DW and I (ages 51) flew down to Miami from Minneapolis the day before our cruise departure on Jan. 8, 2012. We stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Miami Airport South. Being close to the airport as it was, the hotel was rather noisy as it was right beneath the flight pattern for take-offs. Additionally, the hotel is located at a rather busy intersection so there was a fair amount of street noise too.
After picking up our luggage at baggage claim, the hotel was given a call and their free shuttle arrived within a few minutes. Upon arrival at the hotel, arrangements were made for transport the next day to the cruise terminal which was available at $12/person. The next morning the shuttle busses were early and we departed for the ship at 11:00 am and arrived at the cruise ship terminal at 11:30 am.
Embarkation couldn't have gone any smoother. It took only 30 minutes from the time we were dropped off to when we were stepping into the ship's lobby and offered our first drink. Being that it was only noon, we immediately headed up to the Lido deck for lunch. The lines weren't bad at all and after 15 minutes we were seated by the pool eating and basking in the sun. The pools were open so if we had brought our swimsuits along with our carry-on luggage we could have gone for a dip.
At 1:30 pm an announcement was made that rooms were now available and we could proceed to our cabin. We did and it was ready. It was only a hour or so before our luggage showed up.
Our room was 1004 on the Panorama deck at the very front of the ship and had a window to look out. Adjacent to the room was a door from the hallway to the balcony area that was in front of our room. Even though it is a public area, unless you had a reason to be at the front of the ship on the 10th deck (and no one did) we basically had that entire area to ourselves. It was great to be able to go out there and watch the sea go by, or, when in port, get a great view. I just wish they had some chairs there for you. While docked in Cozumel, the Carnival Valor was parked next to us. We could see that on "our" deck on their boat there were several lounge chairs for people to use.
We brought along an outlet strip, which is a must have if you have more than one thing to plug in at a time. The outlet strip will only plug into the outlet in the room, and not the bathroom. In fact, only things that don't have a polarized plug (such as an electric razor) will plug into the bathroom outlet. Night lights, extension cords, hair dryers, etc. won't plug into the bathroom outlet. There is no clock in the room so we're glad we brought along a digital clock, which we plugged into the outlet strip. There is a hair dryer in a drawer in the room -- one of those kinds where you have to sit on a chair to use. It didn't seem like it had a lot of power so we were glad to have brought our own. Our hair dryer would have only plugged into our outlet strip.
The ship has Direct TV and the Cartoon Channel, CNN, TBS, etc. and the four network stations out of Miami were available to watch.
The bathroom had plenty of storage shelves. I read about maybe needing to bring along a hanging shoe rack to store things. Don't bother. In the shower there are dispensers for shampoo and body wash. They also supply bar soap if you want. Towels are changed twice a day. We did not encounter any problems with the room whatsoever.
The ship does have Cellular at Sea phone service. So if you're concerned about needing to be contacted while abroad, your cell phone will work on the ship. I heard it costs a bundle though. This is a separate service from being able to make calls from the room phone which runs $1.99/minute.
The room came with two pool towels which were exchanged out as used by the cabin stewards so there isn't any need to bring towels from home.
The On Board Experience
DW and I pretty much decided ahead of time to just sit in the sun, read and drink adult beverages. Because of this, we didn't make it to any of the lounge shows, or other activities during the day. There are a ton of things to do if you want though. There was a wide selection of live music available in the evenings ranging from jazz, blues, country and western, classical, and contemporary.
Trying to sneak a bottle of Scotch on didn't work as every piece of luggage gets x-rayed and they caught it. There was a nice note in the luggage saying that we could pick it up on our last morning. When I went there to get it, apparently we weren't the only ones who tried as there must have been 100 bottles waiting to be picked up by their owners. Just a note, you are allowed one bottle of wine each but it must be in your carry-on. If you put it in your luggage it will get confiscated.
One of the first things we did when getting on the ship was to purchase soda cards. The adult card was $51, including tax and gratuity. Was it worth it? It's hard to say. Individual soda purchases were $2.15 with gratuity.
The food and food service was great. We ate at the 8:15 pm seating in the upper Platinum dining room which is toward the rear of the ship. We were seated with three other couples, all from the Hamilton, Ontario Canada area. The conversation was great and we had a nice time. The dancing the service staff does after the meal is worth hanging around for. They really have a lot of fun.
One night we ate at the Emerald Steakhouse. It was $30/pp extra. The service was extraordinary, almost to a fault. The food was excellent and we walked away way too full.
As far as the staff, without exception, everyone greeted us. Our cabin stewards greeted us by name and always asked how we were doing. The same was true with the dining room staff. Also, it seemed like there was always someone cleaning the public areas - very impressive.
