This was our first cruise with Carnival and our third cruise total. We found ourselves making a lot of comparisons to our previous cruises, both of which were with Royal Caribbean. Although we had a nice time overall, there were some things that we didn't care for and those things will definitely affect how (and if) we plan future cruises with Carnival.
About two days before we were due to set sail, Carnival sent out emails asking passengers not to arrive before 1:30 p.m. If Carnival wants to dictate boarding times, they should probably try to do so before people have made their travel arrangements. We got to the port at about 10:30 a.m. and parked in the lot. Parking was $50 for the whole week. This was cheaper than we expected, having been quoted on CC and on the Boston Port website at around $16 per day. There was a shuttle waiting for us, so we were on our way to the terminal within a few minutes of parking.
We went through security without any problems and were checked in by 11:00. We were in boarding zone 5 (they were already calling zone 2) and had no more than a 15-20 minute wait to get on board. We couldn't have asked for smoother boarding.
Our rooms weren't ready yet, so we headed to the buffet, which was crowded in the front but deserted in the back. We had a leisurely lunch and headed to our stateroom at about 1:30, just as the tables around us began to fill up.
Our room was always clean and fresh. The housekeeping was done well and consistently. We were surprised more than once on how quickly our room was tidied after we left in the morning. Glory could stand to be refurbished as some things in the room were threadbare and dated, but it was perfectly neat and clean with just one small, and kind of funny, exception. On Friday, while packing, my husband pulled his clothing down from the top shelf of the closet and was surprised when a pair of balled-up men's underwear (not his) came tumbling down with them. Our room steward was a pretty short guy, so maybe he couldn't check the top shelves very well. We both laughed about it and gingerly threw them in the trash but it was still kind of gross to find a stranger's dirty underoos in our room.
The only serious issues with our room (9214), were the bed and the balcony doors. The bed was terrible. The mattress was flat and hard with canyons in the middle of each side. All of the other reviews I've read say their beds were comfortable, so I guess we were just unlucky. When our room steward came around to say hello, we asked for a mattress pad. There are no mattress pads, he said, but he would put an extra duvet under the sheets to try to make it more comfortable. To his credit, he did, but it made little difference. Our first night was very uncomfortable and I didn't get much sleep. Just before dawn, on a whim, I turned a 180 and laid with my head at the opposite end of the bed. It was slightly more comfortable and I was able to get in a few hours of sleep. We did this the remainder of the cruise but, by the end of the week, I had dark circles under my eyes from lack of sleep.
The balcony doors slammed shut if you weren't careful. We tried to close ours quietly but occasionally we would forget. Our neighbors didn't even bother trying to be quiet. All hours of the day and night it would slam constantly as they went in and out, in and out, in and out. Then, one evening when the ship got up to speed, our balcony door whistled loudly all night.
Muster drill was extremely uncomfortable and I can't imagine doing it while wearing life jackets or with a disability that makes standing for long periods of time difficult. I realize it's not supposed to be fun but I think Carnival could come up with a way to make it less miserable for the passengers. On our cruises with RCCL, passengers were assembled in different rooms, such as the dining rooms and lounges, and were allowed to sit, rather than being herded like cattle onto a single deck and made to stand at attention two rows deep in a two-foot-wide space for an hour.
I love that Carnival allows passengers to carry wine on board. We've cruised twice before with Royal Caribbean and I wish they would do the same. It was nice to not have to purchase wine with dinner, although I was charged a small corkage fee ($10).
While on board, I ordered a few alcoholic beverages. They were all good (I really liked the frozen Twilight Zone) but it seemed like every bar had a different recipe for simple drinks and things like sour mix. They never tasted quite the same from one bar to the next. Hands down, the best bar on the ship is the Burgundy Martini Bar. You have to try the Spicy Chipotle Martini -- awesome! Aside from the fact that it was never crowded, Gladys, the bartender, was fantastic. She remembered our names and favorite drinks all week, she wasn't shy about suggesting things she thought we'd like if we didn't know what to order, and she had a lot of great stories to tell about places she has been during her contracts. We, of course, tipped her throughout the week but she got an extra big tip from us on the last night, 200% of our tab (about $40), for her outstanding service during our cruise.
Overall, the food was good, with the sole exception of the scrambled and hard-boiled eggs on the breakfast buffet. The scrambled eggs were entirely egg substitute with a sandy, custardy texture...blech! The hard-boiled eggs were overcooked to the point of being burnt. My husband got one on the second morning that must have been stuck at the bottom of the pot because it was dark brown on one side. I've seen reviews complaining about the food but we never went hungry, nor did we come across anything that was inedible (except for those eggs). In fact, while on board, I tried mussels for the first time in my life and loved them!
