This was our first cruise on Carnival. We'd heard a lot of horror stories about the line, but were intrigued by the price difference. The old addage, "you get what you pay for," held true, but as long as you adjust your expectations, you it was a good value for the money.
We arrived in San Diego at about 1:30 for a 4:00 sailing. It took us about an hour and a half to get on board. We had to wait in seveal lines before we boarded. That was something that we're not used to, but it wasn't too bad. Hey, when you're know that the goal is being on board a cruise ship, how can you complain?
We booked a balcony room on the 8th deck (one deck below the Lido). We were concerned that we were right next to the forward elevators, and were concerned that there would be a lot of noise from the elevators and from traffic going back and forth. It was never a problem. In fact, we found the location to be perfect. Most of the activities on the sihp took place either on decks 9 and 10 or 2 and three. We found our location to be centrally located and easily accessible to all the other parts of the shift.
We'd heard a lot of stories about how gaudy Carnival ships could be. We found the ship to be elegant in its decoration. There was a lot of dark wood, which gave it an elegant appearance. Everywhere you went, you saw staff members cleaning. It was probably one of the cleanest ships on which we have sailed. Its also hasa a pretty intuitive layout, which makes it easily to navigate.
One of our favorite places on the ship was the Serenity deck. This is an adults only area on the back of the ship. It was a great place to relax.
I am a person who generally see's eating as a functional activity. Food has to be either very good or very bad for me to take notice. I thought the food on the ship was below average. It just tased like institutional food for the most part. We were told that eating in the Steakhouse was a must, so we booked a reservation on the last night. In my opinion, it was not worth paying $30 pp extra. The food, nor the service was that much different than what we had gotten in the MDR. I would not do it again.
There were also lots of lines in the Playa Grill (Buffet). Once or twice, we decided to just wait and come back later. Seems like the staff could have opened more buffet lines at times.
Perhaps our biggest complaint was the apathy of the crew. We are used to seeing the crew go the extra mile to make guests feel welcome and to ensure this is a special experience. That wasn't the case here. With rare exception, you were doing good to even get a smile and a good morning from the staff. We thought this carried over to different ship activities. Most just lacked polish (sp) and were rarely on time.
One of the best examples of how the staff seemed out of touch with passengers occurred in the night club. They had scheduled latin music (on a Mexican Riviera Cruise) from 10:00 - 11:00. Everyone seemd to enjoy it, and there were losts of folks up dancing and having a good time. At 11:00 on the nose, the DJ switched the music to techno music. The floor cleared almost immediately. After about fifteen minutes, someone asked the DJ to play some more latin music. He informed them that the latin music ended at 11:00. Really?
I won't go into the ports, as I don't think that has a lot to do with the cruise itself.
Disembarkation was fairly smooth, other than the fact that some of the Canadian citizens did not report to the Theater as request to clear customs, which ended up causing disembarkation to be delayed. That wasn't Carnival's fault. Also, passengers congregated around the gangway, making it difficult to get the people who's numbers had been called to leave. Once things started to flow, they flowed pretty smoothly. We were the last group to be called to leave, and I think we were off the sip by about 10:30.
Overall, I wouldn't say that our experience was intolerable, by any stretch of the imagination, but I would say that it just wasn't up to the standards that we came to expect from Royal Caribbean and Princess. However, I cannot deny that the price is intriguing. We have decided not to draw any conclusions about Carnival from this one experience, and will make them our first repeat experience on a cruise line. We're booking another trip on Carnival for next year.