We booked this cruise at the last minute as a Labor Day Weekend Getaway for us and our three kids. Their ages are 2, 4 and 10. My wife and I are 34 and 35, respectively. In terms of achieving the goal of giving our kids a great weekend, Carnival passed with flying colors. The Camp Carnival program was great for all ages. Having said that, my wife and I have cruised exclusively on Celebrity and now, Azamara, Cruises for the last 3 years. For us, this Paradise cruise was awful in terms of quality of food, cleanliness of the ship, attitude of much of the staff, etc. We will go into details below.
Granted, we fully understand that Celebrity and Carnival should not be truly compared to each other. However, as I am reading other reviews on Cruise critic of this ship and this itinerary, they make the ship sound like it is at the level of Celebrity. And it certainly is not...
Embarkation/Long Beach Port
As described in other reviews, the process was smooth. The parking facility is set up like an airport parking garage. We had no problems getting our bags to the porter, and ultimately no problems getting our bags to our stateroom. The check-in process was very efficient. We are used to getting Captains Club service when we check in with Celebrity. Having no "frequent flier" status with Carnival did not slow the process at all.
When we first entered the ship, we knew we were in a party atmosphere when the main lobby's showpiece is a bar with piano. This is very different from Celebrity and Princess. Now, when entering a Celebrity ship, it is always nice to have a staff member hand you champagne and then walk you to your room. On Carnival, we were treated in the exact opposite way. Once you enter using your boarding card, that was it! No one said anything to anyone. The ship's layout is confusing to say the least. There was not one greeter onboard who could at least tell us where the rooms were, where the different elevators went, what the names of the floors were. Granted, we are relatively smart people and figured this all out after a trip to the Information desk and checking out the signs on board.
But Carnival's decks are all named something, like Riviera, Empress, Lido, etc. The room numbers are based on the name of the deck, not the number of the floor. So, to find your room, you need to figure out where your floor is, then try to find the correct elevator that goes to your floor. Also, the rooms are not all in the same walkways. Depending on where you are on the ship, you may run into a dividing wall and need to walk down a different hallway just to get to your room's hallway.
Like I said, after being onboard for a short while, we were able to get our lay of the land, so to speak, but for no one on board to show any responsibility for helping with guiding guests to rooms, we thought this was poor service to say the least.
Food quality and choices
Upon arrival, the Paris Buffet on the Lido deck was open and very crowded. The food was basically awful. The burgers and fries near the pool were the best items we could find. Now, our kids loved having access to the "I guess it's ice cream" soft serve machines. One says ice cream, and one says frozen yogurt—they both were pretty poor in quality. Worse than what you would get at a Sweet Tomatoes/Soup Plantation salad buffet (for those on the west coast).
We ate dinner the first and 3rd nights in the dining room Elation, and the 2nd night in the buffet. The food was most Unimpressive on each night. Salad was probably the best course at the dining room. We tried a variety of entrees, including salmon, whitefish, NY Strip steak, Chateaubriand, pasta. And, each seemed to be worse than the next. I say this in the nicest way possible. I understand this is not Celebrity, so we were not expecting great food on board. But, again, having read many of the other reviews on this web site, I think it should be obvious that the quality of food is basically what you should expect for Carnival. That's all. Any other cruise line likely has better food (we've been on Princess, Celebrity, Azamara, so cannot comment on HAL, Norwegian, etc.).
The buffet food for breakfast was below average. Breakfast foods looked mainly inedible, including strange looking sausages and very yellow, likely powdered, scrambled eggs. Only highlight was the omelette station, where you could get an eggwhite omelette on request. Also, they had fruit, yogurt and cereals. No waffle stations.
At the buffet, there is a 24 hour pizza station, which has passable, Target or K-mart quality pizza. At least it was freshly cooked and you could order a few pizzas to be made right there and then. They also had a sandwich station with a sandwich presser/grill. The quality of the meat was average to below average.
They did have a coffee bar that had some nice desserts for a $2 fee. Also, they had a very limited sushi bar, which basically had artificial California rolls. We chose to pass.
Finally, as to the servers in the dining room. They were friendly overall. But when it came to asking for specific requests regarding food, we were given very abrupt and not very friendly answers. There were 6 kids at our table, and the adults needed to make some food adjustments after the kids tried to order for themselves. The waiter was not happy at all, and it showed in his face and his demeanor. We also had one of our children come back from the Camp Carnival area in the middle of the meal and we asked to see if we could get some food ordered. Sure, we were "Out of the usual order" time for the table, and I understand the tables are served on a time schedule so as to make sure the tables are ready for the second seating. But, we were basically told that it was too late to get an entrEe from the kitchen and that we should go to the buffet. We were truly in shock.
CLEANLINESS of the ship
This is where Carnival truly deserves a Zero star rating. Granted, we understand this is a "Booze cruise" style itinerary, and we expected the ship to be full of partiers. And it was. But there were also plenty of families and plenty of non-American guests as well.
It should not matter what the itinerary of the ship is. The ship should have basic cleanliness standards. There were over 2000 guests on board. You would expect the world's largest cruise line to know how many staff members they should need to keep the ship clean.
But, this was not the case.
We watched piles and piles of dirty dishes and cups everywhere—in the pool area, in the buffet, in the hallways. With that many people on board, you would expect workers to be cleaning up the public areas ALL THE TIME! Especially near the pool. What ended up happening was literally dishes and cups falling onto the floors and there were spills of juice and punch everywhere. Dirty dishes everywhere. And, I truly mean it when I say they sat there for hours. I would see some staff members walk by every once in a while, usually with a tray full of fresh bar drinks. You would think the trash everywhere would affect them. Apparently, it didn't.
Also, the public bathrooms, to me, were public disgraces. They were disgusting, piled up with trash all over the floors. The toilets were very dirty. This was mainly true near the pool areas, but it was noticeable in other public toilets as well.
I can't really comment too much on this—we ended up spending most of the nights with our kids. We did not see any of the shows or comedians. We did enjoy Karaoke on our last night. The classical music trio that plays in the bar in the main atrium was enjoyable. The night disco Rex was pretty loud, but we did enjoy dancing there—it was pretty dark and there was a lot of dance floor space.
The hairy chest contest at the pool on our Sea day was pretty distasteful. It was very loud, and when the contestants began screaming like gorillas into the microphones, it made most people at the pool (except maybe the drunk ones) jump and make bizarre faces. Again, we expected this kind of atmosphere at the pool, we just wish everyone, including those with kids, did not have to be exposed to it. Oh well...
We were expecting so much more from this cruise after reading many of the more recent reviews on this web site. I had been on Carnival Sensation when I was in college, and I remember thinking back then that the ship was dirty and the food was pretty bad. That was 15 years ago. Now, I don't think there have been any improvements. While I understand this is considered to be a lower end cruise line and a lower end cruise ship/itinerary for Carnival, I still expect there to be some basic standards. Other than the kids areas (Camp Carnival), we give this cruise a very poor rating.