First off, a little background on our family and friends. Altogether, we traveled with 18 people in total (10 adults, 8 kids ranging from 6 months to 4 years) with about half of them having cruised before. Our family consists of myself, wife, 2 toddlers (4 and 2) and a baby (6 months). If there was one run-on sentence to sum up our trip, it would be: that it was fun, the boat was OK BUT everything was just a little short of what it could be. I'll go in depth into some of the positives and negatives that we experienced but most of them have been covered in reviews that I've already read.
Sorry for the long read -- I know that I enjoyed reading other peoples experiences so I hope this review helps some others.
- Water park
Probably the best thing for the kids. All of our kids were younger but each one had a blast staying cool in the water-park. Slides were fun for adults (tried them both) and the lines were decent during port days
Our kids are pretty young so we spent a lot of time in our room napping and hanging out. I was extremely happy with the room that we had -- we have 5 in our family and they only have one category of 5 passenger rooms. The room had 2 bathrooms, a ton of sitting space, enough counter space and was always kept clean by our room attendant. The only complaint I have is that Carnival furnished the rooms with a cooler instead of a fridge (I believe all of the other cruises we have been on had a mini fridge). With a cooler, we needed to constantly restock with ice in order to manage our baby food and drinks. Our 2 older ones drink a lot of milk but we weren't able to keep that much around in our room because of the lack of a fridge.
- Ship cleanliness
Never had any issues with the cleanliness of the ship -- always saw people cleaning everywhere we went
- Camp Carnival
We put 5 of the 8 children in camp for couple hours during the day for most of the days. Overall, the Camp Carnival workers were very pleasant and all seemed to genuinely love kids.
- Shuttle service
We booked this on our own and went with Sam's Limousine. I would highly recommend their service for anyone who is looking to get transfer service to Galveston. They were on time, both drivers were extremely professional and their prices were very reasonable.
Like many other reviews, I would echo the fact that the workers on the boat seem to be doing just the minimum and not going the extra mile to make the boat and trip great for us. There were definitely some exceptions (a few waitstaff, Camp Carnival counselors and some of the sports leaders) but the majority of workers we came in contact weren't overly enthusiastic about their work. We didn't have any problems with the service but it wasn't as special as the other cruises that we've been on.
- Port of Galveston
I don't think that I would ever cruise out of Galveston again. Embarkation was smooth (on the boat in less than an hour) but debarkation was a headache. I think there were only 2 (maybe 3) booths for non-Americans and those with porters always had priority. We initially thought we would get a porter but couldn't find one until we were already in line waiting so we decided to stick it out. In hindsight, I would have searched out a porter if I had known that it would streamline our debarkation that significantly. Altogether, getting through customs took 1.5-2 hours. After going through customs, we needed to wait a bit for the shuttle service that we booked and that was just as hectic. The port basically has one road going through to service new passengers (those beginning their cruise) and exiting passengers (those leaving their cruise). The new passengers get unloaded at the beginning of the road and the exiting passengers leave towards the end of the road. I think the port workers were trying to coerce the new passengers to the shoulder lane but weren't doing a good enough job as people just popped their trunks in the middle of the road. Bottom line, shuttles/cars/taxis/etc. picking up exiting passengers need to watch new passengers unload their cars before getting to their pickups and it took about 3 hours to get out of the port from the assigned debark time (way too long to be waiting around with kids and in the heat).
- The boat (rockiness, creakiness, maintenance)
This item is a tough one. I don't actually know if the rockiness of the boat was related to hurricane Isaac that was passing through the gulf at the time of our cruise but this boat was rockier than all other cruises we have been on. We were also surprised by the amount of mechanical-type noises were heard throughout the day (but more when we were docking or close to the ports).
We didn't end up watching a lot of shows but the ones we watched were very underwhelming. They reminded me more of an end-of-year high school show than the Vegas-style production Carnival claims to be. Carnival actually billed the last show as something that the fellow cruise passengers helped perform. While that might be fun for their families to watch and is great for an afternoon or mid cruise show, I don't think that should be the final night act.
Much of the food was quite repetitive and not amazing. By no means was the food bad, just not what I would expect from a cruise. I think we tried all of the specialty areas on and around the lido buffet but didn't try any of the premium restaurants for dinner (went to Cucina Del Capitano for 2 lunches and that was pretty good). Burrito bar was decent, Mongolian wok was ok, Burgers/hot dogs/pizza were good but we always had the same comment -- it was good enough but wasn't spectacular. Room service sandwiches were actually pretty bad -- sandwiches were all bread and the chips were stale.
Didn't have too many problems with lines (other reviews reported lines for everything) but the lines I was in were excruciatingly long. I think the worse was the Mongolian wok lines that would extend out of the dining room area and into the halls. With limited public space (see a couple items below), these lines created havoc for the overall flow of the boat
Only had 2 pools and both were salt water. I would have loved to see a smaller pool for young kids to splash around it since our boys both love swimming.
- Public space (flow issues)
Overall, I would say the boat had some weird flow issues to help get passengers from one side of the ship to the other. "Sidewalk sales" for bracelets/watches and photo areas ended up clogging up two of the three main atrium floors. The casino is right in the middle, so you would always have to walk through it to get to the other end of the boat (and half of the casino was smoking which we were trying to avoid for our kids). Many of the main floors don't stretch across so we would have to go up and down flights in order to get across the boat (by the end of the trip, we were more or less familiar with were to go but it takes a little getting used to).