My sister-in-law and I decided to do a Spring Break cruise with our 19 year old sons and selected this one because it was much less expensive to fly from Boston to Baltimore compared to any of the Florida ports. The itinerary didn't really matter as we have cruised many times and have visited just about all the Caribbean ports once or twice on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Costa and Norwegian Cruise Line, in addition to Carnival. My first experience with Carnival was good (not great) so I didn't have high expectations going into this cruise, but thought it would be good enough for Spring Break.
We flew into BWI on Saturday afternoon and stayed at the Hyatt Place. The driver stopped at the liquor store for us before dropping us off at the hotel. Yes, we carried on booze in our luggage and had no problem. We met 4 other people at the hotel who were going on the cruise, so we all took the hotel shuttle ($5 pp one way) to the cruise port at noon. We were all thankful it was sunny and relatively warm (50 degrees) after all the cold snowy weather Baltimore had experienced this year. We arrived at the port around 12:30; there were no crowds and no lines. We gave the porter our luggage and walked right into the terminal. We were checked in and had our pictures taken in no time at all. The cruise terminal staff was happy, smiling and helpful. It was the smoothest embarkation ever! I should note that there was a slight delay getting my carry-on through ship security, but it was totally my fault. I had put an iPod Home and some AA batteries in my carry on. When my carry-on went through the scanner, they pulled me out of line asked me if they could empty it out and search the contents. I knew exactly what was going on, because it happened to me in the airport too - I forgot to take the iHome out of the bag. They saw the batteries and wires from the iHome and thought it could possibly be a bomb. I apologized when I realized what an idiot I was! The security guard said he was sorry to delay me, but they had to see exactly what the contents were. I told him that I totally understood and actually thanked him for doing a thorough job of scanning what passengers were bringing on board.
We went aboard on deck 2 where the atrium is located. It is a beautiful area, open all the way up to deck 10 with 3 glass elevators and gorgeous murals. Tables were set up to buy wine packages, make reservations at David's Specialty Dining etc.. shore excursion desk was open too. We bought a wine package ($110 for 5 bottles) and confirmed our reservation at David's which we had made online a few weeks prior to the cruise. Went up to the Lido for lunch and was surprised to see so many people already on board at 1:15! We checked out the different stations (Salad, Asian, Sandwiches, Bistro, Pizza, Grill, Desserts) and decided on sandwiches and salad bar. All the salad bar ingredients were fresh and plentiful all week long (short lines too!) Sometimes there were 6 people or more in the sandwich line, but there were always 2 workers making sandwiches and the line moved quickly. The grilled reubens were delicious as were the fresh mozzarella, tomato and arugula on focaccia. We walked around a little and hung out on the aft deck in the sun to wait for our cabins to be ready at 2:30. We grabbed a couple DODs (drink of the day) which were a strong concoction of several different liquors and fruit juice with fruit garnish and umbrellas in a Carnival glass: perfect!! When I gave them my card, the waiter immediately recognized the gold card indicating past passenger status and welcomed us back and said he was glad we chose Carnival again; I thought that was a nice touch.
We had balcony cabins on Deck 6 and went to the customer service desk after the muster drill to request they open the divider between the 2 balconies. Both cabins had to sign the request and it was done on day 2. The beds in our cabin were pushed together, which didn't work because I was sharing a cabin with my son, so looked for our room steward in hall, but didn't see him. We unpacked while waiting for our room steward to show up and introduce himself - which never happened! The entire week went by and we never met our room steward. The cabin was cleaned, the ice bucket was always full, and we had chocolates and towel creatures every night - but had no idea who was performing all these duties. The first night, I ended up using the phone to call the room steward (there's a button on the phone). When he answered, I asked him if we could have the beds separated and he said 'what time do you go to dinner? I will do it then!' That was the only conversation I had with him all week. I usually tip everyone extra, and didn't plan on it this time because he never made an effort to meet us - but ended up leaving a $5 bill tucked into one of the towel animals on the last morning. He would have had a better tip if I knew who he was!
Dining: Breakfast buffet was standard - not great, but not bad. I ordered room service every morning so I could caffeinate before heading out of my cabin, but the coffee and tea water on most mornings was not very hot. We ate breakfast in the dining room once and it was only average. Eggs Benedict were okay - I have had much better on other ships. We ate lunch on the lido every day. There was always plenty of variety at the stations I mentioned earlier, and the food was good quality. Each night on deck 2 they set up a sushi bar (from 5-8pm I think) which was good, not great, but good. We had the second dinner seating at 8:15 and could not believe the line to enter the dining room each night! I have never seen such long lines (winding all the way to mid-ship on most nights) on any of the other cruises I have taken. Our waiter said it was only like that on the first night because people didn't know table locations etc. but that was not the case. We sat in the bar each night and waited for the end of the line to pass through and then headed to the dining room and sat down immediately. We had a table for 6 in the dining room, but there were only 4 of us traveling together, and no others joined us all week long. Our head waiter was Kris (actual name was longer, but he told us to call him Kris) and assistant waiter was Ari. Both were excellent! We tipped them well at the end of the week as they took very good care of us. We ate in the dining room every night except Tuesday, which was the night we went to the specialty restaurant David's. Despite all the wonderful reviews I read about the food at David's, I didn't think it was worth the extra $30 per person they charged. The service was excellent and the filet mignon was cooked to perfection, but the lobster tail served in the dining room on the first formal night was just as moist and flavorful as the lobster served at David's. What I enjoyed most about David's was the dessert. I can't remember what it was called -the chocolate sampler (?)I think - But it was outstanding. My son ordered the cheesecake and it was huge! In addition, I liked the way the escargot was prepared in the dining room (in garlic butter) better than David's. Another distraction at David's was the noise from the atrium bar which traveled up to the 10th deck. There was a beautiful piano located in David's, but there was no one playing it the night we were there; music would have enhanced the atmosphere greatly. Bottom line is this: spend your money somewhere else. The food in the dining room was surprisingly good - very good!
