We've cruised Carnival 3 previous times. This 4th Carnival cruise was a different experience. Embarkation in Ft. Lauderdale was a bit troublesome. The line to get into the terminal was really long, but it was to be expected with the new security measures. What we didn't expect was that after moving SLOWLY in the outside line (about 45 minutes-albeit in the shade), one of the porters told 2 fellow passengers who had just arrived, that they could cut in front of us in line, rather than stand at the end. That wasn't Carnival's fault, but it made cranky passengers even crankier.One of the first things we noticed when we got on board was that about 70% of the passengers were seniors (retirement age or older - we're in our early 30s). Just to clear this up, THIS DID NOT MAKE OR BREAK THE CRUISE IN ANY WAY, I just mention it to point to the fact that the cruise experience is different. The activities are toned down a bit - if you've cruised Carnival before, you'll notice the difference, but once again, it didn't add nor detract from the cruise.We took the Exotic Western itinerary which visits Belize, Costa Rica and Panama. If you've cruised before and visit ports of call simply for the endless shopping (my husband and I don't), this cruise IS NOT like that. There's barely any shopping. There are also no party boats (like in Mexico) in any of the ports. What this itinerary is ideal for is to explore other cultures, indulge in the ecology of the area and admire the natural beauty of the area and their people. Belize is a poor country (by most American standards) but it's very quaint and the people are extremely friendly. We took the Belize City Tour, which was a great way to see a large part of Belize City. My husband and I have visited Costa Rica before, so when we arrived in Limon, we took the horseback riding tour, which gave us a chance to look for exotic animals and admire the tropical forest areas. In Panama, we took the Grand Tour which was amazing and worth every penny. The first part of the trip takes you around Gatun Lake to look at the beautiful foliage and seek out toucans, howler monkeys and exotic birds. Next, we visited the Embera Indian village. They'll warn you on the ship, but the women are topless and the men wear loincloths. Although you may not be used to this, take the time to experience their culture. After a brief explanation of their way of life by the tribe leader, they will dance for you (and ask you to join them). They also have some wonderful handicrafts to sell. The last part of the trip visits the Gatun Locks and if you're lucky (like we were) they'll be a ship crossing the locks and you'll see first hand how they work. It's really cool!Back aboard the ship, the service was as wonderful as always. One of the more luxurious experiences would have to be the Golden Fleece Supper Club. The price is $25 per person but the service you will receive is unmatched. It's a little "fru-fru" but well worth it - it's a true dining experience. The music is wonderful and the food and service (a hostess will refold your napkin every time you get up from your table)is above and beyond what you'd expect.We loved this cruise and itinerary and would recommend it highly to others. If you go, please be open minded, especially to other cultures, so you can make the most of your trip.Happy sailing!
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