Embarkation--Decided this trip that instead of paying for the parking garage I had my mechanic drop us off at the port and have him do some repairs to the Suburban. We arrived at the pier at 11:00 with bags all over the place, no one helping you and they had them separated on carts by decks. They just told you to leave them there and they would get them. Not sure why we tipped them. VIFP checked in and we were on the ship by 11:15. Check in was quick, actually the VIFP lines were longer than the regular lines so we worked our way back into those lines. Sail & Sign card photos were done on the ship which slowed the process down a little. We went right up to the Serenity deck where we were both presented with a rose, nice touch. This ship strictly enforced the adults only rule and the new, "no chair saving" rule was also in place. 40 minuets with a vacant chair and the belongings are removed to the towel hut. This cruise was a little strange, not a lot of people on the deck or by the pools. Very few children and an older crowd.
Room-- Our room was clean and very well maintained. Our steward, Houston, was very friendly and always seemed to be around. He took very good care of us. Once we found out that you now have to request ice he had it filled all day. I would say he was the best we have ever had. The room was made up soon after we left each day, turned down at night and a towel animal greeted us at bedtime. Be careful with deck 6 rooms as the deck 5 noise could keep you up if you go to bed early. It was quiet at 11 to 12 when we went to bed.
Entertainment-- We have now traveled 14 times with Carnival and had seen the same shows over and over. They are always good and they maintained a 10 piece live band for the shows. The comedy club is awesome and we caught several shows each night there were comedians on board. The live band by the pool is gone. There is a DJ that plays music that we like better. When we arrived on the lobby deck there was no live music, a DJ. The usual entertainers on deck 5 are gone. Just one live band by the casino bar.
St. Thomas-- Had a great time here which we always do. This time we went over to the other harbor where a huge Royal Caribbean ship was docked and took the ferry out to Water Island. We were driven to the top of the island and rode mountain bikes back down. Enroute we made a few stops and were given a tour and the 411 on the island. Afterward, since we did this on our own, we spent the rest of the day at Honeymoon Beach. We had lunch and a few beers and swam in some of the nicest and warm waters. It was very quiet. Occasionally, a boat load of people would show up. We left when the last group showed up and one of the older and fatter couples decided to get naked.
Antigua-- This island was very interesting. We thought it was clean and appeared that it was well maintained. It did not seem as poor as some of the other islands. As we traveled to the backside of the island it was somewhat flat with cattle and goats grazing and the smell of fresh cut grass. Kind of reminded me a little of Ohio and Michigan. Long Bay Beach was quiet with some shops and a private all inclusive hotel, bar and restaurant. If you wanted you could get a day pass for just food or the run of the entire property...food, drinks, pool and beach. We stayed at the other end of the beach where we paid $7 for a chair and a local kept us in Red Stripes at $2 each. The beach was clean and the waters blue and warm. The shopping district was nice, clean and safe.
Tortola-- We spent the day at Cane Garden Bay. A nice trip from the port up some seriously steep hills. $5 for a chair and a few bars, one which had $3 Coronas. A local had a wheelbarrow with sugar cane and coconuts that he chopped off the tops and poured in some rum for $5. The water was nice, warm and calm. Nothing to see if you are a snorkeler. We returned to the port and dropped off our fellow passengers. The shops are not right by the ship so we had the driver take us back outside the port to do some shopping and then walked back to the Freedom. Another great day. Plenty of time in port.
Nassau-- Been here probably 5 or 6 times and for some reason can never figure out what to do here. Walked around the shops and visited an old church. Will have to do some research and find something to do since Carnival is hell bent on always going there. This is another one of these islands that we could do without. Arrival time at 1 and out by 7. For us, another island would have been nice or more time on the other 3.
Dinning-- The food in the cafeteria continues to decline in both quality and selection. Breakfast is pathetic. The bacon has to be the worse that they can purchase, thin, under cooked, all stuck together and dripping with grease. I'm not sure why they guard it and I'm not sure why anyone eats it. It took me 3 days to find out that the Bacon Nazi was now in charge of the ham slices. The sausage was terrible and appeared at times to have yesterdays hotdogs mixed in. The potatoes were in a different form each day with absolutely no taste at all and always hard and cold. As a firefighter I can eat almost anything, but I found myself having an omelet and yogurt each morning and then, when I found it, a half bagel and ham. Carnival did away with the food trays. They now have these large oval plates. They said that was your tray and plate in one. Soooo, you get your silverware and napkin and put them in your pocket. Then, you place your dirty milk container and your dirty yogurt container on your plate. Then you place your food on the plate so it runs around with your dirty containers. Then you get your omelet that they place on another smaller plate. You then go and get your coffee and your juice. Now balance all of that and go look for a place to sit while people are using the tables to play cards. SERIOUSLY! Where was the cost savings, they already owned the trays? I guess, they don't have to pay someone to wash them.
Lunch was pretty good compared to breakfast. The salad bar was good as well as the deli with custom made sandwiches. The selection was okay and the deserts were nice. The Mongolian Wok was great as usual. Some days, it was busy and some days not. The chicken has declined dramatically. Not sure if it was real chicken or this new slime stuff that the fast food restaurants were caught using.
Dinner in the formal dinning room was the usual. The staff was excellent and the food was okay. Still, quality lacking and the selection was okay. Nothing to really get excited about. We had great table mates. Everyone was well dressed and on formal nights very impressive.
Debarkation-- We left the ship under the VIFP program. The paperwork in our cabin advised us to meet in the lobby deck 3 forward. The ship arrived in port around 5:45. At 6:15 we made our way to deck 3 lobby and were then asked why we were all there. They apologized and sent us down to deck 0 forward and right off the ship by 6:25. We then walked all the way back past the end of the ship and out onto the sidewalk and then walked all the way past the front of the ship. Shortly thereafter, our mechanic picked us up and we were on our way home. It was good to give that $120 for parking to my mechanic and have some repairs done. I gave him a $500 budget.
It's sad to see the continued cuts in the cruising experience. While if you are new to cruising you may not notice them. The food quality and selection continues to decline. The souvenir place mats are gone, the mid night buffet has almost disappeared. The chocolate buffet with the ice sculptures and food carvings has disappeared. There is no longer an island band by the pool, DJ. When we got on the ship in the lobby, no live music, DJ. The music on deck 5 is down to one musical group. There are no trays available in the cafeteria. Ice in your room is now an item that you have to request. VIFP travelers usually have 3 treats delivered to the room during the cruise...this cruise just 1. The little extra items in the bathroom almost all gone. There appears to be a new level of intimidating security dressed all in black.
While we had a great time on our 16th cruise, 14 with Carnival, I find myself wondering if this will continue to be our vacationing experience. I'm not so sure I will be proud to send this Cruise Critic Review to my friends. I really wounder if Carnival is more interested in cutting costs or having repeat customers. We have 2 cruises booked and I'm not excited about making anymore bookings. Would it cost an extra $50 per person to have real bacon, more selections, trays, ice and live entertainment...come on Micky Arison and Gerry Cahill...get off your wallets!