This was our third cruise, all of which have been on Carnival. I will try to review under various headings and compare to our previous cruises.
Embarkation/Disembarkation: Embarkment was about the same as previous trips, not too long of a wait but it always seems long because you are anxious to get on the ship and start vacation. It probably took us an hour or so to get through everything. I did not see a real difference filling out and printing the funpass. Hopefully they can do something to speed along the process further when you give your information beforehand. Disembarkation was much nicer then previous cruises. In our previous cruises you were assigned a color and had to wait it a public area of the ship until you were called. This time we were able to wait in our room until we were called and this made the process less irritating.
Dining: We ate each evening in the Baccaus Dining Room and ate breakfast and sometimes lunch at Horatio's (casual). We did not eat at Nick and Noras as we could not justify the extra $50.00 per couple to eat food that may have been served in the dining room. I thought that the beef entrees were better than I have had on previous cruises (not the best I had but we are from the midwest and get great steaks). My husband did not always like the selections offered so had at times gotten something he did not really want. I wish that they had something simple like grilled chicken on spaghetti with tomato sauce that was available every night and that if available it is printed on the menu. We were also upset because we asked to be seated at a large table and for the third time in a row have ended up at a table for four. We were also in a small room off the side of the main dining room so we missed some of the evening entertainment with the wait staff. (Not a big deal as we have seen it before but to me it would make sense that if they are going to have a quite room that they make that mostly tables for two or families who want things quite). In general the food was average at Horatios and average to above-average at Baccaus. The wait at Horatio's was not long when we were there. There was a slight wait for the Omelet line but not too bad and it moved quickly.
Public Rooms/Area: The rooms and public areas were mostly tastefully decorated. I did think Horatios was much more attractive of a room than the regular dining room but they were all pretty nice. Some of the things that we enjoyed about the public area were that in the hallways (by the cabins) there are large pictures of characters from books (my husband works in a bookstore so he loved that). We also thought that the glass work in the stairways was lovely. One thing that was discouraging was that we noticed that some paintings that were displayed (like those in the Phantom show room) looked like some previous passengers had intentionally damaged the works (faces and eyes were scratched out with xxx's). This is in no way the fault of the cruiseline but it was disappointment that people are rude enough to purposely damage something that does not belong to them and is there for the enjoyment of all future and present passengers.
Cabin/Room: Our room was cleaned daily except for our sheets. I do not know if it is Carnival's policy to not change bedsheets every day but this is one of the things that really bothered me about this trip. I believe in the past our sheets were always changed but I know that they were not this time. We did have a towel animal every day except the first and our room steward was good at keeping things cleaned without bothering us (he quickly figured out our schedule and came when we were gone). If we left a note (like we did for him to empty the fridge so we could put in our wine) he was quick to help us.
Entertainment: We enjoyed the two shows (Generations and the Beatles review). We also liked the singer and comedian on the last night. My husband enjoyed another comedian that appeared earlier in the trip but he was not to my taste (a little dry humor). We did not go to a few shows as they did not appeal to us (talent show, more comedians). On previous trips there seemed to be more variety in the shows (magicians and dance companies, as well as comedians). During the days at sea there were plenty of games, contests, etc. both by the pool and in the main show room (Phantom).
Spa/Gym: We used the gym a couple of times - for a step class, a general workout and my husband met with a trainer for a routine for his back/abs. He has a bad back and this helped him to feel better and get a routine he could do when we got home to help him strengthen the muscles in his core and therefore have less back pain. We had a combination massage and facial at the spa. It was very relaxing and I am glad to say that although they did have a list of recommended products they were not as high pressure as I have experience on previous cruises.
Grand Caymen: This was one of our favorites. We had been to Grand Caymen previously but could not go on any water excursions due to the weather (tropical depression). This time we got to swim with the sting rays and had a great time. We booked our trip through the ship and were lucky to have a fairly small group with us (only about 15-20 people). When we sailed up our boat stayed a little ways away from the others and brought out the buckets of squid for us to feed the rays. This was such a great experience I would love to experience again. Fortunately the videographer with us got some great shots and since we bought the DVD we can see it again and again. I was very happy with our DVD. I had seen other videos previously from past cruisers and they were not as good as our DVD (which included lots of underwater shots and interaction shots). My husband bought me a necklace with a stingray on it to remember our trip and especially this port. I have already worn it a few times to bring back the glow of the trip.
