Our trip started on the Friday before we were scheduled to leave. We live in the Tampa, FL area and drove down to Fort Lauderdale and stayed at the Holiday Inn. I was skeptical, at first, but the hotel appears to be new and not one that they have purchased and remodeled. The rate was $185 and included tax and the following: parking for the duration of the cruise, transportation to and from the port and a full breakfast buffet for 2 adults (my son ate free because he was under 12). We will definitely stay with them again with this same package.
We had scheduled our departure on the shuttle for 11am on Saturday morning. We left at 11am, straight up! Excellent. The driver was a bit fast and erratic, but other than that we arrived safely at around 11:20 am. We had upgraded to a suite and were shown to the "VIP" area. Not impressed. Seemed like the regular line was moving as fast or faster and we were told to take a number and be seated. Needless to say, it did go smoothly, but no perks here. We were on the ship and eating by 11:45 am. The room was not ready until 1:30 pm so I made my way to the shore excursion desk to book the Behind the Scenes tour of the ship. It was $95 per person and was conducted on the last sea day. It is a 3 1/2 hour tour, in depth, with all of the heads of the departments. Very interesting and educational. Now that I have done it, will not do it again. There are other perks along with this so I do recommend it if you have an interest in seeing the bridge an interacting with the Captain and coming away with some memorable photos that THEY take as cameras are not permitted due to the sensitive nature of all that they are sharing with the small group of 16 that are permitted on the tour. Go right when you board or you will not get a spot. It fills up fast.
Our suite was great. I am writing on another thread about it as well, but it was the first cabin, starboard, right above the bridge. We LOVED the cabin, but I can see where others may not. There is a window that overlooks a front deck area where other passengers gather when coming into port, but we were not bothered by it. We just kept the curtains closed. The balcony is not the larger balcony that comes with other suites, but again, we were not disappointed. Only the three of us so it was big enough. Storage space was abundant- we didn't use it all. Bathroom was great with two sinks and a full size bathtub. There were notes of having trouble with hot water in some other reviews of this cabin, but we did not experience this. We are a family that goes to bed around 9:30-10:30 and are out of the cabin by 8:30 am. Noise, for us, was not an issue. If one was to sleep in, however, it could potentially be an issue with housekeeping, but I think that goes for any cabin. We would definitely choose this cabin again.
The entertainment on this ship was excellent. The two "broadway" style shows were absolutely stunning with props and costumes. On the backstage tour, we were told that one of the costumes in the Big Easy show-tribute to New Orleans- cost $450,000. The costumes are straight out of Vegas and it is obvious. I can't say enough about this show. It was uplifting fun and something I would pay to see on Broadway. They will be keeping this show on this ship for 5-7 years so it is more likely that Carnival would change the ship in that port on that route verses the show- cheaper to do that is what we were told. The other Broadway style show was Ticket to Ride which was a Beatles tribute. Again, excellent, and we didn't even get the entire show due to the ships movement. The comedians were good, and the juggler was funny if you like dry humor. Mixed reviews on Wee Jimmy, the Cruise Director. I enjoyed him, but his humor is a bit hokey. My husband couldn't stand him. A bit disappointing was the Bingo. Carnival is charging $20 for ONE game of Bingo verses the 3 that they used to give. This is just one of the areas where passengers will feel the pinch of Carnival trying to save. I did not play Bingo on this cruise. Usually I play 2-3 times. One game is a tease to me and hardly worth my time out of the sun so I passed on this one. Lots of trivia on the cruise. A bit annoying, but again- costs them nothing to do it. The only prizes that they gave out were the little "Ships on a Stick". No champagne or extras this time around.
I do believe that the food was better on this Carnival cruise for us. We traveled on the Glory last December and it seemed that everything had a sauce of some sort. Not this time. It was great. Dining room and Lido deck. My husband enjoyed the Indian food line and I pretty much stayed with the conservative items that I recognized- hot dogs, fries, salads.
The usual are still available- pizza, deli (fresh hot/cold sandwiches), coffee shop, outdoor grill. They did a chocolate bar in the afternoon. I am with the other reviewer on this one- not impressed. There were no midnight buffets or anything of that sort on the Lido deck- again, feeling the pinch.
The ports were Cozumel, Costa Rica and Panama. Won't do them again. Cozumel is a given on almost any of the cruises that we have been on and I don't mind that port, but Costa Rica and Panama are poverty ridden countries that I do not care to visit again. Costa Rica moreso than Panama, but still both were oppressed and dilapidated. You expect some of that when visiting these countries, but it really is bad and not really something we care to revisit. It definitely gave us something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving day. Had I thought about it, I would have taken school supplies or something down there to them. I really did not realize how desperate they were down there. The Panama Canal was interesting but lots of stairs to climb and very crowded on the observation deck. We did see one ship go through which was plenty and then we were on our way to Portobelo. In both Costa Rica and Panama, we booked our tours offline. In Costa Rica we booked through Oscar Brown tours and it was ok. There was no food on the tour so be sure to grab some boxes of cereal or take baggies and carry some food with you on the tour. We did the Tortugo Canal tour and it was cool. We saw sloths and howler monkeys along the way. In Panama we booked through My friend Mario and the experiences were both good. We did the visit to the Canal and then to Portobelo and then to the beach. We were on comfortable, air conditioned buses in both cases. They do pack the tours though, so be sure to confirm your rate is based on the number of folks that are going on the tour with you. With My Friend Mario, our tour guide, Elvis was great and had bags of chips and beer and water for everyone. On the other in Costa Rica we just had drinks. Just something to note as you are out on the tour for the full day. Shopping is not good in either of these ports so I would fore go it. But then again, I am not a shopper for touristy type things which is all that I saw in both locations. Plenty of that here in Florida.
We did the self assist when we disembarked and it was a breeze. We were up at 5:30 as we pulled into port. Had breakfast at 6am and were off of the ship at 7am. We were on deck 9 and were suppose to wait for them to call our deck, but they do not check so we went down for the deck 2 self disembarkment process and were off the ship in no time. We called the Holiday Inn and the shuttle was there within minutes. Excellent experience.
Overall we would sail Carnival again, but different ports are definitely on the horizon for us. Happy Cruising!