Background Information Not exactly youngsters, but we certainly do enjoy cruising...I am 69, my wife is 61. This Back-2-Back cruise was my 19th & 20th cruise overall and my wife's 5th & 6th. I have cruised 14 times previously on Carnival, 3 on Royal Caribbean, and 1 cruise on NCL. This was our first cruise on Carnival's newest ship, so we decided to book the 2-night cruise to Nassau and make it a back-2-back cruise, staying on board for the 8-night cruise to the Southern Caribbean.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
We live in southwestern Florida so typically it is an easy drive for us over to Miami, about 3 hours or so. This time we drove over to West Palm Beach a day early to meet some family members for an early Thanksgiving dinner, then drove the rest of the way down to Miami in preparation for our cruise the next day. We stayed just west of the Miami airport at the Holiday Inn on NW 87th Ave. It is a quiet area away from the more congested areas, an Ale House Restaurant right there in the parking lot, and we enjoyed a quiet restful night.
Having cruised out of Miami many times, I've always parked at the Port of Miami which charges the rather stiff fee of $20.00 per day. For us, that would be a $200 hit for our 10-night cruise. After reading many positive reports on CC and other sites, we opted this time to utilize Premier Parking, which is located less than a mile from the Port at a rate of $8.00 per day plus a small admin fee. We arrived around 9am, promptly found a parking spot, and were loaded on the shuttle and whisked away promptly to the Port, which is less than a mile away. Upon returning from our cruise, we had little stick-on patches for our shirts with the phone number to call for a shuttle, but when we walked off the ship, there already were several Premier Parking shuttle vans there, and we were loaded up and back to our car within minutes. We found the Premier Parking experience to be friendly, efficient, and soundly economical, and much, much less expensive than parking at the Port. Everyone we dealt with was polite and professional. I will definitely use them for future cruise parking out of Port of Miami.
We had considered one of the new "Cove Balconies", but decided we didn't want to be down that low and near the water. So we finally settled on a Category 8G Balcony cabin 11273 which is located on the Panorama Deck 11, forward on the Starboard side. It was a reasonably convenient location, as only a few steps out of our cabin and we emerged on a platform with a stairwell which led down to the Lido Deck, and from there to Guy Fieri's Burger Bar, the Blue Cantina buffet, the main pool and the Lido deck open area. A few more steps and you're into the Lido Marketplace where the buffet areas are located. One not so great thing was that being near the bow of the ship, it was always a very long walk to the stern area, to the Tides Bar, or the Tandoor Grill and the aft Lido pool area.
Aside from the fairly convenient location, I wouldn't stay in this cabin again because of the noise from the Lido Deck. We were the second cabin away from the Lido open deck area and this of course is where all the late-night partying goes on. Although the room is fairly well sound-proofed, I was awakened a couple times at night from the noise. And trying to enjoy some quiet time on the balcony was often nigh impossible, even during the afternoons, because of the distracting noise from the Lido deck activities.
After talking to several of our friends who had booked Cove cabins, we were glad we didn't. This particular voyage was very windy throughout and every one of our friends who had Cove cabins told us the balconies were pretty much unusable throughout the cruise because of the wind and spray which essentially kept the balconies soaked.
The Breeze is the third and newest of the Dream class ships, and we were excited to be cruising on her for her inaugural cruises out of Miami. After 10 days on board however, we find that we are less than impressed with the overall design of this vessel. Although there are a lot of good things to say about the Breeze's design, there were some elements that had us scratching our heads and wondering how Carnival could pay so much money for such bad ideas.
Specifically -- the ship lacks the open spaces of other class ships. The main open deck pool area on the Lido Deck is not as big as other ships and somehow the designers have managed to pack so many activities in such a small space, that this area is often crowded and nearly gridlocked when you're trying to move around.
Guy Fieri's Burger Bar, for example is located in this area, adjacent to a major traffic flow area into/out of the Lido Marketplace. To make matters worse, once you get your burger, the condiment station is located as what seems to be an afterthought, and with two lines of burger-consumers trying to mustard up their burgers, there is only about a two-foot wide space at the corner of the condiment station for people going to/from the Lido Marketplace area. This was always a major squeeze play for passengers trying to get through the area but having to dodge the burger bar customers.
