We have always wanted to go to Alaska and booking a cruise seemed like an easy way to do it. Now, of course, I want to go back to explore more! Our first family cruise was Royal Caribbean, but the lines and getting on and off the ship was tiring. Then, we wanted to try something more upscale and tried Princess; the older crowd and lack of entertainment (or shall I say senior entertainment) was boring! So, a few years ago we tried Carnival - our first trip being on the Legend out of Tampa to the W. Caribbean and in 2012 to Mexico from LA (cannot remember the ship name). Carnival is for FUN people, great for teenagers, and they really know how to get people on and off the ship quickly!
We flew up to Seattle on a Sunday, stayed at the Hotel 5 (loved it with free bikes and afternoon cupcakes), and thoroughly enjoyed Seattle - not many cruises leave on a Tuesday, so this was a little odd! We used Uber to get to and from the ship - my daughter set it up on my cell phone - it was $30 there (largest car avail as the 4 of us had tons of luggage) and $35 back to Westin (due to the morning traffic as we off the ship by 8:30 AM). Carnival lets you walk off the ship with your luggage so you can easily get off the ship prior to 9 AM. We went to the ship at about 2 and were in our cabin in less than 40 minutes. Very short lines. We carried on wine (as we are from CA wine country) and had no issues.
We love good food, but we do not cruise to eat. We appreciate the variety of food in the MDH, but do not always like it. I personally compensated by ordering a lot of starters (which are always good) - then if I didn't like the main dinner, I could just skip it. There was a few things I didn't like - but also many that surprised me. We eat fresh and are not fans of large portions and fried food! The chilled soups, salads, and some of the veggie options are great. Our 16-year old liked the comfort food options. We brought our wine to dinner many times - uncork in room and there is no corkage fee. We also ordered wine some nights - good selection, but can be pricey. We avoided the chocolate mayhem in the buffet area on the last day! The pizza bar was great - very thin crust Roman style. The desserts are yummy - love the melting choc cake (who doesn't) and the cheese plate. We had anytime dining, which we really didn't want as I like to get to know the waiters - but it worked out well, a few times we had to wait for a table by the window.
My 16-year old daughter loved the kids club (02?). She had more people saying hi to her on the ship then we did, as she met so many kids. She was out later than any of us, and spent most of her time on the ship there! We actually had to go pull her out so we could get some family photos in Tracy Arm Fiord. My 21-year old daughter was a little bored - she hung out with us more. The bars/clubs don't really start until after the shows and we were too tired most nights to stay up for these!
As for cutbacks, we didn't notice any except we didn't get invited to the free drink party. The staff was happy and friendly - they asked for our names immediately and you could tell they were working hard to remember us. This was not just in our cabin - also in the MDR as we had a new waiter/waitress most nights.
We invited a couple of friends with us (we really wanted their daughter to hang with our 21 year old - the daughter couldn't come, but they did). They had a blast - they had room service every morning, got massages, went to the steak house, did more excursions than we did, and really had a good trip.
The only complaint I had was in the gym - there was no staff there as on our prior cruises. Could not get the TV to work on the bikes or ellipticals.
We had an extended balcony cabin for the first time, but it is really no different than a balcony one. Our daughters had an interior one, that was cheaper - don't think I could ever stay in one of those - love the open scenery. We didn't spend much time in our room - our favorite place was the Serenity deck - they gave us blankets and we took some naps out there. At Tracy Arm Fiord, we spent most of our day up on the top - don't understand those people sitting in the dining room looking out - get up on deck! Our friends did the excursion where the small boat meets you and takes you closer (about $185 per person) - if I go again, will do that.
We ate breakfast and lunch in the MDR at sea days, mostly to talk with others and went to afternoon tea a few days. The salad at lunch was so small - I went to get some more at the buffet after. You will never go hungry on this ship!
We were a little disappointed with the entertainment - it seemed to be geared for a much older crowd (the big band era), but there were some we liked - like the Blues Brothers show. The comedy shows are good - but not great (prior cruises had better comics). The musicians were also not as good as prior cruises (maybe they cater to older crowd?). We spent time at night out on the Serenity deck watching the ship sail away from port - it was like a constant sunset. The ship had a naturalist that was continuing to make announcements, but we saw more stuff on our own.
This is the first time we didn't do the ship excursions - for 4 of us, it was too pricey. In Skagway, we rented a car from Avis and drove the very scenic route up to Emerald Lake (and past, but really do not go past emerald lake, it is boring after that) - stopped many times, ate lunch in Carcross, saw a bear on way back; got back to town at 2-3 (we should have taken more time in Carcross, etc.) - went to brewery, then a hike up to Dewey lake, then to the brothel for another beer. Stopped in some of the shops, but who goes to Alaska to go to Diamonds Int'L? The highway goes nearly the same route as the train, and is very scenic - but also has lot of the tour vans on it. No worries about traffic though! Lots of time in Skagway - if we do this again, next time I'll take the ferry over to Haines which is supposed to be less touristy.
In Juneau, we also rented a car (beware the Chatty Cathy lady at Juneau rentals - she loved to talk, and be wary of walk up the hill to get there) and went to the glacier, Auke Bay, and Alaska Brewery. Very rainy day, but felt rushed to get back to ship!
In Ketchican, we had great sunny weather. We booked a tour to Misty Fiords on ProMech ($229 per person). They picked us up and drove us to their office - got out of the van, and a bald eagle flew right past me. The eagles hang out there - we saw another one while we waited. Our family of 4 got a 6 seater Beaver plane to ourselves and the pilot was thrilled to have a family with him- he gave us his own narration as he didn't like the taped narration (he said it was a leased plane). It was so pretty! We landed on the water (as we landed he pointed out a grizzly) and we all got to stand on the pontoons. We were lucky to have such good weather. They drove us back to town by Dolly's house - what a tourist trap the town is! We stopped in a bar near the ship and had some Alaska White beer (that we tasted in Juneau). Again, felt a little rushed - not enough time here.
In Victoria, we walked to downtown - about a 15 minute walk, strolled thru the Empress Hotel, and walked around the boats a little. We went into a bar to have drink and they wouldn't let our 16 year old in - so we walked back to ship. Others (5) stayed and took a taxi back ($8 for 5) - so there is really no reason to take the shuttle bus.
We had a great time on this cruise!!!!! Want to go back. We forgot to bring binoculars with us, and bought some on board ($60).