Hi! I have read a lot of reviews on here that have helped me learn all about cruising and Carnival. I wanted to write a review of our 1st cruise - I am going to just do highlights of each facet of the cruise rather than a day by day thing so if you're interested in a certain thing (i.e. the food) jump to that section. I do have pics I'll be linking in as well.
Oh and I can get to be a bit of a Wordy McWorderson so hopefully I won't ramble on too much
OK here we go.
Chapter 1 - About us
I'm Katie, I'm just a smidge under 40 (did I really just post that number on a public forum... yikes.) and I'm pregnant with my first baby (although we have 2 dogs that we are insanely madly enamored by, that we do at times consider our 'children', lol). At the time of travel I was 15 weeks. My husband is Matt, 34, also his first cruise. So I guess we can say this was a babymoon of sorts - although not sure how I feel walking around saying I went on a babymoon. Let's just agree to call it a vacation and forget all about the term babymoon.
So more about us - We live in the northeast, in Rhode Island and we both work in the software business so we're a little bit dorky at times. I love to travel. You could tell me I'm going to go to [some random place nobody's ever heard of] or [some place you've heard of but would never visit] and I would be psyched. I'd go into full on research mode and find a way to enjoy every bit of the trip (well, probably not the long flights - I hate flying).
I've traveled to Western Europe, the Caribbean, and parts of Mexico. Never been to southeast Asia but have always wanted to go. My husband is a bit less enthusiastic about travel but after 7+ years with me, he's learned to enjoy it
Prior to this trip, I really didn't think I'd enjoy a cruise. I'm the type that likes to get on a plane, fly somewhere, and be on the beach drinking a drink by 2pm. I like to stay in smaller type places, and explore my surroundings. Going to an all-inclusive resort has it's time and place, but I really prefer staying in a small place, and immersing myself in my vacation location - love the local bars, restaurants, and experiences. Anyway so, you get the picture. Not a fan of resort-y type things, like local things, people, etc. All that contributed to my perceived dislike of cruising.
So if you skipped all that babble, the summary is that we're mid-late 30's, live in Rhode Island, like to travel, I'm pregnant, and we've never cruised.
Chapter 2 - Pre-cruise stuff - booking / joining cc / OBC and things
So I knew I was trying to get pregnant, so I had to ensure that when we booked the cruise, I wouldn't be more than 25 weeks pregnant on the cruise. We booked around the end of September, 2011 for the cruise, and we booked early saver.
Seeing as I wasn't sure I would like the cruise, we just decided to go cheap and book an inside cabin (deck 2), that way we wouldn't be spending all kinds of money on something that we might not really like. I booked through [the company that has the tagline of 'don't leave home without it']* because I had some membership rewards points and I applied them to the booking. Cruise was $1200 total for the both of us, minus membership rewards $$, we ended up paying about $1050 total.
*I know I can't mention travel agents but wasn't sure if I shouldn't mention this, so pardon the sillyiness in brackets.
Anyhow, we booked the Freedom, Eastern Caribbean (St Thomas, Antigua, Tortola, Nassau). I'd been to all those places already except for Antigua but I loved the fact that it was 8 nights and still departed and returned on a weekend. The fact it went out of FLL was a bonus as we flew Southwest and they have a non-stop flight from PVD to FLL.
I used up my old SW rapid rewards credits free flights (well, they charge $5 per ticket, but that's so close to free I hesitate to even mention it) and I booked a room at the Hyatt place in FLL using my Hyatt points. So at this point, cruise, hotel, and flights are only about $1060 total.
Note, we're not cheapasses or anything, I just like to get good deals and pay as little as possible for things. This doesn't mean we automatically buy the cheapest thing going - I'm a big fan of paying for quality and good service... anyway I'm slowly drifting away from the topic at hand.. back to the review
I joined CC right around the time of booking as well, and began to read all about early saver, OBC, tipping, chair hogs, and menu changes and how horrible or great everything was on Carnival. I probably read too many reviews but overall I think that's a good thing - I could then formulate my own opinions, see trends in reviews, and of course, take everything with a super ginormous grain of salt.
I made a reservation at the Steakhouse for our 2nd night on the cruise, then quickly changed it when I found out I had made it for the lobster night in the MDR (and also when I heard about that free bottle of wine... not that I could drink it, but anyway free wine is free wine, and I could at least watch hubby drink the whole bottle (or at least try to)).
I got an e-mail confirmation within 24 hours from the Steakhouse on the freedom confirming my reservation, and subsequent change to the reservation.
I also ordered a fruit basket and a bottle of champagne from bon voyage. I sent it from our dogs, Oliver and Astro. It was then that I knew I must be crazy. But who cares, it was great to see the look on hubbys face when we got on the ship and saw the champagne with the note from Oliver and Astro
Next, the waiting came (oh and I got pregnant and for the first 12 weeks I was a complete zombie and slept every moment I could). Thankfully the cruise was in the 2nd trimester so the exhaustion subsided.
Like clockwork, I faithfully checked the price of the cruise and looked for price drops (although I didn't think we'd get any since we paid so little).
I was right, no price drops.
About 2 weeks prior to departure, I decided to upgrade to an OV room on Deck 1. I called Carnival but they referred me to [company I booked through] since they did the booking. I called them and paid $253 to upgrade to an OV Guarantee room.
Within maybe a few hours, we had our room assignment, although I suspected it could change at anytime, it never did. We got Riviera deck 1386.
After that there was a price drop and I did get $85 in OBC which was very nice. Total price for cruise (excluding bon voyage) was $1218 for the two of us.
Summary: We booked an Inside room, early saver, then later upgraded to an OV room. We booked the Hyatt place and flew southwest to FLL on a non-stop flight.
Am I boring you yet? Don't say I didn't warn you that I'm wordy, lol. Verbose is my middle name (not really - that would be a cruel middle name).
Chapter 3 - Pre-Cruise Hotel Stay, Restaurants, FLL Area
We stayed at the Hyatt Place 17th Street Convention Center. This is called Hyatt Place North.
They had a complimentary airport shuttle - we just called when we arrived, and then went outside of the airport and a shuttle came by within 10 minutes. Others were not so lucky - there was a group waiting with us that said they had been waiting for over an hour. They were angry. Driver asked them if they were going to Hyatt Place North and they said no. He said to keep waiting and the other Hyatt shuttle would be by soon.
We picked up another group at another terminal, then the driver got a call from the hotel, yelling him to go back and pick up the people at the first terminal. He told the woman that they weren't staying at HP north. We had to go back anyway. Turns out they WERE staying at North and just didn't know it so they probably missed several HP shuttles.
