We (like many of you) picked this cruise based on reviews and other feedback. We just returned today from our cruise, and I wanted to share things while it was fresh. We also did a lot of research (in a lot of aspects like shore excursions, and transporation, etc..) and wanted to share those with others.
We left May 28th. This was our 5th cruise, most of them being Carnival in the past (one Celebrity).
Our ports were Cozumel, Roatan, Belize, and Costa Maya. We picked this because of the destinations (and 15 years ago spent a lovely week on Roatan and wanted to return with our kids and also love Cozumel). We went with another couple, our kids ages 10 and 13 as well as their kids (and their first cruise).
If you don't know this already, ARRIVE A DAY EARLY for any cruise. We got an Avis rental from Orlando airport ($60 one way) and dropped it off a.m. This beats the cruise ship offered mode of transporation and buses, and getting in a day early helped with some stress relief (ie late flights ,we still had day to recover). Avis was one that did offer one way rental to Cocoa Beach. We stayed at a Holiday Inn and then went over to rental about 10 a.m. By 12:00 all of us were on the boat checked in (Avis bus will take you to the cruise ship). Another thing.. Take your party over first in rental, then just two of us went back instead of hauling luggage on the Avis bus. It's easy to do and quick.
The embarkation was fantatic (compared to other cruises). I think one hour at most to get checked in, and on board. All I know is we had a bucket of beers by the pool by 1 p.m.! If you do this cruise, and Padro is still a server by the pool, use him! He's great and he gladly filled the kids pop cups (they had a pop card) even tho I don't think he received gratuaty for it. (Pop cards will save you in long run if your kids drink pop). Also, be warned. A bucket of 4 beers (16 oz) will cost you $25.00 with gratuity.
First day at Sea..fantastic... BUT GET ON DECK EARLY for chair if you want to be by big screen and pool. Also you will find lines for the water slides but best to do those over lunchtime (when kids eating!) Their is a lot of deck seating in other places (if you don't want to sit by pool). Otherwise, Carnival really did misjudge building a ship this big with limited pool space. It could use one more if not two larger pools.
They say you can't reserve deck chairs but I presonally witnessed people putting towels on them, and leaving for 2+ hours with no disturbance (even tho they tell you on big screen all the time, your posessions will be removed if left for more than 30 minutes). Familys and groups claimed large areas and kept them virtually all day, especially on days at sea.
First stop Cozumel. Since we had done this stop many times and stayed on Cozumel for week vacations, we knew what we wanted to do (and didn't). We got a jeep rented ahead of time, from Less-Pay rental and rode up the beach. It was $50 FOR ENTIRE day with insurance. Note this place uses old rentals, but we didn't mind and liked the rate. A taxi ride from cruise port to the Baracuda Hotel will cost you $7 to $8. Take one member from your party, get jeep(s) and come pick up rest. Again these jeeps are old (over 100,000 miles on ours) but got us around the island.
We went to areas around San Francisco beach (by Carlos and Charlies I think). Their are condo's and hotels there that will let you drink/eat relatively cheap. Also they gave us snorkling equipment to use and other water sports. After this I would recommend you just drive to the East side of island, and visit places along way (5 or 6 great bars and restaurants. Beaches are rocky but it's beautiful). End day in San Migel for shopping and return car. So in 8 hours we got in 3 hours at beach, water sports, lunch, and then island hopped to two or three places along beach, great photo's and had one or 2 hours for shopping before return.
Roatan: Save yourself time here. Don't go to the fabricated port they built at Mahogony Bay. Take a taxi (Marty Wood, Island Transport Services, email@example.com or 504 9979 1017. For $120 he took 8 of us in a new taxi to Sundowners, on the West End. These guys are on facebook (look for Sundowners). We spent entire day here, then Marty took us to place for Zip line adventure on way back to boat! Why pay the cruise line price of $89.00 pp when you can get this for $45.00. We ended day with our two boys in group and dads doing 11 zip lines in about an hour or so. Incredible (And Marty knows the place to take you!). You can also e-mail Sundowners and they will arrange taxi but I HIGHLY recommend using Marty. Great guy with family to feed and he owns his own taxi. Note at Sundowners you can rent equpment ($10) and a couple of the locals will take you around the bay and you will see some incredible sights right from shore. Food is fantastic. Chicken, Burgers. and CHEAP and great change from cruise line food. Note the taxi place for this is OUTSIDE the cruise ship port (up the big hill) since they are not "sanctioned" by Carnival. Simply put if you don't give Carnival 50% of the profit you aren't allowed on-site. That's another reason to get away from the "cruise ship" port and do a little adventure. WEST END had personality and great views.
Belize, I was looking forward to this but found out it's dangerous to get outside the cruise area. We didn't have enough time to really do this right so we stayed by port. Nothing special but great day to shop. I wanted to go to Amberguis Cay but don't feel we had enough time to do proper.
Last stop, COSTA MAYA. In case you haven't researched this yet, it's a made-up port and huge disappointment. They made this stop for cruise ships. If you don't mind a "Spring Break" like crowd, around a big pool, getting totally wasted you will love it. We took the Native Choice tour to a Myan Ruin (ask for Joel.. INCREDIBLE GUIDE) - Also Jacob. (Took us over on bus). http://www.thenativechoice.com/ They will pick you up on a bus at entrance to port, take you 5 or 6 blocks to office then load you up (about 10 on small bus) for 50 minute ride to Chacchoben. It really was fascincating, and we left at 8 and was back by 12:30 so we could shop a bit before return to boat. This was worth the $40 or $50 pp adventure and the site is pretty amazing.
Anyway, just wanted to share our experiences and some of the highlights, and remember, reserve your deck chairs early around the big screen on the Dream! Other than that, great ship, great entertainment, and really managed well.