This was our first Carnival cruise, and wifey and I were not sure what to expect. But never one to pass up a bargain, we decided to give the line a try. We are both around 50, and the stories we heard about the partiers on board made us both a bit worried!
Embarkation: We turned in our rental car and took the shuttle to the seaport at around noon. Lines weren't bad, and the old gent who checked us in was very friendly. We were on the boat within 30 minutes, and spent some time walking around. We found our way to the Siren's bar all the way aft and enjoyed a cold beer while we waited for our room to be ready. We were allowed in at around 1:30, unfortunately, Jane's luggage never arrived until after 6pm, so no unpacking for a while.
Food: Jane and I are both light eaters, so we would normally have some fruit in the morning, split a sandwich for lunch and then go to the dining room for a formal dinner. The breakfast buffet we found to be well stocked, and the fruits were fresh every day. Never had the eggs, they didn't look too good, but they do have fresh cooked hard boiled eggs which are fine. Sausage was very greasy, bacon looked ok. Pastries were good, we tried a croissant and a danish.
We loved the East River deli, tried a Reuben, a hot pastrami on rye and a turkey sandwich. All were made to order and very tasty. They are a little short on toppings, I would have loved some hot peppers which they didn't have. Pickles were always available, but not really crisp. Jane had some pizza, and said that was pretty good. I tried a burger and and hot dog, the burgers are not bad, the hot dog was bad. Neither of us tried the lunch buffet, but some of the dishes did look good. We wanted to save our appetite for dinner.
We had dinner in the lower Atlantic dining room, our waiters Wayan and Angela were the best! I brought wine and champagne 3 nights, Wayan always had the right glasses out for us and uncorked the bottles for gratis. We sat at a table for 4, but no one else ever showed up, so we had a private table the whole cruise. Dinners we pretty good, much better than what we had on Costa last year, but not quite as good as what we had on Royal Caribbean in 2005. Notable dinners were the lobster, the New Zealand lamb chops, the Filet mignon, and the Quail. Not so good was the pork chop and duck. Appetizers and salads were hit or miss, some were very good, others just so-so. Same with desserts. One of my favorites was cappuccino pie, Jane loved the warm melting cake. We were kind of tucked in the corner, so we missed alot of the dining room entertainment, but it did wake people up! We enjoyed cappuccino every night after dinner, the best was we didn't even have to ask after the second night, our waiters just brought it out to us. Needless to say, we gave each an extra 10 dollars at the end of the cruise.
Room: We had room 6216, a forward balcony. It was always clean and spotless, and our room steward, Putu, was fantastic. He always had a smile on his face and remembered our names from day one. I tipped him well for his service, it was the best we have had from any room steward. There were no refrigerators in the room, which I missed, but there was an ice machine way down the hall that I would use to keep my wine and beer cold. The bathroom was stocked with an assortment of sample products such as toothpaste and shavers, which was a very nice touch!
Activities: We didn't participate in many daytime activities, however, I was disappointed at the lack of chairs by the pools on the at sea days. Actually, it was no lack of chairs, but rather an over abundance of rude people who were saving chairs all day for nothing. We saw many chairs sit empty for hours with just beach towels on them. We hadn't run into this behavior on either Costa or Royal Caribbean.
The casino payed us very well the first 2 days, then took us to the cleaners the rest of the cruise! My wife fell in love with the Hot Shots progressive slots, just look for the noisiest games in the place.
We did go to one show called Vroom, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The singers and dancers were great as was the band. We got to meet the trumpet and sax players in the lunch line one day, a couple of nice young guys from Canada.
The midnight comedian was hilarious, however, his gig only lasted 30 minutes, which was too bad, I was laughing my butt off at his jokes.
Bars: Our favorite was the Seven Seas atrium bar. They had a martini special there everyday, and the barmaid Parichant was super, always smiling and ready to serve us. We did go to the disco one night, service was awful, but they did play some good 70's and 80's tunes for a while before switching to the boom-boom stuff. We toured the other bars, and maybe because it was always late (we had late dinner), there never seemed to be much going on.
Ports: San Juan - not really sure why we even bothered to stop here. By the time we got off the ship, it was almost dark already. We wandered around town for a while and then just went back to the ship. Citibank just off the pier has a no-fee ATM which I used to get some more casino cash.
St Marteen - Beautiful island, you have to take a water or land taxi to get to the main drag. We took the water taxi, $5 for unlimited ride. Gets pretty crowded on the way back, be prepared to wait or take a land taxi. Booze, jewelry and electronics here all very cheap. Best prices of the trip that we found, if you are looking to buy something, this is the best stop. Be aware that you can haggle, my wife got what was supposed to be a $300 pair of earrings for $200. She pulled out 2 100 dollar bills, and told them that was all she was paying. They took it. After shopping, we ended up on the boardwalk, there are a bunch of outdoor bar/restaurants here that face the beach. We had $1.50 beers and were loving life!
St Thomas - The port they land in is big money, I really enjoyed watching all the mega-yachts from my balcony. We just took a short walk to the stores close to the ship here, however, you can take a taxi to the main drag. We took the Champagne Catamaran tour instead, they take you clear across the island where you board a 42' Catamaran and then sail to St John island for some fantastic snorkeling. We enjoyed a great lunch on board of fresh bread and cheeses with the crew specialty, a fruity drink called a "pain killer" Champagne was served on the sail back, it was a pretty good tour.
Debarkation: We did not use the self assist, which was fine. We just had a relaxing breakfast, then waited to they called our deck. Most of the people used the self assist, so we just walked off the ship, no lines at all. Found our luggage in a minute, and customs was not even asking questions, just collecting forms. Then the fun started...we had rented a car from Alamo since we were staying for a few more days. Good luck trying to get one of their shuttles. After 2.5 hours, we got a hotel bus to take 10 of us to the rental site for $50. Another nightmare there, it was about an hour before we finally got a car and were on our way. My suggestion would be to rent from Hertz or Thrifty, their shuttles seemed to be running twice as much as Alamo's with half the people.
Overall Impression: We decided this cruise was about a 7-8 out of 10. Pluses were the great service and clean ship, minus was rude chair hogs, food that was always good, but not usually excellent. I also enjoyed the fact that I could bring wine on board with no problems. There were a bit too many college kids on board this cruise for us, but for the most part they were all well behaved. I think we would do another Carnival cruise if the itinerary and cost was right.
Hope to see everyone onboard next year where ever we end up!
Link to my photos of our trip: http://community.webshots.com/album/558170208ApPkGe