Our family of 4 drove from Northern VA to Dania Beach on Saturday, April 16th. It was a 15 hour drive with busy roads due to Spring Break. Driving was better for us on two fronts...cheaper by far just based on fare alone, and MUCH cheaper for us based on the fact we had 2 extra large suitcases to deliver to family in Jamaica that would have cost way to much to check in baggage.
We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Dania Beach. They had a wonderful staff who were very helpful. The room rate was $200.00 for 3 adults and one child. This included transfer to the port, secured parking for our car for one week, and breakfast for all four of us.
We arrived at the port on Sunday in plenty of time. Our wait was not too long, staff members were helpful and happy to get us started on our vacation. We had lunch outside on the lido deck, the food was good, drinks were awesome! Our rooms were ready quickly and ours was decorated for my husband's birthday. Nice touch! As everyone says, these rooms are very spacious and comfortable. Especially liked being able to check our sail and sign balance, the ships position, and dinner menus each day. Our steward was very quick, I think she cleaned our room 2-3 times a day and we hardly ever saw her! As the mother of a 2 year old, I must say this is one of my favorite parts about cruising, I didn't have to do all the straightening or bed making!
Our dining room service was wonderful. Everyone was great to our daughter and tried to accommodate my husband who is a very picky eater! The food was wonderful, the portions just right. I have to say, after all the reviews of the warm chocolate melting cake, I was practically drooling over it to find it's not really my cup of tea!
We enjoyed the entertainment, the casino, and basically just people watching on the promenade. One of our favorite family activities was watching the movies at night on the lido deck screen. There were several servers who got to know us in the Freedom Buffet area who were really cool.
We never felt pressured to purchase anything we didn't want. Folks responded politely when we simply said, "no thank you". This goes for pictures, drinks, excursions, etc.
My daughter, sadly, would not stay at Camp Carnival very long. It took her until the last 2 days to even let us keep her there at all. This was disappointing to us because we were looking forward to some much needed adult time. Thankfully, my mother sailed with us, so she had our daughter 2 nights and we had "date nights".
Debarkation was smooth and easy. We had no snags.
I had 4 small things I wanted to comment on as well, that we felt could have been better. 2 that Carnival could possibly work on, 2 with guests, so there is nothing they can do, really.
During muster on the first night, a couple behind us essentially cussed and complained the entire time about having to stand for muster. I was pretty discouraged and wondered if we should have waited and cruised after spring break season. Luckily, we never saw them again, so it wasn't a real bother. Another time a little boy (probably 2-3) was swimming in the Lido pool by himself with just a life jacket on. A security guard came right over and spoke with him. They found his parents, (who didn't seem that upset, at all actually) and then the security guard just walked away. I know he was limited as to what he could do, but crazy-bad parenting freaks me out and I with they could have gone to the brig for an hour or something. (I know, I know....)
As far as the issues with Carnival staff/procedures; We were, of course, disappointed when we were called to pick up our daughter who wouldn't calm down at Camp Carnival. She wanted to be cuddled up for a while and they couldn't do it because there were so many other kids, she couldn't get special attention. I understand that, however; on two occasions we were having breakfast and Camp Carnival staff from the 2-5 room were getting coffee right next to us and ignored our family. I felt like this would be a great time (twice) to greet her and let her see them outside of camp. Not spend an hour playing with her, but at least say hi. The rest of the staff treated her like a princess. The girls from Camp seemed to not be able to care less when they saw her. Not a real biggie, it just bugged me a little. Toward the end of the cruise, when she would stay and not cry, they were really sweet to her.
The other thing I would have like to have seen handled a bit different was debarkation at Key West. There was a tremendous line waiting for only a few trolley/trains to bring people out of the Navy Pier to town. The line was about 30-40 minutes and there was little (2 huts worth) shade, and it was extremely hot! Along with this, there was minimal staff manning the lines, so a lot of folks just cut to the front which was very annoying and caused most people to have to wait longer. The same type of thing happened on the way back to port with people pushing and shoving to get on to the return trolleys. At least we could stand away from the madness and be in the shade while we waited. Again, annoying and grating, but nothing to write off cruising for.
All in all, an amazing experience for our whole family that we hope to try again in the future!