This review will primarily focus on issues that are of interest to travelers with physical disabilities. I traveled with my 86 year old father on the Carnival Victory's tour from New York to St. John's and Halifax in Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, the trip proved to be quite challenging for my father in ways we had not anticipated.
We booked the tour through a travel agency we have used before, and were told that Carnival now relies on e-docs and that therefore we should not expect to receive any paper documents. I went to Carnival's website, completed the online registration forms (which included giving Carnival information about airline reservations, etc), and printed our FunPasses, which were supposed to be our boarding passes. I did not book our air travel through Carnival for reasons too involved to explain here, and our travel arrangements required us to arrive in New York the day before the cruise began. Because we arrived early, Carnival declined to provide any transfer to the hotel or pier. They did offer to book a hotel room for us (the Crowne Plaza), but the rate we were quoted was considerably higher than I could get for the same room on the Internet, so I made my own reservation. The Crowne Plaza is expensive, but not exorbitant by NY standards, and was very nice.
When we arrived at the pier for embarkation, the problems began. I had no Carnival luggage tags, since I hadn't received any paper documents. So I had to get tags from an official and fill them out on the spot while Dad stood by in his walker. There were no wheelchairs anywhere in sight, so he had to hike from the place where we were dropped off all the way to the ship. That's a pretty substantial distance for a man in a walker. Carnival officials did wave us to the front of the line, so he was not forced to stand in line for embarkation procedures, but he was still worn out by the time he made it through security checkpoints, photos, check-in, and finally all the way to the ship.
At check-in, my FunPasses were waved aside and I was asked to produce paper documentation. Of course, I had none. I tried to explain that I'd been told to register online and had done so. I was told that wasn't what they wanted and I should have gotten paper tickets. Finally, they very reluctantly looked us up online and allowed us to proceed with registration.
When we got on the ship, the staterooms were very comfortable in terms of space and furnishings, but freezing cold. It proved to be hard to adjust the temperature in the cabin. About all you could do was close the vent, and even that didn't really make the room much warmer. Dad was cold through most of the cruise, and spent a small fortune in the ship's gift shop on fleece items to supplement the light jacket that he had expected to wear during shore excursions.
I quickly discovered that except for the lifeboat drill, most of the decks were off limits to passengers for the duration of the cruise. The entrances to the decks were covered with big "Crew Only" signs. Passengers who wanted to get outside were pretty much limited to the pool area and the jogging track. The result was that all 4500 people were funneled into the same little public lounge and pool areas, making the public areas of the ship uncomfortably crowded and noisy. I spent a lot of the cruise in my stateroom, when I had hoped to be lying in a lounge chair on a deck with my book.
I had waited to book shore excursions till I got on board because I wanted information about exactly how difficult the excursions would be for passengers with disabilities. I spent some time discussing those issues with the tour desk. Dad really wanted to see the Bay of Fundy, and unfortunately most of those tours were not suitable for him. We finally chose the St. Martin's expedition in St. John's, which turned out to be a pretty good choice even though it had two stars by it for physical difficulty. The trip started with a visit to the Old City Market in St. John's. Dad was able to tour the Market in his walker, then returned to the bus for the trip to St. Martin's. We took a scenic route, and stopped along the way at a location where he was able to see and photograph the harbor with the tide out, photograph two covered bridges, etc. The walking was a little rough at that location because the parking lot was not paved and was rocky, but it was manageable for him with a little help from me. We then proceeded on to St. Martin's, where we ate a pleasant meal in the restaurant by the sea caves and he hunted for wishing rocks on the beach. He couldn't walk over the beach to the sea caves, and he really could only take a couple of steps onto the edge of the beach to look for the rocks because the surface was so uneven and rocky, but he was still able to enjoy that stop. Then we returned to St. John's, stopping at the Reversing Falls along the way for photos, which was again manageable for him. So that trip was a success. However, we had difficulty getting on and off the ship. On previous cruises (including a previous Carnival cruise), the ship's staff has been available to help passengers with difficulties on and off the ship. That was NOT the case in St. John's. I took Dad off the ship in a wheelchair, and almost lost control of it on the steep gangplank (and yes, I was on the one that was supposed to be safe for wheelchairs). When we returned, I could not have physically pushed him back up the gangplank if one of the other passengers had not taken pity on us and stopped to assist me. I did complain to the purser's desk, and was told that Carnival only provides assistance on embarkation and debarkation. When I mentioned that I would not be traveling with Carnival in the future, I was told that if I had just waited 15 or 20 minutes, a staff member would surely have happened along and I could have asked for help.
