What a great introduction to cruising on CCL! This is my first cruise, my wife's second. While the weather was terrible, the entertainment and activities aboard were just fine.
We had a tiny porthole room for 4 on deck 2, and it was perfectly adequate for our needs.
Food - duh! I eat uber-low-carb usually, but I had to break my own rules a few times. The cake-pops were a treat. The coffee is marginal at best, though I started adding vanilla ice cream to it. So much for healthy.
Comedy - The adult shows were a riot! If you were at the Monday night show, "I don't call it, it just comes" was the punch line of the night!
Towels - Really. I didn't steal any. They are simply great. We bought two as souvenirs we will actually USE often!
Service - Each and every CCL employee we encountered was polite and went out of their way to make life on board enjoyable. The best, without question, was our waiter in the Golden Dining Room, Navin, from Guyana. We did any time seating, and arrived promptly at 5:45 PM for dinner each night at table 127 because we got him the first night. Treated my kids great. I doubled his gratuity in cash and am sending kudos to the office in Miami.
Camp Carnival - By far, without question, this is the best amenity for a family. 12 hours per day - free children's programs, with another 5 at night for a charge. Ivana and Andrea stood out to me, along with a lovely young lady from Toronto whose name escapes me. They took the time to organize the kids, keep them entertained and provide constructive activities through out the cruise. We were initially concerned that my 9 year old daughter, who is very reserved and a bit introverted, would be miserable... but she did great!
For first timers: PRE REGISTER PLEASE. Get it done. We signed kids in at 10 AM each day. Programs run till 12:45, when you pick them up for lunch. Programs resume for 2:00 until 4:45 when you pick them up for dinner. At 6:00 PM the program resumes till 10:00 with optional 10:00 to 3:00 AM care for $7 an hour per kid. On the first sea night, they offered a 10:00 PM to 12:00 mid special kids night at a slight discount. We took advantage, and saw two comedy shows as adults.
Saint John was OK... but rainy and cool, so we went back to the ship and the kids begged for Camp.
Behind the Fun Tour - At $95, this 3.5 hour tour behind the scenes of the ship was a pricey but entirely memorable "excursion." We saw behind the stage at the Amber Palace, the engine control room (with some witty banter about the ribbing the deck officers and engine officers share), the galley (which takes up the entire mid-ship on deck 4 as I recall), the laundry (more info than I ever needed in the laundry). We saw "I-95" the main artery that services the ship including loading and unloading, food storage, and a massive beer-soda locker. (They store liquor and other "flammable foods" in a special locker. In case of fire it is easier contained there) Visiting the bridge was excellent - the captain was away when we arrived, so we got some real time with the first and second officers. I noticed the captain's espresso machine - and asked him about it. He brings two of his own machines on board as he drinks 16+ cups a day!
Minor Disappointments (not really complaints):
Shower leaks all over floor. I suppose they have a reason for this, but the edge of the shower and the bottom of the shower curtain do not meet. This should be re engineered.
TV service is very limited. Yeah, I know we arent on board for TV, but I like to keep up on real news and TV entertainment at bedtime. The satellite TV was spotty, and limited to CBS and ABC from Miami, CNN-lite (like the Airport TV channel) and HLN.
Library - It just sucks. Bare shelves, nothing else. What a waste of a room. The AA and NA meetings are held there. It would be better if they turned it into something techy, a coffee or wine bar or something else.
Coffee - No more free espresso/cappuccino at dinner. They charge for it now, but claim it is an upgraded brew- same as what is served at Creams coffee bar. The coffee for the masses in the Red Sail buffet is on par with cheap hotel or McDonalds coffee... I drank it out of habit. Will bring a big coffee cup next time.
Iced tea is a terrible liquid concentrate, however is unsweetened. Bring Mio or Crystal Light if you are a diet-drinker. The fruit juices are all "fruit juice cocktail" meaning sweetened concentrates. This is fine, just something the user should know.
Midnight Buffet - It is no more. There is food available, while limited. I look forward to cruising on another line that has the late extravaganza sometime!
The 2.0 stuff was good. Guys Burgers and the taco place were good. I grabbed a bowl in the buffet, went to the taco place for chicken or pork, and made a great taco salad with the fixins... fits my lower carb life!
Stuff I will do next cruise:
Smuggle more booze.
Bring a large cup for making real iced tea.
Bring a large coffee mug (travel mug).
Bring more bottled water and soda.
Bring three bathing suits for everyone.
Stuff I learned on CruiseCritic.com that I am glad I did:
Smuggled some booze on board.
Brought a $5 door-shoe organizer to keep our bathroom organized. Hung on towel bar.
Brought ziploc bags for everything.
Booked my Behind The Fun tour within seconds of boarding. Both tours sold out.
Skipped all excursions at Saint John.
Pre-printed postcard labels.
Brought some magnets to hang papers on walls in cabin. (Left a bunch in the car)
Brought AC splitter and extension cord. Mine had a USB charger built in. Wife uses phone as a Kindle.
Thanks CruiseCritic.com people... I learned a lot in advance and enjoyed the cruise that much more by being prepared!