I'll start off by saying, as with all of my vacations, I did a ton of research when choosing our spring cruise this year. I read review after review here on Cruise Critic, and can safely say that any bad review is from someone that you just can't please. My husband and I are pretty much "go with the flow" type of people, and small stuff just doesn't bother us. One bad food item (not that we had any on this trip) or a long wait for an elevator is NOT going to rain on our parade. You can tell the bad reviewers are just people who set the bar way higher than it should be. If you go on a cruise, whether it be on Carnival, Royal or Disney, you should expect bumps in the road (I mean, come on...you are on a large ship with thousands of other people), but know that they aren't going to ruin your good time. Vacations are meant to take your mind off of the day to day struggles...so let that happen!!!!
We live in Lakeland, which is only 35 minutes away from the port. We arrived at the Tampa port around 11am and were on the ship by 12. This is my 3rd time sailing from Tampa, and every time embarkation has been a breeze. We went straight up to the Lido deck and enjoyed our first vacation lunch while looking over beautiful Channelside at the Port of Tampa. We were in our room by 1:30, and had plenty of space in our inside cabin, even with 4 adults. The muster drill is super easy these days since you no longer have to tote around and wear those bulky life jackets. Once we set sail, we ran upstairs to watch. My SIL still swears that she saw a shark jump out of the water, but none of us saw it thanks to a kid who decided to try and climb a slopey thing and fell at the exact same moment. We did see something going back into the water, but I guess we'll never really know. We especially enjoyed seeing the ship go under the Skyway Bridge...absolutely breathtaking! Dinner for us was at 8:15 every night, and we had great meals every night. My sister in law and her boyfriend are both 18, and they really surprised us with their willingness to try new things. Almost every thing they tried they loved, and the rare items that they didn't, our waiter (Claude) hurried to get them something that they did like. He was amazing and so was his assistant...TEQUILA!!! :-) We had breakfast in the restaurant three times and on the Lido desk twice. I prefer the restaurant since the lines can be a bit much first thing in the morning.
Our first fun day at sea consisted of us doing some trivia games, lounging out in the sun for a few minutes, playing in the casino some and getting ready for our formal Captain's dinner. I was a little disappointed that they no longer do the Captain's party with the free drinks and appetizers, but they do offer a Happy Hour special with all drinks being $1 off. We got all dolled up and went down to take pictures at all of Carnival's great portrait settings. My sis in law wanted a formal pic of her and her BF and after going to about 10 different settings, she was able to pick out the cream of the crop. Three of us ordered the lobster and shrimp for dinner, and my SIL ordered the steak. After seeing our lobster, she wanted one as well, and our waiter jumped on that for her. The lobsters are on the smaller side but you can have as many as you want...not bad if you ask me.
The last fun day at sea we took in the newlywed game, which was hilarious. We also hung out in the casino for a little bit. We didn't hit anything big, but did wind up spending a few hours there for only $20. We played Bingo and never won. Such a suckers game. Haha!
We chose to take our own luggage off the ship, which was great. We called the front desk the night before and confirmed that we had to be out of our rooms by 9am, which is so much better than the 7:30am that it used to be. We got up around 7, went to breakfast in the dining room and then headed back to gather up our belongings. We made our way up to deck 6 to wait and once deck 5 was called (we were actually on deck 4) we got in line and headed off the ship. It took about 10 minutes to get through the line and down to customs, and about 10 minutes waiting through that line. We had family pick us up (so we didn't have to pay those ridiculous parking charges) and we were back in the car by 9am. All in all, one of the best cruises we've been on!
Highlights: dinner, Carlos n Charlies Beach Club and the employees of Carnival. We never came across any employee that wasn't all smiles and full of "How are you doing's". Anyone who says they experienced a rude employee must be confused. People seem to forget that some of the employees don't speak good English, and tend to shy away. It's probably extremely frustrating for them to get involved in a conversation where neither party understands the other one. So the way they avoid this is to shy away from guests. I can't say I blame them. :-)
Oh, and the cruise director and his staff were awesome! Very funny and kept us laughing all the time. "Come on Matt!" :-)