We returned yesterday from our 8 night cruise to the islands of the South Pacific which we enjoyed very much. I travelled with friend and her two young daughters and as we're on a strict budget, we found this holiday extremely good value for money.
Embarkation took a little while as our check-in lady seemed to be having multiple computer challenges or perhaps she was inexperienced but we got there in the end. It wasn't hard to find our cabin and although a little squishy for the four of us (kids are eight and 11 years old), we found we did ok. There was certainly adequate cupboard and drawer space for all our stuff and room under the beds for the empty suitcases. All the amenities in our cabin were perfectly adequate for us and the cabin was clean, as was the adjoining bathroom. The pull-out clothes line in the bathroom could have been a bit longer - it was only the width of the shower and therefore only good for drying one or two bathing suit items at a time - I have previously travelled on P&O and their clothes line was twice the length, but really it was only a small fault.
Our cabin steward Made, from Indonesia, was very friendly and helpful and made a point of remembering all our names from Day One. He did not intrude at inappropriate times and also had our cabin looking great. The kids especially loved the towel animal creations he left for them during the nightly turn-down service.
We were very impressed with the Empire dining room, especially the quality and presentation of the food but the best thing was the level of service. We tended to eat early and our waitress Mariola and drinks waiter Dewa learned and remembered our names from Day One also. They went out of their way to make each dining experience wonderful, including Mariola's riddles for us to solve, involving toothpick configurations etc which had us puzzling away and passed the time waiting for our food, which arrived quickly anyway. Also each evening there was some form of entertainment for us to involve ourselves in if we wished, the Nutbush, the Macarena, Gangnam style dance and the longest conga line I have ever participated in. We sometimes ate lunch in the Empire dining room also, the service being a little slower but no less friendly.
For breakfast and snacks we availed ourselves of the La Playa Grill on the Lido deck which had an abundance of food choices, all free. Some of the numerous buffet counters remained the same but others changed cuisine throughout the cruise. You could have coffee made by a barista if you wanted to pay for it but the self-serve coffee was fine. Out by the pool was another buffet serving hamburgers, chips etc and there was 24 hour soft serve icecream. All of the above mentioned food was also free. I believe the pizza was also 24 hours - I didn't try it but my friend and children did and were not overly impressed with it. Drink prices were very reasonable, we found.
There was an enormous variety of activites to participate in day and night and we enjoyed the shows. The dancers were kind of Solid Gold, if anyone remembers back to those days, but it is probably hard to do anything too technical on a floor that can shift under your feet. There was a hypnotist who was very funny and we had great fun with family karaoke on our first night.
The smaller island ports (Isle of Pines and Lifou) were beautiful and I highly recommend snorkelling at the Natural Aquarium on Isle of Pines. Noumea was a bit ordinary and I found the tour I did - 3 hours of Noumea highlights which included 90 minutes of free time at a shopping precinct - was not worth the money. There was no way you needed 90 minutes to look at those shops so most people picked an eating venue and passed the time that way. Later on we went to the shopping area in the main street of Noumea and again found that the variety of items for sale was a bit limited and tacky.
Tendering out to the smaller islands was trouble free and we never had to wait for a tender. The islanders were lovely and friendly.
On board ship, there were plenty of games to be played on the very top deck including basketball, soccer, dodge ball, mini golf, ping pong etc. I went to the adults-only Serenity area a couple of times - I think you have to get there early to bags a spot on one of the hammocks or dome couches and I didn't find this area particularly special to be honest - there were plenty of other quiet places on board to relax with a book or drink.
Both kids went to Kids Club activities and enjoyed themselves. We asked for our 11.5 year old to be allowed up to the 12-14 year age group and they let her do this after a successful trial on the first day. The only issue was that the 12-14 age group activities did not start until noon whereas the 6-8 group went from 9am to 11.45. Then the younger child could not go back again in the afternoon until 2pm and had to be picked up again by 3.45 most days. This meant that apart from that hour and three quarters in the afternoon, we always had at least one child with us. After dinner the younger kids could go back at 6.30pm but the older ones not until 8.30pm by which time we had to pick up the younger one because she was tired then go back later and pick up the older one as we were disinclined to allow her to roam the ship alone. So it was really only that short period in the afternoon in which their mother was child-free. I think Carnival could change this to align the kids groups times better - at least put something on in the morning for the 12-14 year olds as well and allow them to commence night activities earlier than 8.30pm.
I hope I've covered everything here. We could find little fault with Carnival and their staff and the cruise. Disembarkation was very quick indeed. For value, we could not go past this holiday - it cost a shade over $3000 for the four of us, all food and entertainment included (not drinks or the fancy Nouveau restaurant). We couldn't have taken the kids to the Gold Coast, for example, for 8 nights for anything like this price once you factored in air fares, accommodation and constant food purchases as youngsters are perpetually hungry. The shore excursions are extra, of course, but they are optional and there's plenty to do on the islands without going on excursions. We found them, mostly, good value for money anyway. I highly recommend this kind of holiday to pretty much anyone and I will certainly be cruising with Carnival again.