I've been meaning to write this since we (me, my wife, three teenaged children and my parents) got back on 7/22/07 from our Eastern Caribbean cruise but alas life intrudes. Nevertheless I feel strongly enough about what I want relate that I'm carving out a little time so that the readers on this fine site can be a little more informed about what they are getting for their vacation dollars and perhaps just as importantly their valuable time.
It seems that many writers touch on the embarkation process in their reviews and I guess I'll start there as well. All in all it wasn't quite as bad as I thought it would be. Yes there was some waiting around (we arrived about an hour early), and there were lines to stand on. We observed a number of chairs in a large seating area in the middle of the cavernous pier but found that we couldn't sit there as the seats were reserved for VIPs. And let me tell you there were quite a few of them. No, we had to stand in line against the wall while Carnival staff assigned to the pier repeatedly asked us to move closer together so that more people could enter the roped off area that we were in. Despite being treated like cattle, the wait wasn't terribly long (we were near the beginning of the herd) and the boarding process wound up going pretty smoothly once the VIPs were settled in. Note that it was during the boarding process on the pier that we were first accosted by Carnival photographers. Maybe it's me, but I just didn't feel like posing for a photo at that point. I was a good deal more interested in finishing the boarding process and getting on the darn boat.
After checking out our cabins, the first thing we all did was head to Horatios for lunch, so I may as well write about dining next. Most of the family ordered sandwiches from the deli area and sampled a bit from the other food stations. We found that throughout the cruise the food choices in Horatios were many and there always seemed to be something that we liked. While we ate most of our dinners in the Bacchus dining room at the early seating, Horatios was more than adequate for breakfast, lunch and late night snacks. My boys and I thought the pizza wasn't half bad and I enjoyed the Philly cheesesteak I had as a midnight snack one evening. I was particularly pleased with the dessert station and on one of the last days was surprised to find myself eating three desserts after lunch. (I'm not that big an eater and it would be quite rare for me to consume three desserts in a week's time while at home!) I thought the various dessert items were quite good. Dinners in the Bacchus dining room were fine. We weren't impressed with the number of menu choices, but we all managed to find something we liked each evening. And while the portions weren't that large, when dinner was over no one with the possible exception of my fifteen year old son was left wanting more. And he knew he'd be grabbing a snack later on anyway. My youngest son loved the chocolate melting cake which was available as a dessert choice every night, and which he ordered every night. I had it one evening too and don't blame him. It was a chocolate lover's dream. The food service was excellent and I was impressed with our waiter's efforts to remember our names and food preferences. For some reason however, the person responsible for drink service rarely made it to our table. There were a couple of nights where had someone asked, we likely would have ordered a drink or two, but the person responsible never materialized. We didn't make an issue of it as we knew we would be having drinks later on anyway. I was a little uncomfortable with the way the waiters and waitresses all had to perform for us several times during the week upon the command of the Maitre'd. On at least three or four occasions, toward the end of the dinner seating, the Maitre'd would get on the microphone and shout out a hello to everyone and the next thing you knew music was playing and the waiters and waitresses were wearing silly wigs, dancing, singing, and clapping their hands. It was cute the first night it was done, but by the third time it occurred I thought it a bit ridiculous and to me a bit demeaning for the men and women (or indentured servants that most of them are) who work so hard trying to keep us vacationers satisfied. Maybe it's just me, but it made me a bit uncomfortable.
I was actually quite impressed with our accommodations. My wife and I had booked an outside cabin on the Riviera Deck. The room was well appointed with a comfortable bed, a small couch and a large window. This being my first cruise, I had been concerned that the room would be a bit claustrophobic, but that was not the case at all. It was quite comfortable, and I thought an efficient use of the space. The bathroom was also well designed with a spacious shower area that was not the cramped space I expected it to be. Our three offspring were confined to a smaller interior room directly across the hall, but they had no complaints either. My parents opted for a room several decks higher which was a carbon copy of our room but with a balcony outside. They were quite pleased with their room as well.
