Getting to the Port:
We stayed in a suburb of Seattle for a few days before the cruise, so we rented a car from the Dollar Rent a Car downtown office (1900 Boren Ave, Seattle, 98101, 206-682-1316). When we returned the car, they drove us to the cruise pier free of charge. It took about 15 minutes to get to the pier from the car rental office on Boren Ave. Plan lots of extra time to get to the pier as the shuttle does not run on a regular schedule—only upon “availability”, which means when an extra employee has time in between other stuff they are doing. (we ended up not having to wait at all). Don’t forget to fill your rental car with gas right before returning.
Arrived at the pier (Port of Seattle, Smith Cove Cruise Terminal, Pier 91) at about 10:45am. The porters were not out yet so we hauled our own luggage to baggage check in on the ground level of the terminal and then took the escalator up to the check in floor. We ran our carry-on’s through the security scanner (just like at an airport except you don’t have to take your shoes, belts and jackets off and there is no limit on carry-on liquids). Check in was a breeze as we had done the on-line registration (for the kid’s clubs as well) a few weeks previous. There was complimentary water and lemonade available and a waiting area similar to an airport terminal. After you check in, your given a card with a zone number for boarding. We were in zone 3 and were onboard by 11:30am. The buffet was open for lunch and it was fun to sit by the window and look at the view of Seattle while eating. Our rooms were ready by 1:30. The mandatory safety muster was at 3:30. You do not have to take your life vests with you (thank you!). There was no sail away party like they have in the Caribbean so that was somewhat anti-climactic. If you need to change a dining seating time you can do so at the entrance to the dining room. Go and do this as early as possible as there will be a long line later on. You can tour the spa/gym and kid’s club areas.
We had an ocean-view stateroom #1148 on deck 1 with a big window. Our steward was very friendly but we rarely saw him and areas of our room were very dusty when we first arrived. I had to ask him twice to dust the phone, and TV area, and to give us clean glass goblets (all three of these things had several weeks worth of dust caked on— it was pretty disgusting). Finally, the next morning, I taped a note to our bathroom mirror requesting this again and he finally obliged. Other than that, our room was perfectly made up every morning while we were at breakfast and every evening while we were at dinner. There were four of us in this cabin (my husband and I and our two sons ages 10 and 13). My husband and I had a queen bed, one son was in an upper bunk and one son was in the bed/couch under the bunk. The beds for our sons were left out during the day which worked well for us as they liked to lounge there whenever we stopped by our room. There was one beach towel in our room (which we never used as it was an Alaska cruise) and there were shampoo and body wash dispensers in the shower and small soap bars for the sink. There was ample storage space for our clothes (we kept our suitcases under the queen size bed and used them as clothes hampers). There is only one outlet for your use (at the desk). We always bring an extension cord so we can charge up multiple electronics each night. We also bring our own lighted digital clock as the cabin does not provide one. The extension cord comes in handy so that the clock can be closer to our bed). There is a hair dryer provided in the top drawer and it is permanently plugged in right there in the drawer. A couple months before we leave on a cruise, my husband always saves his dry cleaning wire hangers and we bring them with us (and just leave them there when we disembark) as there are never enough hangers in the closets. I also bring the following to make our stay more comfortable and easier: a small spray bottle of fabric Febreze (for jackets, jeans that you might wear a couple times, ect…), pads of paper and tape (to tape notes to the mirror for family), extra pens, highlighter for daily schedule (on Carnival it’s called “Fun Times”), door decorations (makes it easier to spot our cabin & it’s festive), over the counter motion sickness meds (just in case), dish soap for rinsing out our re-fillable water bottles, and bug spray for shore excursions (came in handy while waiting for the shuttle at Mendenhall Glacier). I also bundled my son’s daily outfits and labeled each bundle with a small piece of masking tape. You get your daily “Fun Times” schedule of activities and announcements delivered each evening to your cabin. I always stopped by our cabin in between dinner and evening activities to pick it up so that we could discuss the next day’s activities with our extended family that we were traveling with.
The buffet on deck 9 (Horatio’s) was good. Instead of one big buffet line, there were various stations such as “Asian”, “American”, “Grill”, “Deli”, “Salad bar”, and “Pizza”. The food was average (not over the top spectacular, but not bad either) and the service was quick at all stations except the pizza station. My sons always had to wait at least 10 minutes in line for pizza. There was never a problem with finding a table. Soda is not free with meals— the only complimentary beverages are juices, coffee and hot chocolate in the morning and lemonade in the afternoon and evening.
