Carnival got it mostly right, with only a few misses, on the Breeze (Eastern Caribbean 12/08/12).
My wife and I are seasoned (over 20) cruisers, on multiple cruise lines. This was our seventh Carnival cruise. I had a poor experience on the Carnival Liberty, seven weeks earlier, and had lowered my expectations for this cruise. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised that just about everything that went wrong on the Liberty was right on the Breeze.
In most of my recent cruises, I normally check-in a small cooler with water and soda at curbside without any problems. This time the porter wouldn't accept it. He said I had to take it as carry on luggage. So I complied, since I knew those were the rules. (I wished I could have taken some of my tip back.)
There was the typical line and short delay to go through Security. Passport scanning was uneventful, but after screening carry-on luggage, a security guard had to shake every water bottle to check for alcohol. He had quite a rude attitude and seemed disappointed that he didn't find any. (I'm thinking... oh, oh, not a good start.)
Once inside the terminal, the line to check-in moved very quickly. When we reached the counter, we showed our boarding pass, were given sign and sail cards, and then told to proceed directly to the ship (instead of sit and wait until our boarding zone number was called. What a pleasant surprise!)
Carnival corrected and eliminated the bottleneck that I had experienced just seven weeks earlier. The picture taking and linkage to the sign and sail card is no longer a bottleneck, since there is now a linkage to the picture in your passport. (I don't know if this will be a long term fix or how it impacts passengers with older passports or without passports, but it sure suggests that someone is doing some original thinking to address passenger concerns. Points earned here Carnival!)
First impressions are lasting. On entering the ship, there were staff members saying welcome aboard. A simple gesture (which has disappeared on many ships) sets the tone.
The decorations were tasteful and the colors seemed more subdued than other Carnival ships. All in all, it was a very pleasant and inviting atmosphere.
Furnishing/decorations in the Lido Marketplace were attractive. More importantly, seating was plentiful, and we never had to search for an available table, the entire cruise.
The public areas never seemed crowded at any time. There was an abundance of available lounge chairs in many areas. In addition to the upper decks, outdoor seating on deck 5 was plentiful. Cushioned seating under umbrellas was a nice touch.
The main pathway from the atrium through the casino to the rear of the ship was larger than other ships. There was also less smoke as smoking was limited to the other side of the casino. (Another nice improvement by Carnival.)
For those wanting to avoid the casino, there was a main thoroughfare on the deck 4. One could get from the Blush Dining Room in the rear to the Ovation Theater in the front, without smelling any smoke at all.
We had a Spa Balcony cabin on deck 12. No surprises here. The cabin showed its newness and was sparkling clean. It is nicely furnished and has lots of storage space and everything in working condition. (Two days into the cruise, I asked for the shower head holder to be tightened, and it was completed by the time I returned to my cabin. Great response from maintenance staff!)
The thalassotherapy pool in the spa was one of the main attractions in booking the spa cabin. Unfortunately, the pool was somewhat disappointing. The pool is too small, and jets, especially at knee height were not strong enough. The layout of the spa area wasn't optimal, but still workable.
Over the years, we have gradually lowered our expectations for the quality of the food and the level of service on cruise ships.
Breakfast selections were standard fare without any outstanding specialty items.
Lunch had more variety. The buffet items in the back were often different than the items in the front, but there was no way of knowing without walking around before starting.
Guy's Burgers is a definite hit. The "Ringer" is currently the best burger on a cruise ship.
The Asian stir-fry from the Mongolian Wok was very good.
The corned beef or pastrami sandwiches from the Deli were served hot and were very tasty.
Sushi from Bonsai Sushi was very good, but the menu is very limited.
The pizza had a light and crispy texture, but the flavor wasn't anything special.
Fat Jimmy's C Side BBQ was a big disappointment. The grilled Italian sausage was the only hot item. Everything else, I literally mean everything else, was cold. The cole slaw was too salt, the chicken breast was bland, and the pulled pork was dry and overdone. It was a very awful experience which I do not recommend. (Other reviewers on previous cruises said they liked it.)
Dinners in the main dining room were better than expected. We had a very attentive wait team and an outstanding Maitre D who sang two songs each night. The food was served hot and many items were very tasty. Lobster tails were a decent size and cooked properly, and you could order extras without getting the shrimp too. The crab cakes and prime rib on the last night were delicious. I also satisfied my banana split cravings by ordering from the children's menu.
The menus, on the different Carnival ships, are almost identical. It was very surprising that the same item on the Breeze compared to the Liberty, was much tastier on the Breeze. Go figure... something else that Carnival got right on the Breeze!
At $35 per person, the steakhouse wasn't an attractive option.
The chocolate cake from room service is excellent. I don't know why, but it is not available from the Lido Marketplace or in the dining room, and you can only get it through room service. The time between ordering and delivery was amazingly fast.
I like Mojitos. The first one that I ordered wasn't right. It did not have enough sugar, or rum, and had too much mint. Since Mojitos depend a lot on who makes them, I switched to Pina Coladas for the rest of the cruise. These were very good. No complaints with any of them.
The bar waiters were excellent. Order one drink and, amazingly, they'll remember your name, and greet you, whenever they see you for the remainder of the cruise.
Like food, our expectations for the shows have been lowered.
For a new ship, the design of the theater was disappointing. Good seats were the first six rows in the center. But, even here, the first floor was level instead of being on a slight slope. Many seats were blocked by the huge columns. I have seen much better seating layouts on older ships. Carnival could have done better here.
The first production show, Divas, was very good. The dancers were extremely energetic and seemed to dance non-stop for the entire show. The male and female lead singers were very good. But, the cast was small, only seven, and costume changes were minimal.
