Is Carnival for you? Before you read my review consider the following.......
The word "Carnival" means a period of celebration and Carnival Cruises gives you just that. After 12 cruises on several cruise lines, I find that Carnival passengers on average are the most laid back, easy to please, good time and party loving passengers who tend to be night owls. If you enjoy the finer things in life and tend to be on the picky side, you probably want to find another cruise line like Holland America, Celebrity or Princess. If you demand perfection with everything, you probably want to avoid a cruise in general.
BACKGROUND: I recently lost my father and watched my mother take care of him for almost 2 years. It was time to give the mind, body and soul a break and to recharge. I gave my mother several vacation options and she choose a cruise out of NYC which meant no flying since we are from Connecticut. Our two friends, being over-worked and stressed out, also booked the same cruise.
EMBARKATION: We arrived at 10:30am and flew through the lines. This was the easiest embarkation out of my 12 cruises. We were sitting in the waiting area by 11:00am and boarding the ship by 11:30am. We boarded the ship and headed to the Lido Deck for lunch. The rooms aren't usually ready until 1:30pm but ours were all set by 1:00pm. The Muster Drill (lifeboat drill) ran at 3:45pm and the ship sailed around 4:30pm. I recommend all you first time Manhattan cruisers to stay outside and take pictures of the beautiful NYC skyline and then of the Statue of Liberty. Stay out a little longer until the ship sails under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The highest point of the ship is only about 15 feet from touching the bridge.
CABINS: Our group had inside and balcony cabins on the Verandah, Deck 8. The rooms are kept spotless while the room steward comes in during the morning and again while you are at dinner. We found towel animals in our rooms during most nights....a fun touch. Carnival rooms tend to maximize the amount of storage available. All cruise ship bathrooms are small unless you have a suite. My patio was big enough to seat two people. I would encourage everyone to bring an electric outlet strip so you have enough outlets to plug in your cell phones, tablets, camera's, etc.
THE FOOD: BREAKFAST....I'm not a huge breakfast fan and found the breakfast buffet to be satisfactory. I wasn't a big fan of the scrambled eggs but they do have a omelet station where you have the option toorder eggs any style. You'll find pastries, hash-browns, pancakes, french toast, waffles, cereal, fruit, toast. On Sea Days, the Gold Pearl dining room offers a brunch menu until 1pm. I found that to be much tastier then the buffet breakfast. BTW-the dining room is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner on port days and brunch and dinner on sea days.
LUNCH: The only negative is that the buffet is too spread out. I felt like i was walking 1/2 mile to find everything. You have your standard buffet fare with several options each day and a salad bar. You also have several stations including a Rotisserie hiding on the 10th deck, Tandoori (Indian), Burrito, Sandwich/Panini, Grill, Mongolian Grill (Asian), Pizza and Dessert. I tried each station at least once and really enjoyed the Tandoori or Indian food and the rotisserie station that had some yummy chicken and mac'n cheese. I overall enjoyed the lunch selections and found most of the food to be good or delicious.
DINNER: We did the dinner buffet twice and found the selection to be limited and the food to be mediocre at best. You only have the sandwich, pizza and maybe the grill station for dinner hours.
We did Anytime Dining for six of the nights and found 6:30pm to be the best time to get right in without waiting to be seated. The dining room food for dinner is much better. If you don't like something, order something else. I'm still waiting for Carnival to make a yummy cheesecake but that's just a minor observation. The service was overall good but I believe the Anytime service is a little slower especially when multiple tables are being seated at once.
ROOM SERVICE: It's a limited menu but came in handy when I watched my UCONN Men's basketball team play Michigan State. It took about 40 minutes during a peak time when so many passengers were boarding the ship and hungry. The sandwiches, salad and fruit was good.
