I am going to try and share information that I have not seen addressed in recent reviews. I will throw in some opinions, but will try to keep them to a minimum.
We sailed on April 20th. Our experience getting on board was much like the other reviews. We spent an hour in line outside the terminal and then another hour and 15 minutes once inside the terminal. At one point we did not move for 20 minutes. Not sure what that was all about, but once we started moving, the line really picked up.
When we were checking in, we realized that we had been given an 8:00 p.m. dinner seating after we had requested a 6:15 p.m. early seating. I elected not to debate it at that point, as I did not want to hold up all the people behind us. We tried the late seating that evening and my wife did not care for it, so we set out to get it changed the next day. If this happens to you, here is what you need to do...go to the Maitre D' for the dining room you are in. If he cannot accommodate you, he will send you to the other Maitre D'. That's what happened to us. We were originally in the Monet dining room and ended up in the Renoir dining room.
Several reviewers commented on how they come up to you once the ship starts sailing and hand you a drink like they are complimentary. My wife grabbed one and when the waiter asked her for her Sign and Sail card she handed the drink back and said she didn't order it. He seemed a little miffed which I thought was interesting. I think the passengers are more likely to be miffed about this whole Sail Away Drink Special routine.
A quick note on the food and service (opinion time). Our experience was comparable to other reviewers. Our service was slow and our server/waitress was not very attentive. The food was OK. I don't think it has improved any since I sailed with Carnival 13 years ago.
As for the entertainment (opinion time again), I was presently surprised. These days, a mediocre performance is described as "like on a cruise ship" (see "American Idol"). I found the shows to be very professional and the dancers and singers to be very talented. It is obvious that they spend a fair amount of time practicing and Carnival appears to put a lot of thought and money into the production and sets for these shows. I thought the juggler (Manuel Zuniga) and the ventriloquist/comedian (Marc Rubben) could compete on "America's Got Talent" and possibly win the thing. They were as good as anything I saw on there last season including the ventriloquist that won.
A quick note...I had been reading about "Wee Jimmy" and when Ralph Valente came out, I thought, "What happened to Wee Jimmy?" Turns out, they are the same person.
OK. So much for the food and entertainment. Here's some information I had not noted in previous reviews:
Wine Tasting - This takes place over two days at noon in The Point supper club. You can attend both days or either day. The first day featured "New World" wines from places like Argentina, Chile and the U.S. The second day featured "Old World" wines from France and Italy. Each day featured two white wines and two red wines. You were also given a plate of cheese, fruit and crackers. The on-board sommelier spoke for an hour about the wines and was very informative. For ten bucks a person (and of course, the 15% gratuity) I thought it was a pretty good deal. I will say, though, that not as many people came back the next day for the second go 'round.
Casino Activities - I like to take part in slot machine tournaments and there are three on this cruise. They play from noon until 3:00 p.m. The entry fee is $20.00 and the prize is $500.00. They take the eight highest scores and then do a drawing at 3:00 p.m. for the "Wild Card" slot. They also gave away a T-Shirt to the person with the lowest score.
I did not participate in any of the other games, but they also had two Black Jack tournaments (same entry fee and prize money as the slot tournament).
Speaking of gambling, they play bingo a lot on the cruise. A card typically costs $5.00 for one and $10.00 for three. On other games, it's $10.00 for one card and $20.00 for three cards. The cost depends on the size of the jackpot they're giving away. The big prize games are at the end of the cruise. One game is for $1199.00, which isn't too bad a prize for a $10.00 investment.
Karaoke - If you are a fan of Karaoke, you will be in heaven on this cruise. They have Karaoke practically every night in Vincent's Lounge and sometimes in the Casino on the stage right in the middle of the Promenade walkway that goes from one end of the ship to the other. During the week, they have contests for the Carnival Legends show which takes place in the main theatre on the last night of the cruise. The Legends they audition for are James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Britney Spears, Madonna, Elton John, Garth Brooks, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.
