Embarkation: Overall, very smooth. We arrived around 12:45 and were onboard by 1:45. We were told that every single stateroom was ready. That was not the case. Ours was still being tended to by our steward. So, we went to the lido deck for lunch at Mermaids, the buffet.
Normandie (Main Dining Room): As a couple, we were disappointed to be seated at a table for six. But, we tolerated it. We tried to contact the maître d’ about changing our table, but he was “unavailable.” So we let it be. We were with one other couple and became quite friendly with them, but still would have preferred a table for two. The menu was fair, but basic...definitely not on par with Royal Caribbean or Norwegian or Celebrity. We aren’t picky eaters by any means, so we always found several selections to our liking for each course. That being said, some selections leave a lot to be desired. Fried chicken? Cheeseburgers? Really? And people ordered them! Our favorites: the basa filet, prime rib, penne pasta with seafood medley and tomato cream sauce, and braised short ribs with sesame eggplant and fried rice. The lobster and shrimp during the first formal night was tiny. Luckily, our waiter brought me a second plate. As other reviewers have mentioned, the lobster causes foodborne illness. My wife was sick for two days after eating the lobster. Her lobster looked different than mine. It was white; mine was light pink. She said hers tasted sour and stopped eating it after a few bites. Our head waiter made an appearance at our table each night. That was about it. Our assistant waiter took care of our table by himself. I don’t understand this. One thing that I did appreciate was that I was always able to order two starters. I like a soup plus an appetizer. That was never an issue. Desserts were very good. My wife loved the warm chocolate melting cake. I tried other menu items most nights. I thought the bitter and blanc was phenomenal. My favorite dessert, however, was the cinnamon and fig cake with rum raisin ice cream. That cinnamon cake was simply outstanding. We ate in Normandie every night. Overall, it was a pleasant experience. Now, for a note on guest attire in Normandie. How pathetic. We saw guests in football jerseys, gym shorts, sweatpants, t-shirts, sandals, swimsuit cover-ups, baseball caps, etc. Is it that difficult to put on a pair of khakis and a button-down shirt or polo? Come on, men. And ladies, do you really feel as if yoga pants or sweatpants are appropriate? On elegant nights, many were dressed appropriately. Others wore more casual outfits that I did on cruise casual nights. I saw several men denied admission to the restaurant because they were in shorts. Bravo, Carnival. I’ll touch on this later on when I mention a few more things regarding the passengers. Breakfast in Normandie was nice. I enjoyed the eggs benedict (wish they had it at the buffet…). The smoked salmon on a bagel with cream cheese was another favorite of mine. Service at breakfast was never as good as at dinner. And they always seated us with other guests at large tables.
Mermaids: The selection was great. I really enjoyed the international theme for lunch each day. Food overall was very good. I especially enjoyed the Caribbean food. The pizza line was usually manageable, but on occasion was over 20 minutes long. Pizzas are very thin (so that they can bake in
Room Service: We never used it. The menu was fair at best…mostly sandwiches. I heard from other guests that it usually arrived within 10 minutes. Hilarious story: We brought a bottle of champagne onboard and called to ask for two champagne flutes and a bucket of ice. (Yes, they do not provide buckets of ice unless you ask. This changed recently, according to the room steward.) Well what did they bring? Two champagne flutes and a plate of pickles. I’m not sure how plate of pickles sounds anything like bucket of ice, but we never got our bucket of ice.
Cabins: They were well appointed and always kept clean and well maintained. Our room steward was very good. Towel animals every night! Bathroom was adequate for the week. I appreciated that there were three glass shelves on each side of the mirror. Storage was adequate as well, though we could have used another shelf or two in the closet for stacking clothes. We had approximately 12-14 hangers in our closet. The bed was extremely comfortable!
Ship: We found it beautiful. Others keep saying it’s old and ragged. It is showing its age in spots, but overall it is still gorgeous and well maintained. The size is manageable as well…it took no more than 3 minutes to get from our room to any point on the ship. The elevators are extremely fast. One suggestion…label the floors by the staircases so you know what floor you are on! There are several areas of the ship that are very highly under-utilized. Florentine’s Lounge was empty except for during dinner hours. The atrium was typically empty as well except for around the bar. We found an area of the ship called the Sunset something, but it wasn’t used for anything that we were aware of.