It was a debacle, the driver got in trouble, many of shuttle passengers were upset. Some people in the van were complaining about anything and everything possible. I hoped they weren't on the same cruise as us. I wanted to say, "hey, relax, you're on vacation!" (but I kept quiet.).
The moral of the story here is to know that there are more than one Hyatt Place Hotels in Ft Lauderdale, and to know which one you are staying at. Oh and to be kind and not complain about everything under the sun.
When I travel domestically for work, I try to stay at Hyatt Place hotels - they're usually nice rooms with comfy beds, free breakfast, and have friendly people working there.
The HP in FLL was no exception. Check in staff were great and we got a room on the highest floor, facing the cruise port.
After checking in, we were starving so went in search of lunch. We wound up not too far away at the Harbor Shops Plaza. We ate at Gilberts 17th Street Grille. Gilberts is a burger type joint - not a chain restaurant. I had a burger with goat cheese and caramelized onions served with sweet potato fries. Being el prego, I ordered it medium well (still can't bring myself to order red meat WELL done, so figured medium-well is probably good). Hubby had a chicken sandwich of some sort with regular fries. He enjoyed a cold beer while I had an all-natural black cherry soda.
Staff was super friendly and the food was good, I wouldn't say great, but I'd go back again. My burger was definitely not medium well and I'm ashamed to say that I ate it anyway. I love a good medium rare burger. Thankfully, no problems but I silently vowed to eat things more fully cooked next time.
We left Gilberts and went to the Publix where we stocked up on suntan lotion, soda, water and wine for the cruise. In hindsight we should've brought our rolling suitcase - it majorly sucked to carry two 6-packs of soda, a 12-pack of water, 2 bottles of wine, and 3 economy size jugs of suntan lotion back to the hotel. Luckily darling hubby carried ALL of the heavy stuff for me
Now, I'm a planner and researcher. I had all these plans to go to all these places for dinner, shopping, etc. After we got back, literally I was just too tired to do anything. Did I mention the beds at the HP are very comfy? We took a nap and rolled out of bed around 7pm and just decided to go to the Outback Steakhouse, so close to the hotel, you could see it from the parking lot.
We walked by another restaurant that literally had probably $5 million dollars worth of cars parked in the front. More than one Bentley and every car in the front row surrounding the building was "at least" a Mercedes. I can't remember the name of it but apparently this is the place to go if you want to show off your car. We walked right by and into Outback.
Outback was, well, the Outback. Same as every other one. It was mobbed but we were able to snag a seat at the bar. Hubby enjoyed a giant Fosters beer and I sipped strawberry lemonade. I won't bore you with the food choices, it was all decent, standard chain-restaurant type eats.
Back to the hotel and I checked my "good" camera and whoops, I left the memory card at home. Crap. I only have like 1548 memory cards lying around everywhere at home, and stupid me, I forgot to bring one. In the morning hubby went to CVS to buy one and we got robbed - $32 for a 8mb class 6 SD card. Just last week I had bought my mother a 16gb class 10 one for only $9.99 on amazon, and I know if i searched I could find even better deals. But whatever, we were stuck so we bought it.
Packed up all our stuff and took the 10am shuttle to the cruise port.
Chapter 4 - Arriving at Port and Embarkation
So we took the 10am shuttle from the Hyatt place to Port Everglades ($7 pp). Shuttle was on time, and organized. We got into the port very quickly and we were the first stop I think. There were a lot of other cruise ships in port that day as well. I think I saw at least 5 - Celebrity, MSC, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, and Princess.
We got off the shuttle, and the porters whisked our luggage away and then asked for tips. I am always prepared to tip porters so I didn't see it as a big deal. In different areas people act differently - some would never ask for a tip but would just 'stand around' waiting for one, while other places, people will politely ask. Either way, I tipped them and we were off to the terminal.
First stop they check your passport. This went super quick, we were so early there weren't any lines. Next, was security. Relatively painless although they did want to search our carry-on with all the drinks in it. Only one person could be there, so hubby went inside while they opened up the suitcase and proceeded to open up the 12-pack of water and shake every single bottle. They didn't pay any mind to the 2 bottles of wine (I know they are allowed but I felt like there could've been 9 bottles of wine in there and they wouldn't have noticed - they were that focuses on the bottles of water.) Anyway our water was really just water so after a great deal of investigation and shaking, they put it back in the suitcase and sent me on my way.
We then had to go through the line where they give you your sign and sail cards. This went quick as well. Nobody asked if we were sick or had been sick although I heard other people being asked the question, so I guess it all depends on who is checking you in.
Prior to the cruise, I had to fax in a letter to Carnival from my doctor stating I was in good health and less than 25 weeks pregnant. I did this and had an e-mail confirmation of receipt. I still brought it with me anyway but it turns out the rep checking us in didn't ask for it or need it. Still, if you're prego, I'd say even if you fax it in, bring it with you anyway because, well, you never know if you'll need it.
We got boarding group 5 and were directed to sit down in these long rows of chairs. After about 5 minutes of sitting down, I went to check for my phone and well, I realized I didn't have it. Crap. Mistake #2 for me. Turns out I left it in the hotel room. So, we called the Hyatt back and they confirmed they had it and said they'd send it on the next shuttle (which was the 11am shuttle. It was 10:45 or so so hubby went outside to wait for the shuttle around 11:00.
I won't bore you with the details (well, maybe a little) but he waited there until 11:45 and no shuttle. Called the hotel back and they said the shuttle was already there but they'd look into it for him. Heard nothing back for a while, around 12:20 called them back and they said it would be there soon. To make a long story short, poor hubby stood out there for almost 2 hours before someone dropped the phone off.
If this happens to you, I would highly recommend just sucking it up and paying for a taxi. Even with traffic he would've been there and back in probably 30 minutes. Live and learn, I guess.
Our boarding group 5 had long since boarded (along with all the other groups) and I was sitting in an empty room. Hubby finally made it back through security and we boarded the ship a little after 1:00.
I have to say I feel like an idiot for leaving the phone - I don't normally leave things behind in hotel rooms. But no matter, we laughed and said that if this was the worst thing that happened to us this trip, we were going to have a great time.
OK so we're (finally) on the ship. I'm not going to go day by day but just describe different facets of the trip (food, entertainment, ports, casino, etc). I'll try and be objective and give you the great stuff along with the not-so-great stuff. So in no particular order, we'll start with something near and dear to my heart - food. (more background on us: hubby and I are minor "foodies" - we love to go out to eat and we love to cook. We even started an "at home iron chef" thing where we cook meals based around a "secret" ingredient... I mentioned we were a bit dorky, right? )
OK so back to the review - I'll break it up into Main Dining Room, Lido, Room Service, and Steakhouse sections.