Here we caught a cab ($10) to Chankanaab National Park. It was about 10 minutes away. Entry to the park was $21 for adults. There are two small gift shops there but cash only.
The beach is absolutely spectacular. Upon walking in you go by where people are doing the swim/ride with the dolphins thing (extra charge like $100+). There is a fresh water swimming pool, which we used when were done because it had some shade and let us cool off too. There are plenty of chairs on the sand and the snorkeling is fabulous.
The food was cheap ($8 for a plate of nachos) and very tasty. As we were taking a dip in the fresh water pool on the way out, we were right next to where the sea lion show is put on. It was absolutely fantastic. The sea lion is trained so well and one of the things it would do is give you a hug. You would start out with your arms extended out and it had its flippers the same way. Then when you got up to it, it would put its flippers around you and give you a hug. It was so cool.
On our way out of the complex there are taxis waiting for you. It was $10 for the ride back to the ship. By the way, the ship was docked at the Puerto Maya pier, along side the Carnival Valor. There are two piers for ships at Cozumel and this is the older of the two and the shopping isn't as extensive as the other location. Nevertheless, we picked up the mandatory bottles of alcohol and vanilla. There is also a pharmacy there too where you can buy, without a prescription, amoxicillin, prednisone, and Imitrex, just to name a few. They're right there out on the shelves so there is no need to have them handed over to you from behind the counter. Theoretically you are supposed to have a prescription to bring them back into the U.S. I don't know how Customs and Border Control deals with this when you get back.
Getting back on the ship was easy. It was neat to see the two ships parked side by side. Towards the departure, it was time to watch for the late runners catching the ship. There were 3 names called out. Once the last person was aboard, again to much shouting and applause, we departed. Usually there is more but it rained really hard about an hour before departure so most people just decided to cut their on-shore experience short and got back on.
Costa Maya wasn't on our original itinerary as we were scheduled to port in Belize. However, the Friday before we departed we received an email from Carnival informing us that "due to port congestion" we were being moved to Costa Maya. It didn't really matter to us as we've never been to either one anyway. Upon arrival at Costa Maya and looking out upon the landscape, it is clearly obvious that this port was made just for the cruise ships. There is absolutely nothing else out in the landscape. At the port itself there are the usual jewelry, clothing, and liquor shops. The merchants had a tendency to "encourage" you to shop with them more so than compared with the other ports. It reminded us a little of what Tijuana is like. But having said this, the waterfront is wonderful. There are plenty of beach chairs and food service is available too. However, the shoreline is rocky so you'll be wise to bring your water shoes along to keep your feet from getting cut up. Once you're in the water though it's nice and sandy.
This port was the most pleasant surprise. It is absolutely beautiful there. If all you want to do is sit by the beach, just walk off the ship and then down to the water. There is a chairlift that for $12/pp will carry you down to the sand but walking is just as fast.
DW and I took the excursion to Maya Cay with the lunch included. From the ship you get on another boat for a 15 minute ride to the island. Wow, talk about getting away from it all. The beach is wonderful and the food they provided for us was quite tasty. There is an animal sanctuary there too that takes care of injured animals. To just name a few they had 2 jaguars, an ocelot, howler monkeys, toucans, and very colorful macaw parrots. The only complaint about this excursion is that it was too short -- we enjoyed it too much!
This was our 6th time to Grand Cayman and I must say it has slipped a few notches in regards to its cleanliness. It used to be this pristine island but this time I was a little more than surprised at the amount of litter. Empty water bottles and beer cans laying around just about everywhere. Even the beach we were at had its share of cigarette butts. Not sure what's going on with not keeping the place clean. Don't get me wrong, it's not like a landfill but just something we hadn't experienced there before. First we just did some shopping and then caught one of the vans to go to 7 mile beach where it cost $5/pp each way. As we were the only ship in port that day getting off the boat and onto a tender didn't include any waiting at all. I've heard from other people who have been there when there are 4 ships in port that the wait can be upwards of 2 hours each way to get off and back on the ship as there are only so many tenders to transport people back and forth.
We did not do the self assist to get off the ship. For those who chose that option, they began to leave at 7:30 am. But we went for breakfast and back to our room. At 9:10 am our number was called and out we went. The luggage goes around on a baggage carousel that is designated by number so when we got down there it was already going around. Getting through customs was a breeze and by 10:00 am we were in line to get a taxi to the airport. By the way, the taxi rate to the airport is regulated and is $24 for the ride.
Overall, it was a great vacation and look forward to another. Hope this helps.