The ship was easy enough to learn and navigate, after about a day of orienting ourselves, we pretty much had the lay of the land down pat. Easy to get just about anywhere, and I liked that you never had to walk through any smoke filled areas to get anywhere, there were always alternative "clean air" pathways to every part of the ship. The decor was absolutely gaudy, a true tribute to Americana - even the floors were tiled American flags. Every elevator had a golden bald eagle next to it. The atrium was surrounded by busts of former American presidents and other major figures. A little self-indulgent maybe, but after a day or two, I stopped even paying attention and more or less ignored the design.
We were a little worried about the smoking on the ship, seeing as how we value the air we breathe, but were pleased to see that it was quite controlled. Smoking indoors was only allowed in the casino and bars, which was fine with us. Walking through the casino, it was only noticeable for a few minutes, although when I left the casino, my clothes smelled like smoke, which was unfortunate. In the bars we were careful to sit away from smokers, and it was never an issue. Outdoors, smoking was only allowed on one side of the ship and even then, we very rarely ever noticed smoking outdoors.
Other features of the boat included 3 small pools and 5 hot tubs (all located directly adjacent to one of the pools). One of the pools and two of the hot tubs are in an "adults-only" area which was accurate - we never saw kids in this area throughout the week. The pools were nice though a little cold for our tastes. They mostly stayed empty for most of the week, never really saw more than 5-6 people in a pool at any given time. They were definitely smaller than we had expected. The hot tubs were much busier throughout the week, though several of them could be better described as "warm" tubs. The two hot tubs in adults-only area were hotter than the others.
There was also a basketball court, volleyball court and 9-hole mini golf course, all of which we used and were very nice. The gym was very nice and much bigger than we had expected. I personally didn't like that staff were constantly hocking the services of Spa Carnival. It felt like a sales pitch was on its way as soon as you stepped in the vicinity of the place. But the gym was great, new equipment, quite large. Also tried both the sauna and steam room which were wonderfully cleansing.
The first night on the boat, we said to each other, it feels like we're walking through a retirement home for the morbidly obese. That about sums up the demographic on the boat. 50-75% of the cruisers were 50+ years old, and many, many of them were seriously overweight. The rest was a mix of couples in their 30's-40's, as well as some families, mostly with small kids. Very few teenagers on the boat and very few young couples like us. We mostly attribute this to the time of year and after the first day, we didn't let it bother us one bit.
The food in the dining room was absolutely wonderful. We were in the Washington Dining Room, Main Seating (6 PM). We sat at a table for four with another older couple, also from Canada. We were originally given late seating in the Lincoln room, even though we requested early seating. We went to see the Maitre D' first thing when we got on the boat and arranged to have that switched which took a little coaxing, but was eventually arranged. Stephen and Sam were our waiters, and they were fantastic. My girlfriend is a vegetarian and they were very considerate of her needs, going out of their way to bring her dishes that she could comfortably eat and enjoy. I never had a bad meal in the dining room the whole week. In fact, I would venture to say that it may have been some of the best food I've ever eaten. We ate open-seating breakfast once, also in the Washington room, and it was nice.
The Lido buffet was just OK. I wouldn't put it above any other buffet I've ever eaten at. The food was always hot, which was good, but the quality wasn't anything to brag about. Lineups were kept short, very rarely had to wait more than 5 minutes to get to the food. On the last day of the cruise, they did a chocolate buffet, which was interesting, but again, the quality of the food wasn't anything to brag about. I would say that breakfast was better than lunch.
The Fish and Chips were fantastic! I'd heard about them and that they were hidden away at a stand on the Panorama deck. It actually took me about 5-10 minutes to find the place and it was worthwhile. Although I have to say, I ate the fish and chips twice, once on the first day of the cruise, and once on the last day. They were MUCH better on the first day, so go early. Also tried the deli on the Lido deck which I quite enjoyed for their pastrami and corned beef sandwiches.
For breakfast, we alternated between buffet, and room service, opting more and more for room service toward the end of the trip. It was very nice to eat a delivered continental breakfast in bed, that was perfect for us.
