Overall - we thoroughly enjoyed this ship. It was our first cruise, as I've been hesitant for many years about being out in the middle of the ocean. But my husband decided it would be a great birthday surprise for me, and he was right!
We stayed in a Miami hotel where there was low-cost parking along with the room and a free shuttle to the cruiseport (but no return) check out www.Stay123.com, the night before, which really helped us arrive to the port on time and relaxed. Having talked to many guests onboard who arrived exhausted and frazzled from flying and driving to the port, I felt like we made the better decision.
We were excited to sit in the terminal and see our ship waiting for us. Getting on was fairly simple, and we were glad we arrived at noon as there were lots of people behind us. We saw lots of people carrying on cases of bottled water (we took on a bottle of champagne), which seemed odd. We drank lots of ice water on board it tasted fine to us. Again, I was glad we didn't hassle with the cases of water.
Lunch on the Lido deck was fine. It was a buffet (very long lines) by the pool. My husband got us a table near a window while I got the food. Later on I discovered that if you walk past the outdoor buffet and go inside (air conditioning!), there are more buffets with different food, and not so long of a line. And there was plenty of seating, you could walk out the back of that restaurant and be outside without all the noisy music and screaming at the pool.
The room was ready by the time we sailed at 4 pm, which I was surprised about, although we didn't get our luggage until around 5 or 6, and we went upstairs for the goodbye party. That was lot of fun and I'm glad I didn't waste my time in my room unpacking. All part of the excitement!
Part of the fun for us was exploring the ship. We picked up a deck plan at the Guest Services desk which was helpful to get oriented as it can get a bit confusing. Not all the elevators go all the way to the top, some of the "cut-throughs" are closed, so we did feel like we wandered around a lot, but for us it was part of the fun. By the end of our cruise, we felt like we had got to know the ship, the staff, our dinner mates, and the culture of the ship. We enjoy meeting new people and getting to know them, so we didn't go on the cruise with the expectation that we would sit at a table for two and be alone the whole time. We also didn't want to have to take care of family members (so I guess we DID want to be alone!), and so the freedom to do whatever the 2 of us wanted to do was priceless.
We ate in the main dining room at the same table, and enjoyed our new friends, some were a little quirky, some were quiet, but overall, they were great people. We celebrated my birthday, another lady's birthday, and found lots to talk about. It was our first cruise, but they were experienced cruisers, so we picked up some great tips for our next cruise (and yes, there will be another cruise in our future!). We even swapped Facebook, business cards and although we most likely won't stay in touch, it was nice to meet people from Chicago, IL, Michigan, South Dakota and of course Miami.
I thought the food in the main dining room was very good. The portions were fine for me, but most of the men at the table ordered a second piece of lobster, or a second appetizer and the servers seemed happy to keep serving. I must say the servers were great! They worked really hard, and even though some of the "waiter entertainment" was a bit silly, it was all in good fun. The food in the buffet line was also good, but I'm not a big fan of buffets, so we enjoyed breakfast and dinner in the main dining room every day.
We stopped in Cozumel, Mexico and Key West. We've been to Key West several times, so we just got off to have a little walk about, grab a little lunch, and then we got back on the ship. In Cozumel, we took the excursion for snorkeling and clear kayaking. It was fantastic! The guides (Mario and Julio) took VERY good care of us, there were lockers (for a small fee) where we could store our bags, a shower to rinse off the salt and clean beach bathrooms. There was a little cantina where we purchased tacos (in Mexico!, they taste so different than the Mexican tacos we eat in America!) and a beverage. There was a little stall to buy souvenirs (expect to haggle, it's fun!) and then they took us by minivan back to the port (10 minute drive).
The shops next to the ship are obviously for tourists, but it was still fun, safe, and reasonably priced. We bargained and got a good deal on a snakeskin purse - a great birthday gift and memory. It all seemed very well organized. We got back to our ship on time. Others did not. It was actually very annoying to be up on deck, expecting to set sail, and watching guests saunter along the deck, 20,30,40 minutes AFTER sailing time. I did wonder if they had got left behind in Mexico, if their sense of entitlement that everyone should wait on them, would do them any good in a foreign country. But I digress...
The entertainment was good but not fantastic. We watched the Punchliner comedy club 2 nights and the Brits Musical and Motown. It was entertaining for sure, but it wasn't Broadway. But we weren't on Broadway or Vegas, we were on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean, and we were never bored, that's for sure. We ran into one of the actors the next day and it was fun finding out his background and history.
We had tea in the Neon Bar, and that was fun, we spent a lot of time sitting on the aft deck just looking out to sea, and that was relaxing and fun. Hot tea, lemonade was available all day, and I was a bit disappointed that the food choices after 10 pm were somewhat limited (pizza or sandwiches) but did realize that I could order room service (for free) where there were more choices. Our steward was very attentive, all the staff were very friendly, and you could see they worked themselves very, very hard. The ship was spotless, there was always someone polishing something, wiping something down and lots of notices everywhere about washing your hands and using Purell.
We got our photos taken in lots of places, for free, and ended up buying most of them (Christmas presents or something, I told myself, but in reality, how many pictures of yourself can you give away?!) once we saw them on the gallery. They were professional quality photos, I must say, and really not that expensive.
What else? We saw dolphins swimming alongside the ship, a rainbow, an incredible lightening storm in the distance, and the wind whip around the flag so hard that we thought it might blow away in to the ocean. We watched young adults embarrass themselves in the pool with too much alcohol and not enough clothing. We saw people smoking ECigarettes in places where any smoking was banned. We saw obese people walking around with buffet plates piled so high, the food was falling off. But we chose to focus on the dolphins, the rainbow and the older couple waltzing under the moonlight on the upper deck all by themselves.
Take a cruise! It will be what you choose to make of it for the most part.
When we booked the cruise, the price went down (by over 50%), so I was annoyed for a day when I realized there was nothing to be done about it (I tried!), but then I decided to just enjoy what I had decided to buy at a good price when I made that decision to buy it. It was a good decision! Next time, we'll book directly with Carnival, and ask for whatever discount we might qualify for. Overall, it was very good value for money. We spent more money just getting to the port (hotels.travel etc.) and taking care of other things than the cruise itself, so when making your budget, make sure to factor all that into your final cost.
Not sure that we'd take the Ecstasy again as now we've got the cruisin' bug and want to try a slightly longer cruise, or a slightly bigger boat. But this was definitely a good trip for us and I would recommend it to any first time cruisers.