Entertainment: The shows were generally good. In order of preference, we liked Wonderful World, Vroom, and Jazzin’. The welcome show was lame and a waste of time. The Carnival Legends on the last night was just awful (other guests sing karaoke and dress up). The Love and Marriage show was hilarious…don’t miss it! And the comedians were extremely popular. The Butterflies Lounge filled up within 15 minutes of showtime, so be sure to arrive early for the comedy shows. The dancers were phenomenal…very talented. The singers were okay. The audio balance in the theatre was awful. The backing track that accompanied the band was cranked way too high. The band overpowered the vocals such that you couldn’t hear or understand the lyrics. And as a trumpet player, I absolutely hated that the brass parts were played by a keyboard player. (During Jazzin’ they even had two male dancers pretend to play brass instruments on stage. They had obviously never attempted to play a brass instrument in their lives. I was not amused.) I wish the live band was larger, but obviously the budget does not allow for this. We also enjoyed Kate, the singer who accompanied the band in various lounges throughout the ship. She has quite a voice! The electric guitarist was very talented as well. They apparently also had a piano player in the Ivory Piano Bar, but we never went in there (don’t even know where that was on the ship…). The casino was too smoky to tolerate, but they had live music in there as well on occasion.
Bar Staff: They are overly pushy. If you say no thank you, they ask you again if you want a drink. Some even make sly comments/jabs at you if you don’t want a drink. When we did want a drink, service was excellent. Prices were high for tiny drinks, however.
Casino: Smoky, crowded, and rowdy. Some guests never left the casino. We tried our hand at the slots a few nights. But often, machines were hard to come by.
Passengers: Don’t expect to be surrounded by the gems of society. We were surprised by the number of low class passengers onboard. I’m talking about people who find it appropriate to wear gym shorts and a t-shirt to dinner, walk through the buffet in a bikini, smoke weed on their balconies at night, get drunk and vomit in the staircases, get drunk and scream from balcony to balcony, and so on. They stood out. And why do so many of you people smoke? It’s 2013! We hated the lido deck pools because they reeked of cigarettes. We preferred the Serenity pool or our private balcony. There is criminal activity on this ship. The cabin next to us was dealing drugs to other guests (I heard them while sitting on my balcony). A certain individual stole other guests' IDs and Sail & Sign cards (the entire ship knew who you are, by the way). Other guests claimed to have left their cards in their rooms and gave the bar staff someone else's folio number in an attempt to steal drinks. And Carnival does next to nothing about all of this.
Port Canaveral: Our excursion to Kennedy Space Center was cancelled due to the government shut-down. We were disappointed. Instead, we took the excursion to Cocoa Beach and Cocoa Village for $16.95. The bus service was great. We enjoyed the peace of mind knowing that we could hop on a bus every half hour. Cocoa Beach was quite crowded. Cocoa Village was nice and quaint. My wife enjoyed the jewelry shops in town. It was a nice day overall. Be sure to try and see the dolphins as the cruise ship passes Jetty Point as it leaves Port Canaveral! We were at dinner, but heard that there were hundreds of dolphins following the ship.
Nassau: We chose to go on our own and take the #10 jitney bus to Cable Beach and do the Sheraton day pass for $30 per person. The jitney bus was interesting. They all look different from each other. They’re ragged and worn down. The passengers are all locals. We were on edge for portions of the ride, but it was convenient and cheap (pay the driver $1.25 per person as you exit). Tell the driver where you want to go along the route and he’ll stop for you. On the way back, we somehow traveled through the slums of Nassau. My wife was scared to death. It was not a pleasant experience. But we confirmed with the driver that we were heading back to downtown near the cruise ship, and he dropped us off right by the straw market downtown. Again, for $1.25, it’s cheap and convenient. But be ready for an adventure! As for the Sheraton, for $30 we enjoyed a wonderful day on the beach and by the pools. The resort was empty the day we were there. My wife and I had an entire pool to ourselves…no lie. While on the beach, we were approached by several vendors, but never felt threatened. I highly recommend checking out the Sheraton for a wonderful beach/pool day!
Freeport: As Allyn the comedian called it, Freeport is the Flint, Michigan, of the Bahamas. What a dump! You are in the commercial dock, surrounded by oil tankers and container vessels. You better have an excursion planned, or else you really are better off staying on the ship. A taxi to Port Lucaya was $5 per person one way, but there wasn’t that much time while in port before the ship left. I heard from other guests that they were accosted by homeless the entire time they were in Port Lucaya. There are vendors available just outside the ship if you really want some tacky souvenirs or a Kalik beer (2 for $5 at one booth, 6 for $20 at another), or if you want to get drunk at Senor Frogs.
Debarkation: We chose the self-assist option. We were off the boat by 9 AM. It was smooth and efficient. Carnival and the port of Baltimore do a nice job with this.