For breakfast, we mainly ate in the open-seating, main dining room which was much more peaceful and less work :-). The Punchliners Comedy Brunch on one of the days was the only dining room meal that was better than average. For sure, do not miss that!
We ate dinner every night at the early seating in the main dining room. Since our children are now 10 and 13, the next time we cruise, we will probably choose the late seating so that our meals are more spread out. (when you have the late seating, you typically go to the early show and then dinner at 8pm). Dinner in the dining room was disappointing. We last cruised with Carnival four years ago (since then we’ve cruised on Royal Caribbean a few times and Disney a few times). The quality of food has drastically gone down hill since our last Carnival cruise. I used to equate Carnival food with Outback Steak House or Ruby Tuesdays (not fine dining, but similar to a Friday night out), now however, I would equate their dining room food to a Sizzler or even Golden Corral. Each night there were two sets of menu options: The “everyday” set of items (same list of staples everyday) and a different set of options that were supposedly different each evening. This being said, one thing that was disappointing is that they served the same exact shrimp on the ”different each evening” menu, on three separate nights (it was disguised with a different sauce each night, but it was the same exact shrimp, cooked the same exact way). Also, on the “everyday” side of the menu was vegetable spring rolls as an appetizer every evening. Every evening I would order this and ask for sweet and sour sauce to go with it (it didn’t automatically come with it). Each time I asked for it, our head server would say: “oh, if you asked for it earlier, I could have gotten it for you”. I’m not sure how much “earlier” I could have asked for it as I asked for it when she took our orders each and every night. Each and every time I would reply with: “oh, I guess I should have grabbed some extra when I was at the buffet at lunch time to bring to dinner with me” (where they had it available every day). She and I went through this same routine for seven nights. (I kept it up because the same routine was getting quite comical every single night!). Ond day at lunch, I mentioned it to one of the officers who was supervising at the buffet. He took down my name and stateroom number and said he would look into it but I never heard back from him. Also, I remember on previous Carnival cruises (as on Royal Caribbean and Disney), the waiters would do a choreographed song and dance on some nights, however on this cruise, they only stood there and sang and did their own little dance right there in place, but there was no choreography or anything relatively organized. Don’t forget, on a seven day cruise, there are two formal nights. Dress ranged from long formals and tuxes to simple dresses and shirts with ties. Most children wore Polo-like collared shirts and Dockers. On casual nights, most adults wore slacks and nice blouses/collared shirts and most children wore jeans and Polo-like shirts.
Entertainment and Activities:
There were lots of trivia and “name that tune” games every day that were well run and fun to participate in. There were a couple dance classes (salsa, country line, and “Thriller”). The same staffer taught these classes and he was less than enthusiastic in his demeanor (it was like he was forced to be there and wasn’t very happy about it). There was also a couple art and craft classes in one of the lounge areas and I had the same experience with the instructor there as I did at the dance classes. There were two pools— one was covered and warm so even though we were cruising through Alaska, the children were able to swim. (there is a towel kiosk near the pools so you don’t have to bring the one from your room.) Some people braved the big twisty slide (it was off on the other side of the ship by itself), but it was really too cold for most. If you’re an adult, the hot tub in the spa/gym area is quieter and more calming then the one by the pools. The adult area (Serenity) was nice and quiet with fun little spots to relax (hammocks and little double cabana chairs) but it was always chilly (they handed out blankets for use here near the towel kiosk). There were a couple comedians each night and both did an early “family” rated show and a later “adult only” show. The comedian named Al Ernst was really funny and did a great show. The other comedian, Jeff Wayne, was not as good. A lot of his comedy was “angry/frustration” themed dialogue and it wasn’t even humorous. On most evenings (but not all) there was a big show in the main theater. On some evenings there were two time slots for each show, and on other evenings, there was only a late-night show. Beatles and Generations were both good but not spectacular. Also, some of the costumes were revealing (read skimpy thongs). The live bands were all very good and the piano bar entertainment was very good and enjoyable.
