Now let me back up a bit. We were first booked for our cruise aboard the Carnival Sunshine,due to depart on April 26th from Barcelona and end in Venice. This was to be a 9 day cruise and we were to stay an extra day at each end. I had spent a tremendous amount of time booking the ‘perfect hotels and off-shore tours’. Well imagine our surprise when my husband, who would keep up with the refurbishment updates on-line that were posted each Friday, noticed the ‘set to sail in April’ note on the top of the screen, change to ‘set to sail in May’ which no prior notice from Carnival. When we contacted our travel agent, she had no knowledge about the delay. No warnings of this cancellation were EVER received fom Carnival…we only found out about our cancelled cruise when our agent contacted them! You can imagine our disappointment. We were offered a refund by Carnival and a 25% discount on booking another cruise with them. They as well refunded any out-of-pocket expenses caused by the cancellation, which included our hotels, which were non-refundable...a plus for Carnival. At that point, we had no choice but to book once again with them as other cruise lines were booked for the itinerary we were looking for. So, we re-booked and this time on a 12 day cruise starting and ending in Barcelona, a city we quickly came to fall in love with.
The timely refund by Carnival and added discount which allowed us to get the 12 day cruise for just slightly more than the 9 day cruise initially booked.
The itinerary was perfect…just what we were looking for. Kudos to Carnival for choosing these Ports, although they can’t take credit for what the Ports offered.
We love wine and were thrilled with the lack of security at the check-in station. Based on comments of other traveler’s familiar with Carnival, we were told about this during the embarkation process. We decided to take a chance and bought numerous bottles at the shops that were available to us while waiting in line. Security didn’t ‘bat an eye’ when we boarded ship - if they even noticed. Certainly helped to off-set the outrageous prices Carnival was charging for their wines.
Our luggage was delivered intact and we didn’t have to wait too long for it.
Wait staff and cabin steward (Benny) were exceptional. Always friendly and eager to help.
Our state room and balcony were just as expected and pictured (a little smaller in size than ones with other cruise lines). Room was always cleaned in a timely manner, complimentary samples of creams etc. often left for our use, ice replenished anytime we asked. We did not experience any of the mold issues some other passengers had in their bathrooms although we did have to call maintenance for the toilet once when it refused to fill with water and emitted a high-pitched screeching noise. My husband finally filled it using the shower head as it was taking so long for maintenance to arrive.
The embarking process was a joke. Our travel agent had pre-boarded us, but that made no difference whatsoever. Because it was a rainy day, we decided to forgo our planned site-seeing in Barcelona and board the ship early. We were there by 11:00 am and ended up having to stand in line for over 2 hours. Whatever methods Carnival had planned to use for the on-boarding process (by group #), was not working and they decided abandon. The only positive to this was meeting some great people when standing in line and the time it allowed us to visit the duty free shops to buy the wine we took on board. We’ve never experienced such an un-organized onboarding as with Carnival. Hopefully this was a one-time problem for them.
After checking out our rooms, we decided to grab a late lunch while waiting for our luggage to arrive. My husband decided to try a wrap at the Blue Iguana Cantina. He started to eat it, only to pull out 3 very sharp chicken bones. When he asked to see the manager, the first person didn’t seem too concerned and said ‘sorry, but these things do happen’. My husband insisted on seeing the head food manager, who finally arrived, apologized and took down the details. When following up with guest services, we were told that we would be contacted, but we were never given any feedback in follow up at any time. We felt this was totally unacceptable…what if a child had choked on these bones! Not a good way to start the cruise.
If this was not bad enough…days later, my husband was eating a roll with dinner one night and ended up pulling out a 8-10” long black hair from his mouth (he has short blonde hair). This was truly disgusting and when he complained once again to the head maître-de, they brought him 5 chocolate covered strawberries to make amends. That night we had joined 6 other travelers that we had met, so we asked if we could possible get 8 berries to share with the others. We were told that would not be possible as the other strawberries were ROTTEN!!!! We still shake our heads at that one.
We chose the 8:15 dinner time as we felt the 5:30 sitting might be too rushed after any of our shore excursions. Not sure why there had to be such a gap between the two sittings, as 8:15 proved to be far too late for us as desserts were generally not being served until 9:30-10:00. Added to that was our GREAT displeasure to find that although we had requested to join a table of 6 or 8 at the time of booking (we have always enjoyed meeting new people from all parts of the world and the dinner repartee this created), we were seated at a very small table for 2 right next to the serving station. This was where we were forced to sit for the duration of our cruise. We hated this and the only saving grace was that the couple who sat next to us were friendly and we had a nice time chatting with them. This setup was not at all what we had requested and we were extremely disappointed. If we had known all this beforehand, we would have booked the free style. When we did try to change, we were told this had to be done at the time of booking.
