First, I want to say that I am very pleased with our trip overall. We had a great time! We are recent cruise addicts, having started cruising at the end of 2011. We have 6 cruises under our belt in the last year and a half, and 6 more planned to round out 2013 (we set a goal to reach Platinum this year on Carnival). We are not partial to any cruise line - they all have their own unique feel and purpose but we find Carnival to be a great, affordable "getaway" cruise line.
I read many Cruise Critic reviews that give unfavorable reviews to Carnival for decor, food quality and age of their ships. If you are in the mood for a romantic sit-down 4 course dinner at a 5 star restaurant and choose to dine at a Golden Corral buffet, is it the restaurant's fault they can't meet your expectations because they don't offer what you were looking for? Shouldn't you have chosen a different restaurant? The older Carnival ships have a place in cruising - but it is up to the consumer to use a little common sense. Don't expect gourmet dining, glamorous decor and a state-of-the art ship for $250 per person (there are many other cruise lines that will fit your expectations for $1500 per person). However, if you are looking for a clean ship, slightly tacky (but fun) decor and good, basic food at the buffet (where food is waiting patiently for you - being kept warm for hours) or cooked-to-order yummy food at their restaurant, all for the price of one night at a hotel on the beach - then Carnival is your line!
Ok, now that I got that off my chest, on to the review!
Parking: We live in Florida and it is only a 2 1/2 hour car ride to Port Canaveral so we consider ourselves very lucky. Driving was very easy and the port is incredibly easy to find. We parked in the Radisson off-site parking to save money this trip. It saved a few dollars and easy to find, but appeared unorganized and was a bit of a hassle. For short trips we will use the port parking from now on, but for longer ones (7 days or more) we would consider using this service again (significant savings on longer trips might make the hassle worth it). A bus drove us and our luggage to a convenient drop-off area at the port.
Check in: Super Simple! This port handles a lot of cruisers every single day and they certainly have everything down to a science. Efficient, pleasant and organized. The wait was less than 5 minutes for security and check in. We were on the gang-way 15 minutes after the bus dropped us off!
The ship: Gaudy, yes. Purple, yes. But in a fun way. If you are looking for elegant, glitz and glamour, this is not your ship. They call carnival the FUN ships for a reason! Yes, she is a bit old, but most areas are well cared for, especially when you consider that this ship services about 4,000 strangers (3 day/4 day cruises) a week who are on vacation and don't give a $&!# where they throw their trash and refuse to pick up after themselves. It takes a special kind of crew to put up with the crap that I have seen vacationers pull...and they do it with a smile! This ship is just the right size for us. One reviewer wrote that you can walk from one end of this ship to the other in 60 seconds...but I would have to strongly disagree. If she can walk 855 feet in 60 seconds, more power to her - but she is missing the view as she speeds by. Bigger ships may look fantastic, but when you think about the logistics of bigger ship = more people which translates into less private space and longer lines...we will keep the Fantasy class ships!
The crew: Pleasant, cooperative, helpful. Learned our names the first day and knew our favorite drinks the second day. Our cabin steward was invisible, and kept our room immaculate.
Food: We ate at the buffet, which was more than adequate. We do not cruise for the food and do not eat three meals a day at specified times. When we were hungry, there was food available. The buffet food was good, the salad bar items were fresh and the buffet lines were cleaned frequently. They had fresh carved prime rib one night and ham another and both were good. But this is one area where I have seen some changes - the buffet did not appear to have the same variety of options as a few months ago, especially in the evening. Pizza and sandwiches are always a good option and very tasty.
Our Room: Standard oceanview stateroom. Very clean and well-organized, plenty of room. I did notice two things this trip, however. There were no samples in the sample dish. No shampoo samples, or toothpaste samples, or any other toiletry items. This did not concern me as I always bring my own, however I did notice this as a change from previous cruises. Our shower, by the third day, developed a moldy odor during showering. Not an issue, as the smell went away after cleaning, but that was a new development that we had not encountered before. The telephone in our room did not appear to work, but we had no need to use it, so that was fine with us.
The Safe: There is a small safe in the closet in the stateroom. Many of these are configured to work with your sail and sign card (room key) which is incredibly convenient as you always have that with you. This safe in our room had a sign NOT to use the sail and sign card, as it would de-program the magnetic strip. This meant we had to use a driver's license or credit card to lock the safe, which then would remain outside of the safe (defeating the purpose). Then we had to find a secure location for the "key". That was mildly annoying, but I will take an empty pre-paid credit card with me next time to get around this problem.
The Pool: The pool was small - but they all are on these ships. The music around the pool was a live "reggae" style band, which I personally did not really enjoy. Contemporary, upbeat music by a DJ would have been an improvement. Surprisingly, we did not have much trouble getting a deck chair - a pleasant improvement over other cruises!
The Water Park: This was our preferred location on this ship - plenty of sun, great music, water slides when you got hot and one deck above the buffet or outdoor grill when you get hungry. Perfect location. Slides were great fun!
The Shops: I had purchased a ring on the Carnival Legend 6 months ago and the band degraded within 1 month of purchase. I was told on this cruise that I would have to mail it in, with the receipt, to a warranty company to determine what action can be taken. A watch I purchased last month quit working during this cruise. I will not be purchasing any more jewelry items from the ship's store - they cannot fix problems on board (losing the convenience factor) so I will shop in port from now on since they have better prices and the same mail-in warranty.
Shows: We do not attend production shows (we cruise for relaxation) but we did catch a comedy show. It was a female comedienne and she was pretty good.
Casino: The casino was kind to us this trip and did not take all of our money. We count that as a win in our book! Nice selection of slots, normal table games and new electronic blackjack and texas hold em tables that were pretty neat.
Weather: We had pretty good weather overall for the trip. Yes, it was windy at times and it rained while we were in port, and the seas got a bit rough from time to time, but that is cruising!
Drinks: This is another area where I feel Carnival has cut back to recoup from their recent financial losses. They feature a "Drink of the Day" that is usually offered at a discounted price. Each day has a different drink. This trip, however, the drinks were only offered at full price (no discount). Just an observation, didn't affect my choices, but it may be useful to know. You can count on high beverage prices to offset the lower fares. A beer will cost you about 5.25 before gratuities/taxes and a mixed drink to range from 6.75 - 8.85 before gratuities/taxes. A bucket of beer is slightly less, but you must rely on a waiter to open the bottles unless you bring your own bottle opener. If you drink slowly, tell them not to open all the bottles at once or the beer will go flat before you get to it!
Ports: We were on a 3 day cruise to Nassau. We enjoyed the cruise, but the port was less than ideal. Getting on and off the ship was easy, as long as you weave around the people too drunk to remember how to walk. I will review the port separately.
Disembarking: GREAT! I have never gotten off a ship so fast! From our stateroom to the parking lot in 8 minutes (including customs!). We did self-assist, which means we carried off all of our own luggage (it was a 3 day cruise so only 1 bag necessary). Organized, pleasant and easy! The shuttle bus was waiting to take us back to the off site parking and we had a short wait until the bus filled up but the bus ride was short. I don't understand why we were the only ones who tipped the driver... when people move your luggage and provide a service, tipping is customary (the tip jar and announcement from the driver should have been a clue)!
I love this class of ships, and the value of a Carnival quick trip cannot be overstated. For the price, you get good food (available 24 hours a day), lodging, transportation, entertainment, water activities and more. If you are looking for a longer cruise to more exciting destinations on a larger ship with more glamour, this will not meet your needs. But, if like us, you just need a long weekend of relaxation to unwind and have some fun, you just can't beat this trip!
We are back on board the Sensation in June!