My husband and I have been wanting to cruise for a long time, and so about a month and a half out - we booked our cruise. Our neighbors love to cruise and when they found out we were going through Carnival - they told us we were going to be disappointed. Then, after reading some of the reviews, we were so apprehensive about our cruise. We never should have worried. The cruise exceeded our expectations and then some.
We left Mobile on Monday, December 27. We live about two hours from Mobile so we went through the Admiral Semmes Hotel for their park and cruise package and arrived the night before. The Admiral Semmes used to be Radisson - but it is now owned by another company. The hotel is old and shows wear and tear. When we do it again, we will more than likely book at the Holiday Inn across the street since it seemed to be kept up better and more organized. For one night - it was just fine. The hotel had us leaving on the 11:00 shuttle to the port. We got there without incident. I had read horror stories regarding the embarkation process in Mobile. It went like a breeze. We stood in line sure - but the lines moved quick and efficiently. Everybody was extremely nice and helpful. We were on the ship before noon and having lunch on the Lido Deck.
The food was typical buffet faire. It was fine - but nothing super duper exciting to write home about. Our room was ready at 1:30 - and we were on the 6th floor - upper deck U46. We had an outside oceanview room. We were pleasantly surprised at how big it was after reading how small and cramped the rooms actually are. Of course, it wasn't a hotel suite - but it was plenty big for my hubby and I. One bag was already outside our door - and the other two followed within ten minutes. Our room steward was waiting to greet us with a warm and friendly smile.
I unpacked our bags and my hubby and I checked out the ship. The ship set sail at precisely 4:00. We had early seating dining. We made our way to the dining room and met our fellow table mates. Everyone was so nice and friendly. The cruise was at capacity - so our waiter and his assistant were way busy. They had four big tables of at least 10 (our table had 11) and two smaller tables. They were overworked and frazzled. He really could not give our table individual attention that most people appreciate when dining out -but it wasn't his fault. He was still very nice - and the maitre'd came over and performed magic tricks. They entire wait staff performed some sort of entertainment each night. It was a lot of fun. My only erghhs for the dining exxperience was that it was too crowded and we had absolutely no elbow room when eating. The service was a little slower than I would've liked - but considering the crowd - it was acceptable. Finally - the lobster they served was very very small - maybe 4 - 6 oz lobsters. One of the bigger guys at our table had 4 lobsters - and was still hungry. : ) The warm melting cake was very good!
We spent our sea day doing spa treatments. Once again, I had heard horror stories about the spa staff spending the entire massage trying to sell you their products. I got one of the specials, (hot rock massage, facial, and eye treatment) for $169 for 75 minutes. This was more than I would've paid on land - but hey we were on a cruise. My massage girl was very good. She never once mentioned any product for me to buy. She asked the areas I needed her to concentrate on - and she did. At the end - she brought me water and 3 items she used on me. She told me about the items - what they did - and asked if I wanted to purchase anything. I've had this done at nearly all the day spas I've ever went to - so I was not taken aback. I told her I was fine - she handed my ticket - I signed it - tipped her - and all was well. It was a great experience. My hubby had the seaweed detox wrap done and had a 5.5 inch loss over the course of the treatment. It was his first ever spa treatment - and he was surprised as well. At the end - he was shown some products - but turned them down - no pressure at all.
We dressed up for our formal night. Went hunting for the photogs - got pictures and had a great dinner. After dinner we went to the Rock Show they were featuring on the ship. It was a nice show. We did find it funny that rock who has the reputation of rebellion and aggression has been turned into a cruise ship special. Boy, you know your old when power ballads are being sung by ship's entertainment and the geriatric aged people are clapping and enjoying it. : )
Our first stop was Cozumel. Since it was our first cruise - and we didn't know what to expect - we went ahead and bought an excursion through the cruise ship. We did the dolphin swim. We loved it. We were able to swim with the dolphins and interact with them. The facility also fed us a relatively innocuous lunch. The bad part about it was the cost of the DVD and pictures. They have quite the racket - and they know it since you can't take your own pics and video.
After our swim and lunch - we left the dolphinarium and walked the four - five blocks to the Cozumel shopping area. We shopped for a few hours - ate a more substantial lunch which was really good near the Center of Tourism. About two hours before we were to be back on the ship - we went back to the dolphinarium - and they arranged our transportation back to the market square by where the ship was in port.
Before we went to Cozumel, Carnival offered up a presentation on a guide to shopping. It was informative - filled with VIP coupons - helpful hints by the presenter Jay - and just a butt load of CRAP!! We went into Diamonds International - where Jay promised us that since DI dealt directly with the DeBeer family - diamonds would be about 70% cheaper. HA!! I looked at 2 carat diamond that when looped was pretty flawed - so no telling how bad it was under the microscope - and the tag was $18,000.00 - and the so called VIP treatment since Jay was our cruise guy - meant no tax. Hello, no tax anyway. All of his pointers, specials, etc. were all American companies right off the dock that offered no real deals - and then I read the fine print on the map he handed out - Carnival is paid by the merchants he highlights - and one of the guys behind the counter at DI says they give him a kickback on the stuff they sale with his VIP coupon.
