Carnival Ecstasy and Brilliance of the Seas: Nine nights back to back with a sprint across Florida
Our last back to back cruises were several years ago on Carnival Inspiration. I have fond memories of that trip, and the serenity of the changeover day. This back to back was decidedly different. My wife and I originally booked a cruise for her thirtieth birthday on the 12/16/13 Brilliance of the Seas voyage.
Then a few months ago she entered a cruise giveaway that Carnival was offering travel agents. She ended up winning a free cruise on the Carnival Ecstasy for the 12/12/13 sailing. So a back to back it became. The only problem? Ecstasy and Brilliance sail from opposite sides of the state. Ecstasy from Port Canaveral, and Brilliance from Tampa. Could it be done? Only time would tell.
Day 1, The Ecstasy, Port Canaveral, 12/12/13:
There was no rush getting down to the ship on Thursday. We stopped in Maitland and visited their Holocaust memorial. After the exhibit we continued on to the port. We got lunch on the way to avoid the chaotic mess that is the buffet during embarkation. The parking lot at the Radisson was busy, but we eventually got on the shuttle and headed to the ship.
The Ecstasy was pulled up to Terminal 5, the very same terminal that I took my first cruise from back in the early 90s. Check-in went quickly, I like that Carnival still has a VIP security line and departure lounge. We were on the ship within a half hour, around 2 in the afternoon. The cabins were already open so we were able to drop our stuff off and get some rest before the muster drill.
Our cabin was U157, an ocean view room on Upper Deck. It was in good shape, and had the big shower (for a cruise ship) that I've come to appreciate on the Fantasy Class ships. It was also close to the self service laundry ruin, which was convenient. I wish all cruise lines had guest accessible laundry facilities.
I last cruised on the Ecstasy in September of 2012. Not much has changed on board, but I did notice that they had decorated the atrium and some other areas for Christmas. Everything was still very clean and well maintained. The only other notable change was the addition of the Taste Bar, which replaced the old sushi bar on the promenade. The ship's decor is still definitely old school Carnival, certain areas looking as if they were festooned by a lunatic with a kaleidoscope fetish.
Still, I feel immediately at home and at ease on a Fantasy Class ship. It was after all, a cruise on the Sensation that got me started with Carnival back in 1999. Since then, fifteen of my twenty Carnival cruises have been on ships of the class. No other breed of cruise ship has garnered so much of my time and attention. I'm fairly certain that I could be set about to wander blindfolded aboard one of them and make my way around fairly easily. The only negative is that the newest one is now nearly fifteen years old. Carnival will undoubtedly begin retiring and transferring the old workhorses within the next few years. It will be a sad day when the Carnival fleet loses the last Fantasy clone.
We reluctantly attended the muster drill which dragged on for a small eternity. There was a time when Carnival discontinued the march from the mustering stations on Promenade Deck up to the life boat stations on Lido Deck. Apparently the practice has been revived, and it adds about 30 minutes to what was once a fifteen minute affair.
When we finally escaped the Lido Deck we changed into our gym clothes and stopped by the new Taste Bar. My first experience with the Taste Bar was on Fascination earlier this year. While I missed the sushi, it was nice to try different samples each night. This offering was a pork dish and some type of tomato soup. It wasn't great, nor was it bad.
We then got our exercise out of the way in the gym. There is nothing much to report about the gym. The facility is adequate and clean. They do need to ratchet up on their maintenance efforts, my elliptical felt a little clunky and worn out.
For dinner we were assigned "my time dining" and had no trouble getting a table for two when we arrived at the Wind Star dining room. The table was exactly six inches from the tables on either side of it, but a table for two nonetheless. We all tried to avoid awkward glances. Our serving team did a good job, but the food quality wasn't up to the same standard that I've had on my last few Carnival cruises. Now one could argue that I haven't done a Carnival cruise sober since 2011, all of my CCL cruises since then have been open bar. And food always tastes better when blasted. But I still feel pretty comfortable saying that the quality could have been better.
Later in the evening I stopped into the adult comedy show in the aft show lounge. The comic was okay, but not really my style. I opted out, and instead spent some time on the observation deck above the wheelhouse. The night was beautiful, and the seas were just rough enough to make it interesting.
Day 2, The Ecstasy, At Sea:
I rarely make any effort to rise early on a sea day. This one was no different. My wife returning to the room from her spa treatment was my alarm clock, and it went off around eleven o'clock.
For those interested in spa offerings, she booked the Spatophia treatment. It was 75 minutes long and cost $139 (plus gratuity). The package included a full body hot stone massage (or bamboo, the guests choice), foot, ankle and scalp massage, and a mini facial. She reported that it was thoroughly enjoyable, and worth the cost. The only downside being the spa product sales pitch at the end.
My first stop of the day was at the Wind Star dining room for the new Sea Day Brunch. I was skeptical about this concept when I first read about it on cruise critic. I've always enjoyed the breakfasts and lunches in the dining room's versus going to ever crowded buffet. However, after experiencing the brunch concept I'm now a supporter. It's nice to have the option to sleep in late on a sea day, and still be able to get breakfast good in the dining room until 1pm. I'll always take Eggs Benedict over lunch food, and they were excellent! For some reason Royal Caribbean rarely gets the Eggs Benedict just right. On Royal, the eggs are usually poached solid, and the hollandaise sauce always tastes like lemon.
We spent the early afternoon lounging around the ship. I got some pictures and worked on this review while my significant other read a book. We had to be selective with our choice of haunt since the entire starboard side of the ship had been filed with a smell of sewage. We first noticed it leaving the cabin and saw a crewman doing plumbing work in the hall. Unfortunately the odor wasn't limited to Upper Deck. It permeated all the way up to the Promenade. Whatever went wrong went VERY wrong.
