I had cruised with Carnival about 20 years ago and more recently with Royal Caribbean (Bahamas) and in many ways, this cruise was far superior. I was traveling with my teenage niece (birthday trip) and we had an outside cabin on the Main deck as I know she gets a bit claustrophobic. The cabin was much larger than the one I had on Royal Caribbean and much more comfortable. We had arrived in NYC from New England the day before to take in a show and do some shopping. We checked out of the Waldorf Astoria at noon and made our way by taxi to the pier. There were a lot of large groups, family reunions with many small children traveling. This was definitely "family cruise" day. Didn't really bother us and we met some very nice people. Embarkation was a lot of waiting and long lines but that's just what it is unless you want to arrive at the last minute.
I know from past experience to carry on luggage whenever possible and even though we got some strange looks from people in line as we lugged our things on (just your basic drag-along bag and briefcases), we knew we'd be sure to have all of our things with us. Checked baggage is not guaranteed to show up in your cabin until perhaps 8 p.m. that evening. Plus, it tends to go astray (the dockside porters do not work for Carnival so the cruise line holds no responsibility if they lose your bags -- so says the fine print in your cruise packet which I'm sure very few people actually read). We left on a Thursday and by Friday night, we got a notice that people were still missing luggage. So, word to the wise: It's only a 4 day cruise. You CAN fit it all into a carry on bag. No need to pack like you're going to Europe for a month! They also have convenient and inexpensive self-launderettes so if you really run out of clean clothes, you can throw a few things in the wash. Bring a few bucks in quarters if you think you'll need this. It's just like being back in college.
We had requested the main sitting for dinner but were assigned the late sitting. This actually worked out better for us. We could go to the shows before dinner, have something to eat and then hit the hay if we were so inclined (as we sleep-deprived workaholics often were!). We arrived at the Paris dining room for our first night's dinner and were assigned to a table with about 10 people. The maitre d' came up and asked us just as we sat down if we wouldn't mind being moved so a large single-family party could sit together (I gather the whole dining room assignment business was a bit disorganized at check-in). We said "fine" and we were given a very nice table just for the two of us, which was perfect. Our waiter was very personable even though we couldn't really understand him. My niece is a vegetarian and while there were vegetarian entrees, this cruise is definitely geared toward the meat eater. But the appetizers were very nice and I had the roasted lamb shank, which was excellent. We never did see the waiters dancing on tables or singing or whatever they did. Maybe that was for the early seatings.
Food-wise, dinners were the best. Breakfast in the dining room was really quite horrible. I ordered regular eggs one morning and not only did they not arrive the way I requested (eggs of all sorts basically come well-done, not matter what you want. I think it's the sitting-under-the-heat-lamp issue), each item ordered comes separately. Personally, I like to eat my toast, eggs and hash browns all on the same plate, but it was not to be..... Eggs Benedict also came completely overdone. It looked like it had sat under the warmer for 20 minutes (had a nice crust growing on it). We tried the buffet the next morning and it was your basic fare. Bottom line is, we ended up preferring to have coffee, croissant and bagels brought to our cabin each morning. Lunch was OK. Again, not a lot of vegetarian choices, but salads were fine. Pizza was good but we had thought to get pizza and bring it to our cabin for a movie night, but even tho you have to special order anything other than cheese or pepperoni, we couldn't just order a whole pizza. Unless you are a major soda drinker, it is not worth the $22 to buy the unlimited drink cup thing. There is always free water, lemonade, coffee, iced tea and juice from the buffets that you can get at any time. That will keep your from drying out in the sun.
Formal night was nice. We actually got a good black and white photo out of it, and I never like my photos! We saw one Vegas style show that was fun. The comedian was not funny and actually, I was wondering when someone was going to call him on all the stereotypical comments he made. People just laughed kind of uncomfortably.
Now, to this business of deck chairs: I think Carnival should clarify what "no saving" really means so everyone has an understanding. Apparently, some passengers were taking it to mean that if you left your chair for ANY reason (use the restroom, went in the pool, grabbed a drink, etc.) you forfeited your chair. I completely agree that people should not show up and save 30 chairs like they do in movie theaters, but I saw some rather heated arguments between people who felt that any vacant chair was fair game and subject to seizure and the friend in the next chair who kept yelling "she's in the POOL! She's just there in the POOL!" It was not a question of too few chairs, merely idiots who wanted to be where they wanted to be but weren't willing to show up early enough to call dibs. I'm sorry, but you can't show up at 11 a.m. and expect to have primo sunbathing locations still available!
Major frustration of the cruise: The elevators. Slowest contraptions on the planet! Just walk the 12 flights of stairs. It's quicker even though you subject yourself to cardiac arrest after the climb.
Our cabin steward Robert was a saint. He would make up our room in the morning and then we'd use the cabin to rest in the afternoon. He'd always make everything up so nicely. We tried to remake the beds and we even told him he didn't need to put it back to perfection each time, but he always did. he also seemed to recognize us each time we passed him and said hello. Very nice guy! Cabin was always clean and comfortable
Weather was perfect except for the last day coming back from Canada. We were enveloped in this weird Bermuda Triangle thick-as-pea-soup fog and about 50 degrees all day and night. Really creepy and strange as the previous days had been sunny, hot and beautiful. The activities directors were not prepared for bad weather and many activities were simply canceled. We took a nap and read in the library which was really a very nice way to spend the afternoon. Renting movies in the cabin was also a great thing. They have a good selection and there are not a lot of satellite channels available.
We opted for the self-assist early debarkation to avoid the crowds. We were told by a crew member where the gangway was going to be and chose our waiting spot based on that info. We were told that there would be an announcement when it started and that it was only going to be open for about 20 minutes ("so be ready!"). Well, we were waiting waiting waiting…..then we hear "This is the final call for early debarkation. The gangway will be open for only 5 more minutes. 5 minutes left!" So we and several other waiting people ran to where we'd all been told the gangway would be. Not there! It was at the other end of the ship and of course "you can get there from here" so we had to run up and down (because of the comatose elevators) and along the length of the ship. When we got to the right place we all mentioned to the crew people that there had been no "first" announcement and we got a smiley "Oh, yes we know!" in response. Argh!!! But we made it off, called for our car to pick us up and drive us to JFK (because Carnival only has airport transfers to LaGuardia) and we made our way home.
Helpful hints: 1. Bring lots of small dollar bills to tip room service. It is free but you still have to tip them 2. Pack into carry on luggage. This really is the best way to go. Why would you want to wait for hours to get your things? Seriously, you don't need that many clothes 3. Don’t drink any of the beverages in the room -– too expensive 4. Planning a quite night in with the kids, ordering room service and renting a movie for $8.99 really is a nice relaxing idea 5. Don’t bother with the $22 unlimited drink cup thing unless you can’t live without 5 sodas a day. Other free beverages are always available. 6. If alcohol is important to you, avoid the mixed drinks. Anything that has juice in it will be mostly juice, even cosmopolitans. If you really want to have an alcoholic drink, get something that is just plain booze.
All in all, it was a fun time, we got lots of sleep, got enough sun to make it look like we were on vacation and actually got off feeling like we were ready to get back to work -- a good sign of vacation for me.