We cruised for the first time on the Carnival Dream in December 2010 and really enjoyed everything from the ship to the food to the entertainment but not so much the ports. Armed with more knowledge, we decided to book our second cruise, again on Carnival, and we just got back. I've got a lot to say!
We sailed on the Carnival Valor to the western Caribbean (Grand Caymen, Islad Roatan, Belize and Cozumel) September 4-11. What a difference a port and a ship make!
We will likely not leave from Miami again: the hotels are a lot pricier and the port authorities are a lot less nice. The embarkation process seemed a bit messier as well and not as organized or personal as it was out of Orlando. The process took about an hour and we found ourselves on board.
Cabin 6209 was clean - it's near the smoking part of the boat though so it ruined our balcony time most mornings. Quiet location, never heard a peep!
We had a blast in Grand Caymen. Though we were confused to what a "Tender" was (get off ship to another ship to take you to dock - water is too shallow for the Valor to dock close), we made our way to our first adventure. Since we booked the cruise with Orbitz, we were given a free excursion. We decided on snorkeling since it's our favorite thing - we went with Captain Marvin's and they were great. Since we had two booked for that day, they assured us we'd be back at port in time and we were. First, we swam with stingrays - what an amazing experience. Next, was a snorkel by the reef. Both were fun times and I'd highly recommend booking them. The office was across the street from the port.
Next, we did a ship tour: Shipwreck & Reef Snorkeling. This one was not as great as the first but was fun. Shorter, but fun. Too close to the boat (took us a longer time getting back in line to tender!).
Back at port, we visited a vendor and ate Beef Patties and fresh lemonade that was all AMAZING. We also had a coconut. Beefed up prices but worth the few bucks more!
Sadly, renting a cabana in Mahogany Bay wasn't all we hoped for. The ship is docked way too close to port. The water isn't the clear, Caribbean water you hope for either. And, for a snorkel, it's entirely too shallow (despite being super careful and having experience, I got hurt on some coral/rocks).
The cabana itself was nice. It came with a hammock, 3 sitting areas - one inside, one outside and one by the beach but the semi-private beach you pay for with the rental get inundated by people who can't be bothered to read signs. We also got floats. Our wait staff was okay but he seemed more preoccupied on his phone and being in the shade.
Overall, it was clean and safe but not what we were hoping for.
I wanted to LOVE Belize soooo badly. A friend from college is from Belize. I think that, if our snorkel wasn't cancelled due to bad weather, it might have been a blast. But at the last minute, we had to pick another excursion and picked a ship tour: Altun Ha & Belize City Tour. So disorganized from the start and definitely not worth $50 pp.
The tour was horrible. The bus ride there was long and packed. The two guides made stuff up as they went along and they were unhelpful. There was no time to explore on your own so the group of 47 (yes, forty-seven) had to stay together at all times. I felt like I was in 3rd grade. This just wasn't fun at all. The "city tour" consisted of driving through the city and the guides pointing out how poor the area is. That was all.
There were plenty of shops though! Which is the only reason why it scored a 2.
I will start by saying that I didn't think I was going to care for Cozumel at all but it was the port we wound up loving the most. From the shopping to the excursion, it was worth it!!
Beach Buggy & Snorkel at Punta Sur - I highly recommend it!!!!!!! It was well worth the $100 pp through the ship.
Our guide, Papi Chulo (Juan), was GREAT. Friendly, eager to answer questions and honest about the area. I wish it could be 2 to a car - that's the 1st of only 2 complaints - but it was 4. Luckily we were paired with a couple who couldn't drive a standard and we got to drive the entire time.
The views were amazing. We wound up snorkeling at Chankanaab instead of Punta but it was the clearest water of all our snorkeling adventures. Lots of fish, cool refreshing water. I do wish they would have let us de-group and explore a bit more (complaint #2). After about 45 minutes, we changed, drank some aqua and headed for Punta Sur. After stopping at a small (but important) Mayan Ruin and then visiting some crocodiles, we ate a yummy meal on the beach, swam in some beautiful Caribbean water, hung out in a hammock and drive to the light house for some shopping, a beer and then headed back. The buggies, while a bit older, were still a lot of fun!
I would recommend doing this tour for sure.
Back at port, there was PLENTY of shopping (we spent $65 US and got souvenirs for over 10 people!). We loved Cozumel!