I have sailed on Carnival three times. The first time I sailed (Triumph 2000) I was not terribly impressed. The second time I sailed with Carnival, I was on the Imagination and was more satisfied than I had been on the Triumph. I just returned from sailing on the Victory for five nights. Now, I am almost a fan of Carnival Cruises.
There were eight in our group. Me, my husband, my parents and my four children ages 19, 17, 11, and 4.
EMBARKATION - We arrived at the port (NYC) at about 12 noon and were on the ship within 30 minutes or so. We encountered no problems and the staff was very pleasant and efficient. We were issued our sign and sale card at this time. THE SHIP and our
CABINS - The ship is well maintained. The only negative I could find was that the carpets in the hallways were stained. However, with 3,000 passengers plus crew on board everyday, how could the carpets not be stained??? I found the ship visually appealing and the public areas attractively furnished- not too glitzy for me at all. I like a ship where the decor is a bit fanciful and so the mermaid sculptures in the dining room worked for me. Workers were always busy cleaning. Our cabins were on deck one. I didn't want a balcony as I felt I needed larger cabins since we were four to a room. Outside rooms without a balcony are larger as the area allocated for the balconies on the upper decks is just added to the room size on the lower decks. Our connecting rooms were approximately 230 sq feet each - quite large by cruise standards. I thought that the decor was basic but just fine. There was a nice amount of drawer and closet space. Our bathrooms also had a nice amount of storage space. Strangely, there was no hook on the door inside the bathroom and I missed being able to hang up my bathrobe while taking a shower. The towels looked a bit frayed and there was no goody basket either. All we got for the five nights was a bar of soap. The showers have soap and shampoo dispensers a la Econo Lodge. Our room steward was just OK to be kind. He really didn't put much effort into cleaning our room - he just did the basics. In fact, when I first entered my bathroom, I discovered that there was absolutely no toilet paper in the bathroom. Also, my dispenser ran out of shampoo the first night. It was never refilled.
DINING - I thought the food was very good. I am far from a gourmet but I know when something tastes good. I thought the quality of food was outstanding considering that over 3,000 dinners had to be prepared each evening as well as 3,000 breakfasts, lunches, etc. My only complaint about the food was that it was sometimes not as warm as it should have been and that the milk was sour several times. My waiter was truly outstanding. He went out of his way to accommodate us and anticipate our needs. He even went to the trouble of making my four year old feel special. The buffet had a very good salad bar and I really enjoyed the burgers at the outdoor grill. You could also get franks, a grilled chicken sandwich, a garden burger or minute steak on a bun. Fries were available as well. I didn't eat any of the sandwiches at the deli but was told that they were good. I thought that the Chinese food was pretty good. I live in NYC and go to eat in "Chinatown" quite often. I thought the food was quite authentic and this might have been a problem for people used to "American" Chinese restaurants.
ENTERTAINMENT - I enjoyed the two big shows (second and fifth night) I was not impressed with the magician and was downright annoyed that the entertainment for the fourth night was a passenger talent show. The passengers tried hard but were not terribly talented. On other cruise lines the passenger talent show is an extra and not part of the main show. I liked the cruise director - Skippy. I thought he was very entertaining. Also, there was a very nice cocktail party for past cruisers. It was a very nice gesture. We were even given little pins to mark our "status".
CAMP CARNIVAL - My four year old really enjoyed it. I was thrilled that he was happy to spend a few hours at camp every day. If you have kids, an early seating is better as lots of activities take place during late seatings. Having late seating, my son missed all of the evening activities.
PORTS OF CALL - I booked my own tours independently and was glad I did. I saved a ton of money. In St. John's, we went on the jet boats at the Reversing Falls. Fun was had by all. In Halifax, we visited Peggy's Cove. Maybe I am just not enough of a nature lover, but I wished I had concentrated on Halifax instead. Peggy's Cove has a population of about 60 and after seeing the lighthouse and a few lobster traps there was not much to do except eat lunch.
Carnival gives a good bang for the buck, no doubt. However, I think they fall short when it comes to service which is very uneven. They just seem to miss the little touches that other cruise lines don't. For example, disembarkation is a mess. I didn't even know what time I was expected to vacate my room, eat breakfast, etc. No notification was left the night before about these details. Honestly, as much as I enjoyed my cruise, if RCL or Celebrity offered a similar cruise at a similar price, I would sail with them. They are just more organized and their service more consistent (I always have toilet paper when I cruise with other lines). There were other small oversights as well, but I think I have made my point. On the other hand, Carnival keeps improving and I think they are quickly catching up to their competitors in terms of food quality and service. As I said, each time I sail with Carnival, I see big improvements.
Carnival has a bad reputation in some circles. I mentioned that I was sailing on Carnival to a couple of experienced cruisers a few days before I sailed. They looked horrified. I think that this reputation is undeserved. Carnival has come a long way and I am confident that it will continue to improve.