Chapter 5 - The Food - Main Dining Room
I wasn't too sure what to expect for the MDR food. I had read reviews where people raved about the food, but I'd also read reviews where people were complaining about everything. I understood it to be somewhere in the middle - not super awesome fantastic, but not terrible, either.
We had anytime dining and that worked out great for us. We always requested a table for two at dinner. Breakfasts and lunches we didn't mind sitting with others. It's not that we're anti-social or hate other people, we're just more private and we both get a little awkward trying to keep up conversations with strangers. But, in MDR dinner, when you got a table for two, you were never far from another table for two. We did end up having conversations with these other tables and I'll admit, it wasn't so terrible
That all being said there were some things we loved, and some things we hated about the MDR.
Main Dining Room (Chic) - The Great Stuff
* Warm chocolate melting cake. Yep, this one was really good. Sometimes we got two sides of ice cream and sometimes one. Either way we pretty much devoured the dessert. It was on the menu every night so one of us usually ordered it each night. I realize there's a lot of hype about the cake, and some people really hated it, but trust me, if you like chocolate cake with a brownie-like taste to it, warmed up, with creamy vanilla ice cream, then you'll love this dessert.
* Elegant night Lobster - How can I put this -- I've never met a Maine lobster that I didn't like. The Maine lobbies in the MDR on elegant night were no exception. Sure they weren't huge but you could order more if you wanted. They came with some shrimp which were grilled and not that great but the lobster was delicious.
* Escargots - They were on the "didja" menu, one of the later days in the cruise. They were really tasty and served swimming in a sauce of butter and an insane amount of garlic. Very tasty!
* Breakfasts in the MDR (Posh) - Several morning we enjoyed breakfast in the Posh dining room. It was great to order off a menu and be served a single portion rather than gorge ourselves on anything and everything at the buffet. I had french toast and sausage one day and both were good. Portions were smaller in MDR breakfast but that was fine - considering all the food we ate during the cruise. Hubby and I both joked that Carnival should advertise with the tagline, "Carnival Cruises - if you go hungry, you're an idiot"
* Comfort menu chicken pot pie - OK I know that chicken pot pie is not the most glamorous or highfalutin thing to be ordering while on a cruise, but whatever, it was damn good! I'd order it again, for sure.
* Anytime Dining (ATD) and the ATD Host staff - Very professional and personable. We waited 45 minutes I think on elegant night (it was mobbed). We weren't unhappy to wait, we wait all the time when we go out to dinner at home. Anyway the next day we received a plate of chocolates and such from the ATD host apologizing for our wait. It was a nice touch. All other nights we either got right in when we got to the dining room, or we had a 10-15 minute wait.
* Soups - I loved the variety of soups - always something new. Most unique was a chilled orange + tapioca soup. Sure it tasted like a dessert or smoothie but it was refreshing and delicious. We pretty much loved every soup we tried.
* Waitstaff - every server we had (we typically got different servers every night) was great! From breakfast to lunch, to dinner, everyone was professional, personable, and trying their best. Zero complaints about any of the waitstaff.
Main Dining Room (Chic) - The Bad Stuff
There were things we didn't like but of course we expected that - nobody likes everything! These are a few things we really disliked in the MDR.
* Bread Pudding - I was so excited for bread pudding - I know it's an old fashioned dessert but I love it. Bread soaked in an eggy custard and baked. What's not to like? Anyway, I think this was white chocolate bread pudding. I like white chocolate, and I like bread pudding. Fantastic. Not so much though. The bread pudding was horrible. I didn't taste any white chocolate in it. It just was really grainy/gritty bread in a ramekin, heated up. I could taste no eggy goodness and there definitely was no yummy creamy texture to the bread. No white chocolate to speak of. Luckily, hubby ordered warm chocolate melting cake for his dessert and we shared that.
* Bitter and Blanc - Now I know there are those here that LOVE it and I was prepared to love it as well, but sadly my love affair for bitter and blanc was only limited to the time I spent anticipating it's deliciousness. When it arrived, the waiter poured on the vanilla cream. I was so excited for it. I don't know what I expected, but when I took a bit of it, it was terrible. Gritty and grainy like the bread pudding. Hardly any chocolate to speak of and the vanilla sauce was it's only redeeming quality. Again, luckily hubby had chocolate melting cake to save the day
Maybe the pastry chef had an 'off' week and we just got awful batches of these desserts.
* Salmon - From the 'everyday' side of the menu. It was so over cooked and dry it was inedible. No amount of lemon squeezed over it could resurrect it from it's dried out fate. Turns out this was a good thing, as I ordered the chicken pot pie to replace the salmon. Chicken pot pie was great and so if the salmon was not overcooked and horrible, I never would've discovered carnival chicken pot pie.
* Shark cakes - from the 'didja' menu - I don't know what we were expecting but basically they were just clam cakes made with shark instead of clam. They were over fried and basically just tasted like a bad fish cake. The 'fried' taste completely overpowered them. We're from New England so no stranger to fried seafood - when done right, it's delicious. Unfortunately these just missed the mark - by a lot. (wow, I think I just sounded a bit like Tom Colicchio on top chef)
* This one guy we sat next to - OK I know that this has no bearing on the cruise, but I wanted to mention it. One night we sat next to a couple - the tables were so close, we could hear their "conversation" easily - we weren't trying to eavesdrop, trust me! Well their conversation consisted of the gentleman complaining that there was a (*gasp*) BURGER on the menu in the dining room and they were going to now have to start looking at other cruise lines because of it. I almost fell out of my chair. He went on and on about how terrible it all was while his wife (i assume it was his wife) just kind of sat there not saying much. Now this guy could be a member here, and if so, I apologize for calling you out, but I couldn't *not* mention something so ridiculous. I mean going to a different cruise line because there's a flippin' burger on the menu? Note that this was the night I ended up with chicken pot pie, and that must've just added to his new-found distaste for Carnival and everything non-hoity-toity on the menu. I secretly wished I had ordered a burger. I just don't get why something so silly as having a burger on the menu can affect your vacation one way or another. It's not like it was the ONLY option and it's not like there weren't any other choices! OK, rant officially over (for now).
Main Dining Room (Chic) - The OK Stuff
So those were the two extremes - Great and Terrible. Everything else fell somewhere in the middle. We enjoyed it though!
* Waitstaff Shows - I think I'd add the MDR singing/dancing shows to the "OK" category though. I mean it's kind of cute at first, but as the week goes on, it gets kind of old. So that's why I'm adding it to the "OK stuff" category. I'd be fine whether they did the shows, or they didn't.
* Most of the appetizers, meals, and desserts , for us, fell into the "ok stuff" category. Not awful, but not great. Certainly more than acceptable and always well presented on the plate.
Summary about MDR: MDR anytime dining is a great option, soups are unique and inventive, and don't be afraid to try the chicken pot pie.