In Halifax, we had signed up for the Harbour Duck tour. The tour guide was quite good and we enjoyed the novelty of riding our amphibious vehicle from the streets of Halifax right on into the harbour and out again. Dad did have to climb several stairs to get into the vehicle, but was able to do so without much difficulty. Again, that trip was a success, but again there was no Carnival staff available to assist us back onto the ship afterwards.
In the afternoon we had signed up for the Halifax and Peggy's Cove tour, which proved to be a very bad choice despite being designated as an "easy" tour. First, the bus did not stop at any location in Halifax despite being billed as an "informative" tour of Halifax. All we saw of the city's attractions were what we could see from the windows of the bus as we headed out of town for Peggy's Cove. They didn't even bother to drive us up on Citadel Hill to look down on the city below - we were simply told, "there's Citadel Hill over there on your right" as we drove past the entrance to it. The information we had been given on Peggy's Cove said that we would have about an hour there to explore the cove with its shops and galleries. The tour guide told us that actually, when we got to the cove the people who could walk would be allowed to get off the bus and he would conduct a walking tour through the cove for them. People in wheelchairs or with walking difficulties would not be able to participate in that, and the bus driver would take us to the upper end of the cove and drop us off to wait. At the upper end, it turned out that the only "shop or gallery" was a restaurant with a small gift shop attached. There was a lighthouse that Dad could not reach because the path only went halfway to it and then ended in rocks. And there were rocks that he could not stand or climb on. There was no safe place for him to stand to take pictures of the view; he ended up tottering out into the busy road in his walker to try to get photos of the village below and of the sea. And that's all there was for him to do there. This expedition is NOT suitable for people with walking difficulties and needs to be clearly described in the literature and by the Tour Desk as unsuitable.
This time, when we boarded the ship we did (for the first and only time on the trip) receive help from a Carnival employee in getting the wheelchair back on board. I also received a call from the purser's desk telling me that they had stationed employees there to meet us as a result of my complaint the day before.
Dad enjoyed the music and dance shows in the main ship's lounge (the Caribbean Lounge) but didn't think much of either the comedy show or the magic show. I agreed with him on the comedy show - the guy was vulgar and not amusing - but thought the magician was more entertaining than Dad gave credit for. David Copperfield doesn't have anything to worry about in terms of competition from this guy, but he was much funnier than the comedian had been, and I found the show as a whole mildly entertaining. We ate in the main dining room for dinner each night and found the food and service to be generally good there at dinner. We also very much enjoyed the dining staff's after dinner entertainment. I was much less impressed with breakfast in the dining room, and after the first bad experience there, I ate at the buffet restaurant for breakfast and lunch and carried food down to Dad's room for him. The lines were very long at the buffet and the food was so-so, but better than dealing with the dining room.
When the time came for disembarkation, I found that Carnival had ignored the information I had entered online about our flights and had assigned us to debark in Zone 27 even though we had early (meaning before 2 PM) flights out of Newark. I had to go to the purser's desk and stand in line to present proof of our flights in order to get us changed to the early departures group. Also, it turned out that Carnival will only assist guests with physical handicaps with debarkation if you are willing to wait and be the last passengers off the boat. That wasn't possible for us since we had 1 PM flights. So again Dad had to hike off the ship unassisted.
I thought I would take advantage of the Internet cafe the day before disembarkation to print boarding passes for our flights home. I figured it would only take a few minutes to print them off. The connection was so slow that it took 45 minutes to print two boarding passes, at 75 cents per minute. If I'd had any idea it would take so long, I could have bought a cheaper payment plan, but who would have thought? The employee in charge of the Internet cafe was quick to tell me it was Delta's website and not the Carnival connection that was taking so long to load pages. Yeah, maybe.
As part of the early departure group, we were told to meet in the Ionian lounge to wait for someone to guide us off the ship. When she showed up, she took us on a route that might have been specifically designed to be as difficult as possible for disabled passengers. It wound through the Atlantic dining room, forcing Dad to dodge tables and chairs all the way through, and required going down a level. She took the main group down the stairs and left us to wait for elevators and hope we could catch up. At the pier, although I had bought transfers from the ship to the airport, Carnival said our names were not on their list and asked me to produce paper vouchers. Back to the whole issue of not having paper tickets, etc. again. Obviously, I had no paper to show them, so they declined to let us on the bus. We had to hike to another location in the pier and wait for a taxi. It was a disappointing end to a generally disappointing cruise. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend Carnival to any traveler with a disability, and will not use them again myself.