My 10 year old went to Camp Carnival and had a great time every time he went. Keep an eye on the Camp Carnival schedule as the older kids sometimes meet in areas other than the official Camp Carnival play room. You’ll save a lot of walking around if you go to the right area of the ship in the first place. The counselors were all great and my son loved attending. Organized activities did not start until the first full day of the cruise. In my opinion, the only negatives were the scavenger hunt activities and the evening shows in the main theater as part of the children’s evening program. For the scavenger hunt activity, children who are allowed to sign themselves in and out, were directed to wander around the ship (in pairs or small groups) in search of specific items and then return to the club when their list is completed. My husband and I are not comfortable with our 10 year old participating in this UNSUPERVISED activity so we did not allow him to sign himself in and out and if they were doing that activity when he was there, they provided a different activity for him (and others whose parents felt the same way we did) to engage in. When there was an early show in the main theater, then that was the scheduled activity for the Camp Carnival kids. The counselors would escort them to the main theater for the show and then escort them back to Camp Carnival when the show ended. Due to the occasional revealing costume (full butt views :-), I don’t feel that this is an appropriate scheduled activity for Camp Carnival kids. I would have preferred that they stay at camp and play games! Another drawback is unlike Disney, Camp Carnival always closed at about 3:15 and didn’t re-open again until dinner time, so if you want to make a spa appointment or do an adult-only activity, you must be careful when scheduling. My 13 year old son had a great time at his “Circle C” club. He loved his counselor there and made lots of new friends. The only drawback here is that it didn’t open until about noon each day (and again, make note of where each activity takes place as sometimes it’s up at the sport deck, water slide or elsewhere). He loved the various activities and always looked forward to participating in all that was offered.
Spa and Gym:
The gym opened at 6am every day and was very well appointed with up to date strength training and cardio equipment. TVs on the cardio machines worked every day except on one day. There were a variety of fee based fitness classes available. My husband and I did a couples spa treatment (massage, facial, dry brush) that we very much enjoyed. I thought the cost was a good value. A trick to avoid the hard sale after every spa treatment is to refrain from noting any problem areas on the questionnaire that they have you fill out before your appointment. At the end of your appointment when they come back into the room with a glass of water for you, just smile and say a polite “no” every time they try and sell you something. Their products are over priced and if you like them that much, come home and order them from Amazon or Ebay. Much less expensive.
We stopped in Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan and Victoria (see my port reviews under each separate port category). This ship was different from the 10 other cruises we’ve been on (on various lines) in that disembarkation into the ports was always from the main deck 2 (instead of the dungeons of deck 0) where the shore excursion and customer service desks are located and where there are nice lounge chairs to wait for the rest of your party.
Debarkation information is given via a continuous presentation on one of the TV channels in your room, not via hand out or flier, so just turn on the TV while your getting dressed in the morning. Luggage tags are placed on your bed the night before. Luggage has to be placed in the hallway the night before arrival by midnight. We had to be out of our rooms by 8:30 am the morning of arrival. At about 8am we went to breakfast in the main dining room and were disembarking by 9am. This was a very smooth process. Since there are four of us in our family it was cost effective for us to schedule a town car to pick us up from the pier and drive us to the airport (they actually sent an SUV due to our party size and amount of luggage). Before leaving home, I had Googled town car services in Seattle and had emailed several for quotes. We used Starline Town Car Service (starlinetowncar.com, 206-261-1191). We reserved it via credit card ($102 total for the car service fee, gratuity, taxes, and everything). We called while we were eating breakfast to tell the driver that we’d be heading out momentarily, and then called again when we were waiting at the curb. We only had to wait about 5 minutes and he was there. The driver was very friendly and the service was excellent. The Seattle airport was very busy. We waited in line at baggage check in for about 30 minutes and then at TSA for about another 30 minutes. I’m glad our flight didn’t leave until 11:45am.
Over all, this cruise was ok but due to the amount of money we paid for this 7 day Alaska cruise, I’m not sure we’ll cruise on Carnival again unless the cost is deeply discounted. I didn’t feel like the food and services were worth the money that we spent. It’s unfortunate, as four years ago, when we cruised on Carnival, I felt it was well worth the money— but not anymore. In the future, if we’re going to pay premium fares I think we’ll stick with Royal Caribbean or Disney (they have great kid's programs too). If Carnival has no plans to bring their food and service back up to their previous standards, then the cost of their cruises should be downgraded as well.