From our past experiences with Carnival, we were eagerly awaiting our cruise and were looking forward to an exciting yet relaxing week. In the past, we have usually opted for a less expensive room on a lower deck with just a window, but on this cruise, we really wanted to treat the whole family and purchased two side-by-side balcony rooms. We planned for two months to prepare ourselves and plan shore excursions. But our problems with Carnival started during the planning stages of our cruise when Hurricane Wilma moved across and basically leveled Cozumel. This is a location that we had visited before and were eagerly looking forward to revisiting for specific reasons such as diving specific locations and shopping specific shops. But, understandably, the island was in extreme disarray after the storm and would take time to recover, so when we called our Carnival personal vacation planner to see how Carnival was going to handle this, we learned that our itinerary was being changed to visit another location instead. I questioned the possibility of RESCHEDULING, not canceling, our cruise to a later date to give Cozumel an opportunity to recover. Immediately, we were told that this was not possible, and Carnival would visit another location just as nice, and that if we did decide to reschedule, we would have to cancel our current cruise and reschedule another, losing full payment of our original cruise. Basically we were being diverted to a location that we did not want to visit against our will. When I buy an airline ticket to New York, I expect it to take me to New York, not some place just as nice. We felt hijacked.
Carnival had recently come up with the new "Fun Pass" to expedite the processing through the check in line when we got to the port. We figured this was going to be great! But, the trouble began immediately upon arrival at the port. This boarding pass that we completed online to expedite through check-in was absolutely worthless. We still had to stand in line, after line, after line, before we could board the ship. We ended up standing in these check-in lines for over two hours. As we approached the check-in counter, we noticed that there were only about ten personnel working the counter, and some were even leaving their position in the middle of processing passengers which left even fewer to assist with check-in. This is unacceptable when trying to process over 2700 passengers. When we finally did reach the check-in desk, the Carnival associate was nothing short of rude and disrespectful, not to mention they could barely even speak English.
After the headache of waiting in the two-hours of lines, we finally boarded the ship to find the crew members, who are supposed to greet passengers and offer direction, just standing around, joking with each other and not paying attention to guests. We had to interrupt their conversation just to get a map of the ship, at which time we were left to our own to locate our cabin.
Finally, we reached our cabin and could begin to relax, right? WRONG! The overwhelming odor of raw sewage was billowing from our bathroom into the cabin and down the hall. After notifying our room steward, housekeeping, and the purser's desk, a plumber finally showed up to save the day by running water down the shower drain and housekeeping sprayed some air freshener. (if you didn't pick up on it, that was sarcasm) The odor was back within a couple of hours at which time they repeated this same process. We had to go through this routine for the first four days of our cruise with no final resolution. We finally realized that nothing was going to be done to correct the problem and Carnival was not going to provide any other comfort to ease the situation. So, rather than continuing to butt heads with the crew we gave up trying to have the problem corrected and just tried to stay outside the cabin and open the balcony door regularly.
Being that the cruise was over the Thanksgiving holiday, there seemed to be an above average number of children on the ship for this family holiday. Don't get me wrong, kids are great, but the ship was overrun with children whose parents just let them run the ship. Unfortunately, even though parents need to control their children, when this happens it then becomes the responsibility of the crew and security personnel to do something to keep control of the kids. For example, even though it is clearly posted, the Adult hot tubs were constantly overrun with children who wanted to yell, scream, and even eat in the hot tubs. So, when we wanted to get out of our smelly cabin and relax in the hot tub, we had to contend with the uncontrolled children and the floating ice-cream cones.
Speaking of the food; on a positive note, the appearance of the food was wonderful and the service of our wait staff was nearly perfection. However, as I had mentioned to the maitre d', all of our meals were being served slightly warm at best, not hot. I realize that the meals are prepared in the galley, and then transported to the dining areas, but they must be maintained at proper temperature anything less unacceptable, not to mention a health issue. We found the lower food temperatures in both the dining room and the buffet lines. At the times we decided not to wait in the buffet lines and order room service, it took forever to receive our order. We ordered champagne one evening to enjoy some time together in our smelly room and it actually took fifty one minutes to get the order. That kind of dampened the mood.
One of our ports was Grand Cayman; another location that we had previously visited and were looking forward to revisiting. Since Grand Cayman is a tendering port, we booked our four-hour shore excursion for first thing in the morning to get out and back to do a little shopping. We got ourselves on the first tender to shore and headed straight for our Stingray city and island tour at 8:00 am. We arrived at the Stingray City transport boat at 8:30 am and waited for another full hour for the rest of the Carnival passengers to arrive due to a tendering mix-up at the tender. Since the tour started late, the guide was forced to rush through everything, leaving only a few minutes at each stop, Hell and the Turtle Farm. When we did finally arrive back at the dock to be tendered back to the ship we encountered a line that was nearly 200 yards in length and took two hours to get through. It was obvious that there would be no time to go do any shopping with a line like this. So, we stood there in that line for two hours in the rain. I realize that the dock was small and the tenders could only hold so many passengers, but Carnival did nothing to ease any of this discomfort for the guests. Other NCL cruise ship passengers were provided drinks and food from their staff during this wait. The only Carnival staff we saw were those returning from their shore trips waving their little crew badges and cutting in front of the line to get back on the ship. This only angered the thousands of waiting passengers even more; how disrespectful!
Throughout the cruise, I found it amusing how the cruise director could make light of and joke about being able to smoke illegal drugs at the ports we visited, yet on the last night of the cruise made such a staunch objection to any use and the possibility that someone may bring it into the country and sell it to his children. I certainly do not condone the use or transport of illegal drugs, but he really sent out mixed signals when he got on his soap box and changed his entire attitude.
Another thing we noticed was the location of the adult only deck where tops are optional. Hey, I have no problem with topless women, but the fact that children waiting to go down the waterslide are above the adult deck and can look down over the potentially topless sunbathers is a bit disturbing. Good planning that one Carnival!
As far as entertainment goes, it was average and had a little something for just about everyone. But then again, my expectations were not too high in this area. One thing I didn't understand was the lack of after dark use in the main pool area on the Lido Deck. It was completely dead after dark. This would the perfect area for music, dancing, and enjoying the night air. This was also the only area that children were supposed to be able to use the hot tubs, but at night, they have to migrate to the adult only hot tubs which, as I stated earlier, are not enforced. In the day time the Lido Deck pool area is practically a focal point for all the activities, but at night, nothing; not even a bar is open. Using this area in the evenings would lighten the congestion of everybody pushing, shoving, and waiting in lines on the Promenade and other lower decks. We tried to enjoy Karaoke in the evenings, but even this had problems with the lyrics randomly skipping and music not playing properly.
In summary this cruise overall was not acceptable. We waited in line after line after line for everything from boarding the ship, eating breakfast, lunch, getting drinks, getting off the ship, getting on the ship, and even more lines upon our return to Miami. We calculated that for the seven day cruise, we waited in lines for a total of over six hours. This is not how I plan to spend my next vacation. If I wanted to stand in lines, I would have gone to Disney World. The crew was not pleasant, (with the exception of the wait staff). The food was not hot and mediocre at best. Even in the planning stages, the telephone customer service was rude and unpleasant. Our questions were trivialized and answered in a condescending manner. All in all, I think it is obvious that I will not be using Carnival again unless something can be done to win my business again.