My husband and I are seasoned cruisers, mostly with NCL and we are Diamond with Royal. I am 30 and he is 40 and we have no children. Cruising is our preferred vacation, but we're also big on Disney world vacations. We booked this Carnival cruise to cruise with some cruise critic friends of ours, and I was very excited to check out all the 2.0 upgrades and a new ship I had never been on. I had sailed Carnival once before on a short 3 nighter to the Bahamas out of Miami back in 2007 and I was not impressed, but I heard all about how the longer carnival cruises were better and how the 2.0 upgrades were sure to make this a great cruise, so although a bit leery, I was very much looking forward to it and going in with a great attitude, I really wanted to love it since they have a lot more itinerary options out of south Florida in the summers then NCL and RCI, so if we liked it, it would open up a whole slew of cruising opportunities for us, since we can only vacation May-Oct.
Prior to the cruise we did lots of research here on CC and on the carnival website. We had heard about the Faster to Fun program through our roll call and decided to buy it. More on that later.
We live in Palm Beach County, FL so there was no pre or post hotel stay. A relative drops us of at the port and picks us up. On the day of embarkation, we arrived at the port at 10am to meet our friends and to try to take advantage of the faster to fun program and board the ship as early as possible.
Faster to Fun is one of the few things Carnival got right. We loved this program and we used it to it's full capacity numerous times during the trip. Check in was a breeze. We joined the Faster to Fun line and had our sail and sign cards in our hands in less then 5 minutes from entering the terminal. Once checked in, we were lead to a waiting area. We waited for about an hour and a half once they started letting the VIFP's on and following them they allowed all the Faster to Fun people on. The only comment I have about this is that they should have water, juice, etc. in the terminal for you while you are waiting. Once we entered the ship we had access to our rooms right away. Yay!
We went to drop off our carry ons and there was a room steward (not ours) vacuuming our stateroom and he said he would be just a minute. My husband and I were totally 100% fine waiting for the minute and a half that it took him to finish vacuuming. While waiting outside our stateroom an officer (I am assuming she was head of housekeeping) walked by and apologized to us for the wait. We said it was no problem and we were in our cabin just a minute later. This is important for later.
Our cabin was very spacious. We were in an Ocean View Cabin 2380. It was clean and had plenty of room under the bed for suitcases, lots of closet room, plenty of drawers and counter space. The bathroom was a decent size and they provided some free toiletries like toothpaste, shampoo and woman's deodorant. On the wall of the shower they had a dispenser with body wash and shampoo. We also had a safe, mini bar (fully stocked), and a flat screen interactive tv, phone, and blow dryer. We heard there was only 1 outlet so we brought a power strip which was a necessity! So bring power strips, so needed. We very much loved our room throughout the cruise and the only complaint we have is that the beds are really hard. We had just a few requests for our room steward but had not seen him around yet. We dropped off our stuff and went to go meet up with our friends for lunch. Great embarkation and start so far.
And this is when it all starts to go downhill.
Throughout the whole cruise the buffet was a major disappointment. Not many options, crowded, long lines, rude guests, hard to find a place to sit, no one doing the happy happy washy washy song to get people to use hand sanitizer. They were never open in the afternoons when you get back from port. It was just not good, I really don't know how else to explain it. I found nothing interesting for lunch so I tried the Mongolian Wok which was good. How much Mongolian wok can someone have though? Breakfast in the buffet was just a major disappointment. The eggs tasted like powder every time, they had no salmon for the bagels and when I asked I was told I can get it through room service or at the deli counter when they were open. Not many choices. I ended up having powdered eggs, bacon and a bagel with cream cheese without salmon and grits every morning that we ate at the buffet. One morning I tried the omelet station and asked for a couple of eggs over easy and they were swimming in oil or whatever it is they use to fry them.
Punchliner's Comedy Brunch:
What a joke! Literally. I think the comedy about this is how silly this concept is. We did the Comedy Brunch twice on both of our sea days. First sea day I ordered a Bagel w/ Salmon as a starter and Eggs Benedict, I also had a coupon for a free drink in the dining room so I choose to use it that morning for a mimosa. They brought the bagel out first and what seemed like forever later they bought out the overcooked eggs benedict. It took over an hour and a half for us to be served, eat, and get out of there. Of that hour and a half the comedian did 7 minutes of comedy. That's it. It was basically just a teaser to get you to go see his full comedy show at night, plus both times we did the comedy brunch we couldn't see the comedian, just heard him over the speakers. It was hard to get drink refills on water/coffee or just to get someone to stop so you could ask for anything. The 2nd sea day we also tried the punchliners comedy brunch and again I ordered the same thing and they brought everything out to me about 40 minutes later all at the same time. Bagel was hard and cold and eggs again were overcooked. Can I just get 1 good breakfast please? Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and I would be happy to eat breakfast for dinner all the time but my hubby won't let me. Major disappointment.
