We were on an 8 day western Caribbean on the Carnival Freedom. We we're on the Glory 2 years ago and had a good idea of how the ship was set up.
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale on 4/9 and spent the night at the Renaissance at the Port. The hotel was clean and comfortable, the staff was pleasant. The room was missing a coffee pot part, the safe and iron didn't work. Minor things but not what you would expect from a 4 star hotel, enough said.
Went to the port at 12:00 noon. There were 8 cruise ships in port including the Oasis of the Seas, a really impressive sight. Check in of luggage was efficient. Went inside to a quick moving line. Check in was quick and painless. It took maybe 20 minutes from dropping off the luggage until we we're aboard. We went to the Lido deck buffet for lunch. It was crowded but that is expected on sailing day. We ate at the fish and chips and it was OK. The rooms were available at 1:30pm. We were in a cat 8C balcony on the 7th (Empress) deck. The room was Carnival, nothing exceptional but more than adequate. The bed was quite comfortable and everything worked. We met our cabin steward and he was like I have always had with Carnival, pleasant, rarely seen and had radar for when we were out of the room. He was in and out right now. I rate the room cleaning service as excellent.
We had early dining in the Posh dining room. Our server, Christina, was very good. Her assistant was a bit rough but pleasant. She was from Romania and he from Haiti.
The food during the week was good, not 5 star, but met expectations. The buffet was not so good. I really don't like the setup. You would have two lines converging in the center which slowed things down. It was generally crowded. We would sit in the upper level. This was usually more open. They had the same problem that the Glory did. Coffee constantly empty and uncleared tables. I think they forget about the upper level. One day it was maybe a quarter full but there wasn't a clean table. We moved some dishes to the end and sat down. Someone must have complained because 9 people arrived and cleaned things up. The buffet food was uninspiring we kind of stuck to hamburgers, pizza and my wife ate at the fish and chips. We ate breakfast in the dining room 4 days and found the food to be much better than the buffet area. The omelets were from real eggs, not the kind in 5 gallon buckets. The toast was actually warm and it was just different and better food than upstairs.
In Cozumel we went downtown and walked around. No bargains on anything. We had lunch at the infamous Carlos and Charlies. It was loud and constantly on the move. They had a Congo line in which there was three stops for shots of tequila (free). It kept the crowd happy and at 1:00pm kind of drunk.
Had a day at sea and then Limon, Costa Rica. We took a rainforest and canal excursion. I thought it was kind of a dud. The high point was on the way in the bus, they were apparently having some kind of civil unrest, as traffic was stopped by a number of people dragging brush and trees onto the highway and setting them ablaze. We went back about a half mile and we're told this was for our safety as the crowd will on occasion start throwing rocks and such at anyone in range. It was about an hour before the police arrived and got the road opened.
The next day was Colon Panama. We took a Panama Canal excursion and rode a ferry through two of the locks, very impressive. They could flood a lock and raise it 34 feet in about ten minutes. Quite a feat of engineering.
The next two days were at sea. We took the behind the scenes tour and found it very interesting. Went to the back stage entertainment area, the laundry areas, the various crew dining rooms, (general crew, petty officers, officers and staff officers). They say they eat the same food as the guests. We ended the visit with a tour of the bridge. The captain came and greeted us along with free pictures (not many of them). He was polite and answered all questions. I thought this was a worthwhile excursion, showed you a lot of what you never see.
We actually made it to the fitness center and utilized the equipment. I belong to a Ballys at home and the ships equipment was much better than they have.
Debarkation was the best I have ever seen. They assigned categories for leaving with early flights and carry your own luggage first starting at 6:30. Every 15 minutes another category was called. The wasn't any lines, pushing or disorganization. We got off at 8:30 went through an actually moving line, cleared customs in about 30 seconds. Luggage was in an area marked with your leaving category and not hard to find. A cab was waiting and off we went. Some observations I think Carnival has kept their rates down by upping other things. Drinks were .75 higher than the Glory 2 years ago. Pictures were higher priced and excursions were much higher than in the past. Guess you have to make it up somewhere.
I did find that the ships personnel was as friendly as I've ever seen. They would greet you and make eye contact. Retail in the US could learn from this.
All in all it was a relaxing cruise and I would go with Carnival again.
But I think next year will be the Oasis of the Seas.