This is my first review and might be a bit lengthy. But all of these reviews have been so helpful to us in preparing so I want to be thorough.
Myself, DH, and our two boys (11 and 7) were onboard for the July 4th sailing on the Glory. My mother and father also joined us. This was our 5th cruise - all with Carnival. We drove down the day before from South Carolina. We stayed at the Residence Inn at the port. It was a fantastic location. We did the park and cruise deal and they had a suite that would work well for the 6 of us. They arrange a shuttle for you to the pier for $6/person round trip. On paper, it was a great deal when you figured in the cost of parking at the port. But we were not entirely satisfied with the hotel. The room itself was spacious enough, but it would never cool down enough. We walked in, set our bags down, turned on the A/C and went to dinner. When we checked out the next morning the A/C was still running but not doing much good. It was bearable, but quite warm. The room also smelled very musty and dirty. If I had to do it all over again, I'd probably find another hotel in the same area that does park and cruise. (The shuttle service was fantastic; early on the pickup at the hotel and we waited maybe 4 minutes at the port to return to the hotel. They used Travelynx.)
Embarkation - Fantastic. Porters took the bags right off the shuttle. Walked into the terminal at 11:10 and we were on Lido by 11:50. It was the 4th of July and the port staff were waving flags and had red, white and blue tophats. Maybe we just got lucky, but it was alot of fun. The staff seemed so happy. They were having fun, and the 30 minute wait was enjoyable. Absolutely no problems; could not have gone smoother.
Ship - I read the horror stories about rust, worn carpets, cracked tiles, etc. I will say I am not an overly critical person. I'm not hard to please. But I found the ship looked to be in fantastic shape. Normally, I would overlook those issues. But because I read so much about them, I looked for them. Didn't see anything. I did see some very minor rust on the hull at one spot. But she was in tip top shape. The crew does a fantastic job in keeping her in such great condition. As for the layout, I didn't have any trouble with it. I understand what some say about decks 3 & 4 - not being able to walk the entire ship. I do have a good sense of direction. I had no problems navigating the ship by dinner time on embarkation day. Again - could not find a thing to complain about the ship. We enjoyed the colors theme with all of the different lounges/public areas. The lighting in several areas were unique and well done. I do want to note - I had read a contentious thread on one of these boards about a paint smell on deck two aft. I was very worried as that's where we were staying. Towards the end of the cruise, we did experience a faint smell of paint, primer or some other smell like that. It did seem a little stronger around the aft elevators. But this was almost imperceivable. Again - another thing I was looking for.
Service - Top notch. Probably the best we've had in all five cruises. Ryan was our Cruise Director. He was fun and seemed to interact with the passengers more than most directors that I've experienced. The stewards - never had a bad one. We had Redi. This was his last week on the ship; he was going home to Indonesia at the end of this cruise. He was awesome! Always just wanting to make sure everything was perfect for us. He was very kind and very genuine. They work so hard and I can't say enough about not only the job they do but the smiles they keep on their face. The wait staff in the Platinum dining room: Jorge was our waiter. He was VERY efficient and I know this is a matter of personal preference - but he had the right amount of conversation with you. He'd talk about the next day's dinner, what our plans were for the next port, etc. He gave us some great tips. But he was never too talkative. Great guy and really enjoyed and appreciated him. Even the waiters we had for breakfast (they are different waiters, it's open seating) were awesome. My youngest son is not a morning person. They went well out of their way to get a smile out of him. Bar service was fantastic. In the past, we've had some indifferent bartenders when we flash those fountain cards. Not here. In fact, our bar waiter in the dining room always made sure we had a full glass of Coke or whatever we wanted on the first day and any day thereafter. Awesome, awesome service. A special mention of the pursers desk. When my 11 year old lost his room key in the arcade, he was panicked. He went to the pursers desk and he could not believe how kind they were. They even replaced his fountain card without us having to pay for a new one.
Food - Again, I'm not an overly critical person. And we did eat alot on Lido, even for some dinners. But the food was fantastic. I've read alot about complaints about portion size. Our first morning, I ordered an omelette, sausage, and a bagel. Christopher, our waiter, said no - you need the works. He brought pancakes for all of us and another side of bacon. You cannot go hungry on this ship! If you like seafood, be sure to find Fish n Chips on deck 10. There are three grills that serve burgers, hot dogs, chicken tenders, nachos, etc. for most of the day. A 24 hour pizza stand (best pizza I've had on Carnival). A deli that's open very late (11PM, I believe). And of course the grand buffet on Lido. They also have a pasta station which would make you a pasta plate with marinara or alfredo sauce when you ask for it. (VERY good!) On the last sea day - they had a chocalte buffet. Tons of chocolate desserts as well as a chocolate fountain for fondue. The menus in the dining room have not changed much in the past couple years to my knowledge. I think they do a great job because every night, there is at least one thing there that someone has a craving for. And of course there are three 24-hour ice cream stands! What really surprised me was the lack of a long line on Lido!