I wandered into Vincent's one night and got up and did a David Lee Roth song, "Just a Gigolo." Afterwards, I was standing by the entry door to the lounge and kept hearing someone saying my name. I finally zoomed in on the lady that was calling out my name. She motioned me to come over to talk to her. I walked over and sat down next to her. She said, "You need to be Frank Sinatra." I had no idea what she was talking about. She said they were getting ready to have tryouts for Frank Sinatra and I needed to go and sign up with the Karaoke host. I thought, "Oh well. What the heck." I went up front and signed up. I ended up "winning" and still had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Allison, the Karaoke host, gave me a small MP3 player, the words to "My Way" and instructions to learn the song and be at a dress rehearsal on Saturday afternoon. I spent the next several days singing "My Way" in the shower and out on our balcony. One evening I was sitting on the bed listening to the song on the MP3 player and singing along. My wife was out on the balcony and had the door open to the balcony. She said she could hear people in the cabins next door calling to other people in the cabin to come out on the balcony and listen to some guy singing "My Way." Too funny.
On the Saturday afternoon, I got to meet all the other "Legends." Up to that point, I had no idea who the other people were that had been chosen to be in the show. We went backstage and tried on our costumes. My tuxedo was about 3 sizes too big. I felt like Frank Sinatra, the hobo. The alterations girl made a small attempt to make the pants tighter, but it didn't do any good. We each then did a practice run through with our song and went through the paces of what we would do while we were on stage and at the end of the show. I noted earlier that I was impressed with the sets that Carnival had for their shows. I was also impressed with the backstage area and the stage crew.
That night, before the show, we spent some time with the other "Legends" getting to know each other. From school teachers to stay at home moms to a guy that makes artificial limbs, it was quite an interesting group. We also got to meet the dancers, singers and Chicken George, whom I believe is one of the activities directors. Then, it was show time.
The whole thing was quite surreal. When I came out as Frank Sinatra, I was led out by one of the dancers (my favorite, of course) to a stool silhouetted by a single spotlight. It was too cool. After the show, they took a picture of the entire cast and the next day we were given an 8 x 10 photo along with a DVD of the performance.
I would like to make one comment about the whole thing. Allison and Chicken George did a Sonny and Cher routine. I honestly have to say that it was one of the worst, pointless things I have ever witnessed. I was backstage when they performed and I thought to myself, "What the ----?" When I watched it back on the DVD, I still didn't get it. If there is anyone out there reading this review and witnessed this Sonny and Cher routine, I would like to know what you thought. I find it painful to watch. A group of friends came over and watched the DVD. They asked me the same thing..."What was that all about?" I tell them, "I don't know."
Free Liquor Tasting - They had this on the first night of the cruise. Most of what they are giving out for free is liqueurs. The idea for this event is to get you to buy your liquor before you get to the other ports and see that you spent too much. They entice you with an offer to be in a drawing to get your purchase for free and I think there might be a four-bottle limit on that. If you are going to buy liquor, here's my advice (and yes, I did research this), go to one of the Tortuga Liquor stores in Grand Cayman. You can get a coupon as you leave the ship for an 11% discount if you make your purchase before 11:00 a.m. I guarantee you that this is the best deal. Better than the ship and better than Cozumel. Who would have guessed you could get tequila cheaper in Grand Cayman than in Cozumel? They will deliver your purchase to the ship and it will be brought to your cabin the last night of the cruise.
Sunset Beach Resort/Sandals - A lot of folks mentioned that they went to Sunset Beach, which is not an excursion offered by Carnival. We decided not to go as I went on TripAdvisor and watched a video someone posted that they took of the resort and I wasn't all that impressed. Anyway, when the ship docks in Montego Bay, you can see the resort's two Yellow/Orange towers from the ship. So if you get there and are wondering exactly where it is, just look for those two buildings, which are minutes away. As for Sandals, I read a posting saying they were no longer offering that excursion. You can't sign up for it on Carnival's website, but you can sign up for it on the ship. It's $99.00 per person. The Sunset Beach Resort is $40.00 per person plus a $5.00 - $6.00 cab fare over and back, so it's probably a better deal.
