My first impressions of the cruise were very mixed. I was very impressed with the extremely smooth embarkation that Carnival had provided. It was light-years faster then my last Carnival cruise out of Tampa, FL and a full hour faster then both my RCL and Celebrity cruises out of Baltimore MD. However at the embarkation counter I came to a rude awakening. The fuel surcharge, that I had been promised to receive back in the form of shipboard credit by several Carnival service representatives after multiple calls throughout the month of November and by an October press release was denied to me. The reason was a new press release that was released the Thursday, 2 days prior to the cruise. It stated refunds for the December indicated on the previous press release would begin December 17th. I was actually told by the representative at the gate that apparently there is some confusion at Carnival as to when the month of December begins.
The trip was not a complete disaster, there were a few shining stars (mainly individuals that relied on gratuities); for instance, our dinner room waiter was the best waiter I've ever had on a cruise ship regardless of the line, and our state room attendant was also very efficient; but that was where the good parts of the service stopped. While I know I'm on a discount carrier, I would expect some level of service in the Lido deck. On RCL and Celebrity there would be staff to help carry trays, find seats, and refill coffee. On this Carnival cruise my traveling companion struggled to carry her try and spilt her coffee on her food.
Other aspects the made the cruise unpleasant were the fact that non smoking areas were just note enforced, the ship was a sea of smog and it ignited my girlfriends asthma. She had to wait 45 minutes each morning for a nebulizer treatment (which brings me to the next issue, wait times in the infirmary). Attempting to stay away from the smoke is next to impossible as there are no nighttime activities that are non smoking, no dance clubs that are open air or smoke free and no games or shows after 11. The severely limited shipboard night activities left us prisoner to our stateroom TV at night after 10 pm. This wouldn't have been all that bad if the room service menu had more then a few tasteless items.
As for the food quality in the main dinning room, I have to say it is at best iffy. Two nights the stakes were blood red when they were ordered medium well. One night there was a long hair in my food and the remaining nights the food was cold but somewhat editable. I will say I did enjoy the warm melting cake desert.
Another aspect of the cruise was the fact that the bar staff didn't seem to have working zones; for example, one night I didn't want to have anymore drinks, but I was asked by 4 different bar tenders within a 15 minutes period if I needed something. There should be a system in place to try not to bombard the passengers with drink order requests. Conversely, when I wanted something, it was next to impossible to flag a bartender down.
Perhaps one of the most upsetting and unacceptable staff related issues, was how poorly vetted the Carnival recommended shore excursions were. Our first history of Nassau and pirates tour started with a driver that was barley understandable and didn't seem to be knowledgeable of his own island. Our second tour was the best of St Thomas tour. The driver literally did not say one word until the end of the so called "tour". He did however have 3 banana daiquiris at one of the stops, talked on his cell phone the majority of the trip, and almost skidded off the side of a mountain road. Other things that degraded the experience, but where not deal killers was the fact that the meet the captain show was open to everyone on the ship but was executed in a small bar, rather then the large theater; and the returning guest show, which was open to only returning guests was done in a large theater, rather then a small bar. I would imagine that this would have worked better the other way around.
This was my second Carnival Cruise and will most likely be my last Carnival Cruise, RCL just offers light years better value. I might be willing to try another line in the Carnival family. I always thought Carnival was comparable to RCL. From outside observation I don't think there is a line in Carnival's class. RCL's level of service seems to be on par with Princess. Overall I believe that this past cruise was a slight improvement over my first Carnival disaster, but not up to the level of service and quality of some of the competitors. I am still rather dismayed by the fact that I was not refunded as ship credit the fuel surcharge that I was promised. Our family spent over $13,000 for our staterooms and onboard purchases on this past cruise. I'm hoping that Carnival will mend its ways at one point, but until that my Family reunions will cruise elsewhere.