We booked the cruise directly through carnival.com in early November. If you don't remember the screen name I was the person that had a problem with the funpoints through Barclays. They resolved it to my satisfaction by honoring their own calculator after some corporate involvement. Anyway back to the cruise.
Hotel Info: We stayed on the beach in Galveston very late Christmas night at the Holiday Inn. It was okay but I may not go back based on the room. The visible black mold on the air conditioner grille was a turnoff. We had rented a car for the week - if I was more experienced with the port I'd have just done the drop off on island and rented another one. Instead I used Galveston.com to book valet parking for around $50 for the week. It was directly across from the ship and easy. We dropped the car off, walked across the street and into the confusion.
Embarkation: They still need some work at the port on this one. Signage was lacking and to figure out who was where was tough. There was an RCL ship there as well so my concern was the luggage ending up in the wrong rack. There were no directional signs that we could see telling us where to start so we asked someone. Walked to the other end of the terminal to do the baggage and then back to the south side to do the sign and sail. At about 1145 am we waited no more than 2 minutes to get to a check in person. About 2 minutes later we had our printed cards and sat in the spacious terminal until it was time to board. Improve the signage and this was a slam dunk...very easy and comfortable with plenty of seating.
Arrival on the ship: Fine, we were dumped into the main elevator area and then took a minute to wander around to check out the ship. With no luggage we headed to Camp Carnival to show the kids. They were immediately impressed but sadly it's the last time they thought much of the place. We arrived to a clean room and our luggage about 5pm. The room steward, Peter was outstanding all week. We had booked on the Lido deck, starboard side balcony in the 10280s. There is one complaint that nobody could explain. Most of what was broadcast on the TV was in Spanish. Nobody else had this problem that we were aware of and the staff seemed unable to fix it. I know it was the SAP button but that appears to be locked out from customer usage. If the weather and ship weren't so nice this would have been frustrating. Balcony was nice, beds fine and room pretty good. The shower seemed to drain slowly at times but never really flooded.
Fun on the ship: We put the kids in Camp Carnival for a few hours the first day. With a 4 and 8 year old the 4 hesitated, the 8 was excited. The 8 hated the two hours she was there, the 4 year old was indifferent but the promised Dora meet and greet never occurred. You'd think they'd have not published this if they couldn't get someone in the costume lots of little kids were bummed. The 8 year old didn't like it because it was video games most of the time. Good for her because my kids would rather be outdoors and the outdoor activities seemed kind of limited. I'll pass this off to their being 1498 kids on the cruise - maybe they were overloaded by my kids will never go back. Other than that, outstanding. The water park is an absolute blast for all. The slides are cool,the drench bucket is a lot of fun even for the parents and it's a good environment. The skycourse my oldest loved and the youngest played mini golf over and over. I used the outdoor gym equipment which to me is a waste. It's not smooth and it was barely used. There is enough room being taken up there that they should put more pool tables or ping pong tables out in that area. Even a knock hockey table would be perfect as it would not be disturbed by the wind. Overall I'd give deck 11 a 10 though my kids and the families we met all loved it.
Pools: I do wish they were warmer. I've already read that they weren't heated so we knew what to expect. But they were cold the first two days and last 36 hours. The hot tubs weren't the traditional hot hot tubs and that's probably a safety thing. They were fine. To the parents that do not watch their kids even from afar shame on you. Out of the 1498 kids about 1470 were great. There were the same 10-20 kids you'd see everywhere acting like animals whether it was a hot tub on the boat or on a shore excursion. It's the people that think their kids are everyone else's problems that bother me the most. Kids will be kids and this is a fun ship. Expect some girls screaming when they get dumped with the bucket or a little pushing in the pool when there are no adults around....that's kids. But 4-5 12-14 year old kids running at full speed around the pools for 2-3 hours yelling and screaming and running in and out of hot tubs including cannonballing over adults into one, please. Thankfully after a day or two you get to recognize the schedule of these types and can avoid them. Otherwise the vast majority of the kids and adults were awesome. Watch your step too, we saw some people take major falls onboard. Nothing the cruise ship can do, wet feet and a few drinks equals falling. The hot tubs on the sides of the boat are nice, it gives people deck 5-6 down something to do quickly without having to come all the way back up ship.
Shopping and entertainment: Casino was not nearly as crowded as I remembered on older Carnival ships. We spent $40 on slots and won about $12 for a net loss of $40. Clean and plenty of tables and machines. The shows were decent but packed. That was fine, if you had kids a little older than our youngest it's no big deal to go 20 minutes early to secure a seat. For us we mainly took a pass as they started very late but I heard they were good and we did see bits and pieces of them. One comment here, they did a country line dancing night that was packed. The stage was full. Yet they seemingly cut it really short to move onto trivia? I'm not even sure the girls danced to a full song. That would be my only comment on the cruise in general. It seemed like in the shows or events they cared more about schedules then fun. If you have something where 100 people are enjoying it and 400 are watching why not do an extra song or two? Instead they moved onto trivia for about 10 people. That type of thing happened a lot and I figured it was just due to the stress and strains of so many kids on the boat. I'll give the shows about a 5 out of 10. The karaoke of passengers was the most talent and entertainment we saw all week and that's fine. Shopping was fine. The candy store was good, the girl in the shirt store was a bit hostile. The perfume place was very good. Shopping was maybe a 7 out of 10, shows 5 of 10.
