn't open yet. Once it opened, the line move fairly quick. About 25 minutes later we were being processed in. 15 minutes after that were on the ship. Just under an hour from dropping off bags at curb to walking on board.
The ships layout was somewhat easy to figure out. I've heard complaints about some people having to go through Churchill's Cigar Bar to get to the Washington dining room. This is one possible route. Or you can go through the promenade deck 5 and down the stairs to 3 or 4 for the Washington room. Another fairly easy way to get back and forth is to walk uninhibited on the room floors (6-10) and then take the elevator/stairs to whichever level you want.
Once onboard we were told that our rooms were not to be ready until 1:30pm, so to Rosie's we went for lunch. Rosie's has a good efficient design compared to some ships buffets. The are two sections each with two lines that work towards each other . Additionally there is a Mongolian stir-fry area. I enjoyed the food overall in Rosie's, but the stir-fry was more like "steam fry" with little flavor. Although it was nice to be able to pick your own veggies to have cooked.
In between the two sections of Rosie's is a deli window. Don't miss this! Excellent Rueben and ham and cheese sandwiches. Quick and efficient service.
At the aft end of Rosie's, is the pizza parlor. The pizza was good and usually fresh. Better than most ships pizza.
Overall the food was enjoyable. We've sailed on different lines, but I've always thought Carnival wins in the food category when it comes to "non-specialty" dining.
Speaking of specialty dining, we ate one night at Scarlett's supper club. Good atmosphere, great service. Food was good as well. That being said, I don't thing it's worth the extra $30pp charge. Maybe $10-15.
As for the dress code: On smart casual night most wore what you would were if you were going out to eat at a moderately priced restaurant. For guys, anything from slacks and jeans to nice shorts with a collared shirt. Yes, they allow shorts now, but I couldn't bring myself to wear them. On the elegant nights, I'd say half the men wore jackets, less than half of those were tuxes. Sorry couldn't comment on women's attire, except that all realms of dress were represented.
Cabins were nicely appointed. We had a balcony on deck eight (verandah). No weird smells. AC was adequate.
First stop was Grand Cayman Island. The tender process was painless. We obtained tender tickets at the Ivanhoe theater and were on the tender within 5 minutes. Once in port we were greeted by numerous cab/tour operators vying for your business. I researched the port on Cruise Critic prior to leaving and determined that Royal Palm beach would be our stop for the day. (We'd done the stingray snorkel in the past, and decided to have a day at the beach). We found a driver that loaded us up in a 10-12 passenger van took us there for $4 per person. Only about a 10 minute ride.
Royal Palm beach has chairs for $6 apiece. Nice beach with clear water that is about 4 feet deep until your about 15 yards out then it gradually drops off . There is a little bit of a reef area at this point. I didn't snorkel, but DW did and said that she did see some fish. Snorkel gear was $15. The beach has a bar/restaurant, but prices were fairly steep, as is most of the Caymans. Burger for around $9 Cayman currency. Add 20% more for US dollars. When time to leave, there were many cabs ready to take us back to port.
Next stop Isla Roatan. This was our favorite stop. Once again after consulting this forum, we contracted with Victor Bodden Tours. Let me just say that everything said about them is accurate! Great experience, good price. We met our guide, Derek and he gave us a rundown of what we were going to do. Derek was very professional, spoke perfect English, and was a wealth of information. I highly recommend them.
Belize was next. For Belize, if you have contracted a tour independent of the ship, allow plenty of time to get into port. First of all, the ship tenders miles from the port area, and the tender ticket process on the ship was a mess. It took us an hour and a half to from the time we left our cabin until we got off the tender in port. Carnival gives priority to those who book a ships excursion.
In Belize we had booked with CoralBreeze tours, once again because of info gleamed from Cruise Critic. There were about 25 of us loaded into a boat for the 15 minute ride to the reef. Once at the reef they divided us into group based on experience. Each group had their own guide. I don't know what the difference in experience dictates since we all went to the same area. I think maybe with the inexperienced ones they kept closer eye on? The reef was excellent for snorkeling and the guides would point out different sea life, and at times would take our cameras to dive down and take a picture of spiny lobsters that were hidden on the bottom in a rock hole.
After and hour of snorkeling , we went to Bannister Island. The island is just a sliver of sand with a bar and bathrooms. We really enjoyed staying here. Plenty of chairs, good picture opportunities. Bar service is very slow however. I recommend ordering beers or sodas. Mixed drinks take a long time. Once again we got back into the boat and went to an area of mangroves in search of the elusive manatee. We only saw two of the shy mammals, even then only briefly. Overall a good excursion.
Friday was to be a Cozumel stop, but with the Swine flu outbreak, they cancelled our stop and made Friday a sea day, with a planned stop in Key West on Saturday.
Saturday we ported in Key West . This was our sixth time here having diverted with numerous cruise lines over the years! Key West is nice if you haven't been, but really not much to do other than drink or shop! There are a few snorkel/Catamaran excursions you can book.
Back in Miami on Sunday. Disembarkation went smoothly since we had already cleared immigration in Key West.
Overall a great trip. Weather was beautiful the entire time. We are definitely looking forward to our next chocolate melting cake....I mean our next cruise!!!!