For those of you with children, I wanted to say a few words about Camp Carnival. My eight year-old spent quite a bit of time there (always at her request) and had three out of nine of her evening meals there. At the beginning of the trip, they gave us a schedule of the activities for the whole cruise, so that was nice. My 16 and 11 year-olds weren't really interested. My eleven year-old went twice during the first cruise and not at all during the second one. My sixteen year-old went once, for about an hour on the first day of the second cruise and just didn't like it. She is very mature for her age and doesn't like the way kids her age dance (or whatever you want to call what they do) or behave. She spent most of her time with Mom and Dad and it was great to get to be with her. They did offer after hours childcare (10:00pm to 1:00am or 3:00am) for an additional charge of $6.95 per hour per child (we did not utilize this, so can't vouch for anything). Overall, the staff at Camp Carnival were excellent and we had no reservations about leaving our little one there.
I am not a big fan of buffets for one reason...the people who take too much time to dip their food, therefore clogging up the whole line. With 2600 people on the ship, if everyone did this, it would be a disaster. No one likes standing in line, however, it seems like once they get up to the food stations, they have decided that now it is their turn so they are going to take their time. I watched people have conversations with their friends/family in front of the food, etc., etc. I hated to bring this up, but it is just one of those things that is difficult for me to understand...cruising would be an ever better experience if each individual would simply ask themselves "What would this cruise be like if every other passenger were just like me?" Overall, the buffet food was good and we enjoyed it when we ate it. We liked the Mongolian Grill, where you get to select your own stir-fry ingredients and watch them cook it for you. I also found the burgers/fries to be of really good quality and flavor and enjoyed them multiple times during lunch by the pool. They also have a sushi-bar on deck nine (just forward to the entrance to the casino area) that I finally discovered on the last night of the trip. I knew it was there, I just hadn't looked for it. It was open daily from 5:00pm to 8:30pm. There were several options to choose from and it was really good sushi. Given my feelings about buffets in general...I try to eat as many meals as possible (including every dinner meal) in the main dining rooms. During the first cruise, we were at a table for five in the forward (Imagination) dining room and during the second cruise we had to move to the aft (Inspiration) dining room where we had a booth for our family. I did request to stay at our first table for the second part of the trip, but alas, it wasn't meant to be. The maitre D' did personally come and apologize to us, which was a nice touch, but certainly not necessary. In the end, it was a good experience to move to the other dining room and we thoroughly enjoyed the staff in both. The food was really good and on par with previous cruise experiences that we have had. The seafood was always excellent, including the four lobster tails that I ate (spread out over two nights, of course). We also thoroughly enjoyed the chilled fruit cream soups (like mango cream, etc). We had great ribs and the beef shoulder on the last night was to die for. The only plate I wasn't thrilled with was the flat iron steak. It was not at all tender and I could have done without it. It is interesting that in the Imagination dining room, our food came out very quickly and we always felt a little rushed. The waiter would even take our dessert order with our dinner order (an experience I have never had before) and we would start getting food immediately. In contrast to that, in the Inspiration dining room, the service was on par with other fine dining experiences we have had and maybe even a little too slow at times. This is almost surely a function of the individual servers and not related to the dining room itself. My wife and I always enjoy getting to know the staff that we meet on our cruises and I must admit, it did seem like the dining room staff were usually quite rushed and did not converse as much as usual, which was not a problem, just an observation. My only complaint about the dining room was that during the second cruise, the bar server in the dining room only came to our table one time, which was the second night. When he came, we ordered three soft drinks, which he brought, but then he never returned. We saw him going to every table around us each night, but he would always walk right by us. I know it wasn't, but it really felt intentional. My wife kept needling me to say something, but the way I saw it, he was just saving me money every night and I wanted to see if it would change on its own. It didn't and I probably saved $50, so it worked out in the end. It just seemed kind of odd that he would ignore a good paying customer, but oh well.
PORTS OF CALL:
We were in Cozumel twice (once during each cruise) and Calica once during the second cruise. Our first day in Cozumel, we simply got off the ship and took a taxi to Paradise Beach, which cost $19 each way for my family of five and took about fifteen minutes to get there. We opted to pay the fee ($12 per person) for unlimited use of the water equipment (climbing iceberg, slide, etc.) and then $2 per person for five beach chairs with umbrellas for a total of $14 per person. They had nice facilities, including a beautiful pool, massage tables (extra fee, of course), showers and full Restaurant/bar. The service was outstanding an everyone seemed eager to please. This was similar to our experience at Playa Mia a few years ago, but I think we enjoyed this place a little better. A note of caution...the iceberg that people can climb and jump off of is in only about six to seven feet of water and to jump from that height (about 12-14 feet) seemed dangerous to me. Our second trip to cozumel we booked the ship's excursion "Passion Island by Power Catamaran" which cost $319 for five of us. The tickets were a little confusing and simple said to meet at the end of the pier. I wasn't sure which pier they were referring to and it turned out that we had to walk to the end of a different pier, so I would recommend allowing a little extra time to find it. It took about 45 minutes to get to Passion Island, but it was worth it. This was an all inclusive trip and the facilities were quite nice. The food was OK and the service was once again excellent. The beach was beautiful and they had similar water toys to that of Paradise Beach, which my girls thoroughly enjoyed. If you like swimming and enjoying time on a beautiful clearwater beach, I would highly recommend this excursion. They had some shopping there as well as hammocks and massages were also available (for a fee, of course of about $35 for 1/2 hour). We stopped in town and bought a few souvenirs on the way back to the ship. In Calica, on the advice of a friend, we took a taxi ($75 each way) to a place about 30 miles away called Xel-ha. It is similar to Xcaret and consists of a natural water park with a real lazy river and awesome snorkeling. It cost $80 per person for adults and about $40 for children under 1.2 meters tall. This was also all inclusive and was simply a beautiful place. Words/pictures can't do the beauty of this place justice and you really have to see it to appreciate it. There were lockers/towels and snorkeling equipment available throughout the park. Life jackets were required to swim/snorkel and they had stations all of the park with hundreds of jackets available in every size. There were multiple 15 foot cliffs to jump off of as well as a few zip lines that you jump off of into the water. We eventually made our way back to the lazy river which started deep within a mangrove forest and the sights were truly breathtaking. There were life jackets available there as well as single and double tubes. We really wish we could have spent more time there as we just didn't get to see/experience it all in the five hours we had. If given the opportunity, we will go back there again. When we left and went to the parking lot...our taxi driver was standing there waiting for us as he had promised and we made it back to the ship uneventfully. This was truly the most unique shore excursion we have ever had.
To be continued...