Western Europe Cruise Review
Firstly, do not pay for the incredibly expensive Carnival transfers. I mistakenly thought the advantage would be that they would check your bags straight through on to the boat etc, but this is not the case - in fact you would get closer the to terminal building and more help with your bags from a taxi. It would also be a fraction of the price. Also, and most annoyingly, our bus wasn't there and we had to wait more than 30 mins for it to turn up! A frustrating way to start the holiday, and there was more to come.
Boarding was chaotic and frustrating. Arriving at Barcelona port there were no signs, no helpful staff and we ended up relying on other passengers to show us where to drop bags etc. the queue to get checked in was massive, and in a cheerless and airless warehouse. I was put in mind of queuing at Ellis Island. There are signs saying "this way to fun!" as you snake you way round an endless queue full of tired and frustrated people in a joyless place. Not good. Having done that, there is then a long queue to get your photo taken to go with your "sign & sail" cards (why can't they do it when you are queuing to get them?) and then you can finally get on the boat. Took us over an hour. You then board, where people are surprised that you might need directions and a map and you have to ask for them, rather than being offered. And there's no welcome drink. Disembarkation (not debarkation as the would have it) was incredibly smooth. We set off from our room just after 6.30 am and were at our hotel by 7am. I am sure that queues for taxis build up through the morning, so best to be off early.
Anyway, boarding was the main hassle and gripe. There were two adults and two kids in our stateroom, and it was fine. I've been in hotel rooms in resorts where we didn't have much more space than we had, so I was pleased for a cruise. We had a balcony floor at the back of deck 6 and that suited us just fine. The shops and bars are below so I wasn't worried about my kids charging around our room and disturbing the other guests. Being at the back was handy for restaurants and the pool and waterpark. Waterworks was brilliant- we had chosen Carnival for this reason, and it was hugely popular with all the kids on board. More disappointing the main pool was very small and very cold, so the kids were all in the heated whirlpools.
Kids' club was ok. They didn't follow the published schedule so instead of playing playstation, my son ended up having to do karaoke to "one direction" songs - he was not impressed and only went once. They give you a mobile phone so they can contact you while your children are there. There is a little playground outside the kids club which you can use when the club isn't using it, and my two enjoyed that. There was "family time" on the "fun day at sea" where you could be with your kids and use the games and facilities, and we had a great time then, it's a shame there wen't more opportunities for that. We did the build a bear, which was pretty pricey - $25 plus tax plus $8 for an outfit, but the kids loved it and won't be parted from theirs!
I thought the food was excellent. By the pool you have the blue iguana cantina which does fantastic burritos and tacos, and Guy's burger joint. Very tasty burgers, but very greasy. There is 24 hour ice cream and frozen yoghurt too, which was popular with my family. The pool then leads to the buffet, where there are set hours, but also pizza 24 hours (delicious) and a deli bar 11-11 which does toasted sandwiches. There's a good range at the buffet, with hearty food, salads, lighter options, soups and a good range of desserts. There is water, iced tea, tea, coffee and lemonade available all the time, and juices and milk at breakfast time. There is a self service beer station in the buffet as well. Soft drinks are about $2.50 and cocktails $8-9 plus 15% tip and tax - about $10 overall. There are also some restaurants here that are free at lunch, and have a service charge in the evening. We ate in the Sunrise Restaurant some evenings. The food was excellent and there was a wide range, with a menu with the same favourites every day, and daily specials. There is always pasta, fish, red meat (usually beef) and a vegetarian options. The kids menu is regular kids' stuff - burgers, pizza, nuggets, but all good quality. They did smaller portions of the main menu for my kids too.
Cabins are serviced twice a day and kept very clean, as is the whole boat. There is shampoo, shower gel and bars of soap in the cabins. There are lots of hand wash stations and hand sanitisers in the food areas.
Around the pool there was a lot of reserving of sun loungers, and the 40 minute limit in reserving is NOT enforced. Several times I asked staff to move towels that had been there for hours and it was always not their job (but would you like to buy an $8 drink?). There's no point having this rule if it's not going to be enforced, and there would be plenty of sunloungers if the rule was enforced. They show a movie by the pool most days, and otherwise they play music, which as other reviews have said, is a bit too loud.
