My family just got back from our New Year's Eve cruise on the Legend and we really enjoyed this ship - overall, the itinerary is fantastic, the ship is lovely (but starting to show her age in some spots) and the service very good. Frankly, I was a bit nervous after reading some of the other reviews and I am happy to report that a lot of what I read was just plain wrong.
First, as everyone seems to agree, embarkation on this ship is really great. We live near Tampa,so we took out time arriving that morning and used the valet. Would I use the valet again for $125 plus the extra tips? I am not sure, as the parking garage is right across the street and saves you about $40 bucks, but the valet service was quick and friendly.
I had VIP check in on my last cruise out of Port Canaveral and regular check in during peak hours was faster in Tampa. We arrived around 12:30 and were on the ship 40 minutes later. Our luggage also arrived quickly and our room was open immediately (two perks I did not receive with VIP check in on the Ecstasy).
Our room was an extended balcony - this next part is totally my fault, but we booked on the Panorama floor (Deck 8) - I read the reviews and knew it was below the Lido Deck, but I thought that my kids would prefer the higher floor (they sort of equate that to the level of fanciness) - I would recommend you go one deck lower because the sound of chairs being dragged around got very old and you can hear the live music from your room - its not very loud and it isnt terrible, but you never know when you may want to take a nap. The cabin is a tight squeeze for four and the "extended balcony" isnt all that extended in my opinion (6x10 they claim, not enough for a lounger). Once you go balcony, you never go back, though. Nothing more relaxing in the evening or enjoyable during sun rise then to step out and feel the ocean breeze in your robe.
Service - I honestly don't know where all the haters who reported rude staff hung out - maybe there were one or two people who could have used a personality, but overall, from the moment you walk on this ship, the service is great, from the waiters handing out a complimentary glass of champagne (and by the way,the free and plentiful champagne continued up on the Lido deck through sail away, so its not even like they gave us one tiny glass and cheaped out.) We had great experiences with the front desk, guest excursion folks and throughout the ship. Our waiters were fantastic (Eric and Ketut) and our cabin Steward (Rodrigo) did an excellent job. One of my favorite staff members on this cruise had to be Kids Camper Ivana ("Eva"), she was absolutely fantastic with my 6 year old son. I will detail those services a little more later on, but if you have misgivings about this vessel because you read a bad review about service, trust me when I say that you will be pleasantly surprised. I personally believe that dealing with the cruise must be difficult (can you imagine the inane questions they get, plus the high-maintenance travelers that run them ragged?), not to mention these people are away from their families for 6 months straight. So while I did run across a few staff who were not the friendliest, out of the 100 plus waiters, busboys, bartenders, porters, etc,I encountered 99.9% of them were pleasant, courteous and helpful.
The food - I am not a food critic, but I am a really picky eater and I am astounded at how they can prepare 10,000 meals a week and make them all taste so different and good. The people who complain about the food seem to be the same ones who eat chicken nuggets on the Lido Deck every day or do anytime dining, which, in my humble opinion, makes them fools because you miss out on the whole cruise dining experience. Yes, the food on the Lido deck gets old, so here is a tip - Dont EAT there every day! If people weren't so instant gratification oriented, they could try the dining room for lunch (which was fabulous) instead of the 24 hour pizza (which I also thought was really tasty for mass-produced pizza). Even on the Lido deck, the Asian food is better than OK and the deli counter is awesome, particularly the Reuben and turkey wrap - the problem is people have to wait in line for that and even though they are on vacation, the extra 5 minutes it takes to order those items or he extra half hour sitting down in the main dining room seems to be too much for some, so they grab a burger every day then complain about the food. Now I have to agree that they could do a better job with the kids menu - it is the same four items every day - however, when we asked our waiter to take off the bacon and chicken on the macaroni and cheese, it was done no problem and my son got his mac and cheese. One reviewer said she asked for this and was told they couldn't do it, perhaps she wasn't as fun as my group was:). We also ate at the steakhouse one night and it very good, I thought better than Ruth's Chris, well worth a $35 pp splurge. I was not such a fan of the added charge dining when I sailed on NCL, but unlike Norwegian, Carnival doesn't force the added dining thing on you, you can choose to do it or not - here is a tip I learned sadly after the fact, if you book the steakhouse the first night, they give you a free bottle of wine. My family also likes to order room service (because its fun) and while the menu is limited to sandwiches, they are tasty, particularly the steak and cheese - we never waited more than 20 minutes for room service and they were extremely friendly and courteous (a five dollar tip probably helps, but more on my tipping philosophy later).
