First of all I cruised with a group of 28. Some were families with kids and some single. Most of us were in our 30s to late 40s. The kids were 11-17, and one 3 year old. We all arrived different ways and days from Illinois. My family drove! Most of us stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Harvey (7 miles outside N.O) for 67.00 per night. It is a nice area compared to what I saw in New Orleans. The hotel itself was very new and had a nice Continental breakfast as far as I was concerned. The place was very clean and the staff was nice. I think I would have enjoyed N.O. more had it not rained the entire time I was there. I really wanted to see a plantation or go to the cemetery and other stuff outside, but instead saw the Aquarium and the Riverwalk due to the weather. I really enjoyed the Aquarium, and little kids that were there and some of our BIG kids liked being able to touch things in there. Harrah's is directly across the street from the Aquarium and caught the attention of some of our group. The last time I was in N.O. was 20 years ago and I remember it so differently than what I saw this vacation. A restroom can't be used UNLESS you have purchased alcohol from that bar and there are signs that say so everywhere. That bothered me a little as I wasn't drinking in the middle of the day and neither were my kids. Maybe I wasn't in the right area to find restrooms and I didn't go to a sit down place to eat so maybe you are allowed to go there.
Enough about my N.O. experience I don't want you to get the idea that my vacation wasn't fun because I truly had a wonderful time once I was on the ship!!!! Only positive info now! I did go into the St Louis Cathedral and enjoyed that!
Embarkation....we had done a practice run so that we wouldn't get confused finding the cruise terminal.. however we didn't know where to park so we pulled in only to have to turn around and take a "left and three rights". It was sort of chaotic with people leaving and arriving. I highly recommend taking a cab or shuttle then you are dropped off right up front and no parking hassles. We were very leery about leaving our van in the lot we were in as many cars that were there from the previous cruise were in water from all the rain and Tropical Storm Depression Matthew that hit while they were out to sea.
Once inside it really went pretty well. You go through many checkpoints before you actually board the ship. Once on the ship we couldn't go to our rooms til after 2 and were directed to go get something to eat on the LIDO deck. My first impression was "WOW"! What a beautiful ship. Everything was very clean and new looking. We get into our rooms and started to unpack. Most of our luggage came fairly fast to our room. HINT... I wouldn't buy or bring the best luggage you own as it may not survive the trucks it is thrown into in those parking lots! I found my husband's last piece of luggage down on floor three in the "unknown luggage area" only to find the reason it wasn't delivered was because it was now missing our tag and the strap it used to have to pull it along. I am not mad.. it wasn't one of my better pieces but am just letting you all know it could happen to you.
Our room steward introduced himself right away. His name was Staney. He was good for many laughs! He did a great job! I felt he tried really hard to clean around our schedule. We apologized to him the first day after explaining the four teenage boys across the hall were ours and to let us know if there were any problems at all. He was even able to keep their cabin clean.
As soon as we could we started walking around to get used to where everything was on the ship. We found that we were very close to the arcade which made my youngest son and his buddy very happy. My oldest and his friend set out to find the weight room and basketball court. As for me .... I was looking for the food!!! It didn't take long to find it. There are ice cream machines around but I found that some might be closed at certain times to be cleaned but then are open the next day. Very good ice cream according to my 13 year old. He was always eating it.
We went to the Monet 5:45 seating and really enjoyed it. My kids went every night just so they could see our waiters Vlado and Viktoria. They didn't even mind getting dressed in nicer clothes to go there as they enjoyed the food and the whole experience. I have to say that I am not so sure that Carnival came out ahead after the many entrees they served to those teenage boys! I know my 16 year old had two prime rib dinners and a lobster tail on the Captain's night! That would explain why he was looking for the weight room and court earlier.. he was going to need it! I only went to one late night buffet as I just couldn't eat again or stay up that late after spending so much time in the sun and dancing in Henri's disco and watching all of the shows that I did. Even my kids enjoyed the shows. The magic show wasn't that great.. but the Motown and comedian were very good. My oldest went to see the ventriloquist (sp), but I missed it as I fell asleep at 8 or 8:30 from pure exhaustion from staying up too late, and getting up when the sun rose and was shining in my balcony window!!!!
