Well first of all; I'm going to try my hand at writing a full review with photos and more in depth day by day info and Fun Times postings over the next 2 to 3 weeks. If you are cruising this ship more than 2 weeks from when I write this mini-review I can tell you I will give you TONS of information. Especially if you are a first time (or first time Carnival) cruiser. I will also review Half Moon Cay here as there is not a space for it in Port reviews.
We drove down from Augusta, GA over a 2 day span. 1st night hotel was a Quality suites in Ormond Beach (Daytona). We got a great rate and the hotel was new. a decent quick stop; but I got my first taste of shoddy service here: the service team was HORRIBLE! Apparently the family that runs the broken down Econo-crap next to our hotel also ran this one. They did the hotel owner stereotype no favors. my recommendation: Stay away! The next morning we drove the rest of the way down I-95 to Miami at a relaxed pace. A warning for drivers coming to Miami for the first time: the street system numbering is very confusing if you do not study a map first! even by GPS had issues with the # system for a few streets. Once I figured it out, no problem. We arrived at the Hilton Garden Inn Airport around 5pm or so.
I HIGHLY recommend this hotel! great service, breakfast, quality rooms, and not a bad location for dining if you are adventurous. Colleen and her staff are very knowledgeable about the area and are SUPER helpful! another plus: the do a free shuttle to the port at GOOD times of the day, not right before you are supposed to leave only! We saved $140 on port parking as well as the stress of navigating to the port ourselves. Return shuttles after our cruise was $25 for both of us with no others riding. I'm sure it would be less per person if you have others with you so inquire.
Embarkation was smooth and efficient. We were 1st time cruisers with Carnival so no priority status. even so, we arrived at the port at 11:30 and were called to board about 12:15. the kiosk check in is very simple. I initially did not want to do it; but the line for "real people" was longer, so.... I was very satisfied with the efficiency of the check-in. So we are on the ship and ready for Lido dining until our rooms are ready!
OK, for details on everything i cover from here on in; please see the full review on the board site. Otherwise this will take forever!
So our party was myself DD 41 and my son DS14. we have sailed on the Disney wonder and RCI Navigator previously in the past year. We are still newbie cruisers to a degree, but I'm a researcher so was somewhat prepared. Please note that these are OUR experiences and review. You may experience a completely different trip.
we had an interior cabin on deck 9. No problems with space or anything. If you are mostly out and about; save the $$$ and get one of these. We looked at the balcony cabins and can honestly say we saw no difference in space other than the balcony itself. I thoroughly enjoyed the balcony on the Navigator of the Seas; but if budget is a consideration, its not a necessity.
The food was very erratic and was a distant 3rd behind both of our previous cruises. The Menus don't have a lot of variety from day to day. The MDR's are very understaffed; and we experienced several different waitstaffs due to having the flexible dining (not by choice)times. Lido deck was OK, Grill and Pizza was very good, and there is a reason that the Fish n Chips and Mongolian Grill are always packed. This is the best food on the ship. I would expect that these locations would syphon quite a lot of business from the MDR's; so of course they are CLOSED for dinner! Gah! Dumb move. For dining I would recommend the following: Pick a traditional seating time for the true cruise camaraderie experience; have breakfast at the open seating in the MDR if possible (much better coffee!)and do your lunches on board at the Mongolian grill and Fish and Chips. Harry's steakhouse is a good alternative at $30 a person; but I decided not to do it after tasting the Beef dishes I had so far on the ship. Others raved that it was great.
Drinking: Hate to say it; but in my experience, the rep Carnival has was in full effect on this cruise. Lots of booze cruisers. No issues; but man I had a few and they were watered down fairly well; so these people must have spend double their cruise fare on liquor!!
Public Spaces and general ship: It may not be at first apparent just how beautiful this ship is. Over the course of the week it grew on me and I finally read the in room book on the inspiration and design and gained a new appreciation for it. The theme is Craftsmanship. On your sea day take the time to read the photo book in room and go explore some of the details as you walk the decks. I was expecting LIBERTY as in let freedom ring, all-American red white and blue, etc. NOT! It's a very classy, subdued elegance that shows the ship was made in Italy.
Entertainment: I enjoyed all of the shows, Bingo, etc. We did not do the deck parties. In general it was the main shows and Drinking and sunning that were the highlights for most passengers. The CD and staff were fantastic (Kirk our CD, was I believe just promoted from an ACD) and did very well. The Highlight for us was the comedy club Deck 5 aft. We spent a large portion of our evenings running from the main show lounge forward to aft for the comedy. It is supposed to be 18+, but my son is almost 15 and watched comedy central and XM comedy stations all the time so as he looks 18 we had no problems. Joe Wiley and Doug Funk are Dont Miss Comedians. The Love and Marriage show was a highlight as always. the longest married couple were our next table companions for dinner the night before; so that mad it even funnier! they had been married 57 years!!!!!!
Ports: See the individual entries below. I chose this Ship for the Ports and was not let down. GT and HMC are fantastic beach playgrounds; St. Thomas and San Juan are great tourist sights. As for HMC since there is no entry for the private island; here is my short form review: OMG! Be up and ready for the first tender possible and the last tender back. I lived at the beach for over 30 of my 41 years and still was in total enjoyment. Beautiful crystal clear water, clean beaches, fantastic BBQ (be warned, LONG lines. Many have said this is the top private island out there. I really loved Castaway Cay all around; but the beach on HMC is just as nice and bigger width wise to spread out. Tendering was no big deal, even with a TS still churning to our North. This was my biggest fear, but we had no problems. Do be warned that if the seas are to rough it could ruin HMC for you. Build a pier HA / Carnival/ Princess!
Debarkation: No problems. completely smooth.
My final and lasting Impressions: Well, at first i wasn't too thrilled with Carnival. I saw a lot of the bad things I had read. The more I thought about it; I realized only 50% of the issues were Carnival's direct responsibility. A goodly number of the issues really came from the clientele. I'm trying not to be "snooty" about this (as we are definitely middle class normal Americans); but the mix of passengers was decidedly Foreign and first time cruisers. A lot of the passengers had no idea what they were supposed to do or how they should act. This could very much just be the Summer crowd, IDK. The ship is fantastic, as are the Ports and facilities. The Staff is overwhelmingly good but overworked. The service issues are small but very irritating. I choose to believe those are due to light staffing and overwork as opposed to intentionally bad service. Language barriers are a problem so be forewarned. If you are sailing out of the US you should have decent English skills in a customer facing role; but I found myself doing sign language and working on my rusty Spanish and Italian more than I should have. BUT these folks work DAMN HARD 7 days a week so they have my respect and appreciation no matter what!
In conclusion I recommend this ship for 1st time cruisers and all others looking for a relaxed "go with the flow" cruise. If you want a true "white linen" traditional cruise I would suggest trying Carnival's Princess or HA brands or RCI for a combination of the two. Family Cruisers won't find better than Disney and RCI does a good job as well. If I were with younger children I would suggest steering clear of Carnival if you are sensitive until they are a bit older.