We just returned from a 7 night Christmas cruise that departed Baltimore on the 23rd of December.
I have been on a previous Carnival Cruise aboard the Valor out of Miami. On balance, I enjoyed this cruise much more than my prior cruise. I think this is partially because my previous cruise was my first cruise and I was shocked by the sheer number of folks that typify what the rest of the world views as "Americans", the over abundance disgusting food, and the high school play level of entertainment. Basically, everything folks had said about carnival being the meatloaf and rednecks was more or less true. As an over educated professional, this was a shock.
This time around, I just decided to have fun. I wasn't expecting good food, or great entertainment. But boy was i surprised!
Anyway my review follows:
The port of Baltimore sucks. It'is not comfortable or visually appealing. the upside is that the parking is close by.
The ports of miami and canaveral were far superior to this place.
The Embarkation took longer than I would have liked and they had us sitting in a side room filled with plastic chairs, a cement floor, no windows, etc. cattle corral level stuff. Once the line started moving, things moved fast though. We were very very happy to get on the ship.
Our cabin was nice, exactly the same as all other carnival balcony rooms. nothing special. The bathroom seemed cleaner for some reason.
One thing you will notice is that the balcony is covered in salt. this is because the rough winter seas and the resulting seaspray.
About the ship in general:
The ship is large. It is not a mega ship, but you wouldn't know it. it has everything you'd expect on a larger cruise ship, but it is much much much more managable. true, the atrium is smaller, but so what? The shopping street is called via veneto and is basically a shopping mall area. unlike some ships, all the shopping is in one section along one street.
This ship is extremely well laid out. Easy to navigate and designed so everything flows. the only place where there is an overabundance of cruisers is the lido deck buffet.
There buffet is in an unusual configuration. It is spread out across the entire middle 50% of the lido deck. the reason is probably because the designers wanted prevent overcrowding. But it is still crowded anyway.
The options you'd expect to find on a larger ship, like the "Fish and Chips" section, or the burrito bar are missing from this ship. Everything else is the same. factory produced food. Cannot really comment because I didn't eat a whole bunch of it.
The theater is superior to the Valor. It is far more elegant, and there are no sideways seats. every seat points at an angle to the stage. very nicely done.
They did such a good job with clustering all of the entertainment venues near the front of the ship, including the grand staircase connecting the coverband lounge and the piano bar area. the butterflies lounge where the punchliner commedy club is right below the taj mahal theater where the shows are played. the entrances are side by side though. so you access the theater and commedy club on the same level, but take stair down to the commedy club.
The dining room (there is only one) is in the back of the ship. It is very nicely appointed. Not kitchy and quite elegant. no pink lights, alien intestine looking grapes hanging from the ceiling. just a sleek art deco inspired interior with no fusses.
the bad part about the dining room being in the rear is the intense vibration from rocky seas and a full throttle engine. if going slow in calm seas, you don't feel it.
Okay, on to the dining. The buffet is your basic sizzler buffet. why even comment on it. everyone knows it's not the best.
The dining room food is actually much better than on larger ships. why? because the passenger to kitchen staff ratio at each seating is less. They are pumping out food more quickly per passenger which means the food sits around less and gets to the passenger hotter.
As a rule, the main courses are nothing to right home about. the lobster, the mushroom ravioli, and a few other things were actually quite good. where the food shines is the appetizer course.
The salads are cold and fresh, the antipasto plate was quite good. the french onion soup was also good. some nights we ordered 5 appetizers and then ate only a little bit of our main course. never get the filet or any cut of meat. it will come out being more or less boiled. when food, particularly meat is cooked and then kept under a heat lamp, and then put under a dome where the steam cooks the food more, your steak becomes steamed meat and loses all it's character.
anyway, deserts were pretty good. everyone knows the chocolate melting cake is good. so i won't go into it.
Tea time was pretty good, but a bit disorganized. I like how it is in the main dining room. gives it a bit more elegance.
We ate almost every meal in the dining room. our justification: the food may not be top notch, but why stand in a buffet line when someone can wait on you? i mean, isn't that why you take a vacation?
So let me talk about David's. Davids is very good. went there twice. i think it was a mistake. should have gone there once. the mystique wears off after the first time. besides, the menu is exactly the same on every ship.