The same ineffiecient design is repeated on the other side where the Blue Cantina burrito bar is located. If there are more than a few people in line -- as there frequently are -- the burgers are handed out quickly, but burritos require much more time to construct, so there is often a gaggle of people in line for a burrito, which -- you guessed it -- quickly blocks access to the main sliding door and ingress/egress to the Lido Marketplace.
Also located in this Lido deck area is the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar, as well as the Red Frog Rum Bar, and the big movie screen. All of these major activities are clustered around the main pool area which is much smaller than other ships, and the entire operation is often crowded and difficult to navigate.
Another element of the Breeze's design which my wife and I talked about many times, is the -- how to describe it -- the just plain vanilla look of the ship's public areas. I guess we are used to the Joe Farcus look, lots of kaleidoscopic colors and nearly psychedelic colorful designs and paintings, etc., but we feel these tropical and vacational designs serve to draw you into the cruise ship experience. The overall look of the Breeze -- from the cabins to the sterile light wood look of the Marketplace areas is simply "plain." Light-colored simulated wood grain paneling, and pastel colors throughout give the entire ship a "light" look, but for us it was a bit too ordinary. If we really wanted this kind of look, we'd probably opt for an ordinary hotel room, but on a cruise ship we would much rather have flamboyant!
The "Tides Pool" area on Lido Deck 10 aft...again, it is a small, very abbreviated area, dominated by the pool at the center, with the Tides Bar on one side. It is mainly filled with lounge chairs, but there are some tables/umbrellas but only on one side. For a ship that has around 4000 passengers, this is a woefully inadequate area as far as its size.
Another thing I noted was that the outside areas of Deck 4 -- which is the deck which has access to the lifeboat areas, was completely off limits to passengers. This was disappointing to me, as the deck with the lifeboats on other vessels has always been a great area to walk around, mostly in the shade and a lot of quiet. I don't know why the designers made it this way, but I did notice crew members shuttling back and forth often on this deck, but sorry to say passengers cannot access it. There is Deck 5 outside however, that does encircle the entire ship, two hot tubs on either side, several outdoor seating areas with tables and umbrellas. But I still missed not being able to get outside on Deck 4.
On the "done-good" side of design, we noted that the Sports Bar is now collocated with the Casino -- a brilliant move, as most of its patrons are smokers, it looks like they've combined these two elements efficiently. Like most cruise ships, the Breeze being no exception, if you are not traversing the length of the ship on Deck 10, Lido -- where you must traverse the entire length of the ship through the buffet areas -- then you'll probably end up on Deck 5, which means you'll have to walk through the Casino and past the Sports Bar, whether you like it or not. As we are neither smokers nor gamblers, we tried to avoid this route whenever we could. Deck 4 inside is a good alternative if you want to avoid the Casino and the Lido Marketplace area.
Another questionable design is the location of the Serenity Adults only area being adjacent to the water slide, dump bucket, and kids play area. Kind of hard to enjoy the solitude and serenity of this area when there is the constant squealing of folks who are participating in water sports and such. We visited this area a few times, but it was pretty difficult to find any open seats. There is a small bar here as well, and if you get the timing right, it can still be a quiet and restful experience.
The Breeze has many options for dining and we tried to explore as many as possible.
Lido Marketplace -- this is the typical Carnival buffet experience, and pretty much it was what we were used to on other Carnival ships. There is always a large variety of assorted dishes, plenty of ammunition to construct any type of salad you wanted, meats & cheeses for sandwiches, plenty of desserts, and always the deli sandwich grill, a popular option. One extremely popular option was the Mongolian Wok, which always had a long line, and waits up to 30 minutes or more. Contributing to the long lines is the architecture of the ship that has the two main thoroughfares for passenger movement along the length of the ship going through the Lido Marketplace on both sides. The lines from the buffet often collided with lines of people simply trying to get from one end of the ship to the other. Not the greatest of traffic designs, but no complaints on the food and variety available here.
Guy Fieri's Burger Bar -- if you like burgers, this is the place for you! They are excellent; much improved over Carnival's previous burger offerings. I think I ate three of them during our cruise.
