Our main reason for taking this cruise was that we "won" the cruise as part of an incentive with my business. As such, our hosts provided us with balcony cabins, two private cocktail parties, a private shore excursion, wine with all evening meals, a soda card, and sufficient shipboard credits to cover our gratuities and most other onboard expenses. We had already been to 5 of the 6 ports visited, so we planned to make this cruise a truly "relaxation" experience. There was nothing about the cruise that prevented us from doing exactly that, and with all the "perks" provided by our hosts, it helped make a 3.5-4 star cruise into almost a 5-star event.
We flew down from NC in a group on the day of embarkation and were easily transferred from the airport to the ship with little problem. Check-in was quick and painless. We were able to stop by the local liquor store and purchase alcohol to take on board. As the cruise boards said, the booze was easily stowed in carry-on luggage and there was no question by anyone. We were probably on board by 3:30-4:00. We had to find our cabin on our own...a bit of a surprise in that many ships make sure that you are escorted to your cabin. Our cabin was a most adequate starboard balcony cabin. A very nice bathroom..very roomy..with good storage. The balcony was not large but adequate and we spent many afternoons and early evenings here.
Our cabin steward was attentive without being too much in evidence. The room was always clean and picked up. The bed was comfortable and other aspects of the cabin were above average. I will say that at times...in the evening mostly...you could easily hear people in the hall..especially if they were a bit noisy. I might also suggest that the walls of these cabins are quite thin and noise and sounds do travel. Without a lot of details, I'll just say that our neighbors "really enjoyed" their cabin. Email me if you want more information in this area.
Since the ship did not sail until 10:00PM, we spent the late afternoon/early evening inspecting the ship. I will not try to describe it...you can read the company profiles to get this. My wife, who is an exercise person, was pleased with the gym/exercise/sauna/steam room, and used these facilities every day. She was not as impressed with the walking track. There are two pools..with the adult pool aft having the ability to have the top placed over it. We did not spend a lot of time at either pool. The larger pool, with the big-screen TV, was just too noisy and crowded for our tastes. We spent a lot of time in secluded placed on deck with a book and something to drink. The ship is quite large and we were still discovering places by the 3rd or 4th day of our cruise.
We had a late dinner seating in the Pacific Dining Room. The food was good every night...nothing exceptional...certainly not gourmet...but plenty of it and well prepared. Our waiter, Marco, was very good; his assistant less so. I think the assistant had too many tables to cover. I felt that the wait staff was overworked each night. There was not a lot of time for the interaction with wait staff that we have experienced in previous cruises. As for other meals, we had breakfast in the main dining room 5 mornings our of 7...the other two were at the buffet on the Lido deck. On the days that we were on ship for lunch, we were able to combine the best features of the buffet, the deli, the grill, and the pizza parlor to get a good lunch. The buffet was almost always crowded, and thus we avoided it if at all possible.
We went to a couple of shows. The final evening's "Legends" showcasing ship talent was pretty good. There were a couple of good commedians. We did enjoy Angela at the Piano Bar in the Irish Lounge. We were surprised and disappointed that there was not more musical entertainment in the lounges. But in retrospect, the lounges were not very busy most evenings. The shows were not well attended either. We can only assume that most of the passengers were upstairs at the buffet eating or watching the big screen TV by the pool.
I mentioned earlier that we had previously visited 5 of the 6 ports. We are not "shore excursion" people, depending to rent a car and explore on our own. Thus we can not comment on the shore excursions. Some of our group participated and we heard nothing negative. Quickly, let me comment on what we did: St. Thomas --our 5th visit, so this was primarily a ship day for us. We walked into town just to explore a bit, but were back on the ship for a lazy afternoon. Dominca -- the one port we have not visited. Since it was the national independence day, we were unable to rent a car, since most businesses were closed. We did partner with two other couples in our group for a 2-hour tour around the island, followed by some excellent local cuisine Barbados -- we visited here in 1998 and rented a car, driving around the northern half of the island. This time, we rented a car and drove the southern loop, having lunch at a seaside restaurant in Bathsheba and returning to ship by mid afternoon. St. Lucia -- we also visited here in 1998, where we rented a car and drove down the west coast to Soufriere. This time, we rented a car with another couple and "looped" the island, visiting the Pitons, the volcano, having a great lunch in Soufriere, and traveling back up the west coast on some winding mountain roads Antiqua -- we visited here in 2002 and had no desire to see the island again. We spent the morning in the port and the afternoon on the ship St. Kitts -- one of our favorite places which we visited in 1998. This was the day of our company-sponsored excusion...a chartered catamran snorkeling adventure sail down the coast, which included lunch, dancing, and a lot of rum punch.
Leaving the ship on Sunday was pretty painless. Our hosts had arranged for a "group" departure and we were off the ship by 9:00AM. The real hassle is checkin at the San Juan airport. But it was not too bad, and we had 46 others in our group to share the time before our return flight to NC.
A few other random comments: -There is a lot of activity by the photographers, and if you want one of the pictures, it is a real chore to find that picture and purchase it. So many people crowding around. I also did not like the 5+ photo stations each evening. -I mentioned that there seemed to be little activity in any of the lounges. The casino was also never very crowded. -I/we did not detect the previously reported "hoardes" of Puerto Rican passengers who were rude, pushy, loud, etc. They were present..we just learned to go where they were not. We never felt crowded or put upon. -This is a casual cruise. If you prefer the more traditional cruise, avoid Carnival and particularly this ship. There were two formal nights. I wore my tuxedo on one night and my white dinner jacket on the second. I don't believe I saw more than 50-75 men dressed "formally", although the women made a greater effort.
All in all, a pleasant experience providing the "down" time and relaxation that we both desperately needed. The "perks" provided by our hosts as well as 40+ people that we knew traveling with us made it a nice trip.