Passengers - This was our first cruise over the summer so we were expecting the worst with kids. And there were ALOT of kids on this cruise. Really though, for the most part, that was not a bad thing. As I said, there were really no lines for food on Lido ALL WEEK! I attribute this to alot of kids eating at off-hours. I may be completely off base with that, but I've never had a week where we did not wait in line just to get to the plates. For the most part, the kids were well-behaved. There were a few annoying issues. I think, for some of these kids, it must have been their first time seeing an elevator. For the first few days, they'd ride up and down the elevators just for fun. And they seemed to congregate in groups. It was probably the 12-15 year old groups. They'd stand around in groups of 20 and think they ran the ship. They were not really bothering anyone, they just had this mob mentality. But - I think that's just the age. As I said, minor annoyances. My major complaint for this cruise though is with the passengers. I've seen it on every cruise and this was no exception. And we did not let a few bad apples ruin our vacation. But common courtesy could go a long way. I see passengers just pushing their way through a line without even a simple excuse me. I've seen passengers berate staff - one woman stood about 20 feet away from a steward and asked in a quiet voice where she could find the next launderette. I could barely hear her and I was next to her. She then proceeded to get in the stewards face and yell at him for not answering her. I know the poor man could not have possibly heard her. Just one example of several that I witnessed. As I said, minor issues and nothing that affected me directly. But common courtesies could take you a long way.
Activities/Entertainment - I can only speak to the sea days, but I was glad to see Carnival updated some of their activities. The "game show" type shows have been refreshed and were hysterical. There was always something to do. The Welcome Aboard show was even updated and was quite funny. (Great job by the Cruise Director.) We did not attend either production show. I don't have anything bad to say about them, they just are not my cup of tea. I'd sooner go listen to live music or a comedian. We saw two comedians. Lewis Nixon - good "PG" show, pretty good "R" show. JR McCollum - missed his "PG" show. Caught the "R" show and we laughed our butts off. This one was a bit more racy than Mr. Nixon. But the material was pretty good. We did catch the Justin Illusion show. Mixed reviews on him - alot of dancing, not a ton of "magic". We sat along the side. Tip - if you don't want the illusion ruined, don't sit on the sides. We went to Karaoke two nights. One night was really good, the other not so much. The host there was not overly energetic. We've had better hosts. We spent a good deal of time listening to the music. We spent several nights in the Ivory Lounge on deck 4 listening to the Mickey Utley Band. If you like Rock/Country, he was fantastic. He's doing a 4-week stint to promote his first album coming out this fall. We really enjoyed his music. My mother and father spent nearly every night at the Casino Bar listening to Robbin Cooke playing Oldies music (50s and some 60s). If that's your thing, my father thought he was the best thing since sliced bread. We also caught a little bit of Russell in the piano bar. Every night he had a packed house, but we just didn't get into it this time. We really enjoy the game shows - Battle of the Sexes (which was updated), The Glory Game Show, the Newlywed Game (the name escapes me)... all hysterical. I also enjoyed the talks Ryan gave about life aborad the ship. He opened it up to any and all questions and he answered them all. Very infomative. And again - seems like a very genuinely nice guy - not necessarily spouting off corporate-approved answers. Don't miss the water slide and we also took advantage of the putt putt course on deck 12 midship. We also attended the first Murder Mystery meeting but we never did keep up with it. We just didn't have enough time. We didn't attend any of the Lido deck activites, i.e. hairy chest, ice carving, etc, but it was well-attended and everyone seemed to enjoy.
Casino - Gambling just isn't our thing. My husband planned to spend $30 in slots. He was up $40 before the last sea day when he lost all but $20. Nice casino and the smoke wasn't as overpowering as it was on other ships.
Nassau - We had planned to go to British Colonial Hotel and take advantage of their day passes. We made the 15 minute walk. We read on the boards before we left that they were $20/person and you had full use of their beach. But little did we know they'd change their rates two days before we were to arrive. They went up to $40/person. The $40 included a $30 credit for food. Well, we had planned to eat lunch on the ship since we had to be back on board by 1:30. So what was supposed to be $120 for day passes - they wanted $240. We declined to pay it. Certainly, they are well within their right to change their prices. And some people may find that to be a fair deal. But we weren't prepared to shell out that kind of money for a few hours on the beach. I also learned that the $30 credit does not cover tips. We also did not get off the ship until about 9:30, knowing we were going to walk to a beach. So changing plans and going to Sheraton (as we had originally planned) was not going to work with just a few hours. We opted to walk through the streets and shop for the typical tourist stuff. The prices were pretty cheap for t-shirts and such. We got back on board and tried to make it up to our disappointed boys with the pools and waterslide. I think it's our fault for putting all our eggs in one basket.
