Background Information This was the first cruise for our family which includes me, my wife and our two kids ages 8 and 5. The price and easy driving distance from Boston compelled us to give cruising a shot. And we're delighted we did.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
We live two hours north of Boston. We arrived at about 1:30pm. I dropped the family and the luggage at the curb and parked. After a short walk back to the terminal I had no trouble flagging a porter. We waved goodbye to our bags and snaked our way thru the various checkpoints. We were on board in 35 minutes. After dropping belongings at our cabin we were poolside for lunch and a cocktail by 2:30. Mui bueno.
We were in 9199 which is a forward facing cabin above the bridge on Lido deck. The category is 6J. A huge floor to ceiling window with a killer view of the Boston Skyline greeted us. Storage space was excellent. We had a king bed near the window and a pullout couch double for the kids. With the pullout extended access to some of the drawers was compromised and getting from the king to the bathroom was a squeeze but no big deal. The bathroom had a great shower and was well laid out.
With the forward facing cabin the electric shade must be closed at night so as not to interfere with the navigation going on below. But once everyone was asleep and the lights were done I could open the shades and gaze at the stars from bed. Very cool. A quick and well deserved doff of the cap to Marco, our steward from Peru. It was great to come back to the room mid-day and find the place all tidy and the ice bucket filled. After dinner the beds were made, chocolates placed on pillows, shades drawn. Of course, the kids (and parents) delighted in finding the towel animal du jour awaiting our night time arrival. The steward service was truly impeccable: friendly, accommodating and available without ever being overbearing or obsequious. Marco was pitch perfect at all times. Having the cabin professionally cared for was a huge thumbs up for these virgin cruisers. Thanks Marco.
We were early on the upper level of the Golden Dining Room. My wife and I were astonished by the extraordinary service and genuine caring of our wait staff. I'd especially like to single out I Norman, Chris and Csaba but the whole team made the dinner experience truly memorable. No request was ever a problem. Drink service was always available. The dancing was ridiculous and loads of fun. But more than anything the guys went out of their way to make my kids feel special and, frankly, loved. On the last night, when Chubby offered a fine farewell to the entire room, my little girl was borderline distraught that her dear friends were saying goodbye. And the following morning my son dragged us all over the ship trying to find Norman so he could say goodbye.
The food in the dining room was also very good. No, it's not Le Cirque. But for a kitchen churning out more than 3,000 meals my wife and I thought the quality, presentation and selection were exceptional and much better than we were expecting. The salads and soups were excellent. A little sushi appetizer was sublime. The kids were big steak eaters and the fries were excellent. Were there misses? Sure. The crab cake and an overcooked piece of beef come to mind. But to dwell on those would be asinine. Everybody in that dining room busted their tails to please the guests. And in our opinion they succeeded in a huge way.
On the alternative dining front we thought Guy's Burger joint churned out a damn fine burger. The taco place made delicious, quick and easy Mexican.....the huevos rancheros breakfast taco was a tasty treat. The pizza at the stern was thin crusted, crispy, melty and delicious. We didn't clock a ton of time at the buffet but when we went the food was fresh and tasty. The desert items didn't thrill us but we're not big cake and pastry types so it was no big deal as far as we were concerned. And the soft serve ice cream with the tiny little cones was a great little treat. The kids had it every morning first thing....hey, it's their vacation too.
Camp Carnival was a good take. The counselors were a nice group, welcoming and outgoing. My daughter was more eager to attend than my son. For our schedule the hours (10am-2:45pm and 7pm-10pm) didn't allow us to take advantage of it as much as we would have liked. One or both of our kids was dead tired by the end of dinner which meant one of us was back in the cabin while the other went out solo or took the more lively snapper along for some kind of a show. We never got the chance to drop both kids in camp in the evening so we could go party for a few hours. But, when we dropped the kids at camp they had a good time.
DW had a great massage at the spa. I had a regular detox session in the steam/sauna/shower area. I loved steam room. Sauna could have been a bit hotter but the view out to sea was killer. Overall, I'd say the hot tubs throughout the ship could have been a lot hotter. They were a bit like warm human stew and not especially inviting.
All around the ship we encountered happy crew members eager to be helpful. They hustled to keep the ship clean and cater to guests. We were impressed with the service.
