Carnival Cruise Line brands itself as the "fun ship" cruise line, but among many cruisers, it has more of a reputation for operating "party" ships. The distinction between the two is a bit blurry. Carnival touts its we-don’t-take-ourselves-seriously atmosphere by placing a high value on laughter, evidenced by its comedy clubs and silly poolside games like the hairy chest contest. Still, judgmental cruisers point to the excessive consumption of alcohol and late, late-night activities as proof that Carnival cruise ships – at least in the Caribbean – are just for those who like to party hard.
So, who’s right?
After a sailing on Carnival Conquest, a typical weeklong Caribbean Carnival cruise (shorter cruises might be a different story), I’m pretty sure I have an answer. Here’s what I found:
Lots of Alcohol, Few Drunks
With eight bars and lounges spread across the ship, plus waiters pushing the drink of the day by the pool and evening aperitifs in the main dining room, there is a lot of alcohol on Carnival Conquest. And people are imbibing, especially in the vicinity of the pool deck or in the late-night hot spots like the comedy club and nightclub.
But what I haven’t seen is people stumbling around blind drunk. Nor have I seen anyone throwing up after a day of too much drinking or getting into a drunken brawl. Even when I stayed up late(r) one night to check things out, the scene seemed a bit more raucous but I still didn’t see bad behavior. If you’re like me and hitting the sack before midnight, chances are you’re not going to see any alcohol-fueled bad behavior either.
Carnival Conquest is a ship that sleeps in, although we wouldn’t go as far to say sleeping it off. Most activities don’t begin until after 11 a.m., as few passengers are early risers (except on port days), preferring to tackle the new day at their leisure. Breakfast in the main dining room; even in the buffet, the pace is unhurried and the wait is not long. Lounges and the Deck 5 Promenade are quiet places to sit and read. Of course, that also means mornings can be a bit boring.
Laughter, No Matter What
Carnival places a high value on laughter. It’s hard not to be relaxed and have fun when you’re laughing. That means there’s lots of comedy on offer most evenings and lots of silly games during the day (both poolside and in the lobby). Whether you’re rooting on a hardly-hairy man as he grinds up against a judge during the Hairy, Hairy Chest contest or giggling at yourself because you believed RAF pilots get their kicks making penguins fall over by flying over them during the Urban Myth trivia game, there’s a lot to laugh about on Carnival Conquest. Of course, the more you’ve had to drink, the funnier it all seems but you don’t need to drink to have fun and laugh.
While there is evening music in a couple of spots on the ship, the DJ’d dancing doesn’t begin until after 10 at night. But even then, the party doesn’t really get started until closer to midnight (or later) when the adult-only comedy show is done or other activities, such as the Quest (a somewhat raunchy adults-only scavenger hunt that must be experienced to be understood) is over. And while there is no shortage of dance floor flirting, people really are at the nightclub to get their groove on and enjoy themselves, not stumble around drunk.
Abundant Family Fun
On Conquest (as well as many Carnival ships), there’s a whole lot of family activity going on, mostly in the daytime or early evenings. From the Seuss-a-palooza parade and Story Time to Hasbro Game Night, which gets kids (adult kids too!) involved in interactive classic family board games, there’s lot of wholesome fun for families to have together that don’t involve alcohol.
So yes, we’d say Carnival Conquest is a party ship – but only if you define a party as a place where you can have lots of fun. Sure, a lot of those activities may be even more fun when you’ve had a drink or two (and the line certainly does push the drinks). But you probably won’t see any of the crazy alcohol-fueled behavior one might expect on a classic "party ship," at least no more than you’ll find on any other warm-weather cruise.
What’s your take? Share your impressions of the Carnival vibe in the comments. Or search for your next Carnival Conquest cruise vacation.
Everyone has different priorities when they cruise. Some people never set foot in the ship’s casino or in an onboard shop, but race to the front of the line to sign up for specialty dining or a hot stone massage.
If you’re curious to know how others splash the cash at sea, you’ll be as interested as I am in the fun thread started on the forums by Cruise Critic member KatieBug28. And plenty of members clearly are, as it’s already running to 10 pages.
KatieBug28 was chatting with her mother-in-law about a forthcoming family cruise and how they would spend their vacation dollars.
