My wife and myself and in the 30yo range with an 11yo son. We live in GA and this will be our 2nd cruise. We live close enough so we can drive to the port and take advantage of last minute deals since we can avoid air fare. This is our 1st on CCL and the prior cruise was last spring on the RCCL Explorer of the Seas. I booked a OV 6A guarantee on the Victory for a Eastern Caribbean cruise. Approximately 40 days prior to embarkation I was assigned 2401 which was a starboard aft 6b. We drove down from GA the night before the cruise. I chose to park our vehicle away from the port because the $20 per day fee is outrageous. I ended up reserving a spot at CBM on 25th street where I parked for $87 for the week including taxes. We arrived there the morning of the cruise and checked in. The offer a free shuttle to and from the port which we had to wait about 30 minutes for because their vans only run on the hour. The ride to the port was about 10 minutes and we were dropped off in front of the terminal a few minutes after 11am. The porters took our luggage and we were off to the terminal.
Inside I saw a long line for the security screening. It was pleased to find it moved quickly and within 10 minutes we were through security and off to the reservation desk. There we found numerous short lines with around a 5 minute wait. The nice lady checked our identification documents, set up the CC for purchases and issued our Sign and Sail cards. She told us the cabins would not be ready until at least 1:30 and suggested we have lunch prior. We were off to the ship where we walked right on. We went to the Lido deck for lunch and found it was packed which was expected. We grabbed a sandwich from the deli and had a couple drinks.
We noticed the rooms were open around 1pm so we went to drop our luggage off. We stored our carry ons and wandered around the ship for a bit. I found the layout odd because many floors were divided and you could not travel the length of the ship. I picked up a pocket map from the Purser desk and quickly found deck 5 was the main artery. We mingled around the ship until finally around 3:30 it was announced the Muster drill would be in 15 minutes. We headed back to our cabin and retrieved our life jackets. The drill was short and too the point which was pleasant. We dropped our jackets off and made our way to one of the open decks for sail off. The views out of the harbor were gorgeous. We watched until land was a speck on the horizon.
We headed back to the state room to get ready for dinner(early 5:45). We found only 2 suitcases had arrived which luckily had what we needed. We were assigned table 328 on the lower level of the Pacific dining room. I was excited when I found it was on the port side all the way in the back next to the glass. We had a beautiful view and could watch the sunset every night at dinner.
Cabin: I found the room to be very clean and surprisingly spacious with lots of closet room. It was our first time in a OV and I really liked the large window and the pullout couch the inside cabins do not have. The beds were already together and the stateroom attendant made the pullout couch into a bed for our son. Even with 3 of us in the room we had plenty of room for all our things. I found the bedding to be very comfortable and the AC was plenty to keep the room cool. I really liked the aft location near the elevators. I could walk up one flight of stairs to the dining room or take the elevator straight up to the Lido restaurants. It was a very convenient location for a lower cabin.
Food: Dinner in the dining room was wonderful. The food was excellent and our wait staff was prompt and polite. My favorites of the week were the prime rib, NY strip and of course the Lobster tail and Tiger shrimp on the 1st formal. My wife was pleasantly surprised to find many healthy choices on the menu noted as "Spa selections".
The Lido buffet left a little to be desired for me. I guess I was used to RCCL where the buffet was one big line which served non stop from breakfast until late night. Here I found the opening and closing times of the different buffets odd because they did not overlap. Many times I was left with the 24hr pizza or the deli unless you I ate at the predetermined meal times and the predetermined course. The food quality was generally good but I also found the selection off for my taste. It seemed to me the buffet would have 3 or 4 main course type dishes and not enough side items to go along. They also seemed to repeat, the side items I noticed daily were cold pasta salad, potato salad and slaw. I know one day I ended up with a piece of chicken, slice of ham, pasta with tomato sauce and a salad. If I am eating a piece of chicken give me some mashed potatoes, mac and cheese or something along those lines to go with it. I know all do not feel that way but that was my personal observation. Also...the sandwiches from the deli were awesome. Now...when I have a sandwich I usually accompany it with chips or fries. Neither were to be found. The 24hr pizza had some terrific creations and would even make specialty pizzas and calzones to order. The 24hr self serve ice cream was also a big hit.
I really was looking forward to the "sushi bar". I found out it was not real sushi bar and it was only open from 5:30 - 8:30s. It was a small station which had 4 different selection each night that were premade. None were what I would call traditional sushi and more of their own creations. My dreams of dining there were smashed but I did have a few after dinner snacks there.
Ports: San Juan: 5pm to midnight I enjoyed the few hours we had there. I put together a walking tour that ended up at For Cristobal. The admission was $3 each(cash only, exact change). The fort itself and the view of the island from the top was beautiful. I did not find much interest in many of the shops but I am not a big jewelry purchaser. We mingled around downtown and made our way back to the port where I found a small bar with outside tables right near the ships. They had the local beers for $1...that made me happy because I was tired and thirsty!!!!
