We just got back from a week long cruise aboard the Carnival Legend. I had previously sailed Carnival 2 times, and had sworn I would never, never again sail on the line. However, finding a reasonably priced, 7-day Caribbean cruise, out of Florida this Summer was impossible without including Carnival in the mix. Here's a review from a sworn Carnival hater!
There were three moms and 7 kids (ages 7-11) traveling together. We're Floridians, all have cruised numerous times, pretty regular people. We left the dads at home to have a week summer trip with just the kids and moms.
Day 1: Embarkation, the ship, ATD, Cruise Director, entertainment
We boarded the ship in Tampa on July 1. Embarkation was swift and we were heading on board by noon.
Our first impressions of the decor of the ship were varied. One child in our party said, "This isn't a ship, it's a MANSION". Another immediately hated the decor and said it looked like a combo of a poker room and a museum. I really disliked the decor of the ship. I'm not a Farcus fan by any means, but I was thinking a neon playground would be impressive for the kids. This ship is no neon playground. It was dark, dreary, and really isn't suited for Caribbean sailing. It will fit much better with the future Europe sailings it is destined for. As far as condition there are few problems. People have vandalized the insides of elevators and carved words in to the shiny metal. Our room had numerous cosmetic flaws (chips and dents), but was clean and well-kept by our Steward, Richard. There is the typical rust and wear and tear. One in our group had an on-going problem with ants in their cabins all week.
Everyone in our party headed up to the buffet and pool deck. The lines at the buffet were super long, and the tables were mostly taken. We wound up eating at the pool grill, which would become a common lunch theme for us - not because it was good, but because it was easy.
We participated in the deck party, signed up for the master mixology contest and line danced the afternoon away. We then went up to our rooms to unpack and get ready for dinner.
This was our first ever experience with Anytime Dining. We were really not impressed. EVERY NIGHT, no matter when we arrived, we waited for a table. For the first several nights, we had different waiters and it just didn't flow right. We finally wound up finding a waiter we loved, and we would wait for a table to open up in his section. There were very long lines for ATD every night, no matter the party size. Literally down the hall, past the lounge, etc. No one had any idea how long it was to get a table. When we asked about a time to dine where we might not encounter lines, we were told that basically from 5:30p to 8:45p there were lines for ATD. We would suggest fixed dining to others.
ALSO -VERY IMPORTANT FOR LARGE PARTIES. There are no tables for more than 8 available in the anytime dining section of the dining room. If you have more than 8 in your party that would like to sit together, you need to request fixed dining.
Dinner was definitely hit or miss. Some items were good (soups), some were just OK. We never had anything inedible. It just wasn't fabulous and the choices were mostly meh. Cheap cuts of meat, clearly banquet quality food, not great.
We went to the welcome aboard show and experienced James Dunn, the cruise director, for the first time. He's a young guy, very funny, dry sense of humour. I enjoyed him, but did note that he always seemed like he was in a hurry and rarely stayed through an entire activity. I'm not sure if it's a function of being new in the role on the ship, or just not feeling that the passenger activities were a huge priority for him. His staff (particularly Peter (peee-tah!) and Robin) were very capable of handling everything.
The Entertainment onboard had some faults. The dancing and singing was pretty so-so, but the sets, costumes and production values were good. One night we had an "Action Comedian" and he was really funny. He actually took an older lady from the audience and unicycled with her on his shoulders. The other two comedians we only saw in the brief welcome aboard show. They seemed to indicate that their "family friendly" material wasn't their best stuff, so we skipped the frequent shows in Punchliner. We also had Marcus Anthony (say it like you mean it!) do a couple Motown shows one night. He was good and the crowd loved him. The entertainment was definitely varied, but we were not bowled over by quality.
There was A LOT of karaoke scheduled on the ship. Several sessions a day. 2 DJ's aboard that spun the typical Macarena, Wobble, Cupid Shuffle, etc on the pool decks. We did see some live music, with a singer in the lobby most nights, and the show band.
As far as acitvities we had the typical hairy chest contest, hula hoop contest, lots of trivia, scrapbooking, towel folding, yadda yadda yadda. Nothing too different or impressive.
Two days they had Laser Tag in a blow-up arena set up on the Follies stage. This cost an INSANE $5 per kid for 5 minutes of play. For my family, that was $15 for 5 minutes. Ridiculous. And, the kids said it wasn't even that fun.
Day 2: Fun Day at Sea - Room Service, Chair Hogs, Slide, Pools, Ship on a Stick!
