We were traveling for our kids Spring Break Vacation and came in by way of Orlando where we sampled Disney for a couple of days. Me, my hubby, and three girls ages 13, 9, 6. We are fans of Carnival not only for their price, but they do tend to attract more families and that's good for the kids activities. Plus we have the Carnival Mastercard and rack up a lot of points to pay for the cruise.
I am probably one of the few fans of arriving at the last minute. Now, I usually don't do this by choice, but 2 out of my last 3 cruises, we arrived about 30 minutes before cut-off. Guess what, NO lines, your room is READY so no lugging around your carry-on, and yes, there is still plenty of food, and most people have eaten and are cleared out. Besides, you have the entire week to eat, why are you rushing for that first meal. The only thing is that they didn't have a photographer stationed for us last minute people, that was a bummer, but it sure beat getting caught up in that huge transition crowd and being hurried along. And that's the point of a vacation, relaxation. And you can take your own getting on board photos.
I will say that as a family of 5, it's hard to find rooms side by side. After much tweeking, I was able to book rear view balcony staterooms where one room included an entire wrap around balcony -- rear to the side. Thankfully, I had made this last minute change because we were able to open the partition between the two rooms for easy access. Had I been in the two rooms a few doors down, there was no way to open that door. Whew! However, I also learned the the room to the left of our balcony was also part of a private entry just for those two rooms, that would have been nice. So that's my only complaint about booking for all cruise ships, they could do a lot better to accommodate families traveling together and especially ones who need easy access to other rooms. Many agents, including carnival agents have no way of telling you if you can open the balcony partition for access and not all balconies open up.
With that being said, we had the great rear view balcony staterooms of 6485 and 6483. The huge balcony was GLORIOUS! We had the most incredible views. The only complaint would be that we didn't actually feel the ship rock from side to side like you would expect, no, it bounced. Yes, bounced. Like a constant bounce. So I guess I prefer bouncing to rocking, but still, it was a bit annoying. Bathroom was as usual, a small box but a good lay out. Corner balcony room was also a nice lay-out and slightly more spacious than the other rear balcony room. Lots of closet space, lots of under bed storage. No complaints there. Loved our room steward and who doesn't appreciate someone learning you by name by the next morning. Imagine how many people they meet in a month, and to remember you by name, that takes incredible effort. Great towel animals, great service with a smile.
FIRST IMPRESSION OF THE SHIP OVERALL
I was hoping that a larger Carnival vessel meant more open areas, not so. It's just like the smaller ships with just a few more decks. So the center atrium, the same, the casino and promenade, laid out the same. Bars galore. Larger auditorium for shows. Pool size, still small. Did not try serenity, I have 3 kids. And I sunburn easily, so I was really hoping for more of an open indoor area. It was okay, that's why I always book balcony, so I have my own private space. That was the other thing about being at the very back of the ship...we had a long way to walk for dinner, camp carnival, anything at the front of the ship. They could have assigned us the rear dining room instead of the center dining room and we would have just walked down a couple of floors. So bad planning there.
We opted for anytime dining. Usually prefer early when we're with the kids, and late if it's just me and my hubby. This time I thought we would be a bit more flexible, yet I still made dining room dinner mandatory. So we usually arrived between 6:30 and 7:00pm. It was great and not so great. I didn't like having a different waiter every night and I didn't like that sometimes there was a line to wait in for getting your anytime table. So from now on I think we will go back to early dining, because the kids activities started at 8pm. We did buffet for breakfast and lunch, some breakfast room service because of our awesome balcony. Tried the steakhouse one night and it was WONDERFUL, even with the $30pp add-on, the food, the service, was more like $75pp add-on. Kids didn't appreciate it, because it took too long and ran into their evening activities. Next time, we'll schedule dinner at 8pm and let the kids eat dinner buffet while we enjoy a night to ourselves.
I'm a bit of a Food Network/Cooking Channel junkie, so I know what to order and what to stay away from that is less than stellar. It's basically along par with hotel convention banquet food. Always go with steak, the ribs were good (messy), the lobster was incredible and they will bring you as many lobster and you want! I overdid it on lobster if that is possible. The last night, I was tired, and just wanted something simple. So I ordered the Panko Crusted Shrimp that came with fries. Being the foodie that I am, I was expecting PANKO dusted shrimp with fresh cut fries, I mean this was the Dining Room, not the cafeteria buffet on the top deck. What I got was equivalent to fast food, frozen food over-breaded, barely a shrimp to find entree with CURLY FRIES! Really, curly fries! This was my last night, what a horrible way to leave your vacation with a BAD entree. Thankfully we went to the dining room for breakfast the next morning and had a decent, cruise worthy meal before debarking. Serves me right for veering from my usual beef rule.
The Buffet was as it always is, plentiful and you can usually always find something you like. Didn't try fish and chips above the buffet area until the last day. It was good, wish I would have found it earlier!
We only went to the Beatles show and it was very good. Need to do more shows the next time instead of crashing in the room after a long excursion day.
We went to Key West, Ochos Rios, and Grand Cayman. My rule of thumb with ports is to ALWAYS review here and TripAdvisor for the best deal and most reliable tour. We rented a open air street vehicle in Key West as well as went to the Aquarium and Shipwreck Museum. We went on the stingray tour with Captain Dexter with Dexter's Fantasia Tours. He is a smaller out fit and really did a great job of getting us to the stingrays and then to a reef for diving. All the other boats going to the stingray area were loaded with people, we maybe had 20 people on our boat. Fantastic. And then Ochos Rios, booked with KnowJamaica Tours. You'll have to go to Tripadvisor to read reviews there. I'll stick to more about the ship here.
We had a late flight, so late debarkation was assigned. But if we had an earlier flight we could have so made it to the airport by 8am. Ft. Lauderdale works like clock-work, so we were back in port at 6AM and they were already calling self assist to get off the ship. The airport is literally within sight and maybe a 5 minute cab ride. So with late debark, we had a leisurely breakfast in the formal dining area and then went up to the pool deck to await our number. Everything ran smoothly. Luggage was waiting for us, caught a van to the airport. Long wait at the airport because we got off the ship so smoothly!
Probably not as much as I had expected as far as more activities and things to do with a bigger ship, just more people. But at least it didn't rock like the smaller ships. Most everyone was pleasant, but then again, I didn't have any problems, so can't say how they would have handled that. Room was spectacular, book rear corner balcony if it's in your budget. Will probably book Carnival again,it's just a better deal, but like the public indoor areas that Royal Caribbean offers. Carnival will let you bring on a limited number of bottled water/sodas, RC will not.