Background: This is my 7th cruise, although 2 were back in the
80's so I don't remember much of those. I'm 36 (my birthday was the
day of departure), my wife is 37 (her 4th cruise) and our daughters
are 7 and 4 (the youngest turned 5 on 1/19).
We decided to carry on our own liquor (2 small bottles), so I
bubble-wrapped it and put it in Ziploc bags in the bottom of our
largest suitcase. We also brought along a small 3-in-1 plug strip,
2-12 packs of Diet Coke and a first aid kit. I also booked
excursions in Grand Cayman (Capt. Marvin stingrays) and Belize
(cave-tubing.com) before we left.
We almost had to cancel the trip because my mother-in-law was
diagnosed with cancer the week before we left. Thankfully, the
tumor was localized and removed, her treatment was worked out the
day before we left, and my wife felt it was OK to go ahead and go.
I'm glad we had insurance just in case. Needless to say, we really
needed a vacation.
Pre-Departure: We left Alpharetta, GA on Friday, 1/12, and
headed to Disney World for a long
day in the Magic Kingdom on Saturday. On Sunday morning, we drove
to the Port of Tampa, dropped off our luggage and parked at the
port around 10:30. As we unloaded our carry-ons, we realized we had
forgotten to stop for a couple of last minute items. We asked if we
could leave the garage and run to Walgreens and at first, the
attendant said no. We white-lied and said we had to grab some
Benadryl for our kids' allergies, and she finally relented. After
we had run our quick errands, we walked over to the port and it was
starting to fill up with our fellow passengers.
Embarkation: We entered the port building and had our documents
checked. They ushered us quickly through security screening and
x-ray. We checked in and were placed in group 11. About 15 minutes
later, our group was called and we boarded. It was very organized
and quick compared to previous cruises.
1/14 - Embarkation Day: (Also my birthday!) We went to Deck 9
and had lunch. As luck would have it, a nice couple from Michigan
sat at the next table with their 8 year old daughter. Our kids
became fast friends and were inseparable the rest of the week.
When we were finishing up lunch, I sneaked into the cabin (the
doors were still closed) and dropped off our carry-ons. We then
explored the ship for a while before we were officially allowed in
our cabin. We changed into bathing suits and were leaving for the
pool when I picked up our pool towels and a half-empty cigarette
pack fell out of the towels! We took everything to the purser's
desk to complain and they were very apologetic. The purser told us
she would let our steward know and immediately called the head of
housekeeping while we were standing there. We didn't let it bother
us and we went to swim.
When we returned to the cabin, the stewardess introduced herself
(Nevi from Bulgaria) and apologized for the towel issue. She was
very nice and we chatted with her often throughout the week. She
spoke great English, although sometimes too much as my wife's
nickname for her was "Chatty Cathy."
Our luggage arrived before 6 and we unpacked. We went up on deck
to watch the Skyway bridge passage and the kids were excited to see
how close we came. It was already dark, so we got some good
pictures of the lights on the bridge and ship.
Before dinner, we went to the Camp Carnival orientation. See
below for more on Camp Carnival.
Dinner was casual, although we were more casual than most. Our
wait team was great (Ioan from Romania & Johnny from The
Philippines) and we sat upstairs at table 377. See below for more
specifics on food.
After dinner, the kids took me up on deck and sang happy
birthday to me. We went to bed a little early as we were still
tired from Disney the previous day.
1/15 - Fun Day at Sea: We relaxed and sat by the pool. We also
took advantage of the excellent gym facilities. That night, we took
the kids to their own formal parties and dinner, so we could have a
nice dinner alone. I went to the late comedy show, but my wife
didn't make it.