Oh and Carnival's new slogan should be "Carnival Cruises - if you go hungry, you're an idiot"
Chapter 6 - The Steakhouse (Sun King)
Next up on the food list - the Steakhouse! We had reservations for the 1st night (with free bottle of wine) and we also went back another night. So two trips to the steakhouse for us. Personally I could've eaten there every night!
The steakhouse is called the Sun King and it's located aft on deck 10.
I'm going to skip the whole "great, terrible, and OK" sections here because in all honestly, everything about our steakhouse experience was fan-freakin-tastic.
Let's go over what we ate (and boy, did we eat).
Steakhouse 1st Visit
Day 1, not crowded so I see why they entice folks with a free bottle of wine. We had our choice of a white (can't remember what kind) or a red (Merlot). Hubby ordered the Merlot. The Sommelier poured me a glass which I couldn't drink but I let it sit there in front of me anyway. I have to say that I really miss enjoying a good glass (or bottle) of wine with dinner. I also miss ketel one dirty martini's before dinner, coffee drinks after dinner, and foo foo rum drinks by the pool. OK wait, I'm supposed to be talking about the steakhouse and not my desire to drink everything under the sun. Sorry for the tangent
So for appetizers - I had the New England crab cake and hubby had the mushroom appetizer. I don't remember the name of it - but there was only one mushroom appetizer so if you order that you'll get the same one. The mushroom appetizer was different types of mushrooms, with other stuff. Forgive me for not paying more attention to his. I remember he really loved it and was impressed by it, but I was far too smitten with my appetizer choice to pay him much attention.
The crab cake was phenomenal. Loaded with lump crab meat and not a lot of "filler". I hate it when I order crab cakes and they are deep fried and mostly breading and filler and you can't find the crab meat. Not this - this one was loaded with sweet crab, and there were a smattering of roasted corn kernels in there to give it a slightly smoky flavor. The lightly pan fried crab cake sat on a bit of greens and a mildly spiced remoulade sauce. Delicious and I could totally eat that every day.
Salads - we both had the spinach salad and we both loved it. Very delicous.
Entrees - I had the surf and turf and hubby had the NY Strip. We both got baked potatoes with all the fixin's for the sides. The surf and turf was a petite filet mignon served with a 7 ounce warm water lobster tail. I know I'm supposed to order medium well and up and I realize I already failed while in Fort Lauderdale when I ate that burger, but I just couldn't bear to order a piece of filet mignon medium well done. I am ashamed again to admit I ordered it medium. It was cooked perfectly medium when it arrived and as I devoured it, I secretly hoped it would've arrived medium rare. Hopefully you all reading this don't think I'm a terrible person for my questionable food choices. I justified it by thinking about all the times I've gotten food poisoning from eating rare or medium rare meat in my life - which would be zero. I know I was taking a risk but I thought overall, pretty safe bet that I'd be fine with a medium cooked steak - after all the outside edges were cooked. Ok the lobby - Like I mentioned in the MDR posting , I'll never turn down a Maine lobster. Well this wasn't a Maine lobster, it was a warm water lobster tail. Not the same at all, but still very tender, sweet, and delicious. It was grilled so it had a slightly woody taste to it. Would I have preferred a gigantic Maine lobby tail, sure, but this was really delicious!
Hubby's NY strip steak was delicious, he devoured it. He ordered medium rare and it was perfectly cooked. Our baked potatoes were good - but its' hard to mess up a baked potato, right?
Dessert - We both ordered decaf cappuccinos. Hubby got the chocolate sampler and I got the caramel apple tarty thing. The chocolate sampler surprised me a bit - I mean I know people have reviewed it and I must not have paid much attention to that part - I expected it to be 4 portions of chocolate... It was 4 portions, and each had some chocolate component, but I wouldn't say chocolate was the main focus. For instance there was a tiramisu portion - this to me is a coffee/cheese type dessert, not a chocolate one. The other portions had various non-chocolate ice creams on them as well. All that being said, don't let me dissuade you from ordering it - it was delicous. All four items were very good!
The caramel apple tart thing was super amazingly awesome though. Thinly sliced apples, pastry, caramel, and vanilla ice cream. Goodness I don't know how that could be bad. I devoured it even though I was so full I could barely move.
Hubby did a good job with the wine, he almost finished the entire bottle.
We left there completely stuffed and completely happy.
Steakhouse 2nd Visit
Our second visit we tried to order different things than the previous visit. I couldn't resist though, and I ordered the crab cake again. Hubby ordered it as well. SO good!
For drinks, hubby just ordered wine by the glass - they have some excellent choices. I ordered a huge bottle of San Pellegrino sparkling water and some limes to go with it. Hey, at least it *felt* like I was having a drink!
For our salads, I had the Caesar salad and hubby had the spinach salad again. The Caesar salad was delicious and prepared right in the dining room. I think between the spinach salad and the Caesar salad, I preferred the spinach salad. Both totally different and really not fair to compare them, but well, I just did. Anyway I don't think you can go wrong no matter what you order.
Entrees. You're going to think I'm evil - you really are. I ordered the full portion filet mignon, and yes, I ordered it medium again. I mean to say medium well, but the words came out 'medium'. Oops. It was delicious. I also ordered a side of Bearnaise sauce and poured it over every amazing bite. SO good. For my side I had the wasabi mashed potatoes, hold the wasabi. (I'm not a fan of wasabi, especially in something like mashed potatoes). The mashed potatoes were delicious, and I think they probably had about 8,214,000 calories per serving.
Hubby had the 5-spice rubbed rib eye. Of course I can't remember what the 5 spices were - I *think* I remember the 5 spices as garlic, rosemary, chili, black pepper, and ??? can't remember the last one. Maybe it was salt. Of course there was salt, but I don't know if it was considered one of the 5 spices. I'm rambling again, I know. He LOVED it.
Desserts - I really wanted the caramel apple thingy again but wanted to try something different - we split the cheesecake. Meh. If there was anything I wouldn't order again, it'd be the cheesecake. It was not dense and creamy like a NY cheesecake - it was more light and fluffy - almost like an Italian cheesecake made with ricotta cheese in place of some of the cream cheese. It wasn't terrible - with the decaf cappuccinos we ordered, it was a nice ending to the meal. Oh and be forewarned the cheese cake is immensely hugely gigantic. One person has zero hope of finishing it. But you can bring it back to the room if you want and enjoy it later or on a different day.
Again we left there completely stuffed!
Steakhouse - the one mildly annoying thing
Sommelier asked for our sign & sail cards to bring the check. When he brought it back there was a spot on there to add a gratuity. Now, I know that gratuity is supposed to be included, but for the uninformed, it appears that it's not. That's a bit shady on Carnival's part, in my opinion. Both times we did add extra tip - thinking that Carnival probably doesn't give much tip out of the $30 - but it would've been nice to know that a) some amount of tip is included and b) what that amount is.