From earlier trips to Mexico - if you want jewelry - there are deals to be had. Just take a lighter to determine real silver and gold - and purchase a small diamond tester to test the authenticity of a diamond. But I suggest staying away from Diamonds International unless you want to pay big prices. Their big claim to fame is that they have more facets so your diamond will sparkle all the more - here's what you need to know - they put the additional facets to try to defract the flaws - they're harder to spot if their are more cuts in the diamond.
All in all we had a lot of fun and returned to the ship. We skipped dinner in the dining room - having the buffet on the Lido deck instead. We spent some time that evening in the casino, we played Bingo, and just hung out. It was nice and relaxing.
The following day we arrived in Calica. We went out on our own and wound up in Playa del carmen for the beach and shopping. We had a wonderful time. Did lunch in one of the restaurants - and it was pricey - $40 for both of us. It was just okay. They offered massages for $20 for an hour. I tried to talk hubby into it - but he was leery. We found out later that the cruise staff uses this method for massages and that they are really good. So, save tons of money - and wait to Calica to get a massage. One caveat - the boat docks at what looks like a cement plant. If you go on your own - know what you want to do - and take the taxi. In Cozumel - you could've been fine just getting off the ship and walking to the little market right off the dock - not so in Calica - it looks pretty ugly and desolate - and you take about a 10 minute taxi to Playa del Carmen.
We arrived back to the ship. Went to dinner - and the water was pretty rough. I got a little sea sick - and before dessert was through - went back to the room. The dramamine didn't cut it so I took phenergan - and was out for the night. I missed the WYN show - but heard it wasn't that great - and it was disjointed.
Our final day at sea and NYE - my hubby and I took the Behind the Fun tour of the ship. It's $55 per person - and the three hour tour was worth it. You see all the behind the scenes stuff - the galley - the laundry- the bridge - the entertainment. You meet the captain - get your picture with the captain - and when you get to your room they have a tray of chocolate covered strawberries waiting for you. Our room steward was awesome! Twice a day straightening our room, filling our ice buckets, keeping our wine chilled, and turning down our beds at night. Everytime we left the room - he would go in and clean. I had to tell him we didn't expect it - he went over and above. So much so - I find it hard to believe anybody saying that their room was never serviced. We were overserviced. We left him more of a tip when we left the ship.
My husband and I visited the spa again for a couples' massage. It was heaven. Again - no heavy selling- nothing. In fact - after our massage - they didn't even give us any sales pitch on anything. It was just fine.
New Year's Eve was on our final night. We dressed - did pictures. The photogs can be annoying - but hey - you don't have to buy a picture. One thing -the staff that works with the pics and rings you up - are not the nicest. In fact, they can border on rude. I at first chalked it up to a cultural difference - but it wasn't. One lady - Neda - was very rude. We were on the glass elevator that we caught on level 12 to go down to 9 where the pics were. When we got on there were 3 teenage girls- they were "riding" the elevators. NOt doing anything wrong - not making the elevators stop at each floor - just enjoying the ride. It wasn't a busy time so people weren't crowding into the elevator. They were just three girls having fun. When we got on 9 - there was Neda - and she just yelled and yelled at the girls. So loud people were looking. It was terrible. She then told us to control our children. We didn't have any. : ) Oh well. : )
The ship planned a great NYE celebration. They handed out free champagne - and had a midnight buffet. It was all on the Lido deck - and it was awesome. My hubby and I went to bed around 1:30 since we docked in Mobile early early the next morning. We heard people up until all hours of the night. It was GREAT!!
Debarktation was a little scattered - but not bad. They had 2600 people to get off the ship. We zipped (well - you know what I mean with that many people through customs and we happily and exhausted made our way home.
A few words of advice: take a power strip. We are so glad we did - only one outlet in the room. Pack half of what you think you will need. I read that so many times before we left - but still packed more than I needed. They do have laundry services on board or you can do it yourself as well. Plan on spending twice what you think - especially on board. We didn't drink alcohol but we did other stuff. The spa treatments are fairly expensive - but they will have specials each day. And - my hubby always negotiated an even cheaper price than the specials (he has no shame). Finally - go with a fun attitude. Sure, the food isn't always to die for, the entertainment is not Vegas quality - the hot tubs are usually full of kids - there are crowded areas - but your attitude determines your destiny. If you go with a bad attitude - you are going to complain and whine about everything. But if you have a great attitude - it's going to be a blast. It's what you make it. We had a great time - and an awesome adventure.