A bit of background: this is my 14th cruise, my husband's 12th. We've sailed Royal, HAL, Celebrity, and Carnival -- most recently, an eight-day on Legend's sister ship last fall, which was so impressive, we eagerly booked a Carnival cruise again.
Embarkation: we were travelling with a couple who had not sailed before -- and, we learned on the drive to Tampa, had not completed on-line check-in. By the time we got to Carnival's website on Sunday morning, they were unable to check in online. A call to Carnival's guest assistance team (at 11:15 am Sunday morning) had an employee put our entire party in a panic by stating that the 'incomplete' guests would need to be at the pier by noon to complete embarcation paperwork -- even though the embarcation team on the ground later affirmed that we had 90 minutes before sail time (4 pm) to complete such paperwork. Despite the unneccesary panic, embarcation was smooth and otherwise hiccup--free, and we were on board with access to our cabins by 1 pm.
Cabin: 4136 -- mid-ship interior with french door (an interior guarantee upgrade). We had a fine view of the lifeboat and a foot-wide strip of sea underneath -- but we could open both doors if we chose, and for what we paid, was certainly worth it. Hubby was very impressed with the new(er) showerheads and great water pressure: wife was unimpressed by the flat-screen tv with some contrast issues that could not be addressed by the remote. The interactive features of the tv also seemed somewhat clunky -- the only 'messages' we received were teasers for potential shore excursions, and would never reset the interactive screen properly, even if all the instructions were followed. We noticed that one of the lampshades in our room was visibly (and kind of ickily) stained -- not a big thing, but the first time we'd run into such an obvious lack of maintenance, and something of a trend (see below).
Public areas -- you've probably read that this ship is 'run-down' and, while I think that's a bit strong, the ship is clearly in need of a refurbishment. Trim in the Unicorn Cafe is snapped off all over the place; the upholstery in the Firebird Room worn to the point of almost being threadbare; there is visible (intentional) damage to metal trim in the spa showers; visible mold/mildew in the grout of the steam room in the women's spa locker room and on the cushions of the seating on the Serenity Deck; visible rust in the metalwork surrounding the lifeboat in front of our cabin; teak railings at the front of the ship are dried out and cracked . . . .
We are not those who seek out things to complain about, but the little things continued to add up to where we thought that it was not an isolated incident, but indicative of a ship who has clearly not had the little things addressed over the years, and it shows. Furthermore, the Joe Farcus design is dated to the point of being almost laughable -- although the dining room was markedly less gaudy than Miracle's Bacchus Dining Room.
Service -- again, nothing incompetent, but very hiccuppy. Our cabin steward didn't introduce himself; in fact, our room wasn't serviced until Tuesday morning -- I had to seek him out to refill our ice bucket Monday and ended up getting our own 'Fun Times' that day, and one night had to call room service as our bucket had not been filled up while we were in port or at dinner.
Our table of six during late seating had issues getting meals delivered promptly (I gave up getting chamomile tea after two nights) and, after having asked the meal servers to give us a head's up if an item contained a vegetable my husband is deathly allergic to, handed him an entree with a side garnish full of said vegetable -- sending him to the cabin for his inhaler and epi-pen while we sent the entree back. It wasn't willful negligence; just not the competent and efficient service we'd experienced in previous sailings . . . and it continued through our very last evening. It was as if the service team just couldn't get it together.
We wonder if the service issues were due to the fact that our ship was full -- a very rare occurrence in mid-September. Still, it does beg the question of how much service should suffer if a ship is at full capacity. And, to be fair, our ship was not as 'queue-happy' as it might have been given the capacity, except at the Lido/Unicorn Cafe during breakfast and lunch. Notably, the Serenity Deck on sea days was also packed -- and anything BUT serene given the intoxicated fools reigning over the pool and hot tub.
Entertainment -- the couple we were travelling with were more interested in the shows than we were, so we did make an effort to at least 'poke our heads in' to a few shows. The 'physical comedy' guy Michael James was entertaining; the Punchliners Comedy Club consistently worth the effort to get in (as it was in the Firebird Room, it often filled to capacity before showtime). The smoke exchangers in the casino seemed to not be able to keep up with smoking gamblers between ports -- keeping us out of the casino as a result. (Their loss, not mine.)
First off -- this is the first time we've done this Western Caribbean itinerary during daylight savings time. The ship did not change time to match the ports of call, nor did they not such discrepancies other than the 'keep aware of ship time!', which meant that if you did not pay attention to your wristwatch versus the local time, you could easily miss the boat. It would have been helpful if they could put such information, along with weather forecasts, in the "Fun Times" each day.
Cozumel -- we headed to Playa del Carmen for shopping via the public ferry. Also discovered a local grocery store off the square in Cozumel, which was worth the walk to get 1.5 liter bottles of filtered water for 50 cents USD.
Belize -- used our favorite tour guide to go back to the Belize Zoo and the "Baboon Sanctuary." Actually, they're Howler Monkeys, but worth the trip -- they'll eat bananas out of your hand while local residents, who took it upon themselves to preserve the monkeys' habitat, tell you about the history of the area, flora and fauna, and other fascinating information. Please message me if you want information on our tour guide or the Sanctuary, both of whom are some of the best-kept secrets at this port of call.
Isla Roatan - we were delivering donations to a local orphanage whose stateside liaison failed to give us a head's up about customs clearance, so our time on the island was limited. We used Victor Bodden's tour company (very highly recommended) to go to the orphanage and then the "Monkey Business" stop (best deal on the island), Butterfly Gardens (with very little of their namesake), and a short but lovely stop at the West End. Should we find ourselves visiting here again, we'll head straight to the West End for a relaxing day away from the crowds.
Grand Cayman - the day was dreary and we hadn't booked a shore excursion, so hopped an inexpensive tour at the pier to Hell, the Tortuga Rum Cake 'factory', the Turtle Farm (where $12 and 30 minutes wasn't nearly enough time to take it all in). We were then dropped, at our request, at Seven Mile Beach -- specifically, at Royal Ocean Beach Club, where they kindly let us use a cabana and beach chairs free of charge because of the overcast day. (We rewarded them with a nice lunch and beverage tab as a result. :*})
Disembarkation was relatively painless and we were back on the shuttle to the hotel for our car by 9:45 am.
Having had an amazing experience on the Miracle last year, the gaps in service and attention to detail were certainly an eye-opener. We haven't written off Carnival yet, but are taking a wary attitude towards the next cruise we book with them.