Embarkation at Barcelona was smooth and we were on the boat at lunchtime. See later for the disembarkation fiasco!
Our first impression was that we were in a great aunt's cluttered living room! The decor is just so busy that it hurts your eyes until you learn to ignore it. I suspect someone was supposed to order 50 grey plastic urns (they look like the European football cup) and accidentally ordered 5000, so they had to stick them to the walls, make banisters out of them, bar stools (with no where to rest your feet) etc. Add to this the dark wood with gold inlay and the many red lights, its all a bit OTT.
The main dining room (served) was not open so we had to make teh first of only 2 visits to the 'canteen'. I would not necessarily criticise Carnival too much for this, as the same on NCL and P&O have both been to the same low standard. The food was OK, but by the time you have queued, found a table, collected a drink etc. it's gone cold and eating off plastic plates is not my idea of Carnival's 'Fun'.
Having 'Fun' is Carnivals mantra, and I'm sure they believe that if they ay it enough we will all believe it, however, I don't wan't to sound like nothing would please me so here's the good points:-
- Excellent cabins, well laid out, calm in decor compared to the rest of the ship, and with excellent lighting and with a very comfortable bed.
- Cheap uplift to an Aft facing cabin, which gives a great view however you dock.
- Having the comedy club separate to the main theatre was good, and some of the comedians were very good (though not all!)
- Serenity deck was excellent. Good sunloungers and very good quality towels
- Having a 220volt outlet in the room was a positive onlt because all the info that I read beforehand only mentioned 110v
- Ships dancers, singers and band were very good, much more professional than we have seen on P&O and on par with NCL.
- Great staff in the dining room, cabins and running the quizzes.
- The ship was very stable. We have sailed
But I suspect the following list might be longer! :-
- The shows, which for us is one of the things we enjoy, were very variable. The singing & dancing shows are far too infrequent. One night there was only a film, once a juggler, once a magician and once an embarassing British singer (and I say that only as I am also British) making ridiculous noises and comments between quite well sung songs!
- The timing of dinner (we were on the 8:15 second sitting) is not always co-ordinated with the shows, so sometimes to be sure to see the show we had to skip desert.
- Daily news paper 'Fun times!' is woefully short of information, unless of course it is promoting increased spending. For example, there was no mention of shuttlebus arrangements or availability
- On the same subject, I suspect that in Marseille Carnival had arranged the shuttle busses which were at a ridiculous €14pp for a few mile ride. In other reports they were a more reasonable €5pp or free.
- Excursions and ridiculously priced (tip: use smartcruisetours in Rome. Well priced and a good service at €22pp return trip)
- The quality of the food was OK, sometimes very nice, sometimes not.
- Movies on-board are pay per view except the occasional free movie, but then they do not tell you what the timings are so you cannot plan around it!
- Pre-cruise info, like the newspaper, was woefully poor on their website, so websites such as this one are necessary to plus info gaps. Examples of what is not shared is: The fact that the cabion DOES have a 220v Euro socket, how many formal nights, where shuttle busses will be available etc.
- This is a big one! On top of paying top prices for drinks, with 10% VAT and 15% gratuity, the cocktails (pina colada, dacquari, marguerita) are based on ice and syrup. Yes they taste like there is some alcohol in there, but we never felt the effect and on some occasions when I asked they would add some alcohol. I very much suspect that the alcohol content was very limited and we were being ripped off!
Ok what else. Only one speciality retaurant, Cagneys, which we visited once. The food and service were both very good, though they refused to let my wife choose the lobster from the main menu for a starter!
Brett, the cruise director, sounded like Ned Flanders from The Simpsons, which made me laugh every time he spoke, which was OK as he rarely said anything of interest (OK so it's an American cruise company so I shouldn't complain that there are Americans being American, but even to a Brit speaking the same language they are an odd breed and easy to take the mick out of!).
The Captain and other senior staff were invisible and I suspect make a point of keeping away from the 'cargo'! Daily announcements were uninformative and delivered in an uncaring manner.
Oh and to disembarkation at Dover. Well it's hard to know how much is the lack of caring from Carnival now that you have paid and gone, and how much is the apalling service from the Port of Dover authority (not a patch on Southampton!). Once off the ship there was a massive and totally unorganised queue for taxi's, with no-one to assist Customers to the right area. I understand only 2 companies are licensed to enter the port, so a massive queue had to wait while maybe about 10 taxis made round trips. Compare this to, for example, Barcelona or Southampton and there are fleets of cabs ready to pick up fares. People were trying to flag down the few taxis before they reached the head of the queue etc. leading to arguments. Not the best way to finish a holiday!
Overall, we did have a good holiday. We met and dined with some nice people, the weather was mostly great and we enjoyed most ports. The cabin was very comfortable and the aft-views often spectacular, but would I cruise with Carnival again? No, I am afraid I would not! We already have our next cruise booked for a second trip with NCL, we will then likely try Royal Caribbean for a Caribbean cruise and then we would like to go back to P&O.
Visited Lucca as we have been to Pisa and Florence before. Sounds complicated, but heres the drill:-
- Port shuttle to Livorno Town
- Buy bus tickets at newsagent stand and take bus No 1 from the square to the railway station (just over €1 each.
- Buy ticket from the machine (English is an option): Livorno to Pisa (€5'ish each)
- Change at Pisa, buy another train ticket from the machine to Lucca (€6'ish each). Trains are all quite frequent.
Short easy walk from the train station at Lucca into the walled town. Very nice to walk the walls and the central area. Stopped for a coffee and to people watch, plus the street performers. Relaxing lunch at a restaurant and repeat the return journey.
Dont forget to validate your bus and train tickets, in the machine when you get on the bus and in the machine before you enter the train.
Disappointed, but maybe as we walked to the church on the hill above the port and then likely took a wrong road and ended up in the suburbs!
When we found our way back to the port area and the large square, much nicer place. Coffee and people watched, spent some money in the shops. On the sail away it looked like there was a lot of Lisbon we did not see, so maybe the hop-on-off would have been a better choice.
Expensive Carnival shuttle €14pp to the Vieux Port area. Hilariously got ourselves mixed up with a French organised group and accidentally got a free ride on the small road train to the Basillica! Caught an ordinary bus back to Vieux Port, wandered the streets then stopped for a Pastis (very French, and makes you wonder why we dont drink it at home!) before getting the shuttle back to the boat.
Walked up the hill (not too far) to the castle, interesting place to visit and wander through some of the rooms, wandered the small streets back down to the port, walked the F1 circuit (in process of being dismantled), hung around with the beautiful people outside the Casino for a while. Our second time in Monaco and an enjoyable day.