Ok, this is going to be l-o-n-g, but very comprehensive. Anything I leave out, just email me and I will try to answer. Just a little background- I am a 37 year old single female travelling with a 35 year old single female. I have been on 4 cruises now- 3 on Royal Caribbean and 1 on Carnival so I am not an expert by any means but here goes....
First and foremost I have to say that this was the BEST cruise that i have been on so far!
Embarkation: To me, this was a little disorganized. We got to the pier by taxi from the airport and we had filled out our fun ship pass online before we left. This time it was just 1 friend and myself. Normally, 4 of us cruise together- all ladies in our mid 30's. So, anyway, we get to the pier and we really had to wait a very long time to get onto the ship. Basically, you go and give your information (fun pass/ticket/credit card) and then you have to get into another line where they give you the room key (sign and sail card). Royal Caribbean does it all together. You go to one agent and give them everything and they give you everything right then and there so I do like that much better. Once we got onto the ship, things were fine.
Ship: To me, the ship looks great. It doesn't seem old or worn or anything. There were ALWAYS people cleaning and shining and so on. It was really a nice ship. I see where people say there are too many urns but the feel of the ship is "italian" I guess. There are paintings all over the place and to me, the urns went with it. To me, they were not spooky at all. They have everything that you could want on the ship. I do like the layout although I did get confused quite a few times but hey, I didn't have anywhere to go so let's just say when I got lost, I was just exploring!
Crew: This was BY FAR the BEST crew that I have ever dealt with. They all really went out of their way to make sure the guests had an outstanding, memorable time. The captain was very approachable and very handsome. On some ships I have found the captain to be a little standoffish but not Captain Cupisti. He was even in the gym a few times that I saw. The cruise director Brett Alans if the best cruise director on any ship that I have been on. I know people have their favorites but he has the best personality and interacts so well with his social staff as well as the guests. Actually, all of the social staff was outstanding- Brent (Nancy)( You had to be there), Mike and Adam really made my cruise extra special. They were so incredibly funny. The ladies in the spa were very nice- I had a treatment with Laina and it was fabulous and she was not at all pushy when it came time to recommend products for "at home" use. My friend had a treatment with Tess and she was not pushy either.
On Board Activities: You were as busy as you wanted to be or as laid back as you wanted to be but there was ALWAYS something going on. One lady told me at the end of the cruise that she really didn't have a good time and she stayed in her cabin a lot. That was her choice but no wonder she didn't have fun. I was busy from the moment I got onto the ship until the moment I got off the ship. Some things to participate in are: spa tour, dance classes, trivia (everyday), bingo, blackjack tournaments, slot tournaments, arts and crafts, ship tour, galley tour, art auction, golf lessons, seminars, All kinds of games..... the list could go on and on. It was a lot of fun and you can an have as much fun as you want to. Trivia was great and there is something for everyone. My friend and I each won a trophy. (Go Red!)
Dining: The Truffles dining room is very nice. There is an upstairs and a downstairs. Our waitstaff was very nice- very prompt. They were Joel and Philbert. I ordered iced tea once and I got it every night after that. I also ordered hot chocolate once and everyone at the table got it after that every night as well. It was very nice. One thing that I didn't care for was that tables for 4 are booths. I like it better to have a table with 4 chairs but that is very, very minor. We were seated with 2 other ladies who were travelling together and it couldn't have been a better match. We had a great time with them. The shows that the dining room staff are nice. They try to get guests involved. It is cute. The Unicorn cafe was a little confusing. I had breakfast and lunch in there. They had different options. On the other ships that I have been on, there are a few different lines- all serving the same food- just different lines to cut down on the traffic. In the Unicorn cafe, the lines were for different things- Asian food everyday with sushi, a rotisserie serving carved meats, a taste of the nation with a variety of indian one day to french the next to mexican the next. There was a line for just deli and a dessert line and then another for salad. I understand the concept but I didn't love waiting in a bunch of lines. It wasn't disastrous- just annoying. There is a grill by the pool and also a line for pizza. Pizza is 24 hours...all different types. I also want to mention that I did eat at the Golden Fleece and to me, it is worth every dime. The food is not prepared en mass so it is very tasty. I had the surf and turf which consisted of a 4 oz. filet mignon and a 7 oz.(?) lobster tail. It came with an appetizer (I chose the sushi platter), a salad (caesar for me), a "compliment" from the chef which was a soup and a salmon mousse, the bread arrived with butter in 3 flavors and the dessert was great. The ambiance was very nice with a beautiful hardwood floor for dancing and the singer was a very nice touch. Even the table linen and Versace plates were top notch. It really was worth the extra $25.