An interesting tidbit...I asked the dancer I was paired whether or not they (the performers) ever read the reviews on Cruise Critic. She said they were so busy that if they got on the internet, it was to quickly check emails and she also said that sometimes they have a hard time staying on line (bad connection) just to do that.
Another interesting tidbit, Allison the Karaoke host, is the stepdaughter of the ventriloquist Marc Rubben. Also, I learned from Juliana, the evening bartender at the Latour Wine Bar (who is from Slovakia) that she watches "Slovakian Idol." Can you imagine? She said she enjoys the "bad" auditions. She also said one of the singers had recently left the ship to be on Canadian Idol. If you get a chance, go meet her. She makes excellent martinis.
Captain's Cocktail Party - Years ago I had gone on a number of cruises and they all had one thing in common. The main drink at a Captain's party was a watered down Whiskey Sour. Last April we went on the Grand Princess out of Galveston. They, too, had the Whiskey Sours. Imagine my shock when this cruise had not only Whiskey Sours, but also Martinis, Manhattans, tall cold glasses of beer and several other cocktails that I didn't get to try. The event was held in the Degas Lounge, but you could also get drinks in Henri's Disco and the Piano Bar. There was hardly anyone in the Piano Bar (I'm not sure of the name), so we went in there. We didn't get to see the Captain, but we got lots of drinks as we were hardly the only ones there (the hors d'oeuvres weren't too great, so we pretty much skipped them).
To combat that (missing the Captain), we went to the late Captain's Cocktail party, which meant more drinks. There was one at 5:15 pm. and one at 7:15 p.m. I feel a little guilty, but hey, with the cost of drinks on the ship, you might as well grab the freebies. Oh, and by the way, I saw a guy carry two cases of Dr. Pepper on the ship. They say to limit bringing no more than two bottles of wine on the ship, but they don't check your luggage. Also, for $10.00, they will serve you your wine in the dining room. They will keep it for you each evening until you finish it. It's actually not a bad deal. It's a lot cheaper than buying a bottle on the boat.
Speaking of cost, a soft drink is $1.25 in a glass and $1.75 in the can. A can of beer is $3.75, a 16 oz. aluminum bottle is $4.75 and most import beers are $4.75. Drink specials are $3.75 for a small and $6.95 in the souvenir glass. Most mixed drinks are $4.50 - $4.75 and fruity drinks like a Pina Colada are $5.25. Of course, add 15% gratuity on to those prices.
Pictures run $21.95 for an 8 x 10. They run some specials where after you purchase the 8 x 10, you can get some 5 x 7's and/or wallet size photos, as well. The catch is, of course, having to buy the 8 x 10 first.
I could go on and on, but I am probably wearing you out by now (see mini-meatball review). Feel free to email me if you have any questions.
Bottom line, there is a lot to do on the ship. They have activities going on somewhere on the ship nearly all the time. Sometimes you actually have to decide if you want to do one thing or the other. One other thing, you can get all the major TV stations (NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox). They originate in Denver. It was nice to be able to watch a show that we were taping back home. They have a couple of channels that show movies and you can actually pay to watch movies just like in a hotel (not that you'd want to). They only showed one movie on the ship, which was in the Degas Lounge. It was Rush Hour 3. I say that because on Princess, they were showing movies practically every night out by the pool and on several other days in one of the main lounges.
It was announced that Carnival is going to be offering a 7-day cruise out of Galveston next year on the Conquest that will cruise to the Bahamas. We are planning to go on that one for a change of pace.
One last thing. We did the deal where you carry off your own luggage. On Sunday morning they announced that only Deck Two could start leaving the ship. We sat there for twenty minutes until the revised announcement was that Deck Two and anyone carrying their own luggage off could leave the ship. My advice is that if you want to get the heck off the ship, I would be headed for the departure deck a little before 7:00 a.m. The elevators at the front of the ship were barely accessible from all the people on there and as a result, a lot of people were carrying their luggage down the stairs as they got tired of waiting. We got off the ship a little after 7:30 a.m. and made it to EZ Cruise parking by 8:30 a.m.