“My MIL, for example, will not cruise without a balcony cabin. I feel like that’s just not worth it and we always book an inside,” she writes. “On the other hand, she would be content if she never did a shore excursion and just camped out on a beach in every port, while [my husband] and I often spend more on excursions than we did on the cruise fare! So, with that in mind, what things do you think are worth scrimping on, and where do you like to splurge? “
Besides excursions, her spending spree list also includes eating out in port; she shuns restaurants that cost extra onboard.
It didn’t take long for the responses come in.
We’d already tossed back several varieties of Russian vodka, each accompanied by pastrami, pickles and expert commentary from Yulia, our maitre’d on Viking Truvor. But the best, a smooth blend of chili pepper and honey, had been saved for last.
“This is our only foreign vodka. From Ukraine,” said Yulia, her chilled glass raised high in a toast.
“Well,” she added with a sly grin, “maybe not foreign anymore.”
It was hard to escape the irony. Amid rising political tensions, economic sanctions and talk of a new Cold War, passengers on Viking River Cruises’ 13-day Waterways of the Tsars journey were creating our own version of detente – one shot at a time.
Bookings of Russian river cruises have slowed considerably since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014, with several companies scuttling their programs entirely. But as I discovered on a mid-August trip, a water-based meander between the Baltic port of St. Petersburg and the capital, Moscow, provides a fascinating – and safe – glimpse of a country that remains an enigma to many Western tourists.
Here are six things you should know about river cruising in Russia right now (and for more, read Russia River Cruise Tips)
River cruises in Russia have been greatly reduced in 2015, and Ukraine has been canceled entirely. Because of the ongoing fighting between Russia and Ukraine, Viking has canceled Dnieper River sailings since 2014 (though a new “Kiev to the Black Sea” route will launch in 2016), and operated only three of its five Waterways of the Tsars ships this summer. Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection scaled down to four Russia departures this year, versus a dozen in 2014. Scenic Tours, whose 112-passenger Scenic Tsar is the newest river ship in Russia, also cut back on its 2015 departures and will offer four sailings in 2016.
Look for deals.
Softer demand, coupled with a Russian currency that has lost more than half of its value over the past year, mean good deals: Several of my fellow passengers on Viking Truvor said they were lured to Russia by two-for-one deals that included free airfare. Scenic’s 2016 cruise fares, starting at $6,730 per person, are about 15% lower than 2015.
But don’t count on bargains on shore.
Passenger arrivals to Russia from Western countries are down sharply this year, and the wait to see Lenin’s Tomb in Moscow’s Red Square was less than 10 minutes on a recent weekday. But visitor-laden tour boats still skitter across St. Petersburg’s scenic canals, and on our included Viking excursion to St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, the crowds were shoulder to shoulder by mid-morning.
As for prices, the 600 rubles (about $9) that one St. Petersburg tour company touted for a 24-hour hop on, hop off bus seemed like a great deal – until the ticket salesman told me they charged 300 rubles last summer and had raised rates to adjust for currency devaluation.
Getting a Russia visa is still a hassle.
Americans and Canadians are not required to provide fingerprints and apply in person for a Russian visa under a pilot program announced late last year (British citizens, however, are included under the new Russian rules). But even without fingerprints, landing a visa can be challenging.
If you’re sailing on a ship that calls in St. Petersburg and you plan to take a ship-based tour, you won’t need to pony up for a separate visa. Passengers on river-based cruises, though, must apply for one well in advance (typically four to six weeks before travel) and be prepared to fill out an intricate online application form. Most passengers opt to go through a visa service; Viking-recommended Generations Visa Service charges a minimum of $259 per person plus any expediting fees.
Menus won’t be limited to borscht and potatoes.
Russia has officially banned imported meat, cheese, vegetables, fish, and other foodstuffs from Western countries since last year, in retaliation for sanctions imposed after Russia’s Crimea annexation and the country’s support of pro-separatists in eastern Ukraine. Even so, items favored by Western passengers – from Norwegian salmon to Austrian marmalade – have continued to appear both on shipboard menus and at land-based restaurants. And the Kremlin’s import ban doesn’t include European wines, which are served gratis at lunch and dinner on Viking’s ships.
Ditch the Cold War stereotypes.
According to a recent Moscow-based opinion poll, more than 80% of Russians have an unfavorable view of the United States (about the same percentage that give President Vladimir Putin high marks for his performance). But while smiles from random passers-by may be rare, so are the scowls that were synonymous with the old Soviet Union.
