A special thanks to those that took the time to post their reviews on Cruise Critic. It helped these first time cruisers (35 & 33 years old).
Two things I did note on a lot of reviews was the smell especially around the elevators and loud slamming of doors. We did not come across this.
Elevators are busy especially during peak times. We took the stairs 95% of the time.
We flew in from Canada a few days earlier to visit family and drop the kids with Grandma and Grandpa for the week. We rented a car at Orlando International for the duration.
Prebooked parking near the port with Park N Cruise www.parkcruise.com. Early reservation online is $6.99/day ($50/week). Parking at port is $120/week.
We arrived around 11:00am (were able to see the Mars Curiosity Launch).
Service was very quick and efficient. Shuttle over to port about 10mins and total embarkation process took 30 minutes.
Those interested in bringing on wine, pop or bottled water. You must carry it on, do not put it in your checked baggage. We read this ahead of time and took on 2 bottles of wine and 24 bottle of water. We heard several comments from people wondering why we were able to bring our own.
1 750ml bottle of Wine or Champagne per person
12 water or 12 pop per person.
No hard liquor or beer allowed.
We saw all kinds of confiscated items at security, including someone who had put whisky into a mouth wash bottle!
Rooms are not available until about 1:30 pm, we got in our room right away.
Upon arriving in the Main we immediately purchased a mid level wine package, $150 including 15% gratuity. There are 3 packages basic, mid and upper. Selection in the mid is acceptable and the price of $30/bottle is consistent or slightly below what you would pay for the same wines in a restaurant in Canada. A fair deal for what you get given where you are.
12 wines (6 whites 6 reds) are in the package and you are given coupons the first night in the dining room. Redeem your coupons in the dining room or steakhouse and your bottle can be left for the next night, taken with you or you can have all of the wine delivered to room if you prefer. We brought two bottles with us for the room and consumed the 5 from the package in the dining rooms.
Our next stop was lunch and we went straight to the Lido and up the back stairs to the Pasta Bar. Lido (Gathering) was busy with line-ups but the Pasta Bar had maybe a dozen people between 12:30 - 1:30pm while we were there. You pick from a list of pasta varieties, sauces, etc and then they prepare your meal.
Standard beverages available in the Lido area are coffee (reg & decaf), assorted teas, lemonade, water and ice tea. All FOC
We were in room 10207. We had an excellent balcony room with plenty of space and storage. It had 3 wardrobe closets with adequate hanger space for suits, pants, dresses, etc plus a small dresser. We had two suitcases and were able to store them in one of the closets with no difficulty.
There is a switch in the fridge in your room on the upper inside that allows you to turn it off or adjust the temperature to cold or colder (1 snow flake or 2)
It was communicated that luggage would be delivered between 3pm and 9pm; ours arrived at 4:30pm.
First night onboard is cruise casual, wear what you got on. We dressed casual and packed swimwear and sandals in our backpack for the afternoon on deck.
Table 867 (Manuel and Andre) - Scarlett Dining Room Late Dining 8:15pm.
We had a good table for 2 upstairs in the dining room and used it every night expect for the night we went to the Steakhouse.
Staff was excellent.
Meals were good with a lot of variety. Quality was consistent with a Morton's or Keg.
Chocolate Melting Cake is good but overrated, the CrÃ¨me Brulee was better.
1. Room Service - order from a menu on your T.V. (24hr Room Service)
2. Pre-Order Hanging Card - similar to hotels you have the option of filling out a menu card and hanging it on your door before 5:00am with a desired delivery time.
3. Lido Buffett - full selection of fruits, hot and cold buffet, omelets, etc.
4. Formal Dining Rooms - set breakfast menu only on sea days.
We opted to have breakfast delivered all but one morning. The options are limited to bagels, toast, smoked salmon, fruits, cereal, juices, milk, coffee etc. If you aren't looking for a hot breakfast and want to enjoy a quite morning and avoid the lineups at the Lido this is a great way to go. Breakfast was delivered on time and we enjoyed the benefit of hanging out on our balcony after a workout.
We did the Lido one morning and the food was marginal breakfast fare and the line ups were long with people cutting in on people.
Something for everyone. Deli at the aft of the lido has a range of grilled sandwiches. The Tandori is also at the aft and offers a selection of Indian style meats (chicken, beef), vegetables, rice and bread.
Lido (Gathering) offers a buffet assortment with a full desert bar and the Mongolian and Burrito Bar. Pasta Bar upstairs is also an option.
There is a pizza bar (not bad) and is open all day - great for a quick snack before late dinner.
In addition to the pizza bar mid ship is the grill, we didn't try this. Basic canteen style burgers, fries, dogs, etc.
Tandori and Deli was a little quieter as most people hang around mid deck on the Lido at the front pool. So in turn there are longer line-ups at the Grill, Pizza Bar and Gathering.
