Background - My wife and I are both in our early forties. This is our second cruise overall and our second cruise with Carnival. It was just the two of us as we left the kids at home with family.
I am career military(Navy). Just want to mention this early on but Carnival's military discount is incredible. We saved just almost 40% off of the initial rate. That said, Carnival does a good job of refunding your money if you buy early and the price goes down for that particular cabin so in the end we probably saved 20-25% of what the regular price is. Still saved us a bunch of money that we used on excursions, etc..
Hotel Info - We stayed at the Hotel Jazz in Barcelona for three days prior to embarkation and we stayed one day at the Hotel Soho after the cruise was over. We arrived three days early to give us plenty of time to get used to the time zone and in case our luggage got lost on the flight we would three days for it to catch up to us. Luckily that did not happen but there were 18 or so guests that did have their luggage lost. I think they tried to arrive the same day the cruise left which is certainly doable.
Both hotels were really great. Hotel Jazz is located a couple of blocks from Plaza Catalunya which is essentially the city center. It also sits on the north entrance to Las Ramblas. Pretty ideal location as Las Ramblas has tons of shops, bars, and awesome places to eat. It was nice being a couple of block from Las Ramblas as I imagine the noise might be a bit much at night. The price for our hotel was about 65% of what a comparable hotel on Las Ramblas would have cost. Excellent service and a really great hotel overall. The Soho is run by the same company and it was also very, very nice. A little farther away from Las Ramblas but the furnishings were exceptional and ultra modern.
The only drawback was the taxi ride to and from the ship was about 20 Euros. Taxis are fairly expensive in Barcelona I thought.
Bottom Line - I would highly recommend both of these hotels.
Ship Info - We stayed on the 12th deck in one of the Cloud 9 Spa Balcony rooms. Literally 5 feet from the gym. This was pretty awesome as there was a little added convenience to go workout. Overall the room was pretty quite with the exception being some of the muscleheads dropping weights in the gym. Overall a very minor concern. We had Cloud 9 spa access which was excellent. The sea water hot tub and the steam room were very relaxing after long days ashore or after a particularly strenuous workout.
The Stateroom itself was nice and roomy with plenty of closet space. We also packed a moderate amount of things and did laundry a couple of times. The room had both American and European outlets which was very nice.
The ship itself was beautiful and extremely well maintained. The staff was extremely helpful and on top of things.
Embarkation - Was very smooth. The whole process took us less than 20 minutes which included security screening, getting our Sail and Sign card and getting to our room. Our room was all set up and our luggage was delivered by 5pm. We arrived about an hour after embarkation began.
Activities - The activities on board were great and there seemed to be something for everyone throughout the day. We went to two of the shows and enjoyed both of them. One was a tribute to Motor City music and the other was a Welsh multi instrument performer, Samantha Jay. The casino was good as well. They have these electronic Texas Hold Em tables. I was a little leery at first but they were easy to use after a couple of hands.
A word to the wise, don't ever, ever play poker with Russians. They are great card players, aggressive and smart.
Shore Excursions - We went on excursions in Marseilles, Livorno and Messina. We enjoyed them all. The Florence and Pisa Tour with Tower entry was truly awesome and The Mt Etna at 2900 Meters was really incredible. Both once in a lifetime excursions. Florence is beautiful with a very rich history and we can not wait to go back. Mt Etna is great. Walking on top of a live volcano... I mean seriously how much more awesome can it get.
We did not do Carnival Excursions in Rome and Venice. In Rome we did the Colosseum at night tour. Very awesome group tour at night. During the day it is really, really crowded. At night only group tours are allowed in and it was a really great experience.
In Venice we took gondola rowing lessons from Jane at http://www.rowvenice.com/ . What a great, unique experience. Instead of getting an overpriced 40 minute gondola ride at St. Marks we got over twice the time(our lesson was two hours) and actually get to learn how to row a gondola. It is way harder than it looks by the way.
Venice - Do not, I repeat do not sit to have a drink or a meal in St. Marks square unless you want to pay 3-4 or even 5 times what you should be paying. We sat down and luckily for us the couple got their bill. They paid in excess of 40 Euros(over 50 dollars) for one glass of ordinary white wine a piece. The bars and restaurants there are complete tourist traps. There are any number of places to eat and drink in the alleys around St. Marks that looked awesome and much more reasonable on the prices.
The one thing I would like to see Carnival do better is provide information on each of the ports for those folks that are not taking an excursion. I saw some folks with those types of sheets but they did not seem to be readily available.
Travel to and from Barcelona - We flew American Airlines there and Iberia on the way back both booked through American. Overall everything went great. The only challenge was that Iberia does not issue seats until 24 hours prior to unless you sign up for their rewards program. Also American's seat management system does not communicate with Iberia's. We still got great seats on the way back but it was a little different.
Dining - Dining was good, not great but certainly good. Guy's Burger Joint was excellent but the Blue Iguana Cantina was off the charts awesome. Their breakfast burritos were rock solid and their tacos and burritos for lunch were stellar.
We ate in the dining room three times. Each time the service was excellent and the meals very tasty. We enjoyed the ease of access to the Lido Marketplace a little better and we ended up taking the majority of our meals there. The food quality was good. Again not great but certainly not bad either.
Chef's Table - We signed up for the Chef's Table dinner. It is only open to 12 people for the entire cruise and it costs 75 USD per person. Before I went I got a little sticker shock but after I went I was sure that we had gotten a bargain. One of the best meals I have ever had in my life. It was nine or ten courses and every one was exceptional. My wine glass never got empty. The coolest thing is you eat in the kitchen and get to see the behind the scenes.
Red Frog Pub - Loved this place. My wife and I went there for drinks five times. They have outdoors seating and it was truly exceptional. Friendly staff and very, very relaxed. The Red Frog Pub Ale is really, really good. My wife absolutely loved the Ting Mojitos.
Disembarkation - This went smooth. We chose to take our stuff ourselves and we went off as soon as the gangway was open. It was pretty early but we avoided the big rush. The time from our room to the taxi cab was no more than 10 minutes. It helped that we had only one bag and one carry on apiece.
Summary - This was a great cruise and can not wait to go another. We will definitely cruise with Carnival again but are open to cruising with other cruise lines as well. Carnival did an exceptional job with this ship in general and our cruise in particular. The cruise director, John Heald is a funny, funny man and did an exceptional job keeping us all informed.