Pre-Cruise: We flew Southwest two days before the cruise and got our plane tickets through Carnival's air department. We have found that southwest's open seating policy is very nice if you pay the extra $10 to get 'A' seating. We also found that CruiseOne was a lot more expensive than going directly through Carnival (for us with the fees for going down two days early it would be almost $2000 more). We stayed at the Ron Jon Cape Caribe Resort which was right by the cruise terminal and absolutely wonderful. We also got a rental car through Hertz whose terminal in Cape Canaveral is the closest one to the port from any other company and has a Carnival Dedicated shuttle.
Embarkation: Embarkation was very easy, especially if you get there early. We got there at about 11:15 and we suggest that you arrive before 11:30. We were on the ship probably only about one hour after we arrived at the terminal, but if you wait until about noon or later it would probably take longer since many airport shuttles arrive then.
Our Room: Our room was clean and open. We had a cove balcony, which at first we were unsure of, but loved and if any ships have the cove balconies on future cruises, we would actually request them, since they are quiet and their view is so close to the water, which is a very different from views on every other deck on the ship. Plus, higher balcony rooms you can see from deck 5, so we probably had a lot more privacy. We had a four person room, which we were unsure whether it would be good sized for our family, but there is so much storage that you really don't need to have too much stuff out and the bathroom was nice sized, so we found that for what little time you spend in the room, it suits us just fine.
Food: For the most part food on the ship was excellent. Some notes about the food. There are almost 5000 passengers on this ship, and at some point in time, they all want to eat. This means that you can't expect there to be no lines at the buffet, so if you wait until after peak times or before peak times, you won't have much of a wait. I give a high recommendation to the pasta bar on the second floor of the buffet. Thanks to Cruise Critic I knew about this before most guests, and I was the first or second person to be served on the cruise, and while most people were waiting in line, I had no wait for fresh made to order pasta, but as the week goes on, people find out about it, so it fills up quickly and there are long waits, but since you wait at your table, you have no long lines, which I prefer since you can talk and relax. In the formal dining room our waiter was Gede, and our assistant waiter was Wayan. Both were very friendly and warm, but especially Gede had a very professional feel, and at the same time was very friendly and nice to talk to. In the dancing one night he invited people from his tables to come up and dance with him, and it overall it was a very nice dinner experience. We also had breakfast in the formal dining room. The simple reason was that there again, you wait in your table, but for breakfast it is the same food as the buffet.
Excursions: Cozumel: We did the three reef snorkel tour, and I highly recommend this since it was a smaller group and our guide went with us and pointed out stuff with us, which in past snorkel tours, has never been the case. Everyone was friendly, knowledgeable, and spoke very good English. Isla Rotan: We did the Gumbalimba Park and Jolly Rodgers Catamaran tour, and we didn't like this one as much as the three reef tour. Although our guides were good, probably my favorite part was the trip there in back through the towns, since you had much more of a cultural experience there than the culture at the park. They make it seem like you are with wild monkeys and animals that you would just happen to stumble upon, but instead you see they are in cages and are only around you for long enough to take your photo with, and then the guide takes them away. Then we went through a "cave" which was poured concrete to learn about the culture of the island, but really I felt that driving around the island gave you a much better view of the island. The catamaran tour was fun through, and the coral was spectacular. Belize: We did the cave tubing, which was personally, my favorite tour we did on the entire trip. I expected it to be some small caves and a lot of just jungle, which would be fun, but not near as cool as what we got. We ended up going through two massive caverns, where it actually would be pitch black except that you had flash lights. We were really sad to have this tour end and it was personally my favorite. Costa Maya: To finish off our excursions, we went on a bike and glass bottom kayak tour. We figured this would be just a simple tour, but ended up being far better than expected. The bike tour took us through the edges of the real town, not the tourist town, where we learned more about how average Mexicans live, and I'll give you the spoiler of, it's not in clay huts like some "cultural" tours would make you think. We then went into a small town that used to be a fishing village that ten years ago was destroyed by a hurricane and making a comeback as a tourism area. We went to a cool hotel where we got on kayaks and went out just a couple hundred feet from the beach where the coral was very cool and was just inches straight down away from your kayak. When we got back we found a coconut, and got to eat the coconut meat and drink the coconut juice straight from it which was really fun. This tour we also highly recommend.
Entertainment: I know this is getting long, but I want to talk about the ups and downs of the entertainment. First, the negatives. A lot of things were really cheesy, and you noticed that it was hard for the staff to keep up with the cheesiness and really just had a fake appearance to them. I remember once seeing one staff member come up and act all crazy in front of the cameras shooting the cruise video, but the minute they were off him he just scowled and walked off. Also the word fun was used too much. Last I checked, there isn't too much fun about a payment system, and adding the word fun to it doesn't make it fun. Honestly we were surprised that the emergency exits weren't "fun emergency exits." Personally, the Club O2 and Circle C were less than amazing, they definitely catered to a crowd, but personally no one in our family was the "rap listening pants on the ground people." Also, we felt that the "everything's included" mentality the website shows is not quite true. Food of course was free, but just about every other thing cost money, even sodas cost $2 per soda or an expensive drink card. I think the pushed the all-inclusiveness of the trip since a lot of stuff was extra. Now the positives. The fun force (a break dancing group) although a little cheesy was fun to watch, and their addition to Dancin' in the Streets made that show even more entertaining. As I said, Dancin' in the Streets was jaw dropping. The special effects and talent in that group was up there pretty close to Broadway. To miss this show would be like never going to Deck 10 (the center of attention) the entire cruise; you can still have a fun time, but you'll be missing out on something big. The first two comedians (unfortunately I didn't write down their names) were very good, but the second two were horrible. The first guy was really sick minded, and the second guy spent too much time on his "I hate kids" bit for a family show.
The ship itself: Ok, this is the second to last section, so hold in there. The atrium was really quite cool, and the theater was very high tech. Deck 5 was nice with the wrap around deck, but other than the comedy club and hot tubs, we didn't spend much time on it. The pools were way too small for 4000+ guests, and really they were places where you could stand in one place until a kid did a cannonball right on top of you. Luckily there were a lot of hot tubs that you could use. The water park was nice, but there were long lines for the slides, which could be expected. The fitness center was nice, with one minor design flaw. The windows give a panoramic view when you are standing, but when you step up onto a machine, your eyes are higher than the window, and the only place to look is down at the water, which isn't bad, but isn't the panoramic view it could have been. Overall the ship was nice, but had a few too many rooms and a little too little common space. The sewer smell I smelled 3 times in hallways, but what was worse, was on the top of the waterslides, there was a horrible sulfur smell, a lot of people probably thought it was the sewage smell, but personally I think it was something else by way of emissions from the ship, possibly from the spa, but I really don't know where it is from. People complained about chair hogs, but our ship was full, and as long as you were fine not being in front of the TV screen, you could always find sunny spots on decks 11, 12, 14, or 5, and it wasn't as bad by the aft pool as by the TV screen.
Closing: In closing, wow, I can't believe you read this far, and I hope it helps. The ship itself was wonderful, and I would suggest that you cruise on it. The service was excellent, and gave us more than we expected overall. We loved our cruise, the ports and the ship itself. We especially miss our dining staff (both because they made good food and because they were so friendly), and just being on the