Before I start, please understand I am not a whinging hard to please person. I'd taken 7 cruises before this one and loved them all; I'd always feel a little exasperated if I heard people complaining about something on a cruise, thinking they should count their lucky stars they WERE on a cruise and look for the good things, not focus on a few hiccoughs.
But now my faith in cruising as a wonderful holiday has been lost. I'm in fact rather nervous at the thought of taking a cruise again after our dreadful experience on the Carnival Breeze. Any cruise we take in the future will most definitely not be on Carnival, never again!
There needs to be two parts to this review, my thoughts on the ship and cruise itself, and my thoughts on the treatment we received from Carnival, both the staff on board and management.
Since I'm sitting here back at home, still disappointed about missing out on Monte Carlo and Venice, and more than a little shocked at Carnival's treatment of the passengers on this cruise and disregard for them, I'll start with that.
This was Carnival's second chance with us. We'd previously cruised on Carnival Spirit on a back to back, Alaska and Hawaii, and though we enjoyed the ship itself (better ship than Breeze in my opinion) the dining room food left a lot to be desired. Though we were happy with their buffet food, the food in the dining rooms on Spirit was usually lukewarm to cool despite our requests several times for a hot meal; it was also not unusual to get substandard meals, tough meat. So for that reason we were hesitant to try Carnival again.
Then we saw this Mediterranean cruise that covered ports we'd always wanted to visit, and the bonus of a new ship. We decided to give Carnival one more chance.
We didn't take this decision lightly as we live in Australia and we had to factor in the cost of airfares and l-o-n-g travel time, but this was to be our long awaited dream cruise of the Mediterranean. Well, that didn't happen!
Carnival saw fit to cancel Monte Carlo, which was to have been our much anticipated first port of call. Coincidentally, they cancelled Monaco on the previous Carnival Breeze cruise, and I've been told on the one prior to that as well though I'd need to have that confirmed. The excuse each time was "high winds".
An announcement came over that the ship had made several attempts to enter the port but had been unable to do so due to bad winds. Several people observed that the ship did not in fact attempt to enter the port, as they were on deck to watch our arrival in port, and they also confirmed that the wind had in fact NOT been strong. Senior crew later admitted that attempts had not been made to enter the port. I feel that Carnival had planned to omit Monte Carlo even before the cruise started. I wonder if that's due to the ship really being too big for the port... but whatever the reason, Carnival deceived us. That's what is a major disappointment and let down for me, that they could be less than honest with their passengers and manipulate their itinerary for their own reasons. There was no regard for the fact that people had spent a lot of money to take this cruise, or that perhaps it was their "trip of a lifetime"; all we were offered was another "fun day at sea" - with no fun activities actually happening - and a $20'ish refund of port charges, and oh yes, a free drink at dinner from a limited selection.
On top of Monte Carlo, Messina was also cancelled, and on we sailed; actually a lot of the time we were put-putting in slow circles on the Mediterranean, trying to kill time. When I dreamt of a Mediterranean cruise I dreamt of actually visiting ports, not floating on the Mediterranean! We sailed past Messina in fine weather and spent another day at sea.
The lack of onboard activities and poor entertainment is covered later.
The final straw came with the announcement that Venice had been cancelled from our itinerary. Supposedly that was because of flooding there. By now my mistrust of Carnival makes me doubt they were telling the truth as I heard that other ships have managed to dock there, however that might be hearsay or might not. I certainly don't believe that they suddenly found conditions in Venice would not allow us to visit; they would have had access to weather forecasts and trends days ahead.
So now Messina was reinstigated! The port that for some obscure reason had previously been cancelled was suddenly back on the itinerary. We passed a fine, sunny and pleasant day there.
