Embarkation: Our trip began with a flight from Utah to Ft. Lauderdale two days prior to visit relatives. We were dropped off at the terminal about 1:30pm. Upon arriving, the porters quickly took our bags (usual tip $1.00/bag). We gave them everything but a couple small backpacks. You never know how long before your room might be ready and we didn't want to haul anything around the ship. We then went inside and got in line. You can read many reviews and get different gripes about this process, but we experienced no problems. It was orderly and they moved us as fast as possible and we were on the ship in about an hour. So take your time, be patient and enjoy everything about your cruise. Getting on and off comes with the territory and complaining serves no purpose. Just like in an airport, be prepared to take out laptops and metal objects for screening. Have your paper work and passports ready. Once on ship, our rooms were surprisingly ready and we checked their whereabouts and dropped off our things. While waiting for departure, this is a good time to walk the ship and get orientated. It can be very confusing how to get from here to there.
The ship was beautiful, decorated nice and very clean and orderly. All the crew members we encountered, from one end of the ship to the other, were friendly and helpful. There are 3 pools. An adult only pool in the rear of the ship with 2 hot tubs and a retracting roof which we didn't like- made it to stuffy in there. The main pool on the Lido deck could have been bigger. It has a gigantic big screen and plenty of lounge chairs, 2 hot tubs and 2 bars and there is a smaller pool above that where the water slide comes down. There are waiters everywhere to serve you. You don't have to worry about tipping- its on the tab automatically. I thought this made it easier without having to have the waiter stand there and peer over you while figuring what to tip. If you're a beer drinker, get the bucket- you save money. There were activities around the Lido pool area daily but not enough live band entertainment at the pool we had experienced on other ships. Perhaps things are scaled back due to the economy. Our cabin was on the main deck and had a large porthole window. The room and bathroom were very clean and I thought reasonably spacious for 2 people. Plenty of closet and drawer space. The air conditioning worked well. They don't allow irons but there was a launderette down the hallway with an ironing table and iron all set up as well as washers and dryers. Note: it seemed more people wanted to use the one iron just prior to dinner and evening activities, so to avoid a line do you ironing mid day. There is a fridge but we had to ask to have it unlocked. There is also a safe, although not that big, but it operates by your credit card, not your sailing card. Important Tip- there is only one outlet in the room and it's not in the bathroom. Bring a multiple outlet adapter and extension cord or two. We did and it came in very handy.
Entertainment and shows were very good but way too much to write about, plus everyone goes to them anyway. The casino was fairly large with allot of games, but unfortunately very smokey. The wifi/wireless room is also unfortunately on the other side of the cigar room and it lingers in there. Not the best place.
We chose our evening dining for the last sitting at 8:00. We liked the late sitting so we weren't so rushed when we got back from our daily excursions. It also gave us time for a late snack and drink at the docks and allowed us time to unwind once on the boat and watch the boat leave the dock. Food in the dining room was excellent as well as the service. The menu hosted a wide variety every night. I thought the lamb was the best. Other than our debarkation morning, we never had breakfast in the dining room. The buffet was good overall, not great, but again hosted a variety of food. You can read in other reviews about Scarletts Restaurant but we never took the time to eat there. Out by the pool they have smaller food stations where you can snack on things all day. There is also a good pizza bar, a sandwich deli, a burrito bar and a fish n chips station as well. Helpful hint- go to the deli the night before an excursion and get a few sandwiches made, then take them to your room and put in the fridge for the next days activities. Pack a few zip-lock baggies for this purpose.
First day at sea, we lounged around the pool area and watched the activities. Our weather wasn't the best due to the hurricane which was on the other side of the Gulf. It just didn't bring out the sun like we would had hoped. But the weather was warm with mild humidity.
You will read in many reviews the good and bad of "tendering". I think Grand Cayman was the worst, not sure why. Maybe just the excitement of getting on shore for the first time. But again, this goes with the process and you just need to be patient, plan ahead, give yourself time and don't stress over it. You will get to shore.
Before I get to the daily stops, I want to say that we elected NOT to take ship excursions, but arranged private trips. However, we planned ahead and did some careful researching as well as using recommendations found in some of these reviews. We just don't like being herded like cattle on a bus. Plus with two couples, we split the costs and it was nice being on our own schedule, being able to stop when we wanted and get drinks and snacks as well as take bathroom stops as we pleased.
Grand Cayman- Weather was decent- a little cloudy. We rented a car and drove along 7 mile beach to Hell and back literally. Hell is a small town on one end. At that end is also the Dolphin encounter and the turtle farm. We walked around but didn't pay for the encounters. We then drove to the opposite end of the island to Kaibo Bar & Grill. It was a nice place settled in a quiet bay with nice clear waters. The food was good and we had a few drinks there. Would have liked to spend more time there but this stop in Grand Cayman is a quick day and we needed to get the car back in time. It's a nice drive around the island and you get to see everything on your own schedule. If you rent a car here, remember they drive on the opposite side of the street. We were fortunate that one of our party spent time in Britain and was accustomed to it. Helpful hint- when you get back to the dock area and the long line has formed down the walkway, you can go across the street to Jimmy Buffets MargaritaVille and have some drinks on the balcony deck while you watch the line move. When it gets toward the end you simply walk over. From the time we arrived back at the dock, this process took about 45 minutes before we had to go get in line.
