My wife and I decided on this particular cruise specifically because its home port is a 12 minute drive from our home. We had recently made three 8-10 hour (each way) trips with our 2 and 3 year-old kids and were looking for a vacation that didn’t include two days of driving to get there and back with two toddlers.
Carnival produced a great sales pitch for us… A kids-only water park, Camp Carnival with all-day activities for 2 to 5 year olds (as well as after-hours “camp” for a nominal fee), a “resort style” pool, miniature golf, etc., etc. All before you consider the other aspects of Caribbean cruises – awesome ports of call, night life, etc.
The reality of the situation was that Camp Carnival is, essentially, nothing more than supervised play with toys and coloring, and had pretty restrictive hours (opening at 10 on a day when the ship ports at 9; closing between 3:45 and 7 on a day when the ship leaves a port at 6; schedule showing opening at 8 on one evening, but no one showing up ‘til 8:30, etc.) that inhibited us from most of the mommy and daddy activities we’d planned. We weren’t able to take an excursion at either port of call – unless we were willing to let our kids go hungry) because you had to retrieve your kids from Camp Carnival to feed them lunch (no food provided by the camp “leaders”), and the only excursions the kids could participate in (glass bottom boat tours) were cancelled because of the weather (we didn’t bring car seats for driving around the island).
The kids’ water park was DRY both times we took the kids up the stairs (no elevator service to that level – try that with two strollers). They were so disappointed on the second trip that they each started sliding down the DRY water slides in an effort to entertain themselves. After a while, my two year old began walking down the slide, frustrated, I guess, with the inability to really “slide” down the water(less) slide.
The "resort style" pool was smaller than most backyard in-ground pools I've seen – and with fewer features. Usually the pool was too cold to get more than one foot in. One time, while heading to the pool with both girls (wearing swim suits) we were stopped in the hall by another captive guest who said “Don’t bother going to the pool; they just put a net over it. Don’t know what’s wrong. I was sitting by it and steam started coming from somewhere and they cleared everyone away from it and put a net over it.” My kids didn’t even complain – they had become accustomed to let-downs by that point.
Getting my two year old “warm” milk for bedtime was a real exercise for us: At that time of the evening, they only place you could get milk was room service, but they only did cold milk – “no way to warm it.” So, each evening I would make my way to a closed buffet, go behind the counter, open a refrigerated locker, and take two pint cartons, place them in an ice bucket, and run hot water over them until they were warm.
The food was hit and miss, with a lot more misses than hits. The lobster and grilled shrimp – on formal night – were well above average. The honey and bourbon chicken – more the size of pigeon parts than chicken – was a low point. The oddest “fried shrimp” I’ve ever seen – literally 85%+ breading. Chilidogs good, cheeseburgers (“No bacon!”) not so good. The “provided” beverages – water, lemonade and tea – were awful. For lunch, generally speaking, you got your food from a buffet on one part of the ship, then, if you wanted something other than nasty water, lemonade or tea, you had to go to a bar on another part of the ship – usually a few hundred feet apart. $2+ for a can of coke; $10+ for a mixed drink. Regularly had to go out of my way to get some staff member to go out of their way to get apple juice for my girls – because they removed it from dispensers each day after about 9 a.m.
The cabin was clean but TINY – we had to plan the location of each family member for one to get from the bed to the bathroom or closet or back. I’ve seen linen closets bigger than the bathroom.
The ship’s age and “add-ons” are showing… Only one of the 14 (public) elevators reaches all levels that the elevators go to (but that ONE still doesn’t reach all of the levels – some remain stair access only). To get to Camp Carnival, you either have to take two different elevators, or, walk all the way to the front of the ship to take one specific elevator, then walk back to mid-ship, then go outside on the deck, then come back inside to the camp area. There’s a Caterpillar generator strapped down on the top of the highest flat surface on the ship – either for emergency back-up, or, possibly to supplement due to all of the add-ons, extra levels, etc. that have been added over the last 20 years, unnerving, nonetheless.
Nearly 36 hours passed between departing Nassau and arriving in Jacksonville. Paying attention to the in-room TV channel that displayed ships location, track and speed, it was obvious the captain placed the ship in the Gulf Stream and set idle speed at about 9 knots to conserve fuel, rather than “drive” the ship at the indicated 18 knots we traveled from Jacksonville to Freeport (against the Gulf Stream current). Had they used power instead of sea currents to return to the home port, many more hours could’ve been spent in the ports of call rather than at sea. Not that we could’ve taken advantage of those extra hours in-port.
The staff was, generally, very nice and very helpful – to the extent they were allowed to be. Some of service staff’s English was too poor to be genuinely helpful. Once, when asking for the location of a public restroom, the distance conversion from metric to English, and the reversing of left versus right, nearly caused a clean-up situation to occur.
We spent nearly as much while on the ship – charged gratuities, photos, a few drinks, a massage, etc. – as the cruise, port fees and taxes combined. $5 for bottled water, but, compared to the taste of the “free” water on the ship, they could get twice that price, if they wanted to.
I’ll conclude and sum-up with this: On the last evening, my three year old spent over an hour crying herself to sleep, crying out over and over again: “I want to go home!” At six o’clock on the morning of our return into Jacksonville, my two year old dragged her stroller to the door, got in it, strapped herself in and repeated over and over again “I want to go home” until she woke up the rest of us. That’s not how kids should respond to being on a late-fall Bahamas cruise, with a “camp,” a kids water park, a resort-style pool, and all the hot dogs, hamburgers and ice cream you can eat. Not my first cruise, but both my first and last on Carnival. I’m sure I’ve left a lot out, but I hope you get my point.