Friday, 8/7 My family of 9 travelled from DFW area to New Orleans, leaving at 7:30a driving straight thru, arriving New Orleans around 5:30p. Checked into Drury Inn on Poydras ($109/night with free parking for the week for the cruise, which saved $70 at the terminal). Rooms were nice. Saturday, 8/8 It started raining that morning, so we waited a little bit and then loaded up the cars and two of our crew dropped the rest off and then took the cars back and walked back to meet us (15 mins). We paid the bellman $1/bag (he made a little speech about collecting for his services and waited until he was paid). Embarkation You first enter thru some glass doors, at which point you must show your photo ID and completed Fun Pass. You proceed up the escalator. You are given a health questionnaire to complete while waiting in that line. You go thru security. You proceed to a line according to your cabin deck number. Your passport/photo ID is not needed after this point. The next person you speak with is the actual check-in person, so you need your Fun Pass and the credit card that you used when completing your online Fun Pass. Then you proceed to the spot where they take your Welcome Aboard picture (you can opt to bypass this). You then get in line for your Sail N Sign picture and then you're thru and onto the ship. We started the process at 12:15 and were on the ship at 1:00p. The rooms were ready within 20 minutes of our boarding. We had lunch on the Lido deck. The Mongolian grill was a huge hit with my guys. They have a really spicy dish and a milder one. The French fries were great, as was their chicken nuggets—really good flavor! It felt great to be back on a cruise, and we were excited for the days ahead. We went down to our rooms and started unpacking (I don't recall when luggage arrived, but it wasn't too late.)
Food Breakfast was very good. I very much enjoy a good bowl of oatmeal with butter and brown sugar, and was pleased to see that every other day they alternated between grits and oatmeal. The eggs were very good—on the Lido deck the consistency was very fine (or small, not sure how to describe it) and I very much liked them, but inside they were normal consistency (not sure why the difference, but there was a difference). You could go for a lite breakfast or a full-blown breakfast, and it was nice to have the choice. Lunch was always very good, and the hamburgers were reported to me to be outstanding. Again, the Mongolian grill was a huge hit with my 10-year-old son and my husband. One day, I had a turkey wrap made (at the Pizzeria), so again, it was very nice to have so much variety. Dinners every night were fabulous, with the warm chocolate melting cake being the biggest hit at our table, and ordered every night. My husband each night ordered at least two different entrees, and sometimes seconds of an entrEe. The service was excellent in all aspects, be it casual dining or the dining room.
Spa/Gym I worked out every morning, enjoying the use of a full circuit of machines. (I'm not a gym member—just work out of my home to P90X, so it felt really good to have the use of all the different machines, as well as the treadmills and elliptical.) I have one complaint about the entire cruise, and it comes from the gym department. Several times they misprinted the gym classes on the Capers, and on the last day at sea, they printed a stretching class at 7:00a and an aerobics class at 7:30a. I made it to the gym by 7:08a and knew that I had missed the stretching class, so I just did some circuit work until 7:30a. Well, time gets close and several ladies are there for the class, and we are informed by the exercise instructor (a guy from South Africa) that there was a misprint and there is no aerobics class that morning (he has a Pilates class scheduled for 7:30a which you have to pay $12 for and there were 3-4 ladies signed up). I jokingly inquired if they don't show up, would he lead us in aerobics, but he did not commit. Well, I'm on the elliptical, watching the clock and at 7:45a, no one has shown up for the Pilates class (instructor is still standing around). So, my gripe is that he knew there were 4-5 ladies interested in the aerobics class still in the gym and he could have/should have said he would lead an aerobics class for those ladies that made the effort to be in the gym at that time of day based upon what was printed. That's lazy to me. (Other than that, the entire cruise was fabulous!) On the first day at sea, the spa did some giveaways, and one of them was 50% off of the men's facial/shave. So, I signed my husband up. He did this right before our formal night dinner, and as they got started late (and failed to tell me what time it would get over), we were 30 minutes late for dinner. But, no big deal. Again, he very much enjoyed it. I don't think I would pay full price, though ($95)