The second production show, Latin Nights, started slowly, and did not improve much during the rest of the show. I would not be surprised if this show was discontinued early.
The third production show, The Brits, was entertaining. It featured a clever use of film for background scenery and blended well with the real sets and the live performance.
Carnival used recorded music instead of a live show band. Together with the relatively small cast of seven, and minimal costume changes, the shows seemed much less elaborate than previous experiences.
The three variety shows featured a comedian, a ventriloquist, and a juggler. They each provided very entertaining performances. There also seemed to be more audience participation in the shows.
Carnival introduced the Hasbro Game Show. I found this to be a nice change of pace, the first time, when episode one was presented in the afternoon. However I felt somewhat short-changed, when I found out that episodes two and three were the main show in the theater on two other evenings.
The comedy shows were all well attended. The Punchliner Comedy Club is too small for the crowds. Carnival asked you to leave the lounge after the first show, and join a line to re-enter the lounge for the next show. It would have been better to have the shows in the main theater.
All together, production shows, variety shows, game shows and comedy were well run and certainly adequate.
The Cool Breeze band played in the Ocean Plaza for your dancing pleasure. The Ocean Plaza has a dedicated dance floor, which is a huge improvement over other Carnival ships where the band plays by the walkway adjacent to the casino. (Carnival earned points here as this is a major improvement.)
The band was good, with a lead female vocalist with a wide range. However, they tended to repeat a few favorite songs, and after the first three nights their sets seemed predictable. It showed that they have not been playing together for too long, as they also did not respond to song requests.
The Massino Duo played mainly in the lobby. The lobby has a dance floor, but the musicians were placed on a platform above the dance floor. I realize that Carnival designed this to maximize the use of the space. But it doesn't work. Ambience and atmosphere were lacking here.
The female singer was the main singer. She was good, singing Anne Murray or Frank Sinatra type songs, sometimes in Spanish with a Latin rhythm.
Even the music in the disco seemed to be better this cruise. While we don't normally go to the disco, we found ourselves there on two occasions, drawn in by the music, as we were passing by. Seating in the disco area could be improved.
Carnival switched to a DJ instead of a Caribbean band on the Lido deck. I knew this a new trend on Carnival ships. Never-the-less I was mildly disappointed as I do miss the live band playing Calypso, Reggae, or Soca music especially on a Caribbean cruise.
For the three deck parties on the Lido deck, the DJ did a very good job. However those parties only lasted about an hour as the crowd tends to disperse as soon as the entertainment staff finishes their routine.
For the most part, the staff were all pleasant, courteous and attentive. The cabin stewards, dining room waiters, bar waiters, entertainment staff, and gift shop workers were all very good. Even the photographers were all polite; on some ships they have been overly aggressive in getting you to take pictures, but on the Breeze they were just right.
The maintenance staff is constantly cleaning and trying to keep the ship looking brand new. However they have an extremely difficult task at hand. The carpets are showing signs of spills. Some of the stairwells have food stains.
In the Lido Marketplace, at first, I was surprised to see so many people assigned to just mopping the floors when a passenger spills something, or someone walks in with wet feet. However I soon noticed that many passengers were constantly spilling drinks.
Senior staff was not very visible throughout the ship during the day. And, unlike many other cruise ships, you did not see much of the staff hanging out at the bars in the late evenings.
Some Passengers (Behaving Poorly)
Every cruise has a few passengers that spoil the experience for other passengers. This cruise surely had more than its fair share.
There was a couple with their two young children bouncing around the dance floor every evening and late at night.
There was another toddler meandering by herself on a crowded dance floor, without a parent.
There was the father with his 3-y.o. daughter, late at night in the lounge. She was eating a chocolate chip cookie and smearing chocolate on the chairs.
There was the couple in shorts and sneakers hopping on the dance floor when most others were dressed for elegant night.
There was the lady, walking with her coffee, in the Lido Marketplace. She spilled the coffee with every step as she looked around, instead of watching the coffee cup.
There was the man, not caring, spilling his coffee as he walked towards his cabin.
There was lady with the overloaded plate of food, dripping food, as she rode the elevator.
There was the couple at the VIFP cocktail party, each ordering three drinks because they were free. The woman sipped one, knocked the second one over, and saved the third for when she was leaving.
And who leaves a mug in the corner of the elevator, or a cocktail glass on the edge of a step on the stairs?
Worst of all was the man who used the urinal in the restroom next to the casino and left without washing his hands.
Ports of Call
St. Thomas -- On our own to Sapphire Beach; nice beach, but nothing spectacular. Taxi $10 per person, one way.
Antigua -- Carnival Tour -- Lobster and Champagne Sail was very enjoyable. Many cruise Critic posters have asked for reviews of this tour. About 70 people sailed on the catamaran to two different beaches. The drinks flowed freely from the start. Lobster lunch was delicious. The champagne wasn't high quality, but what do you expect when it is included with lunch? Music was great, and there was dancing on the return trip. The staff was very friendly and attentive. This is a tour that I recommend.
Tortola -- Carnival Tour -- Cane Garden Bay; another pleasant day at the beach. The time spent in Tortola was short so we choose to do a Carnival Tour instead of going on our own.
Nassau -- We've been to Nassau many times before so on this occasion we stayed on the ship and treated it like a Sea Day.
Cruising on the Breeze definitely met or surpassed my expectations. Carnival got many items right when it so easy to go wrong especially on a new ship. They get high grades for overall ship features, overall staff and provision of basic services. However there is room for improvement, especially in entertainment. It is a very good cruise, but could be better.