Blue Iguana -- Excellent in all respects. You can get a burrito or a taco constructed to your liking with an entire range of toppings from which to choose. One nice thing was they were open for breakfast, serving breakfast burritos. A nice change from the regular breakfast items on the Lido buffet, where you can still get the standard breakfast fare as well as omelets and eggs cooked to order.
Fat Jimmy's C-side BBQ -- Only open on sea days from 12:00pm to 2:30pm and always a long line! But I decided one day to go the distance and I think I waited about 25 minutes or so, but at times I saw the lines much longer. A nice selection of barbequed chicken, sausages, and pulled pork, cole slaw, corn-on-the-cob, baked beans, all the typical fixings you would expect at any BBQ restaurant. I sampled a little of everything and found it to be quite good. It needs to be open for a longer period of time as only 2 and Â½ hours to serve a 4000 passenger filled ship is going to mean a long wait if you want BBQ.
Tandoor -- If you like curry, as I do, then this is the place for you! To be honest, I didn't really know the names of everything I ate, but I tried to sample different dishes. All of them had a rich curry flavor, some much more spicy than others. This spot never had a long line, perhaps the curry is not for everyone, but I thought the food served there was very good.
Cucina del Capitano -- Another bright spot among the host of dining venues on the Breeze. We ate there several times for lunch -- for which there is no service charge -- it is essentially a cooked-to-order pasta bar, and everything we had was freshly cooked and served hot. We also had dinner there one evening with a large group of friends, and of course the evening meal comes with a $12 service charge, but the dishes were excellent! One interesting and questionable ship design element has the outdoor basketball court directly above the Cucina restaurant. All during lunch there is the constant thump, thump, boom, boom of basketballs pounding on the roof, like constant thunder. During dinner times, I understand they restrict the hours for the basketball court, as we didn't notice this going on during the one evening meal we had there.
Bonsai Sushi -- With so many other eating venues on the Breeze, we almost didn't make it to the Sushi restaurant, but finally did get there one afternoon. Everything is ordered from a menu with prices clearly shown, and I thought the prices charged were reasonable. We sampled several different dishes, ending up having so much left over we took it away in a to-go box for later consumption. For sushi lovers, this is I think a very good culinary experience.
Red Frog Pub -- After reading a lot of hype about this place, I have to say that overall it was a bit disappointing. It's really nothing more than another bar on the ship and often times we found it difficult to get timely service there. The Red Frog has a menu of bar snacks, but disappointingly, only available after 4pm. As this would cut into our normal dining times, we never got a chance to try those snacks. We did however, sample Carnival's original brew, their Red Frog Ale, which I found to be light and satisfying.
Main Dining Room -- MDR -- Sapphire
We had "Your Time Dining," and for most of our evening meals, we ended up with other friends, usually 6 or 8 of us and we would typically arrive for dinner around 7 -- 7:30pm. We found this to be a good time to show up for dinner, as we hardly ever encountered any waiting lines. We did note however, that upon exiting the MDR after 8:00 pm, there were often long lines extending out into the Atrium area. Timing truly is important if you have "Your Time" dining.
As to the quality of food -- I don't know how else to say it, but nearly every meal we had in the MDR was just terrible! Everything served was either overcooked, soggy, or just plain dried out. Our servers -- we tried to stick with the same team each night -- provided us with nothing less than superior service, but even they could not overcome the poor quality of the dishes we were served. It got so bad that by the 4th or 5th night, we were gathering around the menu posted in the lobby, making sad faces, groaning a bit, and wondering what we could do for alternate dining. We did end up eating in the MDR on 7 out of our 10 nights aboard.
I noticed the recent changes to Carnival's fleet wide menus when I cruised with them on the Legend in December 2011. While a few of the dishes were not of the greatest quality then, experiencing this same menu now on the Breeze, leaves no doubt that the quality of dishes served in Carnival's MDR has become the worst we've ever encountered.
