We booked this cruise about 3 months in advance as a much needed getaway. We were a group of 3; ages 24, 23, and 23 but don't be fooled by our age we are avid cruisers (this was in-fact my platinum cruise). We were driving from Tampa so we left the morning of and arrived in Port Canaveral around 11am. We decided to park at the Radisson hotel (it's about half the price of the actual port), the staff was very nice but be prepared to wait somewhat. We were on the shuttle about 15 minutes after we parked but the shuttle dropped off at the Dream first, then the Ecstasy.
Embarkation: Since this was my platinum cruise we got the perk of being "vip/priority". From the time of giving the porters our bags to getting on the ship was probably a maximum of 15 minutes. We were on the ship around noon and went directly to our room to drop off our carryon bags, wine, soda, etc... Having this perk is amazing because we got to settle in right away and not lug bags around the lido deck till 1:30 when all the rooms are ready. We then headed to the lido deck for lunch and explore the ship; I will go into greater detail on these aspects of the cruise below. By being "priority" our bags were also outside the room by 2pm the latest. Just these perks alone could be a good reason to purchase FTTF for some people (on some cruises I wouldn't get my bag to at least 6 or 7 pm).
Room: We were on Deck 5 (Main deck) in an cabin M-160 an ocean view. The location of this room, in my opinion was perfect, two elevator/stair banks very close and there are only rooms below and above (no public areas), and because of this we found the room to be very quiet. The room itself was your classic carnival room, the beds were very comfortable and the flat panel TV was a nice touch. The room definitely seemed updated fairly recently. My only complaint was the shelving in the bathroom seemed more limited than usual, but we managed. Our room steward Jorge was great, he had given us an extra robe, removed the drinks from the room, and got us a mini fridge (for medical purposes), and kept the ice bucket filled every day. We did not see him too often (we spent very little time in the room) but when we did he referred to us by name which is always nice.
-Breakfast: Mornings would start off with a room service breakfast. You can order such things as coffee, danish, lox, bagels, cereals, fruit, juices, etc. We treat this as a pre-breakfast before the actually sit down or buffet. With having champagne in the room and vodka (from bon voyage) we also used the room service to order a lot of juice to mix with the alcohol. We decided to eat all our full breakfast meals in the dining room, so I cannot comment on the buffet. The service in the dining room for breakfast ranged from ok to great on different days. You can get everything from eggs, French toast, pancakes, oatmeal, bacon, sausage, etc...... The eggs were cooked perfectly every time, hash browns were excellent, and the bacon was very crispy. Personally I prefer the sit down breakfast opposed to the buffet; I'm on vacation and it is more enjoyable in my opinion.
Lunch: With this being an older ship you don't have all the bells and whistles such as, Guys Burgers. With that being said, I found the buffet to be very good. One of my favorites is the wok station; fresh vegetables to choose from, pick your own sauce, and usually a choice of shrimp, chicken, or beef. This is made fresh and was really excellent. The grill had your burgers, hot dogs, chicken fingers, fries, chili, cheese sauce, sauteed onions/mushrooms, tortilla chips, and condiments. In between the grill and wok was the rotisserie, which had 2 carving stations and some side dishes (mac and cheese was very good). If you go inside, there is the chef's selection, these change daily (Caribbean, French, Italian, and American). This station always had some nice options to try and I found almost everything to be very good. Also inside will be the salad bar, pizza, deli, and dessert bar. Overall I found the buffet lunch to be very good and plenty of choices to pick from. I found the lines to move pretty quickly and was never waiting too long. The only time the lines were really long was during the sea day at prime time and Nassau when we left port at 2pm. Just a suggestion, there are seats at the aft of the ship, outside on the lido deck. This area will give you a great view of the serenity area below and the beautiful blue water.