Guy's Burgers- Awesome, ended up having 3 burgers on the trip since it was the only place open when you get back from port aside from the pizza place.
Pizza- I was really hoping they would at least get this right. First of all they make each and every pizza as you order them and it takes forever. Each pizza has 4 slices of very thin crust with barely anything on it. There was always a line at the pizza place (because it's your only option for food after the buffet closes after dinner, and one of your only options for food when you get back into port in the afternoons before dinner) Bad pizza, bad service.
Taco/Burrito Bar: This place was great, if it were ever open. Aside from its pitiful hours I very much enjoyed my shrimp burrito with all the toppings. I heard they did good breakfast burritos as well, maybe I should have given it a shot instead of the buffet for breakfast, but I'm not a breakfast burrito kinda girl. I think I should have been and I would have been alot happier.
Main Dining Room- Our head waiter had about 7-8 tables that he was in charge of. We were seated in the Golden Olympian 4th floor at a table for 4 with our friends. The food here wasn't bad, it was the best food of the cruise (with the exception of the specialty steak house, more on that later), but that's not saying much. It wasn't great either. We ate here 5 of the 7 nights and I had 1 great dinner. Service was slow, it was hard to get water refills, and iced tea. I guess it was overall OK, but nothing compared to the main dining room food and service on Royal Caribbean. Also, all the singing/dancing was cheesy, I know it's the "fun ship" but I just don't think a conga line at dinner is appropriate. One waiter was dancing with an elderly lady and she fell down hard, right next to our table. Our head waiter did the best he could do, but it seems they give them just too many tables and we only had any interaction with him twice out of the 5 nights, and it was brief. We really enjoy getting to know our wait staff and having them tell us what they recommend, or what's coming up the next night ect. He never gave us any recommendations or told us about upcoming events.
Diamond's Steak House: My friend and I decided to do a group dinner here on the 4th night after Belize. I said I would go ahead and make the reservations on-line and I never received a confirmation, so she did it and got one. The night before we had our reservation, I received a card in my room reminding me. So I guess my reservation request went through. When we went to check in for our reservation we explained to the hostess who I think was also the manager of the steakhouse that I had made reservations for 4 but never received a confirmation but that my friend had then made a reservation for 4 so we both had reservations but that there was really only 1 needed. This seemed to really distress her, she seemed a little flustered but got us seated. The cover charge here is $35/person. The service was fantastic. We had a wonderful waitress from Romania and she explained that it was her first week, she did great!! I expected a lot more from the food though. For $35/person I wanted it to be good, real good. Royal Caribbean has chops and NCL has Cagney's and those are $20-$25/person and are far superior to Diamonds. It was however the best meal of the cruise. During dinner the hostess or manager came by with a printed copy of the confirmation that I didn't receive to show me that she did in fact send it. Okay.... a little awkward to kind of be like see I told you so, it was off putting.
After lunch on the first day we went back to the cabin to change into our swim suits and hit the main pool. One of our favorite cruising activities is to sit at the pool with a drink and make new friends, listen to some Caribbean beats, and have a relaxing good time, we don't like it too quiet though so the adults only pools are a little to serene for us. We like to people watch and have a good mix of action with our relaxation so the main pools are where we want to be. The main pool on this ship is very small with very limited seating since they added all the 2.0 upgrades to the lido deck. We spent embarkation day here as well as both sea days. The music out here is just too loud. They either have a DJ spinning night club tunes or a couple of guitar players at either Red Frog or Blue Iguana but the speakers are sooo loud. How about a steel drum band or pipe in some jimmy buffet?? Also, no drinks allowed in the pool. This is such an annoyance of mine. Alot of ships will allow you to sit on the shelf of the pool with your feet/legs in with a drink. I don't think you should be able to be completely in the pool with a drink but they wouldnt let you even sit on the shelf with a drink. You had to get completely out of the pool area to drink. We're not big drinkers but this is the time when we normally will drink, however my husband and I didn't want to keep getting out of the pool to have a drink, so they lost a few bills on us because of this.
We had a cruise critic meet and greet after muster in the aft pool bar area where the adult's only pool is. We had a huge group and we had a great time. It started to rain so they closed off the retractable glass roof and it gets HOT in there. Aside from that it was lovely.
