This is our "Third Annual Thanksgiving Cruise" for my little family of five. We selected this cruise because it fell during the week that we all are off of work and school. In addition, it was the best price overall.
Getting onto the ship was surprisingly quick. My husband, a thrifty runner, dropped us off with our stuff, and parked the car for $4.75 just over the bridge. He jogged back and met us within about 20 minutes. We did not wait in line to check in before security and there was no line to go through security. We waited for just a few minutes to get our boarding cards/rooms keys and then walked right on. We were onto the ship by 12:30, and were told that the rooms would be ready by about 1:30.
The public areas were very clean. They had a decent amount of the Carnival neon lights, but not as much as normally used I am guessing. There were a lot of places to sit and converse quietly, or to read a book if you just needed some peace. In the area close to the casino, it smelled sort of smoky. There are designated smoking areas; if you don't smoke, this might annoy you. If you do, then you'll be happy. I don't, and so I just stayed away. My girls especially liked the glittery curtains in the Dynasty Lounge. The library was spacious with several tables along the windowed wall where you could play games or cards. It sort of reminded me of my grandmother's house from years ago; I suppose that's not the best compliment because it was a bit dated in the library, but it was great for playing cards as we killed some time before dinner. The library had a nice small selection of books and games, but they were locked up in glass cabinets each time we were there. It never felt crowded to me as we wandered around the ship. They seemed to create enough space for people to really spread out, which was very nice. We noted that the elevators moved quickly and that you rarely had to wait for them. Public restrooms are difficult to locate on the ship, especially near the restaurant. There were a few shops and the prices were decent. We had not gotten souvenirs for our girls during the island stops, so I went there with them on the last night before dinner, and they both got a little silk purse (made in china) for $1 each, and each selected a pretty necklace that was $7-8. It actually wasn't much less on Cozumel, to be honest. I am not a big shopper, so I avoided the shops, especially during the big events because people were swarming like bees around there; it was crazy!
The cabin was an interior cabin on floor 4, the Riviera Deck. There were FIVE of us crammed into the cabin, so my husband and I slept on the king bed and two children slept on the upper bunks. There was a cot that we were supposed to have, but it was not set up, so we had a child in our bed. That's not the best option, but we were, surprisingly, not crammed in. The room setup was fairly uncomfortable for five, so we tried to not all be in there at the same time. A nice flat screen television was mounted on the wall in the corner, so everyone could see it easily. The bed was pretty comfortable and the pillows were especially comfy. The room seemed very clean to us. The room steward did an excellent job of cleaning our room. He seemed to keep track of when we would leave and pounce on the room immediately. He was never finishing up cleaning the room when we returned from somewhere. He was friendly and had an excellent attitude. The bathroom seemed larger than some of the ones I've had in other cruises. They apparently had updated it, because the flooring was actually a textured blue plastic material. The shower water was warm and easy to adjust and the shower worked great. Apparently, some of the ship's inner workings were near our room because I could hear various noises at odd hours. In addition, I heard the little baby next door to us quite clearly when he/she was crying; and she/he cried a good bit. In spite of these things, I slept pretty well.
They have a walking/jogging track; you go around 11 times to get to one mile. I didn't bother using it because it's kind of boring; instead, I walked around the ship a lot. The putt-putt area is clean and is a great place for the kids. This was a nice place for my older child, a boy, to meet other kids. Kids would just join in together and play. You can check out the clubs and balls by the pool and just return them when finished. It is a bit windy in this area, however, depending on how fast the ship is moving, so be warned!
There is one swimming pool and it seemed very clean. However, I think that the ship could easily use one more pool. There are only two hot tubs that are available for all to use. We noticed that children sort of took over the hot tubs and so the adults could not enjoy them as much. The music was TOO loud by the pool. You cannot hear to converse with someone within three feet. However, there is a "Serenity" area for adults only at the back of the ship. It has two hot tubs and was never packed when I walked through there to fetch towels. The big hit for my children in the way of water was the water slide area. It has three nice water slides, in addition to some water play areas. Children really loved this area, and my kids spent a good bit of time there. However, it was pretty windy on one of the days, so it was very empty at that point.
As far as "enrichment," I didn't really attend many classes or gatherings. I did take my two older kids to the towel folding demonstration. They really liked that, which surprised me.
The price for this cruise was very good. We have found Thanksgiving time to be a great time for the thrifty cruiser! Tips were, I believe, $11 or $11.50 per person per day. It is automatic tipping. I prefer the old way of doing it; handing the envelope to the service personnel, but I can understand that there are those who do not tip unless it comes out automatically. It was kind of funny that all five of us, crammed into a tiny stateroom, paid tips for the cleaning, but we had planned for it, anyhow. Celebrity cruises actually charges half tip per day for children; Carnival might consider this option, though I doubt they will.
