I spent several months reading reviews on this web site before taking my 5th Carnival cruise. I have also sailed with Royal Caribbean twice. I have never done a review myself, but I wanted to spend some time doing this as I got so much out of reading other reviews.
My wife and 3 kids (20, 19, & 15) sailed out of Miami on March 16 with stops at St. Thomas, Antigua, Tortola, & Nassau. 8 nights. We had a balcony on the 10th floor and an inside cabin right across the hall. This is my first time splurging for a higher floor. I usually get the cheapest balcony which is on the 6th or 7th floor. Personally, I like the convenience of being on the 6th or 7th floor better. However, I did burn a lot of calories walking up those steps to the 10th floor 10 times per day!!! I don't usually use elevators as they get crowded and take more time than just walking. But, no big deal as a balcony is a balcony and I love spending time there.
I will write my review based on my previous experiences with cruising, comparing it to those vacations. Keep in mind we have always cruised on Spring Break and with my 3 kids.
First, the things we love about cruising are (in this order)
1. Eating at the main dining area using an assigned time so we get to know our servers. We love the great service, great food, wine, and that whole experience.
2. Going to the main theater to see a show right after dinner.
3. Relaxing by the pool during the day from 10:00 - 2:00.
If those 3 things area good, we can live with everything else being average.
Embarkation was smooth & fast. But, all my cruises have been that way and I have never had a problem here. It took us about half an hour. The ship is big, clean, and looks nice. I am not picky about decor. I am impressed with all the ships I have ever been on and always love the fact I am just on a ship in the middle of the sea. The room attendant, as always, kept our room clean twice per day. No issues. The quality of the food on board was typical to all other ships I have been on. It is good. Guys Burgers are awesome, just like everyone says. The food in the main dining area and the buffet is good. We ate everywhere except at the Steak House and had no complaints about food.
Here is where I noticed where Carnival has gotten worse, in comparison to my prior experiences.
1. The shows in the main theater have gotten worse. In summary, they have about 6 full time singers and dancers that do different themes. Sure, they have more talent than me!!! But, not good enough to be in a theater of this size. Most people I talked to on the ship felt the same way. Most people that opted to stay for the shows only did so because they had not better options at that particular time. I don't think Carnival cares what we think, or they have their financial reasons, as I am sure they read reviews and talk to their customers. However, I liked the juggler and the hypnotist. I have seen these shows before, but I still enjoyed them. So, 2 of the 7 shows were good, 5 were poor. But, watching one of those shows sure beats working! But, the talent on Royal Caribbean the most of the other Carnival ships (besides the Dream which was also poor) were much more entertaining. I enjoy watching talent, not just a show.
2. Since the main shows are not good, we opted to see the comedians who play at the same time but in a lounge on the back of the ship. The comedians are funny and we enjoyed them. So, no harm. We still have a show to go see after dinner..........But............it seemed that a lot of people wanted to do the same so the line for the comedians were long and blocked elevators and hallways. There are 5 shows that run from 7:00 to Midnight. We found a way to see 2 of those shows by being strategic in getting there early. A few nights we opted to draw straws for a person to leave a show early and go out to wait in line for the next show.
3. The service at the main dinner was horrible. Now, we love the dinner. We love getting dressed up and sitting down as a family. We look forward to this all day. We often look at the menu during the day and talk about what we will be eating at the dinner. Keep that in mind. We are homers. But, after 3 nights of waiting for 30 minutes for our appetizers, then 30 more minutes for dinner, then 30 more minutes for dessert, we got tired of it. Our favorite part of the cruise no mind you. For the first time in 7 cruises, we opted to skip the last 4 dinners and eat at the buffet. We gave up our favorite part of the cruise.
4. The ship was crowded. We always travel at Spring Break, so I am comparing it to the same time of year. All of our cruises were somewhat crowded, but this was even more so. You have to jockey around people to walk around the pool area into the buffet area. This is not a big of a negative as # 1 - # 3 above, but just pointing out a difference that I noticed.
In summary, there was nothing about this cruise that was better, but several things that were worse. Unfortunately, the things that were worse hit us in the area that draws us to cruising.
My opinions were also shared by others on the ship. We talked to many passengers at the pool, casino, bars, etc... and made many new acquaintances. They all feel the same way. Now, in some cases they acknowledge the deficiencies, but it was not as important to them. Some of them don't care about the dinner or shows or comedians, etc.... But, they all acknowledge and are aware of the problems.
In my opinion, the bigger ships aren't necessarily better. I will be booking for Spring Break in 2014 sometime in the next few months. For me, I will most likely look into another option besides Carnival. But, if I do choose Carnival because they are just so much cheaper than the other options, I will definitely look at a ship that is 5-10 years old and roll the dice. I will hope that these older Carnival ships still have the same great shows and dinners that they used to have prior to me sailing on the Breeze & Dream my past 2 times.