First Carnival Cruise; five days with Tampa departure, a day in Grand Cayman and another in Cozumel, Mexico.
Have done trans-Atlantics, trans-Pacific, intra-Hawaiian Islands, Alaska, and now Western Caribbean cruises as a civilian. VIP program eased access, and the stateroom, with a modest balcony, provided great visibility, but a bit modest to stretch out on, maybe fine for one to sit, sideways.
Recommend just taking a cab from the airport - notably less expensive for two or more, plus no need to wait, rather than taking Carnival's buses or other transportation.
Struck by the number of smokers on this ship - restricted to main outdoor pool deck, starboard side - but some sneaking smokes or carrying lit cigarettes elsewhere - and didn't see a single "No Smoking" sign / symbol posted in other areas to discourage them. Some might be ignorant of the rules. Hmmm.
First day had the mandatory lifeboat drill, considerably more casual than on other cruise lines I've taken - no requirement to take and don lifejackets, no demonstration of the procedures we'd have to undertake if had to board lifeboats, etc. Mostly lounging about for the "drill" to commence, and one of the crew explaining how to put on the lifejacket, to those who showed up, some straggling in.
Food was fair to good in the dining rooms, with some excellent entrees and desserts. Fish entrees (eat fish but not meat) for first few days were just so so. Serving staff professional and pleasant, but seemed short-staffed compared to some cruises. Mongolian barbecue excellent, as was sandwiches to order section for lunches.
First port call of Grand Cayman - Recommend just go to the landing area and join a tour on your own. Estimate we saved about 50% compared to what the Carnival tour would have cost (though did not snorkel/beach), and traveled to Seven Mile Beach, Rum Cake Store, Cayman Turtle Farm ($10 US admission), one of the taller buildings overlooking downtown area that provided a vista, and drove to town of Hell before spending time walking around downtown.
Arrived in Cozumel. As a prior Navy officer I noted that at least two "rat guards" designed to prevent rats from climbing ropes (lines that secure the ship to the pier) onto the ship were not properly placed. Probably not a big concern in broad daylight at the end of a long pier, but another example of lack of attention to detail.
Heard from others that it was advisable to take a number of the excursions on your own- greater flexibility, and lower cost. One potential downside - If you are on a ship-sponsored tour and are delayed the ship will wait for you. Went to Chankanaab ($10 taxi ride) with intent of doing the dolphin swim but just enjoyed the beach as well as sea lion entertainment, and tour of the dolphin pens. May be about the same to attend through ship tour as on your own. Snorkel and fin rental $12. Then went to main square of Cozumel by cab ($17) and enjoyed walking around, taking a look at shops, etc. Would probably spend more time in town if go there on a subsequent visit.
Shipboard shows excellent - shows by the entertainment crew and a top-notch Grand Cayman-based comedian were especially good. Varied talent shows by passengers, trivia, etc. rounded it out. The ship's Cruise Director is definitely one of Carnival's strongest assets - a professional with a sense of humor and poise as well.
Gym had very good facilities with plenty of treadmills, ellipticals, free weights, etc. Attended what consider a rather hokey presentation on "detox" provided in the gym by one of the trainers - basically a push for an algae-based program for sale aboard ship. Anyone wanting to get trimmed down was advised that exercising and diet were not nearly as important as detoxing their liver and colon, and if you're in your 30s you've got about 30 pounds of toxins in your body, in your 40s, about 40 pounds, etc. As a board-certified health care provider, and consumer, I don't think Carnival is well served by having such presentations.
Returned to Tampa a few hours ahead of taking a flight and would strongly recommend walking the few blocks to see Tampa's History Museum. Adjacent to the landing point is an information center where you can store your bags ($7) and arrange a van to take you to the airport. People there were very, very helpful. They also recommended activities in the area that could enjoy prior to returning from Tampa. We walked a few blocks to the excellent History Museum. Aquarium is just across the street from the landing point, and there is a trolley that can take you to a number of other sites.