We spent a lot of time killing time on the Sea. The Captain and crew would give no other answers except the port cancellations were for our safety. No other ports were substituted. I know port visits must be planned, but I believe Carnival knew of the cancellations they'd be doing, before the cruise started. Why didn't they have a backup plan organised? Why didn't they give us the chance to opt out of the cruise, or cancel the cruise? At least then we might have got our money back from travel insurance. Why weren't they upfront with us? Why did they not seem to care about the passengers and have empathy for how the passengers were affected?
We'd selected this cruise because we loved the itinerary. We'd always wanted to visit Venice, the other ports too. If the itinerary had stated "Monte Carlo - possible", "Venice - possible" we would simply not have booked. I believe the ship had proved to be too big to comfortably manage docking in Monte Carlo and Venice, and to me that IS the mechanical reason that senior crew cited as the only reason compensation would be paid.
We are very disappointed in this whole cruise experience - other than enjoying some memorable ports and meeting some lovely fellow cruisers. We feel Carnival has let us down badly.
Its sad to be asked now by friends about our Mediterranean cruise and to have to try hard to sound upbeat and not disappointed. Carnival should realise, though, that a disappointed customer is not going to keep their disappointment a secret from other people who might once have been potential Carnival cruisers.
Now ship and cruise specific comments:
The ship was new, so that has to be a plus. I'm not going to gripe about a little staining on carpets or whether or not I liked the decor. But what I really missed were nooks and crannies to just hang out. Not bars... we're not big drinkers. Nor are we gamblers. Just places to sit and chat or look at the passing parade or read; windows to gaze through and see the sea; lounges to meet up in. There was Ocean Plaza and little else.
As someone else commented, the ship is big yet there didn't seem to be a lot of public space for the size of the ship.
I thought the Limelight Lounge had great potential but it seemed to be under utilised; the comedians appeared there, and there was a t-shirt sale there. In other ships I've been on, such a space was used regularly for a musical group and dancing. We love to dance! How I missed dancing! Carnival, why was there no real provision for dancing? I don't mean a little jigging in the atrium area, but actual dancing on a dance floor. Music and a party feel. The Liquid Nightclub doesn't fill the bill. Its supposed to be a Fun Ship.
What about perhaps some dance lessons on sea days, too? Dance lessons can be fun; we had a wonderful time in regular popular dancing lessons on an Australian P & O cruise we were on, with the teachers being 2 members of the dance troupe who interacted with the passengers and were great fun.
I would have loved to use the Serenity area (did use the spas a couple of times), and the waterworks, and all the other outside facilities, but the weather unfortunately prevented that. I did wonder about the fact there were just two pools for such a big ship.
Gym? A little small, concentrating more on treadmills than equipment for strength or toning. Not much room for doing your own workout, but you can get by.
At night the ship seemed like a ghost ship. We'd wander along trying to find something to do... there was little on offer... often few people in sight. Where was the music, other than karaoke and the musicians in the atrium? The shows other than The Brits were unenjoyable, and were repeated. So some nights there was nothing at all to see. The comedians were hit and miss. We WANTED to party and have fun, but each night we'd finally give up.
Daytime activities? I'm used to being on cruises and finding on the sea days that there were time clashes of things I wanted to do. On this cruise, no way did that happen. Other than trivia (which I do enjoy, but not every half hour) there was really nothing to do. The marriage game in the Ovation Theatre was funny, though something many cruises seem to have; the Hasbro game was not.
I feel that Carnival provided the facilities for a good time IF the weather is pleasant and people can amuse themselves out on deck. However they failed to cater for inside activities, and with bad weather and enforced extra sea days, surely they should have pulled out a few activities. They seemed to have no backup plans at all.
I said above that Carnival provided the facilities for activities (outside on deck), but they failed to provide the human touch. There was no warm friendly feel.
Cabin stewards... Our's was friendly and nothing was too much trouble - not that we make requests of our cabin stewards - but towels were replaced, bed turned back, chocolates and towel animals left, room kept clean. Our fridge was never unlocked but if we'd bothered to ask I'm sure it would have been. We were short of coathangers and he fetched us some extra in no time.