Costa Maya: We were not sure what to do on this port so we just did the Jungle Beach Break - free drinks on a beautiful beach. The beach (Uvero Beach) looks like something you would see on postcards. You could also snorkel here, as well as the usual braids, temporary tattoos, drinking games, etc. -- FYI - If getting a temporary tattoo be aware that the black henna is not really henna but black hair dye - I did not know this myself and so I got a tattoo on my ankle. My skin is very sensitive and now I am having trouble with the area around the tattoo itching and a rash developing. Other than that I had a good time just enjoying a day of relaxing at this port. Our other excursions were fairly active so the day of laying back on the beach was needed.
Cozumel: This was a full day. We went to Chankkonab State Marine Park (not sure if spelling is right). I had booked a sea lion swim package on line with Dolphin Discovery (it included a swim with the sea lion, tickets to the sea lion show and admission to the park). There is a lot to do at the park. We started by walking through the botanical gardens, then went to the sea lion show, went to the museum (which is just one small room), back to do our sea lion swim (after that we held a sloth and a toucan), we then went to the beach and went snorkeling. We enjoyed this although we both said it was not the same as swimming with the stingrays as this is a much more controlled environment. Still we got our pictures (overpriced but still worth every cent) and you can see from our faces how much fun we were having -- these are the things I treasured when we are back to the day to day grind. We also bought some vanilla and a silver chain from Cinco de Sol. They were reasonably priced and the sales people in Cinco de Sol did not seem to pressure you as much as some of the other stores.
Belize: We decided to go cave tubing on this port. We did arrange this through the cruiseline - The only trip we arranged on our own was in Cozumel (in the future I will try to book more things on my own through proven reputable companies - as it is quite a bit cheaper and usually involves smaller groups). Although we did book this through the cruise line we had an exhausting but great time cave tubing. We both saw some monkeys in the trees during the bus ride. It had rained early in the day when we went so we had a nice moving current (not too fast but we did not have to paddle much). Afterwards we stopped at a restaurant (I think it was Breezes) as part of the excursion package and had chicken, rice and beans, coleslaw and we bought some tasty beer to go with the above. Our tour operator told us the secret to tasty beans and rice is to cook it in coconut milk (I will have to try that some time). We bought some cashew wine (at the restaurant) it is strong and more like a liquor than a wine but we figure it is something unique. My husband also bought a walking cane (stick) from a local merchant that was beautifully carved. I would definitely consider stopping at Belize on future cruises.
MISC: Cruise Director -cruise director Mark was pretty funny and seemed helpful. On our first cruise our cruise director was John who we thought was wonderful. However on our second cruise we had a cruise director who's name I cannot even remember (he seemed to be trying to imitate John Heald and repeated the same old routine). I liked that Mark Hawkins was trying some new fresh things that were not just copying everyone else - even if every joke did not work it was great to see something new.
Head of Shore Excursions - I forget the name of this person but I was disappointed because she was not the person who gave the lecture on the shore excursions (that was the cruise director) and even though she claimed she was available afterwards she did not seem to want to be bothered. I asked about the approximate cab fare to Chankonnob Park and mentioned that we were doing a Sea Lion swim. She claimed she was not sure of the taxi fare and that she could not make any guarantees on our Sea Lion Swim as it was not booked through them. I thought this was pretty rude and that she should be able to give basic information about where to catch a cab, if there are ones to avoid and how much they cost -- she did not even advise us to get a price before we got in the cab (fortunately we knew from a previous cruise). Later on in the trip the person who was the cruise lines shopping expert told us the price was about $10.00 each way as far as she knew from last time she went there but to double check before we got in the cab as the prices may have changed.
We felt this cruise was among the best because of the ports, the beautiful ship and the fact that the people were laid back without being obnoxious. Everyone seemed to be there to have a great time but in general did not go overboard. There were no problems with unsupervised children (in fact some were holding the elevator door for there father and when they saw that he had stopped to socialize they apologized and left the elevator). There was also not too much smoke and none in the hallways, elevators, etc.
Overall this was a great cruise, although as in most vacations I have a few concerns. We look forward to another cruise in the future and will return to Carnival.