The one big disappointment food wise was the Sushi Bar which was a HUGE letdown for us. We were expecting an actual sushi bar where you could have them make any kind of sushi you wanted and get it served in dinner sized portions. We had planned to skip the dining room one night for sushi. Well, the sushi place was only open from about 5:30-8ish, so we went early. Turns out, they don't make any kind of sushi. They have two types of pre-prepared sushi which they cut into rolls for you once you've selected which one you want. And then, they serve it to you two rolls at a time. That's barely even an appetizer! Needless to say, we tried the two rolls of sushi, they weren't anything special, so we rushed to the dining room and had a real meal.
Eat in the dining room as much as you can. For dinner, you're crazy if you don't eat in the dining room. For lunch, eat at the fish and chips or deli, and supplement with a salad from the buffet. For breakfast, go to the dining room or get room service.
We had an inside room. It was nice, size-wise it was about what I expected. Lots of closet space, much more than we required. Our steward introduced himself on the first day, and we didn't see him a lot after that, only occasionally in the hallways. There was also a second man who cleaned our rooms and made our towel animals, who was very nice! Always greeted us by name in the hallways and was always smiling. I remember him much more than the guy who said he was our steward. The towel animals were awesome, the elephant stood out as a favorite, as did the monkey we found hanging from our ceiling! Beyond sleeping though, we spent little time in the room.
The Main Stage
We went to all the shows in the Ivanhoe Theatre except the last one. Among the shows, there was two Vegas style dance and music review shows (one focused on the 80's and one focused on nightclubs throughout the 20th century), two stand-up comics, a juggler, a magician, and a hypnotist. The final show of the week was Carnival Legends where people on the boat audition throughout the week for the chance to sing as a famous music star on the main stage. Its basically glorified karaoke. We stepped in to the theatre for a minute to check it out about half way through and reminded ourselves why we skipped it. It was BAD!
The review shows were enjoyable, I'm not really into that kind of show, but my girlfriend liked them. The two comics were Eddie Cahone and Jim Brick. Eddie Cahone was OK, his show was geared at the older crowd and it was kind of crude. At one point, he made a joke about date rape that just went way too far. Jim Brick was much better. Both of them also did midnight, r-rated shows, but we skipped them both. From others on the boat, we heard that they were both OK, neither of them had routines apparently, they just spent 45 minutes calling out people in the audience and embarrassing them.
I didn't get to see the juggler but my gf liked him. The magician was OK, but I found his tricks lacked a little ta-da. The real gem of the main stage though was the hypnotist, Asad! He was absolutely fantastic. He did two shows, a main one and an r-rated one, and they were both great, though the main one was better. I won't reveal too much, but if there is one show to see, its his.
The happening place on the boat seemed to be the casino. It was consistently the busiest spot at night. I went in twice, once for a blackjack tournament, and once just to play some blackjack on my own (where I won $30). Tables are $5 minimum, except on the first night they are $3 minimum. There were numerous bars: - The Bronx Sports Bar - we only went in once and left within a few minutes for fear of suffocation from second hand smoke. - The Eagles Lounge - They do the r-rated shows here as well as karaoke. Karaoke ranged from a few people to 100+ people. - The Paris Hot - We never really spent any time here, it was mostly empty. On the last night, we noticed there was a rock band and a sizable crowd. - One Small Step - Dance club, every time we walked by it was either empty, or there were like 8 people dancing. - The Atrium - There was always something happening in the lobby/atrium, whether it was piano music or games or whatever. A good place to hang out if you just don't know what to do. - The Library - We didn't use the library because it was only open sparingly during the trip but we did walk by a few times to see people playing board games/cards or reading. - Seaside Theatre - Movies were playing most days/nights. Some of the films shown included Iron Man, Indiana Jones 4, Kung Fu Panda, Leatherheads, Narnia: Prince Caspian and Drillbit Taylor. The quality of the screen was good, and the audio was just OK but definitely understandable.
The place where we spent most of our time was the Lindy Hop (aka the Piano Bar), with Piano Paul from Vancouver. Paul was great and the Piano Bar was really nice. He had a list of about 100+ songs that he could play on request and also knew some others. The crowd ranged from just myself and my gf, to 30-40 people, and singing along was highly encouraged. When it was just the two of us, Paul was great and just played whatever we wanted to hear for like an hour.
