We took this cruise as our very first actual Carnival Cruise, although we have been on ship tours and we did a two-night agent cruise on the Victory. We took along two of our boys, ages 13 and 9. This was also the first time we have ever used cruise line air.
The flight schedule was as expected with an early morning departure and one change of planes each way. No problems presented themselves and we got to Tampa on time. The agents at the airport were very helpful in directing us to our bus and helping us get our bags situated. After a very short wait we were on our way to the pier. Once at shipside it was also an easy process to get checked in and on board, taking about 20 minutes total.
She's just like the other fantasy class ships, long, glitzy and well organized. Due to her construction its hard to find open deck until you get all the way to the top of the ship. All was kept in very good shape throughout the week. With 400 kids on board for this Thanksgiving week sailing we were impressed with the feeling of friendliness among both guests and the staff. My biggest complaint is that there was far too much cigarette smoke on Sensation Blvd and the kids seemed to have control of the disco all week all night long. Also, they have closed Joe's Cafe and are using it for art previews and as a place to sit and hang out for the youths. I craved a cappuccino and had a hard time finding one most evenings.
If you haven't been on Carnival in a while you need to know that they are providing guests with cabin bathroom amenities now. No great shakes, but its nice not to have to pack shampoo. The cabin was a very good size for four and it was kept neat and clean all week. We never had to call for extra towels or toilet paper. There did seem to be an ice shortage some times.
I didn't participate very much. I did sit through a game show and tried to be a contestant but to no avail. Our friends won $500 at bingo. We played trivia at poolside once or twice. Generally I hung out at the pool, on aft deck or in the spa. I like that there is no additional charge for use of the steam, sauna and pools there and it offered a nice escape from the noise and the crowds.
They absolutely loved it. This was my 13 year olds third cruise and his favorite by a long shot. The schedule for the kids is very extensive and he was always busy and often absent from dinner with us. The 8-year-old had the same experience (his second cruise). While Carnival is not my top pick for myself, we'll definitely use them again for a family cruise.
The dining room was very packed but the service was good and efficient. There was no problem with over bearing head waiters and no problem with getting extra entrees or special requests. We were in early seating but skipped and then came to late twice during the week. Both times they had no problem seating us and even refused a tip when offered (believe it or not). The lido was usually pretty busy but finding a table was not hard. They are a bit slow in getting the places bussed but there were allot of guests and the staff size remains the same from cruise to cruise. In all things up there were fine. My wife loved the high tea service daily.
The Grand Cayman stop is just too short at 4 hours. Do Sting Ray City first thing in the morning so that you have some time on your own. The shopping is high end but don't forget to take home some rum cake. If you just want to hang out there is a good snorkeling site right near the tender dock. Cozumel is a full day and in my opinion it is the best port on the Western Caribbean. We were supposed to scuba but the weather was rough so we hung around town. When you are there don't miss Chankanaab for beach and water fun. In town we found a restaurant called Pancho's Backyard. It was great and they had the most potent and tasty margaritas I have every "drunk". New Orleans is fun with the Aquarium a short walk away and then on to Jackson Sq. and the French Quarter for some interesting sights and sounds.
This ship provides a good value most of the year but because of that you can expect it to be crowded at times. Our ship was sold out and there were literally hundreds of kids on board but even so we hardly ever stood in a line and never had a problem finding a deck chairs (well maybe twice). Carnival provides a very good family cruise with great programming and a clean and well serviced environment.
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