Saw this cruise pop up after returning from a Bermuda trip last fall out of NY on RCCL, and while not having had a great experience on Carnival Valor, out of San Juan, this time last year, could not refuse the pricing. An aft balcony, with PPG and a credit, for less than we paid for our first balcony 6 years ago, sounded like a deal, so we bit. Carnival has clearly had some market share issues post Concordia, and trouble on this ship and others, and appear to be doing their best to win it back though pricing. This trip(cold weather out of NYC, the week after Presidents week) is a tough sell when one can fly to FL for better weather, but the convenience and pricing are hard to beat. That said, Carnival is leaving this market for the winter months, I suspect because of low fill rates.
All of this made for a ship running about 3/4 full, I guess, which resulted in an excellent crew/passenger ratio, and far better service than we experienced on Valor during Presidents week a year ago. As many of you may recall, Splendor had an engineering casualty a few years back, off San Diego, and while there was nothing particularly unusual that I noticed, there is a slight sewer gas order on some decks in port, and fuel oil odors occasionally. While not uncommon on Navy vessels, it was surprising on a newer passenger ship, and I suspect there are some ventilation issues somewhere aboard. It would not keep me from sailing on her again, but Carnival needs to address it.
The cleanliness of the ship is very good in all spaces, cleaners are always about and Purell dispensers are well located. Food service was very good, and quality of the food was above average for what I have had on Carnival. I found the staff pretty much across the board to be very helpful and cheerful, although the pressure to sell spa treatments and photos resulted in some surprisingly rude comments in the passageways by staff. This particular ship design leaves the main passageway(deck 5) as the only full length passage for going forward and aft on one level, and the number of solicitors for photographs and services is far too many for my taste.
The weather was better than expected, but without question the highlight of the trip was the aft extended balcony. I usually expect the first 2 days out of NY and the last 2 days coming back to be predictably cold, but on the trip back, the sun shines directly into the aft balconies, and the wind break provided by the ship let us stay in the sun comfortably, even when the air temp was 30 degrees, for both days back. A little bit of soot on one port day was less than expected.
The sports bar was a disappointment, as there was a bar, but for whatever reason Carnival did not pickup the USA/Hockey Olympic feed, or the Syracuse /Duke game, which should have been obvious gets. 30 plus people on each occasion showed up to see each event and found ..cricket. A fine sport, but not for the demographic aboard this ship. The bar never had more than 2-3 people in it after the second nite.
One of the highlights of the trip was the self assist in NY. We had been seated for only 5 minutes and it was called away, and we were off the ship,before the posted start time of 0800. We have never gotten off a ship so fast! The staff was ready to go and were hustling people through as fast as they would go. Very nicely done!
All in all, a pretty good trip. Carnival seems to be paying more attention in a number of areas, such as staff levels in the dining room, that needed attention. If they continue to price as aggressively as this cruise they will gain share back.