Let me start by saying, this cruise critic site is excellent, actually, almost too good, as it lead me to constantly check for the latest reviews. I also think I probably overdid it a wee bit, it caused me to spend my first few days on board recounting what others had written, and mentally writing my own review, I had to force myself to stop doing that!
Anyhow.... we are a family of 5, 'the boss' and 3 kids, boy (17) and 2 girls (13 and 9). My Chinese in-laws live in Queens, NY, but I'm British and live near London, so I thought I'd combine escaping the Olympic games traffic, with taking my first cruise and then seeing the relatives. This seemed a good idea as I'd have cleared the jet lag and be relaxed and happy before flying up the NY and staying with her family (could have done with a holiday after that -- but that's another story)
I was apprehensive as a few years ago, I'd driven from England, through France and into Spain, it was a long drive, so I'd booked the ferry back to the UK from Santandar in northern Spain.
I'd promised my wife (who gets car sick walking down the street) that everything would be fine, as it was in high summer and the car ferry had stabilisers, "it'll be really calm, more like a cruise really love", I'd said. Well she threw up once about every 30mins of the 20 hour sail home, it was worse than when she was pregnant, so getting her to agree to a cruise was hard work.
Now some reviewers had mentioned that the ship rocks, I didn't tell my wife this, of course, but I bought some sea sickness tablets beforehand and she popped one just as we boarded. Well the ship did rock a fair bit, especially on the Sunday/Monday after leaving Nassau, and I have a theory that the ship needs to go full belt to reach St Thomas and St Maarten in one sea day, as it takes 2 sea days to get back. This "full speed ahead day", was probably the cause of the rocking.
However, the wife wasn't ill once, not even a dizzy spell, no feelings of nausea, she was completely fine...I wasn't though, I felt seasick that day, and I couldn't believe it! I was feeling sick enough on that Monday evening for me to leave the "Dancing in the Streets" show, which was very professionally performed by the way. I was worried I'd ruin the evening for the guy in front of me.
It may have been due to the 4 large Gin 'n' Tonics I'd had in the comedy club the night before, of course, but the rocking did add to that stomach rolling feeling.
I'm glad to say the kids enjoyed the ship immensely, due to their various ages, they each were assigned, to a different club. Camp Carnival for the 9 yrs old, she enjoyed that, when I took her first time, she was slightly hesitant, and looked like she was about to change her mind, the lady working there spotted this and immediately lead her away and got her involved with something, and she came back a happy bunny.
My 17 yrs old son went straight into the O2 Club on the first evening, and I hung around watching through the door window for a few minutes to see what happened, the kids in there were very forward and friendly, in that way Americans seem to be very good at, they were introducing themselves and 'high-fiving' each other, he slotted in straight away. I think he had the best time on board out of all of us, we hardly saw him except during dinner, or when he passed us on deck, with a bunch of healthy looking cheerleader types, I think he enjoyed the novelty of being the only Brit...the lucky swine!
(no Prince Harry moment, well not that I know of)
More bloody Facebook vs Schoolwork arguments to come, I predict!
My middle child, the 13 yr old girl, took one look at the Circle Club registration line and decided it wasn't for her, she had her shy face on and I could tell she was going to fold. I had spotted a sweet looking girl, about the same age, sitting near the door, alone, and I engaged her in conversation with the plan to introduce her to my daughter, then I'd have slipped out before she could change her mind.
My girl is a bit shy at first, but a nutcase once she's comfortable and would have made friends after a while, everyone was in the same boat, right (ha! get it?) but I have to admit I would have found it a bit daunting at that delicate, self-conscience age. We did try to get Camp Carnival to allow my 9yr old in for one evening, so they could be together and break some ice, but the staff were very strict, saying no to this.
It meant she was left to tag along with us, which is fine by us, don't get me wrong, but I felt a little sorry for her, knowing the other 2 were out making friends. On other sea days we took the younger girl out of Camp so they could be together again, so all was well.
Our Delux Oceanview stateroom was on the lowest deck, the Rivera, I liked the room, as it was very quiet, and our steward, 'Made', pronounced "Maddie", from Indonesia, was a lovely guy who smiled constantly and made our room up whenever he could get in. The room was a good size too, and the 2 bathrooms helped, we had 5 people in one room but it never seemed a problem. I thought the room service was terrific, it helps that it's all included in the price too. It was menu driven from the TV remote, a little limited but I wasn't after a full 3 course meal, only a bit of breakfast or a pot of coffee, it came pretty quickly and I used to tip $5 each time. It made a great start to the day as we couldn't be bothered lining up for breakfast.
