We've just come off the Carnival Legend where we booked a cruise for our honeymoon because we had heard it would be one of the best ways to relax and be pampered with amazing service for a week. I'm still hopeful a cruise can do all that, but we were very disappointed with our dream vacation. The thing is, while some go cruising for the drinking and social activities (and for that it was probably great), we went for the great food and the relaxation - and got neither.
Our number one concern was that the food was cold - especially in the buffets, but also in the dining room. We finally complained, and they made a special effort *most* nights after that to bring out the food hot, which showed it was possible, but even that was a bit hit or miss. We thought we overheard someone else commenting on their food being cold "again," too. The food tasted great when it was hot, but being cold ruined most dishes. Any restaurant (even fast-food ones) knows that serving food at the right temperature is key to quality. There was a fair variety of food, and the "anytime" dining was great, but the buffets were closed a lot, which was very disappointing. You also have an option to eat at a shared table or alone, which was nice. One of the main reasons we wanted to do a cruise was because we kept hearing rave reviews about the food, but the food here most definitely did not meet our expectations. The servers were very good about remembering our preferences, though - kudos to them for that.
The second disappointment was that the pools were tiny - too small to swim in - you could just sort of stand or float at the edge if they weren't too crowded - which they usually were. The decks were usually packed with little to no room to find a lounge chair at any pool, especially the Serenity area which was way too small for the demand. Many people went there to avoid the noise at the other pool decks - not from passengers, but from the loud blaring rap or new age music that made it impossible to actually relax or even think of having a conversation anywhere near the main pools. And on the last at-sea day, when the weather was finally sunny and suited for spending time in the pool, one of them was netted off the whole day, making it impossible to get near either of the others. We discovered that the whirlpools are not actually hot tubs, which makes sense in a hot climate, I guess, but not what we expected. (I was freezing much of the time in the over-air-conditioned interior, and was hoping for some hot water relaxation.) Interestingly, we were surprised to find that the pools actually contained slightly salty water, which were great for floating in, and the temperature of the water was just right for swimming.
The third frustration was that while the base price for the cruise is very inexpensive, once you're on board, they're constantly pushing for more money. They were always trying to get you to buy drinks, but you get used to that. For some people, that's the fun in cruising, but we're not drinkers, so that was just annoying for us. And to get soft drinks with lunch, we'd have to go to the bar at either end of the ship, while the food is in the middle, which created some logistical balancing. Speaking of which, we bought the "bottomless bubbles" option, which makes it more convenient to get soft drinks, but hardly worth it, especially since you can bring your own drinks onboard, and getting them throughout the day isn't super convenient anyway. I don't know that we got the value for them. Water, lemonade, ice tea and hot beverages are complimentary.
But the drinks were nothing compared to how much they pushed the high-end jewelry. We went to the "fun finds" seminar on the first morning hoping to get tips on where and how to shop in the ports, and the whole thing was about the amazing deals on $5,000-$10,000 jewelry options. We ended up leaving feeling as though we'd been told we were being judged as inferior if we didn't have a $5,000 watch and were covered in diamonds. I was actually offended. I suspect the majority of the people on that ship were not "cruising to shop" at that level, despite the claim of the ship's "shopping expert," so there was very little to benefit from that seminar. Even the maps they give you of the shops onshore only show the high-end stores (with one or two exceptions). And they push you to buy this $30 organizer filled with deals for free items worth hundreds - so we decided to try it. The catch is that you have to visit a bunch of different stores at each port to get the items, and many are cheap-looking charms or second-rate items. I'm not sure we got much value for that money either. The ship's store was much the same - lots of diamonds and gemstones, very few mid-price options.
They are also constantly taking pictures of you which they then post in a lobby for you to find and buy, but the prices were way too high to be worth it, so that was also more annoyance than bonus. And, of course, there's lots of other extra costs for spa sessions, gambling, and games being pushed constantly, too.
As other reviewers have noted, there is a lot of wear and tear and damage to surfaces, especially the glass doors and fabric materials. But that didn't bother us as much as the dirty, stained condition of the loungers - you wouldn't want to sit on one without your beach towel (which, fortunately, is provided by the ship). The "king bed" was actually two beds pushed together, and when we were in them, one would sink about 2 inches lower than the other, despite the fact there's not THAT much difference in our weights. Not really comfortable for sleeping together, but otherwise fine. Being able to sleep with the ocean just outside our window was lovely.
On a high note, the entertainment was fabulous. The adult comedy is extremely R-rated (to the point of being unnecessarily raunchy, but we were warned of that), but the family comedy was very funny, and the Showtimes were amazing - definitely worth going. They also do a lot of trivia and "game shows" and some interactive things that can be fun to fill some time.
The port days were the saving grace. Here's what we did and what we learned:
We did the Dolphin Swim Encounter with Lunch in Cozumel, and it was fabulous. We got to spend a lot of time in the water with the dolphins, and had several opportunities to interact with our dolphin - and even see her baby. Naturally, they take pictures of you with the dolphin and then push you to buy them and a DVD of the encounter afterwards at extremely high prices, but you should never agree to the listed price. If you hesitate, they'll keep coming up with better offers - but it's still an added expense of well over $100 you should plan on if you are even slightly tempted to get the pictures. We were impressed with the pictures and the speed at which they were available for viewing though - they have a great system set up there. There's a big area for shopping at the pier, and we did a lot of souvenir shopping there. There seemed to be a lot of stores downtown near the Dolphinaris as well, but we didn't take time for those.
In Belize we didn't do a tour, and if you're planning on skipping a port for excursions, that's not the one to do it. The pier has a number of shops, but they're either very high end or dollar store-type setups with very low-end souvenirs and gifts. The best part of that day was going back to the ship early to enjoy the only opportunity we had to get in the pool. I think I'd recommend doing one of the excursions there.
Mahogany Bay, Isla Roatan was our favorite port. Again, we didn't do an excursion as such, but there was a lovely little marketplace at the pier that was just two years old, and featured a lot of local products and hand-made crafts at very reasonable prices. It was a lovely place just to explore, but we also got some great finds to take home. Then we got to spend a couple of hours on a white sand beach and swim in the ocean with a soft sand bottom, which was lovely. We did pay the $12 each for the tickets for the chair lift to the beach, which was a 5-minute ride and a nice easy, scenic, way to get there - but we didn't realize until we were up in the air that we also could have walked there for free. So do the lift if you want the ride, but don't think, like we did, it's the only way to get there, which is what the excursion descriptions seemed to imply. You can also get clamshell shelters and other beach equipment there separately or as part of a ship excursion package.
Finally our day in Grand Cayman was pouring rain, which dampened things, but the 3-hour Best of Grand Cayman tour was very interesting and had some good stops. Amusingly, we realized much of the tour focused on the locations of the US-based hotels as their best landmarks, and we would have liked to have learned more of the rich history of the island, but the visits to Hell and the Tortuga Rum Cake Factory were nice. (The cakes are actually cheaper on the boat and cheaper again in Isla Roatan, though.) The highlight was the sea turtle farm, where you get to hold a young turtle and see Sparky, the 66-year-old turtle who spawned about 50,000 offspring and is now enjoying a well-earned retirement. There's a large downtown area for shopping which was less convenient and made it harder to find places on our 'organizer scavenger hunt', but there was a lot to offer at all price ranges if you looked around. And for those hungering for a taste of home by that time, you can find many familiar fast-food outlets there, including Burger King, Dairy Queen, Subway, and KFC.
All in all, the cruise was a good way to get to see some different places and the ports were lovely, but we're pretty sure we wouldn't be doing a Carnival cruise again. The "fun ships" just aren't for us.