A little background first. I'm 37 and my husband is 35. We are middle-class, easy-going, well-travelled and have been all over the world, including several times to the Caribbean. We have an 11 month old daughter and also brought my in-laws, who are in their mid/late 50s. I've only been on one other cruise in the late 80s, as a teen, on Royal Caribbean and thought it was fantastic. Of course, it was a different era and I was a different person. This was my husband and his parents' 3rd cruise altogether and their 2nd with Carnival. Despite having an overall good time, they don't wish to go on another Carnival cruise again.
We just sailed on May 30th, 2009 for a week, to Grand Turk, Half Moon Cay and Nassau.
Embarkation went pretty smoothly and we arrived at 1:45 and it took less than an hour. Debarkation was a whole different story and took almost 3 hours. L
The ship itself (environment) and the cabin:
I didn't care about the nude Renaissance paintings like others have commented, but I thought the overall dEcor was on the tacky/gaudy side. My fellow family/travelers agreed with me. I will be frank and I was initially disappointed in our balcony room on the Upper deck and especially in the tiny bathroom. I had read reviews that raved about how large the rooms are and since we had spent quite a bit on a balcony, I had high expectations. Not luxury, per se, but not what it was. It's like a plain, 80s, cheap hotel. The size is ok. On a positive note, the room was clean and there was plenty of storage, which I liked. The bedding was super soft (which I really liked), but the mattress was extra firm and too firm for me. The bathroom had a bad odor and I think it was from the shower curtain needing to be aired out... There were foul odors periodically on our floor too and I think it came from the housekeeping closet. It got better later in the week. I LOVED having a balcony and would never go on a cruise again without one. I also loved how sound-proofed the cabin was.
The engines shook our cabin and several spots in the main dining room, which I found disconcerting and at times, annoying as some other reviewers have commented on. We would be sitting at dinner and everything was vibrating at our table. The engines felt like they were directly below me. This also didn't help my tendency toward seasickness.
The pools and lido deck:
I didn't care for the small design of the pools nor for how crammed the chairs were on the lido deck. I never went swimming because it didn't appeal to me. People seemed to really enjoy themselves though. I did use their track for walking. The amount of smokers at the pool area was also frustrating. I can't wait for the day that smoking is outlawed everywhere.
The cabin steward:
Isnan was fantastic! We loved him and his cute towel animals. He was so helpful and available and went out of his way to assist us with opening cans of formula for our daughter on a daily basis, since our can opener had broken on the first day. My husband joked one time that he thought Isnan was "teleporting" since he was so speedy.
I give them 5 stars all the way! Everyone was so friendly and helpful. I truly cannot sing their praises enough and will miss seeing so many smiling faces. They were so sweet to my baby girl. I loved meeting people from all over the world.
I have mixed reviews on this. At Mermaid's GrilleI LOVED the salad bar (but wished there were 2 since lines were always long) and enjoyed the variety of international choices. Some of the food was overly salted for my taste. I liked the 24 hr fat-free yogurt and ice cream. I had a hard time finding adequate food for an infant at any of the dining options. I would have liked more steamed vegetable choices at both the Main dining room and Mermaid's. I did bring some jarred baby food (and applesauce, etc), which I used at some of the ports.
Breakfast was great at both Mermaids and Normandie. The Omelette/Egg guy was incredible in Mermaid's!
I was happily surprised with the Flat Iron steak at Normandie (main dining room). The lobster bisque was disappointing, but other chilled soups were yummy. The desserts were delicious. If you like chocolate, you must order the chocolate melting cake, like so many have commented on.
I'm glad there were only 2 formal nights and I like the laid-back atmosphere. I also enjoyed the ultra cheesy waiter songs/dances at the main dining room, which really lived up to the "Fun" theme that Carnival touts. J
If you're bringing children, Carnival really does it well. Those kids were having a blast. We saw many activities going on around the ship. We utilized their babysitting at night two times and were really happy with how kind and loving they were. Our daughter woke up (we brought her there sound asleep after 10pm) and seemed really comfortable with the staff there despite never having laid eyes on them before. My only gripe is that they should expand their hours for under 2s to include more day-time hours as well.
I'm so glad we had our in-laws to help us. It was tiring having an infant (who is well-behaved by the way) even with help from family and I can't imagine if they hadn't come. They only booked it at the last minute with a good deal. We had planned on going just my husband and me with our daughter since my in-laws had originally said it was too expensive for them.
I spoke with some other couples who were there with their infants and they seemed really worn out.
We did the snorkeling at Gibbs Cay with the stingrays and LOVED it! I highly recommend it. It was the only excursion we booked. There's not much to do at Grand Turk, except snorkel and scuba and it's really good there.
Half Moon Cay:
Stunning island and beaches! It was stressful for me with my fair-skinned little one, but we managed with 50 spf. She really enjoyed her first beach experience, floating in the water with an inner tube/boat thingy we brought. It got hot though and we only stayed about 2 ½ hrs. We had brought a canopy tent, which helped, but the wind moved it around a bit. Carnival did a very nice barbeque for everyone too.
It was a very short stop 7am to 1pm and that was frustrating. I didn't realize how short this was when I booked it. It also happened to be pouring in the morning, so we got a late start. We walked around on our own and enjoyed going to a beautiful old church (Christchurch from 1670). We also went to the Straw market.
Activities and Entertainment:
That was better and more fun than I expected. I thought the dancing and singing was quite good. I loved the hypnotist Asad, and he is not to be missed if he's on your cruise. I also enjoyed the Love n' marriage show and The Quest (for adults only).
I booked a Baltimore port so we wouldn't have to fly with the little one. For that, I was grateful, however the two full days, 3 nts at sea was too much for me going down. Also, the ship rocked quite a bit and I think it may have been because of how fast they're trying to get down there and on the way back up. Plus, I heard the ocean is rougher in the Atlantic anyway. I was better once we were down there in the Caribbean part of the ocean. I didn't take any medicine for 2 or 3 days in the middle of the wk.
I also think one gets used to the movement. However, coming back up it kicked in again and I took more meclizine. If you're prone to seasickness, definitely bring ginger and medication and try to get a room in the center and lower down.
Overall, we had a great time and I don't regret the trip. However, IF I ever do go on a cruise again:
-It would be out of Florida
-I would make sure that all of the ports had itineraries that were mostly full days (and all had some kind of local culture)
-Sorry to say, but it would likely be with Royal Caribbean instead. I feel disloyal because I loved the staff, but I'm just being truthful.