Chapter 7 - Food - Lido Deck Options
On the lido deck lives the buffet, a pizza place, the Mongolian wok, a sandwich area, a grill with burgers/hot dogs, a seafood place "fish and chips", and an Indian food station.
At breakfast, it's only breakfast buffet.
We never went to the lido at dinner.
We did eat breakfast and lunch a few times in the lido area, and we had a snack of pizza in the afternoon once (or twice).
I'm going to preface this section by saying I generally HATE buffets. I typically find the food to be average at best, and for the most part, I dislike a lot of the people eating at the buffet. I know, I know it sounds so snobby of me - and I know most people are fine - but it's the people that totally suck that ruin it for me. Why do the people suck? Well glad you asked
Note: I know I said I'd remain objective in this review - this next part is a departure from that. You've been warned!
Katie's completely subjective reasons why people suck at buffet's**: (In no particular order)
* People cutting you in line
* People sticking their fingers in and grabbing food without using utensils
* People piling so much food on their plate that it's completely disgusting
* People sneezing our coughing near the food
* Little kids running around everywhere unsupervised with dirty hands grabbing desserts and food
**Note this list applies to any and all buffet's, whether on a ship or not
So anyway, you get the idea. I'm just not a fan of buffets.
OK so back to the Carnival Freedom and the Lido food options.
Food - Lido Deck Options - The Great
Honestly? Nothing here was great. Sorry. I just wasn't blown away by any of it.
Food - Lido Deck Options - The Terrible
Only one thing stands out to me as truly terrible:
* The fish and chips. That fish was just awful! I don't know what they put i the batter (I think maybe it was cider?) but the batter was horrid and the fish wasn't much better. In between the batter and the fish was a layer of soggy mushy moistness that was so unappetizing. The fish in the middle wasn't bad but at that point, I just didn't want any of it.
oh maybe I'd also add the nacho chips. Totally stale and soggy
Food - Lido Deck Options - The Just OK
Most everything fell into this category.
The breakfasts were standard buffet breakfasts. I enjoyed the egg stations and having them make omelettes and such but it was just standard stuff.
Lunches - again food was just okay.. some things better than others.
Sandwiches - I had a tomato/mozzarella/pesto panini thing. It was decent. Hubby had a pastrami sandwich and that was pretty good.
Pizza - just okay, I could see really enjoying this at 2am after having drinks but maybe on another trip!
Grill - burgers were "meh" at best. Oh and definitely well done (and then some). Next cruise I want to be on a boat with the Guy Fieri burgers. Those sound really good.
Mongolian wok - again, nice idea, mediocre execution. We had it and it was good, nothing great.
fish and chips - already discussed the horrendous fish.. the "chips" were good - standard skinny fries. Also tried this calamari zucchini thing which was like a big fritter - it wasn't bad. They also offered tuna sashimi which of course I had to refrain from eating - but it looked good.
desserts - some good, some not so good. Luckily it's a buffet and you can go get more and try other things. Chocolate cake was pretty good as was the key lime pie.
We didn't try the Indian place. I'm not sure why, we both love Indian food. We just ran out of time I guess.
I know I sound like I'm complaining but honestly the food on the lido was good, not great, and that was OK. It totally served it's purpose and would not be a detractor from booking another cruise.
Chapter 8 - Room Service
I loved that we could order room service as part of the cruise price. We took advantage of room service mostly for the continental breakfast, but we did order snacks (veggies and dip) one time as well.
Room Service - The Great Stuff
* great thing about room service is that it exists!
* I enjoyed using room service as my "wake up" call. Nothing better than waking up to the knock on the door, throwing on "presentable" clothing, and opening the door to a hot pot of coffee.
* Room service was prompt and efficient and always got our order right
* Croissants and butter. Yum times 10!
Ok in all seriousness we usually ordered a pot of coffee, some juices, skim milk, and some toast or croissants. Some days we got all crazy and ordered boxes of lucky charms. Nothing like vacation to bring out the kid in us
We always tipped them $1-2
I have nothing to put into the "terrible" or "just OK" categories.
Chapter 10 - The Room
We stayed in an OV room - room 1386 on the Riviera deck - deck 1. We were in a mid-ship location, but more towards the back. The location was perfect - it was an easy walk to the back or mid elevators which gave us good access to the entire ship.
The room was a good size - bigger than I anticipated it being. The window was pretty big (bigger than I expected) and the bathrooms were not as cramped as imagined. You'll note a theme there - everything was bigger than I thought it would be - I guess I half expected to be in a closet with a bed and a porthole, lol
The bathroom had a stall shower, and the sink had several metal shelves to store things. I had one of those hanging organizer thing-a-ma-bobs so I kept stuff in there as well as on the shelves. We didn't have any problem with organizing our stuff.
In the room were 3 closets - one had shelves and 2 had bars for hanging clothes. There were a few drawers as well for misc items. We unpacked everything and it all fit fine into the space provided.
The room had a mini-fridge, tv, and a hairdryer as well.
We had an adjoining room but we never heard the people next to us (on either side). I wish I had a "better" neighbor stories to report but it was very uneventful.
What else.. oh the room had a couch and a chair and a table. We ate our room service breakfast while sitting on the couch.
Our suitcases fit fine under the bed and we never really felt cramped for space during the trip.
We did empty out the refrigerator and put the stuff on the shelf. We filled the fridge with the sodas and waters we brought on.
There was no ice bucket in the room but one call to housekeeping and we had an ice bucket (and some limes). Our room steward refilled our ice bucket twice daily.
Speaking of our room steward, he was great! I don't recall his name as I was hiding in the bathroom when he came by to meet us. I was actually getting dressed and had no pants on and when I heard the knock at the door, I just ran into the bathroom. Come on, we've all done that, right?
Anyhow we didn't see our steward much, he was very stealthy. We'd go to the MDR for breakfast and there'd be no sign of him, yet when we got back, our room was clean, ice refilled, etc. He was super efficient. No complaints at all about him.
Most of you are seasoned cruisers and you all know how it all works, but this was my first time, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found out the room steward visits twice - once in the morning and once at night - the nighttime was not only to turn down the bed, but to replace wet towels, empty the trash, replace the ice, etc.
As for seasickness and motion - we didn't feel much on deck 1 - except in the first few days of the trip when it was super windy. But the motion we felt on deck 1 was nothing compared to up on the higher decks. I think we did hear /feel a bit of vibration from the boat but nothing that bothered us or kept us awake. It was almost a gentle sound, like white noise.
That's all I can think of to say about the room - any more questions, just ask!
