This is our 5th cruise (second this year)and 2nd with Carnival. We went with my mother and step father and for them this was 1st cruise. Overall Carnival is good value, however our next cruise will probably be RCCL again. Also I would like to say THANK YOU for everyone who posted reviews on this ship earlier, they were VERY helpful. Now let's move on to details.
GETTING THERE. All 4 of us flew in on AirTran to Ft Lauderdale from BWI - uneventful early Sunday morning flight. I absolutely love FLL for their excellent cab/van/private car service at the curb. My husband talked to the dispatcher curbside and in 10 minutes we had a nice big car that fit all our suitcases (3 big 2 small total) and 4 of us very comfortably. The ride was $64 to port of Miami.
EMBARKATION. Absolutely the worst I have experienced. We have filled in the "SailPass" online that is supposed to make embarkation easier. Let's just say that this was a waste of time. All other cruiselines have a separate embarkation queue for people with complete SailPasses and the only thing you need to do is show your documentation and give the credit card for imprint. Not here! Same line for everyone and they still asked all the questions from the SailPass (airline, hotel info, etc.)even though ours was complete and they should have had that info! So it took literally almost 2 hours to get on the ship and we were at the terminal early (around 11:30 am)! Also, nowadays Bahamas require you to fill in the short customs/immigration form for every passenger and of course they were not included in our travel packet (as embarkation stuff insisted they should have been) and we (and virtually everybody else) had to fill them in standing in line.
PUBLIC ROOMS. Again thank you to the previous reviewers for the decor warnings. I personally liked most of it (except the murals on the stairs between decks - UGLY). My husband on the other hand said that the decor/theme made new ship look old and battered. The best thing about public places is that even though the ship was fully booked you didn't feel it most of the time. There are PLENTY of chairs on Lido deck and up for relaxing in. Of course the ones close to the pools and stage are taken first, but there are plenty more further out, we never had to scramble for one. There are variety of bars/lounges on the ship. We frequented the Bronx Bar (my husband is a sports junkie), Lindy Hop and Jeannie's wine bar. Bronx is a typical sports bar - tons of TVs and loud sports fans. Lindy Hop is a piano bar - Ron Pass as a piano genius and sing alongs every night (you have to try it!). Jeannie's wine bar is just what it is, but they serve "Martini of the day" from 5 to 8 and it is half price! We do not gamble, so we went through casino only in passing and both found it EXTREMELY cramped - if you are not bumping into people, then you are bumping into tables, slots, etc. Ivanhoe Theater had plenty of seating and nice variety of it (chairs, lounges, tables, etc). We were always on 3rd level and could see and hear everything.
CABIN. I chose inside cabin on the 7th deck forward. Very quiet, no rocking, excellent! The cabin was very well laid out and the bathroom was actually the biggest we had on cruiseships so far. I loved the extra touch with the robes - very useful! Bed was VERY comfortable and linens nice, definitely an upgrade from my previous Carnival experience. From the previous reviews I learned about the "goodie basket" and when I hadn't found one in my cabin I was disappointed. After calling the service desk the basket appeared with an explanation that the ship is full and not everyone received them (??? didn't you know how many people are coming? It is just samples after all!).
DINING. That was a low point for me. Mind you the food was not bad or inedible, some things were downright superb. I believe that if have not been on RCCL cruise just 3 mo ago, then I would have given dining and service on Carnival higher marks. Let's start from breakfast - standard cruiseline breakfast, no complaints, lines were short and manageable (it helped that I get up around 8 am). The only complaint I heard was from my step father who said that chocolate milk was sour one day. Lunch - we always had buffet lunch on Lido and it was very good. I liked the options of choosing from different things, for example I dislike indian food and when they had indian theme for lunch I opted for Rosie's Fish & Chips (absolute MUST, great fish and chips and excellent other dishes!). My husband loved the Grill near the pizzeria - if you ask, they will through a steak on the grill for you (thin, but yummy), voila, steak sandwich! Again, the lines were manageable, plenty of sitting and drink stations. Overall, I actually preferred Carnival buffet over RCCL for variety and options. There were 3 more options we have not tried for lunch - The Deli (deli sandwiches), The Orient (asian) and pizza (boring!). I must mention the sushi station. Sushi is served from 5 to 8 daily. I tried it most of the days as pre-dinner snack at 5 (our dinner was at 8), not bad, but if you are a sushi buff like my mom, forget it! It is mostly california roll variations and all fish is a least partially cooked. Dinner - that is where RCCL shined in my opinion. We had table 520 for 8pm seating in the Washington Dining Room. Let's start with service, we had the slowest waitress in the whole dining room, we routinely left our table the last in the whole dining room, even after 8:30 seating was done. Overall service was slow and inaccurate (switched plates, etc.). I can't say it was absolutely the worst (Norwegian was worse), but close enough. Food was pretty good as long as you stuck to traditional stuff (read meat and potatoes). I love seafood and fish and stubbornly ordered the varieties of them every night - virtually every seafood dish had the same yellow sauce I hated and everything with tomato base was grossly over salted, one meal my fish was undercooked. However, I can't say it was a total disaster, because my husband's meat dishes were absolutely yummy! I also found the dessert selection very limited. There were normally 3 featured desserts, 2 regular and 1 low calorie version. Most of the nights I opted for no dessert, because nothing was appealing enough. Now the good things - Scarletts! This is so worth the $30pp cover charge. You are absolutely pampered from the moment you sit down to the moment you leave. Food is SUPERB (including desserts!) and the live music absolutely awesome! The last thing in this category I want to mention is wine list. If you are a wine buff, mine as well bring your own and pay corkage fee. The selection is terrible, grossly overpriced and just plain bad. After 8 tries (twice in 1 night) we still have not found acceptable red wine to have with meal. One white (Vouvre, i believe, or something to the point) was not bad.