Wait staff... Staff in the dining rooms gave excellent service on the whole. Staff in the Lido didn't impress as particularly friendly overall, but they did their job.
Guest services desk... Other than Jan, a young man who finally came to our aid regarding a cabin issue after 3 other staff shrugged me off (living out of our suitcases in a disabled cabin we'd been mistakenly assigned, with little storage space, for 3 nights) the staff there were stern and unwelcoming. It was as if they took a defensive attitude even before they knew why you were there. Unfriendly, unsmiling. And the queues! Especially in the light of the port cancellations and that naturally there'd be a lot of enquiries, the desk was understaffed and people stood for ages in the queue, and the staff appeared to care not one iota.
Jaime... If I heard another comment about "another fun day at sea" I would have been tempted to toss her IN the sea. I felt she was very scripted, and lacked sincerity. I also feel Carnival overdoes the "fun" terminology and should soft pedal it a bit, especially since their cruise was the most un-fun cruise I've ever experienced. I understand that Jaime would have been feeling the stress after the cancellation of our visit to Venice, and would have been the brunt of a lot of ill will. But one night she approached us as we were walking to our cabin and my husband greeted her pleasantly with "Hi Jaime" (as she'd told the passengers to do in one of her early talks). She responded with a scowl and said nothing.
The Breeze came up with hot meals in the dining rooms, and this had been our one worry after our experience on the Carnival Spirit. I was happy with the meals in the Sapphire dining room. We opted for Anytime dining as we'd done that on NCL cruises and it worked well. However, Carnival doesn't seem to have quite got the gist of it. If you said you wanted a table for two (sometimes we preferred to have a quiet dinner and didn't want to linger over it for ages) you were seated at a table for two... 3 inches from another table for two... the tables for two were arranged in sets of 3 or 4 and the people on them were treated as one big group. We had some enjoyable chats with others at dinner, but there were a couple of occasions when we really would have preferred just the two of us.
Lunch in the Blush dining room was something we experienced once, and it was wonderful. Helped by the fact we had a window seat and scored some good table companions.
We didn't use the pay extra restaurants, though we did have lunch once in the Italian restaurant. My pasta was tasty.
I've always really enjoyed and looked forward to the buffets on our cruises, but the Lido was a big disappointment. This might perhaps be partly due to the fact I'm Australian and not used to or fond of some of the American foods and topppings. However, powdered egg and syrupy sweet orange "juice"? I gave up on both of those after one day.
I thought there was not enough variety or variation in the food on the Lido. Basically the same old thing every day.
There were a lot of cereal choices but there was no muesli. I started adding nuts and raisins to my basic cereal, then raisins disappeared. I found one counter had prunes, started adding them, then they disappeared to be replaced by olives... for breakfast! Bananas had run out for 3 days before they finally reappeared, as had oranges. For those days all the fresh fruit consisted of was trays of sliced melons, two of each type. Not good enough.
Guy's Burger Joint is, I know, popular, so this must be just my weird or Australian taste, but I didn't enjoy them. I found them greasy and the toppings and cheese unenjoyable. Not what I'm used to in burgers. I wanted to try Fat Jimmy's BBQ but it wasn't there very often, and the one time I spotted it the smell turned me away. Again, probably just my individual taste as others have raved about it.
I have covered ports we visited but Messina, Sicily was not in the list provided. In Messina we did a privately organised tour that we found on the Cruise Critic roll call, and it was a wonderful 5+ day. The driver was entertaining and informative, and we greatly enjoyed seeing Taormina and then Castlemola, and our lunch in an Italian restaurant. We met some lovely people on the tour and count that day as one of our standouts.
Sorry, long review I know. Normally I practically have to be dragged off a cruise ship. This time I was eager to leave.
There's a lot of cruise lines out there to choose from. I recommend you look and think carefully before booking a Carnival cruise. The attitude they have to their passengers is extremely poor. They are not customer orientated.