Where to begin? I did NOT want to get off the boat. All around me I heard... it's great to be home, etc. and all I could think was...I wonder if they'll give me a price break to just stay on the boat for the eastern itinerary! I love the reviews that go by category, so that's what I'll do!
Embarkation: Definitely show up early! We were told 1:30, but at 1:30 we could see people on the boat already. Not bad though, but don't forget to do your funpass online ahead of time as it will save you time. I also recommend letting the luggage man take everything you can give him, because it is close quarters in line and kinda hot. Even your purse will feel like a burden! Overall, very easy as long as you are prepared.
Cabin: This is the only area I was really disappointed. Not because the room we ended up with was bad, but I had fully expected to be upgraded. I had spoke with Carnival reps many times before we left and had been given the impression that we had a very high probability of being upgraded if we booked guaranteed. Don't count on it, because it is just a disappointment. I will definitely just book the category we want next time. All of that aside, our room was fabulous even on the very lowest deck (Riviera) room 1319. Our room steward did a great job of keeping up after us, although don't believe the "warm cookies for the kids at bedtime" line. Also, a room for three may mean that the third person is on a not so soft couch with sheets on it!
Food: The food was great! We chose to eat in the formal dining room each night (platinum dining room/late seating) and were very pleased with the variety of food choices. I loved the vegetarian enchiladas! This is the only area on the boat that we actually felt the boat rocking considerably, but lucky for us we did not get sick. Open seating breakfast makes for a great time to meet people you may not have met otherwise. Buffets were always open and kept nice and clean. Who could complain about 24 hr ice cream? I really enjoyed the tuxedo strawberries from the creams cafe on promenade deck (for a nominal charge). A drink of the day ($2.95) helped keep the bar tab down also.
Entertainment: We saw two broadway type shows that were very good. I must agree with the other reviews I've read about the male vocalist though. He doesn't come close to being as good as the female. The dancers are great and the costumes wonderful. Our cruise director Stuart Dunn was hilarious! DO NOT miss the guest talent show they add a little something special to it to make you roll on the floor laughing! The pool deck (Lido) always had something to do and lots of live music. Because we had late dining room seating, we couldn't quite make it to the 10:30 show a couple of times I really wanted to. If you enjoy the shows request an early dinner so you can see the 8:30 show instead!
The Boat: B-E-A-U-tiful can only describe this ship! VERY VERY CLEAN! Although some navigation was required, it was not near as bad as I had heard. Just remember the Golden dining room blocks the center of the boat on deck 3 and 4. The staff was always friendly and helpful and I can not emphasize how great the cruise director is!
Costa Maya: This was my husbands favorite port! We had heard it was a waste of precious cruise time, but we got off the boat anyways. We didn't book a shore excursion because there were not very many options although we heard the dune buggies were lots of fun. We instead opted to venture on our own. We found a cab to the little fishing village of mahuhual (SP?) for $3 per person there and $2 per person back. This little village was just what we were looking for, a little bit of real mexico! As we meandered through the shops, we were ushered by the waiter of a little restaurant called TAPAS to an umbrella covered table right on the caribbean. He brought us Pacifica beer for only $2 each all day long while we swam in the beautiful warm crystal clear water. We were serenaded by a goucho and his guitar, we bought dried plantains and other local food sold by men that carried it around on their heads! This was the most relaxing day of all! Check out the spray paint art in the port, at $20 per picture this is a great souvenir.
Belize: The city itself seemed very poor as we drove through to the cave tubing excursion. I did some research and booked this online and it turned out really nice. We saved $20 pp by doing this, but be careful to book it on local island time which is 2 hours ahead of ship time. We booked 7:30 am (9:30 ship time). You have to tender and they say only the people with shore excursions booked on the boat can go first. To avoid this problem, just go to the amber palace with the ship shore tour for cave tubing as they do not require you to show your tickets. The cave tubing was incredible! We only had 5 people in our group as opposed to 40-50 people on the tour booked through carnival. We also got an authentic lunch afterwards that is not included on carnivals tour. This was the best meal of the week! Our guide "Vitamin" was very informative. I would highly recommend the tour.
Cozumel: By far the best shore excursion the whole cruise. We booked the ECO JEEP 4x4 Adventure through Carnival. You really get your money's worth on this tour. You drive your own jeep through some very bumpy off roading while making your way to PUNTA SUR (a national park). Once inside the park you see many great sites and snorkel a beautiful reef. This tour is not for the faint of heart...very active. Lot's of shopping at this port also, but I never found anything to be a GREAT deal at any of the ports.
Progresso: This port is not that great. We did a 4x4 jeep hacienda tour and were very disappointed with the "off-road" part of the tour. We may have been spoiled the previous day, but I think the description is quite misleading. The only off-road we did was a small dirt road to the hacienda, nothing compared to Cozumel. The hacienda was very nicely restored and we made a stop at a Catholic church along the way which was kinda neat. Shopping was again same crap different port.
Camp Carnival: We have a 9 year old daughter and we thought she might want to join in on this and make some friends, but we couldn't persuade her to. Big mistake! She didn't get a chance to make many friends because all of the other kids were at camp carnival! If you have a shy child, make them go to camp carnival at least on the first day at sea! She would have had a much better time with someone to hang out with.
Debarkation: This of course is the hardest part of the cruise! Anything involved with ending the cruise stinks! Actually, we chose to let the baggage be picked up the night before instead of self assisting which turned out to be a wonderful thing since we brought everything except the kitchen sink! We had to wait on the boat a little longer than the self assist people, but like I said before I didn't really WANT to get off anyways!
I would definitely recommend anyone to this ship and this itinerary. I wouldn't be surprised if we sail the Eastern Caribbean soon :-) Please feel free to email me if you have any other questions.