Confession right at the start, we are regular Carnival Cruises with more than 20 cruises with Carnival in the past 10 years.
We left Canada and drove to Miami to catch the Carnival Breeze. We spent one night prior to the cruise in Miramar, Florida at the Residence Inn which enabled us to have a great night's sleep and a good breakfast pre-cruise ($109 incl tax and free breakfast/parking). Unlike previous cruises we decided to skip the hassle of finding cheaper parking, etc and opted for parking in the garage at the pier. With kids it was well worth the money to have reduced stress.
As is normally the case for us, we recruited several newbies to cruise along with us in the hopes that they too would develop a cruising addiction and contribute to keeping our favorite cruise line afloat, LOL. Our travel party included my parents (mid 60s), my husband and I (40 and 54) our daughters (4,14,23), our friends (35 and 50) and their four kids (18, 13, 9,4). I booked all of the cruises through an extraordinary Carnival PVP I have used for the last 10 or so cruises.
We picked this cruise ship and itinerary for the following reasons in pretty much this order:
1. Parents are a little bit picky and would not have appreciated the Las Vegas glitz of the older ships.
2. Kids were very excited about the ropes course and waterworks.
3. The price was ridiculously low ($1200 for 4ppl, inside on deck 8 FWD)
4. Recommendation from our PVP based on her knowledge of Parents (lol)
We arrived at the port at noon, dropped off the luggage, double checked documents, did a fresh head count, dealt with minor toddler temper tantrum and started our trip through security at 12:30. Security was no problem, a little gruff with our youngest but no major issues. We've been platinum for quite some time so we are familiar with the embarkation drill. We sent our newbies off by themselves to the regular line and we went to the Captain's lounge. Here our cruise experience met with our only really major negatives. The embarkation agent was hostile and I do not use that term lightly because I am generally pretty easy going. We waited 26 minutes in a mostly empty lounge before being called to the counter to check in with Ms. Personality. She was irritated by every small item that came up, for instance we had our eldest daughter's boyfriend with us, he was a newbie, she is platinum, he had a cash account, she was on our credit card. The agent started into a rant about mixed up accounts, etc...and I finally had enough and explained that this wasn't our first rodeo and that no other agent had any similar issues on the previous cruises. She toned down a bit but was frustrated when she misplaced papers, etc, just not our normal embarkation experience. Had to laugh though when our 10 newbie cruises went through the regular and very busy lines and we went to the Platinum lounge and they were all having lunch by the time we finally made it to the ship. And as one last embarkation pain in the butt, when we got to the upstairs check-in where they put your card in none of them worked and we had to wait for all new cards and new pictures to be taken. The folks that did this part for us were awesome though and we chalked it up to travel glitches and smiled and laughed.
Our cabins were all ready, luggage arrived within one hour of boarding for all of us except one suitcase didn't arrive until 5 o'clock but no one really cared.
The ship is beautiful. The colours are beautiful, the décor is tasteful. Definitely the nicest Carnival ship we have ever sailed and if the only thing that decided our vacation choices was the décor, we'd only ever sail the Breeze. LOL.
Dining on the Lido was very good. Wok was exceptional in service and in food quality and the lines were not horrible (about 15 minutes each time) but the food was certainly worth the wait. Guy's burgers were appreciated by most of my party (except for my little vegetarian and those of us watching our diet). The service at Guys was very very good. Friendly and efficient even when guests were neither polite nor appreciative at times. The buffet was the buffet, same as it normally is when we sail. If you go hungry you've done something wrong.
We did eat at El Capitanos, the food was very good, the service was slow but friendly. The food portions served are far larger than necessary but that is a no win situation for the cruise line I am sure.
The Pizza place was efficient and happy to make special orders. We prefer the old Carnival pizza but that doesn't mean that the current pizza isn't very good, it's just a matter of choice. We laughed that the staff in this area came to know our eldest as their middle of the night cheese pizza extra parmesan to the point that they teased her when she ordered it in the afternoon.
The dining room itself was okay. We had a very good Head Waitress and reasonably good asst waiter. They still serve far too many people at once and no matter how good they are you can tell that they are struggling. We always go with Assigned dining since we had terrible experiences with anytime dining on previous cruises. The Maitre'd did an excellent job of accommodating our party of 14 at two adjoining tables and we really appreciated his efforts in this respect. The food itself was good, not outstanding but definitely good. We were delighted that the wait staff made every effort to bring the kids meals and their deserts quickly so that it minimized our need to control the kids in that environment for any longer than necessary. The dining room did not yield any WOW experiences for us but neither did it leave us feeling disappointed in any way.