One of the things I really, really love about cruising is Room Service. I love having a hot pot of coffee delivered to the room and enjoying it on the balcony. I love a mid-day snack. We always order cookies and milk before bed. We do tip room service $2-$3 per order. To give you an idea of how often we ordered - I went through $50 in singles on room service alone. Room service on this ship was ATROCIOUS. Every single time (EVERY TIME!) they either forgot something, made something wrong, AND sometimes it took forever! This morning's order which included three bowls of cereal was delivered with no spoons. The bagel was seriously inedible (and I LOVE a bagel, even a bad one) and the toast was even yucky. It clearly did not stop us from continuing to order, but it was really, really annoying every time it happened. Seriously, the breakfast order is written on a card - how hard is it to get right? Anyhow....
We ate our breakfast and headed up to the Lido around 9am. Every chair was taken with towels. I was a teeny bit annoyed, but the kids wanted to ride the slides anyway, so we went up to the slide deck and hung there for a while.
The kids were really looking forward to the slide. They typically spend half the day on the slide when we head to a resort. I was really surprised when each of them went down about twice before they gave up. They said it was slow and boring. All 7 kids gave it a thumbs way, way down! Also, while we were sitting up on the deck the "whale tail" started emitting a lot of smoke and ash. And not like floaty, white ask. Like almost like small granules of kitty litter. It was like being sandblasted.
At about 10:00am, we headed back down to the actual pool decks to try to find a spot. EVERYTHING on deck 9 was taken. We wound up scoring a table for 4 in the shade and hanging there for the morning. There were too many people in both pools. It was seriously insane. This pool deck is not enough to handle this passenger load in the Caribbean. Just way too small.
SHIP ON A STICK:
We were all three selected to make our concoctions for the Master Mixologist contest. That was sooooo fun. My drink, the LEGEND LOVAH won! It had tequila, sweet & sour, Amaretto, grapefruit juice and a splash of cranberry. Yummy! I won a coveted ship on a stick, the actual drink I made, 4 bar credits, and a cool corona t-shirt. Then they came around with trays of my drink for sale on the deck. So much fun. I will say that I think Carnival has it right with their prizes. It was great to win the ship on a stick, and it couldn't have cost them much. I was really impressed with this aspect on Carnival.
We went to the show that night (vegas cabaret style) and then headed to dinner. Waited almost an hour for a table. Then we hung out on deck and watched the full moon reflect on the ocean. It was awesome.
NOTES: While I did eat the warm chocolate melting cake every single night, it was actually pretty hit or miss. Some nights it was like a warm chocolate soup (not complaining, as I like chocolate soup) and some nights it was more like cake with a mushy center. Good stuff, that.
We had to get up early the next day to catch the first tender to Belize, so off to bed we went. It should be noted that we went to dinner at 8, sat at around 9, and didn't get to bed until past 11:30. We only played on the deck for about a half hour. Dinner took forever.
Day 3 - Cozumel
We had our first port stop on Day 3 in Cozumel, Mexico. We were actually a little wary of this port. We'd done the research, knew we wanted a beach with some ocean toys for the kids, and couldn't really decide where to go. Nachi Cocum seemed like a bad choice with kids, we were actually a little apprehensive about putting us in a taxi in Mexico, and we just were stumped.
Once we got onboard we looked into the overpriced Carnival excursions and settled on the all-inclusive Isla Pasion by Power Catamaran. We had such a great time. The water was gorgeous, there was plenty of room on the beach, and the waiter kept the margaritas coming. The buffet was on the weird side - bbq chicken, spaghetti, fettucine alfredo, guac, and chips. Would have been better to have a straight mexican buffet. We had a really, really good time. It was like a slice of paradise. We were sad to leave.
Got back on the ship, rested, saw a show, ate dinner, and went to bed with smiles.
Day 4 - Belize - Tendering, V.I.V. Tours, Language Barriers, and More!
Today was our 2nd port stop - Belize City, Belize. We had a private tour through V.I.V. Tours scheduled for cave tubing. Belize is a tender port with a very long tender ride. 20 minutes to get from ship to shore.
We had to gather in the Follies Theatre to get numbers for tendering. Mostly Carnival has this down to a science. While it's a pain in the ass, they've made it an organized pain in the ass. We got our numbers, sat in the theatre until called, and then tendered to shore.
We chose to cave tube with V.I.V. Tours based on excellent reviews both here and on Trip Advisor. They use a clip system for their tubes, and they have the nicest tubes on the river with mesh bottoms and back rests. The entire trip, other groups we passed would talk about how much nicer our set-up was. We felt like we were in a Cadillac passing all the people driving Yugos. This tour is highly recommended.