We found most of the entertainers employed by Carnival to be first rate. The ship's orchestra which played in the Phantom Lounge was comprised of top notch musicians. The Miracle dancers were incredibly talented. We thoroughly enjoyed the "Ticket to Ride" Beatle show, the Sammy Davis Jr. tribute show and even the show with the jugglers, which I expected to be boring but wound up being quite fun. We weren't too crazy about the shows that were the main entertainment in the Phantom Lounge on two nights and was comprised primarily of fellow guests who thought they could sing. One fellow performed a remarkable Ray Charles impression that had me thinking that perhaps Mr. Charles had come back to life. The remaining performers were mediocre at best and had me squirming in discomfort in my seat at times. Of course we all dutifully applauded when they were done, but at times it was more because we were glad they were through. While I admired their bravery, I didn't pay a boatload of money (no pun intended) to hear my fellow performers perform Karaoke, (which took place nearly every evening for hours in the Mad Hatter's Ball, and should have stayed there).
The Matt Hadaway Trio that played most evenings in the Gotham lounge was terrific and I found myself drawn there for a little jazz and a late cocktail nearly every evening. We all (kids included) stopped by Sam's Piano bar one evening thinking we would enjoy a sing along with Buster Freeze. Instead we were treated to an obscene version of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" that had us scrambling for the exit for two reasons: Buster's version of the song was clearly inappropriate for younger ears and his singing, if you could call it that was unfit for human ears. There was some decent rock and roll to be heard in Frankie and Johnnie's, though the place was a bit too smoky for the nonsmokers in our group.
As far as other activities go, I wasn't really impressed. Despite the listing of activities published in the daily "Carnival Capers", I found myself a little bored at times. If you aren't into gambling, shopping or drinking for a significant part of the day, there is not an awful lot to do, particularly if the weather is not conducive to outdoor activities. I enjoyed the down time and caught up on my reading, but somehow I expected more.
The port time in San Juan was brief but we did get to walk around a bit and take in a few sites of interest. We enjoyed our time in Saint Thomas, opting to take one of the many taxis available in the port to a lovely beach the name of which escapes me at this writing. We also bargained with a wonderful open air taxi driver named Santa who took us on a tour of Tortola and which also included a beach visit. There are plenty of such taxis in both ports and this is definitely the way to go to see both islands without paying for one of the overpriced excursions offered by Carnival.
This was my first cruise and while it was great to get away with the family, I was not overly impressed and there were aspects of the trip (not the food though) that left a bad taste in my mouth. I expected to pay for drinks; I knew that was part of the deal. I knew too that things like excursions cost more money as well. But, I didn't expect such an effort on the part of the cruise line to separate me from more of my money. For example the "art auctions" involved a rather obnoxious fellow whose job it was to "educate" auction attendees about art and then of course promptly solicit their bids on pieces that were available. Bingo - usually an enjoyable enough diversion, typically consisted of only one game that was over in minutes. Cards were sold for 10 dollars each or three for 20 dollars. The prize money never came close to equaling the cash that was taken in. My observation of the number of cards sold and the amount of cash going back to the winners revealed that bingo is a huge cash cow for the cruise line. Is this really necessary? While I wouldn't expect Carnival to take a loss here, the amount of money they take in is ridiculous for what should be included as a free or nearly free activity. This obvious effort to dip into ones wallet seemed to me to be pervasive. From the huge section of the ship dedicated to the photography department, (every photo taken by the ship's sometimes annoying photography staff is on display here), to the wine stewardess at Nick and Nora's who tried to talk me into a more expensive bottle of wine because what I had ordered (a 36.00 bottle) 'could be obtained anywhere, and perhaps I wanted to try something else', I felt the biggest concern of the cruise line was trying to wring additional money out of my already thinned wallet.
Additionally, it's 2007. We all know about the hazards of second hand smoke. Isn't it time that cruise ships, (at least all indoor public areas) be made smoke free? While there were non smoking areas on the ship, there were also areas (Frankie and Johnnie's, the casino) that my family and I couldn't stay in as the smoke was at times unbearable.
While I would go on a cruise again, I think I'll stay on land for my next few vacations. When the cruise bug bites again, I'll likely try another line in the hope that there will be a different and perhaps less money grubbing atmosphere.
To whom it may concern:
I am resubmitting this as on my initial attempt - the ship we traveled on may not have been properly indicated (my error). The proper ship was the Carnival Miracle. And also while our destination was the Eastern Carribean and I did select this, it shows on the submission page "Norhern Europe" and nothing I do changes this. Thanks for your help.