My husband and I cruised to celebrate his 50th birthday. Our sons Mike, age 20 and Shawn, age 19 were with us.
We arrived at the port around 11:30am. Lines were long, very long, but moving steadily. First stop to check passports and sailing documents, then on to the metal detectors and carry-on scan. Unlike the airport, you leave shoes and belts on.
The next stop is in the actual terminal where you are guided to the yellow (lllooonnnggg) line or the green line (super short) or to the VIP room. Okay, here's where something didn't make sense. Why not add more windows and people to the yellow section and have just 2 or 3 open positions in the green section? And who do you need to know to get in the green line? Anyway, the line moved along fairly quickly, everyone was in a festive mood, and we were on board at 12:30, checking out the buffet.
The honest scoop about the food: the buffet was fairly good. There are some choices that are a better bet than the regular buffet line. There's a Mongolian stir fry station, a burrito bar which I didn't sample personally, but the boys said it was "awesome." There's a deli window where you can have to-order sandwiches and paninis. Just outside the buffet restaurants (which is called "Rosie's" after Rosie the Riviter), there is a grill with hot dogs and burgers. There are 4 buffet lines open during peak meal times, fewer when the rush dies down. Staff is quick to bus tables (much much much better in this regard than my last experiences with Holland-America and Royal Caribbean). Sodas are available at the bar for a price; you can prepay for unlimited sodas. Iced tea, coffee, water, and juice are gratis.
After a couple of days of buffet food, I was ready to experience the dining room. We opted for anytime dinner, which meant we could show up for dinner anytime between 5:45 and 9:00pm. Our dining room was separate from the main 2-story dining room with traditional early and late seating. Both dining rooms have the same decor and ambiance.
Based upon fairly recent past cruise experiences, I've come to expect cruise food to be on par with banquet food: Edible certainly, tasty sometimes, a decent meal for the most part. Whoa- the dining room surpassed by expectations. The food was better than meals on Royal Caribbean and Holland America. It was served at temperature, was seasoned well, there was a decent variety each night, and the kitchen was happy to accommodate special requests to leave off sauce or serve this meat with that side dish instead of the one listed. Service was very good- we had the same wait staff 3 nights and were on the other side of the dining room another night.
Room service has a limited menu- mostly sandwiches and a continental breakfast, but that was fine. On the lido deck, pizza is served 24 hours a day, and it's really good thin-crust pizza. At around midnight and 12:30am, staff brings Caribbean meat patties (aka empanadas) and pizza to those in the casino. There was one late-night buffet, with a Mexican theme. I was too addicted to my favorite slot machine and the patties to check it out.
Carnival did a very nice job with the food. They had a low-sugar/calorie dessert available each night, and they were good mostly. Their diet cheesecake was the only item that disappointed. Now, having said all that, those with severe food issues might have a hard time. I have a brother whose vegetarian/organic diet keeps Whole Foods in business, and there are not enough choices for him. The salad bar was good for people who like salad, but for a hard-core salad dude like my brother, there would not be enough choices. I imagine Carnival will make special meals and accommodations for those who detail their dietary needs in advance. Ask before you book if you have food issues.
The ship's decor has a heroes theme. It's not elegant and in places it's pretty garish, but it works to some degree. I and my husband prefer the open Main Street-type promenade and color scheme of Royal Caribbean ships. There was an atrium with bar and piano entertainment, glass elevators, but it was smaller and more closed-in than Royal Caribbean.
Our cabin was 7448, an extended-balcony room in the far aft of the ship. Okay, I am spoiled now. I loved having a balcony large enough for a chaise, 2 chairs, and a small table. It was much less windy in the rear, and with the way the bed was positioned, when the ship rocked at night, it was not side-to-side, but head-to-toe, which was so relaxing. I slept so soundly!
The cabin is small, but functional. We had plenty of closet, drawer, and shelf space for all we brought. The bathroom has several shelves for stuff. The shower was small (not a surprise), came with dispensers of shower gel and shampoo, and drained slowly. When we showered, the bathroom floor got wet....not too badly, but enough to necessitate a towel be used just for the floor.
