Embarkation at Barcelona was long to me. I did not like taking zone numbers based on cabin location to board. To me, if you show up early, you should be able to board when you get there.
The ship was very nice. I really liked the decor. It was much more subdued compared to other Carnival ships. I also liked the variety of the dining venues. The Blue Iguana burrito and taco stations on the Lido deck were a welcome change. As was the addition of Guy's Burgers. But the times they were open were very limiting. With all the sea days we endured, it was disappointing that they closed the burrito bar at 1:30 pm and only opened Guy's from noon until 6 pm. Fat Jimmy's BBQ was good, but with the bad weather on deck, I found it only open one day out of the twelve day cruise. I heard similar complaints from many other travelers. Good food, but limited dining times. The MDR was the MDR - nothing different, nothing new. And the buffet was the same as ever. The addition of the Tandori station was good, but again limited in the time it was open. The Bonsai Sushi restaurant was excellent, but hardly used by the passengers. We did enjoy the Il Capitano italian restaurant. We had an excellent meal there, It was well worth the extra $12 per person. We did not eat at the steak house on this cruise. One highlight was the Red Frog Pub. Good drinks and appetizers.
Now limited dining times may sound trivial if you are on a port intensive cruise or on a Caribbean cruise with sunny sea days, but on a cruise that ended up with six sea days - most all rainy and windy, some relief from usual dining at extended hours would have been welcome.
Now on to the schedule. I was on deck the morning we were supposed to dock in Monte Carlo. It was slightly overcast with light winds. In my view, the captain made no attempt to even try to dock. We simply loitered offshore until a blaring (volume level) announcement was made by the CD that we were going to miss the port. It was my birthday and we had arranged to rent a car and drive the Corniche. It was disappointing, but I was willing to overlook it. I had missed a port before with Carnival, so I got over it. Little did I know what was in store for the rest of the cruise.
We went on to Livorno, where it was windy and wet. We arranged for a rental car to meet us at the dock and we visited Lucca. Lucca was fun. Wet, but fun. But we had a great day shopping and sightseeing.
But upon arrival back on ship, we were told we were going to bypass Naples, Rome, and Messina, and head straight to Dubrovnik to try to avoid the weather system. We would then see Venice, then Naples, then Rome. Messina would be missed. Ok, I could live with that. Out of all the ports to miss, Messina is the one. But it screwed up our plans in Venice. We had a hotel in Venice booked overnight to spend more time in port. Now that was gone.
Dubrovnik was nice. Clear warm weather. Plus it was great to get off the ship just to walk around after two days at sea. But I could see it clouding up, and I feared they would cancel Venice. Well, they did.
After getting back on the ship, we got another annoying blaring announcement from Jamie the CD telling us we were going to miss Venice and have two more "Fun Days at Sea" on the way to Messina. Oh boy! We were getting Messina back. I say that sarcastically.
A few side things here. Jamie had to be one of the most annoying CDs we have ever experienced on Carnival. Also, the PA and sound systems on the ship were always set to the maximum volume level. I get up early and like to go up on the the Lido deck to have some coffee and look at the ports or the sea. On the mornings when the Lido deck was habitable, they would run CNN News at the highest volume possible, prompting passengers to scream for them to turn it down.
Ok, back to the change in plans. After learning about the itinerary changes, we headed down to guest services. We found about fifty people gathered around Jamie and a ship's officer complaining about the changes. We also saw a security officer off in the background there to ensure nothing got out of hand. Many people complained about the changes in plans, the lack of communication, the lack of compensation, etc. I took my turn and spoke out. I brought up the fact that Carnival had a captive audience of 3000 people to fill the casino, buy drinks form the bars, and shop at the shops. I brought up the idea that Carnival could have searched for alternate ports when they learned of the weather system. Of course Jamie gave us the line, "at least we weren't involved in Hurricane Sandy, and that the captain was just keeping us safe." That was an outlandish statement used to guilt the passengers into accepting the situation. I mentioned that I saw no weather reasons that we could not dock in Monte Carlo. An officer tried to explain to me that the ship was too tall and that high winds would have caused problems with docking, and that Monte Carlo was a soft dock, not a hard dock. I have trouble with that whole explanation.
Many people gathered there were long time cruisers who had cruised with Carnival many times. They told Jamie that they would no longer cruise Carnival. Jamie responded with the company line "I"m sorry to hear that". I asked her if that was all she had to say. She responded that Carnival does not compensate passengers based on weather conditions. Even though Carnival was within their legal right to change the itinerary based on weather conditions, the changes to the itinerary were poorly executed and left many of the passengers feeling they did not get what they paid for and therefore, Carnival should have, at the very least, offered discounts or credits towards a future cruise. How much could that cost them? Many of the people would never use it, but it may have restored some confidence with other cruisers. No offers, no compensation, nothing. I got tired of arguing, so I went back to the Casino Bar.
As for the Casino Bar. I spent a lot of time there. The Lido Bars were usually closed because of the weather, so the Casino Bar became my home away from home. We purchased the "My Awesome Bar" program upon boarding the ship, so I was there to get my money's worth. The bartenders, especially Miljan and Goran, worked hard to keep the passengers happy. And, while I understand we were in European waters and getting European satellite feeds, a six-day tennis tournament, cricket matches and European football only enhanced the boredom of the imposed sea days.
Another side note, during our conversation with Jamie, my wife told me that she was sick of hearing the term "Fun Days at Sea." She told her days at sea were not fun when that was all you got out of the cruise. We use the ship as a floating hotel, not our entertainment. When we travel to Europe we expect to tour Europe, not float interminably in the Mediterranean. It's sad that the only way many of the passengers got to experience the European ports was to hole themselves up in their cabins and watch Rick Steves' travelogues on the ship's television. For the rest of the cruise, during Jamie's blaring announcements, we heard no more use of the words "Fun Day at Sea."
As for cabin service, it was horrible. No ice bucket was offered until asked for. The refrigerator was unlocked, but never emptied, even though I asked for it to be done twice. Dirty towels were not picked up. Bed linens were not changed. Empty plates or dirty glasses were left in the room. The only way I could get dishes picked up was to leave them outside the room. And they sat there for over twelve hours many times. And, how my wife's pajama bottoms ended up stuffed behind my nightstand will continue to be a mystery to us; we thought that was rather strange.
We made it on to Naples and Rome and made the best of it. In Naples, we rented a car and drove to Amalfi and Positano. While walking around Positano and seeing people enjoying the views at cute restaurants, we started debating whether further cruising was for us. Always constrained by time in port is becoming a factor in determining our vacation wants and needs. If Carnival would have made all the ports, this discussion may not have occurred. This cruise had become a disappointment to us.
In Rome, we went to some areas we had not seen, the Appian Way and the Aqueducts. They were very impressive. We also went to the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and St. Peter's Basilica.
My wife and I were very dissatisfied with the cruise. We planned for a year for it, spent a lot of money to get there, and were totally at the whims of Carnival management. It still bothers me to think of the first time Carnival cruisers I met who said they were disappointed with cruising and how they would never choose Carnival again.
I have read John Heald's blog with his two letters from people who were on the cruise. One expressing disappointment, one expressing praise and regrets for the captain and CD. He dismissed this cruise with no apologies or interest. The second letter expressing praise for the captain for "keeping us safe" reminds me of the people in airports who do not mind intensive groping by TSA in efforts to "keep us safe."
I'll give Carnival another chance on the upcoming Christmas cruise on the Victory. It's already paid for, I have no choice. But if we see a repeated pattern of missing ports for Carnival to save port fees, increase revenue in the bars, casinos, and shops, then we will stop cruising Carnival.