Punch Liner Comedy Brunch -- Ah...the bright exception to our evening MDR experiences! Brunch was served on sea days from 9:00am to 1:30pm, offering a nice selection of breakfast/lunch choices. I opted for the Carne y Huevos twice and it was excellent! Every hour on the hour, one of the featured comedians would come and do a little 10-minute skit to entertain us, hence, "Comedy Brunch." We weren't too impressed with any of them, I think Carnival would do well to drop this idea entirely and just call it "Brunch." In any case, a nice menu and everyone in our group seemed pleased with their selections.
Room Service - A real mixed bag. One morning we phoned in an order for tea and coffee at around 6:15am. At 8am we had not received our order, so I called and canceled it. A profound "I'm very sorry," from the agent, but what good is their apology if I still don't have my coffee after more than an hour and a half wait? When we talked to our friends we discovered that several of them had similar experiences. The next morning we tried the door-hanger method, placing the same order as the day before, but this time for a 6am -- 6:15am delivery. Lo and behold, they showed up at 5:50am! We tried this on several other mornings and found the early morning door-hanger method was a sure-fire winner!
Plaza Cafe -- Think of this as you neighborhood pseudo-Starbucks coffee shop! A nice variety of coffee and latte drinks, as well as sweets, including chocolate-covered strawberries, cheesecake and other delectable offerings. I visited a few times in the mornings and found the coffee here to be a pleasant alternative to the standard "ship coffee" served in other dining venues.
The Ship's Libary - located on Deck 4 - a little hard to find at first because the entrance is directly adjacent to the Sapphire Dining room entrance. I visited there several times, and was delighted to discover that Carnival does not pipe in the ship-wide "elevator music," into the Library, which makes for a nice book-reading atmosphere. There is also a small martini bar located in the Library. It was only open during late afternoons and/or evenings and I never saw anyone utilizing it, but perhaps it was at other times.
Spa -- There was an issue with the Spa that I elevated to their manager through Guest Services, and I am happy to say it was resolved -- but it should have never happened in the first place.
In the cabins were little brochures which described all the Spa services available -- one of which was a $20 day pass to use the Thelasso Therapy Pool. When my wife and a friend tried to do that, they were informed that the "brochure was in error," and the cost would be $40, not $20. Understand -- I am not normally a complainer -- but I felt this was a bit outrageous and I so stated that to a Guest Services representative. He called the Spa Manager and gave me the phone. The manager informed me that the Breeze design was different than the other Dream-class ships and use of the Thelasso Therapy Pool on the Breeze also allowed access to other facilities in the Spa. She told me that the brochure listing the "$20 day pass" was intended for the Dream and Magic, but not for the Breeze. I'm sure as you're reading this, like me you are probably thinking..."what?" In any case I told the Manager that it was a misrepresentation to put those brochures in the cabins and then to charge a higher price than advertised -- and to my great surprise, she agreed! So my wife and her friend enjoyed a Thelasso Pool session for the advertised price of $20 -- but the bottom line is -- how many other people didn't question this and paid double the price?
Still Carnival's greatest asset! I don't think I ever passed by any crew member that did not greet me with a smile, and my interaction with all of the crew, from our room steward, to the servers in the MDR, to guest services, all of them -- kudos to Carnival for this great attitude from their staff. Friendly, courteous, eager to please, I don't think you can beat Carnival on this count.
Port & Shore Excursions
Our scheduled ports were Nassau; Grand Turk; La Romana, Dominican Republic; Curacao; and Aruba. After departing Grand Turk, somewhere around 9pm that evening, our cruise director came on the PA and announced that there was a serious medical emergency that required a helicopter evacuation, and the Captain had turned the ship around in order to rendezvous with a Coast Guard helicopter from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This was accomplished around midnight -- the next morning we were informed that due to the delay, we would not be stopping at La Romana, but intstead would proceed to an extended stop in Curacao, which provided us with an extra sea day instead. We all hope that whomever was involved has a speedy return to health and our prayers are with them.
Grand Turk -- Semi-Sub booked through Carnival. It was relatively inexpensive, but a good tour overallTour. The crew was friendly, professional and very safety conscious. In spite of this, here is a note to Carnival --
After our tour, and on the way back -- we were essentially a captive audience -- out came the tip jar and the sob story. I absolutely hate this part! I've already paid for the tour and the last thing I want now is pressure from the tour guides to put more money in their tip jar. What would work much better -- for me anyway -- is to simply tell us -- "hey, if you liked your tour today and would like to leave a tip -- the jar/bucket, etc, is there for you to do so." That way there is no pressure and the decision is left to me as to whether or not to participate. The way it was done was we were given the pitch and then the "jar" was passed down to each of us, one at a time. I don't like this kind of pressure and I've experienced it before on Carnival-sponsored excursions. Rest assured there will be no repeat performances!
