The Ugly: The god awful video screen noisemaker hovering over the lido deck
Now the details
Arrived in Ft. Lauderdale with five of our seven (on couple drove down from Orlando) on Saturday, the day prior to embarkation. Actually found a great place to stay: Marriott Beach Place Towers. We had a two bedroom villa, two king size beds and two queen sized sofa beds. he five of us split the price and it cam to about $60 a head. It was 15 minutes by cab from the airport, right on the beach, with plenty of eating and drinking options right underneath. On Sunday morning, I called the concierge and he had a private van pick up the five of us and bring us to the terminal for $7 a piece. EASY!
Embarkation: SMOOOOOOOOOOTH!!!! We had to check out of our hotel at 10 am, so we headed to the port early. Got there about 10:40 and at first we thought it was a fiasco, but then we realized all the people we saw were leaving the ship. We walked through security, got checked in and were seated in chairs in the air conditioned waiting area. We boarded at 11:30 and were eating lunch on the Lido Deck by 11:40. Our friends from Orlando actually showed up separately at about 1pm and said embarkation was a breeze then too.
First impressions of the ship: Big, beautiful, spacious!!!! This was my first Carnival cruise since Ecstasy in 1994, and I found the decorations and themes to be quite nice. The dining rooms are somewhat unattractive, with the theme being-get this- silverware! So, the walls and ceilings are decorated with giant fork handles. The run up the wall, then take a 90 degree bend and fan out across the ceiling. Quite odd. Otherwise, I found the ship to be almost understated.
I was travelling with a group of seven, and I had my own cabin. I assumed (correctly) that I would spend little time in the cabin and got a basic inside guarantee. I was in cabin 2203. All the way forward interior room on the starboard hallway. This room was GREAT. Why? End of the hall. NO ONE walking by at night making noise. No engine noise. You did occasionally hear the thrusters during docking and departures, and when they dropped the anchor in Grand Cayman, I was not entirely sure we weren't foundering! The room steward, Robertus was excellent.
The food: Exceeded my expectations. Main dining room (silver olympian) was great service and food. We had a table on the lower level (3), at the very back of the ship (long walk from cabin!). Withe seven of us, we had our own table and it looked right out the rear windows at the path we were cutting through the ocean. It was almost hypnotic. We had early seating (5:45) because we were originally going to have two young kids, but the parents decided to ditch the shorties with the in-laws and party a bit more irresponsibly! Since we are all early risers, we just kept the seating and were very happy with it. The food was very, very good. I think a lot of people go on these ships and expect five star cuisine every night. That wasn't the case, but it was hot juicy, tasty and plentiful.
Tuesday night formal night. Most everyone dressed up. A handful of twits who think they look good in jeans of course. But that just shows that you don't have to have social skills to travel! Okay, no more commentary.
Thursday was a second optional formal night. Probably about half of the people dressed up.
Went to Harry's Supper Club on Wednesday. The food and service were spectacular. Liked it so much, we went again on Friday. Not much to say other than this. GO!
Lido Buffet, Emile's, was far better than I expected. Breakfast was hot and fresh with great eggs, french toast, pancakes, meats, breads and fruits. Lunch was expansive and equally satisfying with great burgers, dogs and chicken tenders at the lido poolside grill. The fish and chips station, located upstairs aft is a real treasure. Light, flaky, tasty cider-battered fish, fried oysters, fried calamari casserole, truly a winner. Never ate diner at Lido, so can't review. Travel companions had the pizza one late night. They said it was okay, really "bready" (not sure if that's a word, but I think you get it!).
Never ate at the sushi bar, as it was open from 5:30 to 8:30 and we had 5:45 seating. Always seemed popular though.
Bars: Plentiful, with friendly, skilled bartenders. Flowers bar in the lobby is a wonderful place to hang out in the late afternoon. And so nice to walk out onto the deck outside the lobby at sunset.
