This was my and my husband's first cruise. We are educated, 27 and 30, and we have traveled internationally with our timeshare. However, we decided to take a cruise for Christmas and New Year's because it's really the only time we can travel due to school and work. We also figured we can't do this when we have kids, so it was a nice romantic just the two of us trip. We booked our cruise through a local travel agent, who was very helpful in guiding us towards making wise decisions. First, he suggested we get to Ft. Lauderdale a day prior to when the cruise debarks due to high traveling during the holidays. He also suggested we pick our stateroom prior to our arrival. I strongly encourage you to do the same.
We flew into Ft. Lauderdale around 11:30 a.m. the day before our cruise. We stayed at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Hollywood. They picked us up from the airport in a nice air-conditioned van and took us to the hotel. They let us checkin early, which was nice. This gave us about 24 hours before our ship was set to leave the next day. The hotel room was clean and seemed like it had been recently remodeled. Easy walking distance to a K-mart and a Chipotle. We walked over and got lunch and also bought some things for the trip. The hotel had a nice internet cafe where we printed our luggage tags. The girls at the desk were really nice given the huge number of people coming and going. The outdoor pool was great, too. They had a nice "hot" breakfast in the morning and transferred us to the cruise terminal at 10:30 in a nice air-conditioned bus.
Travel To Port of Embarkation:
There is a lot of construction going on near the terminal and it's also in a heavily industrial area. I read a review that said they walked from a hotel to the dock. I'm not sure how you'd do this given the construction. I'd recommend a transfer of some kind. We pulled right up, our luggage was put in the correct place, we went right through the checkin and only waited in the official carry-on luggage scan line/checkin line for maybe 30 minutes. I was impressed by how fast the lines moved given the large number of people. The facilities had a nice bathroom and they were air-conditioned. We spent a total of 10 minutes with the Carnival representative getting checked in with our room keys because I did the checkin and setting up with my credit card online. Everything was really organized and everyone was very polite and helpful. After we boarded the ship, we went to the Lido deck to get a burger and fries. Then we went up to the Serenity adult deck to relax. We wore our bathing suits so we ordered drinks and relaxed in the spa hot tub. Other than a few lost children, it was pretty peaceful. I simply told the kids who wandered up that it was the adult deck and they were not allowed in it (there are huge signs, too). At about 1:30 we walked to the Sun King Steakhouse so that I could double check our reservation (I strongly encourage you to pick your night and time and email the restaurant through the carnival website. I heard that people who did not make their reservations in advance or within the first few days didn't get a chance to visit the steakhouse, which is a shame!). They had my reservation so we went down to our room, which was 1363. We chose a window room so that we could have some sunlight and we chose the first floor to avoid getting sea sick. This room was located fabulously and we were within easy walking distance to the stairs/elevators to the restaurants and social decks. You also get off level 0 when you are in port, so we had a very short walk. Lastly, we were right across from the washroom where the iron was, which was nice since everything my husband brought was wrinkled. Lastly, the room was far enough away from the club and pool, etc, so we didn't have high traffic and crazy people running around.
Our room was clean and I felt it was plenty big for the two of us. The bathroom had lots of shelving and the room itself had lots of storage and coat hangers. The best thing was the shampoo and body wash in the shower, which had I known about prior would have saved me some poundage. The water in the shower was always hot and I had no problem with the size of the shower. The shower head can be adjusted all the way to the ceiling. The beds were comfortable, the lighting was good, and the room was cleaned each morning and each evening. I do wish, however, the towels were softer. They are the typical white, starchy kind and it hurt on my sunburn. However, the beach/pool towels are soft as can be. I used mine as my shower towel after a few days.
There are two things you need to know, though, about the room. First, there is NO clock in the room. This drove me nuts. Buy yourself a little clock so you don't have to stumble around in the dark trying to find a watch. Also, check your refrigerator as soon as you arrive. My husband immediately started looking around and when he opened the fridge, he found the last traveler's FOOD! There was left over yogurt, cakes, moldy cookies, and missing drinks (coke, alcohol...). I didn't want to get stuck paying for other people's product, so I called guest services. Then when the steward came by to introduce himself, I showed him. He was really apologetic and assured me I wouldn't be charged for the missing stuff.
