We are a 56 year old married couple who decided to try Carnival after twenty years. We mostly cruise with RCCL and Celebrity. We went with low expectations thinking that this would be so port intensive, that the ship would not be much of a factor. We worried about cigarette smoke as well, as Carnival has a more liberal smoking policy than what we are used to as ardent non-smokers.
Well, the ship was wonderful! People always make fun of the decor on CCL, and we kind of liked it, though it was a bit dark. Lots of color which gave the ship a modern feel. Better than those blah beige tones. Service was on par with the other lines and better than our past two experiences on RCCL. The room steward, Anak, was fine for the most part. His contract was ending and he was eager to go home. We found the sink not cleaned one day, but he did a good job the rest of the cruise. Our waiters, Costinel and Emilio were WONDERFUL. The food just kept coming and to our surprise, the BEST quality of food we have had on a cruise ship in YEARS! Prime Rib several times, lobster, filet mignon, various steaks, lamb, duck, etc. ALL EXCELLENT! Kudos to Carnival!!!!! We were originally in a different dining room at a large table, but we were able to change to a table for four. No problem there and Omur, the Maitre D' was very nice about changing us.
Our room was a balcony cabin on Lido deck. We LOVED the location. Just walked across to the Lido buffet. There was also a great vantage viewing spot in the very front of Deck 9. A hidden gem. One of the highlights was sailing past the active Stromboli volcano and watching the smoke plumes. We were told that at night, one can actually see the lava flow. There is actually a small town at the base of the island as the lava flow seems to come down one side away from the town. We watched from that vantage point. One bad thing was that every time my husband went out to enjoy the balcony, the people next door were out there smoking away and he would just turn around and come back inside. They were out there quite a lot. That was the biggest negative about this cruise.
We did mainly shore excursions through Carnival. Some were very good, some not so good. In Naples, we did the Sorrento and Pompeii tour. We enjoyed this one and loved Sorrento, while Pompeii was amazing even though it was VERY crowded and the weather was quite warm. No excursion in Marmaris, Turkey. We just walked through the pretty town, looked at all of the stray cats, and did some shopping. We enjoyed our day there. In Izmir, Turkey, we did the Ephesus and the Terrace Houses tour. This was the best and the tour guide was fantastic. The Terrace Houses are not to be missed! Istanbul was ok. No bargains at the Grand Bazaar. We did the Blue Mosque and Palace of the Sultans tour. The tour guide was soft spoken and we missed most of what she said. She also walked too fast and we would frequently lose her. We could not wait to get back to the ship. Athens was WONDERFUL. We did a private taxi tour and saw and did as much as we wanted. We even had a nice lunch with our driver at a local family restaurant, a trip highlight. The Parthenon was incredible! The driver who took us, though, represented himself as the one we contracted with months in advance saying that he was sent because the other one was overbooked. However, when we got back to the ship, we had a email from the man we contracted with asking what had happened to us. We emailed him back the info (we had our driver's card) and eventually got it straightened out. We felt badly, but had a wonderful day with the driver who took us around. Katakolon was the next port, and we just walked around and shopped. For Livorno, we had a wonderful day in the pouring rain. We did Pisa and the Winery tour and LOVED it. Great guide and a fun day. Possibly my favorite of all of the tours, even though we were pretty soaked. We did the Explore Rome tour on our last day and I think we were toured out by that time. We did not enjoy it all that much and did not like the guide.
Precruise, we stayed at the Traiano Hotel in Civitavecchia and post cruise, at Hotel Golden in Rome. Both are adequate although we would not stay at Hotel Golden again. They are both owned by very nice families. The last Carnival cruise prior to this one twenty years ago was on the Celebration. On our last day in Rome, docked across from us was the Celebration, now called the Grand Celebration owned by a spanish subsidiary of CCL. A fitting end to a surprisingly wonderful cruise experience. We are just sad that CCL is pulling its ships out of Europe as we would certainly have book with them again.