Our group of 5 made a last-minute decision to book this cruise, and we grabbed what seemed to be one of the last 2 or 3 cabins available about 2 weeks before departure. A few days later, we then added another cabin for 2 grandparents who wanted to join as well.
I was shocked that our family of 5 (mom, dad, and kids ages 14, 11, and 7) would be able to fit in one cabin, but we did. We would have happily booked a second cabin if it were possible, but it wasn't; certain cabins are apparently designated for certain sized groups, even though I would later find out that all of the cabins (except for the suites) are essentially the same size. For example, there was a period of several days where we couldn't add the 2 grandparents because the only availability was a 5-person room, even though we told Carnival on the phone that we'd pay for 3 additional "phantom children" in that room if necessary (the kids were only $100 or $200 extra each). Luckily a 2-person room later opened up.
Embarkation was a breeze, however I was surprised that most of the employees at the port were not very friendly, except for the porters -- who were very nice. Maybe the other employees were tired by the time we arrived at 12:30pm from having to deal with another cruise's disembarkation that morning, followed by our cruise embarking in the afternoon - but whatever the case, it left me wondering what the level of service was going to be on the cruise. In the end, the embarkation process was very easy, and the crew on board ended up being exceptionally nice. Because we were taking a private tour in Havana led by a Cuban tour guide, we filled out our affidavits by choosing "People to People" under option 1, and then "Support of the Cuban People" under option 2.
The cruise itself was fine (2.5 out of 5 stars), but our family probably wouldn't do it again. The Negatives were:
*It was very much a Spring Break cruise, with lots of families (like ours) and lots of people in their 20s. During the embarkation day and the 2 sea days, the ship was very crowded. The buffet restaurant, the pool, and the main common areas were almost unmanageable. We tried to join one of the games (a Hasbro trivia game) on the first night, but there were over 100 people who showed up, and the moderator told everyone to split into 4 teams - meaning 25 people per team who would be answering trivia questions; and so we wound up not joining. It got to the point that although I wanted to try the various trivia options and other games each day, we didn't because it was just too crowded. The only thing that wasn't really crowded was the casino (which was nice).
*I was disappointed with the prices of most things. Eg., the wifi was expensive and limited to just a single device, and there was no free way to use phones among friends or family members while on board (friend chat was $5). It seemed that everything was an attempt to nickel or dime the passengers. E.g., the Build-a-Bear event was $26 per bear.
*The bingo was outrageously priced, and the prizes were very low in comparison to the amount of money Carnival must have collected from card sales - what a cash cow for Carnival. We paid over $100 for 3 of us to play; there were probably 300 people in the room who each paid $30-40 to pay. The 3 prizes ended up totaling $1,000 -- and even if the last winner had achieved a black-out on their card in 49 numbers or less and therefore ended up winning the big prize of $2,000, that still would have been only $2,700 in prize money -- compared to over $10K in board sales for that single session. We did not end up playing the next 2 sessions of bingo.
*The food did not meet my expectations. The buffet food was generally unappetizing, and the buffet always seemed to be crowded - with very long lines. I couldn't manage to get pizza during the entire cruise. I finally managed to get a taco salad my last day when the line disappeared for a few minutes, but the food was underwhelming. The dining room was much better, but again, not what I would have expected from the dining room. I thought the quality of the dining room food should have been what was in the buffet, and the dining room food should have been better. The boat doesn't have any specialty restaurants (except for the captain's dinner on a couple of the nights), but we knew that going in.
*On the first day and on the 2 sea days, there were chunks of time where our family was left wondering what to do. There weren't a wide array of activities to try or sample.
The Positives were:
*The 4 Cuba lectures by Heidi Siefkas were incredible. She really enhanced the entire Cuba experience.
*Camp Ocean was great for my 7- and 11-year-olds. They went there for a few hours most of the days and had a great time. I was disappointed that during the last sea day, it was closed from 2:30pm until 7pm -- which you would think would be prime time for it to be open.
*Carnival waterworks (water slides and splash pad) was fun, but we managed to go only during the Cozumel port day, when most everyone else was off the boat. The swimming pool was very small for the number of people, and as mentioned, it was completely unusable except during the 2 port days because it was so crowded. But on the Cozumel port day, we had a blast using it.
*The staff was so incredibly nice - I don't think I saw anybody without a smile or a kind word on board.
*The musicians, the production shows, and the comedians were good. Not great by any means, but very enjoyable for the whole family.
*Guy's Burgers were excellent.
*The buffet offered a vegan burger at every seating - which was much appreciated by the vegan member in our group. The dining room was also excellent about accommodating vegan requests (in advance), and all of the vegan food was apparently delicious.
*The Port Day in Havana was awesome - and it was the real reason we chose this cruise. What an opportunity to spend a full day in Havana. (The official shore excursions were outrageously priced, and so we wound up getting a private tour for about 20-25% of the cost.)