Dinner in the MDR was nothing to write home about but it was tasty and satisfying. The braised brisket was so delicious. I wish I had ordered another serving, but I was afraid it wouldn't have been ladylike!
The fish & chips bar was great! The breaded fish was perfectly done and the fries were excellent. The boulliabaise...oh...so delish. Plus, it seemed like not many people were aware of it, so any time we had trouble finding a table on the Lido deck or wanted a quiet breakfast or lunch away from the bustle of the buffet, we would head up the stairs.
The pizza bar was good, but took way too long to get any pizza other than veggie, which they just kept cranking out even if no one had ordered it. The guy serving the pizza kept saying, 10 minutes, 10 minutes to every person who walked up so there were 5-8 people standing around at any one time waiting for a single slice of pizza.
On our third night, we had reservations for the Emerald Steakhouse. The food was amazing, but I have to digress from it to talk about the service because, frankly, the attitude of the staff there ruined the experience for us.
No matter where we went on the cruise, the staff was excellent but there were a few standouts, like Gladys at the Burgundy, the girl at the coffee bar (always smiling and cheery), and several of the casino dealers (very helpful and pleasant). Unfortunately, the attitude of the staff in the Emerald Steakhouse needs adjusting. The moment we stepped through the doors, it was as if we didn't belong there. We were both dressed appropriately (DH in a suit and me in a nice dress) and, as always, we addressed everyone politely and with a smile, but we just got this vibe as if the staff were looking down their noses at us. Maybe it's an intentional part of the "gourmet" experience but it's one we could do without. We would have had a much nicer time if the staff had been as pleasant as they were on the rest of the ship.
This is one of the things that may discourage us from sailing with Carnival (or at least on older/smaller ships) in the future. The public interior decks were cramped and dark. Corridors were narrow. Anywhere there was a little bit of extra space, they crammed a photographer. On formal night there were no less than six photographers in the space around the lobby bar. We waited in line for ten minutes to go to dinner, only to find out it was a line for one of the photographers.
That brings me to another point. LINES AND CROWDS EVERYWHERE. Lines to get off the ship in port. Lines to get on the ship in port (talking middle of the day, not ten minutes before sailing). Lines to go to dinner. Lines to get lunch. Lines to get breakfast. Lines for ice cream. Lines for pizza. On formal night, we waited in line to get a beeper. When the beeper went off, we waited in line to turn it in. When we turned it in, we waited in line at the hostess counter to be seated. All the while we're being bustled this way and that, trying to keep out of everyone else's way. In the buffet, people darting in front of you, stopping dead in the middle of paths, children running this way and that. Pools always full, spas always full, deck chairs always full, tables always full. Not a pleasant experience at all. We much prefer Royal Caribbean ships where there the entrance to the dining rooms is nice and wide, there is a broad, bright promenade down the center of the ship, and you can actually get from one end of the ship to the other without being caught up in a sea of people.
We loved the ports. Saint John was pleasant, we took the scenic train ride and got to see the reversing falls as the tide was coming in. However, it seemed like the falls were pretty much the only real point of interest without driving out of town. Most of Saint John is refineries, industrial parks and factories...not much to look at.
Halifax was beautiful and it had lots of things to see. Historical graveyards, memorials, old buildings, public gardens...we love visiting places with lots of history and Halifax did not disappoint. We took the horse-drawn trolley excursion which was lots of fun. People on the street stopped and waved as we went by and, even though we were driving at roughly 10 MPH on city streets during lunch hour, not one single driver honked or yelled at us. Most of them waved and smiled. After our excursion, we walked down the pier to a little indoor farmers market. It wasn't a busy day and most of the booths were closed and most of what they were selling we couldn't take with us anyway, but it was nice to get out of the sun for a little while.
One last major issue I had with this cruise and it's probably the one that irked me the most. Gangs of unsupervised kids and tweens running around the ship causing havoc and annoying other guests. I thought Carnival provided activities for the kids so that didn't happen, but I've heard that the activities were often canceled for no reason.
Twice in one night, we encountered the same group of tweens pushing every button in the elevator. No consideration for any elderly or disabled person who may have needed to use it. That same group was still hanging out by the lobby bar at 1:00 a.m. still unsupervised. Another night, a few 9-12 year olds decided to play tag on the pool deck at 11:00 p.m. during the movie. There were a few families (with very well-behaved kids) trying to watch the movie, but with all the screaming, swearing and running, I don't know how they managed it. It just seemed like there were unsupervised kids all over this ship where they had no business being. It was either a lack of programming on Carnival's part, or a lack of parenting on the passengers' part.
That's pretty much it for my review. Overall we had a good time, but there are a few places where Carnival needs to improve. Hopefully, they will address them since Carnival seems to be a pretty good value for the money.