Galveston was fogged in, so embarkation was a tad chaotic. We did get e-mails and robocalls early in the morning informing us to not head to Galveston right away. As directed by the email and call, we signed up for the text message service for updates and that worked well. We reported to the terminal when directed and found quite a few people still trying to leave along with lots of people trying to get on.
Since the embarkation lounge was at capacity, we were sent to an overflow lounge further down. We were given zone numbers and waited to do our check-in in that lounge; while it was crowded, Carnival shore staff passed out bottled water and the NFL playoffs were on large plasma screens throughout the room. It took a few hours to get checked in and for the normal lounge to clear, but soon enough we were walking down to where you normally go wait to clear security and get on the ship. It wasn't a great experience and people were getting a bit testy because they just wanted to be out of there, but the shore folks did have things pretty well organized given the circumstances.
I had made reservations for the steakhouse online for the first evening, but because of the Muster drill being moved to 8:00 there was a message on the room phone asking me to call and reschedule. We were able to get a table for the night we were in the Caymans instead. We didn't have much time to eat before Muster began, but we did have a quick dinner on the Lido.
A note on the Lido: Yes, the trays and plates have been replaced with a large platter and salad bowls. I like it. It doesn't make me feel like I'm at a hospital cafeteria, and there's plenty of space to put a full meal for one on the platter.
We took the upgrade from a Cove balcony to a Cloud 9 Spa balcony. We were glad we did. The thalassotherapy pool was heavenly and we spent a lot of time on the heated benches and the relaxation room. As much as we planned to try out the new Sports Square, we never made it to the back of the ship for that because we spent so much time either in the Cloud 9 Spa or up on the Serenity deck. I didn't see any chair hogging in Serenity, either - if someone wasn't on a lounger, they were in the hot tub or at the bar and returned shortly. We spent very little time at the Beach pool on the Lido because we preferred the non-smoking parts of the ship. We wanted a quiet, relaxing cruise and the spa and Serenity deck delivered.
Ports: we did a dolphin encounter tour in Jamaica through the ship and were thoroughly disappointed. The tour operator threw in other attractions and kept asking for more money and more tips. That's a bit much when you've already paid more than $100/person to be there. In the Caymans we did Stingray City and Snorkeling through Moby Dick Tours. I can't recommend Moby Dick highly enough. In sharp contrast to Jamaica, Moby Dick delivers the most bang for the buck - they don't have a photographer on board but they'll happily take photos with your own camera, for example, and they give you much better service overall. In Cozumel we booked Isla Passion through the ship and really enjoyed it. The food and drink was good and the private beach was really fun.
Service: excellent overall. James was our cruise director and was upbeat and entertaining. We did Your Time Dining and had great service in the dining room no matter what team waited on us.
Food: Don't miss the Tandoor station on the Lido by the Tides pool - they serve excellent Indian food. There were whole sections of the Lido that we never quite got to (the burger station by the beach pool, the pizza, the grill on the Ocean Plaza on sea days) but lunch on the Lido ranged from good to great food. My only gripe with the Lido on the last sea day was other passengers taking up all of the tables playing cards and dominoes while we were trying to have lunch. Cucina's food was pretty good, but the Steakhouse was hands down the best food on the ship. It's worth the cover charge.
We encountered several complainers on board. They were usually older and either wore their platinum card around their neck or the conversation would open with "this is my 18th cruise." To the elderly woman who placed Carnival at the bottom because they didn't have an orchestra or hosts to dance with the widows, why were you cruising with a line that caters to 30-somethings with kids? To the couple on our Jamaica excursion with the Celebrity Cruise tote bag who scoffed because I was interested in walking a few blocks for non-touristy food, maybe you should try walking sometime, it would do you good. To the woman behind us on the boat to Isla Passion who demanded that we turn around because it was raining on the boat ride and "we paid good money for this," rain won't hurt you, and the weather was perfect once we arrived at the island. For this thirty-something and forty-something couple, this was a perfect vacation, and we didn't let your whining get in the way of our good time.
The boat did rock tightly from side to side in high winds the first and last day, but I was amazed that even though we didn't get out of Galveston until 3:15 Monday morning, we still made all three ports of call. Kudos to the captain and crew for pulling it off.