Costa Maya. We went into the little cruise town and had a blast. No paid excursion just a short walk to the shops and a day in the pool with the kids. The pool is massive, the bars line it on both sides and the crowd was great. The Carnival Conquest was there too and that was the party ship of the duo when they left it quieted down a bit but it was a blast both before and after they left. Good group of people out of New Orleans having a great time. We thought the servers were all real friendly and the shops were fun. We know of others that left the ship area and said there is a military style checkpoint to get in/out. I appreciate the security and did notice what looked like Federales with a sniffing dog in the main area a few times. Nice to see but would also keep me inside the perimeter with my kids and there is a ton to do there anyway. I enjoyed Costa Maya, good first stop and I'd give it a 10.
Cozumel. Another 10. We winged it again and took a cab to Paradise Beach for $26 round trip. Awesome spot. The beach does have some coral so bring water shoes if you have them, be careful if you don't. I had no shoes and I was fine. Water slides on the ocean with other entertainment like paragliding close. The pool was massive, clean and there were plenty of chairs. We ate lunch at the poolside and loved it. Incredibly clean bathrooms and facilities. Organized cab service. $2 per head to get into the good chairs, $12 for the kids to use the slides. To me that's a very fair price for what you get. We played around at the shops when we came back and enjoyed that too. There's a huge range of places to shop and everything was very clean and safe.
Progreso: No rating. We didn't leave the ship and from the looks of it neither did anyone else. Those that did had some real issues with flat tires, no cell service in emergencies etc. This port to me was annoying. They either need to improve it or lose it as I'd not go on another cruise with this as a stop for two reasons. The first and foremost is this is getting back nearer to the southern US climate. If a cold front has come through it can be cooler here. Second there's not much to do. Why not spend an extra day at sea or putting around the western Carib? But no complaints we enjoyed a nice day on the boat.
Stateroom. Fine. Bed dropped out of the ceiling which the kids fought over all week because it was cool. The balcony was neat. Plenty of room under the beds for storage. We did use the laundry and that worked fine. We were incredibly pleased with our choice of stateroom on the 10th. Knowing our kids and their love of the water this was a no brainer and we loved it. IF you have sensitivity to motion be aware we did feel some of the side to side on the rougher day that I've read about. For those sensitive lower cabins may be better. Noise was very limited but we did have one comic moment. We met the couple from Texas that had rented the room next to and across from us, one for them one for their kids. Great people as we had a casual hallway conversation at 630pm at night. We weren't loud, it was all adults and without getting into details we were having it in the public space dominated 90% by cabins we'd all paid for. Out of the room comes a teen aged girl who asks us to keep it down as her dad has a "headache"...for real? Your dads hangover isn't my concern at 630pm when a group of adults that rented the 4 rooms around you are having a casual conversation. We quickly parted and caught up later for the New Years Eve celebration where the other couple was equally amazed. That type of moment was in the .001% of the cruise, most everything else and the other guests were fantastic and friendly.
Dining and Drinking:
Lower Northern Lights. Wasn't impressed. The first night there were no kids menus. We were sitting with another couple with two kids our age. Salmon or steak isn't really an option. The menus at the table were all different, some of us had no wine menu some did. Service was fast and the food good. Second night they bring the kids menus with the coloring book and then never the crayons. We each asked maybe 3 times. All the menus were the same this night. Strike two and we never went back. Again the food was excellent but with 1500 kids there were meltdowns going on and on a shorter cruise they need to get it together faster. If my kids were older or we were alone no problems, but we had others tell us they were not impressed. It was nowhere near as good as my cruise on Carnival a decade ago. We ate lunch once at the southern lights, it was excellent. I did find the boat had some weird vibrations in the back, not sure if that's related to the stabilizers or not.
Open Eating: We used the buffets and deli the rest of the cruise. 10 out of 10. I'm on a cruise to be warm and outdoors not sit at a table which I can do a mile from home. This is a personal preference but there are hoards of 5 star restaurants up here. I'd rather have a sandwich while the kids are eating macaroni while I overlook the ocean in my shorts. My family and the many other families we friended were the same way. The sandwich and Indian food shops were terrific. We spent most of our time at the rear pool because the advertisements blasted at 120 decibels from the Cruise Director on the main TV were just too much. Great area though, but no hot tub? JMHO but they should remove one of the cabana huts and replace it with a hot tub.
Debarkation was a zoo. The ship was 2-3 hours late due to heavy fog. It's not their doing it's up to the harbor pilot. But that made it a zoo. The valet parking at BOI was perfect, they had the car waiting and off we went.
Galveston to Do:
We had time to spare so we went to Moody Gardens. The aquarium rivals the New England Aquarium, in fact we liked it far more. The Rain Forest was also spectacular. Awesome time and filled 3-4 hours only a few miles from the port. These are the pyramids you see coming over the causeway.
Overall 9.5 out of 10. Dinner service was a downgrade, way too loud a tv in the main lido section a downgrade (again the football games were at a fine level, it was just the in ship propaganda), less than enthusiastic events a slight downgrade, Camp Carnival will get a second chance but we were not impressed. Everything else was fantastic.