St. Thomas - This was our second visit. We took a tour the last time we were here. We made plans to go to Magens Bay. We got off the ship and walked through the Havensight shops to the taxi stand. We were asked where we wanted to go, we told them and we were on our way in less than five minutes. It's $10 each way. Taxi rates are regulated. In addition there is a $4/person charge to enter the beach. Children under 12 are free to enter the beach. This was the highlight of the cruise for our kids. It was perfect. The weather was fantastic. It was not too crowded (even with many ships in port). The water is INCREDIBLY calm. The kids loved the little fish that would swim all around you in the shallow water. They had lounge chairs for rent ($7), snorkel equiment (about $18, I think), floats (not sure about cost). All of the rentals required a refundable deposit up front. There are no umbrellas on the beach but there is enough shade along the sand. They also have nice picnic areas. They have a stand that sells drinks, burgers, hot dogs, etc. Cokes were $2. But I thought the food was kind of high - $9 for a burger. We just had drinks there. The taxi driver offered to pick us up if we'd tell her a time. She was there - right on time waiting for us. We also asked her to stop at Udder Delight (a milkshake stand that makes some good alcoholic shakes as well "normal" shakes). We forgot about the stop on the way back - she didn't. She waited about 10 minutes for us to order and get the shakes and then took us back to the ship. Our plan was to come back off the ship after cleaning up and head up to Paradise Point to catch the sunset but we never made it. The sunset was at 6:58 and we had to be back on board by 7:30. Didn't want to cut it that close. We did shop in the Havensight area some.
St. Maarten - This was our first visit so we wanted to do a tour. We chose Bernard's Tours. $35/person. Slim was our driver. It was a perfect tour. They took us to Rima's. They touted it as the place where all the vendors buy their merchandise and that we'd find everything there at a 25% discount. They lied. We found most things at a 50% discount! Lots of clothing. Tourist trinkets. You name it, they had it, and cheap. Spent 20 minutes there. Then we went to Sunset (or Maho) Beach to watch the planes land over our head. We were supposed to only be there 20 minutes. But our driver said we should wait another 5 minutes. There was a big plane coming in just a few minutes. It was awesome. Not a 747 but a big commercial airline. Something you'd want to experience. Now I'd caution you on something you don't want to experience. When there's a big DANGER sign, take the time to read it. You can be blown away by the jetwash on takeoffs. We witnessed several people being blown 20 feet back and one got blown all the way to the water. That sand blast cannot feel good! We then went to the French side and stopped at Marigot. We bought some tasty (but expensive) French pastries. Most things on the French side are Euro. But hey, they were authentic! We then went to Orient Bay - a beautiful beach. Also a cloting optional beach. Slim let us out right by Pedros, a little restraunt with pretty good food. But he showed us the dividing line - a rock in the sand. If you go to the right - all bets are off. Clothing (all clothing, tops and bottoms) are optional. To the left, it's only topless. And I did witness one tourist that felt he did not have to obey the unwritten rule. He was chased down and told to put his bottoms on. We opted to stay to the left. It was different, for sure. But I think that's part of the experience. But we were also grateful that we decided to leave the kids with Camp Carnival. Then it was back to the ship. We stopped at several overlooks and took pictures. Slim was very informative and kind to a fault. They provided free rum punch, beer, sodas and waters. He made sure at every opportunity we were not thirsty! Bernard, the owner, checked on us several times throughout the tour. I cannot say enough about how wonderful the tour was! They are flexible to do what the group wants to do. And they stay abreast of traffic (which seems to be an issue particularly on the Dutch side) and change as necessary. Just a GREAT tour. There is a very nice shopping area in the port area. Not sure about the prices there, but a very nice area. No one jumping at you to braid your hair.
Disembarkation - Sad! Didn't want it to end. We opted, for the first time, to put our bags out the night before. We always did self assist. But we planned to stay for the shuttle launch later that day so we were in no hurry to get out. The whole process was seamless. We ate breakfast in the Platinum Dining Room at 8AM, fully expecting to be rushed out of there without good service. Again - pleasantly surprised. We had a relaxing meal with fantastic service. We eventually made our way to deck 3 at about 9AM. We were waiting for the shuttle to the hotel by 9:30 or so. No luck on the space shuttle launch though; it was scrubbed.
Again - sorry for the length of the review. If you have any questions that I can help with, email me. But we could not be happier with how this cruise went. We didn't think any cruise would surpass our first on the Miracle. This one may have done it.