We chose the 8:15, late dining, which worked best for us. We like to nap. I loved dinner. We didn't eat dinner in the anytime dining room and we only missed the posh dining one night when we went to the Sun King Steakhouse. The menu for the posh restaurant will be on your TV each day. Push Menu on your remote and then you can peek and plan. I had a Caesar salad each night and then one of the appetizers (and sometimes two just to have a taste!). I even ordered two meals some nights to have a taste. Desserts weren't that great. Just stick to the chocolate melting cake. Our whole table had one every night (some even had two!). Or get the fruit and cheese plate, which is really good, too. I didn't care for the cheesecake or tiramisu. My husband enjoyed the escargot, duck, indian vegetables, and chicken dishes. He did not care for the frog legs (too buttery) or the quail (too much breading). I enjoyed the lobster (I'm from the beach and it was some of the best I've had!), prime rib, stroganoff, mac-n-cheese, seafood pasta, etc. At the Steakhouse, we had filet mignon and lobster and it was really good. My steak was so tender I could cut it with my fork. The lobster bisque was not that great, though. For breakfast, we mostly went to the Lido deck buffet where I got omelets, and my husband enjoyed the daily variation of potatoes, sausage and cheesy things. If you have it available, get like 10 of the chicken and cheese breakfast bites. They were amazing. The sliced red potato hash browns were yummy, too. Lunch was a little hectic on sea days, but if you plan your meal correctly it won't be too bad. I avoided the inside stations (Mexican one day...) because the line was crazy and the kids seemed to flock here. We ate at the outside Lido deck where there were burgers and chicken tenders a few days. I had a ham and cheese melt at the deli which was good. My husband liked the Ruben. But mostly we ate lunch at the Indian station on the Lido deck. It was fabulous and well-worth the wait for fresh bread. An indian guy in our group said it was as good as and a little better than what his mom makes. My husband loved the Fish and Chips, but you have to really look for it. It's all the way at the front of the ship on the 10th floor. He ate 4 cups of sivechy a few days in a row.
As for food at the ports and on the excursions, let me share a little secret with you. Bring extra ziplock baggies and take your room service! Each night we ordered 4 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches 2 with pretzels and 2 with chips plus cookies. We put them all in baggies, stored in our fridge, and took with us to the beaches! We saved a fortune in food in the ports. Room service was good, too. I liked the chicken fajita wrap a lot and my husband liked the cookies and veggies with dip for a snack. They will also bring you ice water, so we would order like 6 of those to keep in the room. Bring yourself a water bottle of some sorts so you can fill it up and have drinks with you because you have to go to the Lido deck to get water and juices, etc.
We enjoyed the comedy shows, but get there early so you get a good seat. We also liked the piano bar and Marty who will play/make fun of what you request. The club was okay, but mostly seemed full of teens. You have to go get your ID to get in, but you aren't carded anywhere else for anything else. We loved the Beatles show, too. The Mystery theatre was not well-thought out or planned, but the contests were fun. The mixology contest involved making the best cocktail and if you won your drink was featured all week. The hairy chest contest was hilarious as well as the Mr. and Mrs. Freedom competition. I enjoyed the trivia, karaoke, battle of the sexes, and music. There was always something to do.
We had no problems with service until New Year's eve (our last night). We tried to order room service around 12:30 a.m. and by 1:30 a.m. it still hadn't come, so I called to cancel. The woman told me it was on it's way. At 2 a.m., I called it a night and went to sleep. We ordered room service once and twice a day for the previous 7 nights, so I think this was just a fluke. Our room was also not cleaned this night and we didn't get our towel animal, but I really don't care though because not only was it New Year's Eve, but it was also the night they were taking all of our luggage down for debarkation. Other than this one fluke, our room was kept clean and nice. The wait staff was nice and the omelet maker is super nice. The only problem I had was on the first night my husband ordered a beer while we were relaxing on deck 5 waiting for the sushi to open, and I asked for a glass of ice water. The girl laughed at me and walked away. Don't order water. I just went and got it myself. It seems the waiters at the pool and in other areas are there to bring you drinks you have to pay for like soda and alcohol. I understand this because they get tips from these, which I was told is all they get paid. So get your water yourself. I wish I'd known so I didn't look so silly.
