The recurring theme on my first 3 cruises were: 1. Excellent service far exceeding my expectations each time. 2. Quality entertainment; from the shows to the shore excursions available I was always impressed by the quality of the entertainment options available on Carnival's ships. 3. Overall vacation value for my money.
Service, entertainment and value were the 3 reasons why I talked my family into having a reunion on a Carnival cruise in 2005. The last time my parents went on vacation with my brothers and me was in 1986 and I thought a Carnival Cruise was the perfect opportunity for us all to be together and enjoy a great vacation as a family. My parents and two brothers, along with their respective wives and children had cruised on Royal Caribbean in the past, but I assured them that Carnival was just as good and at an exceptional value.
Not only was I surprised to find that Carnival's Valor was lacking in all three areas where I've always been impressed but also there were other areas for concern that I'm hoping I'll be able to communicate.
First area of concern is service. The staff in general seemed inexperienced and at times unfriendly or disinterested in its passengers. An example of inexperience was my cabin steward, members of my family asked on several occasions to please fill their ice bucket daily and he would routinely forget to do so. The waiter at our table seemed irritated when my wife was dissatisfied with the entrEe she ordered and asked for a different dish as a replacement. A bartender at the Lido pool bar misunderstood an order I placed and forced me to buy a drink I never ordered. My brother sent a dress shirt for valet on the ship to be pressed and when the shirt was returned there were burn marks on the shirt.
On the fourth night of my cruise a strange, loud "grinding" noise developed from either behind or beneath my stateroom. I complained about this noise to the purser's desk and was told that the noise was "normal" engine noise and there was nothing that they could do about it. The following evening I received a letter apologizing for any inconvenience along with some drink tickets. Nice gesture, I figured the idea was maybe I could drink myself to sleep.
The entire week there were comments made by members of my family with similar experiences throughout the ship. Not only was it disappointing for me but also embarrassing since I was the person who encouraged my family to cruise on Carnival as opposed to Royal Caribbean.
The second area of concern is entertainment. One of the reasons why my family finally agreed to cruise on Carnival was the positive reputation of Camp Carnival. My brother's 8 year old daughter was extremely excited about the idea of being in "summer-camp at sea". My wife and I were also excited for our 2-year-old daughter, since she is very social and loves to play with other children. On the first day both my daughter and niece were very pleased with what they found in Camp Carnival. The staff was very friendly, there was a list of activities that seemed fun, and the dEcor and layout of the Camp Carnival deck was very inviting.
The problems began on the second day of our cruise. I hap dropped off my daughter at 9:30 am Monday morning and when I returned at 11:30 am to retrieve my daughter she was crying hysterically. My daughter seemed very agitated. I'm not sure what happened although this is unlike my daughter. There was little I could do to comfort her and several hours passed before she returned to her jovial self. Throughout the week I attempted to take her back, but every time we stepped onto the Camp Carnival deck, where she realized where she was, she would go into a fit. There isn't much else for a two year old to do, so my wife and I, instead of having a relaxing week in the Caribbean, had to consistently find activities for my daughter. If you have children you know what I mean, my daughter is two.
My niece also had a negative experience with Camp Carnival. On Monday, October 31st, Camp Carnival was supposed to have a Halloween party. At least it was advertised as a Halloween party. That evening about an hour after my brother dropped off his daughter at Camp Carnival, he received a page and had to rush back to Camp Carnival to get his daughter. It seems the Camp Carnival staff thought it would be "fun" to shut off all of the lights on the deck and tell the children that the ship had lost power and we were stuck in the middle of the ocean. They were right about one thing we were STUCK in the middle of the ocean at that point, and it was impossible to reassure my niece that the ship was fine, so it was highly irresponsible to play such a prank on 8 year olds. My brother and his wife did complain and Camp Carnival did try to make amends, but that was the end of Camp Carnival for my niece as well, as she was traumatized and seemed edgy the rest of the week.
Trying to disembark in Grand Cayman was a nightmare. On my previous cruises there was a system where the passengers would go to the show lounge and receive a ticket. Once your ticket number was called you would proceed to the deck zero where you would board a tender that would take you to shore. On Carnival's Valor there was a line that on Promenade deck towards the show lounge, the line stretched all the way past the casino and into the lounge's corridor. Once you finally made it to the show lounge we were told to proceed to deck zero to board tenders. Some people took the stairs while others took the elevators, where elevators were available. I spent an hour and a half on a hot, noisy and crowded stairwell, carrying my 30 pound 2 year old daughter, stroller and backpack before were able to board the tender and go shore side.