There were 4,600 people on board that week, it did get crowded at times, there were long lines for The Gathering buffet, the Sushi bar and the Mongolian Wok, but we were not in any hurry so it wasn't a major issue, that's the thing about cruising, you're never in a hurry to get anywhere as you're not driving, have no particular schedules to make. I tried pretty much all the food places except The Steakhouse, I thought with 5 of us at $35/head why pay $175 when all around me is free of charge.
I had requested 'Anytime Dining', as we are a lazy bunch and always late for everything, but we were assigned the Scarlett dining room for 6pm, table 623, I was going to try to get it changed but it actually worked out ok and we went most nights. The wait staff there were great, they got to know us all by and name and the drinks waitress remembered my order and even at what times during the meal, that I needed my glasses of wine.
I'm not sure why the waitstaff need to stop and break into those dance routines, it is a bit cringe-worthy, I think they probably dislike it but it was funny on some nights to see Russell, our waiter, body popping.
The food was really good I thought, it arrived after only about 10 minutes wait and it was always hot and looked good too, one of my kids sent one of the main dishes back for some reason, I've forgotten now, and they were only too happy to replace it, which again only took a few minutes. I've read some people have had to wait over an hour and the food was served cold but it may have been that as we are on the early dining, it meant that they have to get everyone fed and watered and out before the next sitting was due.
We were late booking any excursions, I wasn't too bothered at Nassau as there wasn't sufficient time to do much. Next to our berth were the Royal Caribbean liners "Oasis of the Seas" and the "Allure of the Seas", the two of the largest cruise liners in the world, as well as Disney's "Dream" and our ship, it being the largest Carnival cruise ship in the fleet, there was another ship too, but I can't recall its name. Basically Nassau was hit by over 23,000 passengers at the same time, it was all pretty chaotic, but someone we all managed to get somewhere. We paid for a "taxi" to the beach at $4 each, each way, and hired loungers and a parasol for about $35 in total. I think we had about 2 hours before needing to get back. It was ok, and the sea was very nice, but we didn't see much else.
At St Thomas, I tried to book a catamaran/snorkelling trip using the TV remote, which is a great way to book, though they were all fully booked up. My wife got me to call the Excursions Desk and ask if there was anything left involving snorkelling, I'd told her, they said they were all booked up, but she got me to call anyhow... they checked the computer and it said they were all fully sold out.
My wife suggested, on the morning we arrived at St Thomas, to go personally to the Excursions Desk to ask face-to-face, if there were any snorkelling trips with any spaces, I told her that they were all full but she insisted... the man on the Excursion Desk checked the computer, and said they were all fully sold out.
I had to visit the Guest Reception desk on the other side of the deck, I needed to swipe my credit card again, my wife suggested I ask them there if there were any vacancies on any of the excursions with snorkelling included, I told her (for the umpteenth time) that they were all fully booked, but she persisted, the girl on Guest Reception checked the computer and low and behold, 70 spaces available on the snorkelling trip, via ferry/minibus to some remote island coral reef
Men - DON'T YOU JUST HATE THE LOOK ON THE WIFE'S FACE WHEN THAT HAPPENS?!
I spent the whole time, about 90 mins, in the water, but checked now and again and could see her gloating way over on the beach. I was a great trip though.
At St Maarten I had planned ahead, about 2 weeks before the cruise, I had booked 2 places for me and my son, on the America's Cup sailing experience, this is where you need to take an active part in sailing on one of the two yachts, and we were lucky and aboard the Stars and Stripes, but both boats are the same. It was a terrific experience and great fun, the staff are very easy going and there is just enough time to slurp a beer down now and again.
My overall take on the cruise was "a good time was had by all", it was always going to be difficult to please 5 people at the same time, all who want to do different things, but who all need to be able to locate each other without cell phones, that was a trial.
It was a little crowded but no more than a theme park, or hotel pool area. The kids loved the pool, actually it rained all day on the last day at sea, which wasn't a big deal for us, as the kids just played in the empty pool, as Brits, we are used to rain. The food was good, I liked the Pasta bar, as the food there was the best and I've not mentioned how good the 'Punchline' comedy club was, which had some very professional acts.
I liked the pool party, I think it was on Wednesday, it was a good time to meet people and have a laugh, I wished that there had been more nights like these. I did have the feeling sometimes, that I must be missing something going on somewhere other than where I was.
We met up with some very friendly couples out on the aft deck, they were good company, very welcoming and we had a few drink and laughs, I was left wondering if I could have done more of this, but there wasn't that focal point or bar where it was possible, without a live band or loud disco music. I like Americans, they are open and warm and the ones I met had a good sense of humour.
Would I cruise again? Yes, I'd be more careful regarding the ports of call, as those excursions were a bit too hurried.
My family would go again tomorrow, as The Boss said, "I don't need to cook, wash up, clean up or even make the bed, and every day is different".
Maybe she could get a job at the Excursions Desk!