Lunch is offered 11 am - 2:30 pm on sea days and until 3:30 pm on port days. The Deli and Pizza Bar are open until 11pm
There is a BBQ on the Lanai on sea days with a salad bar at the Wasabi (sushi bar)
Scarlett Dining Room is also available on sea days. We did this one afternoon and the meal was worth venturing inside for lunch. The ice cream sundae for desert was good. If you are looking to dine as two or a small group you might be put at a larger table of 8-12, if you don't mind but if you prefer to eat alone at a smaller (i.e. table for 2) you have to ask and possibly even ask a second time. The menu is posted outside the Crimson and Scarlett if you want a sneak peak.
Formal nights are Day 2 and Day 6 - wide range of attire, from evening gowns, suits/tuxedos to jeans with blouses and golf shirts. Wear what you are comfortable with. We enjoyed dressing up.
Chef Art's - read a lot of positive feedback beforehand about the experience and quality. It was good but I wouldn't rate it as high as everyone else. The quality of beef (filet mignon) was ok and the lobster tail portion was small. Off the boat a similar experience would cost you $100-150 for two total including a bottle of wine; the up charge on the dream is $30 per person. Honestly there was enough selection in the main dining rooms and the quality was on par with Chef Art's. It was good to try and I wouldn't discourage anyone from trying it as this is just our opinion but next time around we wouldn't go back.
Gary was our onboard director and he was great.
We took in the Welcome Aboard - Get Ready show the first night and it was well worth seeing.
The second night was the main performance "Dancin' in the Street", this is an excellent show. Catch this one if you can. It had a variety of hip hop, rock, street music and dancing.
We took in one other show, well sort of. X-treme Country and being from Alberta we thought this would be good given the previous two shows. We walked out 15 minutes into the show. The male singer was like Frankie Avalon singing country.
Comedy shows run a total of 20x in the Burgundy Lounge. 5 shows each on nights two and three and 5 more each of the last two nights. The first two shows each evening are family friendly followed by three age of majority shows. The performer's alternate slots each evening. Two comedians perform the first two and two more acts are brought on for the last two nights. You can get a taste of the acts at the Get Ready show the first evening in the Encore Theatre. Get to the lounge early for the late shows as seating is limited. Well worth it.
There was literally something for everyone on this cruise from comedy, live music, Karaoke, performances, lights shows, movies on the Lido deck and gambling and games. There were some things we just couldn't fit in, next time I guess. The mini putt option was fun.
The Lanai deck was quite and is a good place to escape to read a book or enjoy some time in the tubs.
The Serenity deck gets busy but is a nice escape especially at night if you are looking to do a little star gazing with a glass of wine in the tubs.
We took advantage of our balcony most afternoons and chilled out there before our dinner.
The pools are small, really small for a boat this size.
The aft deck is quieter than the mid and is a good option if you want to avoid some of the party (games, live music or kids).
Costa Maya - we did the Tulum Ruins tour through Carnival. We booked it in advance on-line. Great tour, our guide Angel was amazing. He was very passionate and knowledgeable. I would recommend this tour to anyone wanting a little cultural experience. And don't miss the fish tacos after the tour.
Remember to pack a bathing suit for the private beach that fronts the ruins. Wish we could have stayed longer. The only negative is the amount of time spent in transit to and from. There is was a 1-1.5hr bus ride each way plus 20minutes on a ferry boat each way. Total time at the ruins is only approx. 2hrs.
Belize - we booked the cave tubing excursion through ShoreTrips.com. Their rate is $30-$40 lower than other options. In Belize the boat is not allowed to dock at port due to the corral so you tender from the ship via locally run water taxis. The instructions on board were posted to exit (tender) on deck 0. We were cutoff at deck 1 and told we had to go to the Burgundy lounge. When we arrived at the Burgundy Lounge we were given a number. By not knowing this in advance it cost us about 30-40 minutes. Don't sweat it if you are a little late for your shore excursion they will wait. Once at port you need to exit the terminal to find the staff from VIP Tours.
This tour was a small group of 8 opposed to 2 buses from Carnival. We actually arrived at the caves 20 minutes before the buses. Our guide gave us a good overview of the country and area while en route to the caves.
Once at the caves they delivered as promised, we had the best gear (tubes and jackets) than any of the other groups. We also noticed that some of the groups didn't have full access to the river and would have to walk from some areas to others.
The hike is moderate, about 45 minutes and you carry your own tube and gear. We were treated by our guide to a great overview of the area including noodling of 3 tarantulas out of their burrows!
Roatan - Carnival as with Cozumel they own the port. It is an island off the main land of Honduras. There is private beach area in port and we took full advantage of this. There were two ships in port so roughly 6,000 passengers and it was a little busy but not overly crowded. We grabbed two beach chairs and soaked in the sun for the afternoon.
Costa Maya - Lots of shops to explore. We did a little of this and picked up a few odds and ends. The beach area is small and rocky but is swimmable. Advise you wear water shoes or strap on sandals. There are a limited number of beach chairs and umbrellas. There is a pool in the main area more so for the kids.
Next to the pool and beach area is a small dolphin pool with 3 or 4 dolphins. You can pay to swim with them in one of the stores.
All and all a great get away. We have done numerous all inclusive resort vacations and this was a nice change. Lots of action and variety. We will be back and next time around will likely opt for a couple of private beach resort excursions just to slow the pace down a little.