It was my 11th cruise overall, but the first time repeating a ship. We flew in to a very chilly Fort Lauderdale the day before and again stayed at one of the numerous hotels bordering the Oakwood Plaza. There are many affordable choices providing easy service to both the airport and the cruise port and the plaza features a nice selection of familiar restaurants and stores.
Embarkation at Fort Lauderdale always runs longer than in Tampa or Miami, but we were sitting down for lunch on the Lido Deck by 12:30. Our cabin was an obstructed view balcony and given the cost savings over a higher deck balcony, I would make this choice again! We still enjoyed many soothing moments sitting outside & reading while taking in a nearly complete view of the Caribbean. On windy days, it was far calmer on our balcony than on the pool deck. The cabin was roomy enough and convenient and we saw our extremely efficient cabin steward no more than twice all week. Without fanfare, he thoroughly got it done (including a couple of special requests).
The ship is kept in marvelous condition and seemed no less attractive and appealing than our 2005 sailing. The only maintenance complaint would be 3 out of service treadmills in the fitness center. The staff we encountered virtually everywhere was friendly and enthusiastic; an attribute we only seem to find with consistency on Carnival sailings. The cruise director, Malcolm was highly enthusiastic and more present in public spaces than any we've encountered in a long time. Although quite young, he's a throwback to the funny and involved CD style we remember from cruises of yesteryear. We had dinner in the main dining room every night having enjoyed Nick & Nora's on the previous trip. We surely have no complaints about the food at all and my wife's food allergies were addressed by an absolutely wonderful dining room service rep who came by each night to discuss tomorrow's meal. Our servers were Selvin and Ma and (including our drink waiter) their efforts and interaction with all of us made dinner that much more enjoyable.
Entertainment was a mixed bag this week. The first production show was GENERATIONS and it was above average. The second production show was a Beatles tribute TICKET TO RIDE and even after 2 viewings it remains my all time favorite cruise show. The Carnival Orchestra was great as usual and the 2 lead singers on this trip were amongst the best I've seen on a cruise. There was a terrific comic/juggler one night, 2 not-so-funny stand up comics and a very disappointing Motown singer. We tend to skip the passenger talent shows. The Newlywed Game managed to hit a home run this time out. In the lounges, things were less successful. Carnival seems to have cut back on the opportunity to take in live music in some of the public spaces during the afternoon and before dinner. The atrium lounge had the piano playing automatically as often as it was played by a talented young woman. There was a male keyboard player/vocalist who must not have auditioned prior to being allowed to sing. There was a talented, but infrequently seen, folk singer playing outside the upstairs dining room. We enjoyed the Indonesian rock band at Frankie & Johnnie's. But there should be a rule that the singer in the Piano bar (Sam's) must be able to sing better than at least one other passenger on the ship. The piano by the Sushi bar was always on automatic and the Lido reggae band is now a reggae duo accompanied by sound technology.
And speaking of the pool deck, the matter of lounge chair hijacking prior to breakfast has moved beyond ridiculous. I would be one of a handful of early exercisers taking note of the dozens & dozens of invisible sunbathers - most of whom actually did not show up until close to noon. Carnival has made it clear that this is a non-issue for the corporation, so I'm not sure how to successfully change this selfish culture of entitlement.
We did a ship excursion on St Lucia and the staff of the Catamaran Tango 2 made the trip out to see the Pitons from the sea a real pleasure. Some rum punch, happy dancing and gorgeous vistas made for a memorable day. We got our own taxis to the beaches on St Marten (Orient Beach) and St Kitts (Frigate Bay) and found in both days just what we wanted.
Overall, nice job Carnival. We will look forward to getting together with you again.