I was excited before this cruise. By the end of it, I couldn't wait to get off. 11 nights is too long on this boat. Here's some thoughts...
- most of the other guests annoyed me (not all, just most). The most active part of the ship by far was the smoking section on the Lido Deck (where the pool is) and the deck immediately above there. This also happened to be above our cabin. Due to the cigarette ash raining down from there constantly by people smoking over the side of the ship, I referred to this part of the ship as the 'scum deck'. I went the long way, to the midship elevators to avoid walking through these disgusting people sitting there all day, filling their children's lungs with carcinogens whilst they tan their bloated, tattooed bodies. It may seem a little extreme, but seriously, it's gross and I don't see why HALF of the ship's available pool deck space should be allocated to smokers.
- You are constantly assaulted with cheesy shopping network like fake banter, encouraging you to buy overpriced shore excursions or whatever other crap they are shilling in the gift shop. Despite it being a tax free environment, most things are over priced by nearly 100%. My wife liked a bracelet, I checked the RRP when we got home and it was half of the cruise price. If you are stupid enough to buy something onboard, at least wait until the last days when they start to discount things.
- We avoided the overpriced shore excursions to do our own thing, and I advise others to do the same.
Some examples - $130 for a single tank scuba dive, when the going rate for a DOUBLE dive directly through the dive shop is $75. And they won't even guarantee you can dive unless they get sufficient numbers. On Isle of Pines, a trip to the Natural Aquarium was $75 per person, when you can get the exact same thing onshore for $25. They were trying to charge $150 to catch a bus to a resort for a BBQ... Seriously, the shore excursions are a joke - but there were still people lined up to do them.
- Santo & Port Vila were quite disgusting ports. Try to find a nice cab driver and get away from where the ship docks. Barter them down to about 25% of what they first quote.
- Mystery Island, Wala & Isle of Pines are beautiful spots. But they are far from pristine - they seem to be set up purely to cater to cruises with endless stalls of made in Thailand & China junk for sale. There's very little authentic local produce or souvenirs, but most of the people are friendly. They claim the snorkelling is amazing, but the reality is the seas have been raped of anything other than tiny reef fish. It is accessible, but far from good. The water is quite clear in spots, but that's pretty useless without any marine life to speak of.
- why put a basketball court on the boat if the rings are going to be set at 8.5 feet (10ft is regulation) and the netting above the hoop is too low to even attempt a jumpshot. This isn't a basketball court - it's a poorly substituted toy version of one. Of course with the low rings, some moron had ripped one hoop down by day 4 of the cruise so nobody could play anymore.
- The food is okay. It's not great - mostly mass produced blandness. Terrible coffee and very little in the way of free beverages available - not even soft drink. But the better coffee you can pay for is reasonably priced at under $4 - but annoyingly only available in paper cups. Drinks are very overpriced though, except the mixed cocktails - which are cheap by Australian standards. (but my wife and I got a minor dose of food poisoning from one and didn't drink them after that)
- If you ever want to eat, expect a queue or a long search for a table unless you are there when the food service begins. The empire dining room is MUCH better than the buffet. But after 3 meals a day for nearly two weeks, even it became almost unbearable.
- The lower ranking staff are lovely. Filipino and Eastern Europeans mostly and they simply could not be happier or friendlier. I liked them SO much more than the other guests or entertainment/service/officer staff. Genuine and helpful, every one of them and very appreciative of tips. (tips aren't expected but I like to tip nice people)
- Stu the cruise director is an annoying oaf of a man with little charisma and a crude manner. But I guess he is perfect for most of the clientele. His announcements on the PA system made my skin crawl.
- the casino is a lot more of a rip off than you would be used to at a land based or online casino. They charge 15% rake on the poker table and only have a single computerised texas holdem setup - so don't believe them when they say they have poker tables on board. Nobody can beat 15% rake, so the table sat mostly empty. I like craps, but didn't see the craps table open even once... The slots have low payout percentages. The pontoon uses a deck without 10s (which they don't make obvious).
- the comedy is hit and miss, with very short show times - it felt like about 30 mins per session You just get settled in for a good night and a laugh and it's all over and you're shuffled outside. They also make the comedians do a family friendly set in the afternoon. One guy, Michael Bennet was pretty good, even with the overused fart jokes, but the others didn't seem to make themselves funny for kids at all. Emily Oloughlin was embarrassingly bad with kids. Her adult show was better though, without being great.
