I have faithfully looked to cruise critic for insight each time I book a cruise and so I felt I owed something back...thus my review. My husband and I (both in our late 30's) have been on several cruise lines, including Carnival, NCL, and Royal Caribbean many times in the past. Last year we cruised out of New York and found it to be very appealing as we live in PA and could drive to the port vs. flying. We have two children, ages 3 and 8 and flying adds an unwanted expense. We sailed on the 8/21/09 sailing and unfortunately ran into not just one but two hurricanes! The captain did the best he could to keep us as close to the coast line as possible, but the boat was still rocking pretty good and all of my family at one time or another had an issue with sea sickness despite taking Bonine. I'm talking fifteen feet swells, and at one point they even canceled the evening show due to safety issues, and closed a portion of the decks. However this did not deter us from having a wonderful cruise! Getting on the cruise took a while since I insisted on being there early in order to try and reserve a cabana for HMC. Apparently not only did we arrive early, but the ship arrived back in port from the previous week late, so it was about an hour and a half to a two hour wait to board the ship. I also carried on all of our luggage, big mistake. I wanted to do this so we could go to our room, shower and change into clean clothes for dinner, but instead just made my husband and kids miserable in the process. Next time I'll check everything else before boarding and just do with one smaller carry on bag. However on the way off the ship if you can handle it, disembark with all your luggage, was easy, quick, and you're one of the first off the ship. First off let me say that despite the complaints of others on this site, the nude portraits and decor of the ship weren't an issue for our family. My two young children didn't even make comments about them to me unless it had been pointed out by others. I thought our room as well as the ship was clean and spacious. We had a balcony room, with a queen sized bed, a bunk which pulled down and a sofa that our cabin steward would make up at the end of the day for us. Plenty of storage, light and room in the cabin and bathroom. Hair dryer for me was quite adequate which isn't usually the case as I have very thick hair. The swells and sea sickness put somewhat of a damper on our sea days, but not too much. Kids loved the towel creatures and our cabin steward rocked! Everyone we encountered in the halls or on deck were friendly and always said hello to us. I enjoyed a hot stone massage in the spa (birthday present from my hubby), which was wonderful, a little pricey, but nice. My son and I played mini golf a few times, the only drawback is that the water slide and golfing area are on the top deck and were closed more often than open due to the rough weather and wind. A little disappointing for my 8 year old but he enjoyed swimming as well as other activities. He wasn't big into going to camp carnival but he and my husband did participate in an enjoyable scavenger hunt one day, and the kids who were there seemed to be having a blast. Carnival provided lots of activities for the kids, and there were over 800 kids on board. We knew to expect this having kids ourselves and realizing that school was not in session for most parts of the country during this time. Did not even try David's, didn't need to, the food in the dining room was great! We had the early seating and both of my sons were with every night. There were enough choices that no one went hungry, and both my guys found great eats at every sitting. As for desserts, I don't have much to compare to.....all I can say is WARM CHOCOLATE MELTING CAKE! Out of this world, and got it all but two nights for dessert! First stop was Grand Turk, beautiful island, you can easily walk right off the ship onto the pier and head to the beach, pool, or shopping area. We took no excursions at this port but went swimming in the ocean and the pool at Margaritaville, collected shells, browsed in the shops, and built sand castles.
Second port day was Half Moon Cay and we had the wonderful opportunity of renting a Cabana. I had read countless times about these on this site and as soon as I got on the ship went immediately to the shore excursion desk as you can't rent one online before leaving. I was thrilled to learn we had gotten one, #13 it was terracotta colored, can't say enough about the cabana's. Well worth the money (225.00) especially when traveling with small children. The beach is very hot, I mean HOT! The cabana not only provided a shaded area, but came with enough snorkel equipment, rafts, chips and salsa, fruit, veggies, soda and water for four people, as well as a ceiling fan, air conditioner, oscillating misting fan, shower to rinse off in and towells. If you have more than four people I believe there is a an added fee. There is a nice table for four as well as cushioned loungers. I could read my book all the while watching the kids play in the sand. People walk around selling drinks from the ship, and you do have to hike back to the food area for lunch. I did this all the while not wearing my sandals, which was stupid on my part and I burned my feet. HMC was one of the most beautiful islands I've ever been on, the sand is like flour, not rocky at all, and the water is see through clear, enjoyed the day with the family and was probably one of the best days of vacation!
In Nassau we decided to do the tour of Atlantis, I had been there once before but the family and hubby had not. I figured since it's so expensive to stay there, this is the only way they'd ever get to experience it. My three year old was free but the rest of us cost 155.00 a person!!!! Even though lunch and the ride to and from the ship were included, I still don't think we actually got our money's worth. I have heard of another lady actually booking a room overnight even though they would not use it because it cost much less than paying for a tour X four people. Now that lady's smart. I had forgotten how large the resort actually is and we spent lots of time walking around trying to find things rather than actually using the water slides and having fun. Looking back, not sure this was the way to go, but the kids had a blast.
Last port was Freeport. Lots to do about nothing actually, we chose to catch up on our sleep this day and just browse shops at the Lucaya Marketplace. For the four of us we ended up paying $30 round trip from the pier. Very easy to do, but the things they should at the straw market were also being sold just off the pier, so we basically wasted $30 and an hour of time getting there and back. No big deal, decided to go back to the ship, play mini golf and take a nap.
All in all the ports were fun, and the beaches amazing. I think vacation is what you make it, and I had done lots of research that suggested this would be a good trip for our family. Carnival seems to be for the fun loving, family orientated crowd. There were adult things to do as well as an adults only pool, but at the same time I think they do cater to younger families with children. This is one reason we love cruising with them, the food has always been good and plentiful, and the atmosphere relaxed and lay-ed back. My husband seems to think service on all cruises in general isn't what it had been in the past but it was adequate as far as I was concerned. If you're looking for elegant surroundings with no children underfoot this was one cruise not for you, but we had a blast and would do it all over again in a heartbeat!