Cabins: I had booked a balcony guarantee. My cabin was cabin 8216 so it was on the Promenade (8th) deck aft. It was very spacious except I didn't love the hangers. First of all there needs to be more of them. There is plenty of shelf and drawer space however. The bathroom was much bigger than any of the other ships I have been on and I was not once molested by the shower curtain. There were 2 bathrobes provided for our use on the ship which was nice. A hairdryer is provided as well. If you are looking for news, however (CNN) forget it. Honestly, that did bother me a great deal. So many things were going on while I was away and I couldn't get the info that I wanted. It was election time- Arafat got permission to leave his compound after being restricted there for a few years to seek medical attention as well as some other things going on. On Royal Caribbean they had CNN or at least CNN headline news. Our cabin steward was Miriam and she was outstanding. She made the customary towel animals and always had our room looking very nice even when we didn't.
Internet Cafe: What I want to say about this is that if you are going to be online for more than 20 minutes the entire 8 days, get one of the packages. Otherwise, you are paying a set up fee of $3.95 and then 75 cents per minute. It is very steep. It is nice to have it onboard but it surly doesn't have to be that expensive. Also, I want to mention that it wasn't working for a short period of time as well so that was a bit of an annoyance.
Entertainment: The entertainment was good. The shows were nice from the productions to Brett's Magic act to the comedians (I only saw Jeff Laub and I loved him) to the guest talent show. It was all very nice. I did not go to the disco- I was exhausted every day after a full day of fun.
Ports of Call: Belize: In Belize we decided with the help of cruise critic to book our own tour through Coral Breeze. I have to relay this situation and how it was corrected. I want to say that they are a very professional organization because it could have turned disastrous. Because of daylight savings time, our ship was leaving at 4:15 ship time which turned out to be 2:15 Belize time. Normally it is only a 1 hour difference but this was their first run of the season with this itinerary and so each time going forward everything will be ok since daylight savings time has begun now. In any event, our ship arrived 1st and there were 4 of us from the Legend but the Carnival Elation was also scheduled to be in port, but arriving a little later. The snorkeling with the nurse sharks and stingrays with lunch included would still be possible even though the Elation arrived after us- or so Coral Breeze thought. They found out that we had to be back NO LATER than 4 o'clock ship time/ 2 o'clock Belize time because our last tender was at 4:15. Like I said- this could have been a disaster since the only money that I had on me basically was the balance of this excursion since i had already given a deposit. Since the Elation was arriving later, and we had to be back basically an hour earlier than anticipated, there wasn't going to be enough time. After we told Monique that we couldn't care less about eating lunch, she checked with the Elation passengers and they agreed to forgo lunch so that we could all go. The Legend people were not going to be able to go if Elation still wanted to go to lunch. We all went on the excursion and it was absolutely amazing. First we went to Caye Caulker to pick up supplies and then went snorkeling in a coral garden. It was so beautiful. You should see what is under the sea!!! Then we went to swim with the Stingrays and Sharks. When we arrived, there were a LOT of sharks but once people started to get into the water, they got scared and made themselves scarce. There was one that hung around for a very little while and it had a baby shark attached to it. The stingrays stayed around for the sardines that our guide, Henny, was feeding them. After we had that marvelous experience, we went back to Caye Caulker where we had time to get a little bite to eat or walk around, whatever and we still made it back to the pier on time to catch the tender back. We actually arrived by 4 so we had plenty of time. They do have limited shopping in Belize. Basically, there is the tourism village and that is about it. They recently added a Diamonds International so they have that now. I did go to the pharmacy that everyone speaks of and that is great. I really want to emphasize once more that Coral Breeze did an excellent job juggling things so we could all go and they even refunded money that would have been used for lunch.
