This ship was 2 days late returning to port because of hurricane Gustav. As a result, at least 50% of the folks cancelled their cruise and an e-mail with a $99 last minute cruise to nowhere caught DH's eye. He called and booked right away. The options were an assigned midship cabin or a guaranteed inside or oceanview (extra $20 per person) We opted for the latter, hoping to get an oceanview on the empress or upper deck. At the dock, the porter told us that our assigned room would be R225, a 6A cat right above the water line. The Riviera deck was fine though, since the elevators were never crowded from the bottom up and I enjoyed watching the waves at night.
Embarkation: we saw the Ecstasy on the webcam arriving in the port at 0840. We were told to arrive at the dock by 1400; we arrived at 1330. WHAT A MESS! We stood a minimum of 3.5 hours in 3 different lines. The first line was outside in the heat for 1.5 hours. The second line was before security checkpoint. There was one checkpoint reserved only for VIPs (10 cruises or more) and unused most of the time. The other checkpoint was closed so there was only 1 open checkpoint the entire time we could see that area. Some of the staff was quite frustrated when directing us through the mazes. The check-in maze was another heavily populated area with a lot of screaming children; one woman had a broken foot, another had a breathing machine, some had canes. There was no special line or speedier check-in for them. I asked if the delay was partly due to the fact that we were unable to complete our sign and sail card online. Who knows? When we finally embarked, both my hips had given out and I had trouble making it to the stateroom. We were also told that the ship was overbooked by 15 cabins. We were not offered the usual fold up map given at boarding. That map is so useful.
This was our 3rd time on the Ecstasy. We had noticed some change, the 2nd time; a mini putt had been added and the Panorama grill had been renovated. The rooms had also been refurbished. Ecstasy is not young but she is well maintained. The PA system needs help though; the captain is barely audible during his standard noon announcements at sea and the screeching sound is hard on the ears.
The stateroom was bigger than average with a lot of space for storage. It had an extra bunk bed. The usual robes were in the closet and the big Carnival towels were new. The shower was bigger. The toilet seat needed to be changed though; it was all scratched. If you really want a good shower, go to the spa. The gym had a lot of "Life Fitness" new equipment, the treadmills, elliptical, bicycles and weight machines were functional except for the abdominal machine which didn't have an OUT OF ORDER sign on it. As a result, I jerked my neck when I tried to use it. None of the staff was present and when someone showed up, no sign was placed on the machine as it remained broken. The plasma screen TV was playing loud rap video...and later country and western...poor taste in music. I was disappointed to see that the gym was closed the morning of debarkation despite the postings stating open daily from 0600. The pools and decks were crowded. The chair hogs were "en masse" and filled chairs with their pink hats and ugly flowered bags as their reservation card. Security ought to vacate chairs unused for an hour and put all the items in the lost and found. That would cure some. Because there was no breeze, I went to the outdoor shower every few minutes to cool off. We sailed at about 10 knots an hour during the heat of the day. The water slide is very popular with adults and a lot of fun to try. Watch out for kids on landing! Even though I got cleared for takeoff, I almost crushed one on landing. The shops were not as well stocked as usual. There were no mugs, no visors, and hardly any t-shirts. There was no Milagro tequila despite a special offer on some pamphlets left in our room. Bijoux Terner was so poorly stocked that we emptied out the showcase window. That store is very small and was very crowded. The clerk told me to come back later when I asked him if I could buy items that were locked up in the showcase. I went back 3 times before he finally was able to get away. Another clerk told me that they couldn't sell the items in the case because they were all damaged... and I just fell off the turnip truck... The food was excellent! The service in the dining room was very nice and professional but the pepper mill was not offered once. We felt rushed to leave so the 2nd seating could start on time.
We were not assigned a table prior to boarding so once again, we waited in line to get assigned to Wind Song's table #237, a table for 6 with very nice dinner companions. The maitre d' was not seen after this assignment other than to greet us at the entrance. We enjoyed the fat chocolate cake at the Rolls Royce Cafe. DH went back later for a slice of the black forest cake. I was too stuffed to try the sushi bar and I missed the gala buffet. I enjoyed a nice slice of chèvre pizza at the bar and absolutely loved the jerk chicken on Caribbean buffet day and the fish masala and chicken tikka on Indian buffet day. The beets and goat cheese salad was great too. The breakfast buffet had 2 omelet stations by the pool but an egg white omelet is not readily available. I enjoyed hardboiled egg whites and made my own concoction with salsa and bacon. The coffee is really just dark water. I carry my Folgers singles to add a bit of taste to the very light brew. The ship's drinking water is something I was unable to stomach; it smelled and tasted rotten to me.
The bars are numerous and the bloody Mary was on special until 10:30, a fine temporary substitute for water. We had brought at least 8 liters of water and ran out the last night. The security officers were great, forever present, and quite strict about smoking in prohibited areas and about bringing drinks into the pools. They do a great job of patrolling the ship and watching over us.
Our cabin steward was the nicest and sweetest steward we have ever had. He ran in front of us to open our door. He refilled our ice chest with ice and kept the room nice and clean with fresh towels and chocolates and animal towels. The bar waiters on the decks were very efficient and quiet compared to the ones working back in May. Too bad we never got to see Friendship Freddie!
The captain's party was in the Blue Sapphire lounge and only a couple of people went on the high stage to dance, a rather intimidating thing to do unless you are a ham and a good dancer. The band was great at this party; they offered a good variety of free drinks and plenty of appetizers. The pool entertainment consisted of a 2 man Caribbean band. The one man band in the casino is an ole' timer with his beret backward. We remembered him from the Conquest, last December, when our friend kept feeding him tequila shots. The singer of the band in the Chinatown disco got food poisoning and missed the last night. We were told that they were awesome. Two couples that we have met on the boards and cruised with before were on this cruise and it was great fun to join them for some line dancing and in the disco. CC has done so much for meets and mingles and making new friends.
In the casino, I enjoyed the BMW slots and won for the first time ever on a cruise. The machine's handle was broken...maybe that's why. DH played his usual blackjack and was quite disappointed at the continuous card shuffling machine now used. This new tech definitely puts a damper on this game since there is no gaming control at sea and some cards could be removed from the decks. Card counting is also a thing of the past, I guess. One great thing about a cruise to nowhere is that you don't clear customs when you get home. They added 3% to our purchases on board.
Would we take a $99 per person last minute cruise to nowhere again? Here is what it really cost: $188 + $54 ($9 per person fuel surcharge per day) + $80 (federal taxes) + $40 (oceanview) + $60 (gratuity more $$$, bar service more $$$ miscellaneous purchases $$$, house sitter $$$... Our deal was a better one than the arrangement Carnival made with those who had originally booked the departure for September 1 but lost 2 days. Although they are getting 50% off their next cruise, the cruise line would not remove the port charges for this cruise, and the additional gratuities for the 2 days lost. Carnival needs help in designing a system for last minute unusual situations. Some ladies who had just gotten off told us to make sure we would do the self assist upon our return. They complained that it took them 4.5 hours to disembark. Wallet permitting, yes we'd do it again but we'd go to a restaurant after checking in the luggage instead of waiting in line for 3.5 hours. My hips won't stand for another. The good thing is that we were all one big family by the time we boarded: we all knew each other after spending so much time together.