My wife and I are an active couple in our late 40s, traveling with two 19 year-olds and a 22 year-old. Our cruise departed from Tampa on December 26th, visited ports in Costa Maya, Roatan, and Belize, then docked back in Tampa on January 1st.
After our last cruise on HAL, we were looking for something more fun, so what better line to try than Carnival, home of the Fun Ships! Well, the ships are aptly named, but take note that not all aspects of Carnival end up being fun.
Rather than a chronological detail of every aspect of the cruise, I'll summarize each area with it's own rating and give some examples, then provide my overall opinion at the end of the review.
ENTERTAINMENT - Definitely a plus on Legend! I read negative reviews of Cruise Director Wee Jimmy, but we found him to be very well suited to the job. He was a terrific MC for The Marriage Game, a version of the old "Newlywed Game" from TV. In this case, three couples married for various lengths of time competed to see which set of spouses knew each other best. The show was a riot, and Jimmy was a great host. There was one night of typical Broadway-style singing and dancing, which was well done. We also attended the late night, adults only comedy of Cee Jay Jones, who was great! The close up magician did a variety of amazing tricks, and even seeing him two nights in a row, we were still astounded by every trick. All in all, I give Legend a solid 5 out of 5 for this category.
ACTIVITIES - Although we didn't avail ourselves of the standard Bingo, art auctions, Hairy Chest competition, etc., we noticed many people enjoying these activities. Ping pong tables and mini golf were up to par (no pun intended) with those from other cruise lines, and the pools attracted a decent crowd on sea days. We were able to find loungers in the sun, although the usual towel-on-the-lounger saving was also in play throughout the ship. We tried the Serenity Adults Only Retreat, but no loungers or seats were to be found. The casino was busy without being claustrophobic. The fitness center was well appointed, and I never had to wait more than a couple of minutes to use a piece of equipment. The water slide was FANTASTIC (much better than a rock climbing wall, RCI) - my only complaint was that it was closed on some days due to wind, which I didn't understand as the wind was not excessive. My only other complaint would be regarding the smoking in the casino; although there were non-smoking areas, that policy was not strongly enforced. I score this area a 4 out of 5 due to the seemingly arbitrary closure of the water slide and the lack of available seating in the Serenity area.
ACCOMMODATIONS - Here's where we ran into a problem, although Legend did their best to fix things. We originally booked a Balcony cabin (8241) and an Inside cabin (8253) roughly across the hall on Deck 8. The cabins themselves were pretty standard Balcony and Inside types - ample storage, small bathrooms, but nice that the showers also had built in clotheslines to hang wet bathing suits. A bit worn, but clean. When we first arrived, the Balcony cabin had a distinct odor reminiscent of mold, and the carpet near the bathroom/entrance was damp. We contacted Guest Services, and when we returned from dinner, we found a blower going in the cabin, attempting to dry it out. We had to remove the unit to go to sleep that night, and in the morning, the mold smell was just as strong as it had been. They tried to dry it out all day, but when that proved ineffective, we were moved to adjoining Balcony cabins (7228 and 7232) on Deck 7. On one hand, we felt Carnival was a bit negligent in allowing our original cabin to be used in the first place, but kudos to Guest Services in getting us re-situated within 24 hours after first trying to fix the problem. Score this area a solid 4 out of 5.
FOOD - Breakfasts and lunches were largely eaten in the Lido restaurant, the main buffet place on the ship. Plenty of variety, decent flow, although many tables near the port and starboard windows had a narrow passage. The food was generally good, similar to what's available on most cruise ships. The serving staff was good, and the omelet station was terrific. However, the staff cleaning the tables were fairly lethargic, and stood around even when it was obvious tables were in need of cleaning. The burgers and fries from the poolside grill were also quite good. Our first night was spent dining at the Golden Fleece Steakhouse, the premium restaurant, at a cost of $30 per person. Definitely worth it! The food and service were excellent. Unfortunately, the Main Dining Room didn't fare so well. We ate in the MDR for every other dinner on the cruise, and not once did our meal arrive hot. I even sent back my crabcake appetizer TWICE, until it finally came back a bit warmer than tepid. The servers seemed to be a bit harried, and there was once instance where an order for coffee with kahlua took four people about 20 minutes to finally produce. This area was the major disappointment of our cruise, with a score of 3 out of 5.
