Can't believe everything you hear. Everyone raved about CATS the musical; frankly I thought it sucked. A lot of folks told us Carnival sucked; I thought it was great...!
We are a married couple in our early 50's, and have 5 cruises under our belt, NCL, RC and Princess. We booked this Carnival cruise on the late side, but it fit our schedule as a week we could both get away. Have always heard that Carnival was a "step down" from other cruise lines; we actually were surprised by how pleasant things were, and would definitely travel with Carnival again.
Embarkation: We typically cruise out of NY (we live in the Phila. area), and this is our first time cruising out of Baltimore. What a piece of cake! Terminal is right off Interstate 95, about a 2.5 hour ride from home. Well staffed personnel direct us to drop off luggage and then continue on to parking ($15/day, cash or credit). It was a very short walk to the terminal and check in was a breeze. Carnival staff were very helpful and friendly. We arrived a little too early for immediate boarding, but were seated in an orderly fashion and called by group number for boarding. Our room wasn't ready yet, so we headed up to the Lido deck and enjoyed a buffet lunch. Food was not "over the top" great, but very good.
Cabin: We finally made it to our cabin around 3:30. Our 9A category cabin was quite spacious (235 square feet with an 80 square foot balcony). Wooden laminate entryway floor, a desk area to the left, bathroom straight ahead, bed and couch/sitting area off to the right. The bed was comfortable and we slept well in it (frequently over-sleeping). Loads of shelving and cabinet storage space. Suitcases easily hidden away. Very functional room lighting that even featured a dimmer switch. Bathroom was small, but adequate. Lot of little shelves on both sides of the sink to place toiletry items. Toilet was at a comfortable angle, providing enough space to do one's business. Shower quite nice, with removable shower wand for easy rinsing of those hinterland areas. Balcony had two chairs a small table and a lounger. We sat out there quite frequently. We met our cabin steward, but rarely saw him after this initial meeting. Cabin was always kept in good condition, clean, neat. Towel animals were adorable, and a couple chocolates every night with turn down service. Oh, by the way, our cabin was just outside the aft elevators. We heard no elevator noise, and LOVED this location of the ship. Outside of a little rumbling from the rear engines, the location was great, an easy ride up or down to any of the restaurants. One cabin note in regard to the room TV is that the satellite programming has picked up the local Denver, CO affiliate. Due to the time difference, everything was always a couple hours late. Would have been nice to have an east coast affiliate, especially seeing that the majority of the passengers were from the Washington to NY City corridor.
The ship: The ship was beautiful, decorated in mainly Renaissance style artwork. The atrium was smaller than in other ships and slightly less impressive; some plants or fountains would have gone a long way. The public rooms were by far the most comfortable we've ever experienced. Lots of big comfy chairs and couches, many with ocean view windows; great to just settle in and relax or read a book. I like sports "stuff" and unfortuately the sports bar was one of the few areas that allowed smoking, so I stayed out of there. The Taj Mahal theatre was great, very comfortable, all couches except for individual seats in the balcony area.
Ship activities: On the "fun days at sea" it seemed there was always plenty of activities, obviously less on port days. We played trivia games (still can't believe I got 19 out of 20 on "Name that Tune" and lost), and participated in some other competitions (i.e. free throw shooting, ping pong). We played Bingo, $10 for one card, $20 for three; it was fun but we did not win. We passed the karaoke lounge, but, it was kind of painful to hang out there; no budding American Idols here. No problem finding a lounge chair to catch some rays on deck. The afternoon tea was one of our favorites; choice of tea, petit-fours, finger sandwiches - all very elegant. In room pay movies were available on demand, and there were some free movies although we had a hard time getting a schedule of what was playing when. Wife investigated and took advantage of the ship spa. It was kind of expensive, but she enjoyed her pedicure and here toes looked great in and out of her sandals.
Entertainment: This is an opportunity for improvement. With the exception of Jerel, a talented jazz pianist, the piano players/singers were average at best. Guitarists sung and played along with sequenced (canned) music and were frankly kind of irritating. The shows we saw were surprisingly good. High energy song and dance troupe, colorful costumes, good music (again a "small" big band playing along with canned music). 2 comedians were extremely funny. We skipped the ventriliquist. Cruise director Kirk did a nice job although his assistant Jamie was kind of annoying (how many times can you do that fake sneeze thing; enough already).
Food: The buffet was ok. The breakfast never changed. Would have died to see some corned beef hash or some smoked salmon or whitefish; have to go to the main dining room for that. Lunch in the buffet was actually very good. Salad bar was excellent. Some stations always stayed the same (pizza, deli, Oriental) and some changed daily to some international theme. 24 hour pizza, burgers and dogs quite good. We ate all our dinners in the main Normandie dining room. Wait staff (Darrell and Eleonora) were very attentive to our needs. Food, in my opinion, was outstanding. Tried a lot of things I have never had before, or have infrequently (escargot, chateaux briande etc.). On the "fun" ship, the wait staff does a song or dance number during dessert most evenings; it was a little hokey, but fun none the less. We did not eat at the high end steakhouse, David's ($30 cover); my wife did enjoy admiring the large statue of David, who was, how can I say, quite "gifted". We purchased a 5-drink package and sampled the drinks of the day.
Ports: Since this was to be our relaxing cruise, we did not book many shore excursions. We visited Grand Turk, walked around the shopping village for a little while and came back. The pool area here, however, looked very inviting. Half Moon Cay, Carnival's private island was lovely. Wife enjoyed the beach. Me, not being much of a beach goer, mooched around, enjoyed lunch and the tropical scenery. Last port was Freeport, Bahamas. We visited the Garden of the Groves (beautiful, despite still hurting from Hurrican Frances in 2004) and the Lucayan Port shopping area ("no, mon, I don't want to get my hair braided, thank you").
Overall: Very positive experience. I would not hesitate to cruise again or recommend Carnival to others.