1/16 - Grand Cayman - We booked a snorkel/stingray tour with
Captain Marvins at 11:15AM. After breakfast, we all tendered ashore
to look around at the shops before our tour. The kids were a little
whiny about the shopping, so my wife was frazzled by the time we
got to the tour. We had to wait about 15 minutes at the dock for
the boats to return from the earlier tours, but we left around
noon. Snorkeling was fun, but my wife found the water too cold and
mostly stayed on the boat. My 7 year old loved the snorkeling and
we brought an underwater camera to snap pics of the fish. The
stingrays were also fantastic. There were about 20 people on our
boat, including 5 kids. We could see how many were on the Carnival
tour and it would be hard to even get near the stingrays. I got to
hold and feed a stingray and my kids loved petting them. Despite
the fun of the tour, we decided based on the kids' whining about
walking and waiting during the day to scrap the idea of them
joining us cave tubing. We also decided that the water in the river
would probably be too cold for my wife. More on that below.
When we got back to George Town, it was about 2:15. Some on our
tour were from the Norwegian Majesty, whose last tender left at
2:30. Needless to say, they booked pretty fast to the tender dock.
We also almost missed the last tender, because I spent too long
looking at a watch that I ended up not buying.
That night, we took the kids to the kids' dinner and spent a
nice evening alone.
1/17 - Cozumel - After the stress of dragging the kids around
Cayman, we left them at Camp and tendered ashore. We had to get a
tender sticker at 9AM in the Casino (we were #3), but we were
ashore by around 10AM. We tendered at Puerta Maya so we took a cab
to the main shopping area for $6. We walked around and got a little
lost, but we eventually found the main flea market area. My wife
was in heaven and we spent about 3-4 hours walking around. I also
found the watch I looked at in Cayman for a little cheaper and
bought it at Pama.
We went back on board around 3 and ate a late lunch. We picked
up the kids and everyone took a much-needed nap. We took the kids
back for kids' dinner and we decided to skip dinner because of our
late lunch. We just ate a little sushi and went to Frankie &
Johnnies to listen to Music Boardwalk (they are great - don't miss
1/18 - Belize - After scrapping the cave tubing idea, we were
deciding between horseback riding, biking or a canopy tour. We
decided to play it safe and book through Carnival because we were
leaving the kids on board. The tour desk agent steered me to the
canopy tour and it didn't disappoint.
We were taken off on an early tender and made to wait at the
port for a few minutes for some latecomers. The bus picked us up
just outside the tourist village. There were about 30 people on the
bus (a converted school bus), our driver was Arthur and our guide
was Carol. We drove through the city first and Carol pointed out
some landmarks. When we drove outside the city, she gave us some
interesting background on Belize and passed around some sheets with
pictures of local animals, birds, etc. for us to look at. We turned
off the highway after about 45 minutes and then the "fun" began. We
spent about 30 minutes on the bumpiest road before stopping for a
quick potty and water break. We then spent another 20 minutes on
that road before we reached the Lost World cave. The canopy tour
was excellent. The guides were very professional (but fun) and we
felt very safe. There were 5 traverses and 2 rappels with plenty of
picture opportunities. We headed back after another quick water and
potty stop and got back to the tourist village with about an hour
to shop before the last tender back at 4PM.
That night we went to Nick & Nora's while the kids went to
Camp again. We also went to the hypnotist show, which was
1/19 - Costa Maya - A pier! Finally, no tender. We took the kids
and went to Majahual. We ran into my daughter's friend from
Michigan, so we sat at the beach with them. I wasn't a big fan of
the place we chose. If some guy named "Charlie Brown" tries to get
you to sit at his restaurant, keep walking. His margaritas are
watery and he has a lack of beach chairs. The kids had fun and we
left around 1PM to go back to the ship for lunch. We took the kids
to the pool after lunch and took turns running back down to the
port area to look at the shops.
That night was formal night and my younger daughter's birthday.
The waiters brought a cake (we had ordered it earlier in the week)
and the surrounding tables sang Happy Birthday. We gave her some
small presents we brought with us and then took the kids to camp
where they made a big deal about her birthday again. We went to
Ticket to Ride that night and the late night hypnotist show.
1/20 - Fun Day at Sea - We took the last opportunity to relax
and recharge. My wife tried a seaweed wrap at the spa and thought
it was pretty good. I managed to finish my book. We decided to keep
the kids out of the sun after the amount they got the day before.