*The Port Day in Cozumel was great for our family because we stayed on the ship (except for a couple of hours) and had run of the place to ourselves. It was a fun time to use the pool and eat in the dining room without fighting the lines.
The Neutrals were:
*The boat was quite small, which was a positive and a negative. It was nice to be able to get anywhere in less than 5 minutes. But because it was so small, the ship felt very crowded most of the time. The elevators were very slow except on the 2 port days, and so we took the stairs most of the time. We learned to get to the shows, etc. at least 15-20 minutes in advance to make sure we got a seat. We definitely felt movement from the ship in the water, but some Dramamine helped us from having any real problems.
*The stateroom was fine. Most people say that the only thing you do in your room is sleep, and so who cares if you sleep 5 in a single room. Well, that would have been true if there had been more uncrowded activities to try on board. As it was, we did spend some chunks of each sea day (and the first day) in our room, which was quite boring. But at the same time, I don't think we needed a second cabin for our family - the one cabin worked just fine for our family.
Disembarkation was very frustrating until we actually got off the ship and into the terminal. I couldn't believe how disorganized things seemed on board. Surely there is a better way to get people off the boat without having them wait in line for 30-45 minutes dragging their bags. Once we actually got off the ship, the process was very easy, and the employee at the port were incredibly friendly (as compared to the employees on embarkation day).
*At Havana, the passengers with the official shore excursions get to leave the boat first, and the others have to wait. So although our ship arrived at port at 7am, our particular group did not get to leave the boat until about 9:30am. After going through immigration and changing our money, it turns out the 10am meeting time with our private guide was perfect. If you're not taking an official shore excursion, make sure you go to Deck 9 on the morning of Havana port day to get your disembarkation sticker. There are about 100 stickers for each letter of the alphabet; and starting at about 6:15am, they start giving away the stickers, starting with the letter A. One person from your group can go to get the stickers for the whole group. I showed up around 7:30am and got Letter L for all 7 of us. Had I been a Letter A sticker, I would have disembarked at about 8am. As it worked out, Letter L was just fine, as it allowed us to sleep in a bit, and still get breakfast on board before getting off the ship.
*We loved the Your Time Dining option rather than the fixed-time dining. Some nights we ate dinner right at 5:45pm so that we could make the 7:15pm show, but one of the nights we didn't eat until closer to 8:30pm. It was nice to have the flexibility.
*The library was well stocked with board games (Battleship, Monopoly, Cranium) and books, but no playing cards.
*We ended up using the stairs most of the time given that the elevators were so busy most of the time.
Our cabin was able to sleep our entire family of 5. The two twins were pushed together to make a king bed for mom and dad. There were then 2 upper beds that folded down -- one perpendicular to the king bed at the foot of the bed, and the other perpendicular to the king bed at the head of the bed (i.e., literally over mom and dad's heads and upper torsos, so be careful not to bump your head when you sit up in bed). The fifth bed laid on the floor at the foot of the king bed (essentially under one of the upper fold-down beds). With all those beds, there was really no way to walk around the king bed without stepping on people, and the kid in the upper bed above the king headboard had to step on the king bed to get up and down; the other fold-down bed (at the foot of the king bed) had a ladder to use.
We were very glad to have brought our own clock (great tip I found online!), but the small portable fan was unnecessary. The over-the-door hanger for toiletries, etc. was another great tip.
The cabin was tight, but adequate. 5 hard shell carry-on suitcases plus 2 collapsible duffle bags fit just fine under the bed and were used as hampers for dirty clothes as the cruise went along. The bathroom size was fine. Water pressure and temperature were great. The closets and drawers were just big enough to hold our clothes. We made sure to keep everything tidy the whole time, given the small space, and the stateroom attendant was fabulous. There was a hairdryer in the room, as well as USB, 110V, and 220V outlets. Shampoo and body wash (both in refillable pump containers hanging on the wall, not individual bottles) were in the shower, but we were glad we brought our own bar soap. Some in our group thought the shampoo was lousy, so maybe we would have brought our own had we known. Had no issues hearing other guests through the walls (only once or twice did we hear kids running up and down the halls). Obviously no place to really sit down in the room, with the bed configuration that limited the ability to even sit on the bed.
We did a private tour with a Cuban tour guide (i.e., not an official shore excursion through Carnival). We absolutely loved our time in Havana.
Embarkation was very smooth. Disembarkation seemed unnecessarily chaotic (i.e., lots of waiting around).
We were on the fence about whether to get off the ship in Cozumel; when we arrived, the foreboding skies made our decision easy. We got off the ship to eat lunch at Three Amigos, then walked around the port for a bit before getting back on the ship; we had the entire ship to ourselves for several hours and really enjoyed ourselves.