The cabin attendant did a nice job of cleaning up twice a day. One thing he did that drove me crazy was moving my drinking glass out of the bathroom to the main room near the ice bucket. Okay, by time #2, could he not figure out I like a drinking glass in the bathroom? Oy, small complaint.
The rooms were well-insulated and you rarely heard noise from other cabins or from the hallway. I expect our noise level was low because we were far from the elevators and far off the beaten path. The only noise Clay and I heard was the occasional scraping of a deck chair on the balcony above us.
Our boys were in an inside room, 7438, right around the corner from us. They weren't expecting a room that compact. Mike had never been on a cruise before, and Shawn's last cruise was 6 years ago. The boys had guests over one afternoon and tried to order 8 chocolate milks and were told they could have just 6. This didn't make sense to them as they were obviously entertaining other ship's passengers.
The entertainment staff worked non-stop. Matt was our cruise director and his assistant "Dr E" was at most events we attended. There were so many choices of events that it's impossible to do everything. In the evenings, there were comedy shows in the small theater, the Eagle Lounge. Twice there were review shows in the main theater. While I appreciate the choreography and costumes and hard work that go into review shows, I just don't like them. We went to one and left about 20 minutes. It's just not our thing. We did attend and enjoy a magic show....and we especially liked the audience-participation "games" like Carnival Quest and the Marriage Game. This is where a good entertainment staff can make or break the show, and we laughed so hard and had such a good time and met some wild and wacky people (and if any of you post my "worm" on YouTube, you are toast)!
However, and this is a kind of huge thing for me....what they did for BINGO was just wrong. They played one game before the show. $20 for a 3-card chance to win $500. Just one game. Now, when it comes to bingo, I am a traditionalist when it comes to bingo. Play a session: 6 games, 2 straight line games, a letter X, a picture frame, the letter H, a cover-all. Bingo isn't just for old ladies. My 19 year-old loves bingo. So does his girlfriend. Bingo is an event.
The music all around the ship was a treat. Very late into the night you could hear some really good live music. Clay and I stumbled upon the piano bar in the Lindy Hop bar and were charmed by Taylor, the performer. On nights she wasn't there, Brad was at the piano bar, and attracted a loyal group. The disco was thumping late into the night and was crowded every time I walked in. There was a 4-piece rock cover band in the casino bar and they were incredibly good. Their guitarist could riff with the best guitarists.
There was plenty of karaoke too. The passengers were a talented group and the karaoke format gave them an audience and band with which to belt out their best.
We missed a port day due to weather. We pulled in to Grand Cayman in the midst of a storm and couldn't tender to port safely, so the captain opted to pull out and head toward Jamaica. It was windy and raining hard, so passengers had to find something to do inside. The cruise director and his staff put together some music trivia games and the casino was open. The lounges were full. I opted to wander to the spa to get a manicure. Clay napped and just relaxed. The extra sea day didn't faze us.
Speaking of the spa, on day 2, Clay and I took advantage of a spa special: a 75-minute treatment with full-body massage, including scalp, and feet, a facial, and Clay had a hot stone massage. This was pricey compared to what we'd pay for this at home, but this being Clay's 50th birthday celebration and knowing that you pay a premium for such things on a ship, we went for it. It was wonderful.
Sadly, the cruise had to come to an end. I ordered a continental breakfast to come early so I could have coffee and a bagel on the balcony as the ship pulled into Miami and the sun was rising. This was truly magical and breath-taking. The sun was cresting, the fingers of sunshine were splaying up from the horizon, and at this point, the quiet was broken by a lovely young couple have rambunctious sex on the deck below and a couple of balconies over from me. Uh folks, those "private" balconies really aren't, especially by the railing. Besides, the ambiance of the moment really deserved a more sensuous type of sex....but that's just an opinion from someone older and more experienced.
Carnival allows you to stay in your room until 8:30, which was very appreciated. We were in no hurry to catch a plane, so we took our time and by the time we vacated our cabin, our disembarkation group number was called and we left the ship, found our luggage without a problem, breezed through customs and our cruise was done.
All-in-all, we were very pleased with our Carnival cruise and would sail with them again. I would not sail with Carnival if I wanted a quiet, elegant cruise with gourmet food, This is a mass-market cruise that appeals to a middle-class crowd that likes to party and be part of the fun.