PUBLIC ROOMS: First, a lot of people complain about the decor. I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of the design but Carnival ships are supposed to be loud and over the top. If you view the ship pics on-line and can't get over the design, then consider another cruise line. The best thing Carnival has done over the past several years is incorporate the Comedy Club into their ships. We had four good to wonderful comedians perform PG and R rated shows throughout the cruise. This room was also used for Open Mic Comedy Night and for the adult Quest game which was hilarious!!!! ATTEND THE QUEST GAME!!!! The Piano Bar was okay and the Red Carpet night club was hopping with older music before midnight and new music/hip-hop after midnight. The Casino is good sized but smoky and with the ship layout, most folks have to walk around the casino to get to other public rooms. The smoke didn't seem as bad after I started winning at the blackjack and craps table. The theater offered bingo, trivia, Love & Marriage, Gender Wars, 3 decent broadway style shows, the Legends Show featuring the best singing passengers and the Welcome to the Ship show. The Lido deck is enclosed with a retractable roof during the cooler days and was home to a Fiesta and Caribbean Dance Party, Hairiest Man Competition, dance lessons, trivia, live music, and a huge television playing movies at night. The casino and lobby also had live music at times. There are a few more public rooms and bars everywhere.
SPA/GYM: This ship has one of the largest spa's at sea. If you want to be spoiled and pampered, this ship won't disappoint. Three of us had spa treatments and nothing bad to say. The folks at the spa are trained to UP-SELL everything so be prepared to say no or pay! The gym was standard and they had a side room for things like yoga, zumba, etc.
POOLS/HOT TUBS: The ship has the retractable roof on the main pool area which means that you can swim on cold days since that pool is heated and air temperature is nice. You also have two nice hot tubs on the 10th deck over-looking the ocean. The back of the ship has an open adults only area with a pool and two hot tubs. There is also a smaller pool on a higher deck with two more hot tubs. The front of the ship has an adults only Serenity area with nice cushioned chairs and loungers. It's mostly quiet but there is the mini-golf course above in which you may hear a few excited kids for a moment or two. I also noticed a basketball/volleyball court on maybe deck 12/14 along with a track for walking/running.
CAPE CANAVERAL: There is nothing at the Cape Canaveral port but you are close to Kennedy Space Center, car rentals and Cocoa Beach. Many folks go with the Carnival's Disney, Universal Studio or Sea World Excursions which are about an hour away. We went to Cocoa Beach for $12 round-trip and rented a chairs and cabana since it was windy that day. ($28) The weather was perfect and the beach was nice. It was just nice to get some color and feels temps over 30 degrees after such a crappy winter. There are some stores and shops around, Ron Jon Surf Shop being the most famous.
NASSAU, BAHAMAS: You get off the ship and there are some shops. You are also in the downtown area and within walking distance of shopping, booze and food. We took a 5 1/2 tour through Mario Bethel. Mario never showed up and later responded via email that he had a flat tire but the dispatcher told us that he had filled his vehicle earlier and left us behind. Another driver, Neville, took us on the same tour and made us quickly forget that blemish. We went to some really small fort where they had shopping, drove around the island, stopped at a beach, Atlantis and had lunch. The tour would normally cost $60 but we were only charged $30 due to the inconvenience. Neville was given a nifty tip!
FREEPORT, BAHAMAS: This is another island in the Bahamas....much newer and smaller. I found this island to be nicer. You can get right off the ship and shop around, eat and/or booze it up. We took a $10 round-trip to Lacaya Port which has a lot of shops, places to eat and drink. A two minute walk away is the beautiful Lacayan Resort. For $15, you can get a day pass and use their pools, one that has a nice swim-up bar, restaurant, bar, and nice facilities. The resort has a beach and is wonderful if you're looking to catch some rays.
THE END: We did the self-assisted departure and was off the ship at 7:50am and outside waiting for our ride by 8:00am. I highly recommend this departure method if you're capable of carrying/wheeling your own luggage.
OVERALL: We overall had a wonderful time on the cruise! Make it your mission to slow down and relax and participate in some of the shows and activities. Four seas days seemed like a lot but it was needed for our stressed out and over-worked group. After the recent death of my father, it was PRICELESS to watch my mom smile and laugh again. We had an active Cruise Critic group on board and we made many new friends. The crew was overall friendly and even though it was a mostly NY metro crowd, so were the people. :) We refused to allow a few minor things put a hamper on our trip. We are also thankful for the U.S. Coast Guard who flew a helicopter to our ship to pick up a sick crew member off the coast of NC. Malcolm "Woo Hoo" Burn is an experienced and good Cruise Director. Two of his cruise members also stood out......Donkey the Assistance CD and Fluffy, who runs the Comedy Club. We loved Fluffy! This cruise offered a great affordable price with an on-board credit and no airfare required. I great deal and we had a great time. We will sail Carnival again and would sail on the Carnival Splendor again.