As the day wore on, it got a little cooler and windier. The slide
was also closed due to high winds. We packed a little early to
avoid rushing later on and put our luggage out around 9:30PM.
We also had our last dinner without the kids and then picked
them up to play bingo and see the Legends show (my wife and
youngest didn't make it that late though).
1/21 - Tampa - We docked around 7, and had breakfast from room
service so we could take our time. We went down to deck 2 and got
in line around 8:15 after the final call for self-assist. They let
the early flights off around 8:30 and then we were off by 8:40. We
picked up the bags and were through customs and in the car by 8:55.
Truly painless. We were back home in Alpharetta by 4:15 in the rain
Food: Breakfast: We ordered room service several times using the
door hanger and it was always on time. This was helpful on some of
the early port days and the last morning. We went to Bacchus once
and were not that impressed. The breakfast waiter was surly and got
our order wrong. Horatio's was great for breakfast, with several
omelet stations and hot food stations.
Lunch: Horatio's took some getting used to and is very spread
out. I tended to check out everything and then pick one or two
stations to get food rather than pick and choose from all.
Basically, the Pizzeria, coffee bar and Salad Bar are at the rear
separated from the Rotisserie, Deli and Dessert areas by drink
stations. Around the corner moving forward, you have the Taste of
Nations and Asian stations, along with more drink stations. Further
forward, the grill is outside, along with ice cream stations. We
particularly enjoyed the pizza, Asian station and our favorite days
for Taste of Nations were Indian and of course Chocolate (last sea
day). The kids usually ate either pizza or burgers and dogs from
Check out the Sushi bar on Deck 2. They had 3 or 4 different
things every day, and although it was all cooked or smoked, it was
tasty and filled the void between lunch and late seating dinner.
The sundae bar on the afternoon of sea days was also a nice
Dinner was always good to excellent. Some dishes we particularly
enjoyed were: the sushi appetizer, Indian vegetarian entré,
lobster tails (order two because they are small), chateaubriand,
jerk pork, and of course, the warm chocolate melting cake (we must
have ordered this 4 times). We skipped dinner once in the dining
room due to a late lunch when we returned from Cozumel and once
when we went to Nick and Nora's. Definitely try N&N's at least
once. The food and service are excellent. I had the porterhouse and
my wife had the lobster. We each ordered 2 appetizers and a salad
as well as dessert.
We didn't eat much late night food except ice cream, but the
Caribbean buffet on Thursday looked very good (couldn't eat because
we had just left N&N's stuffed). The Gala Buffet on Friday
night was more style than substance, but it looked good anyway.
Shows: We enjoyed the comedians (although the family shows were
actually funnier than the R-rated shows) and hypnotist (both
shows). We are not big fans of Broadway-type shows, so we walked
out after about 2 minutes of Generations. I really enjoyed Ticket
to Ride, although parts were a little disjointed. My wife only
liked the last 15 minutes or so. I won't spoil that part for those
who haven't seen it. I went to Legends with my oldest daughter and
we really enjoyed it. Some of the passengers could really belt it
out, while others at least tried (that's you Britney Spears).
Activities: I won Millionaire on the last sea day and we did a
couple of trivia contests. Bingo was also a fun family activity. I
spent some time in the casino, but I was not a fan of the
electronic poker table. A dealer would be more fun.
Camp Carnival: The kids loved it. We even left them on the ship
in Cozumel and Belize while we went ashore. My older daughter
stayed until 12 or 1 most nights and made some good friends. There
were only about 30-40 kids on the ship (which was great - we love
our kids, but don't want to hang out with everyone else's), but
they still had staff levels from the holiday time (where up to 700
kids sailed). All the kids got great attention from the counselors.
Our kids participated in the kids' talent show on the last day,
brought home many art projects, and received lots of goodies. We
also did the family build a bear activity (for $19.99 per bear) on
the last day. Camp Carnival gave my wife and I the chance to eat
dinner alone and recharge our batteries.
Summary: Awesome! The ship surpassed our expectations in every
way. It was a fantastic family (and adult) vacation.