Aruba -- Jolly Pirates Excursion
This was a non-Carnival tour that we booked with a group of friends -- there were 40 of us -- we booked directly with them and not through Carnival. All I can say is, it was an absolute fun tour, done right and everyone enjoyed the experience. We were taken to three different snorkel spots...treated to a great BBQ lunch --- not to mention an open bar for the entire excursion! In contrast to our Grand Turk excursion -- at the end of the tour, the crew told us there was a tip jar on the way off the boat and we could contribute if we wished. No sob story, no pressure! Well done! I would highly recommend the Jolly Pirates tour to anyone visiting Aruba, you won't be disappointed! After the tour we spent about an hour at their little shop where there is also a nice little bar. Lots of tables in the shade of palm trees and such. And of course there's local beer!
We did not opt for any of the entertainment events, nor did we participate in the "Ropes Course," or water slide activities, but many in our group did and seemed to enjoy those events and activities. We also decided against visiting the specialty steakhouse, Fahrenheit 451, for fear of the food quality being similar to the MDR and not wanting to invest another $70 in that direction.
As Platinum cruisers, we did enjoy Carnival's priority disembarkation. We opted for the "leisure debarkation method", having checked our bags the previous night. We met in the Ovation lounge and it was around 7:30am or so when we were led off the ship and to the baggage claim/customs area. There was a bit of a glitch in getting our luggage -- I don't note this as a complaint because I don't think it was the fault of anyone, but I just mention it here for the accuracy of this review. When the Breeze had docked at Miami the first time, it passed up the dock and made the turnaround so that when it finally docked it was on the Starboard side and facing seaward. (It also docked in this same manner at all the port stops, starboard side facing the dock.) When we returned from the 8-night, it pulled up to the dock on its port side without making that turnaround first.
As a result, all the baggage that had been pre-staged essentially came off the ship "backwards." Our luggage was in area "1B," but we waited more than 30 minutes and watched many other numbers roll by before we finally saw ours. I did speak with one of the Carnival reps in the luggage area -- he told me that the ship docked on its port side because of a medical situation with one of the passengers, who needed to get off quickly. Well, it made sense, because that would explain the delay in getting the luggage off, especially if it was pre-staged for a "starboard-side" docking. In any case, these things happen, it certainly wasn't that big a deal, I only note it here for the record. In spite of all, we were still off the ship, luggage (eventually) in hand, and shuttled to our parking lot and on our way by around 9am.
With 16 Carnival cruises now under our belts -- we have certainly enjoyed those experiences. And although we have a big family & friends Carnival cruise already booked for next year,our future cruise plans beyond that are becoming decidedly more non-Carnival. It's not that the overall experiences have been so bad, we just want to explore other cruise lines and see what the non-Carnival world is like. As to the ship itself, we have no fault with the Breeze per se, we just don't prefer its overall design and layout. Other ships in their fleet -- notably the Spirit Class and the Conquest Class -- in my opinion -- provide a much better cruise ship experience. But all in all, Carnival continues to excel in customer service, crew friendliness, and its overall attitude of caring about its customers. Our B2B cruise experience was overall a very good one -- with a small glitch here and there -- but nothing of the magnitude to spoil our holiday. But I will say this -- our experiences and quality of meals in the Main Dining Room are sufficient to empower our quest to move away from Carnival for future cruises. The food quality in the MDR is a major turn off. In spite of the new array of various dining venues associated with the Funship 2.0 upgrades, the evening meal in the main dining room remains a highlight for many passengers; I know it is for us. Carnival has changed their menus during the last couple of years, but I really don't think it's the actual elements of the menu selections themselves, it is more about the quality of the dishes themselves, they way they are prepared and served and how that is managed. It is our fervent hope that Carnival puts some focus on improving this experience for its customers beyond its current form.