This was mine and my husbands third cruise, this was our second on Carnival. After searching the possible cruises back in January, we found this one to be the best for us. We traveled with our youngest daughter and her 3 1/2 year old daughter. (This was their first cruise experience) The timing had to be over her spring break from school and when we have to take into consideration the cost to fly, we wanted at least a 5 night cruise but less than 8. Due to the spring break season our travel became more complex than just flying into Ft Lauderdale. We saved about $800.00 by flying into Atlanta, renting a car driving to Orlando for an overnight stay and then onto Ft Lauderdale. The trip back to Atlanta was long though, as we drove straight through after we picked up our car.
Embarkation went smooth. Although with being our third cruise we know what to expect. We did not get to port until 2:00 pm.... no lines through the first check point, very small line through security and the line for the sail and sign cards were longer but moved quickly. I think it took us all of 35 minutes from arrival till boarding the ship. Kudos to the staff at Port Everglades for making this such an efficient embarkation. (This was our first cruise out of here, the other two were out of Miami)
After boarding the ship we went straight to our room, empress deck #7372 Balcony, category 8C, to unload the carry on luggage and then it was up to the lido to refuel after our long morning. The food at the buffet is just that, nothing to rave about, but it was good and did the trick of holding us over until dinner. You can always find something at the buffet to hold you over.....it is not my 1st choice for dinner, yet we did end up here twice for dinner over the cruise. Both of the times were good. Better than my anticipation and most certainly better than the breakfast buffet served. After a quick bite we roamed about the ship and showed our daughter the many different areas. Our granddaughter was in aw of everything around her and a bit shy towards all the people. After checking out the ship we headed back to our room and were pleasantly surprised to find all but one piece of our luggage, and within minutes we had the last piece delivered. I was hoping to have the luggage unpacked before muster, but that did not happen...... so off to the drill we went. Nothing new here and it took all of 20 minutes :) I was very impressed with the staff handing out the kids bracelet tags. (all kids under 11) have to wear them for the entire cruise. We were wondering how the granddaughter would feel about this, and low and behold the gal who had them told her by wearing the band she was entitled to free ice cream for the duration of the trip ! Although some parents may not agree I thought this was brilliant! She did not hesitate to put the band on :) Of course from time to time she reminded us that she needed some "free" ice cream :)
After muster we headed back to the room and I was able to get 2 pieces of the luggage unpacked, but because we did not want to miss the sail away we headed up to the lido. The sail away was a long waiting process, had I known that we would not get out of port until close to 6:00 pm or later I would have stayed in the cabin to finish the unpacking process. There were 3 or 4 other ships in Port and we were the last to leave. I understand that our position in port would lead to this as we were surrounded by ships and had to wait until the rest were on their way, just disappointing as we had a 6 pm dinner time and missed that cause we wanted to do the sail away on the lido. After our sail away we went to Camp Carnival to do the registration for the granddaughter. She seemed pretty excited about all the cool things there. Our intent was to only us Camp Carnival from time to time as we wanted to have vacation time with her as well as the daughter. After registration we went back to the room to finish the unpacking and then it was to the buffet for dinner. Again, the buffet food is not bad, but cannot be compared to the food in the dining room. I can not remember all of what I had to eat, but I do know I had some great fish, salad and a baked potato I think. Dessert was hit and miss that night. After eating we decided to go to the show in the theater. It was good, not great. My Granddaughter got a bit scared at one point, but my husband took her out and they watched from afar. After a long day it was time to head back to the room for the night. I should note that this was the first time my husband and I did a balcony... The room is no larger than the oceanview that we usually book, but it was nice to have the balcony! I spent every night before bed just sitting in my chair with a glass of wine and enjoying the warm Caribbean breezes :) My granddaughter enjoyed going out during down time and having her breakfast there. I will pass on the first port as I will comment on them below in that section. Our first sea day was nice and relaxing. We spent most of it on the lido and also managed to get the little one down for a nap in the afternoon. I too enjoyed a bit of slumber and the daughter took advantage of the sun deck. This was also our formal night, so after being rested up, we took turns getting showered and ready for dinner. I should mention that on our first cruise I never took anything for sea sickness, but the second cruise we went on I ended up on "Bonnie" for the first three days due to high winds.... I packed my "Bonnie" not knowing if I would need it or not, and my daughter did not know if she would need it.... by late afternoon we were rocking enough that I took it so I could get through dinner, my daughter also felt a bit nauseous so she decided to take it as well. I think we both took it for two days and then we were fine. I prefer the "Bonnie" as it is once a day and no drowsiness. Anyways, after we medicated and got ready we took the lil one to Camp Carnival for the first time. She was a bit unsure, but we told her we would call and check to see how she was doing, and she was ok with that. Our elegant dinner was fantastic, we had great service and great food. Our waiter Naidu was fantastic and so were his team members. Our Bartender also was prompt and helpful with suggestions for wine and drinks. Our food was hot and served in a timely manner. Our table was in the Posh Restaurant and we had a nice booth for just the four of us. I was happy to enjoy our great food and service as this was one of the area's that was being complained about by former cruisers. For us we had no complaints all week !
We managed to go to dinner all of the other evenings with the exception of the second elegant evening. We had a long day in port and just did not feel like dressing up to go. Our Granddaughter was enjoying her evenings at Camp Carnival, we found that we spent the day time with her and she enjoyed going to dinner with her new friends and spending some fun kiddy time there. She spent on average 2-3 hours there in the evening. We found that every night when we went to get her she wanted to stay longer, so we let her stay, but the last evening was the toughest she had a nap that day and we found ourselves getting her at 11:00 pm! She did not want to leave :) I think for parents that travel with kids the Camp Carnival experience can be good or bad dependent on how the children take to change. The trip itself is sometimes overwhelming and then to send them off with strangers can be tough, but I truly believe to start them off slow there, and they will probably have a blast. (at least the 2-5) age group. I cannot say how the other ages do with this experience, but we were happy to have it available if we wanted to use it.
