BACKGROUND: This was my fourth cruise and my husband's second cruise. My favorite line is Celebrity so naturally Carnival had a tough time competing in my mind. We booked Carnival based on price because we could get a balcony for slightly more than another Celebrity cruise we were looking at. Also - we wanted to see if the 'fun ship' environment could make up for the decline in service and food. While we did have a great time partying with some folks we met on board, we won't cruise with Carnival again. They claim a 60-70% retention rate of returning cruisers. I wonder what the percentage of people who have cruised other lines and return is. I noticed they didn't announce that factoid during the final show.
ACTIVITIES: Most were at best entertaining since they were geared towards college students. I would have liked more of a range of age groups. The entertainment was pretty abysmal as well. One of the Vegas style shows was actually pretty decent. Though I knew some folks thought it a bit condescending b/c it was a "taste of America" and it portrayed American's as hicks who do nothing but workout at the gym, play sports and work on the farm. I noticed that, but it didn't bother me too much.
SERVICE: This was probably the worst service I've ever had. I'm not even sure my cabin steward knew our names. They'd call it transparent service. I'd call is no service. We ALWAYS had to ask our steward to change our room during the day by leaving the "make up my room" card on the door. I'm used to a level of service where the steward mysteriously knows every single time you leave the room and at the very least zips in and makes your bed. I think Celebrity has me well spoiled! Also, Carnival has started an automatic tipping system which I am not a fan of. I really think it keeps all of the crew from working for their tips.
EXCURSIONS: The only one we booked with the cruise line was the America's Cup Sailing Regatta. I had done this in 2001 and enjoyed it tremendously both times. However, the tour guide we had at the beginning continuously called my husband "Chicken". I supposed he though it was funny, DH didn't think so (especially since the Carnival film crew was filming). I would definitely recommend this excursion (which you can only book through the cruise line). Note: If you chose to be an "active" team member you will be sore the day after, it's a lot of work! But fun all the same.
STATEROOMS: I have to admit these cabins felt roomer than most. And the bathrooms were slightly larger too. The dEcor was gaudy! Flamingo pink counter in the bathroom. Not to worry - the flamboyant color scheme is carried throughout the ship - so you won't know any better!
CARNIVAL COMFORT BED: And I come to the absolute number one thing about this trip. The bed. Simply put, it rocked. This was easily the nicest bed I've had on a cruise. It rivaled the pillow top beds that Marriott boasts. We slept like babies. And, what a shocker, if you like it - you can buy it!
DINNING: The food was the worse food by far I've had on a ship. The formal dinning food felt like a barely passable attempt at fine dinning. I wouldn't call myself a foodie exactly - but I do know the difference in fine dinning and the local Chilies! I've grown to expect to eat better at sea, so naturally I was disappointed. The chilled and creamed soups were great and there was a night where the short ribs were fantastic. But the lobster was tough and the prime rib too fatty. And why is the Grand Buffet on the Lido Deck? I'd like my grand buffet in the formal dinning room where it belongs! Don't even ask about the regular buffets. However, I can see that people greatly appreciate the quantity over quality Carnival offers. The food (however inadequate) was plentiful. Mostly we ate just to get full, unlike on Celebrity where you can't help but gorge yourself.
SHIP: The ship was clean and I did occasionally spot folks cleaning and maintaining. However, it's definitely seen some miles. The dEcor was ridiculous. Everything was sponge painted turquoise and pink. I think they were going for a patina effect of rusted copper or something. But it just ended up looking super dated and everything (I mean everything) had little twinkle lights. Can you say VEGAS? There were bits and pieces that were nicely done like the Ionian Room. But that room was deemed the cigar lounge so we couldn't go in due to DH's allergies. I'm used to ships with dedicated and isolated little cigar bars. Also - the jazz band was in there nightly which we very much would have enjoyed had it been elsewhere.
EMBARKATION: Nothing new to report. Shocker! There were lines. I felt like it moved pretty swiftly. It was an average embarkation - no complaints. I'm always so thrilled at the start of a cruise.
DISEMBARKATION: Another A+ thing here. Carnival allows for a self disembarkation. If you can carry your bags yourself then you can get off the ship first! That was fantastic though slightly cumbersome. I would shoot to pack less next time to make it a little easier on ourselves. There was one point where we had to lug all 5 of our bags down 2 flights of stairs. But again - well worth it to be off the ship and back at our hotel by 8:30 AM!
OVERALL: I wouldn't book with Carnival again. I did enjoy the nightlife and especially appreciated that all the public bars, disco, lounges, etc were close together at the aft of the ship. This made it easy to find the excitement. I loved the bed and the self-disembarkation. I am not a fan of the automatic tipping system. I really think this inhibits any incentive the crew has to work hard for their pay. Like I heard a wise man once say - a bad cruise is always better than a day at work!