Chapter 11 - Bon Voyage
So we had a few things from bon voyage
* the champagne and fruit basket from my dogs Oliver and Astro
* a bottle of rum hubby ordered for himself
* canapes from my father in law
* a fruit basket and wine also from father in law
* drink tickets from father in law
Now, I was unaware that my father in law had sent wine, fruit, canapes and if I had known I probably would've skipped the fruit basket and champagne from the doggies. But it was all good.
Here's how it all arrived:
When we first got to our room, the bottle of rum my hubby ordered and the bottle of champagne was in the room waiting for us.
About an hour later, the fruit basket from the dogs arrived.
About an hour later, we got a phone call from room service asking when to deliver the canapes. "Right now" we replied, excited for the canapes.
Much later a knock on the door arrived and it was the other fruit basket from my father in law - this one with a bottle of wine. The tag said fruit basket + bottle of RED wine, yet clear as day it was a bottle of white wine.
The following evening at dinner in the MDR, a woman comes up to me with drink tickets and asks me to sign for them. Thought that was a bit weird but it's all good.
So it took a full day and a half for us to receive all of our bon voyage items. I'm not complaining, but it's good to know that everything won't necessarily be waiting for you in the room when you arrive. Makes sense, they have to make up the canapes and fruit baskets after the food gets loaded on the ship. Regarding the drink tickets, no idea why that was a full day and a half later.
So, we had a lot of fruit to eat, and hubby had a lot of booze to drink! If you remember from embarkation day, we brought on 2 bottles of wine. Add that to the champagne + rum + wine - hubby had his work cut out for him!
Turns out he did a great job - he managed to go through the 2 bottles of wine we brought on, and almost all of the rum. We ended up bringing the champagne and 1 bottle of wine home with us.
Fruit baskets - Full of fruit. The small one from the dogs had apples, oranges, kiwi, grapes, and bananas. The larger one that came with the bottle of wine had apples, oranges, bananas, kiwis, grapes, all sorts of cheeses, dried fruits, nuts, and crackers. The dried fruits/nuts/crackers were great to take on port days for snacks.
The canapes were delicious. There were 4 different kinds that I'll try and remember accurately.
* Smoked salmon / cream cheese / on bread
* creamy cheese with radish
* meat of some kind, creamy mayo and a mango
* chicken confit with mango garnish.
There were a 32 canapes on the tray (8 of each type). The BV menu on line currently has a 16 pc canape plate with the description of:
"Carnival's Canape trays include Salmon and cream cheese on white bread, Grilled Portobello mushrooms with roasted peppers, Chicken Confit with Mango wedge on wheat bread, and last but not least, Duck Confit and bean Cassoulet on wheat bread."
So ours was similar, but not the exact same. Delicious nonetheless!
I only wish I could've enjoyed champagne or a glass of wine with it. I had a nice sparkling ginger ale though.
Chapter 12 - Gambling (Casino/Bingo)
Hubby and I love to go to Vegas and to the local casino so I knew we'd be spending a bit of time in the casino on the ship.
The casino was a bit smaller than I expected, although it never got too crowded so the size was probably about right. They did allow smoking at the tables and at most slot machines in the casino. It didn't seem too smoky in there though, and even when sitting at the tables, it wasn't bad.
I like to play 3-card poker, blackjack, let it ride. Hubby likes tables but doesn't like losing money so mostly he just watches me play. He'll play a bit here and there.
First night I got a straight flush on the 3-card table, walked away very much ahead. I was lucky one other time at let it ride, but mostly, my trips to the casino were to give back any money that I had won. It's okay , in the end I broke even overall, so I consider that a great success
Slots, terrible. Although I never win anything at slots - this was no different.
We did participate in the slot tournament (which we had never done). It was fun and hubby actually got on the board. He was eliminated quickly after that though. It seemed to me that in the later rounds, the scores were much higher so if we ever did it again we'd just sign up for round 15 when it seemed everyone was scoring higher points.
Bingo - I like bingo. I know it's not typically a "younger persons" game, but hey i'm not that young anymore. Anyhow, I go every so often at home to Foxwoods high stakes bingo and it's a lot of fun. Bingo on the ship - while fun - is a huge rip off. They charge $20 and for that there are two, maybe three games. I get that people just want a quick bit of bingo in the middle of the day - nobody wants to spend their vacation time spending hours in a bingo session but $20 a ticket seemed a bit crazy for the amount of the prizes (which were generally $250 or less). Carnival is making a HUGE profit on bingo.
The good thing is that I won (yay!). The prize was $150. It showed up on my sign and sail as a credit.
One last thing I should mention -- the cash vault! That machine is addictive. I tried a few dollars a day without success. Hubby as well. I never saw anyone win, yet I know people did because at times various prizes were missing. It seems so simple, yet it's so ridiculously precise and hard to win. Loved trying though!
Chapter 13 - Drinks & Bars
As I may have mentioned, I'm pregnant.. just mentioning it yet again so you understand my utter frustration in being surrounded by delicious looking drinks that I couldn't drink.
Sure, I tried the "mock-tails" - virgin daiquiris, pina coladas, smoothies, etc. but let me tell you, while they taste all good and sweet, they don't taste the same without the rum. Sad, but true. Plus I think in the first few days I may overloaded on sugar from the drinks.
But let's talk about the drinks! I do love a good conversation about cocktails.
Hubby had a bottle of captain morgan from bon voyage so he often times mixed up a rum + diet coke with limes in the room and wandered about the ship with it in a big old bubba keg mug type thingy. I also had a big bubba keg type thing but mine contained either ginger ale, pineapple soda, or water.
He did buy drinks at the bar - he got a drink of the day on day 1 and refilled it a few times. We also went to the lobby bar a few times before dinner. He got delicious gimlets and martinis and such and I was very jealous.
I was surprised that juice from the bar counted as soda ? I had just assumed juice would be free since it is from room service and at breakfast. But I still didn't order enough juice to warrant a soda card or anything.
Bars - there are a lot of them on the ship! You're never really far from a cocktail. We really liked the lobby bar. I wanted to like Scott's Piano bar but the piano player was dreadful (more on that in the entertainment section of the review) so we didn't spend much time there. We went into the 70's disco one night because it was supposed to be a Michael Jackson dance contest .. but nobody was dancing and there was no contest (we weren't going to enter it, we were just going to watch). In there they were selling shots with a light up glass. Gimmicky but still kind of fun.
Anyway the drinks are pretty much the same in any bar you go in. One night at the comedy club the drink menu was different but still you can get any drink at any bar.
I can't tell you if the drinks were strong or weak since I didn't drink anything (I mentioned that, right?). Hubby seemed to enjoy his drinks and definitely wasn't complaining.
Chapter 14 - Ports
OK let's do the ports!
