First, don't read this and assume I'm the type to find something wrong with everything. I'm not. See my review of our Thanksgiving cruise on the Freedom last year if you don't believe me. There's far more negative in here than my last review, but it's honest feedback. None of this ruined our vacation, either, I just wanted to be fair in my review and call out things that need improving. We simply didn't find this cruise as good as past ones in many areas.
Booking: We booked through CruiseQuick, a place many people seemed to fear. We got the room for a couple hundred less than anywhere else (even taking incentives in to consideration), and had zero issues. I'd totally use them again.
The port: This was our first time going out of Tampa, and I wouldn't be sad to skip it in the future. Embarkation was faster than last year, which was a positive, but getting off was a pain compared to last year. We do self-assist, and last year we were off the boat and on the highway by 7:30am. This year, self--assist didn't start until ~9, and was very poorly organized. Took quite a bit longer to get off. Also not a fan of how the port area is laid out, driving around down there was a bit confusing compared to Miami and Lauderdale. Going under the Skyway bridge was cool though. We were an hour and a half late leaving port, so it was completely dark by then, which was pretty cool too since the bridge was all lit up in green lights.
No other balconies right in front of it, so we didn't have any smoke blowing back towards our balcony. Also, for those looking at this room in the future, yes there is a lifeboat right where the room next to you would be, but don't worry about it messing with the view, 99% of the time it was a non-issue. If you want to see what the view looks like from that balcony, search for the image named "Roatan, as seen from our balcony" on photosynth.net (upload date is 12/1/2012). Overall a good room, nice and quiet.
We just got off the boat and took a cab to the beach, like we always do, but it rained a good chunk of the day. We still had fun and got in a few hours of snorkeling. We were going to be wet anyway, so the rain wasn't an issue. This year we went to Playa Mia. Nice, would definitely go again.
We did cave tubing as a private excursion through one of the more popular vendors. They were fine, the guides were funny and helpful, but none of us really saw what the big deal is with cave tubing. People say this is the one must-do activity here, but I just don't agree. I grew up river tubing out west, and to me, river tubing is where you get in the tube and float gently down the river with the current carrying you. Here, it seemed the current wasn't strong enough to move you, so the guides pulled you all the way through. The tubes were comfortable, with headrests, and they were tethered together with ropes and clips, not using the feet-in-underarms approach some companies have. The river was also packed, which didn't help. That, and we were always behind schedule thanks to the 45 minute wait in line to actually get in the river after the hike. It felt like we were being rushed the whole time. Part of that is because Carnival leaves port earlier than other lines in Belize, but still, you know when the ship leaves, plan the bus trip accordingly, and maybe find another spot to put the tubes into the river that allows for more than one person to get in at a time. I'd love to see more of Belize, so if we go back, that's an excursion we won't be doing again. Oh, and for those who do it, don't freak out about getting back to the port late. We got back shortly after the time given as the last tender departure, but it wasn't an issue. The Carnival sponsored cave tubing busses were almost an hour behind us, so there was nothing to worry about. The ship actually left Belize 45min late due to the late return by the Carnival excursions. Seems like Carnival should just extend the stay another hour or so.
One of my favorite places in the world, and this is not the first time we've been. We did the Maya Key excursion, one of the few cruise sponsored excursions we've ever done. We only did it because it was the only way to get there. It was a bit pricey for what you got, but we had a blast. Easily the best stop of the cruise. Spent the day snorkeling, walking the private island, we did the sea lion encounter (extra $$), and also got to hold a monkey and small crocodile (that part was not extra $$). Had a blast. This is the first time we've docked at Mahogany Bay, and frankly, I prefer the normal port better. I like to get a taste of the real culture of somewhere I'm visiting, and Carnival's port is just that, Carnival's port. They built it and keep it secluded, so it feels more like a shopping mall at any beach here in the US. Still, an outstanding day.