Activities - some people wrote their wasn't enough to do on this ship - they must not have read their carnival capers very well - where else can you learn how to do the Michael Jackson Thriller Dance on stage in the Lounge? The hairy chest contest is a perennial favorite of mine (and now my kids). The illusionist show is not to be missed, it will blow your mind - actually, on the subject of magic, there is a guy that goes around the dining room doing slight of hand tricks and he was awesome! He managed to slip a coin inside of my ten year old son's wristwatch and he said he never felt a thing. That guy (whose name totally escapes me, sorry) does a show at 10:45 pm where you crowd around a grand piano and he performs some amazing tricks right next to you. The band on this cruise is really, really good and we went to one of the Follies shows and really enjoyed it - lots of singing, dancing, cute costumes and cleavage. Juan was a great one man singer around the lobby area. I do have a complaint about the lack of actual bands on this ship - I prefer live music in the evenings to DJs and they only had a live band one night. Now, they have a great band with the show and the other band does this live karaoke thing, which would be great if you wanted to do karaoke - I myself want to watch and perhaps dance to a band - they have this beautiful club called Satchamos, all decked out in New Orleans Style, but unfortunately, I never actually saw a band on stage there so instead it has become a gathering place for all the smokers. Also, I saw at least three grand pianos on this ship, but never saw one being played - again, I like some nice piano music at dinner or with the afternoon tea, but the only live piano is with the guy in Billie's Piano bar. The cruise director (James) is literally everywhere on this ship, he is like the hardest working man in showbiz! He does a great job of warming up the crowds.
I do not understand the complaints about the kids activities - my two sons had the time of their lives on this ship - Gigabytes is a little small arcade, but it offers air hockey and all the standard games (not cheap, but my kids enjoyed it nonetheless - also, there were free credits on the machines one day in port). The kids camp offers a TON of parties and activities, my 6 year old kept asking to go back there. As I mentioned, Iva was the friendliest counselor I have ever met on a vacation kids club anywhere, I want to take her home and make her my nanny, she was that good. I do think a few of the other counselors were not as friendly, but they work really hard to show them a good time. My ten year old got to use the Club O2 and tween room, plus he could check himself in and out (if you allow it) -he wound up making friends during a scavenger hunt and they basically hung out on their own the rest of the week.
Ports of Call - I do not know of many cruises offering four days of stops on a 7 day cruise anymore so that is a HUGE bonus in my opinion. We went to Chankanaab park in Cozumel (it is my second or third time there and I highly recommend it) - you can take a taxi over there on your own (it cost us 11 bucks for three people one way) and get a coupon from the parks website (saved us about five bucks I think). If you do the Carnival excursion it includes a stop for shopping downtown, so if that's your thing, go for it; otherwise save the money. Chankanaab isn't really just a park or beach, they have a really fun sea lion show, gorgeous foliage and natural wildlife (including a crocodile exhibit and iguanas all over the place), plus you can pay extra to swim with dolphins, feed manatees, etc. The beach is beautiful and if you snorkel, you will love the thousands of fish you can see right off the shore (the coral is not the best I have seen, but it has been making a comeback, we were there about 7 years ago and it has improved). You can snorkel though a Carnival Excursion too, but I recommend you do this on your own, as its right off the beach and you don't need a guide or to be with a huge crowd.
Belize - I stayed on the ship with my younger son, my husband and older guy went on the cave tubing adventure - my son said it was his favorite part of the trip and my husband was impressed with Belize overall (as some people wrote, there is a lot of poverty, although my husband has seen many of the islands and didn't think it was the worst - if seeing all those shacks and poor conditions bothers you, I say go there and drop some money into the local economy). I researched this excursion beforehand and we tried to book directly with a tour company someone recommended, but they were not able to accommodate us because of how tight Carnival is with the timetable there. I think it cost about $20 more per ticket to book with Carnival directly, but you are also paying for a litle peace of mind too, I guess. Also, note that Belize is a tender port and the ship is actually 5 miles off the shore so it is a 25-30 minute boat ride from the cruise ship.
