We are a Disney-loving family but wanted to try something different for our vacation this year. We are used to the frenetic pace of the theme parks and the top-notch service of a Disney vacation. This time, we thought we'd try relaxing for a change!
We chose Carnival despite the eye-rolling of experienced cruisers and the under-enthusiastic advice of our travel agent. The price, though, was very attractive and, as newbies to the cruising world, we didn't have predetermined expectations.
Baltimore was our port-of-choice simply because we could drive there (9 hours from home in Ontario) and we wanted to do some sightseeing in Washington D.C. before the cruise. We are so glad we did! Capital Hill was beautiful and the Smithsonian museums were amazing (and free!). We will have to revisit Washington another time.
The port in Baltimore was easy to navigate and we had Faster to the Fun so we had special (shorter!) lines that the multitudes in the terminal.
The ship was late coming in and, therefore, we had to wait quite a while. Carnival had sent emails to all guests to inform them of the delay but we didn't have any access to our email while in Washington so we didn't get the message. It didn't really matter and we were on the ship around 3:30. We didn't start sailing until after 6.
It hadn't occurred to us that there would be hoards of college students on their Spring Break. I would strongly suggest to families that Carnival would not be a good choice at this time of year. There was A LOT of young partiers living it up and consuming A LOT of alcohol. We enjoyed the pool and deck areas early in the day while the college crowd was still sleeping off the night before.
We were pleasantly surprised by the quality (and quantity!) of the food. There was something to please everyone and our children loved the Mermaid's Grill. The pizza was truly a highlight and the frozen yogurt machine was a big hit. Our meals in the MDR were very good and we purchased the basic wine package before our cruise. We would do that again.
The service of the crew was excellent. Our MDR server, Maria, treated our family very well and she sure works hard. Our room steward, Ada, was also excellent, friendly and hard-working. Around the ship there were maintenance people everywhere cleaning and sprucing up the ship.
We saw each of the nightly shows and were impressed by the quality of the productions.
We played trivia games and name-that-tune games. The karaoke got a little annoying but others must have enjoyed it.
There were a few quiet little nooks perfect for some book time.
We rented a car through Thrifty for our day at Kennedy Space Center. We had always wanted to visit and we're glad we did. We saved a lot of money not booking through Carnival. In Nassau we had previously arranged a Bahama Boat Tour. The weather was not ideal and we weren't able to do the tubing portion of the afternoon but we snorkeled, toured some of the scenery, spent some time on a Rose Island, saw sea turtles and had a very pleasant afternoon in the capable hands of Captain Danny. I would recommend this tour to families who wish some quiet time away from alcohol-consuming college students (i.e. Booze Cruise!).
Our cabins (1257 and 1263) were small but functional. We can't complain about the price so we're happy with what we had. We did, however, wonder what our experience would have been with a balcony or even an ocean view.
Our two youngest children (ages 11 and 13) didn't want to participate in the kids' clubs and had a great time with the amenities available (mini-golf, swimming, basketball, waterslide) but my eldest son (15) enjoyed some time with in Club O2.
The weather during our cruise wasn't very lovely and we didn't spend as much time in warm sunshine as we'd hoped. Sailing from Baltimore, we knew that we'd have to wait a while before getting nicer temperatures, but even our day in Florida wasn't hot. That, of course, is the risk of sailing from a cold-weather port and we knew that might be the case.
Overall, I am glad that we gave cruising a try as a family vacation. We have some wonderful memories to cherish. I would even say that we'd cruise Carnival again but we absolutely would pick a different time of year.