Arrival: We arrived in Miami after nearly 24 hrs of flying & transiting. Our 1st night was at the Miami International Airport Hotel which truly was our saviour as there were no transfers involvd once we got off the flight from LA. The hotel was quiet & dark so we all got a real good nights sleep. An easy transfer to the port ina taxi at the door for a fixed fee of $26.
This is our 2nd cruise - our 1st was on the Sun Princess cruising the South Pacific from Sydney, and travelling as a trio on the Princess ships is no fun in standard cabins as you are forced to sleep in single bunks/pull downs. So as a family we decided that we will only cruise in a suite as my husband & son get a bit of cabin fever so they like to have space plus they both also like to sit & watch tv/movies - whereas I could wander the ship & sit anywhere to pass the time.
Embarkation: We arrived at the port terminal at around 11.15am with plenty of people around. This is where the benefit of a suite booking comes in as we headed straight to the VIP check-in lounge where it took less than 15 mins to get us our sail away cards. From here it was straight on board. We headed up to Emile's for some lunch and after a quick self orientation we were in our cabin by 2pm.
Cabin: The suite was spacious & having a shower within a bath was heaven when you didn't bump into the sides trying to wash your hair! (A funny anecdote: I met a woman in the women's spa who was showering there every day as they were larger than the cabin's showers - not a bad tip if you could be bothered taking your stuff up there every day!) There were his & her basins which were also a treat. The sofa was made up as our son's bed, which was fine by us. There was plenty of hanger and storage space. It was easy to forget we were on a ship.
Food: The food overall was great with us eating in Emile's most nights - and it seemed that whatever was on the menu in the dining room was also being served there. We had the early seating in the Silver Olympian Dining Room and were surprised to be seated with fellow Australians. Having come to the US for a 1 month holiday we didn't have the space to pack "formal wear" so we avoided the dining room on formal nights. The queues for the Mongolian Stir Fry were as long as predicted, but we were lucky a couple of times with our timing so only ate there if the queue was short. The burritos were great too.
The Ship: Wow it really is a beautiful ship and we made sure we went around to see all the areas. The pools were very busy on sea days so that's when we would do other things like Bingo or find a quiet spot away from the crowds. I used the laundry which was easy & you can get quarters from the Casino.
Kids Club: Our son enjoyed going along to many of the activities and it seemed like as a 9 year old a lot of the activities involved scavenger hunting for clues around the ship which gave him a feeling of independence. Considering there were supposedly over 1100 kids on board it never seemed crowded so I presume most kids didn't attend the kids club sessions.
Shows: The only show we went to was "Asad - the Hypnotist". It was brilliant and he really had us laughing and mesmerised.
Cozumel - We went on a Carnival Excursion to the local Mayan Ruins which were ok but definitely not show stopping like some on the mainland - just remember to pack the mosquito repellent as they were ferocious! After that we were dropped at a beach "Playa Azul" which was small but lovely - bring reef shoes as from the sand you need to walk over broken coral to get into the water. The food was great and not too expensive. Then it was back to the ship for us.
Grand Cayman - We had booked a "private 3.5hr sail" through Sail Cayman (www.sailcayman.com)- which was amazing. For $400 we had a 44ft sailing yacht to ourselves with the skipper & sailed to the quieter Coral Gardens for what was some beautiful snorkeling and we also anchored nearby for a swim with some stingrays. We purposely avoided Sting Ray City as we were looking for something away from the crowds to really enjoy the beauty of the North Sound.
Ocho Rios - We went on the Carnival shore excursion to Mystic Mountain for the bobsled ride. The chairlift up & down gave us some spectacular views out to the ship. The bobsled ride was fun and easy to want to go on it again. From there we headed back to the ship for some swimming on a very quiet & empty ship.
Miami - We booked a Carnival shore excursion to the Everglades. The air boat ride was what I expected - loud & fun - but there is no shade so make sure you cover up. We all looked eagerly for those alligators, and all we got was one tiny 3ft mumma. There was amazing bird life & plant life, so I was not disappointed at all. Back at the park there was a small showing of some alligators & then we had some lunch (ok) before getting back on board the bus to be dropped off back at the port to get a taxi to South Beach. We spent a few days at The Betsy on Ocean Drive in the art deco area & would highly recommend it as it was divine.
The Staff: Really are there to make your stay as pleasant as possible. Our room porters were delightful & made every effort to ensure our stay was memorable. The towel animals every night were amazing & by the last night we had a mini zoo as my son was collecting them - so imagine how many towels the ship has on board!!
Debarkation: As our South Beach Hotel check-in wasn't until late afternoon we booked a shore excursion to the Everglades to pass the time. As a result we were about Group 5 getting off but were on the bus & ready to go at 9am.
Overall we had a lovely cruise & will definitely look to choose Carnival again in the future.