I am relatively new to cruising and this Christmas cruise on board Carnival Breeze was my third cruise on the Caribbean while second cruise with Carnival. The main reason to choose this ship was I wanted to be part of 'Carnival Family' as the Cruise Director Butch Begovich put it. As solo cruiser, my previous cruise experience with Royal Caribbean was disappointing because I felt lonely in the evenings. I have found Carnival guests more extrovert and the ambiance highly social.
I arrived in Miami a couple of days before, staying at Conrad Miami in Brickell just minutes' drive away from the port. I checked out late and arrived at the pier around 1:20 pm. The check-in lines filled the terminal building but did not reach out outside of it. The process was smooth and I was able to embark immediately after picking up my Sail & Sign card. I went to my stateroom to find it ready.
Carnival has adopted a different way of decorating the interior compared to the Conquest class and older ships which have richer and darker colors. I don't know about the other Dream class ships, but Breeze did not look that much of a Carnival ship with its lighter and brighter colors. The atrium looked cheaper with less finished touch and I sometimes had the feeling I could be on board a Royal Caribbean ship surrounded by pastel colors.
One reason I wanted to try a Dream class ship was their innovative way of adding more functional open deck space by utilizing the space on top of the lifeboats. On Carnival Breeze, the deck 5 outdoor area with bar and restaurant tables and whirlpools is called the Lanai. I expected to spend a lot of time there, but instead of that I found myself on the Serenity deck, the adults-only retreat. For some reason the Lanai did not seem to attract many guests. The idea of sharing the Promenade deck to interconnected outdoor and indoor areas does not appear to work very well. One reason might that the doors are kept closed a lot of the time so that guests cannot walk in and out in the Ocean Plaza area.
I always choose interior cabin because I do now want to spend time inside the cabin but leave to where the other people are or there the sun shines. For one person any cabin is spacious enough so I cannot say much about if there is enough space for two or more persons. I found two amenities useful: purchasing shore excursions using TV and the voicemail. We had two 'official' gatherings with our Cruise Critic Roll Call: Sail Away party and Meet & Greet, but the voicemail was a good way to keep in touch with the CC members as well as other cruisers I learned to know during the cruise.
I would have booked a cabin on the spa deck or one of the other higher decks had there been one available at the time of my booking. The location is important to me, I like to be close to the outdoor spaces. But when booking two months ahead of the sailing date the best available to my taste was deck 7. It's the deck where all the suites are and I expected it to be quiet which it turned out to be. But it was boring: you have to travel at least 2 decks down or 3 decks up to find any life.
I don't remember if this 'cruise etiquette' has been a topic here before, but I was disturbed by other guests talking in the corridor when walking past my cabin. It was the only noise I could hear. I understand it is much easier for me as a solo cruiser to stay quiet when walking thru the corridors than the groups of people walking together but this is something we could do to help fellow cruisers feel we appreciate others' sleep and privacy.
Fitness and Recreation:
Unless we arrived in a port of call early in the morning, I spent the hour from 7 am to 8 am in the fitness studio. Usually it was a hit but once a miss: the trainer just did not appear on 7 am stretching class. The fitness studio was small for this size of a ship (it could accommodate only 14 guests) and the fitness room with mainly cardio equipment was perhaps the most cramped one I have seen on any ship or other facility.
One of the first things to do after embarkation was to purchase a VIP membership to the spa. For $149 you can use the thermal suite and thalassotherapy pool for the whole duration of the cruise. It was my favorite thing to do between the sunset and dinnertime.
I was assigned late dining in the aft main dining room called Blush and the dinner table turned out to be the epicenter of my cruise experience. Together with me was seated another solo cruiser I already learned to know on our Cruise Critic Roll Call, with third solo cruiser. I have read numerous reviews here about mediocre or worse service, but I do not think it was the case in the MDR. The food was not especially good, indeed. I do not think the combination of service and food was any worse than on previous cruises.
We tried to get a table in a specialty restaurant with some Cruise Critic members, but the steakhouse was fully booked for every night on the cruise.
So the dinner was always OK, but I cannot say the same about breakfast or brunch. On any cruise ship this far, the breakfast service in the main dining room has turned out to be a disappointment to me. It takes too long time from the order to the food to be served. One morning, I had to leave after 30 minutes to avoid missing my shore excursion so I began my day with no breakfast. On a previous cruise, I have missed my shore excursion after waiting the eggs for 45 minutes. Yes, I know I should go to buffet or call room service every morning I cannot spend at least one and half hours on breakfast but they could begin the breakfast service earlier as well. On this cruise, the brunch service began at 9 am on sea days!
