Wednesday – Pre-cruise hotel was the Hilton Garden Inn Conv. Ctr. Worked great for us. Just across from the Fulton Garage. The Valet even drove us to the pier. Some had said they thought the location was a bit worrisome… This is only my second trip to N.O. but in my opinion, anywhere near the pier or the F.Q. if you go 2 blocks in any direction you will find a not so nice area. This was just fine. They had a cruise parking deal: valet parking for $8 a day. The valet even took us to the pier on Embarkation day. Too cool!
EMBARKATION – Arrived at the pier at 11:25. Porter took our bags and we went into the terminal. The area is really a mess right now with all the construction but it did not seem to have an effect on the whole process. We are Carnival Vacation Club members so we headed for the Skippers Club. The regular lines were healthy but not too bad. The main room of yellow chairs was already full by this time. The Skippers Club was great. Too easy and we were on our way to the ship at @11:45am. For those that cruise out of N.O. the Chair GUY(can’t use that other word on this board) has been assigned to the A-Pass photo machine.
When we walked onto the ship Empress deck there was beautiful string music playing in the Atrium and we headed down to our cabin. We(Me, DW, DS-4) had an inside cabin on the main deck M68 and my wife’s parents had an outside Main deck M32. We used our vacation club points and gave them the outside cabin(aren’t we nice!! LOL). Carnival did not hand out the usual flyer about the rooms not being ready so we assumed they were. Wrong. But the stewards were inviting all to put luggage in the cabins and go have some lunch. If this is a new policy I love it. I hated carrying my luggage to the Lido deck.
We were one of the first to arrive at the Seaview Bistro. Nice enough, purple booths and weird metal, spiral chairs. FLOORS ARE EXTREMELY SLIPPERY, EVEN WHEN DRY! I had a cheeseburger – YUMMY and headed for the large display of deserts. Plenty of choices. Some of the best desserts of the cruise. We looked through the info we were handed about the schedule for the day, finished our lunch and went to the Camp Carnival to look around. The rooms are much smaller than on the Conquest, but for our 4 yr old that did not matter, he was thrilled. We then went to our Cabin and checked it out. The bulk of the ship is in great shape in my opinion. Everything was clean and in good repair. Only the cabins seem to need some refurbishing. Ours had severely scratched and scraped drawers and doors. But other than that it was very clean. We did have a problem with the shower. There was no spray. The water just ran out of the shower head in a stream. But none of this was any big deal.
Spent the rest of the day unpacking, checking out our dinner assignment.
Dining – We had requested 8pm seating but were given 8:30 in the Fantasy dining room. We decided to just go with that since my DS has been staying up this summer until 11pm or later. Wouldn’t you know it though he fell asleep on the table less than 15 minutes into dinner. LOL. He wasn’t the only child in this condition. More on this later. Dinner was Fantastic it was just us at a table for 10 – ME, DW, DS, MIL, FIL. I had the NY Sirloin. There have been lots of reports on the quality of the beef lately. This was outstanding. My FIL thought it was the best steak he had ever had. I thought it was close to that for me.
Due to my son falling asleep we decided to switch dinner times. The only time available was 5:45 in the Ecstasy dining room. We took it. The maitre d’ was very helpful. We were told there would be another family at the table. No problem for us - but boy was it a problem for them. The next evening we arrived for our new time before the other family and were seated at the table. First let me say that we have no gross malformations of the face and that we were dressed to the 9’s for formal night! When the other family, party of 4(DW,DH, DS14?, DS16?), the mom threw a fit: Glaring at us, saying things like, “this will not do”, and, No, I don’t like this at all.” As they were 15 minutes late to dinner we just kept eating our appetizers and staring straight ahead. Jerks, I tell you. The Maitre d’ did his best to appease her but it took some time and they ended up in a booth far from us – thankfully.
Dinners were great. I had the beef most nights, it was always good. The desserts were not memorable with the exception of the soufflé the last night. This was fabulous. Portions seemed larger than on the Conquest last year. No, they were larger, absolutely. Ate lunch in the dining room each day, very good as well. A note, you can get a burger in the dining room for lunch if there is someone in your party who might think they need to eat on the Lido deck.
The dress code was mostly followed. The 1st night we did see a mid 30’s couple in shorts and basketball jerseys with no undershirts. Please. The maitre d’ made a big announcement about tank tops and shorts. Saw only 1 tux on formal night. Most men in sport coats not dark suits others in shirt and tie. Women all looked nice!!!
Entertainment – We attended all of the shows and thought them some of the best we have seen at sea. The 2 singers were really good, although the volume was way to loud during some points to enjoy it. (and we are not prudes). There was live music in the atrium(strings and piano), jazz on the promenade, rock in Michaelangelo’s, and island tunes on deck. Some have sung the praises of the on-deck band, we did not think this group came close to the Blood Power Band on the Conquest, but they still set the mood. We played Bingo a few times getting only 1 number away each time. And made our contributions to the Casino where the slots seemed as tight as could be. I never heard anyone win anything.
A word about the passengers on this cruise. I was worried that taking a 4 day cruise, out of N.O. no less, would mean a rowdy bunch. Hardly. This was the tamest group of passengers we have ever sailed with. Lots of older folks(some with motor carts) and tons of families. As such the casino was never crowded, the disco seemed dead most of the time and many of the lounges empty. Unusual for Carnival in our experience. Always able to find a deck chair even in the middle of the day.
Cozumel – We had been last year and did not know what to expect following the hurricane. For those going soon, Do not worry. Downtown had power and water. Nothing seemed different. South of town Mr. Sancho’s Beach was recovering and open but no water. In a few weeks everything will be ok. South of town there wasn’t a leaf on a single tree other than palm trees. We went to Pancho’s Backyard – Downtown. We love this place. Courtyard restaurant, Marimba music, great food. Ask for the Carne Asada platter. My wife celebrated her birthday and what they did for her was hilarious.
General Stuff: We really enjoyed our cruise. Food was better than on past cruises. Shows too. Boat was clean. The cruise director is the spitting image of Nick Lachey. Something that I have noticed over our past couple of cruises is that as more people choose the alternative dining options, whether that be the supper clubs on the new ships or the Lido deck, it makes the dining room experience not the same as it used to be. Lots of empty tables, people missing from your table, the waiters don’t get to develop the same kind of relationship with the diners and it seems to me that due to this they aren’t as apt to try to get to know you. Just an observation, not a constant thing yet but it is changing.
Camp Carnival: This was our first experience with CC. Our 4 year old always wanted to go every day, but he was also ready to leave when we came to pick him up. While the schedule seemed to indicate lots of planned activities there was also lot of movie time. And the last sea day the camp was open for a couple of hours, then closed for a couple, then open for a couple. The beepers and procedures used for check-in in and out were reassuring, And we would use CC again.
Debarkation: Easy. We did the self-debark. They called us at @8:00am There was A bit of a backup on E –deck but it looked worse than it was and only took about 5 Minutes to get off the ship. We took the Fulton Garage shuttle back to the Hilton Garden Inn which is right across the street and were on our way out of N.O. by 8:45am.