This was the 2nd of back to back cruises over the kids winter break 2013-2014. This was the week of New Years. We knew the ports were not going to be spectacular on this cruise, so we added a few days of snorkeling off the Carnival Victory first.
We had connecting cabins with a Central Park view. There was a problem with "norovirus" on the previous sailing so they delayed our boarding by and hour or so and did a super special disinfection. They made us squirt antiseptic gel on our hands at all the dining venues throughout the cruise as well. Boarding was really easy, no big deal. We came from the Port of Miami, took the free trolley (look for the orange tree logo trolley stop) to the Metro Rail to the Tri-Rail to the free FLL airport shuttle and from there took a cab to the port. Total cost was about $50 for 4 of us.
Cabins were a little smaller, if a little more modern than on the Carnival Victory. You can book restaurants, shows and shore excursions through the TV as well as check you schedule and charges. Its not an awesome system, more like a work in progress.
Food is usually our biggest issue as we eat a low fat vegan and gluten free diet. The Solarium Bistro (breakfasts and lunches) was an oasis amongst a giant desert of unhealthy food choices. We ate at one specialty restaurant, Izumi, one night and it was basically a waste. $73 for some vegetables rolls, rice and edamame. The dining room staff tried hard during the dinners, but didn't live up to the expectations that Carnival set for us. The problem with the Windjammer buffet was that they put meat and butter in everything that they cooked. White rice, potatoes, carrots, corn, anything they could make unhealthy they did. Room Service was basically useless for healthy food as well. We ended up loading up on salad bar items each night in the buffet as it closed at 9:30 and threw out whatever we didn't eat for late night snacking after the kids got back from the clubs in the evening.
We found sorbet in the ice cream shop, but it was suspect one of the days and we returned it. They did take it off our bill. I felt like the candy was a little expensive by the ounce in the candy store, so they rounded it down instead of up, which was nice. T-Shirt were silly expensive as they made you buy 2 to get decent price, so I wore my Carnival shirt until the guys on the zip like gave me a freebie.
The entertainment was a real positive of this cruise. The production of Hairspray got a solid B+. The Aqua Show was another B+ show. The Comedy club was a B. The Ice show was a B.
The activities on this boat are pretty good. I tried the boogieboarding flowrider a couple of times. It was fun. The rock wall was too tough for me, but I tried. My daughter made it to the top. The zip line was really fun and flies over the boardwalk. The merry go round is a small pleasure. There is a circular swimming pool with a current like a tiny lazy river that was actually pretty neat. There were some lines for activities, but they were never unreasonably long.
Our favorite activity was probably the Jacuzzis that overlook the side of the ship. It was really fun to relax there as the ship pulled out of port!
Small complaint...on New Years Eve, the maintenance staff chose 7:00 (departure time from St Thomas) as the time to service/close half the Jacuzzis on the ship. No warning of an hour, just get out and move now as we have to clean this instant.
The kids seemed to enjoy the kids clubs but it seemed like a lot of playing videogames and foosball. Carnival and Princess seemed to have better activities. They have a 1 am curfew on this ship which my kids did not like, though it did make it so I didn't have to worry about where they were till all hours.
The fitness center is crazy huge and I really liked the jogging track. Money Saving Hint: There are filtered drinking fountains on the jogging track where you can refill your water bottle. They discourage water refills in the Windjammer and Solarium Bistro.
We really enjoyed Vintages wine bar as we could get 2 ounce tastes of lots of different wines, they have more expensive flights you can do as well as full bottles etc.
We listened to a violinist in Central Park a couple of nights and that was a pleasure.
Making reservations for all the shows in advance worked out really well for us. Usually we skip that stuff on cruises, but the bigger ship/productions was a nice thing to have.
My summary is that it is a big fancy ship, but perhaps RCI will admit that size isn't everything as their Quantum class coming out is actually going to be smaller. I found myself wanting more personal service. You could tell that there were some systems that are so large that they haven't been able to get to them. Will they ever? What are all the extra expense restaurants for? I already paid for the cruise and dining is included. Would be nice to get a small ship experience on a big ship, but that's not going to happen. Is it?
This stop is ridiculous. 7am-2pm. Either take a quick morning excursion or forget it. The best thing about Nassau is Atlantis which we did the previous week on Carnival Victory which does a full day stop and only needs 5 days for 3 ports. Most of the rides at Atlantis don't open until 10 am. Hello???? Anybody listening. There is a day at sea the next day to get to St Thomas, so what's the rush?
We went shopping. Walked into town and had a nice time with my wife and daughter. My son chose to sleep in. St Maarten is not know for their snorkeling and with two snorkeling stops and a full day of diving over the previous week the troops were happy to walk around relax.
They got my son certified with the beginner PADI Scuba Diver in only 1 day. Really terrific service.
They allowed us to go along on my son's certification dives as he was the last one to get his C card.
We talked to Ana and arranged for a custom Scuba diving excursion. My son was able to get his Padi Scuba Diver certification in just the 1 (long) day. (having read the 1st 3 chapters in the book over the previous week or two). My wife and daughter and I were able to hang out at their beach and pool at the Bluebeard resort while they were doing the pool work and then go on his certification dives with him in the afternoon. The water was about a 5 out of 10 for clarity. Fish about 6 out of 10. Staff 10 out of 10. Coral 7 out of 10. We saw a big lobster, giant puffer fish. Some rays, an eel and a school of giant tarpon. Overall a very nice custom tour that was exactly what we wanted/needed. Transportation and drinks were provided with a smile.