As I wrote, I have read comments about below-average service on Carnival Breeze here. I found the service at least acceptable in most cases and pretty good on dinner. The cabin steward wasn't the best I've had but everything was OK most of the time and he was always very polite.
But the bar service was something which was easily outperformed by all my previous cruise experiences as well as everything else on the ship. I spent a lot of the daytime on board on the Serenity deck. There was supposedly some bar waiters but despite the big tips I gave them in the beginning of the cruise, I could hardly see them taking orders. In the evenings, I found the Breeze Bar a good place to enjoy live misc but the bar service was just as bad. One night I just had to listen to the waiter I'd been giving extra tips to improve the performance to complain what a day it had been.
In the second last evening my dinner table mates encouraged me to report the bar service. I went to guest service desk and they called the Beverage Manager to come there. When I saw him and listened to him I realized what is wrong with the bar service: it's the management. The bar waiters cannot smile because he does not smile and the reason waiters reportedly have been rude to some guests is that the Beverage manager himself is, well, I regret I have to describe his character arrogant. He appeared to have good knowledge about the beverages and the serving temperatures while being less skilled in how to manage people and understand customer needs.
But there are exceptions, as always. The bar waiters in Reg Frog Pub and Red Frog Rum Bar appear to enjoy they work. They seem to be more experienced and maybe for that reason do not care that much about the management. So if you are a person who enjoys spending a lot of time in the bars, I recommend the Red Frog ones.
As a cruiser I describe myself port-intensive (usually go snorkeling), sports-intensive and as someone enjoying chatting with other cruisers. As a begin my day at 7 am, there is no much space for entertainment shows and nightlife.
I tried to watch the production shows and the game show in the Ovation theatre a few times but every time I got bored and left the theatre before the show ended. As I wrote, I'm perhaps the worst member of Cruise Critic to review the entertainment but I need to say that I have seen a lot better shows on other ships. Some of them I have really, really enjoyed. But everything I saw in the Ovation theater was boring.
This was the first cruise for me to miss a port of call. Our first port of call was scheduled to be Grand Turk, but we did not get there because it was windy. I have read this happening before with Carnival Breeze's then weeks short history in the Caribbean. I wonder whether Grand Turk is the right port of call for this size of a ship? Should they do modifications either on the itinerary or the pier?
What this has to do with the Entertainment? A lot, actually. I expected that when we have 'An additional sea day' it would be just as much 'Fun day at the sea' as the other 'fun days'. But what happened? The only changes in the schedule were the added lunch options (such as Main Dining Room) and in addition to volleyball tournament there was a soccer tournament. The first time when I heard the Cruise Director to speak that day was 7:15 am after the Captain had announced we were not able to make it to the port. Only thing I remember CD saying was that the shore excursions will be refunded. I expected to hear his voice soon again and several times during the day to announce some extraordinary entertainment for this extraordinary sea day. But the next time to hear his voice was 7:15 pm when he announced the originally scheduled production show to begin. I really hope this is not a typical way for any cruise line to handle such not-so-extraordinary situation of not being able to make it to the port. To me it seemed like the Cruise Director and the entertainment staff were having a day off just like they do when the guests are on port excursions. In my opinion they should have worked harder than ever to minimize the feeling of lost port of call.
The Officers and the Management
I have already written about the Cruise Director and the Beverage Manager, so here are some words about guys who appeared to be doing much better job. After the Costa Concordia grounding and partial sinking Carnival Corporation seems to have adopted a different approach in appointing captains to its ships. Carnival Breeze's captain Vincenzo Alcaras is the opposite of his former equivalent of Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino. Schettino was, as most of the Carnival and Costa captains still are, kind of part-time assistant cruise director with excellent performance skills and abilities to entertain guests. Captain Alcaras does not have any of this. When I saw him a few times on the promenade, he was walking slowly deep in his thoughts, hands in his pockets, no eye contact. I trusted him because I saw his merits must be something else than Schettino's.
If the Captain wasn't the right hand of the Cruise Director in entertaining guests of Carnival Breeze, the Hotel Director did the job. He was always smiling, chatting with people and making sure everyone felt welcome on board Carnival Breeze. I saw him so often that I had hard time to believe he can be in so many places at the same time. Always extremely polite, a true gentleman.
This may have been my best cruise experience this far, but it's not Carnival who did it that good. It was the fellow guests, the Cruise Critic members, my table mates, everyone on board who contributed to it. I've been thinking I should try luxury cruising or premium cruise lines for superior service experience, but would I feel connected with other cruisers and have fun there? I have heard many people choose Carnival because its excellent value for money maybe I am not the only one to have different reasons after all.