BACKGROUND: This was my sixth cruise. My sister and I planned it to celebrate my daughter's 37th birthday, so it was an all-gal trip. We drove from our homes in North Carolina to Port Canaveral.
HOTEL INFO: We stayed in the Cocoa Beach Comfort Inn & Suites, which I highly recommend. With one night's stay, we were permitted to leave our car there free for the duration of the cruise. With two nights (one before the cruise and one after), we were upgraded to a suite for both nights. There's also free breakfast and a free shuttle to and from the port. The shuttle was somewhat delayed, but we made it to the ship in plenty of time, around noon.
PORT/EMBARKATION: We usually wheel our luggage onto the ship, avoiding tipping porters and possible lost luggage. Usually our suitcases are smaller 22" carry-ons, together with a boarding bag. This time, as we were driving, we each had a tote and a single 27" rolling bag. The porters attempted to stop us, telling us that we would not be permitted to roll these onto the ship. Sadly, my experience with the porters hasn't been positive and I didn't trust that they were telling us the truth. So we decided to see for ourselves. The porters hooted and laughed and said, "you'll be coming back." However, we asked at security and, to my relief, there was absolutely no issue with rolling these bags on ourselves.
We each brought a case (12) of canned soda and there was no problem at all. We put this in a separate tote, as we knew it would be inspected. The few moments this takes is generally worth saving quite a bit of money. I spent $2.78 on this case of soda, which would have cost over $24 on the ship.
Embarkation was smooth. The only small hitch was that my daughter had been given a Carnival gift card. The employees didn't know how to handle it and couldn't get it to "post" to her account. We later found out that this can only be done at guest services on board the ship. We were quickly on board the ship, enjoying lunch at the buffet. In about 30 minutes, our rooms were ready and we were unpacking.
CABIN: We were on the Riviera Deck, R-139, an ocean-view cabin. There were two twin beds and a bunk. When we first arrived, the bunk was not down, but very quickly the stewards put it in place, with one of the twin beds beneath. We expected space to be a bit tight, but actually, it worked out just fine. I was the oldest of our group (58), but the shortest and also the only one without any back issues, so I took the bunk. It was just as comfortable as the other beds and I slept well each night. The window was very large with a ledge which could hold items (or towel critters). There were two night stands, a chair, and a boudoir-type bench, along with a mirror and large cosmetic area. We stashed our luggage beneath the beds. There were three closets and a safe. There is no refrigerator in this room, but the stewards kept the ice bucket well filled. The bathroom was larger than I had expected with plenty of room for cosmetics and toothbrushes. We chose this cabin because it appeared to be close to the elevator at mid-ship, and it was -- but that particular elevator only went up to Deck 9, so if we took that one, we had to climb a few stairs. The forward and aft elevators go all the way to the top.
DINING: We took most of our meals in the dining room, using the "anytime" dining plan. The dining room is not as glitzy as others in the Carnival line, but it was certainly clean and pleasant. We often were seated near the window. As we generally eat early, we were able to enjoy sunset over the water on several occasions. Having been on several Carnival cruises before, the food was not surprising, but it was still excellent, with many choices available. We ate several lunches at the buffet and enjoyed that, as well. Tea, water, coffee and lemonade are offered as free beverages. We ordered mixed drinks once and enjoyed them as well. One evening a fellow was attempting to eat in the dining room with very casual attire. He was asked to remove his ball cap for dinner, which he did without argument. I liked the dining room being a bit dressier and appreciated the actions of the server and the attitude of the diner.
SHIP AMENITIES/ACTIVITIES: The ship is one of the smaller in the Carnival fleet, making it easy to walk the full length and get acquainted with quickly. We didn't participate in many of the ship activities, but enjoyed the sail-away dancing. We walked the deck often.
There is only one pool on the ship, but it was not crowded, and is surrounded by faux palm trees. I liked this effect as it made some shady spots. I was able to get a deck chair any time I wanted. The weather was a little cool and so I only swam once in the pool. I used my hula-hoop on the deck often, though, and found everyone to be friendly. Smoking was confined to the area designated, for which I am thankful.
I noticed that the artwork auction was still alive and well on the ship, and I enjoyed looking at the artwork, but did not participate in the auction. Gift shops were well-stocked with predictable items, but it was still fun to look.
We had several photos made and purchased more photos than ever before on this cruise.
The only problem we experienced on the ship was an ongoing outage in the forward elevators. This went on throughout the cruise and we frequently took the stairs rather than wait. Staff was working on the elevators, but were not able to fix the situation adequately.
We visited the spa area, which was clean and appealing -- there was room for more who wanted to use equipment and also a central room for group exercise. We also visited the Camp Carnival areas (reconnaissance for future cruises with grandchildren) and they appeared to be well-run places which would delight a child.
ENTERTAINMENT: We enjoyed two revue-type shows, "Motown" and "The Brits," finding them excellent. The sets and costumes were especially nice and I was amazed that they were able to present such a rich show with only about 7 performers. My sister and daughter attended a couple of the comedy shows and said they "had their moments." I walked past one of the nightclubs, Stripes, several times on different evenings, but it did not appear to have many patrons. The Lido-deck bar, adjacent to the smoking area was almost always busy. I walked through the casino area several times and it seemed well-used.
PORTS: I'll cover each port below in the separate port reviews, but I wanted to mention that I really liked the way this ship filled the tenders for the private island. Instead of dangerously filling the stairwells and the inevitably pushing and grousing, passengers were instructed to go to the large lounge with all of their party and items they wanted to take. At the lounge, we received a tender sticker with a number. When our number was called, we were escorted to the tender. After 11:00 am, passengers could go directly to the gangway. This was a great plan and made for painless boarding. On the return trip, I believe something happened with one of the tenders because there was a long wait and one of the glass-bottom boats was pressed into service to get passengers back to the ship. Possibly everyone just decided to leave at the same time.
DISEMBARKATION: This was smooth and uneventful. We used the "self assist" program and wheeled our own bags off when our deck was called. By having my passport and customs form in my hand, I got through customs in record time.
SUMMARY: This is an excellent choice for anyone who doesn't require the glitz, drama, press of people, or extreme nightlife that might be available on larger ships. Sailing on the Ecstasy is like putting on a nice, comfortable shoe. I would gladly repeat this cruise in the future.