We didn't do any Carnival excursions mostly because we didn't really do any excursions at all. Even if we did, we would've done stuff on our own. I know many take Carnival excursions for peace of mind and I totally understand that. For me, I can't pay those prices for something I know I can get for less. I realize I'm taking risks and such, but I'm okay with the risks. To each their own in regards to port excursion choices.
With that out of the way, our first stop was St Thomas. We'd been there before, but only to fly in, and then take a taxi to the ferry dock to Tortola so we never really spent any time there.
We got off the boat around 9am. Easy quick process. We just really wanted to go to a great beach, not to busy, and with changing/bathroom facilities. Taxi driver recommended Sapphire Beach and we were fine with that. We got into an open air taxi with others going to various other places. It was about a 20 minute ride to Sapphire Beach.
As it turns out Sapphire beach is a time share / hotel type property but it was gorgeous and not that crowded. Nice recommendation from the taxi driver. Beach was free, we paid for chair rental but for the life of me I cannot remember what we paid. It was either $5, $6, or $7 each.
We immediately went swimming and had a great time. Hubby got a rum punch from the bar area and I got a Sprite. It was the perfect day at the beach.
After we'd been there about 4 hours or so, we got hungry and decided to go back to town and do some shopping and have lunch.
We got a taxi back and got dropped off in the shopping area of Charlotte Amalie. Now the shopping area is insane - I've never seen so many jewelry shops in one place in my life. I'm not sure if it was from the hunger (I was starving) or what, but while we were looking for a place to have lunch, I managed to somehow buy a David Yurman necklace. I guess the moral of the story is don't shop on an empty stomach!
We found a place for lunch, way down the end of the street. It was more of a local joint and that suited us perfectly. I had conch stew, plantains, rice and pigeon peas and hubby had a roasted chicken dish with rice and beans. Yummy and totally authentic. Of course, I can't remember the name of the place - I know it begins with an "F" but I'm sure that's a fairly useless bit of information.
After lunch we wandered around some more, then got a taxi back to the port. We wandered around more there, bought a t-shirt for my nephew and boarded the ship.
Next we went to Antigua. Neither hubby or I had ever been there so we were excited to see a new place. We debarked again right around 9am and it was quick and easy. Taxi drivers were all over the place trying to get passenger and we got Joey.
Joey was dressed in a bright pink shirt and he was quite a character. We waited while he got 6 other passengers for the trip and then we headed towards his very, very beat up taxi van.
Joey's van was a sight. It was fairly used and beat up, but the best part about it was the horn. When he beeped the horn, it did not beep like a regular horn in a regular taxi. When Joey beeped his horn, his truck shouted "Move over!!!" loudly. Joey also had an ambulance sound as well. Truly we had a great time driving around the island with Joey.
It seems the locals on the island were very familiar with Joey and even before he had the chance to blast his "Move over!!" horn , people would shout "Move over!!" as we drove by. It was classic.
Joey drove us around to see a harbor area, through a rainforest type area, and then took us to a beach. Antigua has 365 beaches "one for every day" and if they are anything like the beach Joey took us to, I think I'll definitely be back to Antigua.
We spent a few hours at Darkwood Beach and then Joey came back and picked us up and brought us back to the ferry terminal.
Cost for this day was a mere $25pp. I have to say that like the rest of the Caribbean, the roads aren't the best. Normally this doesn't bother me at all but Joey's shocks probably were a bit worn out and the trip was very bumpy for me. I just got a little nervous being pregnant and bouncing around a lot. I probably wouldn't have ridden in Joey's taxi van if I had known.. so for this reason we decided to take it very easy in the next port.
Antigua reminded me a bit of Barbados, where I've spent a bit of time. The people we met were friendly and the beaches were gorgeous. We'll definitely go back.
Back at port, we went to a restaurant/cafe that had free WiFi and checked our email on our phones. We had some drinks and a snack as well. Oh we also bought some duty free Antiguan rum which some day I'll be able to drink.
So I mentioned this in the Antigua review but I felt I was "too jostled" around on the trip around the island. I wanted to avoid this in Tortola. I've been to Tortola before and I know how windy, steep, and bumpy the roads are. I just didn't want to risk being jostled around any more. So for Tortola, we were pretty lame and we just got off the ship and walked around for about an hour or so. It's a shame because I love Tortola and the BVI, I just didn't feel that great.
We returned to the ship and spent a leisurely day by the pool
I've been to Nassau before, but it was oh, a good 20 years ago back when I was young and fun. I took a girls trip - me, my sister, and other girls flew into Nassau and took it by storm! I remember a lot of drinking and taking the cable beach bus to Merv Griffins Crystal Palace resort and casino. What fun we had! I was excited to go back to Nassau. I knew a great deal had changed and one thing that was new since my last visit 20 years ago is the behemoth that is called Atlantis....
I knew it was big and I knew it catered to a wealthy clientele but man, it was a bit crazy. We took a taxi from the port to Atlantis on Paradise Island ($4 pp each way). Once there we wandered around a bit - it reminded me in way of a Las Vegas hotel/casino - but bigger and more opulent. While walking through the casino, I saw a high limit area off in the back. We walked through the main drag of tables, and I kid you not, I saw $500 blackjack tables. More than one of them, and there were people playing at them. Some were playing multiple chips per hand. Wowza, and that wasn't even in the high limit area. Insane.
So we then bought tickets to the Aquarium (around $40 each). We kind of wandered around outside and found the shark area. Nothing was really very clearly marked. The shark area was really cool and that put us into a big round restaurant area. We left there and had lunch at Virgils BBQ. The food was pretty good, albeit expensive. I mean, hey, we're in Atlantis, I expect things to cost more so we weren't that shocked at the $8 local beer or the $18 pork sandwich (I guess)... Anyway it was good, and we headed off to the Dig.
It took us a bit of time to find it but eventually we found it. Again, signage is not really that great - we had to ask directions. I kind of felt like an idiot. Oh bonus though, we found a room where you could print your boarding passes and since we were leaving the next day we checked in to our southwest flights and printed boarding passes. Got the "A" group, which was sweet.
OK the Dig - this was pretty impressive. The aquariums were really beautiful! I took a ton of fish pictures.
After that we played a bit on the slot machines (didn't win) and then took a taxi back to the port area, where we walked around, found a Starbucks and got drinks, bought some things in the straw market and also found the Tortuga rum cake factory store and bought a bunch of rum cakes (yum).
Chapter 15 - Entertainment
If you said there's nothing to see or do on a cruise ship, I'd tell you you were crazy. There was always something going on.
While on the cruise we did a few trivia events, we saw a show or two, and also visited the comedy club.