Port excursions We did not do anything thru Carnival. On the Progresso day, we thought about doing the D ruins, but our group decided we didn't want to go (too hot)(But, FYI, the cab stand rate was $80 roundtrip for a van holding 8-12, and that would have been the way we would have done it—saving a lot of money, even over the Auto Progresso rate of $29 per person). So, we took the shuttle bus into town and walked through the market (where they constantly try to barter with you—I didn't mind it, though). We walked to the beach, and a lady asked if we wanted a massage for $30, but we shook our heads no, and then she said she'd do two for $30, so my sis-in-law and I took her up on it. What was my favorite experience of the whole trip. Having a massage while hearing the waves and feeling the cool breeze (even though it was hot, the shade was very nice) over you at the same time was just wonderful! If the rest of my group had not wanted to get back, I would have turned right around and done another one! While we did that, the rest played on the beach and rode the banana boat ($5/per person). We returned to the ship around 3:00p. (On the way back through the port shops, my son wanted an onyx shark, but they would not bargain at all, so be aware that if you want deals, you need to make them in town.) The next day was Cozumel, and we opted for Paradise Beach based upon the reviews here. We were not disappointed. Although it was crowded (we arrived at 10:00a, and there was a couple of front-row umbrella chairs, but within 30 mins they were gone), we were able to find chairs in the shade. They have a laptop with free Internet access (15 min limit) at the bar, so I was able to check e-mails. The food and drinks were good. My guys really enjoyed the water toys, although my son never could get up the iceberg. They did parasailing ($55/per person, or $100 for two). The cab fare going was $15 (for 3 of us) and the return for all 9 of us was $28. We left Paradise Beach at 3:00p. The shops at the pier are nice.
Cabin No complaints about the cabin. We were on Riviera deck, and much discussion is out there concerning cabin choice. I would not mind being on Riviera again—the only drawbacks are that you are farther away from the dining room and activities (and, if like me, you promise not to take the elevator in order to make up for all the extra eating you're doing, then those extra stairs can be taxing, but I'm glad I did it that way). Also, you are the last deck called for leaving on the last day, but it probably added 20 minutes to the wait, so that's not a big factor. The cabin was always clean, and I loved coming back mid-afternoon to a clean cabin, and then in the evening to the mess I'd made getting ready for dinner being gone and a towel animal waiting for me! We had an outside cabin, and it was wonderful to fall asleep to the moonlight and then awake to the sunlight (natural alarm clock made it that much easier to get up to the gym every morning!). The beds and pillows and bedding were wonderful! The robes were great to have, also. We bought a beach towel to take home as a souvenir for our new pool. All-in-all, I would definitely spend the money for an outside cabin, but I don't think I'll stress too much about which deck I'm on. (We also liked the fact that we were very close to the aft staircase, which made it very convenient for dining and activities (R216 was a great choice). The bathroom floor getting wet was never an issue for us. (I even came prepared with clips for the shower curtain, but didn't use them.) Between the vanity/desk in the cabin and the shelf in the bathroom, we had plenty of space for all our toiletries. It was nice to receive the shampoo/conditioner samples and the toothpaste samples!
Entertainment We attended the Beatles night, and wished we had not brought our 10-year-old son, as some of the costumes were quite skimpy, but that's just my opinion. We also attended the comedian/ventriloquist (without our son). I don't think I would attend either one again.
The library has games you can play, but they are only available on a very limited basis (I don't remember the daily hours, but it was not very often).
Camp Carnival My son decided after attending the orientation meeting, that he would not be going to Camp Carnival, felt as though he had outgrown it. Since he had cousins to hang out with, that probably made a difference. If he had been by himself, I think he would have gone and enjoyed it. (He has on every cruise we've gone on before.)
Disembarkation We chose the self-assist, and were a little leery about doing so, but now that we've done it, we'll do it from now on. You just need to be sure that you can handle all the luggage you have, but other than that, no worries. We were ready to go by 7:00a. They started calling for self-assist at 7:05a, starting with the top decks. They called our deck (Riviera) around 7:45a. We were off the ship before 9:00a. (This way, we didn't have to tip those bellmen again!)
We've only cruised Carnival, and have always been pleased. This was a very enjoyable cruise—we can't wait to go on another!