This was my second cruise and my wife's fourth. We sailed on the Disney Magic last year and she had sailed the western Caribbean route twice with Commodore. My wife is a teacher and I'm an engineer. We also own a piece of a tour company.
Overall - We enjoyed the cruise. Carnival did all of the big things right. However, my wife and I both felt that Carnival has some serious issues with both service and the small special touches. We have decided not to travel with Carnival again.
We booked a 6D on the Empress Deck. Great room. As I've read in other reviews, Carnival does not make the beds into a Queen/King as stated in their advertisements. Instead, you get two twins made up separately pushed into the corner and you have to request this once you are on board.
Day one - At sea
My wife and I enjoyed our "Fun day at sea." The casino has $1 tables for a hour in the afternoon. We enjoyed this but felt sorry for anyone not there at the start. The casino has a limited number of tables and most people just watched (my wife and I were lucky to have seats). It was the most packed we saw the casino the entire week. We both recommended that Carnival give up some revenue and expand the hours they offer this. After gaming, we went to a couples message class in the spa. The class was a lot of fun even with the product push.
Day two - Cozumel
We went on the excursion to Tulum. We enjoyed the trip. Tulum is on top of a beautiful cliff looking out across the Caribbean. We had fun traveling with our table mates and spent 2 hrs at the ruins. The ruins are small but interesting to see. Two hours is more than enough time at the ruins. Just be aware that Carnival is not kidding when they say it's a walking tour. We then returned to Playa del Carmen for our boat ride to Cozumel.
The seas were rough the day we were at Cozumel and resulted in a "fun" ride to the island. However, Cozumel makes the trip worth it. By far it has the best value shopping of the three ports. My wife and I had lunch at Carlos and Charlies. This is a must experience for adults. Lots of fun. We then spent the rest of the day shopping. Our recommendation is to buy everything you want in Cozumel. Grand Caymen is much more expensive and Jamaica lacks some of the nicer stores.
Day three - At sea
Another "fun day", we spent most of our time recovering from Cozumel. Most of the activities on ship while at sea are designed to generate on board revenue (i.e. you have to spend money) or sun worshiping.
Day four - Grand Caymen
At Grand Caymen you have to tender in (i.e. you have take a small boat to shore). We took another excursion (the trip to Hell, the Turtle Farm and Stingray City). The trip is a guided tour in a cab. Hell and the Turtle Farm are both tourist trap type places, although the Turtle Farm is interesting. Stingray City is a must see. We took a small boat out to a sand bar in the middle of the ocean (20-30 min). The sandbar is only about waist deep and the stingrays are harmless. The will suck food out of your hand. The only danger is stepping on one. The rays will generally leave you alone unless you are between them and food. They'll shove past you to get to the food. It's actually fun. You need a waterproof camera for this.
We went shopping after the excursion. Grand Caymen is very expensive. The only real deal my wife found was make-up.
Our trip back to the ship brought about another one of our sore points. The Voyager of the Sea and the Inspiration were both in dock with us. As a result, there were only a few tenders for our ship. This resulted in a long line to get back on board. This did not annoy us. What set us off was the crew members by-passing the line and walking on to the next tender before any passengers were allowed on. My wife and I both felt that at a minimum the crewmembers should have stood in the same line as we did.
Day five - Jamaica
We loved Jamaica. We took the excursion to the Brimmer Hall Plantation. It approx. 45 min from the dock to the plantation and back. At the plantation, we had a 30 min guided tour with one of the farmers. They explain how they grow at harvest each one of their crops (coca, coconuts, sugarcane and bananas). The plantation then has a buffet of sorts set up when you get back with each one of their crops, jerk chicken, and alcohol. They also have a small area to buy local items.
After the plantation, we were then taken to one of the two "recommended" malls in town for 30 mins of power shopping. While my wife and I did not buy anything, I noticed that the prices were about the same for most items except rum and coffee, which were both cheap. We finished up our excursion at Dunns River Falls.
Dunns River Falls is a must do. Just be prepared. You will get wet. The falls never gets deeper than waist deep but you have to climb up through the falls at points. You will get soaked. We bought Aqua shoes at Target before we went and they came in handy. We paid $4 for them instead of renting them for $5. This is another place for the waterproof camera.
Day six - At sea
Same things to do as day three expect that they have bingo and a drawing for a cruise.
We had a great team wait on us the entire week. The food was tasty and plentiful. At one point during the week everyone at our table doubled up on something when we couldn't decide. My wife and I did miss the intimacy of the waiter/ asst. waiter system used on the other lines. Our poor team always seemed rushed serving 36+ people but never rushed us. My wife, a truly picky eater, found something to eat at every meal. She also fell in love with the pizza served 24 hrs a day. The late night buffets did leave something to be desired for. The deserts were basic cakes with different icing and crepes.
Our room steward was one of the best we've ever had. He lived up to the old joke about getting up in the middle of the night only to come back and find your bed made. We went up to breakfast one morning only to come back 10 min later to find our room serviced to include folding any clothes left out. His towel animals every night were great.
The lounge stinks. There are few, if any, good seats where you can see the whole show. Get there early and try and grab a seat before the crowd. The quality of the show was pretty good, not Disney but good. The Comedy acts were funny and their adult only shows after midnight were worth staying up for.
This was our last pet peeve of the cruise. We actually tipped the people that served us during the week more than the recommended amount. Our problem was with drink tips added to every bill. When you get anything on the ship they add 15% gratuity on automatically. This includes a bottle of water or pop. So you are tipping the person to hand you a bottle. This is on top of NYC level pricing for drinks (ie 20 OZ of coke for $2.50 plus tip or $3.50 for a liter of water plus tip).
My wife and I felt sorry for the other couples at our table. For all of them, this was their first cruise and the things that upset us upset them. Unfortunately, they decided to not cruise anymore because of it. I understand that the new view in the cruise industry is to increase on board revenue. My wife and I both feel that Carnival has taken this to the extreme and lost the things that make cruising great.
I delayed this review for a month because my wife and I expressed these comments on our end of cruise comment card. I was waiting to see if Carnival would respond to anything we had said. As of today, we still have not heard from them.