Hello. I hope you enjoy this admittedly long-winded review. A little background first. I am a 58 year old man and this was my 6th cruise (3 with Carnival, 1 each with Princess, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian). I shared a cabin with my 29 year old son (his 3rd cruise) and we traveled with a group that included 2 single women (25 year old and 32 year old), a single 32 year old man, a family that included husband and wife with their 8 year old son, and a family that included a husband and wife and their 7 year old and 10 year old sons .For the 4 parents and the 32 year old woman this was their 2nd cruise, the 1st cruise for the 25 year old woman, the 32 year old man, and all 3 kids. None of us had traveled together before (except for my son and I) A pretty varied and eclectic group of 12.
We picked this cruise primarily because we wanted to leave from New York (we are from Long Island) and we needed to go this time of year because of the kids. The other main consideration was the length of the cruise (we also considered a shorter Bermuda cruise out of New Jersey). This cruise featured 2 sea days (not counting the sailing day), 3 ports in 3 days, and 2 more sea days. Now to the actual review:
The Embarkation: Went very smoothly and efficiently. We arrived at the port around noon and we all were checked in and on the ship within a half hour.
The Ship: The first thing that you notice is that its BIG! This is Carnival's 2nd largest ship (behind the Dream). The other thing you notice is the VERY PINK decor inside (some even nicknamed it "The Pink Ship"). Don't be nervous, however, after a day or so you'll get around fine. Although the ship has been on the water since 2008, it is in good condition as I saw no issues regarding wear and tear and/or maintenance issues (no bare spots on carpeting, etc.). It has 2 pools for everyone, and an adult's only pool aft ( I actually observed a crew member shooing some kids out of it, so the "adults only" is followed as best as it can be expected). Although I didn't go into it, I think the spa also has a pool. There are ample public spaces ( lounges, bars, dance club, comedy club, piano bar, showroom, etc.) as well as 2 dining rooms, recreation areas (ping pong, etc.), casino, a waterslide, an arcade, and for the kids, a small spray park and kid's only supervised spaces (as part of the age-appropriate kids clubs).
I do have issues with smoking aboard ship. I know it is limited to specified smoking areas on deck, the casino, the dance club, and the cigar bar (" the Cool" ). I wish it was only limited to outside specified area and cigar bar ("The Cool"). The fog of smoke in the dance club and casino was disgusting...causing me to avoid the casino the entire trip.
The Food: You are on a cruise ship. You will be fed...continuously. That being said, some of the venues are better than others. I will mention those that our group tried.
First of all, dinners in the dining room were EXCELLENT (actually better than I expected). On each night you had a menu that featured a page titled, "everyday" that stayed the same every night of the trip. This was for those who couldn't find something preferable on the "today's" side of the menu which changed daily. Between the 2 sections, there were like 3-4 appetizers, 2-3 soups, 2-3 salads, 8-10 entrees, and 6-8 desserts. Not that I nor everybody in our group liked everything we tried (due to our own tastes), we found most items were terrific (tasty, well prepared and presented, fresh etc.). The kids also had a kid's menu (with the usual kid's type choices), but they could also order off the adult menu. And for those considering a first cruise, you can order as much of and as many things as you want...wanna try something new, go right ahead...if you don't like it, order something else. We did not visit any of the other venues for dinner as this was the only time we knew we would eat as a group together.
Breakfast/Brunch consisted of 3 choices: Room service limited ( usual basic items) , buffet on deck, and sit-down in dining room. Dining room was best of the 3. Plenty of usual choices, plus some somewhat unique dishes (Eggs Benedict made with lox, cereal crusted pancakes, etc.)....again fresh, tasty, well prepared. Buffet breakfast is for those in a hurry...not quite as many choices, but still adequate. Not as fresh, keeping food warm problematic. Sometimes long lines.
Lunch. The Main Buffet: definitely the most disappointing. Lines tended to be long. Food mediocre.
Limited choices/variety day to day.