I know that we took in a second show during the evening, and a movie on the lido deck one night. We never made it to the comedy club this time, but did hit the Casino one night. My lucky daughter won $160.00 on the penny slots! Good for her as she rang a credit tab with me while in the ports, so she won and so did I as I got her tab paid off as well !
Some of the food.... We ate at the grill by the Lido pool a couple times during the week, it was good and because we were using the pools there it was easy to just grab something quick. We also did the deli, which again was very good. Sometimes a line, but worth the wait. I tried the "Tandoor" grill (not sure on spelling) It was different. I cannot say it was bad, cause I am not sure how this food was suppose to taste. I tried a little bit of everything and some things I liked, others I did not. I did not try the fish and chips this time, but on our other cruise that was one of my favorites! I know my husband and daughter had pizza one night, and neither of them were found of it. I have yet to try the Mongolian Grill, but mainly due to the lines, not because I do not like the food. I also heard people rave about their food from there. Of course we had our fair share of the "Free Ice Cream" ....LOL.
Throughout the cruise.... My daughter and Granddaughter enjoyed the fund raiser dance for St Jude on the last sea day and we enjoyed the entertainment at the lido deck when we were there. I am not a fan of the DJ addition and would like to see the live Caribbean music back. I would be fine with a mix, but it seemed to lack that Caribbean Cruise experience without those Steel Drums! I thought the Cruise Director was good, but his assistants also did great in making sure everyone was having fun. We did not get a chance to do any of the trivia games or some of the other entertainment like we have done in the past but we enjoyed our time on the ship nevertheless.
Our Room Steward was great, we hardly saw him, but he kept our cabin clean, added ice twice a day and always left us a towel critter. When we did see him he always greeted us by name:)
The ship which is in the "Conquest Class" and the same class as the last cruise we did with Carnival has a weird layout. I am not found of it, but it did not take away from cruise experience. I just don't like the fact that you can only get from one end to the other using deck 5. It would be nice to have more than one deck to walk through or around other than that one. Compared to the "Valor" the decor was a bit brighter, at least it didn't seem to be as dark. It was well maintained and did not notice any major issues with it. Of course I am sure it is not like getting on one of the newer ships, but it was kept clean.
This and that........ We brought on (2) bottles of wine, one 12 pack of water (small bottles) and (2) 12 packs of small cans of pop. We are not big drinkers and the Granddaughter does not get to have pop, but once in awhile. Our tab at the end of the cruise was about $375.00. This included... A lanyard, $10.00, $50.00 in the Casino. $3.00 in the candy shop, (2) donations to St Jude, $20.00, $8.00 Camp Carnival Baby Sitting, a Hat $12.00, and a necklace $9.00. The rest was cocktails/beer. Our gratuities were paid separately and we tipped in cash to the Steward, Waiter and Bartender on the last evening. Yes, we tipped above the gratuities as we were happy for the great service all of these individuals provided while on the ship. I know that some people will not do this, but I will if I feel that they have made my experience better in anyway.
Ok, the tricky part. How to be polite about our Debarkation..... Ok I understand it takes time to get the luggage off etc, but we were in Zone 8.... I think our time was 8:30-8:45 for getting off. I was woke up by the beeping of the gangway and noticed it was like 5:15-5:30 am when we were into port. The all clear happened pretty quickly.... then it was the waiting game. They called zone 5 and 6 and this was well after 9, I am thinking it was close to 9:30 am.... I told the family we were leaving.... when we got to level 3 they said we could go, but that our luggage was probably not ready. We went in anticipation of having to wait, but once in the room what to my eyes should appear? Every zone to 32 was full of luggage! I guess If I was not in a hurry to get on the road to Atlanta the wait would have not bothered me, but it seemed to be a very slow process that morning. A matter of fact this was the slowest out of the three that we had experienced. The line for customs was normal and moved accordingly, but I was a bit miffed that we waited that long simply because we were told that our luggage would not be ready :( By the time we got through customs and called our shuttle service and was dropped off at the lot for the car it was after 11:00 am. I certainly was planning to be on the road by 9:30 am to 10:00 am. Oh well, maybe better luck next time. I do not focus on the negative and if this was the only part of our trip that bothered me, then I would say it was a great trip!
Hits and misses.... We had great port days! The food and entertainment was good. Parents if you are traveling with small ones, there will be a few melt downs along the way, but work through them and it will be fine. (My daughter even had a meltdown and she is in her 20's!) I attribute that to being cut off from the world without modern technology! lol.... Yes our phones were all off from the time we left Ft Lauderdale until back at port :) Getting on the ship easy as pie, getting off not so much..... Comfortable beds and bedding! Slept like a baby every night :) makes me want to by one of those mattresses for my home :) The packing could have been lighter, but I tend to over pack. I will take note after this third one and go lighter next time! So new cruisers pack accordingly! You do not have to take the Kitchen Sink as well :) With 4 people in our room we were fine, but one of us was knee high to a grasshopper, so this was a plus , and we had the balcony and that helped. 4 adults may be a bit cramped, but for as much time as you spend in your cabin you will be ok as long as you iron out the shower schedules ahead of time:)
A trip is what you make of it, so enjoy it.... relax and have fun!