Jamaica... I highly recommend the Sunset Beach resort where you pay 20.00 for adults and 10.00 for kids and get all your food, drinks and alcohol and non-motorized watersports for that price. We snorkeled, went in the kayaks and used the paddle boats. They also have several nice pools and one was a swim-up bar. Adrian works there.. he has a very nice smile! There is a nude beach down the way if you are interested. We had taken a shuttle there for 2.00 each and the driver asked what time we would like to be picked up. He was there promptly at 4. Others in our group had gone in town to shop and didn't like it at all. We were the only ship in port that day... I guess they got hassled a lot to buy things. I just bought my souvenirs at the pier where I felt safe.
No Grand Cayman for us due to Hurricane Ivan's destruction so it was an extra day sea! you get 12.00 back pp from Carnival.
Cozumel... we did the Playa Mia Beach Resort Deluxe excursion. It ended up sold out I believe. It is 65.00 for adults and 59.00 for kids but does include your transportation on a decent air conditioned bus and food and drinks, and watersports such as paddle boats. My family also paid 12.00 pp to ride the banana boat. They loved that. You can also get your hair braided there for like 35.00 for your whole head as opposed to the 70.00 people were paying on the boat for just the front getting done.
There are many opportunities to get your picture taken. We ended up getting one of the nicest family pictures taken of us and it was only 19.99. I got a few wallets also.. I was so pleased that it turned out so well and we just happened by this one photographer who had no one in his line.... and he was great! It gets kind of hectic around the area where you go look for your pictures. You don't get a number you just have to look at a bunch of pictures til you find yours. While there we bought some gold chains that were on "sale", some cigarettes that I believe were 34.95 for two cartons??
I was up 122.00 at the casino and my husband ended up probably 200.00 up... it was only our second time gambling in a casino so it may have been beginners luck! Anyway it was fun!
I did one load of laundry for my boys.. it was 2.00 to wash and 2.00 to dry and 1.00 for a little box of TIDE. Just a FYI.
The chocolate buffet was wonderful! And I ate an omelet almost every day.. my husband sometimes had two. There was always bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs and either pancakes or French toast.. and cereals and fruit. Lunches ... there was so much.. I know I didn't get to see the half of it! Dinner was always in the Monet for us.
I do remember one night I went to my friends cabin across the hall and could feel vibrations on the floor and the heard the most horrible sound.. later to find out it was only Karaoke for the younger kids that night! Thank God.. I really wasn't sure what it was.. but was glad I couldn't hear it in my room.
I am going to wrap this up as I am sure you are tired of me and I know I have typed for probably at least an hour...... I had the time of my life and so did all of my family and friends. We have decided that cruising is a great way to travel. This was my first trip and won't be my last. We had a few people who had to wear the seasick patches but not all of us. I did notice that the majority of people on this cruise were from the South..lots from Alabama, and they were all so very pleasant to a "YANKEE" like me...LOL! Yes, would you believe an older couple called me that! I met them in the elevator and asked if they were enjoying their cruise? I got a good laugh out of that! They were from New Orleans.. maybe they could tell I hadn't enjoyed myself there?????? : )
Disembarkation..... don't try to bring any thing you shouldn't back into the US. Dogs are waiting there to smell the slightest thing... but also do not fret over how much liquor or cigarettes you have per person either like we did.. no one checks, especially if you have a porter carrying your stuff. The lady was more worried about collecting your sheet that had what you bought than how much you bought....
Back to our car no problem... we have all of our luggage and all members of the family and it is back to Illinois for us! I highly recommend this cruise to anyone!