Costa Rica: It wasn't what I expected. I had been looking forward to going to Costa Rica for years- seriously. I thought it would be so beautiful, an adventure, maybe even somewhat glamorous. First I want to say it was completely awesome, but in a different way than I expected. We again took the advice of cruise critic members and booked a tour with Oscar Brown. He met us at the pier with an assistant and explained that he had to handle a larger group that day and did we mind going with is nephew, Ryan. It was not a problem for us. First Ryan drove us around a little to see the sights and explained things about Costa Rica to us- history, politics, etc. After a short drive we stopped at a stand where a young boy was selling coconuts and some other various fruits. Ryan asked us if either of us had ever had coconut water and when we said "no" he bought each of us one as well as one for himself. It was very interesting. He advised us that this is the way a lot of families make their money. I think that is why I said that it was different than I expected. I never really realized that it was such a poor country. The majority of the homes that we passed appeared to be very small- one room with a couch on the porch. Some did not even have a front door- only a curtain. I was very grateful for the things that I have but very sad for the people in Costa Rica because it is such a "hot spot" now and I just hope that some of the tourism money trickles down to the people who need it. There just doesn't seem to be a lot of opportunity there. Costa Rica is gorgeous though. We continued to drive and ended up at the Del Monte banana plantation. WE saw how the bananas were processed from the trees to pre-shipping. It was so cool because there was only Ryan, my friend and I and all of the workers there. It wasn't like we were on a tour- more like we just kinda stopped by to hang out a little. The people were working so very hard. Ryan then pulled over and showed us a plant that they use to make lipstick. I never realized that this was an ingredient in something that I use everyday. It was really neat to see that. We then proceeded to see a beach with white sand and then a beach with black sand. We continued to drive and went to our main destination which was the Almonds and Corals Hotel. Let me just say that this is a top notch organization. The woman who was running the show really knew how to do it!!! We were there to go aip lining which is also know as the crazy monkey canopy tour. After signing our lives away on the waivers, they dressed us in our gear and we began to walk towards the first platform. There were 11 of them and you are truly at the top of the world- at least at the top of that rain forest. We saw a few toucans (they look nothing like the guy on the box of fruit loops by the way) and some butterflies and there was a monkey I belive as well as these beautiful crabs. There was only my friend and I in our group and there were 2 guides with us. They took very good care of us and we were hooked to a safety line at all times. It is scary but it is very cool as well. Imagine saying to your friends "yeah, I went zip lining in Costa Rica" (smile). In any event, after we were finished we drove back towards Puerto Limon and went to a grocery store. Can I just tell you that 2 sacks of coffee was cheaper than 2 magnets. That is truly the way to go souvenierwise. Go to the grocery store! There is some little shopping by the pier. We made it back to the pier in more than enough time. I want to say that I would absolutely without a doubt recommend Oscar Brown for your Costa Rican excursion. He will take you anywhere you want to go.
Colon, Panama: This was our last port of call. We opted to take an excursion through the ship this time. We booked it immediately upon arrival when we first got onto the ship because these tours in Panama sell out very quickly and trust me- you do not want to get left out of an organized tour in Panama. It is not a place that you want to go on your own. We opted for the Grand Tour. It was a little pricey but worth every dime. A bus takes you over to a hotel which is a renovated school which was used in the military. A chain took it over and really refurbished it into a beautiful hotel. We walked around the grounds a little and then took a boat (covered) located on the hotel property and went over to the Embara Indian area. That in itself was worth it all. They are very interesting and were more than happy to share their customs with us. The chief greeted us and we were treated to a few of their customary dances. We were shown how they weave baskets and carve beautiful objects out of wood and nuts. We were allowed to look around their village afterwards. It is amazing actually. We then re-boarded the boats and went off in search of wildlife. We saw howler monkeys (quite a few of them), iguanas( green and black), sloths and butterflies (which apparently are a big deal in Panama as well as Costa Rica). We then went back and had an opportunity to shop at the hotel as well as visit the bar and then we were off to the Panama Canal. There was actually a boat going though the locks while we were there. It was very interesting. After all of this we were taken back to the pier where there are a few shops, restaurants, a grocery store, jewelry store and an electronics shop. After some shopping, we got back onto the ship.
Debarkation: I am not exactly sure what to say about this. They really do try to make it as organized as possible. It just doesn't exactly turn out that way. They call you by your luggage tag color and you proceed through a MASS of impatient people stampeding through the luggage area rolling over each others toes, huffing and puffing. It is very frustrating. You get through customs pretty easily so that isn't a huge deal. That is all I am going to say about debarkation- just that there is a little room for improvement.
Overall: Like I said in the begriming, this is by far the best cruise that I have been on. Carnival does everything in their power to provide their guests with the tools necessary to have a great vacation- the rest is up to the guests themselves. To be honest, I was very skeptical about going to Carnival. The only reason, honestly, that I chose this vacation was because of the itinerary. I couldn't find any other ship that went to these ports in about a week. I was very worried about the reputation that it is a party ship and loud and this and that. I was very very pleasantly surprised. I have not stopped talking up Carnival and admitting how wrong that I was. Like with anything else, it is what you make of it. I didn't want to party like that and I didn't have to. There were plenty of other things going on that held my interest. I would absolutely recommend this particular ship and this particular itinerary to anyone who asks. As a matter of fact, I am looking into taking the Eastern leg of this ship. I hope you enjoyed this review.