When we decided to do a family cruise, we researched all the different cruiselines. We wanted there to be a lot for the kids to do on board, and enjoy ourselves somewhere warm. We didn't expect 5-star meals because to us, Carnival is an economical / budget-type cruise. Having the kids with us, it made sense to go with this line, and had we been going just the 2 of us, we would've gone with Norweigan.
There were no strange smells, the boat didn't rock (I wore seabands the entire cruise though), and people were constantly cleaning. Our room was a bit dusty, which we expected.
Overall, we were pleasantly surprised that Carnival far exceeded our expectations.
My husband (36), daughter (15), son (5), and I (41) - My husband had cruised on Royal Carribean about 15 yrs ago, but the rest of us were first time cruisers.
WHERE WE WERE GOING
We were supposed to go to Half Moon Cay, Grand Turk, and Nassau. Hurricane Irene was headed on that course however, so we were rerouted to Key West, Cozumel, and Costa Maya. We were thrilled they didn't cancel the trip altogether in light of the weather. Some cruisers were complaining, which didn't make sense to me. It was the middle of hurricane season, so they should've realized this was a possibility going into the trip. We were just happy to not be working and able to spend quality family time together.
GETTING ON THE SHIP
We booked our air with Carnival through an Internet travel agency. We flew into Ft. Lauderdale the day of the cruise and arrived in baggage claim by 9:30 a.m. that morning. Carnival was waiting for us and we then took the Carnival transfer to Port of Miami. It was a very smooth process. No waiting.
When we arrived at port, we checked our luggage and then got our Sail and Sign cards then waited inside for about an hour to get on board. We finally boarded at about 12:15. That waiting period was probably the least fun of the trip. Tons of sweaty, anxious people in a room, waiting. Once our zone was called, we walked onto the ship, and that was that.
WHAT WE DID FIRST
Went to get the Endless Bubbles stickers added to our cards and had some soda and juice. We don't drink alcohol at all. We then went to our room to unpack. Room was ready by 1:15.
We stayed in room 2277 (oceanview / aft / starboard). GORGEOUS VIEW! We were pleasantly surprised with the size of our room, which included 2 twins that we used as a king, a couch that pulled out into a comfortable bed, and a pullman that was actually very comfortable. We were right under the galley, but no sounds kept us up at night, at all. We did bring a white noise sound machine though just in case.
Our cabin steward was Patrick, and he was very nice. We tipped him $20 on day one and he kept us happy the entire trip with plenty of clean towels.
Tons of closet space and lots of table space. Bathroom shower was larger than expected. We were right by the elevators, which was really nice.
No complaints at all about the room.
The food was exactly what we expected from an economy type cruise. We were actually surprised it was so good, and we are definitely food snobs. We ordered room service a few times, ate at the buffet, sushi bar, Japanese area, and in the Galaxy dining room 3 nights.
We never had to wait for food. Lines were minimal for the buffet. No complaints at all about food.
All of the ports were beautiful. We were supposed to go to HMC, Grand Turk, and Nassau but were rerouted because of Irene to Key West, Cozumel, and Costa Maya.
We walked, shopped, ate lunch, and then took a cab to the beach which was gorgeous for swimming and sunbathing.
After eating authentic Mexican food (one of our favorites!), we rented a dunebuggy, and drove to Paradise Beach where we paid about $12 each to use the beach, pool, water toys, and lounge chairs. This beach was gorgeous! We had a lot of fun there. When we drove back, we shopped and got back on the ship.
We did the Jungle Beach excursion, not realizing we were literally taking a 45 minute drive on a bus through the jungle. Once we arrived, it was absolutely worth the ride. Stunning beach! We walked the shoreline away from the crowds and saw baby stingrays, crabs, and the clearest water I've ever seen. We had complimentary soda and juice the whole day and purchased one of every food item from the menu and shared with each other. Delicious! Only complaints- There was a lot of seaweed in the water, and the biting bugs were a bit rough. We actually scored the last can of bug spray on the island and it was worth every cent of the $20 we paid for it. We took the bus back, did a little shopping, got on the ship, and were off on a day at sea.
ON THE SHIP
We spent every day at the pool. I was surprised it was so small, but it worked for us and the kids. There were also two jacuzzis that were the same temperature as the pool, and we used those as well. The pools were a bit packed, which was fine with us, but I'm sort of a germophobe, so all the sweaty people "bathing" in the pools kind of gave me the heeby-jeebies. Finding 4 chairs together was never a problem either, which was surprising.
We enjoyed the reggae music during the day at sea, and played bingo. Didn't win, but it was fun. We also did karaoke.
Our daughter, age 15 LOVED the teen club, and she made some great friends. She spent a lot of time with them, and they were out until the wee hours of the morning doing teenager-type things.
Our son will be 6 next month so he just missed the cut off for the 6-8 yr old group, which would've better suited him. He was bored the first day and said it was boring and they did "babyish" things (his words, not mine). He cried when he left and said he was never going back. Lo and behold, on the last night, he asked if we'd take him back to see if they'd let him do "free play." They did! He had a ball and spent about 4-5 hours there and loved every minute of it.
GETTING OFF THE SHIP
We packed up the night before and put our luggage outside our door. When they called our zone the next morning (around 9am), we walked off the boat, got our luggage, and walked right to the bus to take us to the airport. This process was very smooth, and you could tell they've done this once or twice.
We got to the airport and checked our bags through to Pittsburgh. Then we took a cab to Bayside in Miami and shopped and ate lunch. We took a cab back and got on our plane, and here we are!
The kids had an incredible time, and we did too. I was surprised how long a 6 day / 5 night cruise felt. We didn't complain about anything, and we loved every minute of it.