- There was a good pianist on board, Alex Carruthers. But he wasn't a very good singer and his show times were also limited to under an hour and only a single appearance on the main stage and one in the piano bar that I could see. Whilst there is always something on, you never seem to be able to go anywhere to just chill out and have a good time - it's always short sessions before they try to sell you something else.
- club cool the jazz bar was very under-utilised. I saw one good show with the band early then I don't think they were on again for the entire cruise which was disappointing
- the covers acts in the atrium bar were sub-standard - there's more talented performers at your local pub no doubt. They were also quite low brow with their musical repertoire - again to match the clientele.
- a lot of the bar staff didn't seem to drink. Maybe they were muslims from Indo? But anyway it is annoying to have someone making drinks that can't tell you what is good and is too clueless to realise that a mango daiquiri shouldn't have peach schnapps in it so that it tastes nothing like mango... A couple of the bar staff were good, but it was very hit & miss. Luckily I don't drink much so didn't really care - but if you are there to party it will quickly get annoying.
- You will have to ask for a beer glass, even at the nicer restaurants & bars. Most of the bogans on board are happy to drink straight from a can, so unless you specify, that is all you will get.
- The sports bar was largely useless and filled with fake memorabilia. There is never any sport on, just old DVDs pretending to be live sport. In fact you are lucky if it is even staffed.
- The Internet access is perhaps the biggest rip off onboard. $30 a day or $160 for the cruise. But it is so unreliable, during the times when others are awake you will struggle to even connect to the network, especially via the old shared computers in the lounge. If I didn't need it for work I wouldn't have bothered, but don't let them sell you a cruise under the false assumption you can get online and work onboard - you cannot. You should cruise expecting to be offline the entire time. And boy is the connection process an ordeal - by far the worst login procedure I've ever experienced. Their IT team should be sacked.
- The cabins are fine I guess. Nothing fancy, but serviceable. The bathroom will smell though due to the shared exhaust system, so make sure you pack a powerful disinfectant spray/ air freshener.
- There was lots of fatties on our cruise, so the gym is the emptiest part of the boat. Good if you like to work out.
- the in room movie selection is old and limited. The one time we tried it, the movie malfunctioned after 10 minutes and they almost accused me of lying to them when I informed guest services...
- the pools were annoyingly closed most mornings. So if you like to get up for an early swim, forget it. They are also quite small considering the number of people of board.
- I love kids and have 3 myself. But there are definitely a lot of obnoxious brats on board this boat, which I guess is not surprising after seeing their parents. For example, stupid things like the boat refusing to put out any ice cream cones because some morons have made a statue out of soft serve ice creams puts a dampener on the fun for everyone. And children aren't supposed to be in the whirlpool without a parent - but of course the tubs are constantly filled with just badly behaved children, making it unenjoyable for anyone else.
- On the first day our nearly 3 year old went to camp carnival, the kids club, for just a couple of hours with her big sister. We checked out a phone so they could call us if there were any problems. We went back to her greeting us with a scream and tears. Apparently she had cried the entire time in her sisters lap, her sister telling the carers to call Mum & Dad - but they refused. Why give us the damn phone if you are not going to use it? She then refused to go to childcare for the rest of the cruise, becoming hysterical if we tried. And she usually loves to play with other kids and has never been a problem before at playgroup or day care. Her sister was fine, but having the 3 year old with us every second of every day due to their initial incompetence certainly limited what we could do at night.
Overall, would I cruise on this ship again? No. It's just not my style - I guess I am too independent and free-minded. I like to explore and get away from the sort of people that are on the boat. But if you are a lower middle class drone who is oblivious to blatant profiteering and like to be wowed by sales minded, fake smiling entertainers, photographers and ship staff then I'm sure you'll have a ball.
I cruised Hawaii once before with Norwegian, and it was nice. You actually got to stop at some of the ports for dinner and could unwind and enjoy yourself. But this carnival itinerary just isn't very good and their target market is unappealing to holiday with. The ports are terrible and you are on the boat for dinner every damn night. I'm not done with cruising, but I am most definitely done with Carnival Australia.