With three cruises under our belts, I am a firm believer that a cruise is as fun as you choose to make it. We have thoroughly enjoyed every single one of our experiences! Put a smile on your face and treat people well (other passengers and staff) and it will come back to you ten fold! "Where are you from" is the easiest and most natural way to make a new friend. Try it! :-)
Travel to Port of Embarkation: Ecstasy leaves from the easily-navigated Port Canaveral. We flew from Iowa into Orlando/Sanford airport on Allegiant Air. Direct flight and cheapest by far (even with bag/seat fees added). Sanford airport is about an hour drive from the Port. We fly in a day before a cruise to avoid any issues should there be travel delays. We booked a car with pick-up at Sanford Airport and next day drop-off at a location two miles from the port. The fee is higher when you don't return the car to the same location, but at around $80 bucks for the 24 hour period, it was no more expensive than the shuttles to the ship and it gave us freedom! We went to the Cocoa Beach Pier and shopped Ron Jon. We pricelined a hotel in the Cocoa Beach area and a $57 bid was accepted by International Palms Resort (however, that was about all the hotel SHOULD have cost! ha) Got up the next morning and visited a Native Rythym festival being held in Melbourne before heading back to return car around 12:30 p.m. (boarding ship scheduled to end at 3 p.m. and we made it with plenty of time to spare). The rental company shuttled us to the port with front door service! Nice. We tipped the shuttle driver $1 per bag.
At the port, we had our boarding pass and passport (in the case of my husband, an original birth certificate and driver's license) ready and zipped right thru security and boarding. I saw a couple huge bottles of gin that had been confiscated on my way thru line. Had they tried to disguise them as small children? I mean they were huge! LOL My diet mountain dew passed thru (happy dance!) I had never tried to take my own soda or water before, even tho I had read you could.
Because we board a little closer to sailing time than some folks, our room is always ready (bags may not be there yet, but they will show up soon)! It usually gives us a chance to meet our room steward and introduce ourselves. A $5 tip with a request for fresh ice daily works well for us. It helps set the tone and we have always had the BEST experiences with our room crew. They work hard and yes, you have gratuities built in, but they really deserve more than they make, I'm sure. Being greeted by name every time you are seen walking in the hall is impressive! Think how many people they see every day cruise after cruise. Kudos to AGUNG our room steward on the Ecstasy!
Activities: We choose to do everything we can fit in! Winning a ship on a stick is the goal - practice your trivia and mini golf! It makes so much more fun in our opinion. You meet so many new people and everyone has a story. Fun! Each night when you get your turn-down service they leave an agenda of the next day's activities. Grab a deck layout from guest services and plan your walking path (it's confusing! By the last day of the cruise, you'll have it down. :)
Carnival staff is excellent -- they may not all speak fluent English, but a smile is universal!
Stateroom: We always book the cheapest cabin (when are we ever in the room!?) but this time Carnival offered an upgrade for $50 per person for an outside room and my husband said yes (without checking with me might I add). Ha It was nice, but still... in my opinion not necessary. It does let in light tho, so trips to the bathroom are easier and we woke up earlier if the curtains were open. He swears it was a bigger room. Hmmmm. Not sure.
Dining: We chose early dining on previous cruises and thought those were too early when you had a port day. So this time we chose late dining and that was pretty late! Maybe next time we'll do anytime dining. One of these days we'll figure it out. Wait staff has always been excellent on our cruises and we usually tip the head waiter the last evening. That's optional, but when someone is laying my napkin in my lap every night I think that's pretty decadent. Really... it's amazing how fast I get used to being treated so special. :)
Entertainment: The shows are fun. Make sure you take the time to do a production, a comedy, a game show, piano bar, etc... It's date night every night, so take advantage.
Disembarkation: This last cruise was super smooth. We've had some in the past that took a bit longer and were more crowded. Don't know what the difference was, so I'm giving props to Ecstasy crew.