St. Thomas: 8am to 6pm We booked a island tour with Godfrey online for $25 each. He was to take us shopping, sightseeing and to one of the beaches. We were supposed to meet in front of the ship at 10am and he was not there. At 10:20 I was just about to look for alternatives when he pulled up. He apologized and explained why he was late and we were off. I am glad I stuck with him because this was the highlight of the vacation. He is so friendly and his knowledge of the island is amazing. We first stopped for 2 hours of shopping where I headed off to AH Rise to buy my liquor. I found some amazing deals and sent my allotted 12 liters back to the ship for free. We left there and he took us to so many beautiful places overlooking the many bays which all had picturesque views. We ended up on the Mountain Top(where I had the most amazing banana daiquiri) and one of the prettiest views I have ever seen. I took loads of photos on the trip. We then took off to Coki beach but found it packed so he suggested Sapphire. We went there and found it was a beautiful cove and was not as crowded. We had lunch at a beach side restaurant and sat under the shade trees and enjoyed the view until it was time to go back to the ship.
St. Maarten: 8am to 5pm This was going to be our "beach day". I did research and decided I wanted to take pictures of the planes landing by Maho beach while the family did the beach thing. I was always amazed by those pictures from when I was little. We went to the taxi stand and found some RCCL employees going to the same place. We hooked up with them and took a van which saved a few dollars. The driver also said he would come back and get us if we wanted. We all agreed on a time and he dropped us off by the Sunset Beach Bar. We started with lunch at the restaurant and I had a pretty good hamburger. A few small planes landed but when the first jumbo jet landed I must say it was something to see. Outside the bar they had a board with all the arrivals of the big planes on it. I got some amazing pictures and the family enjoyed a nice day at the beach. The taxi driver showed up early and was waiting. We loaded up and he drove us pack to the port where we picked up a few small souvenirs in the local shops.
Camp Carnival: It was wonderful. I was afraid our 11yo boy would not be interested but he tried it and made many friends. He wanted to go all the time and even asked to eat dinner with the group instead of in the dining room. That left us some time to do our own things on the boat and play around in the casino where children are not allowed. My only complaint was the earliest you could drop them off in the evenings was 5:45...the same time as our dinner seating. We were always 5 or 10 minutes late seating ourselves. They kept the activities going to 10pm every night...later if you wanted to pay a fee.
The drinks: All the drinks I purchased were very good. If it was a liquor drink it was always strong enough...they should be though considering the price. When drinking beer it is better to buy the buckets. They had a few specials throughout the week.....4 12oz domestic cans for $13.50....4 12oz Corona for $15 and 4 16oz bottles for $19. You have to add the gratuity to that. By themselves most were around $4.75 for a 16oz.
The cruise director was Malcolm Burns. He is a very funny man and did a good job keeping things lively. The pool area gets very crowded during the day as expected. The big outdoor screen on the Lido was great. They played CNN in the morning and live concerts and music during the day. At night they showed movies but I feel they repeated the movies too many times instead of increasing the variety. We were lucky and had a lunar eclipse one night. They did a special event on the Lido deck including turning all the deck lights off for around 20 minutes. It was beautiful. They also did a karaoke one evening on deck
The live entertainment was good. They had a classical band in the Atrium and a live performer each night in the casino area. His name was Flashy and he sang and played the guitar to a variety of classic tunes. I think he was from Jamaica and he could sing everything from rock to soul. I really enjoyed him and spent many evenings in that area. The comedy shows in the theater we funny. I did not see any of the shows the dancers did so I cannot comment on those.
The Gala buffet was a sight to see. I took lots of pics of the amazing creations. I was going to stay to get a snack but the line quickly backed up into the pool area. I didn't want to wait so I left.
We did room service a few times for AM coffee and cold breakfasts. The service was always prompt but I felt the menu was lacking. I will again compare it to RCCL who had a full menu...even dining room courses. Room service on CCL was only good for snacks.
We did the miniature golf twice and found it to be a small cramped area on deck 12. It was not that impressive but it did offer a little fun. The gym was pretty nice and the steam room/sauna was positioned to give breath taking views with floor to ceiling windows.
It came time to disembark and they now deliver you tags with numbers on them to you state room instead of colors. They called it zones. When we got 26 I felt that was a bad sign. Our number was finally called at 10:30....we were one of the last groups off the ship. It was painless after that. Our luggage was waiting on the carousel and the customs line took around 15 minutes. We called CBM and they sent someone to get us in around 20 minutes. They took us back to the car which they had waiting out front. We loaded up and got on the road by 11:30 which was a few hours later than I hoped for considered we had a 11 hour drive ahead.
All in all we had a great time...especially for the price. I still enjoyed the RCCL cruise better but I don't feel it is fair to directly compare the two. The boats are different ages and sizes. For food...RCCL still gets the nod but Carnival's was still very good. It was fun and I would gladly do it again.