My boyfriend and I decided to go on this cruise to celebrate my college graduation. We had never done a cruise before, but we managed to get a very good price on an interior state room on a low level of the boat so we decided to give it a try. We flew in to the Miami Airport and stayed at the Comfort Suites North, which offered a free shuttle to the port. We arrived at the terminal at about 11am (our actual boarding time on our passes said 1-3pm) and check in was very quick (we had done already done most of the things online).
When we got on to the boat, we went to our room to put our bags away before heading to the pool. The rooms were fine, nothing special. The only thing that was slightly annoying was that there was only one outlet. In the future, I would bring a power strip. Overall, it is very clear that the boat is old. I read somewhere that the ship was built in 1995, and you can tell that the decorations were cool during that time. The whole boat basically looks like a casino.
After checking out the room, we went up on to the pool deck and jumped in the hot tub. The servers on the deck were very aggressive and were CONSTANTLY coming up to us asking if we wanted drinks, even when we had drinks in our hands. We literally had people coming up to us every 3 minutes to try to sell us alcohol, which got very annoying. After the first day we chose beach chairs on the upper most deck above the pool (deck 12) to avoid the servers.
Right off of the pool deck, there is a large buffet area. Part of it is outside, and there is a larger buffet inside with a good amount of seating. We ate at the buffet for one or two meals and had late night snacks there, but we mostly ate in the dining room. The buffet food was pretty good, but they pretty much had the same thing every day so it got a little old.
As I mentioned, we spent most of our meal times in the dining room. We did not have an assigned dining time, and we were on what Carnival calls the "your time" dining. Essentially, they have a separate dining room for "your time" guests, and you can show up any time with about a 4 hour window for dinner and they will seat you as soon as they can. We were a little worried that we would have to wait a long time to sit and eat, but we never had to wait at all. We only had two people in our party so that probably made it easier, but there always seemed to be a lot of open tables.
The food in the dining room was AMAZING. We had escargot, lobster, steak, stuffed mushrooms, cheese plates, and everything was so good. We couldn't believe that people were waiting in the long buffet lines by the pool to eat chicken fingers and fries while the dining rooms with the gourmet food were half empty. The breakfasts and lunches were good as well. We had bagels and lox and eggs benedict as well as eggs to order and everything was great.
As far as entertainment went, we didn't really see a lot of things on the schedule that interested us. We aren't really big gamblers so we didn't every go to the casino, and there were a lot of competitions inside during the day, but we didn't really want to spend time inside when it was so beautiful out.
During the days there were different contests on the stage by the pool such as a "rubber chicken olympics" and bingo. There was also a "hairy chest competition" that we found rather inappropriate considering that there were children around. Essentially, the men in the competition gave some of the female passengers lap dances and were dancing on poles in the middle of the day on the pool deck while a bunch of little kids were sitting right there. Although some of the activities on the schedule were listed as 18+, this one was not but was definitely not appropriate for the 8 year olds by the pool to watch.
In the evening, we went to karaoke one night and had a pretty good time, although there weren't a ton of people there. We really enjoyed the two comedians that were on the boat and we went to watch their shows on two separate nights. They offered family shows as well as 18+ shows and they were very funny.
Perhaps due to the lack of activities, it seemed that the only thing on this boat to do was drink. People were VERY drunk all day and all night, especially after everybody got back on the boat from Mexico and our day at sea. On the second day of our cruise, they actually had to drain and scrub the whole pool because some drunk person puked in it. The pool was essentially a place for the drunk people to stand, so we felt kind of bad for the little kids trying to actually swim in there. I think that the intoxication level was pushed even further by the aggressive servers by the pool, who we later found out make an automatic 15% gratuity for each sale they make, and only make a base salary of ~$40 per month, which explains why they are so eager to make sales. We were very surprised because it essentially seemed like there were no rules, no limits, and no consequences for any behavior.
Aside from the aggressive pool servers (who were friendly enough, but annoying), the quality of service really varied a lot. Our steward for our state room was super nice and helpful and our room was cleaned well twice a day which was great. The dining staff in the buffet area was sort of unpleasant and crabby. In the dining room, people were kind of quiet, not really friendly but not really rude or unfriendly either. Overall, the service was okay, but didn't really live up to the stories about exceptional service that I've heard from friends and family who have cruised before.
The ports of call for our trip were Key West and Cozumel, Mexico. In Key West, we purchased a bar crawl excursion through Carnival. We had a really amazing time and our tour guide, Beau, was super knowledgeable about the area and the history of Key West and he was very friendly. The only part about the port that was unfortunate was that we were only there from 7:30am-1pm. We basically started drinking at 10am (we are college students so it wasn't a problem) and got back on the boat with our group and kept drinking when we were done. We actually got up early and got off the boat right away when we docked at 7:30 and explored the area while a lot of people slept in and didn't get off until about 9-10am, but we figured that we would spend all the time we could off the boat since we had such a short amount of time there.
Although we enjoyed our excursion and thought it was a good deal (basically a walking tour with 5 specialty drinks included for $40), some of the friends we made on the boat were able to find some really good deals when they walked off the boat. They were able to go para sailing for $20 a person and were with people that booked through Carnival for $90 just by walking up to the business directly. I'm not sure if this is common or just because we cruised during off season, but it is definitely something to think about.
The next day in Cozumel, we booked a snorkel excursion through Expedia. We arrived in Cozumel at 1:30pm and got back on the boat at 9:30pm. Getting off the boat in Cozumel was a real mess. We had to get off the boat right way at 1:30 to take a cab over to our 2pm excursion or we would have waited a half hour for all the craziness to die down. Everybody was itching to get off the boat and it was just really hectic. Crew members were being pretty rude and screaming at guests trying to get off the boat and it was not a very pleasant experience.
We expected there to be a lot of people on our excursion but we were the only two. It was really nice because we basically got a private sail boat ride and snorkel lesson. At one point, a boat full of about 40 cruise ship guests pulled up near us for the snorkel excursion they booked through Carnival. There were so many people and it was completely crowded and nuts. A lot of people were screaming and freaking out because of the fish. I was very glad that we were on a different, smaller tour.
The next day was our day at sea. As I mentioned earlier, there wasn't a lot to do besides drink on the boat. It got pretty crazy watching the drunk people. We got sick of the high drink prices and couldn't justify paying for drinks anymore by the time our day at sea rolled around, but there were a lot of drunk people by the pool all day and at the comedy club that night.
Disembarkation went pretty smoothly for us. It started at about 8am on the last day of the trip. We got breakfast in the dining room one last time and we took our luggage with us up to the pool deck to wait to get off the boat. They let the guests get off in zones to keep the process smooth. Our flight didn't leave Miami until 4:30pm and we were in no hurry to get off the boat, so we just waited for all the other zones to get called before we got off and went through customs.
Overall, this was a good first cruise. We learned a lot about what is important to us in a cruise and what to look for in the future. We would definitely recommend looking in to the types of activities that are offered on the boat and seeing if they interest you. We would also probably book on a ship with more pools/water slides. I think that we would probably also look for a ship that offers an unlimited drink card option because there were a lot of times that we would have enjoyed drinks but couldn't justify spending $9 for one. We also weren't particularly impressed with the service and would probably try another cruise line in the future. It was a good time and we had fun for not a lot of money (especially considering that if we had gone on a vacation to a resort we would have had to pay for our food), but it was definitely a learning experience for us. Although we did not have any kids with us in our group, I would really advise that anybody with kids think hard before bringing them on this boat. There are a lot of activities that are not kid friendly and there are basically 2 water slides and a very small kiddie pool for them to play in unless you sign them up for the "camp carnival" activities.