Another note on the dining front is just one small point pertaining to vegetarian selections. There was no veggie burger at Guys. There were very limited vegetarian selections in the dining room and other than salad and the Wok there were limited choices on the Lido. As more folks are trying to eat better, it sure would be nice to have this option expanded. Not a complaint, more of an observation. Our vegetarian didn't starve but she sure was happy to have a meal at home, LOL.
Camp Carnival/Circle C, Etc.
The kids entertainment was very good this time. The staff went the extra mile to really try to encourage the shy kids to come and attend camp and as a parent I very much appreciated their efforts. I was delighted by the extra care and concern they showed with our youngest who was not so sure that she wanted to be separated from her mom (even though mom really really wanted to curl up with a good book and a cold drink on a comfy chair by the whirlpool) None of our kids spent copious amounts of time in any of the children's activities since we cruise with the kids to spend time with the kids but we certainly made use of their services enough to say that they were very good. We did not take the youngest two off the ship in Jamaica and were very pleased that Camp Carnival had a full day of fun lined up for them and that they didn't pass any judgement regarding our decision not to take them ashore.
Well Good and Bad on this front. Like many loyal Carnival cruises we miss the live calypso bands on the Lido. We are not prudes but were sufficiently shocked at a couple of the DJs song choices at midday on the Lido when we had our kids in the pool.
Movies on the Lido: there was not one single day where the movie listed in the Funtimes was the same movie that played on the big screen, LOL. other than that our families did enjoy a couple of evenings at the Seaside theatre.
Movies in the Room: Really really wish that Carnival would make a concerted effort to play an animated movie every day in the cabin. The cartoon channels they offer are AWFUL and there are times with small children that a couple of hours of downtime in the cabin is a good thing. We did have a couple of days with decent selections but they did not coincide with the days that our kids needed to slow down for a bit.
Karaoke: Extremely disappointed. We love going to this event and it was hosted at very strange times during the week and in strange locations, like the middle of the promenade. The other surprise was that on the one night that it was advertised to in the lounge from 8 until LATE, it turned out that LATE was not even midnight. This was very very odd based on our past experience and it left several people in our party very disappointed. Another example of odd time, on one evening it started at 5 and went until 7:30....no matter how you slice that one it doesn't work with dinner.
Theatre: Well we were very prepared to be disappointed with the changes to the shows, in fact we were bracing ourselves for it. But we were actually pleasantly surprised. The shows were definitely different and once you accepted that you could definitely appreciate what they were. The dancers and the singers were very good, high energy, friendly. We sat in the front row every night with our large party and were thrilled when the Lead actually stayed behind one evening to talk and on another evening the dancers posed for pictures with the kids. Honestly, were we disappointed with the lack of big theatrical productions, yes. But were we disappointed in the shows they did have, No.
Well, we've been there, done this a few times now but we had newbies with us so we did try to do our best. Grand Cayman, beautiful as always, many of us grabbed a stingray city tour from the pier, booked same day in person, it was great. Everyone had a blast ($31 each, negotiated small kids for free) we did the same thing that everyone else did but in a smaller group of 20 ppl (an hour on the sandbar, an hour snorkel, prepared conch salad on the sail back to the marina and the bus return to the pier) Great day.
Jamaica, is my least favorite port next to Nassau. We made the decision to leave the smallest kids on the ship. I negotiated a tour to Dunns River Falls for half of our party that wanted to go and experience that and then a few others just wanted to do a little shopping/beach. By the time they had been exposed to the sales pitches inside of the gates most of those that remained just wanted to return to the ship and enjoy it half empty. So we had a nice easy day of swimming and eating and reading and repeat.
Grand Turk, we love. It's not big, it's not fancy, but it is easy. On previous trips we had done more exploring but this time it was nice just to spend some time at the beach followed by some time in the pool followed by an early return to the ship. It was VERY HOT that day and it was nice to return to the ship a little early ahead of the crowds.
Efficient. Well coordinated. We had a leisurely breakfast in the dining room and left the ship when we were ready. Did the great luggage treasure hunt because we were spread over a couple of different carousels but no major issue and plenty of Carnival staff around to assist. A bit of a long wait for customs, but it always feels longer because you have your bags and little people who are tired of waiting.
We had a great cruise. Would we cruise this ship again? Probably, although our preference is definitely the smaller ships with fewer people even though they have less amenities. Did we have any major issues? No. Did we have some small issues? Yes, we had a cranky embarkation agent, some entertainment disappointments and we encountered some folks who should have had their drinking privileges suspended long before we encountered them.