SPECIAL: NEW YEAR'S EVE - Since our cruise included New Year's Eve celebrations, I want to include a review of the Legend's take on this event. Wee Jimmy acted as DJ in the 2nd floor Main Lobby, with a dance floor and atrium stretching about 10 decks above. Balloons were suspended in a net and released at midnight. Servers took drink orders all night, and complimentary champagne was handed out just before 12:00. As an alternative, a live band played on the pool deck, where dancing and drinking was going on as well. Very nice way to spend New Year's Eve - 5 out of 5 on this.
PORTS - We selected the cruise based on the itinerary and the dates, being just after Christmas, and the ports did not disappoint. Nice, clean, typical cruise port shopping in all three locations. Easy walk off and on in Costa Maya and Roatan, but we had to be tendered in Belize due to the coral reef. This was very well organized, and the frequent tenders accommodated a large number of people by a very friendly local crew. All three ports provided a ton of fun, with the specifics of each port below. Definitely a 5 out of 5 for ports of call.
Costa Maya - Booking based on tripadvisor.com reviews, we visited the Mayan temples at Chacchoben, booking privately through a company called The Native Choice (http://www.thenativechoice.com/chacchoben_ruins.php). Our guide Joel (pronounced "Ho Ale") was extremely knowledgeable and personable. The ride took about an hour in a modern air-conditioned large passenger van, and was definitely worth the trip! We spent a few hours exploring the site and learning about the Mayan people, including the REAL truth behind 12/21/12 ...
Roatan - Here we went on a zip line adventure, which was tremendous!! Great guides (Kerinton and Ismael) zipping with us, a terrific activity I would most highly recommend you try once in your life. This was another excursion booked privately after reviews on tripadvisor.com, where we used ClipnZip (http://www.clipnziproatan.com).
Belize - Another nice adventure excursion, we found Raiders of the Lost Mayan Caves through another tripadvisor.com search. Turns out they have an agreement with Carnival, so we could only book this through the cruise line. As such, it was the most expensive excursion, but once again, definitely worth it. Another hour long ride, this time to the Maya Mountains, with a personable guide named Kendra. Once at the site, we were led through caves, across rope bridges, and even on a zip line or two as we made our way. Very active and fun.
EMBARKATION - We arrived in Tampa the night before the cruise and stayed at the Springfield Suites hotel near the airport, then shuttled to the cruise port the next morning. I had checked in online, so dropping off luggage and going through security was fairly straight forward. Lines weren't too bad, and things moved along quickly. We actually arrived before noon, so we had a wait a few minutes for the Lido to open up. We ate lunch, then explored the ship before heading to our cabins.
DISEMBARKATION - Since we had flights out of Tampa prior to 1pm, we were given the choice of taking our luggage off the ship ourselves rather than leaving it for staff to do. By utilizing this option, we were free to walk off the ship first thing. Returning through customs was pleasant. After docking around 8am, we were in a taxi van (fit all 5 of us plus luggage) and on the way to the airport by 8:15am. Another 5 of our 5 for this part of the trip.
OVERALL - We were looking for more fun after a fairly boring time on HAL, and we certainly got what we wanted. Despite the original cabin issue, the only real negative was the Main Dining Room experience. Since Carnival is generally less expensive than other cruise lines, I would recommend budgeting an extra $30 per person per day and spend every night eating in the Steakhouse. I also noticed many, many people were dressed very casually for dinner, even on the Elegant nights. Don't expect elegance on Carnival, and don't expect gourmet fare ... but do plan on having a great time!