Several years ago I sailed on the Glory up to Canada. It was a miserable cruise. I thought every aspect of Carnival's service and product was poor. I vowed to myself, "never again." This year my group of traveling companions were locked into a very narrow window of available dates. The only option was Carnival. Reluctantly, I agreed to go. I was repeatedly surprised and delighted by the experience. It was far better than my prior sailing. While I have sailed on Princess, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean, most of my cruises have been with NCL. Most of my comparisons here are in relation to NCL. Here are some of the high points.
The dining experience was excellent. This was the single greatest improvement over my prior Carnival cruise. We were in the Gold Pearl for the late seating. Our waitstaff were professional and personable. The quality of the food was consistently high and always served hot. There was a well balanced offering of entertainment (waiters singing and dancing). It was not over-the-top, but it definitely added some positive energy to the meal. The dinner experience could not have been better.
There are some very fine aspects to the ship design:
o Wide hallways
o Larger and more efficient cabins.
o The retractable glass roof over the main pool is a lifesaver on rainy days.
o The Serenity Area on the front of the ship and the adult pool on the back of the ship provided a break from the many children.
o There was never a wait for an elevator.
o However, the artistic design of the public spaces was insane; circles, dots, foil, glitter, and pink, pink, pink.
They tried some level of enforcement of not saving chaise lounges all day. That is a brave and bold move which is much appreciated and one I have not seen on other lines.
I normally find cruise directors to be overbearing and annoying. This one (Woo-Hoo Malcolm) was unobtrusive and pleasant.
I had an emergency at home that I thought would require me to fly home from Grand Turk (which is virtually impossible to do). The front desk staff was responsive in offering me free calls home and other assistance. In the end, I did not have to leave, but I felt their response was most professional and helpful.
Here are areas where things did not leave a positive impression:
One member in our party was in a suite and had VIP check-in, another was in a wheel chair. We were brought to a small, over-crowded priority boarding lounge. We stood there well over a half hour. The man pushing the wheelchair commented that his collegues who were using the regular lines were being processed through at a quicker rate. (On NCL the priority boarding had us on the ship within 5 minutes.)
The Spa was a huge disappointment. I paid the extra $149 for membership to this exclusive area. The private area intersects with the entrance to the gym and there was always a parade of people moving through. The actual Jacuzzi and steam rooms were separated by doors that you needed a special keycard for which kept visitors out, but you had to continually deal with locked doors. Once inside the sauna area there is one long narrow foyer that connected all the saunas and showers. This confined area was always stuffed with people trying to get towels (which were also stored there) and moving from one room to another. The floor was always wet. You could not get a drink of water anywhere within this area. They claim they only sell 50 memberships on the cruise to guarantee a small crowd. Only later did I realize that they also have a special hallway of "spa cabins," which include membership to the spa. This easily brings the number of memberships to a couple of hundred, which would explain the crowded conditions. Definitely a bust; definitely not worth it. On NCL the private spa area was truly a retreat from the crowds and busyness of the ship, this was an experience of more crowds and busyness.
Lunch; boy does this need improvement. In theory having many food court style booths is a great idea; specialty food and separate serving areas. But in reality it does not work well. We learned to schedule lunch for 1:45 in hopes of missing the crowds, it was somewhat helpful.
o The first few days of the cruise the line for hamburgers wrapped around two sides of the pool. They have a grill but I never saw them use more than half of it at any one time. They cook about two dozen burgers every five minutes. That's about 300 burgers an hour. When 3000 people are all trying to eat in a two-hour window it is a formula for failure.
o The same is true for the Mongolian Wok. The food looked awesome. They have six woks and it takes about 4 minutes per meal. That is less than 200 served during the lunch rush
o The Burito Bar could only serve two people at a time. But somehow this line seemed to move the quickest.
o The deli on the rear deck was very good, and those lines were the most manageable.
o Pizza was ridiculous; they make one small pie at a time. There was always a huge line and no one ever took just a slice, they wanted the entire pie. I never got to sample it.
o Even the main buffets moved painfully slow. Not very appealing offerings to my taste. Desert, appetizers and salads, and entrees (in that order) are all on the same line. It appeared everyone was always waiting to get to another item rather than being able to go to the section you want and then move on. There has to be a better way.
The most negative part of my experience really had nothing to do with Carnival. Although in most instances it was out of their control, it still left a very negative and sour taste of the overall Carnival experiece. I am referring to crass, inappropriate, and rude behavior on the part of so many passengers. Here is some of what we encountered during the cruise.
A parent organizing relay races for his kids up and down the hallways.
Food being dumped in hallways and on elevators.
A couple engaged in sexual activity in the sauna.
A man eating chicken legs while on line at the buffet and putting the bones back on the serving counter.
A woman using one of the hand rails on the main stairway as a "stripper pole."
In the buffet a mother allowed her toddler to crawl on top of one of the tables. The child was teething on the tops of the ketchup and mustard bottles. Who lets a child place an item that has been handled by so many in his or her mouth? And, who wants to use that bottle after it was in the kid's mouth? It was a very distasteful experience.
Loud conversations that would involve people shouting from one cabin to another up and down the hallways at all hours of the day and night.
I know there will always be food wasted with a buffet. But the volume of food that was thrown away was unsettling. People leaving multiple plates piled high that were never even touched. (NCL no longer offers trays at their buffet and the amount of wasted food is significantly reduced.)
Very early on the last morning of the cruise there was an argument between multiple people in the hallway near our cabin that extended over an hour and a half. Security was there several times but the litany of shouting, cursing and threats were unending.
They should rebrand themselves as "The Crude Ships"
Overall, I was pleased with what Carnival offered. It was a vast improvement from my prior Carnival cruise. If I needed to use them again, I probably would. But given the option they would still be on the bottom of my list. To encounter so many ill mannered people gives little reason to want to rush back for more.