My family really enjoyed the food. I, personally, love to cook and am particular about what food I eat. It was better food that the two cruises I took last year. We ate at the buffet after checking in, and when the kids wanted a snack after being onshore. Other than that, we had our meals in the Starlight Dining Room. Ours was the 8:15 seating. We had requested the early seating and did not receive it. In the future, if a ship cannot accommodate this request when we book, we probably will not go on that ship. It makes it very difficult with young children. Anyhow, they had a very nice selection on the menus. My husband loves seafood and really got his fill. They still do the lobster tail night. The desserts were good and the warm chocolate melting cake was excellent. It would be nice if there was a children's menu, because the portions were too large for my girls, and so food was wasted, which I really hate to see on cruises. Our children enjoyed the 24 hours ice cream in the buffet area. It was soft, rather icy ice cream, but they didn't care. Personally, I don't eat that kind, but you can get regular ice cream in the dining room. In addition, there is a 24 hour pizza pirate (that's what it's called) in the back of the buffet area. My children loved the pizza; I thought it was okay to good, but I make my own homemade pizza, so I'm probably rather picky. There was not a line for pizza ever and they served you quickly. One area that seemed popular was the Mongolian Wok, which I had the first day. It's outside, and you choke and cough as you walk by because of the high heat from the woks. You select your veggies and noodles and then the cook behind the counter prepares it with your choice of meat and sauce. It was really good. There is a deli with tasty sandwiches, which we had prepared on the day that the main dining room was closed for lunch. Be specific if you are really picky, or they just prep the sandwiches all the same.
The people, in general, dress very casually for meals. Even on the dressy night, I saw very casual dress. On a non-dressy night, people were wearing shorts in the dining room. There were men in sleeveless shirts, and they did not look good. In addition, some of the people were just plain rude. People stepped in front of my husband in a few different lines. Children were yelling and jumping around in the hot tub as their parents sat right there and did nothing about it. Some guy yelled out rudely during the muster station drill. Another guy was giving the hostess in the Pride Dining room open seating a hard time because he would have to wait ten minutes to be seated.
My husband and I are not really into entertainment, as far as dances and such. I am a musician, but like a break now and then from music. My kids, however, loved the options that allowed them to be entertained. They all saw the magician perform for their "kids club" groups and thought he was wonderful. In addition, my youngest really loved the break-dancer. He gave them lessons and was funny according to her. They actually had the break-dancer perform in the atrium before dinner one night and it drew quite a crowd.
The service was okay to excellent. Our room steward, as I mentioned, was excellent. I have been on over ten cruises now, and he was motivated and fast and efficient. He was very friendly and pleasant, but not pushy. On the first night, the service for dinner was quite slow in the dining room. The headwaiter seemed stressed out and unhappy. On the second night, there was an additional water, and he was excellent. He was very fast and friendly and nice with the kids. We don't expect food to be served at breakneck speed in a fine dining situation, but he filled up drinks quickly and was friendly, which was nice. During the times that we ate lunch and breakfast in the Pride dining room (open seating), we had the same female server four times and she was very good. However, we had a couple of male servers on the final day who were at the point of rude and almost angry. I noticed that several of the servers in the Pride dining room seemed anxious and rude. The ladies seating people seemed to be very overwhelmed and somewhat rude, as well. However, if you were to see how some of the clientele on the ship acted, perhaps that is why.
This was probably the best children's programming I have seen on a cruise ship. They had really fun activities for the kids. My youngest went a couple of different times, and our son (who is 12) spent a lot of time in Club 02. He loved it and met some nice kids. There are good movie selections on the in-room TVs for children, too. There are three movies that run throughout the day; it's nice if someone is not feeling well (I had a fever the second day and my youngest was sick with an allergic reaction on the first day) or as you are getting ready and trying to keep the kids calm.
This is our third Thanksgiving Cruise, and in the past, a bigger deal was made of the holiday. Since it is out of a U.S. port, it would have been nice to have a little more made of it. They did have a nice Thanksgiving meal at dinner, and a few people dressed up as a turkey and pilgrim, but not much else. On previous cruises, they had parades, and nice presentations about Thanksgiving. This is a big football day for many Americans, and other cruises had parties in the lounges with hot dogs, snacks and drinks, but not this one. Several people were trying to figure out where they could watch the games, and the customer service desk wasn't really sure. They might want to consider printing out the information in the daily info brochure.
We did not pay for any cruise line excursions.
As I mentioned, we were pleased with the value. My only concern is the fact that they are willing to charge us what they do to cram us five into such a little room. Next time, we will book two rooms.