Here's the summary -- Given what we paid, I thought it was a very good deal. We enjoyed it and would consider Carnival again (this was our first cruise on Carnival). There were things we liked and things we didn't, but that has been my experience on Royal Caribbean and Norwegian as well. The Boston cruise terminal was great, and we really liked both Halifax and Saint John. Read on for the details.
About us -- My wife and I are in our early/mid-40's. We were travelling with our 16 and 18 year old daughters. This was our 6th cruise, our first on Carnival. We are not gamblers or drinkers, so my review won't cover the casino and the bars. We enjoy diverse cuisines, but outside of cruising we generally don't go to upscale restaurants. We actually like spending time with our kids (and they seem to enjoy spending time with us), so we like activities we can do as a family. They don't make use of the teen activities, so again -- no review there.
We picked this cruise because -- 1) Boston is very close for us; 2) We didn't have time for a long vacation; and 3) the price was hard to beat. We had heard mixed reviews on Carnival and on this ship, but nothing that scared us away. Overall, I think we got a very good deal for the price. I read a number of reviews complaining about food, service, etc. but generally Carnival met my expectations. Disney is also doing a 5-day cruise to Canada with pretty much the same itinerary. We paid about 1/3 of the price of the Disney cruise. We have been on Disney -- and love it. But I recognize that you pay for that. I paid a lot less, and we set our expectations accordingly. I did not expect to get Disney-quality food and service at the Carnival price. Carnival has to cut some corners -- and it showed -- but we still enjoyed the ship and the cruise.
Embarkation/Disembarkation -- This was completely painless and very fast. Like other reviewers, I had received the email from Carnival saying to not show up until 1:30 -- and like many other reviewers, I ignored it. We arrived around 11:00 and got right on. There are some activities happening in Boston to celebrate the centennial of the War of 1812, so the main parking was filled. We had to go to the overflow lot and take a large shuttle bus to the terminal -- very easy, no problems at all. We made use of the self-assist disembarkation process and that was great. We were able to wait in our stateroom until we were called, which was around 8:00. Then we walked right off, got right on the shuttle and were out in no time. I would definitely consider sailing from Boston again.
The Ship -- Very well maintained and kept clean. Nice public areas, and we pretty easily found some areas to relax and play games with the kids. The Serenity area for adults looked great, but we never had an opportunity to use it. We had no real problems getting around. The Platinum dining room is a bit difficult to find the first couple of times. The photographers being setup in the main corridor every night caused congestion and I think they could come up with a better arrangement.
Stateroom -- We were on deck 6, in the middle corridor in an interior stateroom (with an adjoining one for the kids). The room felt much more spacious than any other ship we had been on. The room was very comfortable and there was plenty of space for clothes. My wife said the shower was a bit too small, but it didn't bother me. The only issue is that these rooms on deck 6 are over the casino. There were a few times it could be loud (typically around 12/1 am). That didn't bother us very much -- but for some this could be a real negative. On the flip side, hallway noise was pretty much non-existant, since we were in the middle corridor. Our stateroom attendant was very efficient -- but I have no idea who he was. We never met him once. This lack on interaction with the staff was a negative for us on the cruise.
Main Dining -- Pros and Cons here:
Pros: My kids have fairly simple appetites, and on other cruises they found themselves often eating off the kid's menu. Carnival had a good selection of adult entrees and appetizers that the kids liked. The menu did have a broad selection, which would be good if you were a selective eater. For me, it was a bit safe. Cruising is the one time I enjoy more upscale dining, and try very different meals. To echo other reviewers -- apparently the warm melting cake is a big thing. One daughter loved it and had to have it every night.
Cons: The wait staff had no personality. They never addressed us by name and never showed any real interest in us (and we had the same staff every evening). The service was generally prompt and efficient (not always), but lacked any warmth. On the first night, we didn't get any drinks and after that we never saw the drink attendant.
This didn't matter to us, but Carnival seemed to take Cruise Casual to a new level of casual. Very few people dressed up at all for dinner. Another note -- compared to other cruise lines, Carnival seemed much less attentive to ensuring people used hand sanitizer before eating (regardless of location). This doesn't bother me, as I think the whole hand sanitizer thing is overdone. However, if this is of concern to you, you might not be comfortable on this ship.
Casual Dining -- Again, pros and cons. The buffet had the least selection of entrees that I have seen. What they did have was good. We liked the specialty areas -- Mongolian Wok, Fish and Chips, Burrito Bar. We really liked the 24 hour pizza. What we didn't like -- the lines at the specialty areas could get long if you weren't there early or late. The juice was just awful -- it was like drinking straight syrup. My other issue (just a personal peeve of mine) -- the coffee at the Creams coffee bar was an upcharge, when the coffee upstairs at the Red Sail was free. I'm ok if you want to upcharge specialty drinks, but why coffee that is free elsewhere?
Entertainment -- We were generally happy with this. The two comedians were good, and I liked that they had family shows. The dancers and singers were good. The material they were working with for one of the shows (Living in America or something like that) was dated. The pictures and songs were dated and didn't appeal to us or the kids. The other show (Rock/Disco) was better, but could still use some songs from some decades past the 80's. The illusionist was good -- and used modern music for the show. The other activities were typical of what we have experienced on other cruise lines. The staff was a bit disorganized about the shows and other activities. Everything seemed to start 10-15 minutes late (we just got used to things being on "Carnival time"). The worst was having bingo in-between shows at the main theater. That made no sense and always caused delays.
Staff/Service - Overall it was efficient, but not personable. We were rarely greeted by staff when passing. We didn't know who the stateroom attendant was. The waitstaff didn't engage with us beyond the basics.
Ports -- We really liked both Saint John and Halifax. In Saint John, we did our own tour with Roy's Tours (highly recommended). In Halifax we walked around the waterfront and also took in the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (also recommended if you like museums and especially if you are interested in the Titanic).
I would consider doing Carnival again, especially at this price point.