This was my first cruise on Carnival (4 previous cruises on Princess and one on NCL). I must admit that in the past I had been steered away from cruising on Carnival but I had to see for myself if the negative rumors about it being lower quality were valid. I was pleasantly surprised and thrilled with my experience on the Splendor!
The embarkation process was organized and quick. We arrived at the New York port around 11:30, and were checked in and in our stateroom before 1. I was ecstatic to find that we were able to get into our stateroom immediately after getting onboard.
The one thing that impressed me the most was the level of service. The crew was very friendly, smiled often, engaged in conversation and even remembered our names - not just the waiters, but people who work in the shops, buffets, and staff members just passing though the hall as well. On other cruises I have seen crew members just going through the motions and managers even reprimanding crew members in public, which was very uncomfortable to witness. But this crew seemed happy and were acting like real people rather than bored "workers."
Our inside stateroom was on the Empress Deck. I purposely chose this deck because the decks above and below consist of only staterooms. It was very quiet with the exception of a couple of nights where there were some rowdy people returning to their rooms. I was surprised at how large the room was! We each had our own closet, and plenty of other storage throughout the room. Even my super large suitcase fit nicely under the bed!
We had anytime dining in the Black Pearl dining room. The quality of the food was excellent! The food choices ranged from simple, home style (Southern Fried Chicken), to more exotic (Oysters Rockefeller). I wasn't crazy about the desserts, but the chocolate melting cake definitely lived up to the hype! Our wait staff was friendly, polite, prompt and fun! Our head waiter, Prang, was a hoot - we requested to be in his section every night! The singing and dancing during dinner by the crew lightened the atmosphere and made it feel less stuffy than other cruise dining rooms I have experienced.
We ate at the buffet a few times. There were lots of options, but our timing was off - it seemed every time we wanted to grab a bite from the buffet, it was closing to be changed over to the next meal. The food was good, not much stood out. The rotisserie chicken, found upstairs from the buffet, was excellent! We found ourselves seeking this out whenever we had the chance. The macaroni and cheese was my favorite!
The entertainment was good. I mostly enjoyed the programs that were done by the cruise director and his staff like the Carnival Quest, learning the Thriller dance and the Marriage Game. Tex was a great cruise director; he was very friendly and visible throughout the cruise. We did not see any of the production shows, but went to a couple of the comedy shows. Seating in the comedy club is difficult to find, many people stayed for both shows so it was hard to find seats for the late show.
In Nassau we booked the Shallow Water Dolphin Encounter at Blue Lagoon Island. Everyone in the group had individual attention by the crew member and the dolphin. It was my first dolphin encounter, so I don't have anything to compare it to, but I felt it was definitely worth the cost. I didn't feel rushed at all (and it was nice not having to get into a wetsuit for the excursion). We didn't have much time on the beach after the dolphin encounter, but I would like to go back sometime to enjoy it.
Half Moon Cay was beautiful! We took one of the first tenders over and got a cabana shell. It was confusing trying to find where to rent them, so we grabbed one and then went to pay. It got very hot after a few hours and we were glad we had some cover from the sun since there is not much shade. The one thing they need more of is access to drinking water/fountains. I know they are trying to sell drinks, but the heat can really knock you for a loop quickly!
Grand Turk was a trip! It seemed almost like a private Carnival island, but better since we docked rather than having to take tender boats. A short walk to the end of the dock brings you to shops, the beach and Margaritaville. We spent a little time in Margaritaville mostly to soak up the fun party atmosphere and people watch. We had a nachos and margaritas and then walked to the beach. It was neat swimming so close to our ship - which made for some interesting photos.
I would definitely like to cruise Carnival again. My only regret is that I didn't try it sooner.