Also, get as many pictures taken as you can. I dragged my husband to almost every station I could find and I got some really good pictures of us together and singles to give to family. Find the tall blond guy from Lithuania, he's really good!
Port & Shore Excursions
We did the beach excursion in Antigua. I'd recommend it over others. It was cheap and we got nice chairs right on the water. There was also a really clean bathroom. The rum punch was good and you could get buckets of local beer for $20. We saved money by eating our PBJ's and snacks I packed from room service. The only thing thing that first annoyed me was the amount of peddlers trying to sell you horseback riding on the beach, jet skis, necklaces, etc. However, once we told them we hadn't brought any money (lie), they left us alone. We did learn that you can haggle them down because a couple next to us on the beach for the jet skis down to $30 for 30 minutes. The guy selling fresh green coconuts that he chops with a machete and puts a straw in for you to drink the coconut water was a big hit. Then he made me a spoon and I ate the coconut, too. All for $4.
We didn't waste our money trying to get to the beach in St. Thomas. There were 4 ships in the port and it was crazy packed. We shopped and bought little gifts for back home. All cab rides were $4 a person, which is cheap.
In Tortola we had planned to get a taxi to the Bath's, which is one of the island's main attractions, but it was hot and I felt lazy. Plus our boat was leaving port at 3. We just walked to the Spice market and wandered about town before settling in at the pool back on ship. Port days are the best days to lay by the pool because it's so quiet and still. Plus it's the only day I got a good chair! I'm glad we didn't go to the Bath's because we heard it was a 45 minutes ferry ride then a taxi ride on top of that. Then a hill had to be climbed and walked down to the beach.
In Nassau we had wanted to go to Atlantis, but we decided that we didn't want to spend our last day waiting in lines to go down water slides. We just went to Sr. Frogs and then walked to the public beach (NOTE: the beach excursion that is advertised takes you to the public beach, too!). The people who went to Atlantis said it was the best, but they did it on their own. They just took a taxi themselves and had more time there. The park closes at 5. One person in our group did the booze cruise and said it was 3 hour of drinking, 30 minutes in the water, and then back. They didn't seem impressed. They had wanted to do the shark excursion and it was booked full. If you want to do that you better book early.
I went to guest services to get early disembark tags (1 and 2) because our flight was leaving from the airport in Ft. Lauderdale at 11:30 a.m. In hindsight, we should have just done self-assist and taken our stuff down ourselves. This would have allowed us to get out as early as 6:30 a.m. Instead, we got up at 6, went to the Posh restaurant to try the breakfast (I prefer the Lido buffet!), then sat in the lobby waiting for our number to be called for an hour and a half. It really wasn't chaotic or packed, so do self-assist if you don't have huge suitcases. When they did call our number, we were out, got out bags, and in the taxi within 15 minutes.
We had a great time and I'd recommend this cruise to anyone. Everyone was friendly and we met some fabulous people and really "got away from it all." I really loved not having a computer or cell phone (though I did call home to wish our parents a Merry Christmas from the state room, which was less than $10 for the two calls). I liked the library and just the sheer ease of getting around the ship and getting what I needed. I never felt like I wasn't getting my money's worth. I also haven't slept that well in a while. It was so quiet on our floor and the curtains were so dark that one day we slept until 12:30! My last piece of advice is this: get yourself a little around the neck pouch to store your sign card and your credit card (which you need to lock the safe. it doesn't cost anything, just opens and closes with the card). I carried mine in my camera case, which was fine, but I think it would have been nice to have the pouch. And don't forget those baggies!