Formal nights were Monday and Friday. Most people dressed very formal, cocktail dresses and gowns on the ladies and most men wore suit/tie; very few tuxes. It was great to see the spring break students dressed formally, as well as the young children with their parents - adorable! Let me tell you about the college students on board...they were all very well behaved and lots of fun! There were students from UNC, UConn, lots from Penn State, other Pennsylvania schools, and Georgetown. My son and nephew met many other students and had a great time hanging out with them all week.
A few words about entertainment: The cruise director's name is Jaime. I found her to be very annoying, but everyone else that I talked to thought she was great. She talked too much and was not entertaining or funny during the shows. In fact, she copied some of John Heald's jokes I had heard on a previous Carnival cruise. She made tons of unnecessary announcements while the ship was pulling into Nassau. The assistant cruise director's name is William. He talks with a great British accent and I thought he did a good job. We went to most of the shows. The singers and dancers were good. There were 2 different comedians: Happy Cole did 2 shows at the beginning of the week and he was hilarious! The second comedian was absolutely awful (sorry, can't remember his name!) Didn't go to the clubs at night, but our kids did and loved the music and dancing. On the last night, passengers performed as 'stars' of the show by dressing up and singing as celebrities. It was great because we had met 2 of the passengers who performed (as Elvis and Ricky Martin -) during the week and were hanging out with them. I would encourage anyone who has half a voice to audition for the show early in the week when you see it scheduled. They had a blast! I tried to talk my son into it, but he wouldn't audition, and later in the week, wished he had. Bingo was much less expensive than some ships I have been on and they do not have the hand-held electronic machines for Bingo - they still use the paper cards. We also did wine tasting at David's for $10pp. Casino was always busy and most people I spoke with didn't win much. At the end of the week, I ended up $30 ahead on the slots which is better than nothing!
The gym had the standard equipment: treadmills, ellipticals, machines, free weights etc. I had to wait about 10 minutes on day 2 for an elliptical - which had a 30 minute time limit per person. They offered yoga and spin classes for an addition fee ($10) but I didn't do these because I prefer to exercise in the morning and they were only offered in the afternoon.
Ports of Call - In Port Canaveral we booked the shuttle to Cocoa Beach. It departed at 9am, 10am and 11am. It dropped you off in a parking lot between Ron Jon Surf Shop and the beach. The shuttle back runs every 30 minutes from the same location until 5:30pm. We took the 10am shuttle and spent some time at Ron Jon's shopping for beach wear. You get a 15% off coupon which saved us some $$! It's an amazing store with a huge selection of bathing suits, t-shirts, post cards, surf boards, wet suits etc. My son bought a bathing suit, t shirt and spring break shot glass. We walked over to the beach which was packed with spring breakers. Spent a few hours on the beach but didn't go swimming (although many people did) because we thought the water was too cold! In Nassau, we booked the Atlantis Aquaventure excursion through the ship. It was expensive, but I thought it was worth it. We spent the afternoon at the water park doing the lazy river which has rapids, waves and a water slide that goes through the shark tank. I was not brave enough to do the huge, steep water slides, but the boys did, and absolutely loved them! We ate lunch (expensive) and toured through the Dig on our way out. Took the bus back to town and stopped at Senor Frogs for a drink before boarding.
We never docked in Freeport. The sea was amazingly smooth until Friday when we they were so rough, we couldn't dock on Freeport. Jaime the cruise director made the announcement at 7am that "for our safety" we were going to have another sea day, so I took a bonine pill and went back to bed. Woke up 3 hours later and it was pouring rain outside and so windy they closed the top deck. The dome over the main Venus Pool area (which was closed the entire voyage) was leaking water in a couple of spots, but people were still enjoying the hot tub there. There were rough seas on Saturday too, but it was sunny and warm and we spent the day lying around the pool on the open deck in the sun.
Debarkation was not nearly as smooth as embarkation. We docked on time, but they were running (at least) one hour behind schedule and blamed it on security at the port. It was the Sunday morning of the time change, and I wonder if that contributed to our delay. On ship, clocks were set ahead one hour on Friday night, not Saturday night. Passengers who opted to carry their luggage off were the first to be called (by deck) and at 11:00am were still dragging their suitcases off. So, if you need to get off ship quickly, choose 'Self Assist' and don't check your bags the last night of the cruise.
Overall, I enjoyed this cruise. As I said earlier, I booked with low expectations and was pleasantly surprised on many levels. I found the ship clean, easy to navigate and the staff friendly. The food and service were good and the other guests, including all the spring breakers, were fun to be around. Best of all, on the last night I won a free cruise! I bought raffle tickets at the past guest party and won a free cruise for 2 people in an ocean view cabin - up to 7 days. Now I have a good excuse to book another Carnival cruise!