I will preface this by saying we have been on 3 Royal Caribbean cruises prior to this Carnival cruise so we are not new to this. Our kids decided they wanted to try the "Fun Ships" this year for our family vacation so we agreed and booked the Carnival Ecstasy out of Miami with stops in Key West and Cozumel and a relaxing day at sea. I did this same cruise on Royal Caribbean in the past.
My first encounter with Carnival was not good and it really was the prelude to how poorly the processes are with this company as well as poor training of staff from the booking agents to onboard crew.
I know this is an older ship, built in 1991 and I really would not complain about that because they did a fair job updating the ship a few years ago and it looks pretty well maintained. I will also say that the housekeeping staff as well as the dinner staff in the Wind Song did a great job. These people were the highlights of the crew.
Boarding went as expected, with a quick trip through security and the standard wait to see the agent at the counter to get checked in. Once on board, we went to lunch on the Lido deck. I have to say the buffet offering was not impressive and boring at best. My real complaint would be the muster drill which took nearly an hour. There was no organization and it was ridiculous to keep passengers standing for that long waiting for them to complete the drill when RCCL does it in half the time. The crew really seemed like the process wasn't clear as to how to organize the passengers and get them counted for the drill.
Our experience in the Wind Song dining room was fair. The staff was very friendly, called us all by name and service was as expected. The food at dinner was ok, but nothing I can say blew my mind or exceeded my expectations. I would not recommend the prime rib either, it would have been better in a sandwich than an entree. I would recommend the chocolate melting cake for desert, I could eat that daily (but I do love chocolate and ice cream).
When it was time to get off the ship for Cozumel, I could not believe we waited between 45 minutes and an hour in a line down the hallway AFTER the captain said the ship was cleared. Again, it appears the processes they have in place were not very good or the crew had no idea how to execute the processes. We never had an issue getting off RCCL ships in a timely manner.
The photographers were friendly but the sales staff was not helpful or friendly. They had a sign above the sales desk that stated "Ask us about packages", so we did. And they looked dazed and confused and said they only sell the photos individually. We pointed to the sign behind them and asked what it was about then and they had no clue. Processes, people, training.... fail.
I mentioned the bar staff earlier and that was hit or miss. On our relaxing day at sea, we settled into two lounge chairs just above the pool bar on the open deck to get some sun. We immediately ordered drinks and the waiter disappeared for half an hour. We had two other guys come by in while we were waiting that asked if we needed to order. After 20 minutes, we told one of them we stll had not received our drinks and he said he would look for our waiter. Another guy came by a few minutes later and he had not seen our waiter either. At 30 minutes, we finally got our first drinks. I would have walked down to the bar and ordered myself if I knew he was going to be that long.
We also attended the comedy show the last night at sea. We ordered drinks there and our first round was on time and good. During the show another waiter came around and asked if we needed more drinks and we ordered one more. We were drinking sunbursts and the waiter did not ask what it was which I thought was peculiar since he had not waited on us all night. When he delivererd the drink, I noticed what appeared to be salt around the rim. I checked and sure enough it was a margarita. When the waiter finally came back around, I told him he brought the wrong drink and assumed he would take it and bring back the correct one. He left the margarita and said he would take it off our tab. He never returned with the correct drink and when I checked our bill, we were still charged for that drink. My assessment is he was either lazy and incompetent, or dishonest. Whichever the case, it was just another fail for Carnival.
Last, we decided to take advantage of self debarkation so we could be first off the ship. The Captain did not come on to start calling out decks to clear for self debarkation and it turned into another cluster just like Cozumel. We were somewhere between 50-60 minutes to exit the ship. We heard the Captain address the passengers 2-3 times the entire trip. On RCCL, the Captains typically address the passengers 2-3 times a day. I am not sure if the people truly don't care, or if the processes and training is that bad.
What Carnival has done is confirm that our cruises in the future will remain with RCCL.