Travel to Port Canaveral/Embarkation:
We both flew into Orlando and rented a car from Enterprise. We stayed at the Radisson at the Port the night before the cruise. The pool area there is amazing and we really enjoyed it. The rooms were a little small and the beds weren't great but we didn't care. A little pricey (over $100 for the night) but the location was great, about 5 mins from the port. Having a rental car was nice as it allowed us to run to Target for some last minute shopping.
Saturday morning, we went over to Enterprise around 11 AM. They warned us that it was a little early to go to the ship but provided a shuttle instantly. We had a good experience with Enterprise and I would recommend using their service.
Embarkation was a breeze - Port Canaveral has this down to a science. They started boarding right when we got there at 11:30 and we were on the ship by 12. We spent time on deck and exploring the ship until we were allowed into the rooms at 1:30 PM.
Ports of Call:
Cozumel: We went to a great little resort area called Paradise Beach. It's a $13 taxi ride away. It has a nice bar, a great pool right next to the sand and plenty of lounge chairs. For $2 each, you get a wrist band that gives you unlimited access to all of the stuff, including the toys in the ocean. There was an inflatable iceberg about 20 feet high with handholds, 2 giant inflatable slides you could climb up, and a 4 person see saw/bucking bronco blow up toy. It was really cool to be able to enjoy these things while in the beautiful ocean.
Roatan: We went to Mahogany Beach, which is within easy walking distance of the dock. It was really crowded and definitely the most popular spot with the guests. There is a little gondola that will take you over to the beach, but it was $12 each for a day pass and looked like it took about 3 - 5x as long as just walking, so we skipped it. Beautiful beach and we had a great view of the ship all day.
Belize: In Belize, we did the cave tubing adventure through Carnival. The good: the actual cave tubing experience was wonderful and breathtaking. You're in the middle of a tropical forest, in a clear and cold river, floating through cave. One cave had a waterfall in it and we were right next to it. We saw some bats and at one point we all turned off our flashlights and floated in complete darkness. The bad: it's a 45 minute tender to get to Belize, followed by a 1 hour 15 minute bus ride to the camp. Then it's a 30 min hike through the forest, 40 minutes of actual tubing, and then you repeat the 2 hours of bus ride + tender. It's a 5.5 hour excursion for 40 minutes of tubing. We met some people who did the swim with the dolphins excursion and it sounded great - we'll do that one next time. Note: if you aren't doing an excursion, just stay on the Dream - Belize is a dirty, scary port and tendering is a PITA.
Costa Maya: We did not like this port at all. We just wanted to take it easy and check out the port area and it was basically 1 pool, 1 bar and 20 identical little stores. We had another cruise ship there with us so the pool was completely packed. Next time, we will book an excursion for this place so we get out of the dock area.
Cruise Director Butch and his staff do an excellent job keeping guest morale up and making it an exciting vacation. They split the cruise up into 3 different teams - Red (decks 1 and 2), White (decks 6 and 7) and Blue (decks 8 - 12). This basically means that whenever a guest wins a contest (bingo, Newlywed game, hairy chest contest, etc), they would get points for their team. I highly suggest going to the team based pub-hopping event they had on one of the nights. Each team started in a different pub and would do some activities there - face painting, karaoke, hilarious contests, etc. Every 30 mins you would switch to a different area of the ship and pass the other teams, while chanting your team's slogan and singing your team's song. It was a fun bonding experience and great for meeting the people on your team.
Along those lines, there were always activities and events going on all day and late into the night (2 - 3 AM). We loved that, since most things would shut down pretty early on the Celebrity cruise. The best late night event was always the uncensored comedy shows. I've never seen better comedians on a cruise ship - HIGHLY recommend you see all of the midnight shows and get there early. Word gets around and they were standing room only by 11:45 on the last few nights.
Our room steward Roel was great. They are very unobtrusive and will get your room clean, even if you're gone for 30 - 60 minutes. He'd always top off the ice in any leftover beer buckets without us having to ask. Other guests remarked about how good the service was and how well the stewards learned your schedule. The entire ship was kept very clean and you would constantly see crew members cleaning areas most people will never see.
The waterslides are AWESOME. The line moves pretty quickly and there were always people of all ages waiting to use them. On port days, you could basically go on them as much as you wanted without waiting. There are 2 different ones - one's long and has a lot of turns, the other one deposits you into a drain pipe where you skid in a circle at the bottom of the drain until friction stops you. It was fun trying to make it all the way around 2 or 3 times.