We headed to our room to get ready for dinner and we still hadn't seen our room steward. After we were dressed for dinner I left him a little note with a $20 bill on the dresser asking for him to remove the items in the mini bar, to bring us some extra towels and 1 extra pillow and to please just keep the ice bucket full.
We headed off to dinner and after being out and about for a little bit we headed back to our stateroom and we get to finally meet Romeo from the Phillipeans. Romeo wanted to talk to us, and asked to be able to come in our cabin. He wanted to basically tell us that we got him in trouble... huh?? He said that his supervisor chastised him because we were waiting outside our room and complained about it not being ready when we boarded. Ummm okay. I assured Romeo that we did not complain and told him we were very sorry that he got in trouble. Romeo had brought us our extra towels and pillow and he made sure our ice bucket stayed full the whole cruise. After the first night we never got extra towels, but he did keep our ice bucket full and although we never saw him again until the last night but he kept our room clean and made us towel animals every night. The last night of the cruise was a really bad night for Romeo. On our way to our cabin to get ready for dinner Romeo was in the hall. He was right by my door, he didn't offer to open it for me while I went through my stuff to find my room key, like so many other awesome room stewards I've had would have done. Instead Romeo asked me if I was pregnant. No Romeo I am not pregnant. He then proceeded to say that he thought I was. Just drop it Romeo okay? Foot meet mouth... Later that night after dinner we went back to our cabin before going out and Romeo again was there wanting to speak to us. As we were walking to our room he told us that he had to take down all the towel animals I had been collecting on the back of the couch because the towels had to be washed. I was waiting for my last night's towel animal to have them get a group picture so I was a little bummed but not a huge big deal, but do they have such a shortage of towels it couldn't wait till we disembarked? He asked to come into our room again. My husband and I gave each other a look because we remembered how things went the last time Romeo wanted a private conference, but we obliged. He came in to sell us a carnival beach towel. We politely declined and then he proceeded to remind me about the $20 tip I had given him at the start of the cruise and if he gave that back to me would I use it to by a towel. He explained that it would be more helpful to him for me to buy a towel then it would be for him to keep the $20 because Carnival requires they sell so many on each sailing. Are you kidding Carnival??? This guy (although a little off his rocker) works his but off for barely any money so he can support his family back home and you have towel quotas for him? I'm so sure the cash would have helped him more than selling a towel for Carnival. Anyways he practically begged us to help him and in the end we did end up with a Carnival beach towel. Poor foot in mouth crazy Romeo. Anyways we felt this whole thing was just incredibly unprofessional and just not the way we have been treated by previous room stewards on other lines.
Now onto fun stuff!! Bars, entertainment, casino ect.
Karl with a K was a cruise director. We really liked him. He was very engaging and seemed to really love what he does. Only complaint is that there are speakers in the hall ways outside the cabins and they are really loud. We went to bed around 9pm the first night and around 9:45-10pm Karl came on over the speakers plugging bingo or something, but it was so loud I thought I had speakers inside my cabin. I woke up and jumped up thinking I forgot to turn the speakers down, like they have on some RCI ships. But no speakers in our cabin. So every time there was any kind of announcement either from Karl or the Captain, you better hope you're not already sleeping or taking a nap cause if you were you won't be for long.
So aside from that Karl was great! One of our cruise critic members put together a meet and greet on the first sea day for our group and asked Carnival to have some officers come by. The captain, 2nd officer, engineer and Karl all swung by. So big props to them for coming by to say hi and to take a group photo with all of us. They also allowed us to have private access to the Piano man bar and provided us with a bartender for two hours. Kudos to Carnival's group events dept.
Production Shows: we went to one of the Carnival Liberty singers and dancers show and it was slow moving. The singers and dancer did a great job though but the show didn't keep our interest. I actually thought the dancers were some of the best ship dancers I have seen but the songs/plot of the show didn't do it for us and we did not attend any other production shows.
Juggler: We went and saw the juggler one night in the theater and we thought he was very entertaining.
Punchliners Comedy Club: We went to four comedy shows. Midway through the cruise the two comedians get off and two new ones get on so you have 4 comics to see. This is a great idea. We really enjoyed punchliners comedy club, I though the Carnival rep/MC Rolie was just great. Only downside was that you had to leave the club and get back in line to go back into the 2nd show. No big deal.