There are self service laundry facilities, costs $3 each for a wash and a dry and each cycle takes about half an hour. Wifi is available to purchase at high cost and I don't know how strong the signal is.
We didn't see much of the entertainment, but we really enjoyed Sky Green who was around the ship playing guitar and she was kind enough to take requests.
As we were travelling with young kids (7 and 3) who didn't take to seeing historic sights in the sweltering August sun, we didn't do many excursions. I have set out what we did in each port of call in case readers are in the same situation.
By the way, our luggage didn't arrive until the evening of the first day, so I'd recommend packing swimwear in your hand luggage so you can enjoy the facilities straight away.
Took a taxi to the View Port (old harbour). It was a mistake to drag the kids away from the boat on the first morning and they didn't last long, but it is a pretty harbour and when we were there, there were large statues of animals, brightly painted which they enjoyed finding. From La View Port you can take a boat to Chateau d'If or a road train around Marseilles. Not sure of the prices for these. A taxi to La View Port was about 18 each way.
La Musee Oceanographique is a short walk from the port (bottled water 1 in the vending machine in the port). It is a fantastic museum for children. Kids under 4 are free. There is an area where you can stroke sharks, a huge aquarium, a playground on the roof terrace and lots of interesting exhibits. There is a little beach on the walk to the museum if you fancy a dip. Check out tom's cruise port reviews for a walking guide to the museum with lifts/escalators as Monaco is a steep climb otherwise.
We decided to make our own way to Pisa to see the leaning tower. We took a taxi from the port to Livorno station (25) a train to Pisa Centrale (13 return for all of us. Remember to validate your ticket at the machine on the platform before boarding) and a taxi from Pisa station to the tower (8 there, but a suspicious 13 on the way back...). The tower is in beautiful square, with other gorgeous buildings. We didn't climb the tower. There were surprisingly few taxis waiting at the tower to go back the to station, but one did come eventually and we repeated the journey back. Overall, it cost about 80, which is considerably cheaper than the "Pisa by yourself" excursion for 4, and frankly I don't know how you would kill several hours there.
You can (apparently) get a train to a lovely beach resort called Santa Marinella which is one stop away, but we took the free shuttle into Civitavecchia and used the beach there. It is a mix of sand and rocks/pebbles so beach shoes are a must. There is no shade, but sunloungers and umbrellas can be hired (not sure of the cost). We spent a happy hour there, building sandcastles and burying our feet. There are apparently some nice markets in the town, but we didn't explore those.
I did the "Pompeii on your own" excursion with my 7 year old. I wouldn't recommend the excursion and have done a review on the Carnival website. You can walk from the port into Naples and there are some shops nearby in Galleri Umberto.
You can walk straight out of the port into the town. There are horse and carriage rides and a road train. It is a pretty city to walk around. We went to the Cathedral and watched the "astrological clock" in the bell tower. This only does its thing once a day at midday, where clockwork items move to music. I've never seen anything like it before, and it was really charming, the kids enjoyed it.
We took the InterCruise 2 stop shuttle from the boat into the city centre. It cost 17 per adult and 7 for each child, so not cheap. It stood at the Castle and at the Cathedral. I don't know if a taxi return to the city centre would be cheaper, and there is a hop on/off bus tour that stops at the cruise terminal as well. It was very hot so we just had a little walk around the Cathedral area and got the shuttle back. I couldn't track down anything particularly child friendly in Palma, so no specific recommendations.
Stayed at the K&K Picasso hotel. Chose this because next door to a park, the zoo and has a rooftop pool. It was a brilliant hotel, great service, beautifully decorated and to a high standard. It turns out there are also lots of lovely little bakeries, coffee shops and food shops near the hotel. We were also a short walk from the hop on/off bus tour (you can buy tickets at the hotel) and we spent the day exploring the city using that service. Parc Guell is particularly recommended.
We had an early disembarkation from the boat, and were at our hotel by 7am. It cost 18 and only took about 10/15mins by taxi, but it was early Sunday morning so would be longer at other times.