Shows - We saw The Big Easy and while the dancing, costumes, and singing were great, we didn't go see any more shows after that. I just felt like it was more of a "concert" rather than a "show" - there was no connective story for the show (other than it was all songs about or from New Orleans). I would've liked the show better if there was some sort of story line to it.
Anyway we did see the Legends show though on the last night - loved it. We actually went to the auditions earlier in the week - it was great to see people try out for the parts in the show.
What else did we do - oh Trivia! I love trivia! We did two different music trivia's - one where you heard the song and guessed the artist, and the other you had to write down the name of the song. Both were really fun and both I lost by 1 point. The other trivia contest we did was the cruise director's random and useless trivia. Tons of people were at that one and I actually sat next to a couple that cheated!! I mean really, cheating at a trivia game on a ship? The question was which king in a deck of cards, has his sword pointing at his head. The woman had a deck of cards in her purse and they were all sneaky about it and looked at them. They looked so proud after they wrote down that answer. I just shook my head and thought how sad that grown adult need to do stuff like that.
Anyway we didn't win that trivia either but it was a heck of a lot of fun and we learned some completely useless information -- if I'm ever on Jeopardy and the answer is "twit" I will definitely be buzzing in and answering, "What is a pregnant goldfish!!" Alex Trebeck would be proud.
Other things we did - we went to two comedy shoes. One was way funnier than the other. I'm sorry I don't recall the names of the comedians. The funnier one was earlier in the week. The not-as-funny one was later in the week and basically just made sex jokes. Now, I love a good sex joke, but these weren't really even that funny. Still he wasn't terrible.
Oh we watched the "thriller dance class" in the Victoriana lounge - if we weren't 10 minutes late I probably would've been up there. It looked so fun! By the end everyone on stage was doing the Thriller dance pretty well!
We also saw something in Victoriana where there were 3 guys on stage and you had to guess who was giving the real definition of something .. I can't remember what it was called but the 3 guys were hysterical.
Lastly we saw the Newlywed game and absolutely loved it. The CD Brad did a great job as host and the contestants were hysterical. That was probably my favorite entertainment thing on the ship. I hope one day to be as happy and funny as the couple that had been married for 50 + years.
OK bands and lounge acts --
In the lounge there was always this duo called Rhythm Limit. They were Filipino and they sang standard type songs. The man played the keyboard and sang, while the girl sang. They were very good, sang a wide variety of songs, and were entertaining.
There was another guy on the ship that sang country songs. He was great too!
Chapter 16 - The Spa
I couldn't really get any spa treatments - they wouldn't let me have any massages due to being pregnant. So I opted to get the "fire and ice" manicure.
This involved a manicure + a hot rock massage on the hands and arms.
The manicure was good, the nail tech was really nice and we talked a lot. The nail polish selection left a lot to be desired. Guys, you probably don't care about this but girls, there literally was maybe 15 colors to choose from - 99% of them either pink or red. I'm non traditional when it comes to polish, I was hoping to find a bit more variety in the color department. I picked a grape-y pink and she did a good job painting my nails.. or so I thought.
Two days later they started chipping and by the time I got off the boat I had literally peeled off the polish. It came off like a sticker!! I wasn't in the pool a lot or doing anything that would cause it. I'm kind of a nail polish junkie and that never happens to me. I know I should've complained but I liked the girl and I didn't want to get her in trouble or anything. I'll just not get a manicure on the ship again. Maybe next time I'll try a massage. It's pricey but hey, it's vacation!
Chapter 17 - Summary
In summary, I know I went into the cruise thinking I'd hate it, but in all honestly I had a great time! And me saying I had a great time (completely sober, lol) is no small thing. Will I still fly to islands in the Caribbean, stay at small places and spend all afternoon in a rum shop? Of course. But I'll also definitely do another cruise. In fact, we bought a future cruise certificate while on board. We plan to go next spring when the baby will be a bit over 6 months old. Trying to convince the rest of our family to join us as well. It'll be a trip, that's for sure!
Oh and I didn't really touch too much on the service - but everyone on the boat, from the guy washing the floor near the elevator to the hostess to the bartenders was insanely nice. Employees were always smiling and looked genuinely happy to be there. I loved that aspect of the cruise also - friendly people are just awesome, and I definitely appreciated that.
I think that's it for this review - feel free to ask any questions, as I probably missed out on lots of things.
Appendix - Additional comments in random order
* Coffee - it's decent but if you want something better there's a coffee shop on the lido deck in the back of the buffet (fee based) and also one on the promenade deck. The one on lido is right inside the buffet if you come up the aft-most elevator. The guy making the coffee was great and he did awesome iced lattes. You can buy a cup for $8 and get it refilled for a bit less. We discovered this only about 1/2 way through the cruise and wish we had known earlier.
* Piano bar guy - I mentioned earlier that the guy in Scott's piano bar was a drag but never elaborated on it. He was a drag and didn't sing anything except old sleepy songs. The piano bar would've been great with a more upbeat piano player that sang what people requested. We never stayed in there for more than 10 minutes. We tried to like it, honestly we did
* Photographers - everywhere near lobby on elegant nights and on other nights they're in random places. We got one pic taken but by the time we remembered to go look for it, it was no longer there. I kind of wish we did more just to see how they came out ... next time!
* gift shops / shopping - I didn't find the shopping to be too great on the ship. I love to shop and just expected more. They had a duty free shop for alcohol, tobacco, jewelry, watches, and a limited amount of cosmetics and perfume. Also there was a shop with misc items you may have forgot at home, + the Bijoux Tener crap, er I mean stuff. Note the Bijoux Tener "special sale" is for $10 per item however, at every Bijoux Tener off the boat, items are always $10. Buyer beware of the quality of those items though! I did buy a scarf/wrap type thing for the dining room as it got a bit chilly. I don't care for $10 if it falls apart in the wash.
* Lido deck, chair hogs, pools - We didn't spend much time on the lido deck in the pool area but when we did, we did see the chair hogs out, but there were plenty of other chairs. We didn't want to sit too close to the pool anyway because of all the idiots, er, people that were splashing around and getting the entire area wet. I couldn't go in the hot tubs, but if I wanted to, they were usually pretty crowded. On port days it's much less crowded and you can pretty much find chairs anywhere. We wandered around the serenity area a bit but didn't ever stay there.. I kind of wished the boat had a Serenity pool or something.. it just seemed too far away from the pool or something.
* debarkation - we were like zone 32 out of 33 or something crazy like that. I don't know how they assign debark numbers but that was fine for us, we slept until the last minute, went to breakfast, played the stupid cash vault machine for the last time, and then debarked. The only thing was by the time we got off, the taxi line was INSANE. So if you get off late, I'd suggest having transportation pre-arranged.
That's it (really). Hope you enjoyed my review.