Piano Man Bar: Dave the Piano man was so so so great! We spent many nights in here making new friends, and singing along with Dave. Dave is by far the highlight of our cruise. We had a great time playing a name that tv show theme game here and then also just regular sing-a-long. Dave really made this fun and he had a loyal group of followers by the end of the trip. We made a lot of friends in here and found a great camaraderie in this club. Also the waiter in the club was fantastic and always was around for a refill.
Alchemy Bar: 2nd favorite part of the trip. We had a great time hanging out here and getting to know the bartenders. This bar also had a loyal following throughout the cruise, and it was helpful that it was right next to the Piano Man lounge. I kept ordering The Deal Closer which was a chocolaty cocktail and my husband loved the Antioxidant. I also really enjoyed the French Kiss, but my biggest suggestion is to have them make you a custom cocktail. Just tell them what you kind of like and they will whip something up for you. Don't miss The Alchemy Bar! We found it later on in the trip, and wished we would have stopped here sooner.
Hot & Cold Night Club: We only went in here a few times later in the evening and the service was horrible. 40 minutes for a beer? Really? A large group of us from CC would hang out in here in the evenings after all the shows ect had ended. For the most part the music was your typical top 40 club music till about 1:30am and then it would get a little too gangsta rapish so at that time we all knew it was time to go.
Casino: We found the slots to be tight so we didn't end up gambling much in here but hubby won some money in a game called The Casino Vault that always had a crowd. Our cruise critic group also organized a slot pull for after our Meet and Greet and although we didn't win any money it was a ton of fun.
EA Sports Bar: Great concept but there was rarely anyone in here. I really thought that my husband would have spent more time in here but he just ended up stopping by time to time to read the tickers and get score updates.
Photogs: This ship probably has the best set up for professional photos. The whole 5 floor promenade has station after station for professional photos. We ended up taking a lot more pictures this cruise then any other because they just made it so easy. Lines were short almost all the time and we did end up spending $50 on photos. They also had photogs around the ship taking candid shots and we found a couple of us at the pool doing the groove for St. Jude and dancing to the cha cha slide inside the pool. We thought they were great! It was a little difficult finding your photos but they have a huge photo gallery in the atrium on both sides of deck 4.
Faster to Fun: We thought this program is worth its weight in gold. We used it to board the ship first and to have access to our rooms right away, but we also used it to get us on the tenders as soon as we wanted without waiting. We would just walk up the line for the VIFP and Faster to Fun tell them we were ready to get a tender and we would have someone from guest services escort us down to the tender in a private/reserved elevator. This was great as we booked all of our tours with independent operators and had two tender ports. We also had priority disembarkation, but we didn't use this option as we preferred to sleep as long as they would let us and get off when we wanted. Although I guess we kind of did use this option since when we were up showered and dressed we headed to the line to disembark and didn't have to wait for our number to be called as we were #1.
We had some amazing ports of Cozumel, Belize, Roatan and Grand Cayman and I have submitted my reviews for those under the ports section of this review. We really enjoyed our time spent on shore, so that made this cruise much more enjoyable.
Disembarkation: Not Carnival's fault but this was the worst disembarkation we have ever experienced. My dad was set to pick us up at 10am so we got in line to disembark the ship just before 9am. We waited a while on the ship in line before being allowed off. Once of went to the carousels and found our luggage no problem but then waited an hour and a half in line at customs. We ended up walking out of the terminal just after 11am, so over 2 hours.
All in all we had a great time with our friends on this cruise, and we made a bunch of new friends too. We had a great time in ports and some cruise highlights were Dave the Piano man and the Alchemy Bar, as well as winning $$ in the casino. But we just were not happy with the level of service, quality of the food, and the other things I mentioned. Due to the lack of pushing hand sanitizer my husband, my friend, her husband and a hand full of other CC members on our sailing ended up sick. Husband has bronchitis due to his cold, my friend's husband ended up with pneumonia, and a bunch more fellow CCers with a head cold. They really need to push the hand washing/sanitizing more like NCL and RCI do. Washy Washy really does mean Happy Happy!
Bottom line. We will not be sailing Carnival ever again. If this had been my first cruise and I didn't know how much better the other options were then I may have been very happy, but I know just how much better it can be and although they have a wider range of itineraries and sailings in the summer I rather cruise with NCL or RCI on the same ships where I know I will get the service, food, and the ambiance that I am looking for(main pool area, dinning room) , and for just a few hundred more for the week. The price difference is not that huge. Sorry Carnival, but I can overlook a wacky room steward or a bad day at the buffet, I can't overlook all of the issues we had, but your mileage may vary, as many in our cruise critic role call are thrilled with their cruise. Happy Sailing!