ARRIVAL: My friend and I, both professionals in our 30s, consider ourselves experienced cruisers, having taken four cruises with Carnival and one with Royal Caribbean. We drove to Galveston Sunday morning from Dallas and arrived at 10am. We parked the car at the EZ Cruise parking lot, $50 for the entire week, and walked the three blocks to the cruise terminal.
EMBARKATION: Easy and smooth. Carnival employees were friendly and courteous, directing people and processing passport and credit card information quickly and efficiently. We entered the terminal around 10.30, long before the 'plane crowd' arrived, and began boarding around 11.30. By noon, we were having lunch at the Lido Deck, enjoying the sunny Galveston Sunday morning.
CABIN: For the first time, we had booked a balcony cabin in the back of the ship (aft) with an extended balcony, category 8M. It was worth every penny! The balcony was much bigger than the regular balconies on both sides of the ship and had plenty of room for two chairs plus a lounge chair. The balcony also offered a great view, especially at push-off, that allowed us to watch the ports slowly disappear from the privacy of our balcony. The cabin was slightly smaller than a regular balcony room but the extended balcony made up for it. However, one could feel the engines vibrate all the time and, while it didn't bother either of us, it should be taken into consideration, especially by first-time cruisers and people prone to motion sickness.
SERVICE: Our cabin steward did a great job, and so did most of the other Carnival team members. However, I did hear fellow passengers complain about pushy photographers and rude customer service at the photo shop.
FOOD: Exactly what we expected, abundant but bland and tasteless. Chicken and burger meat weren't seasoned; all four types of cheese offered tasted the same. Coffee was better than I expected but still not as good as the one offered at the coffee shops for a charge. Breakfast was average, scrambled eggs, bacon, and ham every day. The best beverage offered, a mix of passion fruit and guava juice, was only available in the morning.The Cezanne restaurant on the Lido deck (also known as the buffet) offered the same choices as the main dining room plus pizza, burgers, and ice cream.
DINING EXPERIENCE: We had requested 'anytime dining' at the Renoir dining room. We got a small table for two but the tables so were so close together that it felt like we were sitting with six other people. Unfortunately, the wait was unjustifiably long, as it took ten minutes after we sat down for our drinks to be delivered and over an hour for the food to arrive. While 'anytime dining' was a convenient option to eat on our own time, the wait ruined our experience and we never returned to the main dining room. The only exception was the night we ate 'The Point' on Deck 10 for a nominal charge of $30. The menu offered a number of mouthwatering selections, including steaks and seafood, all cooked and seasoned to perfection, as well as delicious cheesecakes and chocolate samplers for dessert.
ENTERTAINMENT: The Conquest dancers, and orchestra were fantastic, as always. The dancers and band members got the recognition they deserved by being introduced one by one by the cruise director respectively before and after each show.The new lead singers were better than the previous couple, with much more chemistry between them. The highlight of the cruise was 'Formidable,' a Paris-themed show that ran much more smoothly than it did last year. The opening show, 'Point and Click' was OK. Unfortunately, there were no classical musicians, and the singers in the lounge were simply pathetic, pitchy and even annoying at times. Carnival Cruise Lines need to seriously re-evaluate their standards in hiring singers and consider hiring classical musicians again. The cruise director, Chris, did a great job as well.
PORTS OF CALL: See below.
DEBARKATION: Smooth and easy, again. The ship docked at 6.30am and was cleared by customs by 7. The debarkation process was executed quite efficiently, with people called by deck numbers. We got off the ship around 8.30, walked to the EZ Cruise parking lot and got back on the road home by 9. Great job, Carnival!