Ordering wine with dinner became a real source of complaint for us and we felt a total scam on Carnival’s part. We enjoy Pinot Gritio and there were two bottles on the wine list that could be ordered. The first night we ordered the less expensive one, which we found we quite enjoyed. When on the second night we tried to order it again, we were told they were all out of it and were forced to order the more expensive one, which we didn’t enjoy nearly as much. However, when we joined some other travelers we had met in the Sunshine restaurant, we were told that yes indeed, they did have it and were able to order a bottle. When returning the next night to our table in the Sunset restaurant, were told that it was NOT available. Then were later told we could order the less expensive one by the bottle, but not the glass as stated on the wine list. MAKE UP YOUR MIND CARNIVAL AND BE HONEST AND UPFRONT WITH YOUR CUSTOMERS!
Continuing with the drink ‘scam in our opinion’…we ordered a Caesar from the Serenity bar. Later when checking our on-ship charges, we found we were charged $24 for the two drinks, listing them as doubles. My husband disputed this with guest services and the additional charge was later removed, but only after standing in line for a long time and arguing that we had never ordered doubles.
Another issue that we encountered & felt to be extremely unethical, was the packages that we bought for web services. We bought the smallest package as we didn’t plan to be using the web other than to email our children occasionally with a few updates. However we soon found that the service was slow to respond with many operation issues, and it didn’t take long to use up the package. We then bought another package of time which brought us to two days before the end of our trip. We noticed that mid email; the screen showed we had 7 minutes left which was fine with us. However it then showed 470 minutes left, without us doing anything! Sure enough, when we checked our on-board charges, it showed we had been charged another $159 even though we hadn’t ordered the additional time. Once again, my husband had to argue with guest services, who said we must have ordered it. Only after he insisted why would we order 470 minutes two days before the trip ended when we had only ordered the two smallest packages from the beginning, was the charge removed. We later found out from many others that they experienced the same issue. So…fellow cruisers beware of this.
As other passengers have mentioned, the one pool available on-board was closed from the Saturday to the following Tues or Wed. While the pool issue was not a major problem to us, what it caused was all the kids who would have normally been in the pool, were then in both the hot tubs on the Lido Deck, making it extremely unpleasant or just unavailable for the adults. The only other one was on the upper deck – Serenity Deck. After climbing all the way up on, we often found it to be filled to capacity and unable to use.
We found our room location to be terrible, although we can’t blame Carnival for this. We were on the Lido deck, the first one or two rooms beside the elevators/vestibule area. Added to this we were right across from the workers pantry which contained the ice machines so always very, very noisy. Needless to say, we might as well of had a party in our room til 4 in the morning each day as that’s what it sounded like. (People coming and going from the pool/restarurant/bars) The rooms had no sound proofing whatsoever (we could hear someone snoring in the next room and certainly many conversations). The workers would start vacuuming around 2 am which was so very frustrating. Also there were some sewage smell issues in many parts of the ship, in particular the pantry across from our rooms, which was sickening at times.
OnBoard TV was horrible, lost signals all the time and of 15 channels probably 10 were dedicated to Carnival, 2 British CNN's, 2 movie channels that played the same movies all day long and that was about it. Having said that, you don’t go on a cruise to watch TV, so that wasn’t the worst that could happen, even though very annoying.
Unlike our vacations with other cruise lines, we found the food to be very mediocre. There was very little to be had after 2:30 pm if you wanted a light snack and the breakfast buffets were very repetitive and unappealing. The best breakfast and lunches were the omelet’s to order or the custom stir-fry’s however the long line ups to get to them were not great. Special presentation of foods were pretty much non-existent. There were no ice or food ‘sculptures’, as witnessed on other cruises, which we feel help to make the cruise experience so special.
I can’t comment on the entertainment really as there was not much of interest to begin with and our dinner seating time made before or after shows not always doable. We did see the Epic Rock and Latin shows, which were really a pretty forgettable experience. Certainly not the grand shows we’d come to expect on a cruise. The Liquid Lounge, which was the main theatre did not have nearly enough seating for the ships capacity and we had to stand on the stairs for the entire show. The Hasbro shows were very second rate and quite laughable (not in a good way). We did have a nice evening in the Piano Bar and the Alchemy Bar looked very interesting although we didn’t sample the drinks there. Because of the odd layout of the ship that made it hard to get from one end to the other, we didn’t find this bar or the tasting bar (which was wonderful) until the second half of the trip.
We did try 2 of the 3 restaurants. We enjoyed JiJi’s, the Asian restaurant and the staff were very courteous. We both agree that while it was a nice change of pace from the standard fare, we probably wouldn’t rush back. We also tried Cucina Capitano and found the food to be ok. The cheese bruschetta appetizer that was brought to the table was stone cold and not really very good at all. The main course however was quite enjoyable and the staff were friendly and the ambiance better than we expected it to be, given the open area during the daytime.
We did have reservations at the Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse but cancelled them as we’d had two quite acceptable steaks with the normal dining and were afraid we’d be paying the extra $70 for not much better. Glad we made that decision based on some feedback we had heard.
In conclusion, I have to say, thank goodness for the absolutely wonderful Ports of Call. We had a fabulous time and almost all of them were a must see (Marseille was not a favorite, but probably didn’t see enough to really rate it properly). We leave the trip with many cherished memories and can’t wait to return to see more of this beautiful country. It will NOT however, ever be with Carnival Cruise lines again. It appears that they are living up to the very poor reputation they continue to make for themselves.