There was a lot going on. Obviously, when you've got 3,000 passengers and you're trying to provide something for everyone there's going to be things you like and things you don't like. There's definitely some cliche, cheesy stuff going on that's not my bag but if you like doing the Electric Slide or the hairy chest contest what do I care? We managed to see some of the Latin Nights production (thumbs up) and took in some comedy (my son loved it). I liked finding cryptic puzzles near the coffee bar and my son and I enjoyed the Game Show event and the Battle of the Sexes. The kids and I loved the water slide of course. We also took in a terrific guitarist in the lobby during which my wee daughter put on a ballet performance.
A quick word about photos. Reviews I'd read had me all geared up to find high pressure sales tactics hawking pictures. I couldn't disagree more. First, I never felt pressured to buy anything. Second, the photo set ups along the kaleidoscope Boulevard were a huge plus IMHO. Carnival had at least 10 professional photographers and each one had a different backdrop each night. My kids loved posing for pictures. It was....FUN. The next day we'd go trolling through the galleries to see how our shots came out. So, if you go, get in there and have them shoot away. You might get something you love and $20 for a professional portrait is a better deal than you'll see on land. And if you make the Wall of Fame, as both of my kids did, then your picture is free. WoooHoo! A shout out to Nadine at Pixels who was way cool.
We didn't do any excursions. We didn't get off at St. John. The town just wasn't calling us. Being from Maine we weren't exactly compelled to jump ship to buy chowder. Plus, it was a beautiful day and we had the Lido pool, waterslide, bars and hot tubs more or less to ourselves so we were content to hang out for the day.
We did visit Halifax. I took the kids to the Citadel while DW went to the Maritime Museum and the Titanic exhibit in particular. The Citadel was a good take for kids...plenty of hands on stuff and running around. DW thought the Titanic exhibit was underwhelming. On the way down the hill the kids and I stopped in a place called Maxwell's Plum. They had a lot of beers on tap. I opted for a Guinness at $4.75. The kids went for Shirley Temples which were $5.95 a piece!! I never liked Shirley Temple and I like her even less now. Next time the kids drink Guinness. Getting back on board was a breeze.
The seas got rough that night and green apples were flying from the buffet on the Saturday sailing from Nova Scotia to Boston. My wife had a full day pregnancy flash back. There were a lot of grim faced souls and quite a bit of stumbling going on as the ship pushed through heavy seas courtesy of Tropical Storm Andrea. Saw a few piles of seasickness evidence but the crew was most often quick to the clean up.
The guys working the sports bar were terrific. But the programming was the biggest sour note on the cruise. There was plenty of cricket and tennis. However, shipping out of Boston it would not be hard for Carnival to anticipate that a fair number of passengers would have a keen interest in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The matchup with the Penguins had been set for 11 days prior to departure. By the time we boarded the Bruins held a 2-0 lead with the series resuming in Boston for 2 games during the cruise. But dozens of Bruins fans were relegated to cramming around a Slingbox rigged Ipad. It was ridiculous and funny and memorable in its way but it would have been awesome fun to have the game on the multi-screen or, even better on the Seaside Theater (where they showed the NBA Finals). If you've ever been drinking with Bruins fans I can also say it would have been a big night in the bar for Carnival. I'm sure there's a purely financial reason for this but it was a big bummer and a huge negative for the hundreds and hundreds of Bruins fans on board. Hopefully they'll have the Cup Finals this week or there may be a mutiny.
We got a little room service so the kids could experience it. Then we went aft to the Platinum Dining Room to enjoy a leisurely last meal. It was lovely. My son searched for his buddy Norman in the Golden before we collected our things in our cabin and relaxed by the pool on the Lido Deck and waited for our number to be called. We were off in a flash, found our bags with ease, retrieved the car and were on the road in 25 minutes from the moment we left our seats. Could not have been more painless.
We had a ball. The kids had a great time. We love the home port option and think Carnival is a terrific value. The service was extraordinary.
I'd like to see different ships and itineraries rotated in and out of Boston. Getting on the Glory again to Canada wouldn't be as compelling as, say, hitching a ride on the Dream to NYC.
Final note, we stopped at a Starbucks on the ride home and my son walks up to the pastry case and says: "I'll have that, that, that and that." Time to do some cruise deprogramming.