Roatan - my first time to this island off of Honduras and I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. We booked the "Pirates, Monkeys, Parrots" Excursion at Gumbalimba park and loved it. I don't think you can book a private excursion in Roatan, so you either go to Mahogany Beach on your own (walking distance from the ship), hang out at the pier (which is brand new and full of great shops with helpful locals who don't shove things in your face), or book an excursion. Gumbalimba is about a half hour ride from the pier and you get to see the very small and tropical island on the way. The park is great - very clean, nice little pool, wonderful ladies running the concession stand, OK beach and clean facilities. It can be a self guided park, but you will be taken through by a guide and its the best way to see everything. The pirate cave part of the tour went on to long for me (though my history buff husband liked it) but the monkeys were worth every penny. I dont understand the people that complained they didnt see enough or that they were chained up. Let me clarify their incorrect assessments - the monkeys are located in one part of the park and as the guide explains, they are rescue monkeys, so not all of them can be jumping around the general public on their own (nor would you want them to). But you will get to sit and have a picture taken while at least a few of them climb over your lap, they are so soft and light its an amazing experience to cross off your bucket list. My ten year old got bit but it didnt break skin and he laughed it off.
Grand Cayman - I am actually not such a big fan of this island, so don't mind my more negative reviews here if you have never been - you should check it out. Seven mile beach is gorgeous and the snorkeling here is great. Its just that I dont like the ambiance for lack of a better word - unlike Mexico or Honduras, Cayman doesn't really have its own culture, its more of a tale of two cities - the ultra wealthy who live and vacation there and the mixture of people from around the world who quit the real world and work in the tourism industry. We booked the USS Kittiwake snorkel trip, which was creepy to swim around a sunken ship (it didnt crash or anything, they are making a reef out of it) - overall, a good time and beautiful reef. Food and drink in Cayman is really pricey compared to the other places and again, there is no real identity - our guide recommended a good Italian restaurant, enough said. The terminal there is also pretty crowded and overall, ugly and dirty.
Value and a Note on Tipping - I met my husband on a Carnival Cruise almost 20 years ago and while I agree that things have changed, I still think Carnival gives you a lot for your money - so much so that they need to rely on things like alcohol sales, photos, and excursions to actually make a profit. All the people who are so critical just aren't realistic in my opinion, did you really think they are running a not-for profit? Yes, they have a strict no alcohol on board policy and their drinks aren't exactly cheap. Yes, they push the photos a little (20 a picture is too high a price point in my opinion, I would have bought more if they were less). As a cruiser, you need to deal with it or go spend another grand to so a hotel all inclusive for a week. I read one negative review about the past guest party - this lady claimed it was a pushy commercial trying to get you to book another cruise - doy, that is the point, but its not at all pushy - you get free mai tais, some nice appetizers and you watch a fun little video showing all the ships Carnival has or has had (including the MS Festival, where I met my DH) - it should make you want to cruise again. Its not like they lock you in the lounge or anything, geeze.
The reason we no longer get a gourmet midnight buffet complete with ice carvings on Carnival is simple - we (the cruise public) made clear to Carnival that we prefer 24 hour pizza, so that's where that budget went - we have no one to blame but ourselves, people. While I am on the subject, I have to vent about some of my fellow passengers a little - I know you are on a cruise and you want to relax, but can you put a coverup over that bathing suit or t shirt on before you walk into the dining room? Cruise casual does NOT mean bare feet. I actually saw a chubby lady walking around the Unicorn Cafe with only her bathing suit and (I am not joking) some toilet paper hanging out the back of it - I didn't know whether to laugh or throw up. I personally enjoy the formality of dressing up and getting to know my waiter, so the anytime evening dining is not for me. I try to put myself in the staff's shoes - these people do not have an easy life, but its how they provide for their families, so for the love of G-d, tip them - you know the toilet paper lady is probably demanding all sorts of things for her budget room, tried to sneak alcohol on the ship, then went down the night before and lowered her automatic gratuities because she deserved more service. Give me a break. We always budget a few hundred extra dollars in tips and you would be amazed at what a difference it makes in your experience - we do the standard tip and then add on at the end of the trip - you can also add a few dollars onto your room service slip or for a nice round of drinks (tip: find Nancy, she is a great bartender). Was my Sail and Sign account a whopper and painful to review at the end of the week - yes, but we had a BALL and still would have spent more at a decent resort in Mexico.