Entertainment: We found the more unheralded entertainment to be fantastic. The live music in the lobby was great. The piano bar was hopping once he got there (was sick the first few nights). As for the major production shows, they were what I expected. Nothing terribly memorable, but not bad. There were two comedians, Will Marfori was there the first few nights and he was quite funny. Greg Ray was there later in the week and might be one of the lamest comedians I have ever heard. Seriously, didn't making jokes about how long it takes women to get ready go out with disco?
The Gym: Actually managed to get up at 6am every day and work out. A great way to start the day, watching the ocean appear in front of you as day arrives. I didn't get any spa services, but those in our group who did (manicures, pedicures, hair) were very pleased.
Ports: Key West. First time there in about eight years. Used to go to college in Miami, and Key West has always been one of my favorite escapes. Alas, like everywhere it is changing. Lots of condos going up. But still a laid back port of call. We wandered around Duval, had a few drinks and made our way to the Half Shell Raw Bar for the best steamed oysters ever (some things never change!). Started raining about 1:30, back to the ship, soaked in the covered pool.
Grand Cayman. Didn't do a shore excursion personally. Friends went to the stingray adventure, said it was cool. GC is a tender port, and they made a HUGE deal about the "tender process" of going to the lounge to get a sticker and go to the upper level of the lounge if you are with an excursion, blah, blah, blah. Well, we walk into the lounge at about 7:30 am and they said, no need for stickers as so few people were there to go ashore yet. So we walked down to zero, and got on the tender. Don't know if it got busy later or not. Wandered around in town, had drinks, went back to ship and enjoyed really quiet deck.
Ocho Rios. I guess you're supposed to go to the falls. Four of those travelling with us did, and they liked it. Three of us went to Bamboo Beach Club and were horrified. It's a dumpy little beach right by the ship. There is a rope about fifteen feet out so you can go out too far. The bottom is a disturbing mix of seaweed and clay soil (nice an slimy). The rope at fifteen feet has been floating there so long, it is covered with slime and smells. The chairs were cheap plastic ones with no cushioning. They were blasting music and every other song, all the servers would dance (i.e. no service!). We got one watered down "rum punch", all the ice had melted. I asked about beer, the waitress said "not now, maybe later". Asked for food, the brought us macaroni salad and what appeared to be slices of hillshire farms sausage. I asked about the jerk chicken. First it wasn't ready. Ten minutes later, they had run out! This was bout 9:15 am. Good planning. We paid $45 in advance for this pleasure. People walking up to the gate were charged $5 for the same experience. After forcing ourselves to try and enjoy it for an hour, we correctly realized we would be better served on the ship, so we returned.
Disembarkation: Easy, once all of the uppity nitwits who can't seem to grasp the concepts of wait for your number and don't hang out by the gangway were out of the way. The number system works great. I stayed in my cabin until 8, went to the lido for breakfast and we hung out until they called us. We were group 15 and we were off the boat, through customs and at the airport by 10:00. They really do offload quickly now.
The passengers. Supposedly 400 kids, never saw them. Overall, people were nice, but we kind of joked that a large number of people really seemed to "come out of the woods" for this cruise. I was having a pleasant conversation with a woman from Tennessee. She asked where I was from. I told here New Hampshire. She looked at me like I had three heads. I tried to explain. "North of Massachusetts up in New England". "Part of Canada?" She replied. I lost a little faith in mankind and ordered another drink.The biggest drawback on the ship is the video board hovering over the lido deck. They blast music all morning and then show movies and concerts nonstop. On one port day, there were all of 20 people on deck at 1 pm, when the matinee of "Happy Feet" came on. This was in Grand Cayman, and I am fairly confident the people in Ocho Rios could hear it! It was ridiculous. Another evening, we had enjoyed dinner at Harry's and were all finishing a very nice wine. We decided to take our glasses out to the deck and enjoy the evening. Nope. Bee Gees concert booming out with the screen so bright, Haley's comet could have been bearing down on us and we would not have seen it. It just seems like the most unnecessary addition to a ship. Overall: A vacation that exceeded my expectations in every way. I can't wait to do it again!