We decided four weeks before the cruise to actually do it. We had never cruised before so we felt that a five day cruise from our home port would test whether cruising was for us without the investment in flights or a longer commitment. In summary we could not have enjoyed it more.
The day before departure Carnival sent out an e-mail inviting those guests who could to arrive between 9:30 and 10:30 for early boarding. I do not know if this is something they often do or if it had to do with the fact that there were three ships in the port and their wanting to reduce the chaos of too many people at the same time. Since we live in Brooklyn, we were happy to arrive early. We took the Q train to 57th Street/7th Ave. (by Carnegie Hall) and then walked over to the piers from there. We packed light for the cruise with carry-on only. We needed no porter and we went right into the terminal at 9:55. After registration we sat in a waiting area for a few minutes and then we were called to board around 11:00. At 11:15 we put our backpacks in the cabin and explored the ship a little. At 11:45 we ate lunch on the Lido deck at the "Taste of Nations" featuring Italian.
We had booked an Oceanview Guarantee and we were given a convenient room with a large picture window just off the main stairway and bank of 10 elevators. Getting to everything was efficient and easy. The room had more than enough room to stow everything and was quite spacious. It was clean and in good shape. There are two 110v plugs (3-prong) along the desk area. There is another one behind the tv. There is also one 220v plug at the desk. The room steward performed his work discretely, efficiently, and professionally. We met him once on the first day. He left the famous towel animals on our bed each evening during dinner. (They offered a towel folding demo on the last full day and let each participant try it out.)
After lunch we explored the ship for 2-3 hours. The ship - especially the atrium - is breathtaking. It is fascinating just how good the design is. In contrast to some of the reviews, we found the decor of the ship to be tasteful, consistent, and pleasant. Someone who does not like the color green may not feel comfortable in many parts of the ship. The claustrophobic life boat drill was held at 4:45 and then most passengers repaired to the top decks for sail away. Even though we live here and the Statue of Liberty, the buildings of Manhattan, and the Verazanno Bridge are all well-known to us, it was very impressive to experience these sights from a cruise ship. It seems that the ship barely fits under the Verazanno.
Everyday we received an extensive multi-page bulletin entitled "Carnival Capers" in which everything happening on or off the ship was detailed. Also the opening and closing times of all the different food venues was included. They have activities for all kinds of people. We are perhaps not the most lucrative guests for Carnival because we do not drink alcoholic beverages and we do not gamble. For those who do, there are plenty of opportunities. Carnival is also clever in marketing the drink of the day, allowing the passenger who purchases one each day to accumulate an impressive assortment of souvenir glasses by the end of the trip. Also there are various gambling competitions going on in the casino as well as bingo almost all the time.
We attended each evening show except the final one. Impressive were the dancers (11 women and 5 men) and the pit orchestra (keyboard, drum set, guitar, bass, sax (flute), trumpet, and trombone. The energy, ability, and enthusiasm of these performers is remarkable. Putting on the same shows for months on end can be mind-numbing. There was no boredom or tiredness noticeable.
We ate in the dining room every evening at the 8:15 late seating. Even though we were at a table for 8, there were at most four of us there and sometimes only the two of us. We learned many people had complained about having the late seating so they were squeezed into early seating. Although we had originally requested early seating, when we learned upon boarding that we had late seating we decided to roll with it, and we were actually happier with it than we would have been with the early seating. Our waiters, Mayro from Guatemala and Noel from the Philippines were gracious, exact, and competent. The entire wait staff performed (song and/or dance) each evening around dessert time. One time they sang "O sole mio", another time they danced to a track, some of them up on the storage tables. By the way, believe the other reviewers who extol the greatness of the chocolate melting cake - it is proof that life has a purpose.. My tip: Order an extra scoop of ice cream to go with it. The dining room food was "pleasing to the eye as well as to the palate".
The sail away day and the first day at sea were both sunny and warm. Many guests were lounging in the sun. The entertainment duo "Laws" provided most of the live music on the Lido deck. They were so dreadful it was entertaining. I am still trying to figure out if that is part of the shtick. During sail away they started singing "Ole, ole, ole, ole" to which my wife quietly sung to me: "Oy veh, oy vey, oy veh"! I thoroughly enjoyed them!
We only ate breakfast in the dining room once to try the eggs benedict that many writers on here are fond of. They were good and well-prepared, but we could get everything else, including omelets on the Lido deck. There were always convenient trays available on the Lido deck to carry the different plates, bowls, glasses that a guest might need. The only time there were no trays was at the midnight gala buffet in the evening after Halifax. We also took all lunches on the Lido deck. They featured food from different countries each day. All the food we tried was excellent. We usually went up the stairs of the Mediterranean Restaurant (buffet on Lido deck) and found many empty tables even at the busiest time. Most guests avoid this level since it would require stair usage for drink refills and seconds on food.
The gym has an excellent array of cardio and weight training machines that can be used free of charge in the pitiful attempt to work off a tiny fraction of all the calories consumed during the rest of the day. There is also a jogging track. Most passengers did not swim since the pools are unheated and filled with North Atlantic seawater. I went in and it was very cold. I also tried the slide a couple of times. I started to go so fast I was wondering if I might fly out of the track. (If I had, I might have crashed through the atrium skylight on deck 11 to fall squarely on top of the grand piano on deck 3 - this would be a very Hollywoodesque way to go, to be sure!)
On the sea days tea-time was offered in the Ionian lounge with tea and a sinfully rich choice of cakes offered at place by waiters. All the while a trio of two violins and piano played salon music (Johann Strauss, Brahms Hungarian Rhapsody, Evergreens like "Moon River" etc.). This venue also hosted a jazz trio (piano, string bass, drum set) at various time daily throughout the cruise. Live music is important for helping to create the atmosphere of luxury that should exist on a cruise ship.
St. John: We walked over to the reversing falls - why pay for a tour to this when it is just 1 1/2 miles away on a well-marked red painted paved path? We got somewhat soaked from the drizzling rain. We then went into the shopping areas near the pier and had a look. Many areas are ingeniously connected with a pedway that allows traversing several city blocks without going into the inclement weather. Overall the people of this town were very clever to set up and market their harbor to cruise lines.
Halifax: The weather was better here except for occasional light showers. We walked from the pier along the waterfront all the way to the casino (a little under 2 miles). Then we went up to the Citadel for a couple of hours. For $12 entrance fee, we had a tour of this carefully maintained historic fortress that protected Halifax. Here we learned that many of the improvements made to the fort in the 19th century were due to fear of attack from the United States! They had about 50 people dressed in period uniforms and clothing engaged in various activities such as parade drilling, formation drilling, drum corps, bagpipe band, etc. The views were excellent and the historic atmosphere well presented. There was also an excellent historical museum.
Debarkation: Of course we did self-assist. It was easy and fast.
Summary: I am hooked on cruising now. We had absolutely no complaints. It was great seeing the various passengers engaged in different activities that mattered to them, and that so much was available to accommodate these various interests. For the money we pay, we are receiving an illusion of luxury - real luxury costs much, much more. Carnival has done an admirable job of delivering the dream of relaxation, fun, and luxury. I believe that complaints and disputes often are rooted in a passenger's forgetting that modern cruising is a mass market product delivering an illusion, and that occasionally one might see "behind the curtain." We were very satisfied with our experience - Carnival does a great job.