This was our first time cruising, and we are from Nova Scotia, Canada. Like many others that had to travel to Miami by plane, we flew in the day before the cruise to avoid worrying about delays. We flew WestJet, and they were great. No extra charges for luggage, and are allowed to bring two checked bags and two carry-ons each. We brought 3 checked bags total and 1 carry-on each. It was a long day of travelling as we had two connecting flights, and the Pearson airport in Toronto was slow.
We got to Miami about 2pm the day before the cruise, and we were staying at the Holiday Inn, Port of Miami which was downtown Miami, a $10-15 cab ride to the port, and $25 cab ride from the airport. The hotel was okay. Good service, pool outside, and restaurant and bar inside. It wasn't by any means a fancy hotel, but we were only there for one night and booked it mainly to be close to the port, and because Holiday Inn is a well known hotel chain for us, and we knew it wouldn't be a dive. It was about $150/night.
We headed over to the port around 12 the next day. The hotel check out was 11am, but they let us keep our room until 12. We got to the port, and the porters were right there to get our bags right from the cab. We tipped the guy, and proceeded to the line ups for security. It was very much like an airport security and we went through fine, especially since just doing it at the airports twice the day before. The whole process took under an hour and we were on the ship.
When we walked on the ship we were amazed at how big, and how beautiful it was. It was like nothing I have ever saw. We went up to Lido and had lunch and laid in the sun a bit and took pictures. I couldn't believe how hot it was! Being from Canada we don't see weather that hot, so it was nice for us. Our room was ready at 1:30 and we went to our room to drop off our carry-on bags, and change. Our luggage started arriving shortly after and we stayed in our room for a bit and hung out on our balcony until all of our luggage was there so I could unpack. We went to the safety meeting and although I understand it was necessary, it was so hot and seemed so long. People were complaining about going to pass out it was so hot. We went back to our room after that and stood on our balcony while we left the port. It was awesome, and I am so glad that we opted to get a balcony room, it was so worth it. The room seemed very efficient, it was small but yet had lots of space. Lots of cupboards, and the bathroom had sufficient space for toiletries. The bed was okay. I didn't find it as comfortable as I have read, and found the middle uncomfortable where it was two twins pushed together, but it was okay.
The service overall was awesome. Our room was cleaned twice a day, and I got a cute towel animal left for me every night. I always saw staff cleaning the ship, I was very impressed by how clean they kept it. The bar service was really good, but they do try to pressure you into getting drinks if they know that you do drink. And something I wish I knew before is that they add a 15% gratuity on to the drinks that you buy as well. This is on top of the $10/per day per person that they charge for tips. I didn't mind, but wish I had known because this does make drinks more expensive.
The staff in the dining room were great. The food was good, it was what I had expected. There was a good variation in the menu every night, and I am not a huge dessert person, but really enjoyed the desserts. The chocolate melting cake and the tiramisu and the coffee ice cream cake were my favorites. My husband had a lot of seafood choices which he really liked and I could always find something I liked. We ate in the dining room for supper every night but one, and really enjoyed it. The only thing we didn't like in the dining room is there was a baby near our table that was always crying and causing a scene so it kind of put a damper on trying to have a nice dinner. Other than that, the dining was really good.
We ate at the buffets for lunch and breakfast. Breakfast was always the same stuff, it got a little boring near the end but was okay. The grill was always good, the burritos were good, and I loved the pizza and ice cream! We did not try the sandwiches or the fish and chips. You will not go hungry here, the amount of food they have is crazy! Oh and room service is included so we got breakfast a couple times, but the best is that you can order dessert anytime, so we had cheesecake at night a couple times, it was awesome! But that's probably a contributing factor to the couple pounds weight gain lol.
The entertainment on the ship was really good, but my advice is to go early to get a seat because they do fill up quite fast. We saw the hypnotist, it was really good. We missed the R rated comedian because it was in the Victorian Lounge I think and it was not that big. I don't understand why that was not in the Venetian Palace which was the biggest area that most of their shows were at. There was always something to do, lots of different bars and lounges. One other thing I didn't like was the Pianoman bar was so small and they allowed smoking, so it was really bothersome. I would have like to spend more time there but couldn't because the smoke. And I am not that picky about smoke because I used to smoke, but it was really bad in this bar.
Disembarkation was pretty fast as well, and didn't take long getting a cab. We stayed in the Holiday Inn the last day too so we would have an extra day in Miami. We took a tour of Miami that we booked through our hotel. It was a tour of the city in a bus, and then a boat tour which went around and showed us the celebrity houses in Miami Beach and Star Island. My only disappointment with this tour is we didn't actually go to South Beach so we took a cab there afterwards. South beach was really awesome. It wasn't until like 5 that we got there and it was really still hot and sunny. At suppertime South Beach was really busy and traffic was bad. The restaurants try to hassle you to eat at their restaurants and offer you deals and discounts. There is so much competition here because there are tons of restaurants.
We also enjoyed the location of our hotel because it was right across the street from Bayside Marketplace. This place is really cool, there are lots of shops and restaurants here and was a nice place to hang out.
Overall, our cruise was a really good first experience. We will cruise again, but were a little surprised by how much money we spent on the boat and in the ports. We will probably wait a couple years and then try the Western Caribbean. I have heard that the Eastern Caribbean is the roughest, and although we were not that seasick, we did feel it a couple times, so were glad we took medicine for that. Carnival was great, lots of things to do, you won't be bored. I was really impressed overall, and really miss being in the Caribbean.