We were on the 5 day Thanksgiving sailing on the Ecstasy out of Galveston. There were 6 of us (me, DH, DD-13, DS-11, DS-19 & DS-22). All but the 2 oldest sons have sailed 5+ times before.
I do a lot of homework and planning prior to cruising so I usually know what to expect and am not easily "surprised". Such was the case with this cruise. Our last 2 cruise experiences were on the Conquest, a much larger and newer ship. I made sure that everyone was aware of this so that they didn't "expect" the Ecstasy to be as fancy as the Conquest. Also, we've been to both Cozumel and Progresso many times so we also knew what to expect on shore. Acknowledging these things ahead of time helped shape our cruise experience as our expectations were reasonable.
Embarkation: Usually, we spend the night in Galveston prior to the cruise, but this time we just drove in from our home town (60 miles SE of Dallas) the morning of the cruise. We arrived at the EZ Cruise parking lot around 11:30. We were eating lunch on the Lido Deck by 1pm. Needless to say, embarkation was a breeze!
The Ship (in general): As mentioned, our last 2 cruises were on the Conquest. I knew that the Ecstasy was a bit older and smaller. At first, I felt a tinge of disappointment as the Ecstasy doesn't quite have the "wow" factor of the Conquest. However, it was in no time at all that we warmed up to this wonderful ship. This might sound strange, but even though the ship is smaller, it actually felt less crowded, especially around the pool area. On the Conquest, a lounge chair around either of the main pools was sparse. On the Ecstasy, we never had a problem getting a chair around the pool, or a table for lunch or a decent seat in the main theatre.
The pools were a little dated, but we don't ever use them so this wasn't a big deal for us. All the other kiddos were enjoying the pools though! The hot tubs were small. And there is not a hot tub in the spa . I did miss that. The Ecstasy should be getting the Waterworks upgrade soon so this will vastly improve the pool areas.
Common Areas: The common areas were typical. There were several bars & discos. We never went to any except on Thursday to catch the Cowboys game. Our 2 oldest sons thoroughly enjoyed the bars and clubs and often were getting back to the room after 2am. Can't complain about the casino as we were able to break even by the end of the week! I read a post somewhere on this board about the ceilings being low ... this wasn't a distraction for me. Again, even though some of the areas are smaller, they were not crowded. This was a huge plus for me as I like a little elbow room.
Rooms: We stayed in balconies our past 2 cruises & prior to that we always had window rooms. This time we just got 2 inside cabins. We were in M255 & M251. We did not regret this at all. We've been to Cozumel and Progresso several times & we knew we wouldn't spend much time in our cabins. The money we saved on cabins allowed us to feel better about splurging on other activities during our cruise that we usually don't do. I do wish our cabins were more midship though. We were in the far aft of the ship.
Our rooms were clean and comfortable. Our room steward, Ernesto, was the best! He was very attentive and did so good with all of our kiddos. I didn't find any difference between the rooms on the Conquest vs Ecstasy.
Dining/Food: Only thing missing was the Fish & Chips station - which, actually, I didn't miss at all. I found all the food options & quality on the Ecstasy comparable to that of the Conquest. They even had the sushi bar (even though it was not listed in the Capers except on the 1st day). The sushi station is outside the casino.
In the mornings, the lines in the back of the Lido deck would get a little backed up, but there were never lines by the pool stations. The buffet lines were exactly the same (for breakfast). Never any lines for the omelet station The lunch buffets were the typical buffet variety. And of course, there was the 24 hour pizza and ice cream. There never was a lack of good food!
The first night, our waiter seemed to be a bit cranky & we thought uh-oh, this is going to be a long week, but he must've just had a bad day because the rest of the cruise we had a wonderful dining experience. Denis & Eduardo did a great job taking care of us. I have no complaints other than the fact that I think I gained about 5 pounds! We ate all dinners except 1 in the main dining room.
A note on the food quality and variety: I always try to keep in perspective that the staff is having to serve thousands of people - all with different preferences. Given this, I think overall Carnival does a great job. I don't expect every dish to be of 5 star caliber. I do expect the food to be of good quality and variety - in line for what I paid for my cruise. Thus, I am rarely disappointed!
Entertainment: This was one aspect that I found lacking. Our cruise director's 2 acts were the highlights for us. He can play the fiddle and juggle. The comedians were not very good at all. I found Jerry Torres to be absolutely offensive. There was a show by a Russian couple on the last night. I didn't make the show, but I hear they were good. The shows on the Conquest and other ships were definitely of higher quality. The shows on the Ecstasy were not on par with what I expected thus I was disappointed.
Debarkation: Again, a breeze. We just hung out on the Lido Deck until our number was called & then the lines were moving pretty fast. We were back to the EZ Cruise parking lot around 11ish.
Progresso: We love Progresso! I know this port is highly controversial & many people are disappointed with it. We find it absolutely charming! We took the double decker bus tour (45 minutes). We sat on the top of the bus. My husband is about 6'3". It was a hoot watching him have to duck under the electrical wires over the streets! After our bus tour we went to the shopping market for a little while and bought some souvenirs. We then headed to the beach. We ended up at Buddy's. We got massages ($60 for 30 minute massages for 4 people), went on a banana boat ride, and ate and drank to our hearts content. They had great bar specials & the food was excellent.
Cozumel: We did the all-inclusive at Mr. Sancho's. We loved this place! We rode horses, ATVs and jet skied. Great food and drinks. Next time, we probably would not do the all-inclusive option but it was nice to have run of the bar and grill since we had 4 kiddos with us! Definitely 2 thumbs up to Mr. Sancho's!!!
Fellow Cruisers: Since we sailed over a holiday, there were lots of multi-generational families on board. Lots of kids (no problem for us). I was surprised by how many past passengers were on board. Carnival did a good job of trying to ensure activities for people of all ages.
Overall Rating: All in all we had a wonderful cruise. I would definitely sail on the Ecstasy again. Our 2 oldest sons also said they would sail the Ecstasy again. Our 13 & 11 year olds really liked the Conquest better, however, I take their opinions with a grain of salt!