Our guides, Javi, Flavor, and Abner picked us up at the port and drove us the 45-60 minutes up to the mountains. They gave us tons of interesting information about Belize and the caves on the way. Every question we had was answered fully, they often had visual aids, and always were attentive and friendly.
We got to the cave sites and did a hike through the rain-forest-like jungle getting lots of info on plants, animals, and the like from Flavor. We ate termites, felt all different leaves, and looked for tarantulas. It was really cool.
We tubed through several cave systems, saw crystals and bats, and had a seriously amazing time. Truly a wonder of nature and amazing.
We got back in time to change and have a quick snack.
I heard one of the women in our party shouting and squealing from inside her changing area. Suddenly her and her half-dressed children came tumbling out screaming. Turns out there was a HUGE, HAIRY, POISONOUS, FANGED spider in the changing room. Guides from every company came running to remove it. Hilarious in hindsight, but seriously creepy.
We then bought a bottle of cashew wine (take my advice, pass on this) and headed back to the port. We got there with about one minute to spare before the last tender.
One weird thing about this cruise was how often we encountered some sort of language barrier with the crew members. This has never happened to me before on any line. It was actually hard to tell if it was really a language barrier - or if the crew just didn't want to do something so they acted like they didn't quite understand what you were asking. A waiter in the dining room that didn't know what powdered sugar was, a pool attendant who couldn't understand what I was saying when I asked him to put some chair hog belongings in lost and found, a crew member who didn't understand when I asked for a first aid station, etc. It was a very weird thing. While there are several stand out employees on the Legend (particularly the roaming bar servers), we were all sort of surprised by the seeming unfriendliness of the crew. Emma on the entertainment staff was a little prickly, as was another girl with short dark hair. The hostess at the Truffles Dining Room was nasty, and only a few went out of their way to smile or greet. Even when we were smiling and happy first. Our Steward, Richard was excellent. Our waiter, Jose, was a gem. Aleksandra in the dining room was also amazingly sweet. However, as a whole, this crew falls short of the level of service I was expecting.
This was 4th of July and we got a few special treats. Free Chapmagne at trivia from Peee-tah! A big deck party with a buffet and flags for everyone. The lobby had a huge american flag hung, andwe were wished a happy independence day from many staff members.
I do think I need to say that the cruise was full of fun for us. I laughed until I cried. I smiled nearly the whole time. The ports were amazing. The ship didn't detract from a great vacation - it just didn't really add to it at all.
Day 5 - Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan, Honduras
We had such a fun day in Roatan. We got off the ship and walked through Carnival's port area. We talked to a taxi guy and got a taxi and a tour guide for the whole day for $15 each. We got into a van that would come to be known as the little engine that could and our tour guide, Wendy started telling us all about the island. She had lots of information and tips. We told her we wanted to go to a beach and chill out.
She suggested the beach at the Mayan Princess. On the way there we stopped at a little lighthouse with views of the island and two guys with monkeys on leashes. We paid to have the kids hold the monkeys, which was the highlight of the trip for them. They LOVED it. Then we climbed the lighthouse and took some photos.
On to the Mayan Princess. We paid $10 for a lounge chair and bathroom facilities. The small beach was overrun with vendors selling everything from jewelry to sunglasses to homemade rum to chicken patties. The hotel had bar waiters and 2 for 1 margaritas. The water was crystal clear, calm and warm. We LOVED it. Our tour guide negotiated a boat ride and snorkel tour for $5 each. They took us on a very frightening dinghy to the 2nd largest barrier reef in the world. It was absolutely stunning. We spent about 1/2 hour snorkeling around and returned to shore.
We wanted to try some local cuisine, so Wendy took us to her village and ordered us up some iguana. With bones. And skin. Also eggs. I could not even look at it, but everyone else ate it. My daughter loved the iguana egg. I can gag just thinking about it.
Then back to the ship for dinner and a show!
One thing about the activities on the ship was that there was a ton to do for adults only. While I'm sure this was awesome for all the people that didn't have kids, this was a real issue for us. There were nights that had nothing for the kids to do with us after 10pm.
Camp Carnival was a complete no-go for us. Even though we were traveling with 7 kids ages 7-11, they were split into two groups at Camp Carnival. No negotiating, no switching groups, no accommodations for siblings. Plus, after 10p, there was a charge anyway. None of the kids wanted to hang there without their friends. Bummer.
day 6 - Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Our last port stop was Grand Cayman. We had arranged for a stingray, coral gardens, and starfish tour with Native Way.
