This was essentially our first time on a Cruise...Family of 5 - Me, DW, DD11, DD13, DS15. We sailed on the Destiny from Aug 22-27. We were supposed to do the Eastern Caribbean but Irene came and moved us to the west.
I thought boarding at Miami was pretty smooth. We arrived around 11AM and got through to the waiting area with our S&S cards in about 30 minutes. At X-Ray they opened our 12 pack of soda and checked the water bottles in our case of water. We also carried on 2 bottles of wine (and another case of soda). Boarding the ship was delayed a little bit because of Irene and the new itinerary but we finally were on the boat around 1PM. We got adjoining rooms with the kids in one and me/dw in the other. We got ocean view rooms but for several weeks prior to boarding I was regretting not getting a balcony. Our logic was that we didn't think the kids needed a balcony (and we didn't really want them to have one).
We had early seating at the Universe dining room for dinner. Our table was a smallish 4 person booth with a chair stuck at the end. I thought it was kind of tacky. I understand a family of 5 can be difficult to seat but I would have preferred a shared table over a crowded table top and legs being kicked all week. Our waiter and his assistant were friendly and efficient and the food the first night was enjoyed by everyone. Definitely not a 4 or 5 star experience but that is not what we were expecting in the main dining room. Dinner the rest of the week was pretty good. The highlight was pretty good lobster on formal night...and our waiter brought us extra lobster tails.
My daughters are 11 and 13 but only 14 months apart and DD11 turned 12 in a coule of weeks. Needless to say she wanted to be in Circle C (12-14YOs). She was kind of stressing over it but it ended up being a non-issue...she was immediately moved into the older group and had a great time (as did DD13). The first night they didn't get back to the cabin until after 1AM.
DS15 was another story. He never gave 15-17 club a chance and spent most of the cruise (whenever we were not in port or not eating) in the cabin reading. He did take advantage of and enjoy the free room service.
First port was Key West. We ate breakfast in the MDR (which was quite good...nice to have fresh eggs benedict as opposed to hardened version you get at the buffet). We walked around...went to Hemingway's house. It was raining and pretty boring. Highlight was eating Key Lime pie in the keys and taking pictures of the hwy one 0 mile sign.
Next was Cozumel. We booked Nachi Cocom all-inclusive private beach. I actually reserved before I realized we were not arriving until 1PM and they close at 5PM. We queued up as early as we could to disembark and with the extra hour for the central time zone we had plenty of time there. We really enjoyed it. We rented wave runners and rode the banana boat and enjoyed the beach and the pool. Their food was very good and I really liked not having to pay $9 each for a margarita. This was by far our most enjoyable day.
Final stop was Costa Maya. I will preface this by saying that we slept a little bit late and did not take a Mayan Ruin tour which I think could have been interesting and enjoyable. We thought coast maya was awful. We rented a golf cart to try and get away from the port area but the downtown area wasn't much better. The beaches were dirty and the water was cloudy and every 10 feet someone is trying to pull you into their beach bar or massage stand like a times square strip club promoter. We had an overpriced lunch, turned the cart in early, and went back to the ship.
During the week we saw three comedy shows...one family show with the kids. We enjoyed all 3 (DS15 even put down his book and had fun). The evening shows are really blue...didn't bother me or my wife (and the kids didn't attend those shows) but a few people did walk out.
We went to one of the Vegas style shows...it was OK...about what you would expect for a cruise ship. Worth seeing once.
The Lido deck Karaoke was fun...I think they should do that more than just once a week. The rest of the time it was in the Onyx room.
We went to quite a few of the smaller events...gameshow mania, liars club, future cruises, farewell party, etc. All were enjoyable enough but none really stand out.
We did Bingo a couple of times. We played because my wife and DD13 really wanted to but I kind of have a little bit of a beef with the way it is run. You are charged $25 for a card for 1 game for a $1000 pot. I counted at least 200 players each time. Is it really necessary for Carnival to return only 20% of the pot and pocket $4000 in profit? Couldn't they have more than 1 game and/or increase the pot? Kind of the same thing for the slot tournament...64 players for a $500 prize...at least they returned 40% of that prize pool.
Played at the casino a little. They need to add Pai Gow Poker and throw the automatic poker table overboard and use a human dealer. Continuous shuffle machine BJ and 2x odds craps were kind of a turnoff.
I needed to use the internet to stay connected at work so I bought something like 100 minutes for $59. I couldn't get any kind of useful wifi signal from our Cabin and when I moved to an area with a good signal it was almost impossible to be assigned an IP address. I ended up using the 386s they have in the internet cafe and eating most of the minutes.
We got an invite and went to the past guest party (my wife and I went on a 3 day Mexican cruise out of long beach in the mid 90s while we were in our 20s and the Carnival system remembered us which is good because I don't remember much of that cruise). Drinks and food were about what you would expect.
Had a bit of a sticker shock when I got my S&S bill. It was all correct of course...$9 drinks, $3 cokes, bingo, etc etc etc tend to add up :). It is pretty clear that Carnival's business model is to make the upfront cabin fees as reasonable as possible and then monetize everything on the cruise as much as possible. I am not saying that is good or bad but just something to be aware of.
All in all we enjoyed the week but it wasn't terribly relaxing for me. I think we might have had more fun at our original ports (we were definitely going to get a cabana at Half Moon Cay) so the last minute Itinerary change (obviously not Carnival's fault) probably soured things a little. But honestly, I think we would have had a more fun and relaxing vacation renting a house on the beach at the outer banks of hawaii at probably less overall cost. I am not sorry that we took the cruise but am not sure about our cruising future...we will probably give it another try and go to our original eastern Caribbean ports or europe or maybe Alaska.