Norwegian Spirit vs. Carnival Ecstasy
I hope this helps other cruisers make a better decision than we did on our last cruise. First of all, the ships are basically comparable in age and size. However, Norwegian's Spirit was commissioned in 1998, it has a maximum capacity of 2018, a length of 881, and a tonnage of 75338. Carnival's Ecstasy, on the other hand, was commissioned in 1991, it has a maximum capacity of 2694, a length of 855, and a tonnage of 70367. Therefore, technically the Spirit is newer, bigger, and sails with less people for starters.
We made our first sailing experience with Norwegian on the Spirit and absolutely fell in love with cruising. Since we wanted to take our two college age boys with us to introduce them to cruising as well, we booked the four of us on Carnival's Ecstasy. We wanted to take them on a short cruise to the Bahamas, and we did not have to fly to the port if we choose Carnival. This was a major error in judgment! Looking back, I would have rather driven two days or paid the extra funds for air flight to get to the Miami port and sailed with Norwegian instead of Carnival without a second thought!
Initial Impressions - Here is the rundown on the comparison of the two cruise lines. When we sailed on Norwegian's Spirit and the ship set sail, we had time to go to the top deck, wave at everyone at the terminal, and take several pictures of our departure. On Carnival Ecstasy, we instead were inside the ship and crammed into a standing room only safety drill in one of the ships lounges. In the middle of the drill, my son suddenly realized that the ship was moving. I first said surely not, but I looked down at my watch and realized it was the time that we should be leaving. There was no special mood set for such an important occasion especially for first time cruisers.
Ship appearance -- Both of these ships have recently been refurbished and were kept very clean, however, the Spirit is much more elegant than Ecstasy.
Restaurants -- The Spirit has many more to choose from, but many of them have an extra cost. However, when only comparing the "free" food areas, the Spirit still wins hands down. The buffet on the Ecstasy was not as large or as organized. Carnival also closed down the buffet at various times to make the change over to lunch items or dinner items which resulted in us finding the buffet closed on several occasions. Norwegian's change over from one meal to the next was seamless, and we never found the buffet closed. The main dining rooms were comparable as far as food quality, but Norwegian Spirit's dining room itself was far superior to Carnival's dining room because it was so beautiful and elegant. However, it was wonderful to have the choice of the famous "Chocolate Melting Cake" EVERY night on Carnival's menu, as well as their wonderful lemonade and tea on the buffet! On the other hand, Norwegian did a "Chocolate Buffet" one evening that was filled with every kind of chocolate treat you could imagine which was beautifully presented with many elaborate ice sculptures. This was an event that a video camera was a must so people back home could grasp the quantity of the chocolate and the beauty of the ice sculptures. We never tried Norwegian's room service because there was never a need to use it, but we were forced to eat cereal for breakfast from Carnival's room service because of a time issue. On mornings when we were leaving the ship and going to be in a hurry, it was impossible to even think about going to the breakfast buffet. The lines for breakfast were always extremely long, and we couldn't risk it. So, we opted for the very short menu items offered for room service at breakfast. We never experienced any kind of wait at the breakfast buffet, or any time for that matter, on Norwegian's Spirit whether we were on a sail day OR an excursion day.
GYM -- I'll have to say Carnival wins this one for a change! The gym was much larger and had more machines for both aerobics and weightlifting than Norwegian.
Pool area --Although Carnival had waterslides, an adult only area, and putt-putt, the one pool was TINY, and people had standing room only every time we walked by. Needless to say, we never wanted to get in! The serenity deck is a very small area at the back of the boat with a few nice loungers and umbrellas, but there is not room for many people. The water slide area would be wonderful for couples with kids of any age, but it looked difficult to play putt-putt while at sea with the wind blowing the ball all over the place. Norwegian had more pools and no adult only section, but there were always plenty of places to get off to yourself and enjoy soaking up some sun. The nice thing Norwegian employees did for you while you laid in the sun was that they would come by periodically and spray you with a misting bottle/fan combination. I totally forgot about that until I was baking out on one of Carnival's decks one afternoon.
