Prior to taking this cruise, I did roam this website reading a lot of reviews, so here is my contribution..
My first cruise was on Carnival Conquest back in December 2007 to the West Caribbean and it was wonderful! I do prefer the Conquest over Ecstasy, mainly due to the location of the 21 and Over area. Within the 21 and Over area on Conquest, I pretty much had my own deck all 7 days. But, enough of that...now on to Ecstasy!!
I went on this cruise with my best friend (for 40 years!), and Carnival was the perfect cruise line for two girls who just want to have 5 days of sheer FUN!
We live on opposite sides of the USA, so we both flew into Orlando International, hired a private town car, and were driven to our hotel: Days Inn on Cocoa Beach. We arrived one day prior to our embarkation just to be safe, and also to just chill around the beach for a few hours. We walked to the local grocery to buy our allotted bottles of wine to put in our carry-on bags for the ship. The Days Inn was simple, fairly inexpensive and covered our needs just fine. They called a shuttle for us that cost $12 / person for shared travel to Port Canaveral.
As others have said, embarkation was SO SIMPLE and fast. Upon arriving at the port, there was a not-so-friendly baggage guy. He kept coercing us for a tip, saying, "Yeah, Mike (himself) does a really good job for you", etc. I tipped him a $1.. and understandably, my friend did not.
We arrived at the port around 11:30 are were on the ship within an hour. Also, within the customs / boarding area, they had "happy" music playing which just made it all the better. On a private note, they played a song that was very special to my best friend and I--that we hadn't heard in YEARS. And yes, I had a little happy cry! They also had lemonade, water, clean restrooms and snack machines available.
The ramp to board the ship was all glass and it was very nice to be able to see the entire ship from this perspective and also provided for a lot of cool photo ops! Do be careful when they take your photo for your ship ID.. the lady who snapped mine didn't tell me she was taking it, so my expression on my photo ID for the next 5 days was quite interesting.
Upon entering the ship, we were happily greeted by a Carnival Staff member, (later found out he was the guitar player of the karaoke band). The buffet was open when we boarded the ship, so right away, food was readily available. The food was good and great.. it's difficult to rate all of it into one lump rating. One thing that was very impressive was the amount of low-calorie and vegetarian options. There was always ice, tea and coffee available. I found that the ready-made iced tea wasn't that great, so I used the teabags to make my own. I also took an insulated cup with me on the cruise, which was extremely useful not only on the ship, but at the ports. I would fill it with water and take it off the ship. Our favorite buffet dining area quickly became the rear deck. There were rarely more than 4 tables busy at one time, plus it offered fresh air and beautiful views. And, the staff cleaned up constantly!
Our dining room was the Wind Song, table 307, early seating. This table was just perfect because my friend and I sat right next to the window with ocean views every night with dinner.
Ok, yes, this ship has aged a bit. There were times on Lido deck, when certain odors would occasionally drift by... well, so what. I live near Vegas, and there are odors similar to that all around the Strip. Just think of the sheer size, construction and functionality of this grand hotel on the ocean! It was extremely apparent every day how much the staff constantly cleaned up after us vacationers!
Staff: I was extremely happy with all of the staff! Our main dining room (Wind Song) head waiter: Parvez, team waiter: Seberavean and Asst. waiter: Zoran, were amazing! Very friendly and put up with our antics and shenanigans quite well!! Also, my friend and I found our 'home' at the Starlight Lounge, mainly because the bartenders were so fun: Ary, Kevlin, Paz and Edwin! And of course our cabin steward was SO attentive and friendly (Nengah)... calling us by our names each time he saw us. He gave us his phone extension for anything we may have needed. I called and requested a hairdryer. We had it within minutes. One day we saw him outside of our cabin and I asked him for a bucket of ice. He went right then and fetched one. It is absolutely obvious how hard the staff works for their income. Even though they were at work and we were on vacation, the staff whom we found enjoyed their time right along with us. So, it is my opinion to get to know your staff a little!! I had bought two funny hats for my friend and I to wear on the cruise, and ended up giving them to two of our bartenders. They showed such gratitude and said that their kids would love them. That just made me feel great!
Day at sea was crowded on the ship, but we found a nice little nook just outside the buffet area along the starboard side of the ship and relaxed there with a couple of books from the ship's library. The only downside to this was a couple people who smoked cigarettes on that deck. I thought smoking was only allowed on one deck, but it seemed that people lit up (and threw small items overboard) and that was sad to witness. We only went to the Serenity area once. It was just too crowded with all of the loungers lined up literally right next to one another. There are plenty of other places to find serenity on the ship.
My favorite ports were Nassau and Half Moon Cay. In Nassau, I had booked an excursion on a 90-foot catamaran that took us out to a reef area for snorkeling. On the way back, they gave us unlimited rum punch. Needless to say, it was a BLAST. I brought my own snorkeling gear, including fins. The only downside I would say is that it was crowded. I bumped into multiple folks in the water. I had previously gone on a snorkeling excursion near Grand Cayman on a smaller boat with about 6 other people. Next time, I'd rather book a smaller group.
Half Moon Cay was absolutely gorgeous. A tender took us to the island. We were greeted by more staff with free water and lemonade. On the ship, they constantly try to sell you bottles of water by the gangway. I brought my insulated cup filled with ice water from the buffet. We found an area to drop our backpack, donned our snorkeling gear and swam close to the wall (on the left side when looking out at the ship). There weren't as many fish as Nassau of course, because it's mostly sandy bottom, but it was still gorgeous. Later, we gathered our stuff and walked far down the beach, toward the horses, away from everybody and basically had our own area. We did not pay for shade, as there were plenty of trees. Back in the water we went, and we were happily greeted by schools of fish and.. a barracuda. It was interesting to say the least, but he left us alone.
Upon returning home, I did have Mar de Debarquement for about 7 days. The seas were pretty rough and it took a while to get my land legs again. Oh well!!
Overall, the experience was fantastic and I am already getting ready for another cruise (already booked) in November!!! I am hooked and so is my friend! (it was her first time)