One thing I will comment on as a whole. The ENTIRE DINING STAFF. does not understand or know how to deal with ambiguity. So when you try to order a custom pizza (which they could easily do, as they have the ingredients), they try to resist. They will eventually do it, but not before giving you a deer in headlights look. The dining room staff is more or less the same. you can eventually get what you want, but not easily.
The room staff. very good. say thank you a lot and leave them a nice note. talk to them and when you ask them for a special request. they will oblige you readily.
Didn't do roomservice this time so I don't know about that.
Okay on to entertainment.
Shows: not great. good or fair... However, the christmas special and the around the world review were EXCELLENT. There was one blonde girl dancer who looked like she was an auxiliary dancer... like a member of the crew they quickly trained to fill an empty slot because another dancer broke her ankle or something. she was not good at all. The male singer, michael whiteside is very good. the woman singer although not super good, was entertaining. the motown show is basically a guy on stage singing covers. why is this even on stage?
The comedian was a racist. he said he was racial, but not racist. but when you make very "oriental" immitations about asians only (complete with the accent), but you refuse to do so with blacks or hispanics because you are afraid of them, that is called racism. blatant racism. Was he funny? yes. but he's racist. he doesn't even know he's being racist. he's not like mencia or russel peters with their race humor. he is racist.
The second commedian (overweight guy) was idiotic and not funny at all.
the last commedian who came on the ship at freeport from the south was a hoot! unexpected and understated commedy. best of the cruise... easily.
Now for the coupe de grace. the PIANO BAR!!! the guy at the piano bar, Derek. he is AWESOME. the singalong was wonderful. he's on the ship for a few more months so you should see him while you can. I was their almost every night and it was the highlight of each day. if you like music, like to sing, this is the place for you.
Honorable mention: Battle of the sexes and marriage shows. both funny, but too short. the battle of the sexes is run by two women. the questions they ask the men are very specific and difficult women's questions. the questions they ask the women are general questions anyone would know. totally lop-sided, but still a hoot. i helped break the men's 6 week losing streak in the first round! woo hoo!
Always book in advance and never use carnival. they will rip you off. do an outside excursion.
Cape Canaveral. During Christmas, any of the themeparks are a giant rip off. the fast pass/express passes are abject ripoffs as they cost as much as the ticket. so without an express pass you basically come into port and rent a car and go off to universal or whatever, ride 4 rides or so and come back after having spent 300 bucks including a rental car.
No my friends, stay away from that. the other choices - manatee tour, Kennedy Space Center etc are far better investments....
We went to Kennedy and were awed by the real apollo rocket (saturn 5) and the simulations they had. we were saddened by the fact that we didn't have enough time to linger and see everything.
Nassau. Sucked for us. we went to the fish fry. completely overrated. we have decided we do not like conch fritters. i ordered grilled conch. not what i expected.
shopping. meh. they are definitely cheaper. but when you're looking at a rolex, omega, etc... the watches are already 5000 dollars plus, so i mean, it's still a huge chunk of money.
go snorkeling or something instead. do a beach day. we took a local bus, and their was a free tour guide on board. this made me realize that i should have done a bus tour around the island. so interesting and informative.
Freeport: Hang out on the serenity deck. the water was too cold for snorkeling. we wasted our money.
debarkation. sucked. AS A RULE, do self debarkation. no need to hang out on the boat when it's cold out. you're just waiting. we didn't do self this time and we paid the piper for it.
I would definitely go on this cruise again. i know what i'm doing now. and armed with this knowledge, i will have an even better time
OH!!! AND ONE MORE THING! two more.... actually.
Serenity. absolutely awesome on this ship. it is the entire back end. beautiful panoramic views of the setting sun cannot be beat. also, being in the back, the wind is somewhat stunted making it far more pleasant. it is also larger than some other ships.
Also, here is an inside tip! they offer food on the serenity deck... the bar serves caprese sandwiches and other sandwiches in plastic boxes.
The gym is smaller than other ships. there is an arobics room that is hidden on the top level of the exercise equiptment section. if you are looking towards the equipment it will be on the right side. there is a door. go through it.
Happy sailing everyone!