Our last day in Moscow, when I asked a young man for directions from Red Square to Gorky Park, he gallantly insisted on taking me to the nearest Metro stop (now equipped with English signs and wifi), paying for my fare and accompanying me to the park. Once a derelict magnet for drunks, the place made famous by a Cold War novel of the same name welcomes locals and tourists with oversized lawn loungers, synchronized fountains and fancy restaurants: yet another surprise in a destination that’s full of them.
Tip: One of the biggest mistakes a cruiser can make is never checking his or her onboard account — where every purchase you make by swiping your key card adds up. It’s easy to spend money on extras such as alcoholic drinks, spa treatments and souvenir photos when you don’t have to carry around cash or a real credit card. But if you don’t keep track of your spending, you may be surprised with a big bill at the end of your cruise. We recommend checking your statement a few times during your cruise.
Full Article: Read 11 more surefire ways to have a miserable cruise.
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Cruise Ship: Celebrity Xpedition
Itinerary: Galapagos Islands
Background: A welcome bottle of Champagne and two complimentary massages were the perfect start to alldog49 and his wife’s Galapagos adventure. The couple — 66 and 70 years old and both Elite-status members — planned to test their limits in port and recharge on the ship. And they did, with “difficult” excursions and loyalty perks such as the Captain’s cocktail party. Read to find out what they loved most.
Onboard Highlight: Xpedition’s small size, which makes it easy to meet and mingle with new people.
Port Highlight: Walking on the lava fields.
Don’t Miss: Zodiac rides. You’re likely to get wet, but alldog49 says that’s all part of the fun.
Watch Out For: The pillows. Alldog49 thought they were a bit thin and requested more.
Each week, we choose five cruise reviews written by our members, and showcase one as the Member Review of the Week.
Check out more cruise reviews or write your own. Who knows; yours may be featured next!
Get your September 2015 Desktop Calendar Wallpaper! So many places in the world can be accessed through cruising, including some countries that you might not consider as a typical vacation. Case in point? The Danube River, between Serbia and Romania. River ships here float by some stunning scenery, including the Danube River Gorge pictured here (For more, read Cruising Eastern Europe on the Danube River).
Here’s how to put this photo on your computer, tablet or cell phone:
1. Click on the following links to get the size that you want. Each link will open a new window (or tab) displaying the wallpaper, in the appropriate format for your screen size.
2. For the desktop versions, right-click on the image, and choose the option that says, “Set as Desktop Background”, “Use as Desktop Picture,” or something similar. The wording depends on your browser. Mac users should ctrl-click and save the photo on their computer in the “Pictures” folder.
3. If the image does not fit your desktop background neatly, you may have to go to your preference panel (on a Mac: System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver > Desktop; on Windows: Control Panel > Display > Desktop) and choose”Fit to screen” as the display mode of your background image.
4. For phone and tablet, open the link and center the photo on your phone so it fills the screen. Take a photo and save it on your device. Then go to your Settings and find your Wallpaper (on an iPhone, this is under “Wallpapers & Brightness.” Set the saved calendar photo as your wallpaper.
Check back on September 30 for the October 2015 calendar.
The old adage goes that you should breakfast like a king, and nutrition experts always say it’s the most important meal of the day. However, it seems quite a few members are getting bigger breakfasts than they bargained for.
Apparently, it’s not unheard of for nocturnal practical jokers to go around and alter room service breakfast tags. And while some members see it as a harmless prank, others wonder what can be done to stop the culprits in their tracks.
Members Pete and Judy started a thread on the forums following an unexpected breakfast banquet on Holland America Line’s Oosterdam.
One of them reports: “Someone tampered with our order by marking three extra omelets, bananas, yogurt and extra juices. I was surprised when I opened the door and saw the room service waiter struggling with this giant tray. He showed me the tag and I could see where someone ordered me extra stuff. The waiter said it happened five times the previous week. In the future I am considering using a red pen or something to mark my stuff. But, it has only happened once to me in over 100 days cruising. Any thoughts or ideas? Has anyone else had this happen?”
Fellow member family man 57 says: “How spooky! Just thought I’d check in the Holland America message boards having just returned from a week-long trip on the Ryndam (fabulous BTW), where on the morning of disembarkation eight omelets with bacon and sausage were delivered to our room. Upon phoning room service in case another family was waiting for their order, the waiter came along with the room card which had clearly been altered. I hate waste, and to see the mound of food being discarded made me very annoyed.”« go back — keep looking »