My wife and I just completed this 4 night cruise on the Ecstasy to Cozumel, Mexico. The dates were January 3 through January 7th.
We arrived at the Carnival terminal about 1:30 from Hobby airport via a limo from Ambassador Limousine. (Carnival doesn't provide shuttle service from Hobby, but they do from George Bush International.) There were hundreds of people everywhere. I thought getting on would take some time, but we were on board by 2:10. The people were very helpful and worked to keep the boarding process going. You can leave your bags with Carnival employees at the curb, or you can carry them on yourself. We chose to leave them at the curb. One by one they arrived by 5:30.
My wife had cruised the Ecstasy when it was the newest, biggest, ship in the Carnival fleet in 1991. I thought there was a tremendous amount of neon and lights, but when she reflected back to her first time, she said there used to be more. At some places on board I felt like I was walking in a pinball machine. Considering all that the abuse the Ecstasy goes through, the staff does a very nice job keeping her clean and presentable. Even though the ship is not as large as some of the newer ones, I felt there was plenty of room to handle all of her guest comfortably.
I was very disappointed in the food, and I am not hard to please. We experienced room service, the buffets, and the sit-down dinners, and I give all of them a 5 or 6 on a 10 scale. The selections at dinner were plentiful, but the quality was not what I was expecting. By the last day of the cruise, my wife and I settled for cheeseburgers and fries for our lunch and snacks. The best overall food experience was the midnight buffet. They did have a guy making sushi that was wonderful. He had his own corner on the Promenade deck and he was there each evening.
The shows in the Blue Sapphire Lounge were spectacular! The members of the band and performers were quit accomplished.
The Crystal Palace Casino was nice size with several poker tables, slots, and one craps table. I walked away with the houses money, but friendly conversations with others made me believe the house won more than the guest.
Stripes is a dance club with a DJ who played 70's and 80's, Disco, current hits, and on the final night, following a Texas themed show in the Sapphire Lounge, country music was played for an hour. The DJ played all the "staple songs" of the 80's and disco, but knowledge of other music was less than I hoped. My wife and I love to dance to all types of music and spent each evening in this club. On country night I requested a Waltz, and he had no idea what I was talking about. I felt if a ship is based in Texas, he should know more than he did.
The gym is as top shelf of an exercise facility as I have seen, just on a smaller scale. There were 12 treadmills, recumbent cycles, spin cycles, elliptical machines, dumbbells, and life fitness machines. There is also a 200 meter track on the sun deck.
We took advantage of the Playa Mia Beach Break Deluxe, which was $65 per person for five hours. It was worth it! Once at Cozumel, at the end of the pier, all of us were lead to air-conditioned charters that drove us the Mia Beach. The beach is exclusive for cruise guest and comes with an open bar, wait staff, and a lunch buffet. The buffet was very impressive spread that consisted of hot and cold selections. They get you back to the pier one hour prior to leaving Cozumel so you can shop in the market that is right where you need to be.
Prices on the ship and in the shops were very reasonable. The "Galleria Shopping Mall" on board handles a tremendous selection of items from liquor, jewelry, toiletries, and souvenirs items. Each day something in the mall was on sell.
We were on the main deck right in the middle of the ship with a view. The room was the best use of space I have every seen. We carried two suitcases and one carry on into our room and were able to put all of our belongings into the drawers and hanging space, plus we stored our luggage in the bottom of the closets. The beds were fabulous! So was our Steward. He worked above and beyond the make our room perfect. Two beach towels are provided for you to use at the pool or on your excursion.
This was painful. We had arranged to be one of the first ones off by doing self-assisted disembarkation. We had to catch a flight and had arranged for transportation at 9:30. The staff had no problem in accommodating us. Our zone was 3, and the first zones to be called were 1, 2, and 3. We followed the rules and encountered a major people traffic jam. Announcements were made the previous day about people not being allowed off until their zones had been called, but it didn't stop people from lining up before they were called. It was very crowded and the called zones couldn't get to where we needed to be. The process could have taken 15 minutes, but it took almost an hour.
NOT SO GOOD STUFF
The seas were rough on this trip. I am not blaming Carnival for that. From our room, we had this constant horn sound that only stopped when the ship was in port. It sounded like someone was vacuuming the cabin next door to ours all day and night. I grabbed a steward that happened to be walking down the hall to listen. He said he could hear it, but didn't know what it was. I spoke to a senior officer on board and she explained it was the stabilizers to help with the rough waters. The noise became extremely annoying to the point where I had to cover my head with a pillow. Needless to say, quality sleep was limited. Pack earplugs just in case.
The staff is very diverse in regard to their nationality. I believe I heard on the ship the staff could speak 50 different languages. For some of those, English wasn't one of their chosen tongues. We were disappointed when one would speak English to us, and we would answer back and they would have no idea what we said. It was uncomfortable for us and felt those employees needed more development before they should be interacting with the guest on such a limited vocabulary.
Carnival markets "Fun Ships," and they do many things to keep the energy high. I felt like I was setting in a high school pep rally. On the Ecstasy, for some reason, they try to make things competitive between sides. Things such as, "Is this side having fun?" "Can this side do better than that" etc. Where it went too far was over dinners, especially on formal night. We made good friends with the three couples that joined us at dinner each of the night. The last place I felt like yelling a whistling was over dinners.
This was my first time to cruise so this cruise on the Ecstasy is my baseline for my opinions. The staff of the Ecstasy work hard. My wife and I chose this cruise to do without our kids, and from a less responsibility perspective, we enjoyed just being able to come and go at will. It was clear that everyone on board was there to have a good time. All things considered, I was disappointed with the overall experience. The Ecstasy won't feel my feet on her, and I won't get to hear that annoying buzzing sound that played anytime we were moving across the water. I might cruise again, but I will spend more time on this website researching before making any other plans.