Mongolian Wok: very good...freshly cooked right in front of you (vegetables, meats, etc.). Maybe the best of the "stations", only downside is that line moves slow due to made-to-order cooking.
Deli: pretty good (reubens, pastrami, etc.)
Tandoor: I never had it (Indian food not my taste) but a member of our group had it several times and was quite pleased with it.
Pizza: not New York (not expected anyway), but it really wasn't bad at all
Grille: really can't screw up hamburgers, hot dogs, and the like.
Rotisserie: didn't try it, but those in our party who did said it was reasonably good.
Overall I would rate the food "Good" with the only thing keeping it from being excellent being the main lunch buffet.
Cabins: except for my son and I who took an "inside" cabin , everyone else took an "outside" cabin. I found my room to be clean, with everything in good working order. No one in our group expressed any complaints. For those experienced in cruising, these cabins are pretty roomy. For those who are not, you'll get used to it.
Activities/Shows/etc.: everything from the silly, to artistic, to trivia, to raunchy and everything in-between. Family friendly shows, adult oriented shows, piano bar singalongs ...this is Carnival. Plenty of activities. Something for everyone. Overall opinion was that the shows, etc. were pretty good.
Kid's program: according to the parents in our group who enrolled their kids in the program, they were definitely not happy campers. Maybe too many kids to handle as we were informed that there were over 1,000 kids on this cruise (I don't know how many of those were in the kid's program).
Service staff: nothing short of wonderful. Always efficient. Always friendly. Always patient with the kids. Not enough adjectives to describe how good they were...everybody without exception(we wanted to adopt our head waiter Lalu).
Ports: Half Moon Cay: soft white sand, crystal clear ocean....utterly beautiful. Our group chipped in and rented a villa (basic cost $500 for first 8 guests, with $50 each for additional over 8..came to $60 per person, with munchies, refreshments, with snorkeling equipment and floating mats all supplied). Read the blurbs on Carnival site for more details of villa ( and all other excursions on all ports) . Included in our stay at the island was a B-B-Q lunch. We ALL agreed it was the best money spent. We truly could have stayed there for the entire cruise and skipped the other ports.There are only 5 of these villas, so don't hesitate. In addition to the beach, there are also excursions. Only 1 family booked excursions- the wife rode a horse in the ocean, husband and kid went kayaking. They said, "it was awesome!"
Nassau: Very dependent on tourism. Poor country. Some of us (including my son and I) just walked the city, some booked excursions ( Atlantis, etc.). It was very hot, almost oppressive. A few interesting places to see, a "straw market" to browse (and negotiate prices), some "nicer" shops...would have preferred staying at Half Moon Cay. Those that went on excursions only had issues with pricing (for instance Atlantis was $180 per adult...total cost of excursion for this family of 4 came to over $600 after kids cost and refreshments.
Port Canaveral: this was a substitute port as we had to avoid hurricane and could not go to Grand Turk which was part of our original itinerary. Lousy. No area to walk at port, choices of excursions included expensive Universal or Disney Parks after a hour's drive, a beach excursion nearby ("World's Famous Cocoa Beach") or a limited amount of other excursions. 1 family went to Universal, again total cost over $600. 5 of us went to beach. BIG MISTAKE!!! Coarse blowing sand, disgusting dirty beach (butts, bottle caps, who knows what else buried), choppy waves with strong currents. We left after only a HALF HOUR...we simple couldn't stand it. TERRIBLE!!!
WE WANNA GO BACK TO HALF MOON CAY! (see a pattern here?)
After 2 more sea days, we had to port at New York again and end our vacation. Disembarkation was a pain with 3,000 people to deal with. I guess there isn't much to be done to make it easier.
To summarize: We had a great time. Big ship in good condition, Mostly good food (again, avoid the main lunch buffet). Many varied activities and shows, everyone should find things to enjoy. Half Moon Cay a paradise, Nassau only OK, Port Canaveral terrible.
Feel free to e-mail me @ firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions I can answer or if you need any more info. Brian