Let me start by telling you who we are and how we got on this cruise. My husband, John and I are in our mid 30s and we have 3 boys, ages 14, 12 and 10 months. We usually sail on Celebrity and this was our first trip on Carnival.
Our older sons got out of school last Friday and John had taken vacation this week. We had looked at different vacation possibilities and decided to wait until the last minute and see what struck our fancy. So on Saturday, 6/12, I was perusing the last minute cruise sites and found Carnival Victory's 2 night Cruise to Nowhere sailing out of New York on 6/15. Since I hate to fly, this seemed like a great way to try Carnival and get away for a few days. We made babysitting arrangements for our littlest one and left at 8:00 Tuesday morning for the 3 and a half hour drive to NYC.
Since we didn't have any documentation other then our email receipt from the consolidator and our funpass from Carnival, we had to go to a 'will call' desk for our docs. No problems, took about 20 minutes. While I did that, John parked the car. Parking was $48, cash. From there, we got in the first long line to pass through the first security check point, wait time, 35 minutes. After that, we got in the next long line to have our bags checked, wait time, 45 minutes. After getting through there and stopping for the lovely embarkation pictures, we got into the next line to actually check-in. Wait time for this line was only about 2 minutes, but since we were a last minute addition, we had to have keys made for us. This took another 30 minutes or so. So, if we add it all up, we're now pushing 2 hours. My guys were fantastically patient though, much more then many of the adults I witnessed.
After finally figuring out what room we were in and dropping off our bags (no porterage, as this was only a 2 night cruise) we went off in search of lunch. We found burgers and pizza on deck 9 aft and decided it was preferable to fighting the lines at the buffet. Both were quite good. I bought the kids each a soda pass ($4.50 for entire trip) and sent them off to the pool, telling them to meet back at our room by 4pm or when they announced the lifeboat drill, whichever came first.
The lifeboat drill was scheduled to begin at 4pm, and cabin attendants were shusshing people out of their rooms to attend the drill. Sadly, the drill did not actually begin until 5pm, so many people were stuck on deck for over an hour with their life jackets. I would come to realize that this was going to be a constant trend over the next two days. Nothing was on schedule and seldom did anyone actually seem to know what was supposed to be going on.
After the drill, we dropped the life jackets off and went back up top to experience sailaway. Of all the ports I've sailed from, this was the best. The sun was just starting to dip into the west as we sailed past the Statue of Liberty and the reflection off the water and her torch was magnificent. I'm glad to have experienced it. After passing what seemed to be just a few feet under the George Washington (I think) Bridge, we began to wander around the ship to get acclimated and the kids began their vacationing (ie, swim, eat ice cream, swim, eat pizza, swim...) in earnest.
The ship was lovely. Not at all too tacky as I expected. It was much glitzier then we were accustomed to, but not garish. Only exception was our bathroom, which was a frightening shade of pink. The public spaces were comfortable and for the most part well laid out. The glass elevators in the atrium were impressive.
Another positive was the crew. They were all quite friendly and helpful, most possessing rather good English. We were surprised at the number of female staff. Much, much higher then on Celebrity.
So, now that I've said all the nice things I can think of, I'll tell you about the rest of our experience. The food was mediocre. I was taken aback by the fact that you didn't get trays in the buffet, but had to carry everything by hand. One morning John got sour milk, which of course he didn't realize until after taking a big gulp. When ordering room service, two of the 3 times we didn't get utensils - tough to eat frosted flakes and milk with your fingers. Smoked salmon was available for breakfast in your room, but nowhere else on the ship - John was very disappointed by that one. Dining room service was efficient, but not spectacular, not unexpected on a 'no gratuity' cruise. I was shocked to see stacks of cardboard boxes in the dining room, both nights. The dining room was quite noisy and the portions were rather small. The desserts I sampled were fine, but nothing to brag about. The chilled strawberry soup seemed more like melted ice cream. Lobster was okay, but cold. My youngest son ordered prime rib medium and it was perfectly cooked - I've never seen a better job done cooking a steak 'medium'. He said it was very good. We did grab lunch from the East River Deli, sandwiches were great, but there were no sides, so you waited 30 minutes and got only a single sandwich - if you wanted anything else you needed to wait in the main buffet line. The ice cream I tried was quite tasty, and the kids seemed to enjoy it. They ate so much I think my one son is beginning to look like a swirl cone.
The teen program was a joke. Three different 'events' were scheduled, two during late seating dinner. The first night the 'meet and greet' was supposed to begin at 8pm. We watched from a nearby lounge as kids would come in, see no one there and leave. Carnival staff finally arrived at 8:20 to sign kids into the program, but by that time most of the kids had given up. Afterwards there was supposed to be a teen disco from 8:30 to 9:30. When the kids kept going into the Arctic Lounge, where the dance was to be, they were repeatedly told, "we're not ready yet". When things finally were ready, it was 9:15 and then they were shooed out promptly at 9:30, so they could get ready for the adults. The second night there was supposed to be a dance under the stars for teens on the pool deck, but it was cancelled due to fog. Not rain, but fog! No alternative location was given, so once again, the teens were left to their own devices. At no point were any of these changes announced to the parents. So next time you see herds of kids wandering around on their own, realize it is entirely possible that their parents believe that they are taking part in a supervised activity that failed to materialize. My kids still had a good time, but I was disappointed, as this was their first cruise experience and I wanted it to be a good one. We will be sailing on the Mariner of the Seas next year with all three kids, and I am sure the kids will have a better time on that cruise.
As for the adult entertainment, most of it was fine. A few notables - the piano guy in the Irish Pub was fantastic, as I had read in advance. Unfortunately, if you didn't arrive early, it was standing room only. We were able to catch a bit of his show before dinner one night. The jazz trio in the Ionian Room was also quite good, but due to the large number of cigar smokers there, we didn't stay long. As for the main show lounge, we only saw one show, 'Vroom', and it was not to my liking. Too loud and way too much skin for my taste. Most of the shows started late, as did late seating dinner. It seemed to be a common theme and no one felt the need to apologize.
Disembarkation was another nightmare. No instructions were given, either over the loudspeakers or in our rooms. It was mass departure, carrying your own bags, and of course, we were an hour late arriving into port. No one mentioned that you would need your sign and sail cards to be presented until you actually arrived at the gangway, so the lines moved horrifyingly slow as people searched their bags for their cards. The experience in the port was also an absolute disaster, but I won't blame that on the cruise line.
All in all, I can say without a doubt that I won't be taking another 'cruise to nowhere'. I also highly doubt I will sail Carnival again. There is nothing wrong with the product, and I can see why it has its devotees, but it's just not the line for me. If you only ever sailed Carnival, you probably wouldn't even notice the complaints I had (except for maybe the spoiled milk - that was hard to miss.) It's better than no cruise at all, but for me, I think I'll stick with Celebrity without the kids and Royal Caribbean with them.