Dinner: We had the late seating in the wind song dining room. Being in the late seating we always grabbed a snack at the buffet around 6. I can't comment on the food on the buffet for dinner, but they did have a nice cheese and cured meat section that we had almost every day. Sushi was also offered up on the buffet, and this was the same that was offered at the sushi bar on the promenade. Let me first start by saying our service in the dining room was superb. Our head waiter Anton, assistants Carlos and Roel were amazing, referred to us by name and were just overall excellent. I had been on the Carnival Paradise 5 nights in March, with practically the same menu and I thought the food and service was much better on the Ecstasy. Our food always came out hot and we never had a problem with a wrong order or mistake, a true testament to our waiters because each of us averaged a 6 course meal every day. A few highlights of the food (just to name a few) were the lobsters (we got 3 tails all on one plate so we didn't waste the sides), brisket, prime rib, frog legs, chateaubriand, penne mariscos, and the veal parm. These are just a few of the highlights but there were plenty of other dishes that we really enjoyed. A few of the desserts that we loved was the chocolate melting cake (double ice cream and I ask for mine a little "well done"), bitter and blanc (probably my favorite of the trip), souffle, and the cheesecake. Note: do not be afraid to order a few dishes and try new things. We always order a ton of food (finish almost all of it) and enjoy trying different things we never thought we would like. We also share a few items, like the pasta, so we can enjoy many different dishes.
Ship: For the ship being just over 20 years old, she is in magnificent condition. I have never seen (or noticed) so much cleaning happening 24/7. In my opinion, the ship is very easy to navigate and you never felt crowded. Some have mentioned a sewer smell on occasion and I noticed it as well every so often.
Entertainment: We went to both of the shows, The Brits and Motown. We thought both of these production shows were very good, loved the songs and the crowd seemed to get involved. They had a nice amount of comedy (mostly adult) and they were good as well. Hasbro the game show seemed to have the largest turn out, we thought the whole thing was Ok, but a bit of a cop out for this to be the only "show" that night. We didn't pay attention to any of the trivia or that type of entertainment this cruise, with 3 port days and beautiful weather we didn't have use for it. I will also say that I noticed a fair amount of live music throughout the ship at night and karaoke was always packed.
Pool: I really loved the addition of the fake palm tree and "bamboo" roofs they added to the pool area. It gave the whole lido deck a more "vacationie" feel to it. Most of the days we were on the serenity deck and we never had a problem getting 3 chairs. I did not see much chair hogging going on and when I came back from lunch (gone about 30 minutes) there was a sticker on my towel noting the time I left. So it seemed liked they were enforcing the 40 minute rule. The Ecstasy did have Waterworks and mini golf but we didn't venture up there. The main pool area at times had piped Caribbean type music that was at a very nice volume but when the dj set up, it seemed overly loud and obnoxious (and we are in our 20s).
Ports: This cruise called on Freeport, Nassau, and Key West. Freeport we went to Junkanno beach which was a $14 cab ride round trip. The beach was very nice, clean, and they had a reasonable priced beach bar. The one thing I really enjoyed was nobody was trying to sell us things on the beach. They had a straw market off to the side if you wanted to browse and buy any souvenirs.
Nassau, we have been too many times so we decided to just walk around a bit, do some shopping, and then headed to the serenity deck for some R&R.
Key West is always a favorite spot of mine, the only annoying thing was we had to go through customs on the ship and the line was extremely long. Once off the ship we then had to take a trolley since we were docked on the naval base (this was extremely unorganized, you would think Carnival never did this before). Once that disaster was over we went to do some shopping and headed for Duvall Street. We did some bar hoping, went to BO's Fish Wagon (amazing grouper sandwiches and conch fritters), and then we went to Kermit's for some key lime pie. By the time we turned around it was getting close to dinner so we jumped on the trolley and headed back to the ship. Although this was not the best port line up, we made the most of it and really enjoyed our time shopping, hanging in the sun and of course much needed relaxation.
Platinum status: As I mentioned above we were on the ship in about 15 minutes from bag drop off to walking into the atrium. Also having the room ready right when we are on the ship and our checked bags earlier were very nice. If this matters to you and are not platinum or diamond, purchasing FTTF may be the option for you. The past guest part was vastly improved, a much smaller crowd with plenty of drinks and appetizers (you can ask for any drink you want). They had the Ecstasy band playing, brought up some of the big wigs on the ship, showed a small video, and then the dj played for the remainder of the time. The gift of the tervis was great, free wash and fold and the chocolate delights were a nice added feature. I'm not one to complain about free things so in my opinion the added perks of loyalty were a nice touch.