I traveled with my mother, daughter & daughter's friend (both 17 yrs. old), leaving NYC on 7/8/04. This is about my 12th cruise, my daughter's 7th cruise and her friend's first time cruising.
Embarking the ship was extremely easy. We live on Long Island so we had an easy ride to NYC, arriving around 11:30 a.m. Prior to our departure I had called Carnival & inquired about a wheelchair for my mother since it is a large terminal for someone who has difficulty walking. They had a wheelchair available for use and started checking us in within a short period of time. Very smooth, on the ship by noon. Our room was an interior room on the Empress deck, as was the girls' room.
Room steward was very good, filing our ice bucket with ice on a reg. basis to keep the bottle of champagne we received cold, room always clean, etc. First night he did not leave towel animals so I left a little note on the bed saying we'd like them & did he know how to do them. He did so & when I saw him the morning after that & told him how much we enjoyed them he really went out of his way to impress. I guess everybody likes to know their work is appreciated.
Suggestion if you have kids who drink a lot of soda: as soon as you get on purchase a soda card at a bar - cost is $4. per day + 15% grat. This way your child gets full use of it from the very start of your trip.
Dining Room - Atlantic, 6:15 p.m. seating - lower level - waitress "Julia". I can't remember the assistant's name but both were excellent! I never had to ask for the assistant to fill my water glass (and boy do I drink a lot of water). Dishes cleared promptly, rolls always brought right away, etc. Julia surpassed expectation. She made recommendations every night. My daughter's friend is an extremely picky eater not liking what was on the reg. menu, she offered the children's menu. When she order the chicken nuggets & didn't care for them she suggested something else, even one night bringing something that wasn't on either menu for her. (I know - why would I choose to bring a kid that sounds like such a pain in the butt...To know her is to love her!). Julia made special napkin foldings for the girls (little bunnies, a boot, etc.), even though I know she was hard pressed for time.
As far as the food goes, I certainly enjoyed whatever I ate. One night, however, I ordered my steak med-rare & rec'd what I would call well done. When I told Julia I think I rec'd the wrong steak, but then realized everyone else's was how they requested she immediately offered to bring it back to the kitchen and give me another one. I declined but appreciated her offer.
Bar server in dining room: Another exception. She was a young woman who was so sweet I wished I could take her home! My daughter had a soda card & each night this server immediately came to the table & asked if she would like her soda. One night I ordered a glass of wine. The server thanked me, using my name she spotted on the Sign & Sail card. Each night afterwards she came over, greated me by name & asked if I would like wine with dinner. The first wine was the only one I ordered at dinner that whole cruise (they don't make big $$ off my bar bill!) but yet that girl remembered my order & name when who knows how many people she may serve a night. Amazing, since I, sadly, cannot remember her name.
Entertainment: I enjoyed the shows & found adequate seating each night. The comedians were ok: one being pretty good, another so-so & the comedian/magician I didn't like at all, although the girls did. I guess its all personal taste. I did go to the midnight comedy shows too & thought they were better than the earlier shows. One relied heavily on four letter words and the other stated his show was considered adult due to the nature of the topic (nothing X-rated, just stuff adults could relate to better). I felt he was the better of the two, although I don't have a big problem with cursing - in my opinion a true comedian shouldn't have to depend on cursing to make his act "funny".
My girls went to the karaoke lounge often & enjoyed it. On previous cruises the singers sounded professional. This one people who liked to sing, whether they did so well or not, seemed to get up. To me, that's the way it should be. This isn't American Idol try-outs - it's everyone's vacation to enjoy. Don't be intimidated, although they were & only listened. I went to the Irish Seas Bar twice & found it fun. It is a piano bar with sing alongs. The group there was very lively & once I went alone since my mom wasn't up to it. I certainly didn't feel out of place (I am married but husband stayed home with other kids & even in my single days never went to a place alone - however on the cruise it is different). A couple joined me at the table, who were very nice. The girls also went to the dance club but found it empty & not many kids their age (most kids on this cruise 9-13 yrs. old age group). I read reviews where people stated lots of kids - all I can say is "You ain't seen nothin' yet!". I thought there wasn't as many kids comparing to some we've taken out of Florida. I think the Canada cruise gets the more low-key, middle age set (I don't mean that in a bad way - I'm one of them!).
Port: I booked on-line the Harbour Hopper in Halifax. I've taken this tour before when we took this cruise with our whole family & enjoyed it. It's approx. a 1/2 hr. tour on land, then 1/2 hr. in the water. Price much less doing so on-line than with the cruise line. The walk from the ship to the boardwalk 10-15 minutes. Even my mother who walks with a cane was able to do it. There is also a bus service called FRED (Free Ride everywhere Downtown). We took it to the park in the area & just to ride around seeing the town. Streets hilly which could be difficult with young children or anyone with walking difficulty. You may want to stop in the tourist info. booth that you'll pass on the boardwalk (just past the large cement wave). Extremely helpful & will tell you of things going on in the area. Last time we also went to the Maritime Museum on the boardwalk. Cost if around $5. for an adult & $4. for students - a fraction of what Carnival charges. It was interesting & worth checking out for the Titanic section.
The only negative to this trip was disembarking. Carrying off your own luggage was heavily recommended & it seemed like 90% of the people decided to do this. We figured, why not?? How much do you have for a 4 night cruise & they said you'd be off between 8:00 & 8:30 a.m. Well Customs finished an hour late (How about those non-US people traveling with passports that much be checked with Customs. How many times must their names be called before they show up!? Something must be done about that - holding up a shipload of people for one or two families). By the time they said those carrying off luggage could get off it was a mob scene. Picture at least 1800 people going for 2 doorways. The lines snaked down the hallways. It was horrible! I've traveled Carnival many times before and NEVER encountered a scene like this. I don't know what went wrong with this cruise. Only bad thing I would have to say.
In ending, I think one thing I would have to say to people is treat staff as if it were you or your child working on that ship. I think sometimes people believe they've paid their money & are entitled to SERVICE!! I couldn't believe how some people act towards the staff. Don't get me wrong - I'm a firm believer in getting what I paid for & if I don't I complain to the appropriate party in, what I hope is, a polite but clear manner. However, remember these people are human beings with feelings, missing their families. You can make it enjoyable for them as they can for you. I think if people go by this thought they'll find they get a lot better treatment in life, for the most part (unfortunately you can always get a bad apple in the bunch but going by generality). Enjoy!