The driver was on time, picked us up from the port and brought us to the boat. Stingray city was impressive, with tons of wild rays everywhere, but the water was choppy and the current strong. It was overwhelming for adults and kids. The Nativeway boat was nice size and the 10 of us were on a tour with one other couple. It was like having a private tour. We spent 30 minutes touching, petting, feeding and kissing the rays. Amazing.
Then we went over to "coral gardens" and did some snorkeling. The current was very, very strong and the waves were choppy there too. It was nerve wracking trying to watch/save all three kids. My littlest was overwhelmed quickly and got back in the boat. The others and I saw lobster, conch, tons of beautiful fish and coral, and even a gigantic and mean looking barracuda. Pretty cool. Honestly, the snorkeling was a much better experience in Roatan, though.
Last stop was to dive or starfish. The guides brought one up on the boat and the kids did some diving for them, too. They really enjoyed. I needed a drink by that point.
On the way back, the driver for Native Way dropped us off for some beach time at 7-mile beach. We swam, got some conch fritters, and caught a cab back to the ship.
By this point, we are all exhausted. We had a quiet dinner, saw a show, went to the sock hop and hit the hay.
Also, today we noticed that the Fun Times was listing the wrong drink as the winner of the Mixology Contest! We wrote a hilarious note to James, demanding additional ships on sticks and he was very sweet and funny about giving them to us.
Day 7: Day at Sea
Our final day on the Legend was a fun day at sea. We started the day with a little TV trivia. Then headed back up to the room to watch the morning show with James and Marcus Anthony. This is the first time I've been on a ship with a Morning Show and I really enjoyed it. Nice to see the CD interacting with the guests. Cute.
Then we headed up to the Lido Deck for some sun and fun. The chair hogs were out in full-force today. I did note that it did not say anywhere that there was not to be saving of chairs. Not in the days Fun Times, not in a sign on the Lido. No where. At about 11:45, after watching three lounges with towels stay empty for over an hour, we asked a pool deck guy to please remove the stuff and place it in lost and found. He was very reluctant to do so, and didn't seem to understand what we were requesting. Finally, he took the towels to lost and found and we sat down. The chair hogs returned to their seats at 1:45pm (!) and we simply told them that the stuff was at Lost and Found. They were not thrilled, but not really confrontational.
We swam and played for a while, then went to the other Lido pool to participate in the Groove for St. Jude. Nice way to be able to support such an important organization.
After that it was back to the rooms to pack (boooo!) and get ready for dinner. We met at dining room at 6:30p and only waited 10 minutes for our pager. By this point, we had decided we wanted to sit with Jose, so we waited about 30 minutes for his tables to clear out. We tipped Jose nicely after dinner and headed to Karaoke.
Tonight's Karaoke was Superstar Live, in front of a live band. I surprised the kids (and also everyone else in attendance) by getting up and doing a masterful performance of Baby Got Back. After that, it was off to bed.
Debarkation from the ship went as expected. People everywhere, servers in the dining room in a rush, etc. We were off the ship and through customs by 10:04am. Had to be out of rooms by 8:30am. It's always the most annoying part of the cruise for me - but I didn't think there was really any way to improve it. It basically was what it was.
So, Final Thoughts.....
We had a fabulous time on our cruise. Without exception, the tours in the ports were lots of fun and well run. We had busy days and slept hard in the room. Once we found Jose, our dining room experience really improved. Our steward, Richard, was very good at his job.
But, I feel nearly the same about Carnival as I did after our last cruise. This ship, this crew, this dining room did NOT ADD to the vacation. I think of the ship as part of the destination and I have high expectations. They are not met by Carnival. When I sailed Celebrity and Disney, I really felt like the crew and the ships actually added to the vacation. They made it more fun, more special, more relaxing. Carnival just misses the mark for me.
Still, I actually WOULD sail Carnival again. IF the price was right and the itinerary was good. Nothing they did or didn't do ruined our vacation. We left the ship happy and sun-kissed and sleepy. I would likely be a little more selective about the actual ship, but if Carnival was +$500 cheaper than Celebrity for the same cruise, I'd sail again. I'd actually pick Carnival over RCCL for equal dollars.
I think the bottom line for me is that I prefer a little bit of a more upmarket experience, but would adjust my expectations for a cheap price. I'd consider Carnival a pretty even value for what it delivers. On Celebrity, I often feel like I am getting a bargain, even when I am paying more.
There are things Carnival does well. There are things Carnival can do better, There are things they have really, really cut over the past 15 years. I think that's probably true on all lines. We had such a great vacation.