Having cruised several other cruise lines, I felt we had realistic expectations of a Carnival cruise, but I had some reservations after reading some of the scathing reviews of the Carnival Legend. But I think some people have unrealistic expectations, some people genuinely have a bad experience for whatever reason, and I think there are some people you simply cannot please no matter what you do, but our experience was smooth from start to finish.
EMBARKATION: Left out of Tampa. Booked a room through Stay 123 at Holiday Inn Express for the evening before the cruise. What a deal! For only $17 more than parking at the port we had a room with a terrific location(right at Tampa stadium, so lots of restaurants and shopping nearby), a hot breakfast, parking for the duration our cruise, and a shuttle to and from the pier. The hotel allowed us to stay in our room until the 12:30 shuttle to the pier. Walked right up to the counter and were boarded in less than 10 minutes. Cabin was ready. Dropped off our carry-on bags, had lunch on the Lido deck and our other bags were in the room by the time we got back. Smooth as silk.
SHIP: Layout of the ship is similar to other Carnival ships, but the ship decor is unlike other Carnival ships we've been on that had the bright, neon colors. The decor was much more subdued and elegant. Had read reviews about the ship not being clean and being in a state of disrepair. We never saw ANY area of the ship that was not clean and we saw crews every day painting, shampooing carpets, replacing signs that had faded and doing other general maintenance. There were a couple of rust spots where the wall met the floor on our balcony, but they were very small, and our balcony was cleaned during our cruise.
CABIN: We had a balcony cabin, which was spacious with king-size bed, couch, nice vanity area and lots of storage/closet space. Suitcases fit neatly underneath the bed. We were located on deck 8 directly below the Lido deck, which was really convenient and quiet at night.
DINING: We had breakfast and lunch on the Lido deck and dinner in the main dining room with the anytime dining option. We never had to 'jockey' for a table on the Lido deck and tables were cleaned quickly once they were vacated. There was a wide variety of choices aside from the standard hot dogs/burgers, which is why we ate there rather than going to the dining room for lunch. In the main dining room we usually dined between 7:30 and 8:30 and we only had a short wait (less than 15 minutes) one night for a table. We shared a table 2 nights but were able to dine the other 5 nights by ourselves with no wait at all.
The dining room offered ample selections -- several different starters, entrees and desserts every evening in addition to the selections that are offered every day. The service was always smooth, with no long wait between courses, and the staff were always friendly and helpful. By the 3rd night the bar staff had remembered my wine of choice and greeted me by asking if I was having 'my usual'. The meals are not "fine dining" or the gourmet fare offered by some cruise lines, but you have to keep in mind that you are not paying premium price on a premium line, so it's simply unrealistic to expect a premium dining experience. Having said that, hot dishes were always served hot, cold dishes were always served cold, the food was beautifully presented and quite good. In fact, the lobster and shrimp were some of the best I've ever had on a cruise, regardless of the price. Many times it's dry and overcooked, but it was perfectly cooked, moist and delicious. My husband had the lasagna one evening, which was also very good. In fact, every dinner was good except for one seafood pasta dish which was simply to my taste. There was a great selection of starters each evening, and the gazpacho, stuffed portabello mushrooms and ahi tuna tartare were especially good. There was also a good variety of desserts offered each evening. We had a great creme brulee, a wonderful Grand Marnier souffle, and a dark chocolate amaretto cake that was pure heaven. And if nothing else strikes your fancy, the warm chocolate melting cake is always a great alternative.
We never tried the specialty dining room and the only food we purchased was a HUGE slice of strawberry cheesecake which was only $2.25! Drinks are of course pricey, as they are on all ships, but we are not big drinkers and we took 2 bottles of wine onboard.
ACTIVITIES: As far as ship activities, we pretty much prefer to just snag a lounge chair (which also was never a problem) and read, nap or simply people watch. The Serenity area was very nice and we had a wonderful nap in one of the hammocks. There were of course the obligatory 'hairy chest contests' and other poolside activities for those who wanted to participate, plus bingo, scavenger hunts, game shows, trivia and the like, although it did seem there were fewer offerings (and less participation) than I've seen on some other cruises. Fortunately we had gorgeous weather every day except for our last day at sea when it was overcast and breezy much of the day.
ENTERTAINMENT: We only went to a show in the Follies lounge 2 evenings, and they certainly weren't Vegas-class shows, but they were quite enjoyable. What we really enjoyed were the adult comedy shows every night in the Firebird Lounge -- REALLY good comedians.
STAFF: The staff were all courteous and helpful. I heard a few people complaining that they weren't "friendly" enough, but I certainly did not experience that. For the most part they did not joke and cut up with the passengers like I have seen on some cruises, but frankly I did not go on this cruise to make new foreign friends, and the level of service was certainly more than adequate from the room steward to the bartenders to the dining room staff. There was one young man at the Guest Services counter who seemed a little "dour" and abrupt, but he certainly wasn't rude -- he just wasn't as courteous and
STAFF: All staff we encountered were friendly and courteous, with the exception of one young man at the Guest Services desk who had a sour attitude and was a little abrupt. He wasn't really rude, just not quite as pleasant as the other staff we interacted with. We heard a few people complain that the staff was not friendly, but we certainly never experienced that. They did not joke and cut up as much as I have seen on some other cruises, but frankly I didn't take the cruise in order to make new foreign friends, and we found them all to be very helpful and efficient, if perhaps some of them were not as outgoing and friendly as others.
OTHER CRUISERS: This was a much more 'mature' crowd than I've typically seen on Carnival ships, but a lot of that may be due to the time of year it is (no school breaks) There were VERY few children and a huge contingent of "red-hat" ladies on board. It certainly wasn't a geriatric crowd, but I'd say that easily over half the passengers were over age 50.
DISEMBARKATION: Getting off the ship in port went smoothly and efficiently. I have been on a cruise before where we stood packed in a lower deck hallway for over 45 minutes waiting to get off the ship. We took tenders into 3 of the ports and walked off the ship in one port, and every one went quickly and smoothly, with only a few minutes waiting time in the lounge for the tenders.
Final disembarkation was smooth as well. We elected to carry off our luggage, so we left our cabin at 8:30, waited in comfort in the library until 9:15, which is exactly the time it listed that we would be called, and we were off the ship and outside the terminal in less than ten minutes.
Smooth sailing, to to speak, start to finish.