The scene: 5 Day Bahama adventure on the Carnival Ecstasy, August 2012.
The players: 4 adults, experienced cruisers, prolific adventurers.
We flew in (from Arizona) the day before our cruise, so as not to tempt fate of "missing the boat" because of airline incidences. We stayed at the Four Points Sheraton in Cocoa Beach----ugh. We stayed here because we have points with Starwoods and got the room for free----note to others.....NOT worth it. Although the room was clean, there was little else that could even be mentioned as a positive...and if you are SPG people, this hotel is well below standards.
Pleasantries: The attached restaurant, (Shark Pit Lounge) had a pretty decent burger and some nice local beers. There is an attached surf shop, a Walgreens, CVS, and Winn-Dixie within walking distance in case you forgot something. The hotel will provide a shuttle to the ship dock for $6 per person or $10 round-trip.
Shuttle from hotel to dock....easy peasy. We arrived at 11am. Dropped our luggage off for the staff to take on board and were guided to the appropriate "lines". Now, I will have to tell you, we had a suite so we did have VIP boarding, which is WONDERFUL. However, we were aware and made a point to pay attention to what others were experiencing. (Before this cruise, we have always done the regular check-in). The Carnival staff was well versed, pleasant, and was even playing trivia with guests, which if answered correctly, would get you on the ship earlier. I think that Carnival does make every effort to make this as painless as possible....It might be the other "patrons" that can make this an unpleasant exercise for you.....so put on your happy hat and know that the ship isn't leaving without you, and a nice cold DOD is waiting for you on board. :)
Pleasantries: They feed you right away, bring you DODs, and encourage you to start your vacation. Your room will be ready around 1:30ish---we did venture "quietly" down to ours around 1p---note the word quietly. ;)
~~Day 2--Day at Sea:
Serenity Deck: this deck was an afterthought. It is super small, no pool, no clam-shell loungers, no air movement, and no music.
Pleasantries: 2 (warm water) whirlpools, a cold water shower, no kids and 5 umbrellas--better get there early if you want one of those.
Lido deck: has the pool and lots of lounge chairs....keep in mind, if you are not there by 7:30am, you are probably NOT going to get a lounge chair on a sea day...and people do get aggressive and possessive over the lounge chairs---so on a sea day, your happy hat needs to be on. The pool is small and mostly standing room only on a hot day, but because of the close proximity to one another....you can make friends easier. ;)
Overall food on the ship: Well....lets just say there have been budget cuts on Carnival. The menus are limited and the quality has gone down hill. If you want hot food, your better bet is to serve yourself on the Lido, in the main dining room (MDR) the food was tepid and covered with a steam lid....which made everything soggy. :/ ugh. They really don't know how to cook beef. In most cases it was over cooked and they didn't know what Medium Rare was....they also didn't know how to make an over-medium egg....sheesh There was a sushi bar that was open 3 of the 5 nights----good stuff!!!!!!! Bad coffee, bad pizza.
Formal night: Its what you make it. We dressed up, but there were plenty who came in flannels and torn jean shorts because "they forgot" to pack their suit....I would like Carnival to enforce the dress code in the MDR on formal night....There is always the Lido deck for those who don't want to dress.
Overall Service: I'm pretty sure that we had a training crew. This is a smaller and very much older ship, so we don't think we got the top of the line crew. They didn't seem to know the answers (guest services, shore excursions). Sometimes you would get 3 different answers to the same question. Room staff was fine, not exceptional. MDR staff was a little less than expected.
Shows: We watched the comedians and some of the game shows....pretty funny stuff. Brent was our cruise director but we thought he was mostly lame and invisible....Wee Jimmy from the Legend was much better!!!
In general: On a scale of 1-5 we would give it a 4.0 We made our own fun. We brought champagne and coke on board (by Carnival's rules) and had Tequila delivered to the room through the Bon Voyage department. For the price, it was a pretty great time!! On a 5-dayer though....there will be LOTS of kidlets. Camp Carnival keeps them pretty busy during the day.....but at night, they got a little wild---the parents, at least the ones we had on board, were not to be found. It was a little hot and humid....maybe taking it more towards the winter months might be a better idea.
Affordable fun, in a manageable time frame.