This is my third cruise and definitely the best. Everything went perfectly. Embarkation and the return into Sydney were quick and very well organized. Leaving the cruise we were on the Bus to the airport within 15 minutes of moving from the Ship. Movement off and on the ship at ports was smooth, quick and orderly. Carnival really has got these procedure organized well now.The weather ,except for the last 2 sea days which were windy was clear Sunny days. If anything we had trouble with all the sun hitting our Melbourne bodies, so for summer cruises take a Sunscreen that is powerful, is waterproof, and does not sting your eyes while you are snorkeling. And wear and hat and a rashy vest.
The Entertainment options on this ship were mind-blowing and I thought were top class. We had the very talented Spirit Dances and singers do a couple of shows, with them also backing up a number of other acts including a New Zealand Juggler( who was just out of this world), a illusionist ( Magician) and a number of guest Singers. All excellent shows. The Ventriloquist Show and adult show were just hilarious and I could not stop laughing. The comedy and adult comedy show were also tops and worth seeing. Of course there were many bars and entertainment venues around the ship with their own entertainers, vocalists and band performing each night, so there was always somewhere to go to have fun.
During sea days you could occupy yourself with one of the planned activities the ship had organized ( you got the schedule for each day the night before) you could indulge in things like Trivia competitions, Family sporting competitions. Novelty sporting competitions, Karaoke ,Art Actions, Bingo Games, Horse racing competitions and many more. Our 9 year old son spent some of his time in Kids club as he is very social and made friends while doing craft, sporting completions, dancing, kids dinners and also going to the evening shows on some nights. He had a great time and they took very good care of him. We also spent time with him around the 2 pool areas, the 2 waterslides and the top deck where there is a great 9 hole mini golf course. Free juice and ice creams around the pool areas were great! We also spent some time in the Ships shops and bought some duty free watches. In retrospect, I would probably wait for the last couple of days do do shopping as that when their are more bargains.
Food. The food was great. There were one or two dishes that I sampled both in dining and Buffet that were not much chop, but on the whole the food quality and variety was excellent. They were not always super hot, but appetizing).The plates in the buffet area La Player Grill were enormous so if you are watching your figure be careful. Perhaps miss lunch. We tried to always eat in the Empire Dining Room ( open most of the time) because the quality of food was higher, the servings smaller, the service fantastic and you got more time to digest the food and be social. It depended on how much time we had to eat. On Shore days the buffet was easier. The staff and the staff entertainment at night in the Empire dining room was great and our friendly servers got to know our names quickly which was nice. You must try the warm melting chocolate cake for desert. That was my sons favourite! Coffee in the Empire was ok as well. To get a great cup of coffee you have to pay for it at coffee shops on board! We went to the steakhouse one night to experience it but I am not sure it was worth the extra $40/ person for the privelege. I would have to be very hungry and be ordering the 500gram steaks to make it worth it. The service and variety of selections were great though.
Accommodations. We had a balcony family room on deck 8 panorama Aft. It was a great room. The decor looked a little dated but it was comfortable. The wall mounted TV was a little small, but worked fine. We booked one shore excursion on this effortlessly which was good. They have a selection of movies to watch and some pay TV channels ( $10/ movie) , but don't expect a great variety. The beds were comfortable and the bathroom was good for the 3 of us. Our Cabin attendant Lie was great and very responsive to requests.
Money. All transactions on the ship were by the ships card which made things very easy. We got a softdrinks package on the first day for 3 of us where we could have unlimited sodas( softdrinks) but I don't think it was worth it. There was no alcoholic drinks package, but I believe you could by beers in bulk at a reduced rate.
Beers were generally $7-8.50 per stub, Cocktails $10.50, and Wine $8-$9/ glass or $33/bottle or more.
This is the area you really have to watch. You can access your on board account by special ATMS on board so I recommend checking your statement regularly. Other areas to watch are the casino and Bingo!
You did not need to take your passport off the ship,only your ships card and one form of identification, which made things easy.
Staff. The Staff were just great. Cheerful. Friendly. wanting to help/ Wanting to go the extra mile. The dining staff were very personable and were particularly kind to our son. They all did some dancing every night which kept the mood fun.Stu the Cruise director was just wonderful. Personable. Funny. A great communicator!
Other Passengers. Great Australian Crowd. Generally very respectful of each other. If there were yobbos I was not aware of it. I did not venture out late at night though so I could not comment on what happened at venues, but during the day everyone was having a great time. The ship did not seem overcrowded. Because it is so big there was always seating. No-one pushed or shoved. No mass cut ins. Everyone behaved themselves. i was very proud of my countrymen. There were a lot of children around, particularly around pools and hot tubs but you could avoid these by going to Serenity area at the back of the shipm.The kids club was great and could look after your kids after 10pm for a fee if you wanted to cut loose or have some couple time.
Ports: Shore excursions are expensive so don't feel you are locked into them. The ship will not leave until every shore excursion returns so this is the security in using them. Book Janek bay in LIfoa early as placings are limited. This area was great for snorkeling.
Mystery Island. Lay on the beach on far side and snorkel. Simple!. Watch cross currents and slippery rocks!
Villa. We used a Private tour company called AtmosphereTours ( Found on Trip advisor) It was a great day with a hilarious guide called Fraser. Also much cheaper than a Carnival Shore tour.
Lifoa: Could not recommend any shore tours, but were some running. Only Janek bay which had great snorkeling. There was not a lot to do where we landed, except have a swim on the beach. You can walk up to the church at the lookout but it was a very hot day!
Noumea: Very expensive place. Cost me $32 for a beer and a lemonade in one resort. I suggest an all inclusive tour at a reasonable price or a Snorkeling boat tour to Duck island. Check out trip advisor. I had a tour to Escapade Island, but I could not recommend it.
Tips: Bring some good reef shoes to protect your feet from coral and rocky shores. Bring your own snorkling gear with enclosed flippers( not ones with flaps). The hire ones from the ship are expensive, crappy and their flippers allow rocks around you feet. ( not happy Jan!). The one's they sell are the same! Don't touch the minibar. Bring some soft drinks with you on board to save money and store in the fridge.Softdrinks are $2.20/ can and this adds up! You cannot do this with alcohol. The best place for buying duty free Alcohol was Villa with a great variety as well. The ships shops were good, but do some research. Beware of cheap watch and jewellery sets on the last 2 days. Further research has shown the prices for what you get are too good to be true! For Facebook and gaming nuts Internet access for $149 for 10 days was not too bad, but satellite internet can slow down, particularly on the last few days when everyone is using it.
All in All this was a great trip. Carnival really has though about how to feed us, entertain us and make some money from us.Watch the food intake. watch the Sun Intake and watch the money outake and you will have no regrets. Happy Cruising!