Roatan- this is where we had our snorkeling and beach getaway planned. I read in several reviews this is where the best snorkeling is. We hired a private company that goes out of West End. Unfortunately, it was pouring when we got off the ship and was stormy all day so our trip was cancelled. So since I can't vouch for this company services, I'm not listing them. However, the guide that met us was extremely friendly and we worked out a price of $20.00/person and he drove us around the island in his van, showing us the backcountry and was very informative in its history. He took us to a monkey farm, which was interesting. You can enter the cage and the monkeys will climb all over you. He took us to a well-known seafood place in French Harbor that was excellent. I highly recommend his services. He got us back to the docks in time to shop. On top of the $80.00 we spent, we gave him an additional $20.00/couple. We did some street shopping but personally I was uncomfortable with the children begging. It really got to me. But other people just look past it because that's the way it is. The guide is Emsly Hyde (Hyde Tours) 455-5030- don't have area code but his email is email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Belize- again we did not go on the ship excursion but scheduled for Major Toms Cave Tubing Adventures. I don't know why this is not on the Carnival excursion list because they are well organized and know their business. But from my understanding, all the cave tubing tour companies go to the same place. We were originally set to rent a car and go to the Altun Ha ruins and then to the cave tubing. After emailing with Major Tom about how we might hook up with his tubing company, he pointed out it would be hard to do both of those visits in one day not knowing where were going. Major Tom is very good about corresponding with you. I eventually set up a private guide thru his company to take us to the ruins and tubing. His name was Albert and I highly recommend him as well. Major Tom can set this up. He is a certified guide and was very knowledgeable about the history of the island and explained it all as he drove us around. After going with Albert and seeing the interior I am so glad we did not rent a car. Although we did get to see the ruins, we had to kind of rush thru to have time for tubing. Even with a guide, it's allot to do in one day. The ruins were fascinating but the cave tubing was awesome. Both of these are quite a drive. About cave tubing- you walk thru the rain forest for about a half hour with your tube. When you get to the entrance, you sit in the water in your tube in a line attached to each other by your arms and ankles in a group of about 8-10. You have a headlamp on your head. You go thru very mild rapids and enter to the cave system with your guide attached. It is very dark but you slowly drift thru the caverns while your guide tells you about the them. You exit and then float down the river thru the rainforest to your point of exit. To contact Major Tom, google "Major Tom in Belize" or email@example.com.
Cozumel- this was our favorite place and best weather. This was our day to relax and fun in the sun. Two Carnival ships dock together here. We docked first and then we got to see the other ship pull along side. It was really neat to watch this. We got off the ship right away and hopped on a taxi for $14.00 and went to an all-inclusive resort called Naici Connum. We took this recommendation from these reviews and were glad we did. Private white sandy beach with clear turquoise water. This is one of just a couple resorts that has a pool. Although the ocean was warm and clear the pool had a swim up bar. We did a bit of both. All you can eat and drink for $50.00/ea and the food was good. For extra money you can parasail, snorkel, jet-ski, kayak, etc but the fees are very reasonable. They took the four of us out snorkeling on their boat right off their private dock for an hour for $28.00each. They also have an extended 2-hour snorkel as well. We relaxed on lounges under palms tree huts being served by friendly waiters (like a Corona commercial). They only allow 100 people per day so it not crowded at all. In fact that day there was probably only 30 at best. It was a beautiful day and we all got a little burnt but we had a blast and will definitely go back there as we still want to see the rest of the island. We took a taxi back and strolled around the many shops at the dock. This area is very clean and there is a big bar there right where you board. Cozumel is where the many Tequila shops are located. If you buy, you will be asked to check them in upon entering the ship. Because of the weather in Roatan was such a bummer; the Captain of the Valor gave us 2 extra hours here in Cozumel, which we really liked
Disembarking- what ever you do, make sure you send at least one member of your party to the disembarking meeting the afternoon before. It is very important with must know information. Get there early as the place was packed. We chose to go with the majority and have our luggage handled by the crew. You leave your bags outside your room by midnight the night before. We got out of our room in the morning by 8:00. Went to the dining room to have breakfast and then sat up at the Lido deck pool area and waited for our number to be called which was at about 10:00. We got off the ship promptly and got our bags and then went thru customs without a problem.
All in all it was a great time, nothing major to complain about and a fun ship. We will most definitely cruise with Carnival again.