Just got back from a great 5 day cruise on the Carnival Ecstasy. Just wanted to provide updates as the reviews/research that I did before going on wasn't the most accurate/outdated.
Departed out of Port Canaveral, FL with my family of two kids (ages 3 and 6) and husband. Ports included Freeport, Nassau & Half Moon Cay.
We've previously sailed on 2 Princess Cruises and 1 Royal Caribbean and this was our first on Carnival. In comparison to those other cruises, this was a very basic cruise. We have been in need for a family vacation/getaway for sometime now and it can be difficult to plan with two little kids in tow. So for a trip that provided fun activities for the kids, meals that I didn't have to think to plan plus a little R&R - it did the job.
But...it IS an older ship. The decor is a bit tacky (but can be viewed as fun after it grows on you for a few days).
Fitness: Options are very very limited.
The gym is small - about the size of a smaller hotel gym - not too many options to pick from. There is NO basketball hoop despite folks saying there is one - we walked the ship a couple of times looking. The only real option is a jogging track that you have to go 11.5 times around to equal a mile - so if you are into counting in your head 50 laps for a good run - have at it.
Dining: Options are limited.
Very basic here. Same food different days - truly. You are looking at burgers, hot dogs, a good Mongolian grill that's open only during certain hours for lunch. The sit down dining options weren't that great (the meatloaf was a bit scary looking and tasted like a sponge) - but hey, it's a nice meal that's cooked for you and you can eat as much as you want. You would hope that the midnight buffet was some sort of special offering/treat...nope, burgers and hot dogs. I was really disappointed in the kids menu. It's truly: burgers, chicken nuggets and pizza for five days in a row! When you ask for spaghetti or some other sort of option - the waiters get annoyed with you and there's no other option. So for the week I felt bad for my kids - I'm sure it's great and all - they are on vacation, etc - but as a mom that tries to mix foods up for them to make sure they aren't eating burgers or carbs all the time it was very disappointing.
Staff: Overall decent.
I was expecting Princess & Royal Caribbean treatment - folks say hi, if they can go out of their way to make your trip a little more pleasurable. I was put off by the Carnival Ecstasy dining crew - esp when they wouldn't help with different options for the kids - it was - hurry up and order type of scenario. Our room steward was a ghost - haha, but kept our cabin clean (which is a task in itself with two boys!).
Ports: Not that bad actually.
Freeport - we got a taxi right off the boat and decided to venture out on our own. Took a taxi (beware - they try to upsell you on other outings!) and went to the Straw Market & Grand Lucayan Resort area. Wish we started off at Grand Lucayan...gorgeous hotel that you can buy a day pass to - it has a zero infinity pool overlooking beautiful white sand beach. The little shopping area across the street wasn't all that great - it took us about 20 minutes to get through and realize they were mostly the little souvenir trinkets - nothing distinctly Freeport. Next we went to Nassau with the same idea - to explore on our own. Right when you get off the ship it was insanity - everyone was pushy and trying to get you to buy into their tour/excursion. Very pushy - I was getting frustrated and was about to give in just to get it done with. But when you move past all of that and get out onto the main street - it's easy to navigate - sidewalks are narrow - but my family handled it fine. We went over to the Greycliff Hotel (they have a small chocolate shop there) and also the John Watling's Distillery (this was great - they had coloring pages for the kids) and then took the Jitney to the Fish Fry area so my husband could get Caribbean food. Couldn't find the free beach that everyone spoke of - plus it was blazingly hot so we just walked around a little more and called it a day. Next time we head to Nassau, we will definitely research and potentially put down the money for Atlantis - it may have been more fun for the kiddos. Lastly, Half Moon Cay...gorgeous! But HOT HOT HOT! I thought I was being smart by getting one of those "clamshells" for the day...but rarely used it. It was far from where the kiddos were playing (they were all located in the back row) and there was no ventilation, hotter in the clam shell than sitting out on a chair. After a couple of hours I couldn't take the heat and took the kids back to the boat.
Overall, the boat did it's job. The kids had fun (oh! one bummer was that Camp Carnival had odd hours - like on the first day it opened at 8pm and closed at 9:45pm...you would think after a big travel day they would help parents out! ha), we got some good meals out of it and got R&R. Not many activities onboard - we aren't big drinkers - we enjoyed our fruity drinks but not to the levels of other passengers and weren't casino goers. Oh and there's a large smoking area INSIDE on the ship - that was a little off putting too. Shows were ok - good diversion - but nothing to make sure you don't miss - the lead guy sang off key you wish he would just lip sync haha.
We will think about Carnival again - but definitely only the newer ships that have more options for food, etc. Otherwise we'll be trying to go back to Royal Caribbean or Princess.