Ports of Call
We didn't do any shore excursions provided by Carnival, choosing instead to be independent travelers as we're used to doing, helped out by Frommer's Guide to Caribbean Ports of Call.
Nassau: Got off the boat in Nassau around 8:30 AM, and started off on a self-guided walking tour of the city. Stopped at places like Parliament Square, Fort Fincastle and the Queen's Staircase. When we first got off the boat, the city was dead, but on our way back from the Fort closer to 10 AM, we noticed that things were much livelier. There were 3 boats in port that day, another Carnival boat as well as a Disney cruise. After the walking tour, we went to the Western Esplanade beach for ~1.5 hours. We didn't want to stray too far, and the beach was very nice. The water was too cold to swim, but the sun was out and great beach for tanning. Then headed back to the boat for lunch and 2 PM departure.
St. Thomas: Got off around 9:30-10 AM to go to Magen's Bay for some beach time. Jumped into a van cab that was occupied by a group of 8 from Maryland and the driver wanted two more to go to Magen's, which was just fine with us. Spent about 2 hours at Magen's Bay, what an absolutely gorgeous beach. Not too busy, but somewhat crowded (there were only two boats in port this day, us and a Norwegian boat). Our driver picked us up around 1 PM, conveniently right after it started raining, and drove us to Drake's Seat for a photo op looking over Magen's Bay as well as to a viewpoint looking over Charlotte Amalie and the boats. Then she dropped us off in Charlotte Amalie, where we went to lunch at a restaurant called Jen's Cafe - nice place. Then we went walking through the town, bought some local artwork at a shop and visited the St. Thomas Synagogue (the oldest in the Western Hemisphere or something like that). Afterward, we made the 1 mile walk or so back to the ship in time for dinner, then back up to the deck to take pictures of St. Thomas lit up at night before leaving at 8 PM.
St. Martin: Got off the boat around 10 AM, went to the cab dispatch area and said we wanted to go to Loterie Farm. The dispatcher stopped a cab driver that was on her way to get a group of 8. She was extremely mad at the dispatcher, swearing at him multiple times, that she had to take just the two of us because she wanted the large group. She calmed down though about 10-15 minutes into the ride and then became very friendly. The ride to Loterie Farm from the boat was $35 for the two of us. We got to Loterie Farm, and paid the $5 entrance fee to hike the mountain to the top of Pic Paradise. There are two trails to the top, the "easy" way and the "hard" way. We took the hard way up and the easy way down. The hard way is not for the un-agile. Heavy ropes are installed through a large portion of the trail to assist you in pulling yourself up the steep climb. The view from the top is a wide-sweeping view of Orient Bay and the horizon - absolutely gorgeous and serene. The whole climb to the top and back took us about 2 hours with multiple stops for picture taking, etc. We then had lunch at the cafe (Hidden Forest I think its called) at the base of the mountain and paid $23 for a plate of "gourmet" mac and cheese and a bottle of water. Very expensive, and the service was very poor - I don't recommend eating here unless you have a strong desire to do so.
Our cab driver picked us up at the arranged time and took us to Grand Case beach. We were originally going to go to Orient, but she recommended we go to Grand Case as she had grown up there and said it was her favorite beach on the island (we also think she partly didn't want to drive back to Orient since she had to go back the other way for her next pickup). The ride from Loterie Farm to Grand Case was $15. Grand Case was absolutely beautiful, very secluded and serene. Not very many people there, probably less than 50 along the entire beach. The water was a little cold to swim in, but not so cold that it prevented you from going in it like in Nassau. At the arranged time, our driver picked us up and took us back to the boat for $25.
Embarkation was super easy. Carnival reps met us at the Ft. Lauderdale airport and took us to the boat where we were through and on the boat within 30 minutes of arrival. We were a bit late getting there (around 2:30 PM) so there were few lineups in the process. We left cash deposits for the Sail and Sign card. I had read that a $200 deposit was required, but this was not enforced at all, the agent said we could leave any deposit we wanted and we ended up leaving $100 each.
Debarkation was just as easy. We did the self-assist option and walked off with our bags around 8:30 AM. Customs was a breeze and before we knew it we were on the Carnival transfer back to the airport.