It's 9 am on a bright and sunny Wednesday in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on the Carnival Breeze. You're sitting outside on the Lido deck , eating tepid scrambled eggs (strangely blended with flour, i think) and drinking weak coffee. John and Calvin are on the giant "Dive In" screen interspersing homophobic slurs with fat jokes. You are surrounded by exhausted seniors who are struggling with constant consecutive one-hour time changes, the elbows-up offensive moves required to navigate the omelette and beverage stations, and the jaded entertainment staff offering yet another round of recycled trivia. Your four-year-old daughter is asking for Club Carnival. It will not be open for another hour.
The good news is that the weather is unseasonably warm. The bad news is that there is another three days of this, before you mercifully hit land in Antigua and take a break from life on this ship.
My husband, four-year-old daughter and I disembarked from the Transatlantic repositioning cruise of the Carnival Breeze a few days ago. The ship launched in Barcelona, and included three ports of call in Spain, plus two pit stops in Antigua and St. Maarten, concluding in Miami.
This is not our first cruise, but it was by far our longest expedition. It has cured us of ever trying a Transatlantic with Carnival again. Or probably any cruise with Carnival.
Our beef with our experience is mainly related to the programming and, to a lesser degree, the food. I will not dwell on the management of logistics, such as embarkation and disembarkation, given that Carnival cannot control all aspects of this process. Further, the cabin (we had a balcony room on the 8th floor) was quiet and kept clean. The Breeze is only six months old, and met expectations for a clean, modern and well designed cruise ship.
The food. As many passengers have pointed out, the Breeze is hit and miss. On the plus side, the kiosks on the perimeter of the Lido deck were, for the most part, top notch. Guy's Burgers are decadent and delicious, the burrito station (staffed by a duo of unfailingly polite and enthusiatic burrito-meisters) was excellent, and the Tandorri kitchen provided a nice change of pace. Like many others, I became fairly addicted to the Mongolian Grill for lunch (go Sechuan chichen!). On the minus side, the pizza, like most of the offerings in the dining room, was designed to succeed (freshly made, innovative fast ovens) but just missed somehow -- was it the namby-pamby sauce maybe? The fact the centre is a bit too doughy? Chef needs to go back to the drawing board on that one.
The dining room experience was well organized, except for the strange cagey and eccentric attitude about the wine packages. Carnival, how can a wine package be unavailable on a ship that has been touring the Mediterranean for six months? And why are you offering crappy Italian bottles when we are cruising in Spain? Bizarre.
The evening menus offered by the Breeze were usually promising, but the execution always came a little short. Meat cuts tended to be tough and often over-cooked -- fine, we can live with that in the cheap seats -- but the sauces usually failed completely (bernaise that appeared to be dijon mustard mized with mayonaise, jerk sauce without heat -- psst kitchen, the purpose of sauces is to mask the cheap cuts...). The exception were some of the excellent soups served on the first three days of the cruise, using stocks as a base that had some serious depth.
The programming. I could be churlish and say the best fun on the ship was being poured into pint glasses at the Redfrog pub, but that would be unfair. Instead, I will offer Carnival the following seven pieces of advice.
#7 -- Trivia does not an entertainment program make. You need to offer other things to do in the afternoon.
#6 -- Enough with the Fun Shop and Spa announcements already. John's incessant broadcast pitches about today's overpriced "sale" spa package and the 25% off sale on t-shirts from the previous cruise were annoying (hey John -- you approve the content of the Fun Times, so you know -- we read about them already, we're good! And we're still not interested!)
#5 -- Okay, we don't go on vacation to watch TV. Good thing, because the endless repeats of five random shows of the Discovery Channel that comprised the Transatlantic offering would have made for boring dinner conversation, after the sixht day.
#4 -- Why do we have to pay for movies at the movie theatre? Aren't movies usually free on cruises? Aren't you supposed to show different movies everyday? Judging from absolute lack of interest in your movie theatre, you may want to rethink that one.
#3 -- Why do you close Camp Carnival everyday from 1-3 pm on sea days (hottest, most dangerous time of day to have the little ones out in the sun) and provide absolutely nothing for them to do? I know -- maybe they can watch cartoons in the room? Oh wait -- see #8. No kids TV offered at all. Also, see #4 -- no movie showing during Camp Carnival closure (even if we wanted to pay the 15 bucks).
#2 -- Deck party. From the endless cycle of repeat footage on the Cruise Director channel, we watched the same set of dancers (many wearing parkas and woolen hats) day after day. Is that all there is, my friends? If we can't keep dancing, I guess we can at least break out the booze...
#1 -- Sadly, after seven days at sea, it just got boring. Even the entertainment staff seemed bored. Carnival, the Super Trivia game was a good example of how to break things up, encourage a different kind of networking. Some special guest talks, other kinds of challenges that don't involve losing wads of cash (poker, bingo, blah) would be welcome.
We are fairly cured of cruising. But do hope Carnival considers these comments the next time they submit hapless travellers to mulitiple days at sea.