My husband and I are 55 and 54 respectively, with a 21 year old son and a 20 year old daughter. This was a college winter break vacation for the kids, and we travelled with our neighbors and close friends, whose children are 7, 12 and 15. It was their first cruise.
We departed from Port Canaveral, where our embarkation was a finely oiled machine. No problems...we packed small bags with pool stuff, books, etc. to tide us over until our luggage arrived. We went straight to the Lido Deck to get pool chairs, and to avoid the mad rush to the buffet. We did not purchase any spa packages, but we did get the soda packages. We wandered the ship, ate lunch, went to the muster drill (these used to be fun and silly, but now they are just boring!) and made sure we were on deck as we pulled away from port. I am not going to write a minute by minute description of your cruise, but here are the important points:
-Service: Excellent! We had an efficient room steward named More
Achmad who recognized us in the hallway, knew our names, and tried to meet our needs, which were few. He emptied the minibar so we could keep our water bottles in it, but it never got really cold, so he brought in a large bucket, and always filled it with ice and some of our water.
-Wait staff: Excellent! We fell in love with our head waiter, Nyoman Sukarsa, a lovely man from Bali. He almost became part of our family. He was assisted by Isabelo and Sergio, each personable and fun. In the past, we have been shy cruisers at meals, but we were more adventurous this time, ordering multiple appetizers and entrees to try and share. There was one night where the staff seemed a bit stretched, and Sukarsa was not at our table. By the last couple of nights, Sukarsa was teaching the kids tricks with the napkins, glasses and silverware!
-Food: The food on Carnival is very good, but I would not say excellent. The "didja" items...appetizers you would not necessarily eat at home such as snails, frogs legs, etc. were fun to order, but sometimes disappointing. There is plenty of variety to meet all dietary needs...if you are in the mood to eat healthy, you can...if you need comfort food, they have it...and if you want to go more upscale, you can. Portions at dinner are adequate for normal appetites. We did order multiple items for sharing, which was fun. We ate sushi almost every night before dinner at Wasabi; small portions of three pieces beautifully arranged. It was a fun start to our evenings, since we had late seating. We usually ate breakfast in the Dining Room instead of the buffet. The breakfast buffet is plentiful, but nothing to rock your world. I would love to see Carnival offer greek yogurt, and English muffins in the buffet line. We LOVED the food at the Tandoori Grill and the sandwiches in the Deli are excellent. You could eat yourself into a coma if you want to. There is never a time of day when something is not available. It is funny to see people snacking on burgers, fries and pizza before dinner.
One funny food note...we are Jewish, and it was Hanukkah during part of the cruise. There was a large menorah set up in the Atrium, and each evening of the holiday, at about 5:15, there was a menorah lighting, led by Jeff the Fun Dude from the comedy club, who incidentally, is not Jewish. The passengers pretty much took over the brief service, which was nice. Carnival had a table set up with Challah, Manishewitz wine, sour cream, applesauce, and the most bizarre latkes we have ever seen...they were pancakes with a bit of onion in them! After some passengers made culinary suggestions, the chef actually learned to make the latkes with potatoes, and by the last night of Hanukkah, they got it right!
Ports: Well, after four cruises, all ports really do look the same. We are not thrill seekers or big time shoppers, but you can zipline, bungie jump, banana boat, etc. pretty much anywhere, and there is always a Diamond International in every port. I like to see what makes each country different, but that is sometimes hard to do if you don't know what you are doing. All I can say is do your research ahead of time, and buy your excursions on your own. We had decided we were only going to do one excursion, in Belize. Here is my review of the ports-
Cozumel - been there before. We got off the ship midday, because all our kids wanted to do was go to Senor Frogs for lunch and drinks. We walked around downtown Cozumel after lunch, which was ok.
Belize - poorest country I have ever seen. We planned a Cave Tubing excursion. The busride to the caves was over an hour long. The caving was about 45 minutes. Our company had the best tubes...they call them the cadillac of tubing...with backs and netting in the bottom, and hooked together by the guide. Other tours had inner tubes, and had to hook their legs around each other to stay together. The hardhats with lamps were in awful condition...taped with duct tape, and half the lamps didn't work which was important, since it is pretty dark!! However, the guides were good. This is not a trip for very small children, or those unable to hike and carry a tube. We hiked for 45 minutes on a cleared trail, but we had to carry the tubes over our heads, and cross through waist deep water with a pretty strong current twice, before we put in for the cave tour. It was a lot of fun though. We booked through shoretrips.com. You can leave your belongings safely on the bus, which we did not realize, so feel free to bring a camera, change of clothes, etc. with you. All we had was a waterproof camera, and I have not developed the pictures yet. We brought fruit and cereal boxes from the buffet with us, so we did not have to pay for overpriced food, but it was a long day, and we were starving by the time we got back to the ship.
Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan - Oh brother! This is obviously owned and operated by the cruise lines. It is a small manmade beach area CRAMMED with chairs. It is a brief walk from the ship, but they have a chairlift you can pay for if you want...I don't recommend it...it was faster to walk. It was not our intention to stay in Mahogany Bay...we wanted to try and get to Tabyana Beach, but we did not want to pay for the excursion. This was the only mistake we made the entire cruise...the taxis are a ripoff, and they will not negotiate. You are basically trapped if you are unwilling to pay $20 per person just to get to the beach, where they will charge you for chairs, food, etc. Buy the excursion, if you are set on going. We spent the afternoon in Mahogany Bay with about 1,000 of our new best friends. It was ok, just nothing special.
Costa Maya - we did not want to make the same mistake twice, so I used some Internet minutes the night before this port to google, and I found Mahahual. This is a tiny town about a 5 minute cab drive from the port of Costa Maya. You can actually see the cruise ships from the beach, but it is about a 4-5 mile walk from the ship. We were able to negotiate a taxi for about $2 per person. Going we had an airconditioned van that accomodated all 9 of us. But the cab drivers are obviously in cahoots with the restaurants and water sport companies. We were dropped off at a water sport company called Olinca water sports...the good-we were the first ones to arrive, got free use of the kayaks, but they talked my husband and kids into renting wave runners for $35 an hour. My husband and son shared one, and my daughter rode on the back with the guide for another $15. My husbands waverunner died midway, so they had to come out and swap it out. The bad - They try to sell you everything you can imagine...bracelets, necklaces, strange looking snacks, massages on the beach, mariachi serenades...but who can blame them! This is how they make a living! The beach is adjacent to a street of small shops...souvenir heaven, but if you don't buy stuff, some of the shopowners get a bit, well, nasty! We ate fruit and cereal again from the ship, but you could buy food and drink, both alcoholic and non, if you wanted. The weather turned ugly by midday. The restaurant owner kept saying, "The sun will be out in 10 minutes!" It is hard to want cold beer and margaritas when you really need coffee and hot chocolate! When we got up to leave without eating or drinking, the restaurant owner came over, and informed us that we needed to pay for the use of the chairs. He almost blocked our escape! We told him he should have explanined this to us when we first sat down. I said, "We rented wave runners, we bought jewelry and souvenirs, we cotributed to your economy!" He said, "Just a tip for the servers?" We gave him $10, and he became friendly again, and hailed us our cabs. Going home, we had to split up into two cabs, no air (but it was raining and cold, so who needed air?), but still $2 per person, thank goodness.
Entertainment: Comedy club is great...two of the four comedians were VERY FUNNY, one was ok, and one was not so good. You can go to a kid friendly show early, or adult shows later. The dance shows were very good...great costumes and sets, excellent lead singers...not Broadway, but fun just the same. The Fun Patrol left a little to be desired. We have only done one other Carnival Cruise, on a smaller ship...Carnival Fantasy...so I was surprised that, on this bigger ship, the Fun Patrol didn't try harder. They were not standouts personality wise, and not very accessible to the passengers. My kids like getting to know the Fun Patrol...we are still Facebook friends with one of the Fun Patrol members from the Fantasy!
Ship as a whole- Tacky artwork, but clean and easy to navigate. We rarely used the elevators. Could feel the ship rocking in the dining room. Slept like a baby in our stateroom. The workout facility was decent for the size of the ship...I always found an ellyptical or bike to use, and I went two mornings and two late afternoons to exercise. We never made it to the Serenity deck, although I am sure it was always crowded. The stern pool was a totally different culture from the Lido Deck...lots of kids swimmming in the hot tubs. Didn't really stay there. We enjoyed being conveniently located by the Lido Pool, so that we could see activities, hear the DJ, and occasionally watch the late afternoon movie, but you need to be an early riser to get good seats. Carnival...you could make much better use of that big screen-instead of projecting the DJ spinning, why not show music videos?