We stopped into the Neon Bar mid afternoon for tea time. Afternoon tea is one of the little traditions that Carnival hasn't cut (yet), and I'm positively thrilled about that. It's a little touch of class for a brand that has gone to extreme lengths over the last few years to only draw those with blue collars. The tea time on this cruise was the busiest I've ever seen. There were about thirty people lined up outside the bar before they opened, and probably another twenty that showed up later. The crew prepared a nice spread of cakes and pastries and had a good selection of various teas.
After our daily workout we stopped by the Taste Bar for a snack. It was an Italian selection, a meatball with ricotta bruschetta. I'd like to tell you that we each only had one. I'd like to tell you that, but those were some good meatballs.
The formal dinner in the main dining room was better than the first night. We met some nice table mates and had an overall great experience. After dinner we went to the comedy club, but ran into the same issue as the previous night. The comic just wasn't doing it for me, so we left for the piano bar.
Luckily Milby is still playing the piano on the Ecstasy. He was the player during our guys cruise last year and we liked him a lot. So much better than the player we just experienced on Fascination. Milby is fun, plays great songs and encourages audience participation, just as a good piano man should.
Day 3, The Ecstasy, Nassau:
Our day in Nassau started early. At least earlier than I'm used to. We rose around 8 am and went for breakfast in the main dining room. After breakfast we headed ashore and caught the number 10 bus by the ice cream parlor. That bus ride (which cost us a total of $1.25 per person) took us to the Sandals Royal Bahamian Resort, which is where we spent our day.
My wife does travel agent work as a side job, and was able top get us a comped day pass into Sandals. The bus dropped us off at the front gate and we met the sales rep. We spent some time on their private island and had lunch. We were given a tour of the resort before we caught the bus back to the ship. Sandals being an all-inclusive resort, we had several drinks and I got a little sideways.
I found the following in my phone, I vaguely remember writing it on the bus ride back to the ship. I've tried to translate the really unintelligible stuff:
Sandals was a ton of fun. We got the travel agent tour, lots of free beetle (I'm pretty sure I meant booze). We hung out in the hot tub. Free lunch! wy all the construction? (probably referring to the new hotel being built near sandals, need the actual name). The bus has odd mix of Caribbean jams, what's with all the synthEsizer? Lol lol lol........booze! send money post haste! Never saw so many port charlotte booze? (No idea) Uhhhhh oh ......I see enchantment car long ton! (should be Carlington, the Diamond lounge concierge on EN)
Back on the ship I attempted to do my workout. Not the best of ideas with a head full of booze. I nearly fell off the treadmill, so I finished on the elliptical machine. Unfortunately I also left my small camera behind. I got all the way back to the room before I remembered it. Thankfully a nice lady held onto it for me.
We sent laundry earlier in the day and got it back in the evening. Unfortunately someone got a little over zealous with the bleach ruined a few of our shirts. A pair of my wife’s jeans was also a little bleached out, but still wearable. She complained to guest services and they gave us a $55 on board credit to make up for the damage.
We actually made it to dinner despite the continuing intoxication. I really can't say what the quality was that night, as all food tastes good to a drunk. Milby was playing the hits in the piano bar which is where we spent the rest of the evening. He and Brad are definitely my favorite two piano players on Carnival.
Day 4, The Ecstasy, Freeport:
Due to the low levels of blood in my alcohol system the night before, I started this day with a slight hangover. I should have stuck with the Stellas, but I finished the night with one of those horrid Fosters oil cans. That was a mistake. Fosters is awful stuff. So the first order of the day was a late breakfast. I capitalized on the empty ship and got the rest of my pictures. We also spent some time in the adult only Serenity area.
We were apparently among many who felt no need at all to go ashore. The pool deck, Serenity area and buffet were busier than on most port days. There just isn't much to do in Freeport. You have to take a taxi into town, and that takes about twenty minutes. So we just hung around the ship and got a nice room service lunch. I can't recommend the steak sandwich, but the chicken fajita wrap was very good.
In the afternoon we got our exercise done early so we could watch our final sail away from Freeport. Afterward we got packed up and did our own laundry in the self service machines. No need to tempt fate sending more stuff to the Platinum laundry.
We made a final visit to the Taste Bar, which was very good. They had the crab cake starter in the dining room, one of my favorite cruise dishes. I had two orders, both were excellent. After our final dinner on board we stopped in to the piano bar to see Milby one last time. We had a good sing along before going to bed early; we had a long day ahead of us switching ships.
Day 5, The Changeover
We woke up early on our last morning aboard the Carnival Ecstasy. We decided to skip breakfast and just get drive thru on the way to Tampa. The VIP debarkation area was in the Chinatown Lounge at 7:15. The crew walked us off the ship and we were in the parking lot within fifteen minutes. It was a very easy process. The Radisson had two shuttles waiting on us, so there was no wait there either. This was definitely one of the fastest departures from Port Canaveral that we've ever had. It was a great cruise overall, very relaxing and enjoyable.
After leaving Port Canaveral we had to make a stop to pick up my wife's parents before heading on to Tampa to embark on the Brilliance of the Seas. We had fairly light traffic until we got into Orlando. No surprise there, O-Town is usually a traveler's nightmare. It seems to only exist to prevent anyone from getting anywhere in a reasonable amount of time. But we eventually collected the in-laws and made our way to the Port of Tampa. It was time for round two.
For anyone wanting to the check out the pictures of this cruise, follow the link below:
The second half of this review, our five night cruise on the Brilliance of the Seas, can be found here: