My husband and I are Platinum Carnival Cruisers and this cruise was cruise #11.
We flew into Ft Lauderdale the day before the cruise and had pre-booked a shuttle to take us from the airport to the LaQuinta Hotel near the Miami airport. My husband booked EZ Express shuttle. The driver was prompt and courteous and picked us up minutes after we retrieved our bags in baggage claim. It was about a 30-minute trip to the hotel, it was only our party of 4 on the shuttle. I had a bad cough from a sinus infection and the driver handed me a bottle of water to help me out.
The front desk staff at LaQuinta were friendly when we arrived, the rooms were decent and clean. We walked to the Bennigans next door for dinner and it was awful. They had a bad local band playing very loudly, most of the tables were dirty and the staff were unfriendly. If we could've gone somewhere else by walking, we would have. Definitely avoid this Bennigans if you stay nearby.
We took the hotel shuttle to the Miami Cruiseport, which was super convenient. We had not booked the shuttle but they ended up with space for 4 on the 10 am shuttle so we got on.
We arrived at the cruiseport and the porters took care of our bags. We were in the VIP line before 10:30 am, through security and in the VIP lounge less than 10 minutes after arriving at the port.
The staff in the VIP lounge were friendly and we relaxed for a few minutes before we checked in and received our Sail & Sign cards. They had water and lemonade available.
As we've experienced before, embarkation in Ft Lauderdale is extremely smooth and efficient. We boarded the ship at 11:20 am.
I thought the Lobby was beautiful, lots of wrought iron and floral decor. There was a huge chandelier in the lobby atrium with color-changing lights.
We went up to the Lido where lunch was ready. Because I was still on medication for a sinus infection, I couldn't celebrate the start of the cruise with the Drink of the Day but they made a "virgin" strawberry margarita for me so I could at least pretend.
We went to our cabin on the Panorama Deck (Deck 10) at 1:30. We always get a balcony cabin and we love staying on the "half" decks because they tend to be quieter. Our cabin was clean and in good condition. The only issue was that I couldn't quite get the cabin cool enough, even with the thermostat on the coldest setting.
The down side of cruising this time of year is the Spring Breakers. I don't have anything against teens and young adults in general but the majority of the young people on board were ill-mannered, running around, making noise in cabin-only areas late at night, acting as if they were the only ones on board, etc. We actually heard one young woman complain about all the "old people" that were on board.
We had early seating in the Golden Olympian dining room, on the upper level, a booth for 4 for ourselves and our travel companions. Our headwaitress was Chuleekorn (Chule for short) and she was probably the best headwaiter we've ever had. Bright, cheerful with a sense of humor. She remembered everything and noticed everything. She had 2 assistants because one was in training and anything that they forgot she remembered.
The food was good as usual but my husband did say the steaks were not quite as tender as they had been in the past. All of my dinner choices (usually chicken, fish or pasta) were good. The maitreD in our dining room sang each night before the staff did their little performance. The assistant maitreD upstairs (Dean) came by our table each evening to ask how everything was.
The weather was amazing. Temps in the upper 70s and low 80s. The only rain we experienced occurred during the night.
We watched a movie on the Lido Big Screen one night. They now have popcorn available from the bar. The only problem was that there was one popcorn machine that could not keep up with the demand. Hopefully Carnival will add more popcorn machines later.
Our bar waitress for the dining room (Kuralay) was very attentive and efficient, she usually had my husband's Diet Coke on the table before we even got there and she always brought a fresh refill during the meal. She had a great smile and was friendly when we ran into her on the ship and in port.
The entertainment could've been better. We were not "wow"d by an of the shows. We walked out of the juggler act. The sets and costumes were beautiful, the vocal talents were not the best we've heard on Carnival.
We had a good time at the Past Guest reception, good drinks and snacks and we got to take pics with Funship Freddy. :)
We used the Internet Cafe each day to check email and at the beginning of the cruise, it seemed to be working much faster than we had experienced on previous cruises. The last night was the slowest but it was still not as agonizingly slow as we've had at other times. We definitely like being able to check email (I have my own business) and being able to check in for our return flight and print boarding passes.
The best thing that we did was to book the "Behind the Fun" tour. It occurred on the last sea day and is limited to 16 people. The cost was $95 per person and was well worth it. Our tour guide was Emma and she was delightful. We got to tour the laundry and the alcohol/soda cold storage areas (and speak to the head of the dept). We toured the crew mess, the front of the ship (outside), behind the stage in the show lounge (including the girls' dressing room), the Crew Training area, the engine control room (and spoke with THE Chief Engineer) the Steakhouse and...the bridge!!! I was like a 6-yr old, I was so excited to go on the bridge. We met the Captain and got to have our picture taken with him, individually and then as a group. The galley tour included a lesson in carving and creating a bird out of vegetables and free cookies and chocolate-covered strawberries for all of us. In the steakhouse, they showed us cuts of meat, gave us each a soap carving and had free champagne or orange juice for all of us. At the end, we all got a special cap, lanyard and drawstring bag that said "Behind the Fun" and "honorary team member" on them.
We didn't book any excursions in the ports of call as we had been to all of them at least once before. We just got off and wandered around on our own.
We had dinner in the Dining Room every night but we did breakfast and lunch on the Lido most days. We found out that Port days are great days to have breakfast and lunch on the Lido because the ship is nearly empty. My husband loves the Fish & Chips and I enjoyed the new Burrito bar. We both feel that food in the Buffet has improved in the last few years.
When it came time for disembarkation, we opted for "Self Assist" because we had an early flight. They called for Self Assist around 7:20 am and we were off the ship and through customs in less than 10 minutes.
Unfortunately we were not happy with the EZ express shuttle at disembarkation despite our good experience at the start of the cruise. We had been informed to call them when we cleared Customs. After multiple phone calls and messages, we were finally told that the first shuttle wouldn't be there until 8:30 am. So we were left to wait for an hour. When the shuttle showed up, it was nearly full and they had difficulty added luggage for 4 to the already full van. They stuffed 10 people into space that comfortably sat 6. We made it to the Ft Lauderdale airport at 9 am but we were definitely unhappy with the service.
We flew AirTran to and from Ft Lauderdale even though we were sailing out of Miami because it was cheaper to fly to Lauderdale and shuttle to Miami than to fly to Miami on Delta (AirTran doesn't service Miami). The flights to and from were oversold so they had to get volunteers to give up their seats. On the flight home from Miami, they also told us that they didn't have enough overhead bin space for a full flight so they were gate-checking carryon's. Luckily we had upgraded to Business Class for the flight home and had plenty of space. Our flight was delayed and hour and a half leaving due to mechanical issues but the flight home was smooth and they made up some time.