Carnival's Excursions -- Carnival's prices for the same excursions were astronomical compared to Norwegians. Therefore, we did our own booking for Atlantis while we were in Nassau through a local tour company called Majestic Tours. By the time you added cab fare for both ways, it was still way less expensive than booking through Carnival. The tour we booked for the Freeport day was cancelled the morning of the excursion. They stuck a flyer under our cabin door and said that there were not enough people signed up for the excursion, so they were cancelling it. At that point, we did not have time to book anything else, and the Freeport stop was totally worthless because there is nothing to do at the port area there. Carnival's private island was truly amazing, but getting there was a bit unsettling to say the least. The tender boats were late, and we were all being funneled into one single stair well going down to level three all at the same time. There were no assigned special places to meet (especially if you had booked an excursion for specific times), and everyone was just told to make their way down to deck three all at the same time. Needless to say, this was an absolute nightmare! It was wall-to-wall people who kept inching closer and closer together, and it took us one solid hour standing in a hot, crowded area before be actually got off the ship. A lady up in front of us told her family that she would just meet them later on the island, and her husband looked back at all of the masses behind her and asked, "Where are you going to go?" I anyone suffered from severe claustrophobia, it would have been a very bad situation. However, our sigh of relief was short lived because they crammed us onto a tender boat that was already overloaded with people. There were no seats on the top level, so we continued to the bottom level only to find that there were no seats down there either and more people kept coming in behind us. They continued to send more people onto the boat until there was no more standing room either. One major problem with this was that some of those people were standing in a spot where they didn't even have a rail to hold on to when the boat started moving, and we also began to wonder about the boat's maximum capacity! When we finally got to the island over an hour late, we proceeded down to our private cabana only to find it not ready for us. One of the four floats was missing, and an employee asked us to leave for a while so that she could sweep out the place. When we went for lunch, two of the other floats were stolen and our neighbor pointed out the people who stole them. She also said that they were watching us and waited until we left to go get lunch to come and steal the floats. We were all relaxing on the deck of the cabana when another one of those people came and tried to take the last float. My son and husband told them to stop, but the guy just looked at them and continued to take the float. When I realized what was going on, I started walking toward him while shaking my head and saying NO because he seemed to not understand English, and he finally stopped and ran behind the cabana. We knew from the reviews that people who rented cabanas had a problem with this because of the very small "private" sign on the porch, and that is why I boarded the Ecstasy as soon as I could so that we could reserve the very last one which was away from the most populated areas on the island. Nonetheless, after my husband and son went to retrieve the other two floats from the two guys out in the water, we watched them go back to their group and saw them putting on clothing over their swimsuits getting ready to leave. What upset us the most was that we could see that the clothing they were putting were actually CARNIVAL UNIFORMS! This was NOT our idea of great customer service. I was absolutely livid and put in a specific complaint with Carnival about this and the way we were herded like cattle that day.
Norwegian's Excursions, on the other hand, were each and every one a delight! Everything went smoothly, and there was no ciaos while disembarking on any port day. If we had booked an excursion that began at a specific time, we had instructions to meet in a specific place on the ship and wait until our time to exit the ship. When we returned to the ship from each excursion, we were greeted by several smiling faces ready to spray our hands with sanitizer and give us a warm, moist towel to wash our faces with as we boarded the ship. We decided that our excursion in Belize was too similar to the one we had booked in Cozumel, so we went down to the shore excursion desk, and they made a switch for us in about five minutes. Every day was relaxing including these port days only because everything was so well thought out and organized with Norwegian.
Entertainment -- When comparing the two, you could say that Carnival didn't really have any quality entertainment. Norwegian Spirit's main theater was awesome and absolutely huge. They had a Broadway type show, a magician/comedian, or acrobats every night. They did two of these types of shows each evening so that you could catch every show no matter if you had early or late dinner. In another lounge type area, Norwegian had other kinds of entertainment and mixer type gatherings going on each evening as well. You could just sit back and watch the guest entertain each other or join in with the fun. Carnival, on the other hand, had only one really good show on the last night. They also had two comedians on board, but they did all of their routines on the same night and repeated those same routines the last night of the cruise while the singers and dancers were doing their grand finale. During the comedians' first appearance, the ships singers and dancers did their "country" based show. Therefore, if you wanted to see the comedians on one of the two nights they performed, you had to miss one of the show's singers and dancers' performance. So basically, we saw the comedians on one night and the singers and dancers on another night. There was nothing else to choose from the rest of the cruise. The other nights consisted of guest driven entertainment like guest talent shows, silly competitions of stacking cups, and the newlywed game. Yes, Norwegian did some of this, but not in the main theater where the real entertainment was going on. Their shows ran twice each night, so guest that wanted to do both types of entertainment could easily squeeze in as much as they wanted. The main complaint I heard on Norwegian was that guest had so many choices they couldn't possibly do everything that interested them. On Carnival, we found ourselves inside our cabin well before bedtime one night because of the lack of any quality entertainment and happened to turn on the TV. They were showing the previous night's talent show, and we could not believe they let one poor man get up and embarrass himself the way he did. There were only three guest performances and one guy from the ship played his violin. My husband remembered that they were trying to get at least six guests to perform. After seeing what the actual performances, I decided it was probably a good thing they only had three volunteers.
Bottom Line -- If you want to take pleasure in partaking in abundant eating venues, feel relaxed for a whole entire week, be pampered by everyone on the ship's staff while being surrounded by its beautiful decor, enjoy good quality entertainment EACH evening, and have great experiences on your excursions, then Norwegian is what you want! If you want the bare minimum of all these things and be grateful to get to go abroad for a little cheaper price, then Carnival is what you want! I'll have to say that Carnival has a very good interior price for a cabin with a view when you book one of their porthole cabins. They also make a good burger at their poolside grill, their lemonade hits the spot on a hot day, their chocolate melting cake is fabulous, and their gym is a great place to go try to work off all those calories. However, these tiny pluses can NEVER match up to all the good points about Norwegian. We were so sad that last night on the Spirit because we going to be leaving the ship the next morning and we didn't want to start packing. However, the last night on Carnival, we were all (including my two college boys) happily packing and looking forward to getting out of there while chanting NEVER AGAIN! Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, then shame on me! If I had read a detailed comparison like this before I booked, I certainly would have given more time and consideration before making my final decision. Carnival may still have won out because of that Miami departure thing, but it won't happen again. I would rather stay home than waste my money on another cruise like the one we experienced with Carnival. I hope this helps people who are feeling anxious about taking a Carnival cruise. My suggestion is to find an alternative cruise line that offers your destination or maybe even change your itinerary if it means you can bypass Carnival.