The 2 "Las Vegas style" shows were a disappointment as well. It's not to say that the shows were not well thought out. The production of the shows had a lot of promise but the problem was the performers. The choreography was well thought out, but the dancers were not in sync most of the time. The dancers seemed to stumble from one step to another. The singers and dancers seemed to be out of shape, and their costumes did not fit they're body types very well. On one night my wife and I stayed up to watch a hypnotist "adult" comedy show, only to be disappointed with this show as well. The hypnotist did not speak coherently; he stuttered pretty badly and seemed to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The show itself was obviously staged and was not thought out very well.
Another issue was the hot tubs seemed to have too much chlorine. After spending roughly 45 minutes in one of your hot tubs one day (the pools were too cold to go into), the color off of my swim trunks and underwear and my wife's ($100) bathing suit had been bleached off. I only noticed once I'd reached my stateroom.
Lastly but certainly not the least area of concern was value for money. Although Carnival's fare is on average $100 to $150 less expensive than Royal Caribbean, Carnival makes up for this difference in many ways. A Coke costs $3.95! Carnival should be able to make a profit, no doubt, but I can buy a case of coke at any local retailer for $8. I don't expect Carnival to sell coke cans for $0.33 but at $4 a can is roughly a 1200% markup off of the retail price. A bit excessive I thought. Shore excursions seemed very pricey as well. Most were on average double the cost that can be found on shore. Many times the tour operators were the same tours being offered on the ship at more than double the cost. A cappuccino cost $5.00. These are just some examples of where I thought the high prices were a little excessive.
Another small-unrelated concern was the fact that the day we left Miami, Hurricane Beta had made landfall in Nicaragua and Honduras. The itinerary on our particular cruise was exotic western Caribbean. The remnants of Beta left us with horrible weather, where there was sun on only two days of our cruise, the day we departed from Miami and the day we arrived. I spoke to a member of the crew early on during the week and he assured me that a decision would be made by the time we made it to Grand Cayman to change the itinerary. If the weather situation didn't look good we would probably head towards the Eastern Caribbean. Eventually they decided to keep the old itinerary. There were probably many logistical challenges that prevented the crew from making the change, yet it was still disappointing to have rainy, cold and cloudy weather throughout the week. You can't control Mother Nature; I know that, which is why I mention it as a small concern. I just feel a decision should have been made where your guests would have been happier, by changing the itinerary.
On a positive note, and to be fair there were some things that met my expectations. The ship itself was immaculately kept. Public rooms were spotless. The passenger decks were clean as well. The lounges, dining rooms and so on were well thought out. The overall theme of the ship was interesting and was fun to follow. Embarkation was the easiest ever and the best thing was disembarkation. This was the easiest disembarkation I've ever experienced and your company should be commended for working out the kinks we've experienced in cruises' past.
Trying to figure our what could have caused such a lapse in service on this cruise, I've come up with a couple of ideas: 1. The auto-tipping policy that Carnival has implemented for Cabin Stewards, Waiters and bar staff has taken away the incentive for the staff to hustle and thus hurt service in general. 2. Since Carnival Valor is a new ship, it's crew is inexperienced and not trained as well as the staff on the ships prior to this so the staff doesn't know any better. 3. On my other cruises, the staff on the ships seemed to be more diverse (from different countries) than on this ship. On those other ships there may have been a more competitive spirit with members from different countries feeling they had to best represent their respective country. This competitive spirit didn't exist on this particular ship.
Keeping all of this in mind, my wife and I decided that we work too hard throughout the year to spend our hard-earned money where we are not only going to be disappointed but embarrassed in the process. The next time we decide to go on a cruise vacation we will definitely be choosing another cruise line. We'll probably try Royal Caribbean or Disney Cruise line.
Carnival's as well as most tourist-based businesses rely on return business and business through word of mouth. In the past I've talked up Carnival and recommended Carnival to friends who were weary of Carnival's "Party-Ship" reputation. Because of my latest experience, not only has Carnival Cruise line lost my future business but lost the opportunity for return business from members of my family and recommendations from my wife or me. I can only hope that Carnival will take these concerns into account and try to improve these areas.