They have a group of 4 breakdancers/acrobats called the Fun Force. They performed in public areas like the main atrium and drew huge crowds. Definitely make time to check them out, they engage the crowd really well and deserve a production show in the main theatre.
If you like taking pictures, you will love this ship. Every single night, there were 5 - 10 picture stations set up in the atrium and other popular areas. They also have facial recognition software that will let you swipe your room key to see all of your pictures - no more spending hours searching through thousands of pictures to find your own! It's a very nice touch.
One of the TV channels on your cabin TV shows the main pool area. It was extremely convenient - since the pools are so small, you can spot the best times to head to the water. Since we were on the 11th deck, it was a very short walk to the pool.
There was a 1.5 hour "Welcome Back" party for previous cruisers on the 2nd to last day. It was definitely a sales pitch, but they had free drinks and appetizers so we went.
There were over 4200 guests on this sailing and you could tell. Carnival has an opportunity to improve their guest management. The buffet was always packed to a level I've rarely seen on other ships. They had to close the pasta bar for 30 minutes one day (it was only open for 2.5 hours that entire day) because the chef was backed up with orders - then, once they started taking orders, they gave the first menus to people who had just showed up and happened to be standing near the host stand. The lines at the grill and the pizza place were generally 10 - 15 minutes long.
As others have said, the pools are very small for a ship this size. On sea days, both pools looked like cans of Vienna sausages and you still had kids jumping in the middle to splash everyone. The middle pool has a ton of deck space around it - they used this for lounge chairs and special events like the hairy chest contest. Increasing the size of the pools and adding a kids-only pool would have helped a lot. Also, while there are at least 10 hot tubs on the ship, half of them would be closed at any given time for hyper chlorination.
When I booked the cruise, the travel agent told me that for $25 extra each, we would be guaranteed the highest level balcony cabin and have free access to the Thalossotherapy pool. Once we were onboard, we went to the spa and we were not on the list for access to the pool. We could have purchased it for like $190 each or $360 combined. We declined it - not a huge deal, but it was annoying to not get the access we were promised.
There is no option to purchase an unlimited alcohol package. We loved that on Celebrity last year since, as I said, we are in our mid-20s and enjoy drinking on vacation. The drinks are quite pricey, with the "best deal" a bucket of 4 beers for $25. We tried to sneak on 2 bottles of liquor to combat this issue, but we were caught and had to go down to security on deck 0 to get our bags on the first day. This was annoying and took an hour, so we missed the bon voyage sailing. Note: if you are going to try to bring something on (including hair dryers and other banned items), DON'T lock your luggage. Every single guest down there with us had locked their luggage. You have a higher chance of getting it through without locks and even if it does get confiscated, your bags will still be delivered and you won't have to waste time.
TV channel choices are quite limited. There were no free movies and no ESPN, which is all we really wanted. You get Discovery channel, some TNT and CNN. ESPN was available at the casino bar - very popular for the Green Bay/New Orleans game. They also played that game on the big screen by the pool on the Lido deck - that was cool and I hope they do that for more games in the future.
Food quality and selection were average. The portions in the main dining room are quite small and we didn't feel encouraged to order multiple things. We never tried the Chef's Art steakhouse. We liked the grill and the pasta bar but ended up skipping most of the other free offerings due to the lines. The room service menu is extremely limited - basically only cold sandwiches and for breakfast, you can get fruit, cereal or bread.
The production shows were pretty average. Nothing compared to the Celebrity, to be honest. They were pleasant enough but I wish I had skipped them on most nights. An exception was the female impressionist - she is very talented and had an engaging show. They hype up their "laser show" on the Lido deck - it's lame. We saw it once, stayed for 5 minutes and never went back.
We carried all of our own bags - I would HIGHLY recommend it. It was very easy. If you carry your own stuff, you can get off the ship as early as 6:45 AM. We had to go down to the 6th deck to pick up our confiscated liquor bottles, and then we got off with almost no line and breezed through customs. Enterprise had a shuttle at the port and we were immediately taken back to the office - another great experience with them.
Overall, we really enjoyed the cruise. Since the Celebrity Solstice was fresh in our minds, we compared everything to that ship. Compared to the Celebrity, Carnival's food and showroom performance standards seemed low. However, there was much more energy on the ship and the nights were jam-packed with fun activities. It's a good value cruise with a great entertainment staff.