ENTERTAINMENT. As always with Carnival - FUN. They are the BEST with it. Production shows were superb, an absolute must see. Adult comedy had me in stitches every night. There was live music in Lindy Hop, Paris Hot, near Casino and at Scarlett's every night - all very good! The only show I didn't like was on the last night and it was "legends" show with fellow passengers singing as music legends, basically "best of" karaoke on stage - waste of time!
SERVICE. As mentioned earlier, dining room service was terrible, but all the other aspects were OK. Ship is very clean and cared for. Our cabin stewards were good. I didn't have any unpleasant interactions or experiences with the crew.
PORTS OF CALL. Our itinerary included Nassau, St. Thomas and St. Maarten. Nassau - very short stop officially from 8am to 2pm, but the ship was not cleared till about 10 am or so. Nothing to see anyway. We went to straw market and Hard Rock Cafe. Me and my mom walked around town a bit. I have been there before, so I was bored to tears after first half an hour.
St. Thomas - the longest stop. You are on the island from 8am to 8 pm. We did the ultimate island tour through Carnival. I was thinking about booking with independent, as recommended by some reviewers, but the price difference for similar tour was only $10pp and the independent agents picked you up downtown, so you had to pay to get there anyway. On tour we went to all the highlights (drake's seat, etc) with photo ops. Granted the views were definitely worth it! After that we were dropped off at Magen's Bay for 2 hours. There is only 1 word for it - PARADISE, no waves, warm water and white sand, drinks from the bar - 2 hours is not enough! We did have an option to stay, but we also wanted to do some shopping, so next stop was Blackbeard's Castle. I thought it was kind of cheesy at first, but after going through the museums, especially the last one before the Rum factory, changed my mind. The last house you go to before getting to rum factory and exiting to downtown is cared for by the descendant of the original owners, she can tell you about the culture, how the houses are built, etc. I was touched as how much she actually cared for people to learn about her home, island, culture, not just rattle of a speech and ask for tips. After that we walked downtown for shopping. Normally, we never eat on the islands, just have big breakfast on the ship and then wait for dinner, but with my mom and step dad around we had to stop for food. We ate at Glady's which was very nice, affordable and had amazing Caribbean specialty soup (can't remember or pronounce the name). Of course by the time we are done, everything is closing downtown (they are open only till 5 pm their time, which is like 4pm ship time). I quickly stopped by Del Sol (a must) and we went to the pier. Shopping at Heavensight (pier) is actually pretty good and we got good deals on some blue diamonds (ring and pendant). Last thought - I was a little scared about the lines for immigration check, but it went very smoothly and we actually had almost an hour after passing immigration to get to our excursion (10 am departure).
St. Maarten - my favorite island by far. We were in port from 8am to 6pm. We were late getting off the ship didn't leave till around 11 am (not my choice!) and that was the worst mistake I have made. You need every minute to enjoy this island! I decided against the tours and we went directly to Orient beach. What a piece of paradise! It is a developed beach unlike Magen's Bay and every section belongs to restaurant/hotel. We found a section (Waikiki Beach)with the nicest padded lounges and stopped there. It was pricier then others around, but well worth it (overall we paid $42 for 4 chairs and 2 umbrellas). Prices are all in Euros, so beware, nowadays it is about twice as much in USD. The water was even warmer the Magen's Bay, but it had big waves (knocked me down twice!). Great drinks service and not that expensive (comparatively). Overall - great time. We left at about 2pm to go downtown Phillisbugh. I absolutely loved the convenience of not having to haggle over taxi prices ($7pp to and from Orient Beach)! I can't believe anybody would complain about this new great system. Of course, as soon as we arrived we had to go eat (aargh! why couldn't we eat at the beach, is beyond me!). We went to some cafe on the boardwalk, food was OK (I had conch salad), but took literally forever. When we were done it was close to closing time for everything downtown, so after stop at Del Sol and Guavaberry Rum factory (a must, the stuff is delicious) everything was closed and we got back to the ship.
DEBARKATION. Again, the worst from all the cruises. We did the traditional debarkation, since we had hotel lined up to stay in after the cruise. Normally you get up, have your breakfast and wait around for your color to be called - no brainer. I don't know why, but Carnival pretty much called all the colors at once which resulted into HUGE lines to get off the ship. They would not let you use the stairs, you had to wait for elevators or escalators, it was hot - disaster! the worst part for me was that they did not make people in wheelchairs or with little kids a priority (like virtually every other line does). I don't mind waiting around to get off if it means that somebody is not screaming in my ear for the 30 min wait in line for escalator or roll over my toes in the rush to get luggage.The luggage situation was even worse - our stuff was in a different room closer to customs with no direction on how to get there. When we finally figured it out, people in customs line were complaining that we were cutting in, when we didn't even pick up the luggage yet! Overall, terrible experience.
HONORABLE MENTIONS. If somebody provides you good service, please mention them on the comment cards, for every 5-6 mentions this person will get a day off! People do reserve chairs on Lido deck, you can't avoid it. If you absolutely have to have that close to the stage chair - get up early! Everybody always complains about kids running rampant, but even though it was Thanksgiving break, it was not that bad. This ship has a separate HUGE gameroom where all the teens were hanging out (I think) and spared the rest of the ship. Hurray! The photo sessions are an absolute scam. Why can't they print regular size pictures first, sell them for $10 each and offer upgrades? This stupid 10x8 pictures don't fit anywhere.